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posted by martyb on Tuesday March 12 2019, @02:07AM   Printer-friendly
from the Merlin,-Falcon-9,-and-Falcon-Heavy-were-developed-for-less-than-$1B-total dept.

NASA budget proposal targets SLS (Space Launch System)

The White House's fiscal year 2020 budget request for NASA proposes to delay work on an upgraded version of the Space Launch System and would transfer some of that vehicle's payloads to other rockets.

The proposal, released by the Office of Management and Budget March 11, offers a total of $21 billion for the space agency, a decrease of $500 million over what Congress appropriated in the final fiscal year 2019 spending bill signed into law Feb. 15.

A major element of the proposal is to defer work on the Block 1B version of the SLS, which would increase the rocket's performance by replacing its existing Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage with the more powerful Exploration Upper Stage. The budget "instead focuses the program on the completion of the initial version of the SLS and supporting a reliable SLS and Orion annual flight cadence," the OMB budget stated. The first SLS/Orion mission, without a crew, is now planned for the "early 2020s," according to the budget, an apparent slip from the planned 2020 launch of Exploration Mission 1.

NASA had previously planned to use the Block 1B version of SLS to launch elements of its lunar Gateway, using a "co-manifesting" capability enabled by the rocket's greater performance. Instead, according to the budget document, those components will be launched on "competitively procured vehicles, complementing crew transport flights on the SLS and Orion."

[...] The budget proposal would also remove one non-exploration payload from the SLS manifest. The proposal offers $600 million for the Europa Clipper mission, enabling a launch in 2023. However, NASA would instead seek to launch the mission on a commercial launch vehicle rather than SLS, a move it claims "would save over $700 million, allowing multiple new activities to be funded across the Agency." The fiscal year 2019 budget request also proposed a commercial launch of Europa Clipper, but Congress placed into law in the final funding bill the requirement to use SLS for that mission.

Are we nearing a good timeline?

Related: After the Falcon Heavy Launch, Time to Defund the Space Launch System?
House Spending Bill Offers NASA More Money Than the Agency or Administration Wanted
NASA Administrator Ponders the Fate of SLS in Interview
SpaceX's Falcon Heavy Could Launch Japanese and European Payloads to Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway
Northrop Grumman Exec Warns of Coming "Affordability" in the Space Launch System's Future
Impact of the Midterm Elections May be Felt at NASA
When Space Science Becomes a Political Liability


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  • (Score: 1) by khallow on Tuesday March 12 2019, @02:43PM (31 children)

    by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday March 12 2019, @02:43PM (#813273) Journal
    While this is a positive move, it remains that Congress may reinstate funding for the SLS. The beast is not finished yet.
  • (Score: 2) by Immerman on Tuesday March 12 2019, @04:34PM (25 children)

    by Immerman (3985) on Tuesday March 12 2019, @04:34PM (#813343)

    I'm not entirely convinced of that. I mean, in general, yes, this is probably a step in the right direction for NASA, but it may be a bit premature. Though assuming the SLS Block1 will still be completed it at least gives an option for heavy payloads in the near term.

    The problem is that, at present, there aren't actually any alternatives. If SpaceX pulls off the BFR, then we should be set - well, as soon as they make a "fairing style" cargo version at least, capable of delivering huge objects to orbit. That should cover most of what the SLS could launch - but that timeline could slide a long ways before they actually offer a reliable launch option. And without the BFR, the only other options in that class are the Russian and Chinese superheavy rockets that have planned first missions in 2028 (and I'm *sure* that timeline won't slip /sarcasm). Nothing else is even close - the New Glenn will be in the same class as the Falcon Heavy, with less than a quarter of the payload to LEO as the SLS or BFR.

    Of course, putting NASA on notice to start using commercial superheavy flights when available does put SpaceX, etc. in a better position to be able to find customers, which should help keep them on track, as well as potentially freeing up a whole lot of resources for NASA to develop projects capable of taking advantage of the increased launch capacity.

    • (Score: 2) by takyon on Tuesday March 12 2019, @05:54PM (10 children)

      by takyon (881) <{takyon} {at} {soylentnews.org}> on Tuesday March 12 2019, @05:54PM (#813388) Journal

      Falcon Heavy is a viable alternative for the job of launching LOP-G segments to lunar orbit. LOP-G missions would be the primary function [wikipedia.org] of SLS.

      SpaceX's Falcon Heavy Could Launch Japanese and European Payloads to Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway [soylentnews.org]

      What Falcon Heavy can't do is send crew and LOP-G segments together. There are no plans to send humans on Falcon Heavy at the moment, although I can't imagine it would be that difficult to send a Crew Dragon 2 and some minor cargo to LOP-G atop a Falcon Heavy.

      --
      [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 [soylentnews.org]
      • (Score: 2) by Immerman on Wednesday March 13 2019, @03:58AM (9 children)

        by Immerman (3985) on Wednesday March 13 2019, @03:58AM (#813578)

        >I can't imagine it would be that difficult to send a Crew Dragon 2 and some minor cargo to LOP-G atop a Falcon Heavy.

        True. However, being able to get them back again might prove more challenging. I'm not sure the Dragon 2 is capable of providing the delta-v needed to return to Earth from lunar orbit.

        • (Score: 1) by khallow on Wednesday March 13 2019, @06:03AM (8 children)

          by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday March 13 2019, @06:03AM (#813600) Journal

          True. However, being able to get them back again might prove more challenging. I'm not sure the Dragon 2 is capable of providing the delta-v needed to return to Earth from lunar orbit.

          Send two Falcon Heavies then. A key problem here is that we don't need the capabilities of an SLS, but we will need orbital assembly. So might as well use the vastly more economical Falcon Heavy (and/or the BFR) and use orbital assembly which you were going to develop anyway. Or even the considerable number of 20-25 ton payload rockets currently in existence.

          The "option for heavy payloads" is pretty low value - one doesn't need to put objects directly in a transfer orbit and the larger fairing size isn't that useful. For example, going with Atlas V Heavy (or maybe it was Delta IV Heavy, which is more expensive, but not Space Shuttle expensive) for assembling the ISS (International Space Station) in place of the Space Shuttle would have saved a huge amount of money (about 20 billion USD from discontinuing the Shuttle in 1990 instead of 2011 and at least halving the price of putting each segment into orbit) at the cost of a slight decrease in the volume of the station (about a 20% reduction in the cross section area of a segment from 4.5 meters diameter to around 4 meters, IIRC). My understanding is that the US could have put three ISS clones in orbit for the fraction of the ISS cost (about $100 billion including those two decades of Shuttle extensions) that the US paid (and its partners paid about $30 billion more on top of that!).

          The real problem with the SLS is that it sucks the oxygen out of the room just like the Apollo, Shuttle, and Constellation programs did and leaves little money left over for more permanent development and infrastructure building.

          • (Score: 2) by Immerman on Wednesday March 13 2019, @03:12PM (7 children)

            by Immerman (3985) on Wednesday March 13 2019, @03:12PM (#813756)

            It's more complicated than that though. I'm fairly certain that the Dragon 2 is not designed to re-connect with a booster in orbit, nor to dock with a space station while still connected to a booster. Unless you plan for everyone to spacewalk back to the return vehicle, you need something that's capable of both slow, ultra-precise docking maneuvers, and delivering enough delta-V to get back to Earth.

            Now, perhaps the Dragon 2 actually has that capability, but I suspect a revised "Dragon 3" with at least larger fuel tanks would be necessary. However, given SpaceX's apparent development roadmap, perhaps a passenger Starship is a more likely candidate. They clearly plan to be able to dock it with the ISS, and lunar orbit should be well within its capability.

            • (Score: 1) by khallow on Wednesday March 13 2019, @03:46PM (6 children)

              by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday March 13 2019, @03:46PM (#813769) Journal

              I'm fairly certain that the Dragon 2 is not designed to re-connect with a booster in orbit, nor to dock with a space station while still connected to a booster.

              So what? It's easier to modify the Dragon 2 to connect/dock appropriately than it is to build a hugely expensive rocket that won't have a credible purpose.

              Unless you plan for everyone to spacewalk back to the return vehicle, you need something that's capable of both slow, ultra-precise docking maneuvers, and delivering enough delta-V to get back to Earth.

              Every human spacecraft made today is capable of those things. I include the Soyuz and Shenzhou capsules along with the US spacecraft. You just need to attach an appropriate docking mechanism.

              • (Score: 2) by Immerman on Thursday March 14 2019, @06:35PM (5 children)

                by Immerman (3985) on Thursday March 14 2019, @06:35PM (#814365)

                Except that they've already committed to building a passenger Starship, and have even already sold an early flight on one. Plus it's likely a simpler vehicle than the cargo version with it's giant hinged fairing that interferes with structural symmetry. It doesn't matter how much cheaper and easier it would be to modify the Dragon 2, if they already plan to make Starship anyway. And Starship should rapidly become cheaper per-launch than a Dragon capsule anyway. And of course, if the Dragon's track record is any indication, NASA certification is the difficult part of the process, and would likely have to be repeated on a

                And it does have at least one credible and important immediate purpose: marketing footage. And let's be honest - a great deal of Musk's success has been due to his ability to manage the media image of his companies.

                Not to mention, being able to launch an entire dedicated temporary space station larger than the ISS (by pressurized volume), pre-loaded with any experiments, entertainment, etc., for less than the cost of a single Falcon 9 launch, is going to have lots of research and recreational potential. *I* probably won't be able to afford it, but plenty of others will. That kind of space even allows for dual-purpose launches: you might launch a mission to service the ISS (likely not possible for the cargo/fairing version) using 10% of the available capacity, vastly exceeding anything currently available, while using the remaining 90% of capacity for recreational space tours or independent orbital experiments. If NASA is already funding the launch, then the extra passengers are pure profit.

                Then there's the fact that he also intends this thing to be able to land on the moon and return - and an orbital cargo split fairing is unlikely to work in a substantial gravity field. Plus, it can serve just as well as a temporary lunar base as a temporary space station, which should dramatically simplify early scouting and development missions to the lunar surface.

                There's also the plan to sell ridiculously fast sub-orbital passenger flights.

                And of course, it's also vital to a longer-term purpose of getting to Mars, which seems to be the vision actually driving Musk, and thus arguably the single most important purpose of any of his rockets.

                >Every human spacecraft made today is capable of those things.

                Umm, no, they're not. From what little I can find none of the capsules you mention are capable of returning from lunar orbit under their own power. Shenzhou has never been to lunar orbit, and while Soyuz-L has it appears to have used a separate booster for the return.
                Generally speaking our space "toys" have fallen into two distinct classes: Boosters, that can impart significant delta-V, but lack the capacity for precision maneuvering, and capsules such as you mention, that can perform precision maneuvering, but can typically only deliver a the relatively small amount of delta-V to begin reentry from low Earth orbit. To service a lunar orbital station you'd need to do both.

                For reference: Getting from low Earth orbit to low lunar orbit requires about 4km/s of delta-V (assuming high thrust, low thrust doubles that), though the return only requires about 1.3km/s if you make use of atmospheric aerobraking. That's still just shy of half the 2.7km/s needed to return from the lunar surface, and a *lot* more than needed to deorbit from LEO. The space shuttle typically made a 200-550fps (61 - 168m/s) reentry burn to return from LEO, depending on altitude. So you're talking about around 10x the necessary delta-V to return from lunar orbit.

                https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delta-v_budget [wikipedia.org]
                https://space.stackexchange.com/questions/12011/how-could-a-90-m-s-delta-v-be-enough-to-commit-the-space-shuttle-to-landing [stackexchange.com] (I couldn't find the specific numbers referenced in the manual)

                • (Score: 1) by khallow on Thursday March 14 2019, @06:55PM (4 children)

                  by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Thursday March 14 2019, @06:55PM (#814373) Journal

                  Except that they've already committed to building a passenger Starship, and have even already sold an early flight on one. Plus it's likely a simpler vehicle than the cargo version with it's giant hinged fairing that interferes with structural symmetry. It doesn't matter how much cheaper and easier it would be to modify the Dragon 2, if they already plan to make Starship anyway. And Starship should rapidly become cheaper per-launch than a Dragon capsule anyway. And of course, if the Dragon's track record is any indication, NASA certification is the difficult part of the process, and would likely have to be repeated on a

                  While true, it still remains that NASA could pay for the modification to Dragon 2 on top of Starship and still pay orders of magnitude less than it would with the SLS approach. Second, with respect to NASA certification, you can be sure that the SLS won't have to (because it won't be able to) pass the same certification process.

                  Not to mention, being able to launch an entire dedicated temporary space station larger than the ISS (by pressurized volume), pre-loaded with any experiments, entertainment, etc., for less than the cost of a single Falcon 9 launch, is going to have lots of research and recreational potential.

                  I'll believe that when I see it. I don't buy those numbers at present. That's based on BFR having a mass fraction to LEO which I think may be impossible for a chemical propulsion system to achieve. We'll see.

                  >Every human spacecraft made today is capable of those things.

                  Umm, no, they're not. From what little I can find none of the capsules you mention are capable of returning from lunar orbit under their own power. Shenzhou has never been to lunar orbit, and while Soyuz-L has it appears to have used a separate booster for the return.

                  Generally speaking our space "toys" have fallen into two distinct classes: Boosters, that can impart significant delta-V, but lack the capacity for precision maneuvering, and capsules such as you mention, that can perform precision maneuvering, but can typically only deliver a the relatively small amount of delta-V to begin reentry from low Earth orbit. To service a lunar orbital station you'd need to do both.

                  You already outlined the division of functionality. Slap a booster on and you have the delta-v capability needed for the capsule. It's a solved problem. After all, we already have boosters (the orbital launch vehicles) that put the capsule into orbit in the first place. That's roughly 10 km/s of delta-v right there.

                  • (Score: 2) by Immerman on Thursday March 14 2019, @08:45PM (3 children)

                    by Immerman (3985) on Thursday March 14 2019, @08:45PM (#814446)

                    >...NASA pay for...SLS...
                    Sure, but why would they do that if the SpaceX Starship is already available, cheaper, and far more capable?

                    > Slap a booster on
                    Except it's not quite that simple - the booster will make the capsule far more cumbersome to maneuver precisely for docking. So the capsule would have to either detach from the booster for docking with the lunar orbital station, and then reconnect for the return to Earth orbit, or be modified (hardware or software) to be able to precisely maneuver despite a much greater mass and very different center of gravity.

                    Either could probably be done, but both likely involve considerable engineering and testing, and probably re-certification. On a capsule that SpaceX has already removed from its roadmap, and that won't have anywhere near the capability of its replacement.

                    • (Score: 1) by khallow on Thursday March 14 2019, @09:04PM (2 children)

                      by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Thursday March 14 2019, @09:04PM (#814464) Journal

                      Sure, but why would they do that if the SpaceX Starship is already available, cheaper, and far more capable?

                      Well, the Starship isn't yet already available for starters. But then again, it's a hell of a lot more available than the SLS.

                      Except it's not quite that simple - the booster will make the capsule far more cumbersome to maneuver precisely for docking.

                      Unless, of course, the booster isn't on the capsule at the time. You don't need to dock a capsule with fueled booster. Ever.

                      So the capsule would have to either detach from the booster for docking with the lunar orbital station

                      Has my vote. I doubt anyone will ever want a booster near the station.

                      Either could probably be done, but both likely involve considerable engineering and testing, and probably re-certification.

                      Both which are already proven features of every manned space capsule out there. That is, they've already been engineered and tested before with some booster configuration (else they wouldn't get into space in the first place), and the parties involved in the design and construction of these vehicles already have experience with testing and certification for their appropriate country's space program.

                      • (Score: 2) by Immerman on Thursday March 14 2019, @09:43PM (1 child)

                        by Immerman (3985) on Thursday March 14 2019, @09:43PM (#814502)

                        Yes, they have experience with the testing and certification. That doesn't mean they want to go through it for something that doesn't serve their purposes. And a "Dragon 2-L" doesn't serve SpaceX's purposes.

                        Now, *if* a passenger Starship isn't looking to be available by the time they start sending people to LOP-G, perhaps NASA could offer enough incentive for SpaceX to take some of their engineers away from BFR development to work on a new Dragon revision, as a stopgap solution. But I suspect that would be a hard sell if the BFR/BFS were near fruition.

                        • (Score: 1) by khallow on Thursday March 14 2019, @11:04PM

                          by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Thursday March 14 2019, @11:04PM (#814525) Journal

                          Yes, they have experience with the testing and certification. That doesn't mean they want to go through it for something that doesn't serve their purposes.

                          A purpose like getting paid well by someone with deep pockets?

                          My point here is not to claim that NASA will launch everything on Dragon 2s, but rather that these problems aren't particularly difficult for any party that is already putting space capsules in orbit. Going back to my original point:

                          Send two Falcon Heavies then. A key problem here is that we don't need the capabilities of an SLS, but we will need orbital assembly. So might as well use the vastly more economical Falcon Heavy (and/or the BFR) and use orbital assembly which you were going to develop anyway. Or even the considerable number of 20-25 ton payload rockets currently in existence.

                          The supporters for the SLS are playing the same game that was played with the Space Shuttle and Constellation. They tout the capabilities of the vehicle. But that ignores two very important things. First, that the capabilities are unnecessary. We can work around all the problems of using smaller payload vehicles with modest effort and cost, and launch today. Second, there's the matter of cost. It doesn't matter how awesome your launch vehicle is, if you can't afford to use it. In addition to the huge delays, the SLS has a very low launch frequency (slower than anything except possibly the Delta IV). That means each launch, when it happens, will be very expensive.

                          That's why I'm outright against funding the SLS. It's a huge drain on NASA's resources and doesn't further any US interests. What it does do, and which may lead to it lingering around decades into the future, is distribute federal swag to the right zip codes.

    • (Score: 2) by takyon on Tuesday March 12 2019, @06:11PM (13 children)

      by takyon (881) <{takyon} {at} {soylentnews.org}> on Tuesday March 12 2019, @06:11PM (#813397) Journal

      The first SLS/Orion mission, without a crew, is now planned for the "early 2020s," according to the budget, an apparent slip from the planned 2020 launch of Exploration Mission 1.

      NASA reassessing date for first SLS launch [spacenews.com]

      Rocket Report: SLS slip likely, Pegasus problems, and EELV has expired [arstechnica.com]

      In this case, our sources continue to say there is almost no chance SLS launches in 2020.

      2021 is now the earliest we will see SLS fly, with the first launch carrying some CubeSats and no humans. A test flight.

      If SpaceX's changes to BFR's (Starship Super Heavy) design have been fruitful, it's possible that BFR can beat SLS to orbit, or even carry humans to orbit before SLS does.

      Even if separate flights are needed to carry crew and modules to lunar orbit, SpaceX will be cheaper than even the optimistic (fake) estimates of SLS launch cost.

      The delay and possible de-emphasis of SLS is good news. Additional billions of dollars will likely be burned, but the cracks are beginning to show. A fully working and ready for customers BFR is needed before the death blow can be delivered. New Glenn is also a good alternative, and there may be an option for a third stage. After New Glenn is New Armstrong, although we don't know when that would appear or what it would entail. Maybe we'll see New Armstrong fly before any Russian or Chinese superheavy launchers.

      --
      [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 [soylentnews.org]
      • (Score: 2) by Immerman on Wednesday March 13 2019, @03:22AM (12 children)

        by Immerman (3985) on Wednesday March 13 2019, @03:22AM (#813574)

        Keep in mind that the initial Starship will supposedly be a passenger vehicle that will be useless for launching serious payloads into orbit - that will have to wait until a later cargo version. Presumably most of the technology will transfer, but there will almost certainly be some additional lag before a split-fairing cargo version is available.

        There's also no guarantee that SpaceX will be more rapidly successful with the BFR than they were with the Falcon 9 - we can certainly hope, and they do have a lot more experience now, but the cost-per-failure is much higher now as well - a string of bad luck and they might have to slow way down to let their finances recover.

        If things go really well SpaceX could have SLS-class launch capability as early as next year. Or it might take another decade, and we'd wish we had the SLS.

        But it sounds like the proposal isn't to delay getting the SLS operational and available, just delaying the upgrades and cutting the guaranteed missions.

        And that suites me just fine. That increases the chance that we'll have at least one rocket available to get the job done, and (hopefully) free up some of NASA's available budget to put SpaceX launch capacity to work, rather than being chained to a much more expensive and limited SLS.

        Especially with the sxStarship being designed to be able to land on the moon and return to Earth with a single stop for orbital refueling, with a little luck there will be a much wider range of missions possible almost immediately.

        • (Score: 1) by khallow on Wednesday March 13 2019, @06:12AM

          by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday March 13 2019, @06:12AM (#813604) Journal

          and we'd wish we had the SLS.

          Not going to happen. There are two important observations to make about the SLS. It has no killer app. There's no valuable payload that requires it. All the proposed missions are contrived to use its performance characteristics. One can simply contrive them a different way to use a far cheaper launch vehicle.

          Second, the cost of the SLS creates a huge opportunity cost which pulls money away from more useful activities that NASA could be working on instead. While it would be moderately nice, if NASA were to have a vastly larger budget, the reality is that after adjustment for inflation, its budget has been remarkably stable for the past 40 or so years (sure there is some variation [wikipedia.org], but it's less than a factor of two from lowest year to highest) with the present year about halfway in between. That establishes the usual zero sum issues that NASA has experienced for those decades. So any money spent on SLS is taken from elsewhere.

          Further, that money goes far in existing launch services. We could be putting hundreds of tons in orbit on existing vehicles, for example, for what has been thrown away on SLS so far.

        • (Score: 2) by takyon on Wednesday March 13 2019, @12:57PM (10 children)

          by takyon (881) <{takyon} {at} {soylentnews.org}> on Wednesday March 13 2019, @12:57PM (#813698) Journal

          I don't see how SpaceX will not make a cargo version prior to or simultaneously with a crewed version. They need to do unmanned flights first and they need to lift large amounts of Starlink satellites.

          --
          [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 [soylentnews.org]
          • (Score: 2) by Immerman on Wednesday March 13 2019, @02:37PM (9 children)

            by Immerman (3985) on Wednesday March 13 2019, @02:37PM (#813729)

            Perhaps so. I could swear though that I had heard they were going to add the cargo version later. But perhaps I'm just thinking of the tanker version.

            • (Score: 2) by takyon on Wednesday March 13 2019, @07:02PM (8 children)

              by takyon (881) <{takyon} {at} {soylentnews.org}> on Wednesday March 13 2019, @07:02PM (#813874) Journal

              It might have been the tanker. Tanker is especially needed for destinations beyond LEO. Most of SpaceX's current business is LEO with some GEO/GTO. BFR can replace almost all Falcon 9 and Heavy launches, except for the ones where the customer is still nervous about using a new rocket.

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              • (Score: 2) by Immerman on Thursday March 14 2019, @03:51PM (7 children)

                by Immerman (3985) on Thursday March 14 2019, @03:51PM (#814263)

                Well, not just LEO - my understanding is that BFR should be able to service pretty much all the useful Earth orbits and even manage single-pass moonshots without refueling. Now that I think of it, I can't can't say that I've heard anything about actually entering lunar orbit, though I suspect it could do so with a low enough payload.

                Where the tanker comes in is if you want to actually land on the moon, or leave the Earth-moon system entirely. Or I suppose, if you want to get to those higher orbits with a single LEO-sized payload.

                And on the bright side, it sounds like the tanker won't be strictly necessary - with plans in the works to initially use unloaded Starships as a "mini tankers". Of course, every fuel-transfer maneuver is another chance to damage or destroy a rocket, but as long as you have at least two mini-tankers in play, you can at least limit yourself to a single refueling maneuver with the payload-bearing Starship.

                • (Score: 2) by takyon on Thursday March 14 2019, @05:01PM (6 children)

                  by takyon (881) <{takyon} {at} {soylentnews.org}> on Thursday March 14 2019, @05:01PM (#814299) Journal

                  my understanding is that BFR should be able to service pretty much all the useful Earth orbits and even manage single-pass moonshots without refueling

                  I would be skeptical about all of that info, especially the no-refuel moonshot. The performance of the vehicle is still in flux (150 tons to LEO estimate down to "100+ tons", and could rise with future versions). They are also using all sea level Raptor engines and introducing vacuum variants later.

                  I think the minimum we can say about it is that it will exceed the performance of expendable Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy for any destination, without considering any orbital refueling, and will likely be cheaper than Falcon 9 to begin with when in fully reusable mode. If not at the start, then after SpaceX becomes experienced at quickly inspecting and relaunching BFRs.

                  Another interesting aspect that probably doesn't get much consideration is that despite BFR being potentially slightly less powerful than variants of the Space Launch System (i.e. Block 2) that may never fly, BFR in an expendable mode could beat anything. Musk has also hinted [teslarati.com] that BFR could be cheaper to build than Falcon 9. We know that despite stainless steel being far cheaper than carbon fiber, material costs are a very small portion of the Falcon 9's costs. So for the guess to be true, it would have to be related to construction methods and manpower. Humanity has a lot of experience making large steel structures so it's plausible.

                  My point is that if a customer like NASA wanted to try something special, like expending the booster, additional performance could be squeezed out of BFR. And the cost might not break the bank.

                  --
                  [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 [soylentnews.org]
                  • (Score: 2) by Immerman on Thursday March 14 2019, @05:33PM (5 children)

                    by Immerman (3985) on Thursday March 14 2019, @05:33PM (#814329)

                    >I would be skeptical about all of that info, especially the no-refuel moonshot
                    Why? Too be clear, I'm talking about a flyby such as the one already sold, not a landing, which he has stated will require a refueling in a highly elliptic Earth orbit..

                    You posted that link above that the F9H could service the LOP-G, and a flyby is less fuel intensive than insertion into lunar orbit. If that's true, and the BFR can exceed the F9H's performance for any destination, then it should have no problem with non-landing lunar missions without refeuling. Especially once the later versions are fitted with dedicated vacuum engines. Though it does look like the current version is actually using hybrid engines if the characteristic inflection in the bell is any indicator, so they should get substantially better vacuum performance than strictly atmospheric engines.

                    Hmm, I missed the cheap BFR tweet. Seems implausible, at least in the short term, especially considering that the re-usability will prevent substantial economies of scale in manufacturing. At least until such point as there's demand for multiple launches per day (which might not be radically distant if suborbital flights become popular).

                    • (Score: 1) by khallow on Thursday March 14 2019, @06:57PM (4 children)

                      by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Thursday March 14 2019, @06:57PM (#814374) Journal

                      Seems implausible, at least in the short term, especially considering that the re-usability will prevent substantial economies of scale in manufacturing.

                      With heavy reuse over time that's not a significant cost of launch. The real problem is propellant usage. That provides the floor to just how cheap one can make the launch.

                      • (Score: 2) by Immerman on Thursday March 14 2019, @08:35PM (3 children)

                        by Immerman (3985) on Thursday March 14 2019, @08:35PM (#814437)

                        Oh, absolutely. In fact they aim to bring the per-launch cost down below the F9 in relatively short order.

                        But that's not what the tweets takyon linked to are about - they seem to be specifically about bringing the *construction cost* of a BFR down below that of an F9:

                                This will sound implausible, but I think there’s a path to build Starship / Super Heavy for less than Falcon 9

                                — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 11, 2019

                                At least 10X cheaper

                                — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 11, 2019

                        That would be a real game changer, but I'm not holding my breath.

                        • (Score: 1) by khallow on Thursday March 14 2019, @09:05PM (2 children)

                          by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Thursday March 14 2019, @09:05PM (#814466) Journal
                          Impressive if true, BUT...
                          • (Score: 2) by Immerman on Thursday March 14 2019, @09:13PM (1 child)

                            by Immerman (3985) on Thursday March 14 2019, @09:13PM (#814475)

                            Exactly.

                            • (Score: 1) by khallow on Thursday March 14 2019, @09:21PM

                              by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Thursday March 14 2019, @09:21PM (#814482) Journal
                              Let me just say here, that I have never cared what Musk has tweeted about. This is in large part why. I simply don't believe it's going to be true and thus, there's not much point to discussing tweets and similar communication eruptions. Further, the whole industry is lousy with this stuff. We have all kinds of people making all kinds of unfounded claims about what their business/national space program/pet project/etc is going to do in a few short years.
                              Nothing is the usual result.
  • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Tuesday March 12 2019, @06:30PM (4 children)

    by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday March 12 2019, @06:30PM (#813406) Journal

    Congress may reinstate funding for the SLS. The beast is not finished yet.

    Put a stick in it. It's done.

    There are other congress critters who would like to steal that pork to their own districts or better into their own pockets.

    --
    Trump is a poor man's idea of a rich man, a weak man's idea of a strong man, and a stupid man's idea of a smart man.
    • (Score: 2) by takyon on Tuesday March 12 2019, @07:17PM (3 children)

      by takyon (881) <{takyon} {at} {soylentnews.org}> on Tuesday March 12 2019, @07:17PM (#813429) Journal

      https://arstechnica.com/science/2019/03/nasas-new-budget-raises-questions-about-the-future-of-its-sls-rocket/ [arstechnica.com]

      The US Senate will have much to say about this budget before it is done. In years past, the Senate Appropriations Committee, under the direction of its chairman Richard Shelby, has plussed up the administration budgets for NASA's SLS rocket.

      The Alabama senator reiterated as much last week during a session of the Space Transportation Association. Another speaker was Jody Singer, the director of Alabama's Marshall Space Flight Center, where the SLS rocket is managed.

      "As chairman of the appropriations committee, I have more than a passing interest in what NASA does. And I have a little parochial interest, too, in what they do in Huntsville, Alabama," where Marshall is located, Sen. Shelby said. "Jody, you keep doing what you're doing. We'll keep funding you."

      Shelby and his staffers will no doubt understand the implications of the president's budget and what it would mean for the utility of the SLS rocket. If enacted, these changes could spell the beginning of the end of the SLS rocket, especially if it experiences further delays. This will be one budget battle that is interesting to follow.

      Congress can and probably will ignore an initial move by the White House to kill SLS.

      --
      [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 [soylentnews.org]
      • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Tuesday March 12 2019, @07:46PM (2 children)

        by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday March 12 2019, @07:46PM (#813437) Journal

        I won't argue that a dying animal continues to give off signs of life for a period of time. That just makes it more sad.

        --
        Trump is a poor man's idea of a rich man, a weak man's idea of a strong man, and a stupid man's idea of a smart man.