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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: 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.

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  • (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.

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    • (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.