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posted by martyb on Sunday November 10 2019, @07:09PM   Printer-friendly
from the when-pork-flies dept.

White House warns Congress about Artemis funding

The White House warned Congress in a recent letter that without funding increases for its exploration programs, NASA won't be able to achieve the goal of landing humans on the moon in 2024.

The Oct. 23 letter from Russell Vought, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), to Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, addressed overall issues with appropriations bills that Shelby's committee had approved in recent weeks, including the Commerce, Justice and Science (CJS) bill that funds NASA.

"The Administration appreciates the Committee's continued support for space exploration, reflected in the $22.8 billion provided in the bill for NASA," Vought wrote in the letter, first reported by Ars Technica.

He took issue, though, with the funding provided for exploration research and development, which includes work on lunar landers and the lunar Gateway. "However, the $1.6 billion provided for exploration research and development (R&D) is insufficient to fully fund the lander system that astronauts would use to return to the Moon in 2024," he wrote. "Funding exploration R&D at the $2.3 billion level requested in the FY 2020 Budget is needed to support the Administration's goal of returning to the Moon by 2024."

From the Ars Technica article:

Congress has mandated that NASA use the more costly SLS[*] booster to launch the ambitious Europa Clipper mission to Jupiter in the early 2020s, while the White House prefers the agency to fly on a much-less-expensive commercial rocket. In a section discussing the Clipper mission, Vought's letter includes a cost estimate to build and fly a single SLS rocket in a given year—more than $2 billion—which NASA has not previously specified.

[*] SLS: Space Launch System.

At the U.S. Air Force Space Pitch Day on November 5, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk put a much smaller number on the cost of launching a fully reusable Starship:

"A single Starship will expend about $900,000 worth of fuel and oxygen for pressurization to send "at least 100 tons, probably 150 tons to orbit," Musk said. SpaceX's cost to operate Starship will be around $2 million per flight, which is "much less than even a tiny rocket," he added.

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  • (Score: 2) by anotherblackhat on Monday November 11 2019, @06:16PM (1 child)

    by anotherblackhat (4722) on Monday November 11 2019, @06:16PM (#918995)

    The comparison is between a rocket that has been designed to be an expendable pork bundle, and a rocket that is designed for full reusability. The comparison is fair.

    No, the comparison is between a rocket that that has been designed to be an expendable pork bundle, and fueling and staging a rocket that is reusable (some number of times as yet to be determined).

    My guesstimate is about $100 million to build a new Starship (Basically, 37+6 raptor engines at $2 million a piece) Whether it lasts 1, 10, 100, or 1,000 launches makes a huge difference in the price per launch.
    Even at it's most expensive that's still an order of magnitude cheaper than SLS, but not three orders.

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  • (Score: 2) by takyon on Monday November 11 2019, @10:02PM

    by takyon (881) <> on Monday November 11 2019, @10:02PM (#919115) Journal

    I see no reason to believe that Starship will not be successfully reused, refueled in orbit (something Musk claims will be easy), and spammed repeatedly. That's what it's designed for. Today we saw the first "4th use" of a Falcon 9 Block 5 that was not designed to be reused hundreds of times. I will grant you that a trip to the Moon could require up to 10 ships launched for repeated in-orbit refueling. So $20 million minimum instead of $2 million. I don't think build cost will hit $100 million, even for the early full scale prototypes, since it is highly dependent on Raptor engine production with a goal of "<$250,000" per engine. Musk has previously hinted that it could cost less than Falcon 9 to build []. For the very first full launch of the rocket, they want to have around 100 Raptor engines produced. These could get reused, blown up, or made obsolete if there are major engine changes. The first customers to get launched will be SpaceX (Starlink) and unnamed telecoms. By the time NASA gets its first Starship launch, the design will be more mature and the build rate of Raptor engines will be higher.

    If we want the Starship to be one and done, we could think of a partially expendable mission plan. Land the Super Heavy booster since that's easier and has the most Raptor engines. Leave the Starship somewhere after it reaches the Moon, with no expectation of recovery. Only six engines would be made inaccessible.

    $2 billion is also a conservative estimate for SLS cost. That cost could be pegged at $3 billion, or if factoring in program costs, $5 billion and up based on the total number of launches. If SLS only ever launches 3-5 times before being sent to the dustbin of history, I could see $10-20 billion per launch, making it firmly 2 orders of magnitude over the zillions of Starship launches with their own development costs factored in.

    In the end, SLS will never escape from the build cost being the approximate launch cost. With Starship, there is no expectation of expendable launches like we have seen with Falcon 9. Starship has been "overspec'd" for the purpose of enabling full reusability for every mission (with the possible requirement of creating return propellant on the surface of Mars, the Moon, etc.).

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