In a striking turn, NASA administrator Jim Bridzhenshin said the space agency will consider launching its first Orion mission on the moon on the commercial market. rockets instead of its own NASA space system. It caught up with practically the entire aerospace world and represented a daring change from the status quo of Orion as an American spacecraft, and SLS as a powerful rocket in America that will launch it.
During a Senate Commerce Committee hearing to assess the future of America in space, chairman of the committee, Senator Roger Vicker, opened the Bridgestin request for a Missile-1 study of prolonged delays. The EM-1 test flight includes the departure of the Orion spacecraft for a three-week mission to the lunar orbit and is considered to be the first step by NASA to return people to the moon. This mission was originally planned by the end of 2017, but it has been reduced several times, most recently by June 2020. Also, it turned out that this date is also not enforceable.
"SLS is trying to fulfill its schedule," Bridenstein replied to Wicker's question. "Now we better understand how difficult this project is, and it will take some extra time. I want to be really clear. I think that we, as an agency, must abide by our obligations. If we tell you and others that we are about to launch in June 2020 around the Moon, I think we should launch around the Moon in June 2020. And I think that this can be done, we must consider how the agency has all the options to achieve this goal.
The only other option at this stage is the use of two large, privately designed heavy-duty rockets instead of one SLS amplifier. Although not as powerful as the SLS missile, these commercial launch vehicles could allow the mission to be scheduled.
How will this work? probably the second stage of the Delta-Cryogen or the upper stage of the Centaur, which is currently used on United Launch Alliance rockets. Then the second heavy-lift rocket released Orion capsule and its service module into orbit, and these two vehicles would be fixed. At the upper stage heated orientated orbit
Bridenstein did not name missiles during the hearing, but it seems almost certain that at least one of them will be the Delta IV Heavy, built by the United Launch Alliance. NASA used this rocket to launch the version of the Orion spacecraft at 3600 km in 2014. Both United United Launch and SpaceX with the Falcon Heavy missile will be invited to take part in the second launch competition.
A spectacular spectacle – imagine SpaceX Falcon Heavy on one launch pad, and the United Delunch Alliance Delta IV Heavy on the site just a few kilometers, starting within hours of each other. It will represent the two largest rocket companies in the country that are going together for a historic mission – but it remains unclear whether both producers will be involved.
Coordination of two launches and an orbital date requires new technologies and procedures. " I want to be clear, we are not entitled now to have the ability to secure the capsule of the Orion crew in any orbit," Bridgestins said. "Thus, from now until June 2020 we will have to make it a reality."
However, NASA has done similar things before. In 1966, the Gemini 10 mission saw that Aegena's upper stage was launched into space, followed by John Young and Michael Collins in 100 minutes in the Gemini capsule. The spacecraft and Agen collided approximately 270 kilometers above the Earth, and then burned the Agen engine to a height of 760 kilometers, which is the highest altitude above the earth's surface, which has been reached by any person before.
However, time is short. If NASA starts this mission by June 2020, it must identify the missiles and the upper stage it will use, set Orion to fly on a new missile, write and check dock procedures, and more. For an agency that is accustomed to moving relatively slowly, it will require a lot of haste.
What is happening now?
Bridgestin said that NASA engineers are already exploring how to do it. He responded for a few weeks, but an e-mail to Johnson Space Center staff in Huntsville on Wednesday, Mark Mark Geyer, said that a preliminary response could take place next week.
The deep support of this plan is carried out within the framework of the agency. Mid-level managers would be relatively easy to kill this idea, as it was before (perhaps the most famous of the initiatives of George W. Bush's Space Research in 1989 and 1990, as stated in Mars Wars ). Nevertheless, the source said Ars, a key figure at NASA headquarters, space flight chief Bill Gerstenmeier, on board with the plan. This is important because it means that research should be done fairly.
Why SLS was controversial?
The short answer is that the missile was largely conceived in the US Senate, so much that it is disdainfully called. Senate Launch System. The rocket had a huge budget (more than $ 12 billion and counting), and yet it suffered constant delays. And he uses the old technology – the similar approach Apollon used to reach the Moon, with a large, costly missile that is neither economical nor stable. In fact, the missile uses the redundant Space Shuttle main engines that were designed to be multiple, but which of the SLS will be thrown out after each launch.
In addition, funding from NASA to develop the SLS rocket, the Congress prevented the agency from working on promising technologies such as refueling in the orbit, fuel depot, space tugs and other bits that would open up opportunities for a more economical space transport system and would allow use smaller, multiple rockets, like those that evolved into SpaceX. (A longer story about it can be read here.)
Why Did Bridzenst Do It?
It was a bold step for the NASA administrator. If this mission happens, and if it succeeds, it opens the way for commercial missiles to safely send people to the moon. Commenting on the shape of Bridenstine said that the agency's advantage remains with the space launch system for Orion's missions, but it is difficult to see much more expensive SLSs that are used in the future if existing commercial launches can perform the same tasks. This means that NASA can complete its entire monthly program for the next decade or two commercial missiles that either exist either now or will be in place in the near future, for example, the new Glenn Blue Origin. Finally, it also opens the door for launching SLS-blocked economic technologies such as low-level orbit refueling and multiple missions with smaller missiles.
For this reason, it is very interesting to suggest such a concept in the Senate when there is such deep institutional support for the SLS rocket for almost a decade. It was Bridenstein's moment. He made his statement on Wednesday on the witness table, without scribbling, speaking clearly. He always said he wants to head NASA and help the agency return to the moon soon. On Wednesday, he took the opportunity to act.
Many sources told Ars that Vice President Mike Pence, who manages US space policy, supports this approach. Pence is tired of SLS delays, and wants to see how NASA works with the lunar program. The launch in 2020 will take place before the end of President Trump's first term, and will mean that the administration's talk about the return of the human month is not just a rhetoric. This will show that the White House is serious about it.
How will the Congress react?
President Obama was also not a major champion for the SLS missile – his administration agreed to fund it in exchange for supporting Boeing and SpaceX commercial crew capsules, which will soon deliver astronauts to the International Space Station. Since its inception in 2011, the SLS program has been most supported by the US Senate, in particular, by Richard Shelby, who is now headed by a powerful committee for appropriations. Marshall Space Flight Center, which manages the SLS for NASA, is located in Alabama.
So far, Shelby is not on board with the plan proposed by Bridenstine. "Although I agree that the delay in the SLS launch schedule is unacceptable, I firmly believe that the SLS should launch Orion," he said in a statement released by Ars.
The support of the PENS and the promise of continuing funding for SLS, it seems possible that Shelby can be convinced that he does not openly oppose this plan, or block it through its power of purse. The least – both missiles must be built by the United Launch Alliance, which collects its accelerators in Alabama. Despite this, it will be a key driver if NASA engineers consider this plan to be feasible.
SpaceX did not respond to a request for comments on their potential participation in this mission The Alliance submitted the following statement:
ULA recognizes the unprecedented capabilities of NASA's space system to provide effective architecture in the study of Cislunar and Mars. We are proud to have collaborated with Boeing to develop the Interim Cryogenic Reduction (ICPS) phase for the first SLS flight. If asked, we can provide a description of the capabilities of our rocket carriers to meet the needs of NASA, but acknowledge that they are not in line with the super-heavy lifting and mission performance provided by SLS for NASA's research missions.
It is important to note that the United Launch Alliance is a joint property of Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Boeing is the primary contractor for the SLS missile. This statement reflects this nuance.