Another NASA authorization bill this year?


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Less than a day after President Trump signed the first NASA authorization bill since 2010, it appears that two major players, one in industry and one in Congress, would like to revisit this bill again this year.

The first story summarizes and quotes from a series of tweets sent out by Elon Musk reacting to the bill, of which the most important noted ““changes almost nothing about what NASA is doing. Existing programs stay in place and there is no added funding for Mars,” and adding, “Perhaps there will be some future bill that makes a difference for Mars, but this is not it.”

The second story describes comments made by Cruz at a Commercial Spaceflight Federation breakfast on March 22, where he noted that in 2017 Cruz hoped to do it all over again, with a different focus: “In this coming Congress, I hope to take up another commercial space launch piece of legislation, and a longer-term NASA authorization.”

I suspect that both want and expect some changes in how NASA has been doing things, and the just-signed authorization did not accomplish that. The bill was written last year, as Cruz also noted in his remarks, and thus could not reflect any policy changes we can expect from Trump. I also suspect that both Musk and Cruz want to influence that policy, which is not yet determined. I am hoping that Capitalism in Space, which their offices have both received, is having some of its own influence here, even if it is tiny.

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7 comments

  • LocalFluff

    Musk and Cruz represent private space and Mars, while likely NASA administrator Bridenstein has teamed up with Paul Spudis ideas which means SLS and the Moon. Will be interesting to see how this plays out. Trump’s “Oreo space raft” bill signing showed that Cruz has the upper hand now, maybe only temporarily because of some kind of connection with the health care reform attempt?

    Obviously private+Moon would be the best combination to get sustained human space flight going quickly. That would be more like what Jeff Bezos is aiming for. But his newspaper is in total war against the president, who in turn has promised that he will crush Amazon’s “monopoly”, so Bezos will have to do his space thing without any government assistance next 8 years. (Or he could quit his lost war and liquidate the newspaper as a gift to Trump, giving him a great victory in the fake news war).

    Bridenstein understanding space politics and Spudis understanding Lunar space flight would make historic success as a team. But if Elon Musk, who is nominally presidential adviser (for the car industry), explains that he can have a Falcon Heavy with a crewed Dragon round the Moon at a tiny fraction of the cost of the first crewed Orea space raft, and sooner, Trump maybe makes it his business to interfere and stop the disaster. NASA today pays $133mn for a F9 with a cargo Dragon. Even if a crewed Falcon Heavy is twice as expensive, it is still just half of a percent of SLS+Oreo space raft’s $43bn until first flight. That must bug any money loving businessman who understands it.

    The public think that space flight is much more expensive than it is (and they are right in the case of SLS+Oreo), so Trump might use space as a way to show how he gets more for less. Even if NASA’s 0.5% of the federal budget is political irrelevant, it could have a much disproportionate symbolic value for Trump to ride on the private space wave. There’s as we space nerds all know, huge potential for doing space more efficiently.

  • LocalFluff

    What I don’t get with Bridenstein (on his own blog) and some other “Moon as a stepping stone to Mars” advocates, is their argument that Lunar water could be used to refuel satellites around Earth. It cannot, for at least three reasons:

    1) Satellites generally do not use oxygen and hydrogen once in orbit. Instead they use hypergolic fuels which are not known to be possible to produce on the Moon (big shortage of nitrogen). And I suppose they would need to replenish helium or nitrogen of CO, also not available from the Moon, used for pressurization and cold gas thrusters.

    2) The technical life time, the fuel supply, is not the life time limiting factor for communication satellites. They live in a Moore’s law world where the economic lifetime kills them. A ten year old comsat isn’t worth so much anymore, it’s better to launch a new one than to refuel it. If anything, the spacecraft bus can live many decades, with replaced electronics Hubble Space telescope style. But new electronics of course comes from Earth and the upgrade mission could easily bring extra fuel too.

    3) It has to compete with launching fuel from Earth, at about $3,000 per kilogram today. $2,000 if Falcon Heavy works as promised. And even less when reusability becomes routine. And then the next generation of reusable launchers, having learned from today’s experiences, will come online before any fuel factory can be built on the Moon.

    Lunar fuel is great for use on the Moon, for getting home from the Moon and for hopping around on the Moon. But it will never play any role as gas station for spacecrafts that never lands on the Moon.

  • Edward

    LocalFluff wrote: “Lunar fuel is great for use on the Moon, for getting home from the Moon and for hopping around on the Moon. But it will never play any role as gas station for spacecrafts that never lands on the Moon.

    That is a shortsighted view. Today’s satellites may use today’s fuels, but if it saves money then future satellites will use the inexpensive lunar fuels of the future. If it saves money, then additional chemicals (e.g. nitrogen or carbon) can be shipped up from Earth in order to generate hypergolic or monopropellant fuels from lunar water.

    Fuels of the future need not only be used on satellites that do not get designed to use them, they can be used on spacecraft that ferry people and cargo around cisLunar space. ULA’s ACES is an example, and ULA is designing it to do just that. Lunar fuels can be used for trips beyond cisLunar, into interplanetary space, such at trips to Mars.

    Even the Oreo space-raft* (I think Trump thought he was about to say “Ariane,” because it sounded more like O’reun, to me) can have a service module that runs on LOX and LH2.

    The usefulness of fuel lifted off the Moon and into LEO over lifting fuel from the Earth is due to the lower effort that is needed to take anything from the Moon to LEO than it is to take the same thing up from the Earth.

    I like to compare the Gemini spacecraft, which used a Titan II rocket to get to LEO to the Apollo Lunar Module’s ascent module, which lifted itself off the Moon. The delta V and fuel use to get from the Moon to LEO is significantly less than getting it up from the Earth, and it is even more so if aerobraking is used. Counterintuitive? Yes, but true.

    From the video in the second link: “The objective of this bill was to … provide continuity and stability and a firm foundation for NASA to continue.

    This explains why the bill does not give NASA a new goal to achieve, such as getting back to the Moon or supplying space infrastructure that would assist in getting back to the Moon or getting to Mars. If Trump wants to achieve something big in space during his (first) term, he needs to get it started right away, because it takes time to design, build, and use the hardware that will make the accomplishment happen.

    * I think that he repeated the word “craft” rather than saying “raft,” ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9HzadC1imjQ#t=120 ) but the word raft better describes what we put our people in when we send them to space. The space stations and the Space Shuttle were a little roomier and were/are more like boats rather than rafts.

  • LocalFluff

    The big problem for space flight is lifting anything from Earth, that’s right. Once in LEO you’re half way to anywhere, and could use magic like SEP or Solar sails. So, should we import water from the Moon to Earth’s surface? NOT!

    Satellites don’t use hydrogen because those single protons destroy the metal in the tanks, it is not a long-term storable fuel. That alone kills the whole Moon fuel export idea. Permanently.

    The reason NASA got a status quo bill is that Trump has other priorities. He’s thinking about sick people and crime victims first, those who voted for him. He wants to be re-elected. Most astronauts seem to be fanatic Al Gore climate doomsday myth believers who ignore the blatantly obvious. I doubt NASA will remain status quo for 4 years, it’s just way down on the to do list.

    * “The Oreo spacecraft raft”. That’s actually an appropriate renaming considering what it is, maybe he knows more about it than it seems? No, when he reads non-American English words he just tends to make fun of their pronunciation. Like “Tanzaynia”. It’s a way to show that he is a man of the people who doesn’t hide behind fancy foreign words, as if they were magic spells. And I think he hates reading out loud pre-printed text like a school child. His mind is working on other things while he’s doing it.
    “No more Oreon’s for you, Chris Christie!” (get a diet, candy ass, and btw get out, get’em out a here!)

  • Edward

    LocalFluff,
    You wrote: “it is not a long-term storable fuel.

    The rocket scientists and engineers at ULA differ with your analysis. They think that they can deliver LOX and LH2 throughout cisLunar space:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uxftPmpt7aA#t=285

    Others are working on long-term storage in space for cryogenic fuels. On the following page, below the photograph of Charles Miller, they discuss the concept of filling stations in space.
    http://www.houstonchronicle.com/nasa/adrift/3/

  • ken anthony

    Musk put out the idea of red Dragons going to mars every window and likely hoped NASA would be an anchor tenant.If NASA had gotten behind the plan he probably would have made the 2018 window, but went with 2020 because that didn’t happen and he needs to focus on paying customers first.

  • Edward

    LocalFluff wrote: “Satellites don’t use hydrogen because those single protons destroy the metal in the tanks, it is not a long-term storable fuel.

    There are plenty of people working on refueling stations in space, despite other technological priorities at the moment. Read the section beginning with the sentence “They have, in fact, backed off developing a technology critical to enabling the Miller plan to open up cislunar space.” (about 3/4 down the page):
    http://www.houstonchronicle.com/nasa/adrift/3/

    NewSpace has the can-do attitude that NASA had in the 1960s.

    LocalFluff wrote: “The reason NASA got a status quo bill is that Trump has other priorities.

    There has been talk that Trump wants an achievement in space that he can call his own. To do this, he needs to start sooner rather than later, and this was my point.

    Space has been proved achievable, but final cures for disease and crime have proved to be not achievable and will not be his legacy. If he has prioritized something else, then his legacy will be something else.

    Legacies of recent presidents:
    – Obama: the disastrous, failing Obamacare
    – Bush: the War on Terror, which others made sure was lost
    – Clinton: scandal, lies, and impeachment by the House
    – Bush: broken promise of “No new taxes”
    – Reagan: a booming economy and winning the cold war
    – Carter: a broken economy and Iranian hostages
    – Ford: falling down the Air Force One stairs
    – Nixon: scandal and resignation
    – Johnson: the Great (socialist) Society and the (endless, futile, unwinnable) War on Poverty (similar to the war in “1984”)
    – Kennedy: Moon landings, a victorious battle in the cold war
    – Eisenhower: interstate highways and Sputnik
    – Truman: Korean War
    – Roosevelt: the Raw Deal — er — The New Deal
    – Hoover: the Great Depression
    – Harding and Coolidge: the roaring ’20s
    – Wilson: progressivism and socialism in the US

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