August 4, 2016 Zimmerman/Batchelor podcast

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Embedded below the fold. I started with the Chinese and North Korean space programs, and ended up comparing them with the competitive and chaotic American system of private enterprise which is forcing down the cost of getting payloads into orbit while pushing the entire industry to greater innovation.


  • Localfluff

    There’s a telecon presentation (slides and sound file) from FISO this week.

    It is held with guys from ATK, Boeing, Rocketdyne who build the SLS. You probably find some blogging material there.

    What impresses me is that SLS seems to be happening for real with its Congress support. If I get it correctly, it is actually law now that NASA must use one SLS each for an orbiter and a lander to Europa. And SLS Block 1 can take 25 tons to Jupiter orbit after a five year flight time, they say, with one gravity assist of Earth. 50 tons in Jupiter orbit!? That’s more than the sum of everything ever sent to the outer Solar System. The economics of it aside, it looks as if there will be a yuuuge lander and a yuuuge orbiter at Europa only about ten years from now. Ten times a Cassini, ten times a Curiosity. The mass budget should really be enough to land a deep drill/melter there and kick up some samples (melt water sucked up through a tube) to an orbiter with tons of fuel to dock with it and bring it to Earth.

    Big rockets are nice!

  • Edward

    Big rockets are nice, but the Europa probe that was proposed could have been launched on an existing rocket that costs about 1/10th the cost of an SLS — and would not have taken up a valuable SLS that would otherwise be available for a manned mission. The billions of extra dollars used to launch the Europa probe could be used for multiple other probes, meaning two or three unmanned explorations will not be funded because of the extra cost of the Europa launch, in addition to the unlaunched manned mission.

    Rather than sending a larger payload, NASA is talking about reducing the travel time.
    “Using SLS instead of currently available rockets would slash the probe’s journey to the Jupiter system from about eight years to less than three years … Mission team members are developing the Europa flyby craft to fit on a variety of different launch vehicles, including SLS.”

    The article says, “‘This is one of those rare cases where time really is money,’ [John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate] said. ‘In that extra cruise time, you know, we have to maintain an engineering team and a science team and a spacecraft while it’s in cruise, even if we hibernate. And that’s something that also delays the science.'”

    Although a faster travel time may have advantages, the number of other lost missions makes it seem not worth the advantages. Currently, engineering and science teams work on the next project while the current project is in transit. They stay productive. But if there is not enough money for the next project, then what do they do for three years?

    Big rockets are only nice when they are properly used for projects that need big rockets. Otherwise they only waste valuable resources that would be better used productively.

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