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During the second meeting of the National Space Council today this tidbit was quietly revealed by NASA’s acting administrator:
Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot acknowledged that the space agency’s heavy-lift rocket, the Space Launch System, would not make its first uncrewed test flight until 2020. The first crewed SLS-Orion mission is still due to take a trip around the moon and back in 2023.
Lightfoot also mentioned that NASA provide support for a 2020 commercial lunar landing.
SLS continues to be this ever receding but very expensive fantasy, scheduled for a future that never arrives, while spending enormous amounts of money that would be far better spent in other ways. The first launch, should it happen in 2020, would be three years later than originally planned, nine years after the initiation of the SLS project, and sixteen years after George Bush first proposed it. For this single unmanned test mission NASA will have spent about $25 billion. Meanwhile, I fully expect Falcon Heavy as well as Blue Origin’s New Glenn to fly numerous times, both costing mere pennies in comparison, and far less time to develop.
The article at the link is not focused on this tidbit. Instead provides a good summary of the National Space Council meeting itself. It increasingly appears, not surprisingly, that the Trump administration is going to focus on streamlining the space regulatory process for commercial space. It is also taking a look at the national security threats to U.S. military assets in space, posed by China and others, which are forcing the military and administration to review how it has been building these assets. Expect a continuing and accelerating shift by the Air Force to many frequently launched smallsats instead big but rarely launched behemoths.
It also appears to me that the Trump administration is treading lightly when it discusses the giant pork projects like SLS. It is partnering closely with all the private companies that build space assets, from the independent commercial space sector epitomized by SpaceX to the traditional big space companies like Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Such a partnership will make it politically difficult to cut the pork that these traditional big companies depend on. Moreover, Trump appears to like these big government projects, as they represent how the U.S. has done space since the 1960s, allowing him to claim credit for a big space project, even if it never flies.
Posted from Beitar just over the green line in the West Bank. I head home late tonight.