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The European Space Agency and NASA have confirmed that the Europeans will be building the service module for Orion.
First, this is very expensive. Europe will spend $600 million to design and build the service module. Note that this is just the service module, not the entire spacecraft. Yet, the cost is about 60% of the entire budget of the NASA’s commercial crew program, which is funding three different spacecraft capable of putting humans in orbit.
Second, this is a great deal for Lockheed Martin. To quote the article, “While Lockheed Martin was originally contracted by NASA to build the service module, it will not be out of pocket. Instead, the funding that was to be used for this work will now be reallocated to other Orion and SLS programme activities.” In other words, this deal has raised the already expensive cost for the SLS Orion capsule by more than a half a billion dollars. And in doing so it has dumped more than a half a billion dollars of pork into Lockheed Martin’s pocket.
Third, anything that SLS now does has to be negotiated between NASA and ESA, making for an exceedingly complex project. For example, there is this story about how the deal will force NASA to put a European astronaut on the second Orion test flight, the one that will supposedly circle the Moon. In general, this partnership — combined with the micromanaging of SLS from Congress — makes SLS a kind of Frankenstein committee, whereby every new goal has to negotiated between multiple partners.
How would you like to create something this complex under these conditions?
All in all, this deal is to me is only one more nail in the coffin for SLS. It only increases the complexity and cost of an already too-complex and too-expensive project. Worse, considering the governmental budget problems in both the U.S. and Europe, it puts even more budgetary pressure on the project. I fully expect these funds to dry up long before the first flight.
And even if they don’t and that first orbital mission to the Moon does happen, don’t expect any worthwhile follow ups. There just won’t be money enough to do it. SLS will at best be like the Apollo landings, a one time stunt that will do little to establish the human race in space.