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NASA to unveil its heavy-lift rocket design

Two stories, one from AP and the other from Florida Today, say that NASA will announce today the design of its heavy-lift rocket, mandated by Congress and estimated to cost around $35 billion. Here is NASA’s press release. To me, this is the key quote (from AP):

NASA figures it will be building and launching about one rocket a year for about 15 years or more in the 2020s and 2030s, according to senior administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the announcement was not yet made. The idea is to launch its first unmanned test flight in 2017 with the first crew flying in 2021 and astronauts heading to a nearby asteroid in 2025, the officials said. From there, NASA hopes to send the rocket and astronauts to Mars — at first just to circle, but then later landing on the Red Planet — in the 2030s. [emphasis mine]

In other words, after spending $1.7 on the National Space Plane, $1.2 billion on the X-33, $1 billion on the X-34, $800 million on the Space Launch Initiative, and finally, almost $10 billion on Constellation, none of which ever flew, NASA is now going to spend another $35 billion on a new rocket that won’t fly for at least another decade.

To be really blunt, this new rocket, like all its predecessors, will never fly either. It costs too much, will take too long to build, and will certainly be canceled by a future administration before it is finished. It is therefore a complete waste of money, and any Congress that approves it will demonstrate how utterly insincere they are about controlling spending.

A clarification: Some of the $35 billion mentioned above has already been spent for the Orion capsule. This however still does not change any of my conclusions.

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


  • Joe2

    “A clarification: Some of the $35 billion mentioned above has already been spent for the Orion capsule. This however still does not change any of my conclusions.”

    Here is another clarification. If you listened to the press conference the actual figures are $10B for the SLS and $6B for the MPCV through FY 2017.

    I suppose those figures will not change your conclusions either since they seem to be faith (or is it lack of faith?) based.

  • Joe3

    Yeh!!! The Pied Piper of Hamelin lives on and history, once again, repeats itself. The stakes in the ongoing “David Versus Golliath” battle also appear to be increasing. Golliath = the status quo space industry. David = the underdog, i.e., the emerging Commercial Space. Watching these two opposing forces battle each other is very entertaining, to say the least. Since history repeats itself, at the conclusion of this battle, we all know who is going to win, don’t we?

  • Joe2

    The natural response to such a post would be to resort to sarcasm, but since the post is so strange, I will just say:

    Have a nice day.

  • david

    The claim that SPACEX will be “ready” by 2012 is pure hogwash…..ready for what??? Certainly NOT a man-rated large booster!

  • Joe xsquare

    I believe that SPACEX has a good chance of a maned flight to the ISS in the 2015 – 2016 time frame (hopefully sooner), but way before this overly expensive ridiculous pile of c–p can get there. The DRAGON capsule will not cost anywhere near that of NASA’s version. This concept is so off-the-wall that surely it MUST BE DESIGNED FOR FAILURE FROM THE GET-GO for some hidden political purpose. How long will it take to DESIGN, TEST, BUILD, MAN RATE a NEW LARGE liquid fuel engine (regardless of the fuel/oxidizer combination) that can equal the thrust of just one of the 4 or 5 segment solid rocket motors. The 4 segment has about 3.3 million lbs and the 5 segment about 3.6 million lbs for each motor. It will take 2 of the Saturn 5’s F1 engines (at about 1.6 millions lbs each engine) to nearly provide the thrust of just one current off the shelf available solid rocket motor. They seem to have LOST the manufacturing documents for building the F1 anyway. Ha. Building a new large liquid engine is a complete waste of time and money. In my opinion going back to the moon and delivering a cargo of men, material, habitats, equipment will require a earth lift-off thrust of at least 10 millions lbs thrust that will require 3 of more currently available solid rocket motors or there equivalent. Going to MARS will either require multiple launches of a moon size rocket OR even a large booster, say one that uses 5 or 6 of currently available solid rocket motors. That is a lift off thrust of 15 t0 18 millions lbs to hurl the needed mass to MARS. Of course we could try building an on orbit refueling deposit. But what liquid fuel and oxidizer combination would you store in orbit and for how long. For each MOON or MARS mission, how many rocket flights, at what cost, an what success rate, do you have to fly in order to re-supply the fuel deposit????? When is some one going to demonstrate the LARGE VOLUME TRANSFER of both a fuel and oxidizer is SPACE WITHOUT HUMAN INTERVENTION SUCCESSFULLY AND SAFELY BETWEEN 2 LARGE VEHICLES AND FIRE UP THE ENGINES AND AWAY WE GO????. With all the current space debris float around in orbit what is the change of getting a small hole or leak somewhere in this tankage??? Do any of you really want to “take this ride”??? Then there is the SMALL ISSUE of having 3 to 6 folks setting in there take-off seat for about 9 months each way to and from MARS without a toilet, water, food storage, any where to move around. Some schemes suggest using two capsules linked at the nose for a trip to a NEO. What at laugh!!! MARS travel will require something at least the size of the Space Shuttle stuffed full of water, food, and a functioning toilet, and being a litter bug all the way, some exercise equipment, something to do to KEEP from being bored to death. To my way of thinking, a Shuttle size vehicle would be about the right size to deliver a cargo of men, material, habitats, equipment, food, water, etc to the MOON. And YES a shuttle sized vehicle (minus it’s wing, tail, landing gear, etc) COULD BE used built to travel back and forth to the moon to deliver or return people or cargo. You use it like the trailer section of an 18-wheeler. You just launch and attach/hookup a new or refurbish propulsion module for each trip. Of course you would need to load the trailer with your cargo. So more launches. And of course your propulsion module will need additional fuel to SLOW DOWN an enter Earth ORBIT so you can transfer to a capsule at the ISS to get back to the ground in one piece.

  • Joe xsquare

    Robert / Bob
    I have read your books. I still agree with your basic ideas. I still believe going to Mars can be done and should be done. Mars base and yes a moon base too. It does not look like NASA is going to even try, without a big PUSH. The only big push I see would be from China, an that will take to about 2030 or so. So what are you advocating these days to get Mars????

    Dewayne Ferguson

  • Dewayne,

    If you have read my books, you know that I consider freedom to be the touchstone to any healthy, prosperous, and successful society. Moreover, I want freedom not only for us here on Earth, but for future space colonists as well. Thus, it is very important to me that when we go to Mars, we do it right. I do not see a big government-run program as the way to do it right. Such an approach is slow, wasteful of money, and often fails. Worse, everything I have ever seen from government tells me that even if it gets us there it will produce space colonies that are oppressive and stifling to the human spirit.

    I would much rather that our space colonies grew out of a robust, freely chaotic, competitive space industry, working hard to sell its products to those who freely chose to buy. With that, all things will be possible. and the result will be a space-faring society that allows everyone to follow their own particular dreams, rather than have a few political leaders or their appointees dictating their own ideas to us all on how we should explore the solar system.

    I hope that answers your question.


  • This blog is remarkable. Please continue to post. I will forward this to all of my facebook friends.

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