Trump administration goes all in for LOP-G


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The swamp wins! In a speech today Vice President Mike Pence made it clear that the Trump administration is giving its full endorsement to the construction of the Lunar Orbiting Platform-Gateway (LOP-G), as well as SLS and Orion. These big boondoggles, which will trap us in lunar orbit while the Chinese set up lunar bases and take possession of the surface and its resources, are going forward, with both the president’s support as well as Congress’s.

Providing further evidence that the Trump administration has bought into these projects, in his introduction of Pence NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine gave a big public endorsement to the executive secretary of the National Space Council, Scott Pace, a man who has been a big supporter of these projects of the bureaucracy. Pace believes we need these projects, despite the fact that they have been under construction for two decades, have cost an ungodly amount, and have literally flown nowhere.

Pence also said that they intend to have the space force a reality by 2020, and also hinted that the Trump administration is making a careful review on the future of ISS.

Overall, the speech was a big endorsement for government space, in every way, with the private sector designed not to lead as free Americans following their personal dreams but to follow, servants of the desires of the government and its wishes.

If you want to listen to about 30 minutes of pro-government promotion, I expect it will be posted here at some point.

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19 comments

  • Localfluff

    Bye bye NASA human space flight! This devastatingly stupid plan will abolish that stuff altogether the next decade when FLOP-G is humiliatingly cancelled half done, because it is totally useless while China and private companies by then will be doing useful human space flight.

    Don’t miss tonight’s Mars Society debate about the LOP-G!
    8:30 pm California time. Zubrin vs John Mankins. Live here, I suppose:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zfw3_RTRRys

    To counter some of the nonsense arguments for it:

    Measuring the inter-planetary radiation environment.
    Well, it’s best done robotically, not with humans as living guinea pig Geiger counters. And it requires long duration stays, not just a few weeks at a time once a year as is planned for the LOP-G (because it’s life support will be dependent on that of the SLS launched Orion being docked to it). Also, LOP-G will measure the wrong radiation environment. It’s not a problem for the short trips to the Lunar surface. And Mars is on average 1.5 times further away from the Sun than the Moon is. This means that the Sun’s magnetic field, which protects somewhat against cosmic rays, will fall down to less than half its strength during a trip to mars. So will Solar particle events. MSL Curiosity had its radiometer on during its trip to Mars. Each robotic mission to Mars should measure the radiation, testing out different kinds of shielding.

    Supporting Lunar surface development.
    Then start out with developing the Lunar surface, until there is a need for orbital support for it. An irregular distant halo orbit is unsuited for excursions to the Lunar surface. Apollo’s orbiter went right above the lander, making it accessible for a rendezvous. A low or highly eccentric stable Lunar orbit would probably be the best for supporting a surface mission.

    Commercial and science use.
    No, not without access to Earth’s surface, where the business applications are. And not with only 5% the astronaut hours a year of that of the ISS today. There won’t be any time available for crewed commerce, space flight hardware testing or science.

    Partial gravity experiment.
    On the last Spaceshow, some space architects suggested using the LOP-G for finally trying out partial gravity. The only argument they had for it was that it will happen (which it won’t). Doing it in LEO makes it cheaper to access, allows for a quick evacuation to Earth and gives radiation protection. And again, long stays are necessary in order to yield any useful health data. Further, the three day trip to the LOP-G, in micro gravity, would compromise any study of the first few days of adaptation from 1G to partial gravity. It is no more realistic than using the ISS for the same purpose (which is undoable). The LOP-G is not at all designed for being rotated. The connections between the modules (and the docking port of the Orion) must all be designed to take up to 1G. The Solar panels and radio antenna need to be redesigned to stay pointed usefully as it all rotates. The interior needs to be layout so that the astronauts can reach it both with and without gravity. Or they will be standing on the floor of a tube, using ladders to reach other modules. (David has a talent for finding some pretty crazy guests!)

    LOP-G is ARM without the asteroid, without the retrieval and without the rendezvous, using the shuttle without the shuttle as an Apollo without the lander to make flag and footprint missions without the flags and footprints. Doing without what’s left of it would be a great improvement. Zubrin will have a field day tonight, this is his favorite candy.

  • MarcusZ1967

    Here is the LIVE link.

    https://youtu.be/qPN5nPZKT98

  • wodun

    Localfluff
    August 23, 2018 at 12:39 pm

    Bye bye NASA human space flight!

    We are currently funding human space flight while also funding SLS/Orion/LOP-G. SLS/Orion/LOP-G hasn’t been, and won’t be, the only thing NASA is doing.

    Now in its 3rd administration, what would the conditions have to be for SLS/Orion/LOP-G to get cancelled?

    I think that no matter how much people complain, we won’t get rid of SLS until it has flown out a small handful of missions or if the private sector rapidly advances over the next few years after the commercial crew program becomes reality. We are stuck with SLS/Orion and maybe LOP-G for the near future.

    The place where space cadet activists and advocates might have some sway is with what NASA does on the other PPP track they are on.

  • mkent

    This is both disappointing and extremely frustrating. Even after spending $4 billion / year for 14 years with nothing to show for it, we can’t even get an administration dedicated to draining the swamp to shoot this swamp creature and put it out of our misery.

    I just don’t understand how after all that wasted money someone can look at that program and say “Full speed ahead!”

  • Steve Cooper

    If they want to build LOP-G, and they want to shut down ISS, why don’t they move ISS to lunar orbit?

  • Edward

    wodun asked: “Now in its 3rd administration, what would the conditions have to be for SLS/Orion/LOP-G to get cancelled?

    Obama tried to cancel these by cancelling Constellation, but it was Congress that saved the idea and demanded that SLS be developed and that it carry Orion.

    So, what would it take to cancel them? Convincing Congress. They are the ones making the demands, so Trump is playing to their wishes. (So much for draining the swamp.)

    Steve Cooper asked: “If they want to build LOP-G, and they want to shut down ISS, why don’t they move ISS to lunar orbit?

    ISS is aging and it was designed to be high maintenance. No one had experience with a full-time manned station, before, and since it was going to be constantly manned then it seemed unproductive to spend time and money to automate it or to make it able to spend long durations as a dormant station.

    The real problem is that Orion-SLS and (F)LOP-G have no missions or goals to perform. They will be hardware in search of a purpose. This is always a bad way to go, because if we haven’t found a mission for Orion-SLS in the past eight years then why should we expect to find a purpose for that program in the next eight? Access to (F)LOP-G is not a valid purpose, because that space station also has no mission.

    Without a mission, NASA’s manned space program will just be a cluster bleep.

    From the movie “Heartbreak Ridge”:
    Colonel Meyers: What’s your assessment of this exercise?

    Highway: It’s a cluster [ahem].

    Colonel Meyers: Say again?

    Highway: Marines are fighting men, sir. They shouldn’t be sitting around on their sorry [behind]s filling out request forms for equipment they should already have.

    A final thought: NASA, Congress, and the administration have been giving lip service to forming private/public (commercial/government) partnerships (PPP), but so far NASA is advocating for and being directed to build government-only hardware, such as Orion-SLS and (F)LOP-G. The “private” part, the commercial operators, have not been thrilled over many of the proposed or funded NASA hardware or proposed missions. (F)LOP-G will do far less than ISS has done; it is not much of an advancement and does not seem to be an advancement in a useful direction.

    SpaceX invited NASA along on its proposed unmanned Mars mission, named Red Dragon, but that useful partnership crashed and burned when another part of NASA discouraged an important part of that mission: development of propulsive Dragon landings.

    NASA may have the funding to work on multiple projects at the same time, but unlike government, SpaceX does not have an endless stream of taxpayer dollars to spend on projects that will not pay off in the near future.

    Now is the time when commercial interests are planning their futures, and without working on these partnerships then the U.S. government is going to be left behind, as Robert and Localfluff said, orbiting the Moon rather than landing on it. Now is the time when NASA’s partnerships can be the most helpful in planning the future, not only of commercial space but of NASA’s manned space program, too.

    If government has not started working with the private sector in order to determine where such partnerships would do the best for America’s future, then what is the use of talking about these hypothetical partnerships?

  • Edward wrote, “No one had experience with a full-time manned station, before…”

    This is incorrect. The Russian’s Mir station was manned almost continually for a good portion of the fifteen years it was in orbit. It not only functioned well for relatively little cost, it actually demonstrated many of the technologies needed to build an interplanetary spaceship, something ISS has mostly failed to do.

    You have your copy of Leaving Earth. You might want to read it again. :)

  • Andrew_W

    I’m hoping that one of the private launch outfits will see commercial opportunities for manned lunar flights and that the US government won’t impede efforts in that direction.

  • Localfluff

    @wodun
    SLS and Orion are actually useful! The criticism against them is that they are horribly expensive compared to the alternatives (although those alternatives are yet almost as hypothetical as SLS+Orion). If SLS+Orion was the only alternative, it would still be worth that money. If a Lunar lander was added, they could be used for Apollo style missions to the Lunar surface, which would be a good way of starting the development of the Moon to learn where a surface base should be constructed and how to design a sustainable architecture for a more ambitious Lunar program. And this could be done before anyone else can do it, which would save the US government the trouble of a political and commercial space conflict with Lunar competitors.

    Orion is made for Lunar missions. Even if Dragon and Starliner get extended service modules to get enough consumables for reaching the Moon, they are quite crowded for such trips and they lack a toilette and EVA capabilities. In Orion one could go to the Moon like a Christian without diapers. SLS would also be great for robotic missions such as launching big telescopes (the fairing size is bigger than that of Falcon Heavy) and fast interplanetary probes as the one to the Jupiter moon Europa.

    The LOP-G is however not useful! Not even hypothetically. Not even if it were the only new crewed space mission. It would be much better and cheaper to extend the lifetime of the existing ISS. Anything that the LOP-G can do, can be done better and safer at the ISS. For example, an improvement of LOP-G would be to put it in LEO.

    @Steve Cooper
    The ISS is not designed for a Lunar orbit. For one thing, it wouldn’t make the thermal environment out there. In LEO, the ISS spends almost half of the time in Earth’s shadow where it can cool down from the Sun light. Also it would need better radiation shielding if it hadn’t Earth’s magnetic field and having Earth cover almost half of its sky. The altitude of the ISS is only 3% of the Earth’s diameter. If one scales everything down, the ISS is riding on the back of an ant walking on an apple. In a Lunar halo orbit it would be naked. The environments are so different that they require different designs.

    (Mars Society always screws up their sound and fail to film the power point slides and butcher the streaming. There are guys around who sit in their beds and produce podcasts about their cats who do it much more professionally than the Mars Society, and this is supposed to be a technical conference!)

  • Jwing

    The nationalization of the moon….so sad.

  • wodun

    so Trump is playing to their wishes. (So much for draining the swamp.)

    Is Trump supposed to have a government shutdown over cancelling SLS/Orion/LOP-G?

    but unlike government, SpaceX does not have an endless stream of taxpayer dollars to spend

    No, they have a business that funds development. NASA not wanting to help fund Red Dragon might have been part of the decision to cancel it but I bet it was more because they already have/had a lot on their plate with F9 Block Five, Dragon Crew, and BFR/BFS. Because their is no market for a Red Dragon, it makes a lot of sense not to waste resources developing something that will be replaced by the BFR/BFS in a few years, which does have a market.

    so far NASA is advocating for and being directed to build government-only hardware

    The LOP-G wont be run as a business but the companies building components are some of the same ones that want to build private space stations. So, NASA plans to throw some business at these companies to help get them off the ground. NASA is also scrapping their NASA only lunar rover and replacing it with a different approach that using more commercial partnerships.

    if we haven’t found a mission for Orion-SLS in the past eight years then why should we expect to find a purpose for that program in the next eight? Access to (F)LOP-G is not a valid purpose

    They all have missions and goals, just because some people don’t like them doesn’t mean they don’t exist. The LOP-G isn’t meant to replicate the ISS, so claiming it is supposed to but that it can’t isn’t a good criticism.

    Commercial research stations will likely be a reality before the ISS is decommissioned and/or LOP-G flies.

  • wodun

    Localfluff
    August 23, 2018 at 9:38 pm
    @wodun
    SLS and Orion are actually useful! The criticism against them is that they are horribly expensive compared to the alternatives (although those alternatives are yet almost as hypothetical as SLS+Orion).

    I know what the opportunity costs criticisms are. I’ve been making them for almost a decade. They are only persuasive when it comes to LOP-G because LOP-G needs SLS/Orion and LOP-G’s orbit was chosen because of SLS/Orion.

    The only good criticisms I have seen about the LOP-G itself is that it doesn’t allow for long duration stays, although planned expansions extend duration, and that it will be subjected to more radiation. Its orbit does create some limitations but in no way prevent the LOP-G from providing access to the lunar surface.

    If a Lunar lander was added, they could be used for Apollo style missions to the Lunar surface, which would be a good way of starting the development of the Moon to learn where a surface base should be constructed and how to design a sustainable architecture for a more ambitious Lunar program.

    That is what they want to do, following robotic prospecting missions.

    The LOP-G is however not useful! Not even hypothetically. Not even if it were the only new crewed space mission. It would be much better and cheaper to extend the lifetime of the existing ISS. Anything that the LOP-G can do, can be done better and safer at the ISS.

    The usefulness depends on what it is being asked to do. Will it be able to do the things NASA says it will? I think the better argument here isn’t that LOP-G can’t do what it is intended to do but that something else could be better. LOP-G isn’t supposed to do what the ISS does.

    LOP-G isn’t even intended for just lunar missions. Its orbit was chosen as a trade off that allows it to serve two different destinations.

  • wodun

    Jwing
    August 24, 2018 at 9:08 am

    The nationalization of the moon….so sad.

    Actually, it is the internationalization of the Moon.

    Andrew_W
    August 23, 2018 at 9:30 pm

    I’m hoping that one of the private launch outfits will see commercial opportunities for manned lunar flights and that the US government won’t impede efforts in that direction.

    Part of the dual track approach that NASA is on is expanding commercial opportunities. Just like the COTS/CCDev programs helped fund a range of providers, something similar is supposed to take place with the lunar robotic missions. Landers, communications, rovers, and other infrastructure is supposed to be developed using this model. I wouldn’t be surprised if commercial space moved at a faster pace than NASA, especially after commercial crew exists.

  • Edward

    Robert wrote: “You have your copy of Leaving Earth. You might want to read it again. :)”

    Yup. I got that wrong. I finished re-reading “Genisis” just a few months ago, so it is a good time to reread “Leaving Earth.”

    By the way, Robert, I bought “Genisis” in paperback about fifteen years ago (I stumbled upon it in a bookstore — they really should not let me into bookstores, as I ran out of shelf space years ago). Every time that I re-read these types of books I retain more. Also, I will have to put Paul Spudis’ “The Value of the Moon” back on the re-read list, since it is topical.

    wodun,
    You wrote: “Is Trump supposed to have a government shutdown over cancelling SLS/Orion/LOP-G?

    I don’t know what I said that made you believe that is what I think.

    Because their is no market for a Red Dragon, it makes a lot of sense not to waste resources developing something that will be replaced by the BFR/BFS in a few years, which does have a market.

    Red Dragon was intended as basic research. It was intended to answer many fundamental questions that could have helped inform the design and operation of their future Mars missions and landers. It also was intended to develop the propulsive landing system and techniques that SpaceX desired to include with the manned Dragons. Red Dragon had valid purposes, but was not worth the cost if propulsive landing for Dragon was not going to be used. It looks like fairings will be replaced by BFR/BFS, but SpaceX is still working on recovering the current fairings.

    The LOP-G wont be run as a business but the companies building components are some of the same ones that want to build private space stations.

    That does not make (F)LOP-G any less government owned. If NASA wants to help space station companies get off the ground, then they should create a COTS-like project to build the next NASA LEO space station. Just as Orion is a throwback to capsules from the larger Shuttle spaceplane concept, a mono-module space station could provide NASA with a lot of research opportunities, be in place in time for the ISS retirement, and provide some or much of the exploration that ISS could have done, had the administration chosen to extend ISS to 2028 — and at a much lower cost. Just as with COTS, NASA could rent or lease time on these stations and the stations could be available for others to rent or lease when NASA is not there.

    This is how to expand commercial opportunities, not deciding on the design that the commercial opportunities are stuck with. By not working with the intended commercial users to find out what they will need, NASA will have one expensive item in space, and if it is not what is needed, then it is useless. Because NASA is building their own thing, not a thing that the potential users request, the chances that it will be useful to any of them is low. Rather than being a way point for future commercial missions, it will most likely be bypassed. Where is the usefulness in that?

    They all have missions and goals, just because some people don’t like them doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

    Going up and doing what we have done before is not a mission or a goal. It is an excuse to spend money unnecessarily. That is the mission and goal, and that is what we are complaining about.

    The only good criticisms I have seen about the LOP-G itself is that it doesn’t allow for long duration stays

    I believe that the lost opportunity costs argument is a good criticism. The money could be better spent on useful projects.

    LOP-G isn’t even intended for just lunar missions. Its orbit was chosen as a trade off that allows it to serve two different destinations.

    Thus it does not do any of its intended functions well. In addition, it allows for service for destinations that are not even on NASA’s plate. This is why it is not designed to serve any mission well. (F)LOP-G’s poorly thought out design will drive the future missions rather than the missions driving the design of the support systems. What a lousy way to design anything. You figure out what you will ask it to do, then you design it to be useful for that task, otherwise you are stuck with a limited set of things that you can ask it to do.

  • Localfluff

    @wodun
    “The usefulness depends on what it is being asked to do. Will it be able to do the things NASA says it will?”
    No, LOP-G cannot do anything, it is completely useless. It cannot do any science. It cannot do anything commercial. It cannot help develop any useful space flight hardware. Four astronauts spending a couple of weeks a year in a tiny capsule nowhere will not have any time or resources for any of that. It will have no access to Earth nor to the Lunar surface, nor to any useful orbit such as LEO or GEO. It would be much better to instead abolish NASA human space flight altogether right now. That would at least not kill people for no purpose, and will not occupy the bottleneck industrial capacity of otherwise useful space sub-contractors.

  • Steve Cooper

    Localfluff. ISS is a lot of expensive mass in orbit that can provide power and life support. Skylab showed that add-on solar shielding is not difficult. ISS allows for module addition and swap out so a radiation shelter could be added. As is it has better shielding that Apollo. We have a lot of money in ISS, do we use it or let it burn?

  • Kirk

    I’ve not watched it yet, but here is the LOP-G debate from the Mars Society Convention. (Youtube, 1:07:04).

    Thursday, August 23 8:00pm – Debate: Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway – Breakthrough or Boondoggle?

  • Edward

    Kirk,
    Thank you for the link to that debate.

    To all,
    Zubrin’s last answer to the audience’s questions is something that I also noticed: the American people are willing to cut NASA some slack, but if NASA isn’t going to get us where we want to go then the people will grow weary of waiting. This started to happen in the 1990s, when NASA was taking so long to build a space station in Low Earth Orbit for an extravagant amount of money — and this station was not even going to do what We the People had wanted done. Several Americans started companies — and a couple of companies tried ideas — for getting into space less expensively so that we could start doing what we had expected NASA to do using the Space Shuttle.

    Blue Origin, SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser, and Bigelow’s space habitats came from that frustration. COTS and CCDev would not have been possible if there weren’t frustrated space enthusiasts who started their own space programs — started in order to do what We the People wanted, not what government wanted. As it turned out, competing with the U.S. government is very difficult, and it took until about 2008 for a company other than Orbital Sciences to do independent launches (please note that Orbital was not getting many customers for their smallsat launcher). Even then, government was a major customer.

    At least with the Space Shuttle and the ISS there were promises of how useful they would be. That they turned out to be less useful than promised was a disappointment, but now we are faced with Orion-SLS and (F)LOP-G, which have very little promise for usefulness. NASA gets more and more disappointing with time. Whatever happened to that can-do organization that showed what could be done? (Rhetorical question. The answer is: politics happened to it.)

    With Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo we got proof of concept in reaching other worlds; a step along the way of NASA’s technology readiness level (TRL). With the Space Shuttle we thought that we would get some form of development program to find better ways of reaching other worlds; instead, the disappointing Shuttle is going to be replaced with Orion, an antiquated capsule, and SLS, a heavy lift rocket with nothing heavy to lift. The ISS was going to do a lot of science and prepare us for reaching other worlds; instead, the disappointing station was used more for international relations (politics) than science, and it is going to be replaced with another station that has a major purpose of keeping up those international relations, not science or helping us get to other worlds.

    SpaceX, one of those upstart startup companies, is planning to replace SLS with the much less expensive BFR, and SpaceX has something heavy to lift and a purpose/goal/mission for both: reaching other worlds. SpaceX has to do much of its own development program, because politics prevented NASA from stepping through its own TRL process to make that reach.

    Now that We the People are starting to pursue our own goals, we are wondering why NASA is continuing to spend so much time and money on such un-worthwhile projects.

  • Edward

    I asked the rhetorical question: “Whatever happened to that can-do organization that showed what could be done?

    A major problem with NASA showing us what could be done was that NASA also had the monopoly on doing it, but NASA’s masters (Congress and the president) had little interest in doing it. Investors were not interested in betting on companies that had to compete with the world’s taxpayer funded space programs, making it difficult for We the People to break into the space industry. This is why Armadillo Aerospace (now “reincarnated” as EXOS Aerospace) went belly up and a reason why Kistler Aerospace had trouble finding independent funding for its COTS entry, resulting in Kistler’s demise. Other attempts at independent commercial space projects (e.g. VentureStar and Delta Clipper) also were too little to survive government competition.

    Government is supposed to serve us, not direct us. It should provide easier entry into commerce, not create obstacles. The wind tunnels at the NACA (now NASA) Ames and Langley centers were intended to assist aeronautical researchers and aircraft manufacturers by providing facilities that no individual researcher or manufacturer could afford alone. These wind tunnels are one reason why the U.S. became a leader in aeronautics during a time when the competition was heavy.

    The National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, as written, declared in section 102(c) the activities of NASA and the U. S. None of them were operations or control, but they focused on activities such as research, development, and improvement — showing us what could be done and a way to do it. This was violated by the early 1980s when the Space Shuttle was intended to become the sole U.S. access to space for both men and materiel. NASA was to become the sole operator for access to space, and other areas also came under the sole control of government. Only manned suborbital flight was not a government monopoly, so the Ansari X-Prize was born in order to encourage new ways of thinking for commercial operations to get into space, even if only suborbital.

    It was not until NASA demonstrated that it was finally willing to assist with commercial space launches and with commercial space operations that investors started to take interest. This development means that NASA is going to lose its current role for access to space and can get back to its original purpose to lead in the exploration of space; I would not be surprised to learn that this conversion was an unstated purpose of the COTS and CCDev programs.

    I see politics as the main problem with this transition back to exploration. Governments around the world see their role in space as the operators of most space assets and controllers of space utilization (the Outer Space Treaty virtually guarantees a lack of participation by anyone else), but We the People see ourselves as the operators of many areas that can become commercial and as the controllers of our destiny in space.

    Ikonos was an early commercial Earth observation satellite, and shortly after it came a move toward commercializing space operations. Now, NOAA is looking into how to use commercially gathered data for weather forecasting (one problem is that NOAA traditionally freely releases its data immediately, but commercial space wants to sell its data to NOAA and to some of those who currently get NOAA data for free). It has taken so long for We the People to begin commercializing more than communications satellites (and a couple other things), because governments like to hold onto the power that they have, not return power to We the People, whom they are supposed to serve.

    NASA’s current problem, as I see it, is that it must convince its masters that it needs to spend much of its resources on explorations that will become the domain of commercial operations within a couple of decades. That means that its explorations must be quickly convertible to commercial operations — and — that much of its hardware will quickly become obsolete.

    The Space Shuttle should have been a stepping stone leading to a better launch system, not to Orion-SLS, a retrospective system. ISS should have been a stepping stone to commercial space stations as well as to interplanetary manned travel. Orion-SLS and (F)LOP-G do what government wants done, not what We the People want done.

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