Advisory panel to Space Council pans Gateway


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The advisory panel to the Space Council gave NASA’s Gateway lunar orbiting platform low marks in a meeting in Washington yesterday.

NASA’s plan for returning to the Moon met with opposition today at a meeting of the National Space Council’s Users’ Advisory Group (UAG). Not only members of the UAG, but former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin, who was there as a guest speaker on other topics, offered his personal view that NASA is moving too slowly and the lunar orbiting Gateway is unnecessary.

Makes sense to me, especially based on the description of Gateway put forth by NASA at the meeting:

In the first part of the 2020s, NASA plans to launch series of very small and later mid-sized robotic landers and rovers, while at the same time building a small space station, currently called the Gateway, in lunar orbit. The Gateway is much smaller than the International Space Station (ISS) and would not be permanently occupied. Crews would be aboard only three months a year and eventually the Gateway would be a transit point for humans travelling between Earth and the lunar surface or Mars.

The presentation also said under this plan that Americans would not land on the Moon until 2028.

It is all fantasy. I guarantee if the government goes with Gateway it will not land on the Moon before 2035, and that is optimistic. Tied as it is to very expensive SLS and the government way of building anything, Gateway will likely see at least five years of delays, at a minimum. Remember also that the first manned launch of SLS is not expected now before 2024, and will likely have a launch cadence of less than one launch per year. How NASA expects to complete Gateway and then land on the Moon only four years later, using this rocket, seems very unrealistic to me.

This does not mean Americans won’t get to the Moon sooner however. I fully expect private enterprise to do it in less than a decade, and for far cheaper. Eventually the dunderheads in government will realize this, but we must give them time to realize it. Their brains work slowly.

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5 comments

  • D Ray

    Think of all the wonderful planetary probes and space observatories that could have been (and could be) funded by the billions wasted on the SLS. So sad.

  • Matt in AZ

    At this point I think the Powers-That-Be in NASA are perfectly happy with delaying any moon landings. Those can be DANGEROUS… all the better to occasionally go to an orbiting station and back instead. Slow-rolling SLS/Orion has had the same benefit for NASA: not launching any astronauts since 2011 has provided a zero-risk of them dying on NASA rockets, leaving the Russians responsible for that heavy-lifting. I think the upcoming SpaceX and Boeing rides to orbit have got them worried about facing such dangers again – hence their delaying tactics.

  • D Ray: See my NASA budget analysis from 2011: NASA, the federal budget, and common sense. Nothing I wrote then has changed, except that we have spent the last seven years wasting a lot of money on SLS.

  • Calling it now: people on Mars before NASA astronaut on Moon.

  • wodun

    if the government goes with Gateway it will not land on the Moon before 2035, and that is optimistic.

    It isn’t supposed to land on the Moon. =p

    In the first part of the 2020s, NASA plans to launch series of very small and later mid-sized robotic landers and rovers, while at the same time building a small space station, currently called the Gateway, in lunar orbit.

    This is the important part. NASA has a dual track approach. The lunar prospecting missions are critically important for when humans do go back to the Moon. My worry is that this will be too timid of a program.

    Eileen Collins, a former space shuttle commander, said 2028 “is so far off, we can do it sooner” and China “could do it before us.”

    What is it? Get back to the Moon? That is trivial. What is more important is what is done on the Moon and how long we are there doing it. It doesn’t look like there is a good answer for what “it” is from NASA or space cadets, certainly no universal answer.

    The real fantasy here is that cancelling SLS/Orion/Gateway will lead to anything getting more funding or being done faster. There are any number of reasons why but the biggest is that industry will soon outpace NASA’s capabilities. Orion can carry something like seven people. The picture for ULA’s lander shows four people. BFR/BFS carries 100 people.

    Who knows how long it will take BFR/BFS to become operational but it will be incredibly wasteful to build out infrastructure, either Gateway or what the go straight to the Moon people want, that will soon become obsolete. I don’t think SLS will be easily cancelled but that doesn’t mean we should start a similar uncancelable program.

    The good news is that prospecting will take time and that by the time we know where the good spots are, the timing could be right for SpaceX to provide the backbone to getting to those spots. We shouldn’t rush because it is more important to get it done right. We should consider China a competitor but we shouldn’t force ourselves into bad decisions just to beat them to “it”.

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