Boeing pushing to kill Gateway for more SLS funds?


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Turf war! According to Eric Berger at Ars Technica today, the House hearings yesterday about Gateway and the Trump effort to complete a manned mission to the Moon by 2024 suggest that Boeing is lobbying to kill both Gateway as well as NASA’s effort to use multiple commercial rockets, in order to get its SLS rocket more funding.

Essentially, Boeing is getting almost no contracts in connection to Gateway. Furthermore, the much cheaper commercial rockets are a serious competitive threat to its SLS rocket. However, if Gateway was dropped and the money instead committed to building a more powerful upper stage for SLS, which is Boeing’s baby, the money would go to them. Moreover, doing this would make it unnecessary for NASA to use other commercial rockets, since SLS could do it all.

Berger’s analysis seems right on target. While Gateway is a bad idea, what Boeing proposes instead would be no better. As Berger notes,

What was surprising is that [lawmakers] at the hearing also appeared to be swayed by [Boeing’s] view that bypassing commercial rockets and the Gateway would lead to a simpler and faster lunar mission. “I believe there is value in developing commercial capabilities,” [one lawmaker] said toward the end of the hearing. However, she added, “I am concerned that the decisions are not being driven by what is most efficient or effective and what is most cost efficient.”

This is an interesting viewpoint given that commercial rockets cost $100 to $200 million, at most, versus the $1 billion to $2 billion cost of a single SLS rocket—not including the hundreds of millions of dollars, at a minimum, the agency would have to invest in Exploration Upper Stage development contracts with Boeing. Moreover, one of the commercial rockets—the Falcon Heavy—already exists and has flown three successful missions. Other boosters, including Blue Origin’s powerful New Glenn rocket, should be ready to fly in two or three years. An SLS rocket with the better upper stage almost certainly wouldn’t be ready by 2024, and NASA knows this.

“At this point, there is no path by which the Exploration Upper Stage will be ready for Artemis 3 in 2024,” the NASA administration source told Ars. “Hence, it is not in the critical path (for the Moon landing).”

This lobbying effort provides us a perfect illustration of the overall incompetence and corruption that permeates our government in Washington. No one there appears the slightest bit interested in serving the national interest. Instead, the focus is on how they can get politicians to give them money.

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3 comments

  • mike shupp

    I’m NOT a Gateway fan, but I’m not any fonder of giving everything in sight to Boeing either. This seems an attempt to get back to the Apollo scheme — a couple of quick trips to plant flags and footsteps, so America can brag about Leadership (and Boeing can make a few bucks), and then we’ll be back to doing nothing for another half century or so, and both parties will be satisfied with this till the Chinese embarrass us sufficiently.

    Underfunded, gimmicky, risky, short-sighted, unproductive, divisive rather than bipartisan …. I’m running out of words to praise this Artemis program sufficiently.

  • Wodun

    Rather ironic given that Gateway exists as it does because of SLS.

  • Richard M

    “However, if Gateway was dropped and the money instead committed to building a more powerful upper stage for SLS, which is Boeing’s baby, the money would go to them.”

    Opponent of the Gateway that I am, I also have to observe that the Gateway in the truncated form now planned for Artemis 3 is not going to be *nearly* as expensive as development of an Exploration Upper Stage for SLS Block 1B is going to be. Seriously, it’s hard to see how it runs much less than $10 billion. Especially given how Boeing works.

    And then on top of that, NASA has to get a second Block 1B into the pipeline for 2024, too, because you’ll need that for the lander. So tack on another $1-1.5 billion.

    So on top of all the money that even Doug Cooke’s one or two stage Artemis lander is going to cost to develop ($20-30 billion over the next five fiscal years), Cooke and his Boeing paymasters are now insisting on a plan that requires Jim Bridenstine to go claw an additional 11 figure funding commitment to fast track the EUS out of Congress.

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