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Congress frees Europa Clipper from SLS

It appears that Congress has at last removed its requirement that the unmanned probe Europa Clipper must be launched on the continually delayed and very expensive SLS rocket.

Almost unnoticed, tucked into the 2021 fiscal NASA funding section of the recently passed omnibus spending bill, is a provision that would seem to liberate the upcoming Europa Clipper mission from the Space Launch System (SLS).

According to Space News, the mandate that the Europa Clipper mission be launched on an SLS remains in place only if the behind-schedule and overpriced heavy lift rocket is available and if concerns about hardware compatibility between the probe and the launcher are resolved. Otherwise, NASA is free to search for commercial alternatives to get the Europa Clipper to Jupiter’s ice-shrouded moon.

Not only will this secure Europa Clipper’s launch schedule, which had deadlines imposed by orbital mechanics that SLS was not going to meet, the more than $1 billion in savings by using a SpaceX Falcon Heavy will allow the probe to do more while giving NASA more money for other planetary missions.

This is excellent news. It signals that Congress’s long love affair with SLS because of the ample pork it sends to many districts might finally be waning. If so, there is a good chance it will finally be killed, freeing up its bloated budget.

Sadly, in a sane world some of those savings would be used to reduce the overall federal deficit even as some was also used to expand NASA’s space effort. We are not in a sane world, however, so expect no reduction in the federal budget, at all.

Still, this is a move by Congress towards some fiscal responsibility that will make NASA’s efforts more efficient. For that small improvement we should be grateful.

Conscious Choice cover

Now available in hardback and paperback as well as ebook!

 

From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

 
Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.

 

“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.

 

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3 comments

  • Scott M.

    At least one good bit of news in the New Year!

  • Diane Wilson

    It doesn’t really look like freeing Clipper from SLS, since it depends on SLS being available. Space vehicles, especially those for deep space, have to be designed with the launch vehicle in mind; it affects weight limits, dimensions, fuel load for maneuvering, orbital mechanics in terms of flight duration and possible gravity assists closer to the sun, and probably much more. If SLS is available, it can provide a shorter and more direct path to Europa than any other rocket currently in service.

    The break with SLS needs to be explicit. Now.

  • Richard M

    Sadly, I don’t think Congress did this to save money. They refer explicitly in the legislative text to reports of torsional loading problems for Europa Clipper on the SLS as payload (from the solid rockets, apparently), and apparently NASA has reported to them that it’s a serious problem.

    Either way, a decision for a launcher has to be made *now*, as JPL and NASA complete the CDR, so Congress could not put off any change to the requirement any longer. So hopefully we will hear from NASA in the coming weeks that they’ve formally decided to launch Clipper on a Falcon Heavy.

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