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The final week of my annual February birthday month fund-raising campaign for Behind the Black has begun. I continue to be overwhelmed by the outpouring of support, including numerous donations and a surge of new subscribers willing to commit to donating anywhere from $2 to $25 per month. Wow! The numbers are too many to send out individual thank you’s, so please forgive me for thanking you all with this one announcement.

 

The campaign however must go on, especially because I have added more regular features to my daily workload. In addition to my daily never-ending reporting on space exploration and science, my regular launch reports, my monthly sunspot updates, the regular cool images, and the evening pauses I post each evening, I have now added a daily weekday post I have entitled "Today's blacklisted American." Its goal is not to discuss policy or politics, but to note the endless examples occurring across the United States where some jack-booted thug or thugs think it is proper and acceptable to censor, blackball, cancel, and destroy an innocent American, merely because that American has expressed or holds an opinion or is of a race or religion that is no longer considered acceptable to the dominant leftist and bigoted culture. I want to make clear to every American that a large number of your fellow citizens no longer believe in the enlightened concept of freedom of speech or the idea of treating each person by the quality of their character.

 

Instead, they wish to shut you up, and oppress you if you happen to disagree with them or have the wrong skin color. This evil must be exposed.

 

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Falcon Heavy wins contract to launch 1st two Gateway modules

NASA today awarded SpaceX a $331 million contract to launch the first two components of the Lunar Gateway space station, using its Falcon Heavy rocket.

The Gateway’s Power and Propulsion Element and Habitation and Logistics Outpost will launch in tandem no earlier than May 2024 aboard the Falcon Heavy rocket from pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The $331.8 million launch services contract, awarded by NASA’s Launch Services Program at Kennedy, includes the Falcon Heavy launch and “other mission-related costs,” the agency said in a statement. The $331 million contract value is nearly three times the price NASA is paying for a Falcon Heavy launch in July 2022 with the Psyche asteroid probe.

What is significant about this contract is what it does not mention: SLS. Gateway was originally conceived by NASA as a project that would give purpose to the SLS rocket, a rocket that Congress required NASA to build without giving it any mission. Now it appears NASA is looking to build Gateway without SLS, at least on this first launch.

I would throw this news item in the bin containing an number of recent stories, all of which signal that SLS is on increasingly thin ice.

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.
 

13 comments

  • Richard M

    Puzzled by the unusually high price of this launch.

  • Richard M: I can suggest several reasons for the high price.

    1. SpaceX needs to modify its fairing to fit the Gateway modules inside. It demanded NASA pick up the cost.
    2. The Falcon Heavy is presently NASA’s only option outside of SLS, and SLS will simply not be ready. Since the cost of an SLS launch runs from $1-$14 billion, depending on how you run the numbers, NASA is behind a barrel. SpaceX can bid high and still win, pocketing the difference.

    This second reason indicates that there is room for another heavy lift inexpensive rocket to compete with SpaceX. I wonder if anyone is listening at ULA.

  • Jeff Wright

    ULA doesn’t like HLLVs. They wanted to sell lots of EELVs…and now Vulcan. DIRECT showed that shuttle-derived LVs could be simple. I think SLS might be sabotaged from within-slow-walked certainly. I have questioned whether the anti-SLS talking point came frm originally…remember how Griffin was attacked…and how NASA shouldn’t build rockets-but should “buy rides” meaning EELVs, of course. But along comes Elon-and a REAL private option. Then Aeropace Co. writes this white paper on preserving in house capability-the same arsenal method they trashed when Griffin tried to use it for quick and dirty Ares I, which did look inexpensive at the time. He just did not want the EELV albatross. Once Ares was killed, “range safety” among other things forced Musk off-shore arond the time of the tanker fiasco and the EELV data theft before Boeing and LockMart became one big happy fleet. That is why Congress listened to Mike Griffin at last-because the EELV lobby could not be trusted. SLS uses the Delta IV upper stage as the insertion stage. It is a simple rocket. I think it has been unfairly trashed.

  • Icepilot

    “weak thin ice” – as opposed to the strong stuff? ;)
    “I wonder if anyone is listening at ULA.” – only if they’re ready for reusable. Maybe try & leverage their significant carbon fiber fabrication capabilities to fashion a ~10 meter diameter super-heavy, the same mass as the Starship/SuperHeavy combo.
    But Boeing isn’t run by engineers willing to gamble the company on an industry-changing design, the current leadership of Bean Counters/Lawyers being more likely to go the Lobbyist route.

  • Icepilot: The trouble with writing millions of words is that sometimes you repeat yourself. I have deleted “weak.” :)

  • Diane Wilson

    Another issue pushing the price tag may be that SpaceX is facing production constraints on Falcon 9 and Merlin engines. They’ve shifted some production capacity and personnel over to Starship and Raptor. Each Heavy requires three cores and 27 engines. Some customers and existing contracts are insisting on either new Falcons, or reserving a particular Falcon for their own missions. Each Falcon Heavy moves through the production line like a pig through a snake.

    Meanwhile, SpaceX has a incredibly productive year launching Falcon 9 missions last year, but doing so with a fleet of only five reusable cores. Some of those are approaching the 10 re-use limit before major refurbishment, and will be out of service for some time (and the first will probably get a complete teardown and inspection). There are other used cores available, but held in reserve for specific missions.

    It’s going to be a while before Starship can pick up the launch manifest from Falcon and Falcon Heavy. It won’t happen on Elon-time. Falcon and Merlin production have been cut back thanks to re-use, but SpaceX may have to pick up the manufacturing pace to keep up with demand.

  • David Eastman

    I’ll be interested to learn the details as they become public. Will this require vertical integration? Will it fit in the larger fairing already being developed for Space Force missions, or does it need another size? Does the timeline mesh with the planned upgrades for Space Force, or are they going to have to accelerate that? What might this do to their launch schedule from LC 39A? And what about their schedule on building out LC 39A for Super Heavy?

  • James Street

    “NASA today awarded SpaceX a $331 million contract”

    One advantage of SpaceX keeping the price tag ‘artificially high’ is it encourages others to enter the market.

    For an enjoyable 15 minutes this biography of SpaceX founder and former VP of Propulsion Tom Mueller is fun. The narrator says he’s like Homer Hickam except from a logging instead of a coal mining family. He grew up in Idaho and went to one of the Idaho state universities.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_JraAeL3op8

  • Jeff Wright

    I wonder if Falcon cores could be clustered Saturn IB style? Less room for sloshing-and landing legs would fit between the tubes.

  • Edward

    Robert Zimmerman wrote: “This second reason indicates that there is room for another heavy lift inexpensive rocket to compete with SpaceX. I wonder if anyone is listening at ULA.

    Blue Origin’s New Glenn will also be a heavy lift rocket, but its capacity is about half of SLS and about 3/4 of Falcon Heavy. Rumor is that Blue Origin plans to develop New Armstrong, a super heavy launch vehicle of the SLS or Starship class of capacity. I don’t know whether ULA is listening, but Blue Origin seems to be.

    When one company’s product is more expensive than other companies can do it for, the first company’s product is considered to be an “umbrella” price that other companies can duck under. They can charge far more than it costs them, because the customers are more willing to pay that price than the higher price. However, this kind of thinking is not consistent with SpaceX’s philosophy, nor is it consistent with government procurement practices. SpaceX is in business to make access to space affordable, which explains their low prices, lower than other countries have been charging. Government purchasers make sure that the vendor is not gouging the government, charging far more than it costs them to supply the goods or services.

    Robert noted the fairing as the first possible reason for the high cost of this launch. As shown in the article, the fairing is far larger than SpaceX has provided before. It could be a one-time-only use, so it seems fair that the customer pay for developing this custom fairing.

    From the article: “The $331.8 million launch services contract, awarded by NASA’s Launch Services Program at Kennedy, includes the Falcon Heavy launch and ‘other mission-related costs,’ the agency said in a statement.

    There is undoubtedly some special handling for these two modules, and they probably need to be mated at the launch site, in the SpaceX facility. Although the article does not say so, I wonder whether the core rocket will have to be expended for this mission, which SpaceX prices at $150 million, rather than $90 when all three boosters are intended to be recovered. Perhaps the two side rockets also need to be expended.

  • Col Beausabre

    Guys – How about this…..”Charge what the market will bear”. Essentially, SpaceX now has a monopoly on a certain class of launch vehicles and any economist will tell you that means monopoly profits, Musk ain’t funnin’ no charity

  • David K

    If they cared about saving money, they would wait for the Starship or New Glenn. But even at this price, it is still much cheaper than the payload and they would rather use an existing, proven launch vehicle.

    Building one of anything is expensive, you can only make things cheap when you mass produce them. So a custom fairing will be expensive. And fewer falcon heavies have been produced than starships (though with a much better success rate).

  • Edward

    Col Beausabre,
    Charging what the market will bear may be a business tactic, but it would be a shame for SpaceX to abandon its vision of increased access to space through low access costs.

    Although the primary purpose of starting a company is to provide an income for yourself and your family, the reason that you build your specific company is to provide a good or service that you think people are willing to pay for, because you see a need for it and you believe that you can fill that need. For SpaceX, the need was reduced cost of access to space.

    If I recall correctly, Musk got involved with the Mars Society, thought that it would be a good idea to start commercial unmanned exploration of Mars, but discovered that launch costs for that mission were prohibitive. His solution was to build a launch company that provided affordable launches.

    These lower costs are forcing existing launch companies and countries to find efficiencies that allow them to reduce their own prices. Had SpaceX’s lower prices been available in the 1990s, perhaps Iridium would not have gone bankrupt.

    Others are providing low cost launches for small payloads. Because of these low cost launchers, there are now several companies working on commercial exploration of the Moon. Perhaps we will soon see commercial exploration of Mars, and Musks initial purpose for SpaceX will finally come true.

    All because SpaceX did not overcharge for access to space.

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