Surprise, Surprise! According to a report by NASA’s inspector general released today [pdf], the agency’s Lunar Gateway space station project is already behind schedule, will likely not be available for any 2024 Artemis lunar mission, and apparently has been mismanaged in a manner that is raising costs.
Many of the problems appear to have been caused by NASA’s abrupt decision, ten months after awarding its contracts to Maxar and Northrop Grumman to build respectively the station’s service (PPE) and habitation (HALO) modules, to require that they both be launched on a single rocket, rather than separate launches as originally planned. From the report:
The decision to launch the PPE and HALO together, while avoiding the cost of a second commercial launch vehicle, has contributed to cost increases due to the redesign of several components, an elevated launch risk, and a longer duration flight to lunar orbit. In addition, due to the decision Maxar was forced to terminate its subcontract with Space Exploration Technologies Corp (SpaceX) for PPE launch services, even though Maxar had already paid SpaceX approximately $27.5 million for this service, a portion of which was paid by NASA prior to the termination. Further, a co-manifested launch increases risk because together the elements may be too heavy for commercially available rockets or too long for the rocket’s fairing, potentially impacting intended spacecraft mass, length, and other requirements.
While the Trump administration had already made the decision to not rely on Gateway for its hoped-for 2024 manned lunar landing, it still hoped to have it available for use. This now appears unlikely. The report today is very clear: “Gateway likely will not be in a position to support a 2024 lunar landing.”
None of this is really a surprise. If anything, it is a feature of Gateway, not a bug. The program was always intended as a big jobs program, funneling money to NASA contractors who would in turn set up operations in various important congressional districts. Like SLS and Orion, it is more important that the program get delayed while costing more than actually accomplish anything.
Even if a Biden administration (still not confirmed) takes over and decides to support this project (which I think will happen), do not expect it to take place as scheduled. At best, Gateway will not be operational for years yet, and in fact it could take until the ’30s to get it built and launched. And that slow and expensive schedule will be exactly what our corrupt politicians and government bureaucrats want.
Meanwhile, China will be setting up its bases on the Moon. And maybe so will SpaceX using Starship.
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