More SLS launches planned/proposed?


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According to this article from Ars Technica, NASA is considering shifting gears in its Artemis lunar program to become more dependent on SLS rather than a mix of SLS and commercial rockets.

The new plan, if implemented, would substantially cut commercially developed rockets—such as SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy and Blue Origin’s New Glenn—back from the Artemis program. Previously, NASA had said it would launch elements of its Human Landing System on commercial rockets, because such vehicles cost much less than the estimated $2 billion rate per launch of the SLS vehicle. Now, perhaps, private rockets may be called upon to launch smaller pieces such as a lunar rover to the Moon’s surface.

The source document, which appears to be very preliminary and which NASA calls “inaccurate”, also calls for four SLS launches leading up to the 2024 lunar landing, something that seems very very unlikely. Not only would it require Boeing to move faster in building additional SLS rockets, something the company has routinely been unable to do, this schedule assumes funding from Congress for SLS, something that remains unclear.

It also appears from the proposed launch schedule that Lunar Gateway is fading from view. This makes great sense, as the Gateway only causes delays and higher costs for any lunar landing program, something the Trump administration clearly wishes to avoid.

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5 comments

  • Richard M

    Notice that it also relies on the Block 1B and Block 2 versions of SLS being in use in 2024 and 2028, respectively. Neither of which have received significant funding yet.

    While none of us here will lament the end of Gateway, a plan like this is a recipe for turning over NASA human spaceflight to Boeing, while not actually doing any exploration.

  • mkent

    …this schedule assumes funding from Congress for SLS, something that remains unclear.

    Oh, I think Congress will fund SLS just fine. It’s funding for the other mission elements I’m worried about.

    While none of us here will lament the end of Gateway…

    I will. Sure, you don’t need Gateway for a one-off flags-and-footprints mission. But it is Gateway that will lead to a robust re-usable lunar architecture.

    Nonetheless, I look forward to the release of the final plan.

  • sippin_bourbon

    I have not been swayed either way yet on Gateway. A lunar space station intrigues me. As an amateur astronomer, it will have great views when I’m the far side. But I would think a lunar cycler would be just as effective in the states role.

    Build a vessel that makes the transit once. Let it bounce back and forth each time from LEO to Lunar insertion, and so on. Just refuel, swap crews/ equipment, and go.

    Side note : a gateway station would provide a communication link to any landers we put on the far side. I always thought an unmanned observatory on the far side, using either or both optical and radio telescopes would have great success.

  • sippin_bourbon

    My tablet virtual keyboard aweful.

    I meant stated role, not states role.

  • Edward

    mkent wrote: “it is Gateway that will lead to a robust re-usable lunar architecture.

    Gateway may not be in an optimal orbit for supporting lunar activity or even for supporting solar system traffic. Most likely it is intended to be in an orbit that is a compromise between what we think these two activities will need. It is almost certainly suboptimal for either.

    What we are missing is the knowledge of what orbit is best for the lunar sites that we will use most. We also are missing knowledge of what orbit will best support translunar exploration. We also do not yet know what resources on board our orbital stations will best support these missions and explorations.

    Gateway is too early to be useful and may not be thought out well enough to ever be truly useful.

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