Pence reiterates Trump administration’s willingness to abandon SLS

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Turf war! At today’s National Space Council meeting, vice-president Mike Pence reiterated the Trump administration’s willingness to replace SLS with commercial rockets, if that is what it will take to get Americans back to the Moon by 2024.

Pence said the schedule for completing SLS must be accelerated, but also opened the door to using rockets built by a commercial spaceflight company for the lunar mission. “We’re not committed to any one contractor. If our current contractors can’t meet this objective, then we’ll find ones that will,” he said. “And if commercial rockets are the only way to get American astronauts to the moon in the next five years, then commercial rockets it will be.”

It is very clear now that the Trump administration is beginning the political war necessary for shutting down the SLS boondoggle, something that cannot happen easily considering how its large workforce is scattered in so many states and congressional districts. To make it happen, they need to publicly illustrate its failure, repeatedly, but do so in a manner that does not overly antagonize SLS’s supporters. This is why both Pence and NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine have been careful to express support for SLS, even as they hint at its replacement.

The battle is joined, however, and that could be a very good thing for the American space industry, in the coming years.


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  • Orion314

    My bet? This will not change the glacial pace of SLS by one iota. SLS is the 21st century version of the Spruce Goose.
    ‘cept of course , the Goose flew once.

  • Orion314: You are right. And this is part of the game. Trump pushes the SLS contractors to get moving, they fail, it then gives him an argument to replace it.

  • commodude

    Like all Government contractor, the footprint of the SLS is intended specifically to make it too painful for Congress to actually cut the program, as it will affect the majority of Congressional districts it the program is terminated. The Contracting agencies and their contractors have found the only way to veto-proof their contracts. There are many, many boondoggles in Federal agencies which survive for just this reason.

  • Edward

    From the article: “He also said the National Space Council will recommend that US astronauts should land on the moon’s south pole, which is known to host water ice. He added that future US missions landing there could use nuclear power to extract water from the moon’s southern craters, and mine oxygen from lunar rocks to refuel spaceships.

    Finally, someone who matters is starting to put forward a plan for a future in space travel. Once we have proof of concept that the water at the lunar poles can be used as propellant, getting around Cislunar space and the solar system can start to become much less expensive. This will allow for a fundamental change in the way we do space, and for the better.

    Geostationary and Cislunar payloads would launch unfueled to low Earth orbit (LEO), rather than spending about 10 km/sec delta-v, and lunar propellant brought to LEO at a cost of about 3 km/sec delta-v, a savings of about 7 km/sec. Payloads to destinations around the solar system would be fueled only to get to a high lunar orbit for refueling, using a delta-v of about 3 km/sec, where the remaining propellant will come from the Moon. The savings will be not having to spend about 11 km/sec on the propellant needed for the interplanetary portion of the mission. This more than doubles the payload on a single launch from Earth for destinations around the solar system, as seen with SpaceX’s plan for sending Starship to Mars using a second launch from Earth to refuel the ship in LEO.

    Up to now, lunar water as propellant has only been an idea, but Spence is turning it into a plan. In a few years, it could be a reality.

  • Col Beausabre

    Edward, How long before the lunar colonists rebel and turn the loads of fuel into weapons ?

  • Max

    The fuel is to valuable to waste. It is more likely that the water will be used for farming and steam driven generators from inexhaustible solar light/250° thermal red heat to produce power for energy requirements including large vacuum capacitors to store the energy for vacuum particle weapons, defense shield.
    For purposes of trade, large rail guns will launch large metal canisters to earth filled with trade goods that can only be manufactured on the moon, rare earth metals, and pharmaceuticals.

    When the colony rebels, it will fill the canisters with rocks, no parachute. The canisters will have an impact energy of a nuclear weapon, minus the radiation. (as in the book; The moon is a harsh mistress)

    This is the most efficient use of material and energy, in a colony with limited resources, to make the largest percision impact with the advantage of having the highground.

    When will this occur? When the colony becomes self-sufficient.

    Earth will be certain never to allow that to happen. There will always be a dead man switch to hold over the colonist heads.

    This is good, humans hate slavery and will leave the moon for freedom elsewhere. Necessity is the mother of invention, something that we are very good at. I can only dream of what’s to become…

    On the subject of boondoggles and government waste;

    The Democrats can swallow a camel but will strain at a Nat…


    “Let me clear: Congress is the problem here, not DoD or other agencies,” and “When faced with the structural use-it or lose-it deadline they spend as much as they can on whatever is easiest to spend money on. Again, Congress created this perverse incentive structure.”

    Here’s one with the map of what states benefit spending the most.

  • Edward

    Col Beausabre,
    3 AM, Universal Time, on September 3, 2135.

    Surprisingly, they don’t turn their weapons on Earth but on the larger, equatorial colony that thinks it is the boss of them. It is the shot that was (not) heard around the Moon.

  • You guys should read Pioneer. The US Lunar colonies will declare independence in 2173, and win with a treaty with the U.S. in 2176.

    2135 is too soon. It will take time to develop the self sufficiency that will allow for independence. Look to the history of the British North American colonies for a sense of time.

  • wayne

    Skynet becomes self aware…
    2:14 am EST August 29th, 1997

  • Edward

    Max wrote: “When will this occur? When the colony becomes self-sufficient. Earth will be certain never to allow that to happen. There will always be a dead man switch to hold over the colonist heads.

    Looking to the history of the British North American colonies for a sense of events, holding a dead man switch to hold over colonists’ heads helps to create the animosity that drives revolution. One of the grievances listed in the Declaration of Independence is the mercantilism that King George imposed upon the colonies in order to make sure that they could not act independently — and to use colonial goods to make a profit for companies based in the British Isles. (Please note, however, that the first grievance listed was the inability for the colonies to make their own laws independent of royal veto, such as banning slavery.)

    The fuel is to valuable to waste. It is more likely that the water will be used for farming and steam driven generators …

    I’m pretty sure that was supposed to be that the water is too valuable to waste as fuel and instead should be used for more contained, recyclable purposes.

    If there is water at the poles, there is a lot of it there. As someone noted elsewhere, lunar water will be the equivalent of oil on Earth. It will be worth using as propellant in the early decades, but at some point someone will realize two things. First, getting water from asteroids will be more efficient than lifting it from the Moon’s gravity well.

    Second, gravity wells are expensive to leave, so lunar and Martian colonies will likely eventually become less desirable than constructed colonies (similar to the rotating O’Niell type colonies) in high orbits around planets or large moons. This way, valuable propellant will mostly be used to lift materials or materiel out of deep gravity wells and not so much on lifting people. As asteroid mining increases, less material will have to come from deep gravity wells, and propellant or space elevators will be mostly used to lift people from deep gravity wells.

    This link gives a delta-v map (some assumptions are noted in the lower right key):

    Notice that this chart gives Earth to low Earth orbit (LEO) as 9.4 km/sec and LEO to Sun escape as another 8.7 km/sec. This means that getting to LEO (a launch takes about 8 to 10 minutes) gets you “half way” to anywhere in the solar system. The only other factor to consider for fuel usage is the time it takes to get there. Expend more propellant and you can get there faster, which may be worth the expenditure for perishable or high value cargoes, such as people. Low perishable cargoes can use minimum delta v trajectories or slingshots past planets, taking longer but using less propellant.

    An example is New Horizons, which used slingshots past planets to pick up a lot of delta v in order to get to Pluto before its atmosphere condensed. A trade-off was that it passed Pluto at high speed, limiting its time for exploration and eliminating all possibility of entering orbit for a longer mission at the planet. This is also why they saved weight (mass) on the radio; they could spend months sending the data back to Earth and used the saved weight for a couple of additional instruments.

  • Bob Steinke

    If Trump wins re-election then Mike Pence will be running for president in 2024. I’m pretty sure that’s the motivation behind this sudden urgency. Flags and footprints it will be.

    If Trump doesn’t win re-election expect his successor to cancel the plan and say SLS is doing just fine.

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