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. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.

SpaceX wins contract to launch Europa Clipper to Jupiter

Capitalism in space: NASA today awarded SpaceX a $178 million contract to use its Falcon Heavy rocket to launch Europa Clipper to Jupiter.

If all goes according to plan, Clipper will lift off in October 2024 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and arrive in orbit around Jupiter in April 2030. The probe will then study Europa in depth during nearly 50 close flybys of the moon over the course of about four Earth years, mission team members have said.

The award is not really a surprise. Falcon Heavy is really the only operational rocket with the power capable of launching this mission. Because for years Congress had mandated Europa Clipper be launched on SLS, it was designed with more mass than normal for such planetary missions. Delays in the SLS program however finally forced Congress to relax that mandate, but that left NASA with a payload too heavy for all operational rockets except Falcon Heavy, and even that requires this six year flight, with flybys of the Earth and Mars to get it to Jupiter.

The price for the launch is significantly greater than SpaceX normally charges for its Falcon Heavy, but since it was the only game in town, I suspect SpaceX drove a hard bargain.


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  • Skunk Bucket

    By October of 2024 Starship should be flying often. Will SpaceX still be using Falcon Heavy then? How big a deal would it be to switch the Europa Clipper to the newer launcher?

  • George C

    Skunk Bucket: The JPL people building and operating the Clipper deserve a minimum risk solution with the longest proven track record for the launch vehicle.

  • Richard M

    Not too much of a hard bargain, though, I think…

    We’ve long known this would be a fully expended Falcon Heavy launch, even with the gravity assists…and we know SpaceX charges $150 million for a fully expended Heavy. So $28 million on top of that seems actually pretty modest for what we know will be NASA’s payload processing requirements.

    Anyway, as Eric Berger noted, it sure as hell beats $2 billion for an SLS launch – not least, an SLS launch it’d probably have to wait a couple years for.

  • The price for the launch is significantly greater than SpaceX normally charges for its Falcon Heavy, but since it was the only game in town, I suspect SpaceX drove a hard bargain.

    Richard M has a good point regarding this … or perhaps SpaceX would give a government agency a better deal, were it not for another government agency threatening to interfere with the R&D efforts of SpaceX.

  • James Street

    “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase Profits”
    – Milton Friedman

  • Edward

    James Street quoted: “‘The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase Profits’ – Milton Friedman

    Profits are the reward for increasing economic efficiency over the competition.

  • Jeff Wright

    SLS supporters pushed for Europa missions. Talk about biting the hand that fed you. Dishonorable.

  • There is no lander included? Someone paid attention …

  • Dick Eagleson

    Jeff W.,

    SLS supporters pushed for Europa Clipper for the same reason they pushed for Gateway, to give SLS something to do. The most ardent Europa Clipper supporter in Congress, before his failed re-election effort three years ago, was John Culberson who, himself, was beginning to make exasperated noises about perpetual SLS delays by the end of his tenure in the House. He was a long-time SLS backer but was pretty obviously in the process of choosing Europa Clipper over SLS when it began to appear no SLS could be available to launch Europa Clipper by the date required for an expedited passage to Jupiter.

    Both of SLS’s “side gigs” – deployment of Gateway and launch of Europa Clipper – have now gone to SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy. SLS has simply been too slow to reach operational status, is too expensive and production-limited and has even been discovered to have launch physics incompatible with Europa Clipper. There is nothing in the least “dishonorable” about NASA acknowledging both physical and fiscal reality. What’s actually dishonorable is the continued insistence by supporters that SLS is somehow worth the insane amounts of money lavished on it.

  • Edward

    NASA itself attempted to support SLS. Almost five years ago NASA asked the science community for ideas for scientific missions or probes that would benefit by a launch on SLS. One would think that this would have generated many ideas for sending larger probes to various planets or asteroids, but the reaction was silence. It seems that the capabilities of SLS were more than offset by the cost and infrequent availability. The science community did not get excited about SLS. Even the choice of SLS for Europa Clipper was not the idea of the science community but was Congress’s idea.

    Congress demanded that they get a rocket to play with, and they even designed its basic parts as well as its capabilities, even though they had no idea at all what they wanted to do with it. This is SLS’s Achilles’ heel. Without a mission to drive their design, SLS and Orion were crippled by what Paul Spudis described in his book The Value of the Moon: “Regrettably, strategic confusion currently abounds in the American civil space program.” Unfortunately, Congress did not do their due diligence to find out what the market wanted, and they certainly didn’t know what they wanted. Instead, all they ended up with were jobs at Space Shuttle manufacturing facilities rather than a system that would or could improve our exploration of the solar system and universe. Spending money on a system that keeps jobs and favors certain companies without producing anything of use may sound like corruption, but make no mistake: it is. This is a major reason for letting free markets choose what to produce — and an added benefit is that it is at no cost to taxpayers, only to investors and those who purchase the chosen goods and services.

    Congress designed a launch system that had little utility, and the President who didn’t even want SLS had then set up a possible mission that no one wanted, even asteroid scientists didn’t want his mission. As for the mission to create a sustainable Moon base, one flight per year hardly seems enough to sustain a base, and even then SLS would have to forsake all other possible missions, such as science.

    The free market, on the other hand, did its own due diligence and realized that launch costs as low as $2000 per pound, in 1990s dollars, would make access to space affordable enough for many commercial uses of space. Falcon 9 has shown that this was correct. In the 1990s, reusability was seen as the means to this end, even though the Space Shuttle had failed to provide it. Even though Congress failed to learn the lessons of the Space Shuttle, entrepreneurs did.

    Many believe that there is a new space race between government space and commercial space to see who gets to the Moon first. The real space race is between commercial companies to see who can provide launches for the lowest price, and who can provide improved space services for the lowest price. Soon, we should see who can produce the best goods in space for the lowest price.

    So we are left wondering (other than government, the favored companies, their employees, and the communities that share a billion dollars each year) who are the SLS supporters? Wouldn’t Boeing be better off making a reusable, inexpensive super heavy launch vehicle? Wouldn’t Lockheed Martin be better off making a reusable, inexpensive manned spacecraft? Wouldn’t Thiokol (now part of Northrup Grumman) be better off making a more affordable reusable solid rocket booster? Even Aerojet Rocketdyne’s RS-25 was more affordable as a reusable engine than as an expendable one.

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