NEW MOON;  An open letter to the 2016 campaign leaders

Our space program was born to meet the challenges of the cold war, and these times are no less demanding.  When John Kennedy launched us towards the Moon landings we needed to be strong in a world of uncertainty.  Over time we established leadership in space, but we also learned the cost of big space programs.  The big Saturn rockets were abandoned to develop more affordable systems.

The space shuttles promised more than they could deliver in cost savings.  They also delivered some lessons about safety that provoked some retreat back to older designs.  Unfortunately the “new” Space Launch System has retreated back into very expensive ideas.  Consider the cost of one SLS launch vehicle compared to one Navy warship:


We stopped going to the moon because we couldn’t afford to continue those missions.  This new program didn’t even have a mission when it was conceived.  It is actually a Republican jobs program; a pork barrel mission.  Now they fantasize about going back to the Moon or even to Mars.  The Moon may actually offer some real value, but Mars is a pointless mission when our economy needs a major overhaul.  Instead we are about to be keelhauled into a massive debt.

We have private ventures ready and willing to provide vastly cheaper launch services, and even to develop the resources of space.  We can deliver the same mass to orbit with two smaller vehicles for less than one monster rocket.  Spacex, Blue Origin, and others are already developing economical systems that have already been flown.  Deep space missions and heavy launch do not require a massive deficit.  Even leaders at NASA dislike what they are being forced to do with the SLS.

More importantly we have many smaller missions being flown on Russian boosters and rocket engines.  We cannot now launch defense missions on American rockets without paying the Russians…except for Spacex boosters.  We are finally paying American firms to develop new rocket engines.  But we still pay the Russians to carry American astronauts on the same old booster that launched the Sputnik in 1957.  Only commercial launch providers can fix this problem because NASA has no small launchers except these new commercial providers.

Just compare these proposed heavy lifters cost to cargo ratio.  The Falcon Heavy is due to fly this year, and the SLS…who knows when?


What do commercial launchers offer to reduce costs?  Spacex has already landed and re-fired a booster.  Blue Origin has flown and re-flown the same booster.  This means a difference between throwing away a 60 million dollar booster or just refurbishing it for under one million dollars.  Potentially 59 million dollars less per launch in savings, even if you save only one stage.  Remember the Space Launch System is all expendable, except possibly the crew capsule.  We can use multiple small launchers at far greater savings than any expendable system.

The Verge:  SpaceX’s reusable rockets will make space cheaper — but how much? Dec 24, 2015

This means that space can become a profitable business instead of a deficit maker.  There are already a number of ventures protecting the environment and reaching for mineral wealth in space.  The Air Force contracts launch services, couldn’t NASA do the same?  They don’t need to be in the launch vehicle business.  Private companies with competitive bidding do a better job of delivering vehicle designs.  The best part is that jobs in space programs must stay in the United States because of International Traffic in Arms Regulations .   Space is the one industry that can be a jobs program for American workers only.

Private companies have offered solutions to space launch and even for clean energy in the past.  Rockwell International proposed a huge project that would at least deliver solar energy from space.  Elements of that old concept are still valuable to consider for more economical systems today.  The idea of flying vehicles from a spaceport runway is still being considered today.  With new materials, propulsion, and methods these ideas may yet be built and flown.  Wings to Space: the Wright Stuff is a blog that publishes concepts from several groups seeking horizontal launch technologies.  If saving one stage delivers big savings, what could be gained by making the whole vehicle reusable?  Only private ventures are considering this, but they need the money being wasted on the “Senate Launch System”.

At this time only two spacecraft have gone to orbit, been refurbished, and returned to orbit.  The only reusable orbiters were the shuttle and the Air Force X-37.  Lessons from the shuttle helped with the X-37, which has orbited for as long as two years.  That is a proven system now.  As such it is reasonable to consider winged vehicles potentially superior for comfort, safety, and demonstrated long life.  We welcome every step that proves that economy is possible in space operations.  We also welcome the work being done by new groups for even greater economy and safety.

Space is not just a science fiction fantasy, it is a viable marketplace if we leave the mistakes of the past behind.  We have already seen reusable vehicles flown and re-flown for years now.  When we had surplus missiles to throw away that made sense.  But building a huge new throw away rocket makes nothing more than a bonfire of cash.  We urge the current campaign leaders to take a leadership role in the only growth segment in America’s economy.  Yes, ask these companies to pay taxes, but encourage them to give us a future in the process.

David Luther,  Exodus Aerospace



















4 thoughts on “NEW MOON

  1. Having been a engineer in both the shuttle, Orion, and Dream Chaser programs, and keeping up on more insider info on these I’d like to correct a couple details.

    – Its a nit at this point, but we didn’t stop launching Apollo craft due to the cost, but because D.C. folks were starting to realize that Apollo craft were dangerous, and a loss of crew would blow the good PR landing people on the moon and returning them gained the country. They had already paid for and received the mission set of Saturn-V/LEM/CM/SM for 3 more flights. But just sent them to museum or (in the case of the Saturns) lawn ornaments.

    – Shuttle actually proved to be much safer then any other manned craft ever flown, and carried half of all the cargo tonnage, and 3/4ths of the flights of a person to orbit, of all human history. BUT it allowed NASA folks to get overconfident and sloppy for PR reasons. So Soyuz has a potentially fatal issue on every 5th flight, versus every 20th flight for shuttle, but the lose rates are only slightly better for shuttle (1 per 66 flights, vrs 1 per 50) due to NASA ordering contractors to cut corners.

    – NASA refused and sandbagged all the aerofirms offers of FULLY REUSABLE LV’s (guaranteed to have all shuttles cargo and on orbit capacities at a minimum 10 fold cost per flight) and went back to the deliberately Apollo looking SLS – Deliberately to RAISE costs per flight, and a hope that fewer more spectacular Saturn-V like launches looking like the old Apollo launches. Griffin in interviewsmentioned the importance of keeping the costs up (80%-90% of voter contacts with congress/Sentae/White House supporting space, are voters saying they are supporting the spending in their district. 80%-90% of the rest of the support contacts refer to national prestige.)

    – The cost to the feds to develop the Falcon/Dragons is a couple billion, not $544M for Dragon only. Though thats really a nit.

    -Similarly SpaceX/Orbital are NOT saving NASA any money. Per ton they cost about the same (See the CBO report “‘NASA’s Commercial Cargo Providers: Are They Ready To. Supply the Space Station in the Post-Shuttle Era?” May 26 []). Worse the only thing keeping the shuttles per flight cost higher, is the paperwork regulation differences. As the contractors who operated the fleet, staffed the centers, etc offered. If they could get the contract rules/oversight/etc that COTS/CRS were getting. They would lower the cost per flight to the Falcon/Dragon flight costs to NASA. Even though the shuttle carries 4 times as much cargo while also lifting more crew per flight then even proposed for Falcon flights.

    So ….
    Good news is: even the partially reusable Shuttle, operated incompetently by NASA, working to increase its operating costs even at the cost of worse safety; STILL showed reusables could and were dramatically lowering operational costs and improving safety. Minor improvements in the design and oversight/auditing rules (and demands for pork in the right districts) would dramatically lower costs and improve safety. New designs based on lessons learned (DC-X, Venture Star, upgraded Star-Raker), with available current technology, could offer far more dramatic cost savings and safty improvements.

    Bad news is: that was a really scarry bad thing for NASA, they would fight to avoid and discredit. Both with X-33 and related political efforts, refusal to even acknowlege the recept of companies proposals to lower cost per flight of Shuttle to COTS/CRS levels, and COTS/CRS where they manuvered to lock out the main companies for years, and pushed forward Less capable newSpace firms they could highlight the failures and risks of.

  2. Without having your inside experience I hope I might identify a hope for change in the Sanders campaign. They indicate little interest in space, but environmental studies are an interest. I have little hope of fixing things with parties that live on corporate donations. I don’t expect Spacex or Orbital or Sierra Nevada to reduce costs on expendable boosters. The hope awaits that reusable factor coming online. Demonstrated savings can help overcome the arguments for big cost. I hope the illustration comparing to a warship provokes some thought. Your article about the Star Raker still brings a lot of traffic. I hope to see more horizontal launch demonstrations, even if they are as small as our prototypes. Even our limited assets reveal some new technologies and solutions. I welcome all development from companies that can live without NASA. Other nations may not have the same problems, so answers will come one way or another. The question is: Do American voters want to maintain our leadership or align with a retro-tech pork barrel?

    • American voters really just want the pork, and don’t care for space.

      True about SpaceX not lowering costs, they are actually costing NASA more per ton or person then the shuttle did.

      Really you need a RLV (or mass production of cheap ELV) that can fly often, and a market to fly them often, so you can get economies of scale.

      Glad to hear folks still like my Star-Raker article. :). Sorry I didn’t notice you responded to me until now.

  3. How about new blog post eg. about SABRE and Skylon ?



    We welcome folks to write and submit articles to The articles are best when the writers know their subject so we welcome thos who advocate horizontal launch to write for us. Are you Guy Fawkes Mr. Anonymous?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s