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.
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
ENJOY VISIONS OF A SPACE FUTURE:
FUTURE VISIONS TAKING OFF
RIDING THE WAVE
ASCENDING IN STAGES
BOOSTER RETURNS TO BASE
OUT OF DARKNESS
INTO A NEW DAWN
BACK IN THE NEST