Artemis: February 2020 Archives

NASA planning document may offer clues to changes in Artemis program, Ars Technica

"For this assessment, about 60 people at the agency and from industry sought to determine the status of the program as it was currently structured. After the analysis, Loverro told staffers at NASA he had "concerns" about whether the existing plan would work. In particular, during internal briefings, Loverro expressed doubts about the remote assembly of elements of the lunar lander at the Gateway. He also wanted NASA engineers to make sure the Orion spacecraft, with crew on board, could dock to the lander without the Gateway. The potential revision of this plan, which may entail the launch of an entire lunar lander on an upgraded version of the SLS rocket, is notable for several reasons. Perhaps most significantly, it would place primary responsibility for NASA's Moon program on the shoulders of Boeing. That company is building the core stage of the SLS rocket, as well as an upgraded upper stage--the Exploration Upper Stage--that would now be required for use by August 2024 on the Block 1B version of the SLS. In fact, it would be required to accelerate development of the beefier SLS rocket."

Let the moon rush begin, op ed, Homer Hickam, Washington Post

"As these efforts get going, however, it's important to avoid the thinking of a half-century ago and look at the moon in a different way. This is, after all, not your grandfather's moon. After the Apollo moon-landing program of the 1960s and '70s, a series of robotic missions discovered that Luna was a lot more interesting than many had previously thought. It has abundant water and oxygen, as well as helium, platinum, thorium, rare earth metals and other minerals that may well be worth digging up and transporting back for use in thousands of products."

Keith's note: The Washington Post (owned by Jeff Bezos) ran a full page advertisement/op ed by Blue Origin (also owned by Jeff Bezos) in today's Washington Post written in response to a recent editorial about space policy by the Washington Post editorial board.

NASA keeps falling victim to presidential whims, Washington Post (image of full advertisement)

"Mars (of which the Moon is a part)" is either nonsense or exactly what legislators in the House of Representatives seem to have their eye on today: putting humans on the moon only as a jumping-off point to explore the red planet in person. That's different from the plan NASA is envisioning, despite the president's contradictory tweets; the agency looks to Mars in the distant future but treats the moon as an end in itself -- where it can establish bases on the far side and mine lunar ice, ostensibly for life support and rocket fuel. There's a powerful argument that satisfying the human drive to know doesn't actually require humans. Robots can do lots of exploring for lots less money than it costs to put people on (or float people above) celestial bodies; projects from the Curiosity rover to the Cassini spacecraft and beyond have taught us so. There's also an argument that the private companies increasingly interested in low-orbit adventuring should be entrusted with as much as they're able to carry out, to save NASA money and to ensure that exploratory work continues even as the whims of politicians shift. (Disclosure: One of those companies is owned by Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos, who also owns The Post.) These shifting whims are the greatest threat to a space program constantly afflicted by whiplash. Preferable as a greater emphasis on robotics might be, leaders are unlikely to stop insisting on going places because we can. These long-term goals are most likely to be achieved if they're guided by thoughtful science and professional planning, rather than the allure of a potential geopolitical coup or the grievances of constituent contractors. The longer the politicians argue back and forth about the moon vs. Mars, the less likely we are to go to either one."

To which Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith responds:

"Recently, the Washington Post editorial board cited presidential whim as being at the heart of today's efforts to push for greater United States leadership and focus in space. That view is representative of uniformed critiques that come from many corners and have helped stymie well-intentioned prior efforts to move our nation forward into space. It fails to recognize the massive shifts in the space industry that allow us to maje greater strides and the emerging threats that require us to re-double our efforts. Last year, the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo landing on the Moon reminded us of the great pioneering capabilities and innovation that the U.S. has always demonstrated. But the first steps of Apollo were just that - the first steps in an unprecedented journey that is just beginning. ... All the forces - economic, political, technological, cultural - are in place for this transformation and we are now participating in an historic moment. This inevitable expansion will not be stopped by those that waiver and merely critique, but will be forged by those across government and industry who are un apologetic in their vision, and who are unafraid to build and to dream."

Keith's note: This is interesting. GAO usually just issues its reports and that's that. However, they are now overtly mentioning the recently released FY 2021 budget and are directing people to a report "NASA Lunar Programs: Opportunities Exist to Strengthen Analyses and Plans for Moon Landing" that says:

"In March 2019, the White House directed NASA to accelerate its plans to return humans to the moon by 2024--4 years earlier than NASA had planned. To meet this new goal, NASA made some changes to its approach. But it is still pursuing an array of complex efforts, including a small platform in lunar orbit called the Gateway, where crew could transit to and from the moon. Some have questioned the path NASA is taking and NASA has not fully explained how it arrived at its plans. So we that NASA document its rationale for these decisions. We also recommended that NASA develop an official cost estimate for the 2024 lunar landing mission."
Not very subtle - especially for the GAO. If the GAO is publicly reminding people that NASA needs to provide more details then it is a sure thing that Congress will be asking for the same thing - since the report that GAO is referring to was delivered to Congress on 19 December 2019 in response to a request from the House Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies.

Trump budget cuts funding for health, science, environment agencies, Washington Post

"President Trump once again is asking Congress to make major cuts to the budgets of science and health agencies while favoring research deemed essential to national security. The 2021 budget request delivered Monday to Congress includes a nearly 10 percent cut to Health and Human Services and a 26 percent cut to the Environmental Protection Agency. It asks for increases in funding for research on quantum computing and artificial intelligence, areas in which the United States competes with China. Trump also wants to grant NASA a multibillion-dollar boost to help the space agency put astronauts back on the moon. Trump budgets have repeatedly targeted agencies and programs that deal with science, health and the environment, but if tradition holds, the requested cuts have little chance of winning approval from the House of Representatives, which has the power of the purse and a Democratic majority."

Keith's note: Learning that the White House has singled NASA out for a substantial budget increase is always welcome news for the space community since it highlights the fact that space is important and space people think that space is important. Add in strong mention in the State of The Union address and at other high visibility events, a push for Space Force, and space folks certainly have a right to feel that there is new wind in their sails. One small problem: much of this is temporary. Alas, as has been the case in the past, large cuts in social services, education, science, and infrastructural budgets fall flat when they arrive at Congress. NASA stands out as a target by virtue of its large plus up while everyone else is getting cut back. Soon we'll hear the old saws "why spend money in space when it is needed here on Earth" and "We already did the Moon thing 50 years ago". As inspirational as this 12% increase is, the chances that it will actually happen are not very encouraging.

Today at the Space Foundation's State of Space event, Rep. Kendra Horn, the lead proponent of the recent NASA Authorization Act that is making its way through Congress said that the 12% proposed increase in NASA's budget is welcome, but that it does not address the $5-6 billion that she says that NASA has told her that they need every year to make the 2024 Artemis lunar landing to happen - and by the way where is NASA's actual plan to do this? When asked about the interest in having actual private sector participation in Artemis as proposed by the White House, Horn said instead that making everyone NASA contractors is better - something her NASA Authorization Act strives to do. Add in the Act's gutting of actual lunar utilization and exploration after the landings begin we'd be facing a Flags and Footprints 2.0 situation. Just as a huge NASA budget increase is going to be hard to sell to Congress against a backdrop of cuts elsewhere, spending any large amount of money on NASA - with or without a big increase - to go back and walk around on the Moon is going to be a hard sell as well when basic support services are on the chopping block.

When asked if she thought Artemis could survive the election and a possible change in the White House Horn replied that her authorization act had bipartisan support - so that was a good sign. We all saw what the Obama Administration did to the Bush Administration's human spaceflight program plan when they took over and what happened to Obama's space efforts when the Trump team took over. Horn referred to a certain amount of "whiplash" as being an integral part of what passes for space policy - and that this back and forth contributes to a lot of the problems we see in what NASA is doing or not doing at any given moment.

Now that I have served up a pile of negativity, lets look on the bright side. There is great interest - globally - in going back to the Moon - with both humans and robots, to do science and exploration, to both further national goals and conduct private sector projects. Oh yea Mars too. Alas, no one is exactly on the same page. Until we have an actual national strategy with goals, objectives, roles, and responsibilities clearly enumerated then this ad hoc, constantly pivoting approach is going to continue to stumble along. It takes more than short presidential directives or tedious, verbose NASA authorization Acts to make that happen. Barking orders and long wish lists chopped up into 4 year long bite size pieces won't work. It never has. We're just kicking the can down the road. Will someone please fix this? Thanks.

https://s3.amazonaws.com/images.spaceref.com/news/2015/canmars.jpgKicking The Can Down the Road to Mars, 2015, earlier post

"And of course none of these Mars missions in the 2030s are in any budget - notional, proposed, or projected - that means anything to anyone actually working at NASA today. So it is hard to blame people who can't give you a straight answer. Just look at what their management has given them to work with - and what the agency has had to work with in terms of guidance from Congress and the White House. Just in the past 10-12 years NASA has veered away from the shuttle towards the Moon, then away from the ISS to Mars and away from the Moon and back to ISS, and now back to Mars (and maybe the Moon) and also some boulder on an asteroid."

Keith's note: In the NASA FY 2021 budget briefing I asked Jim Morhard what the total cost of Artemis would be up to the point of landing people on the Moon. He said $35 billion. Yea that's apparently the additional cost to do Artemis I, II, III - on top of what was already being done. But what was already being done was to send humans to the Moon - you know, like SLS, Orion, ground systems, etc. NASA has been sending humans back to the Moon since 14 January 2004. This guessing game has been an ongoing sport amongst the media for 16 years - trying to find out how much the NASA Moon program will cost. NASA now tries to pretend that Orion and SLS are somehow not part of the Artemis cost since they have been underway for so long that NASA would be doing those things anyway without the whole Artemis thing. Back in the day NASA never included the costs of Shuttle flights in what it cost to build ISS since "we'd be flying them anyway".

Somehow Artemis has become separate from the original "Vision for Space Exploration", "Moon, Mars, and Beyond", Constellation, "Journey To Mars" things - all of which are the overlapping, evolutionary, sequential steps that led to SLS and Orion - right? And all of these efforts cost billions - billions that have vanished from the overall humans to the Moon balance sheet. Of course if you really wanted to be accurate about what this cost you'd need to include Ares 1 and Ares V - since they were once NASA's original "program of record" plan for sending humans to the Moon. But NASA wants everyone to forget all of those billions. Oh yes, then there's the billion they spent on the J-2 testing - and the test stand they never needed - and ... see where I am going?

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NASA to Industry: Send Ideas for Lunar Rovers

"As NASA's Artemis lunar exploration program mounts toward a robust decade of modern science, research, and human exploration at the Moon, the agency is asking American companies to think about how to get around on the lunar surface. NASA issued two separate Requests for Information (RFI) seeking industry approaches for development of robotic mobility systems and human-class lunar rovers. With these RFIs, NASA seeks to foster an emerging American market of lunar transportation capability by engaging the terrestrial vehicle and robotic communities."


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This page is an archive of entries in the Artemis category from February 2020.

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