November 8, 2019

I’M HAPPY TO SEE THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION PUSHING FOR LOWER COST ALTERNATIVES TO NASA’S SENATE SPACE PORK: The White House puts a price on the SLS rocket—and it’s a lot. “Congress has mandated that NASA use the more costly SLS booster to launch the ambitious Europa Clipper mission to Jupiter in the early 2020s, while the White House prefers the agency to fly on a much-less-expensive commercial rocket. In a section discussing the Clipper mission, Vought’s letter includes a cost estimate to build and fly a single SLS rocket in a given year—more than $2 billion—which NASA has not previously specified. . . . Independent estimates have pegged the SLS cost this high, but NASA has never admitted it. A $2 billion cost to launch one SLS rocket a year raises significant questions about the sustainability of such an exploration program.”

Did I say Space Pork? Yes, yes I did: “In the end, however, the rocket decision will probably not come down to technical and cost considerations. Politics, rather, will have the final say. And the Senator to whom Vought’s letter was addressed, Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), has championed the SLS rocket for nearly a decade. (The vehicle is designed and managed at Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, his home state). So for NASA to get its Europa mission, which the science community generally agrees is a high priority due to the presence of a large water ocean beneath the Moon’s icy surface, taxpayers may have to pay an additional $1.5 billion to placate a powerful policymaker.”

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