Pence asks NASA to land astronauts on the moon five years from now – Spaceflight Now


Vice President Mike Pence speaks at NASA's Johnson Space Center in 2017. Photo: NASA / Robert Markowitz

US Vice President Mike Pence said Tuesday that NASA should "land by means" of astronauts near the South Pole of the Moon within five years, calling for a "new urgency" in the US space program and warning aerospace contractors of well-established scheduling and cost commitments, or losing work for the benefit of other companies.

"It's the declared policy of this administration and the United States of America to send American astronauts back to the moon in the next five years," said Mr. Pence. "The first woman and the next man on the moon will be American astronauts, launched by US rockets from American soil."

NASA and the Trump administration were already aiming to land the astronauts on the moon by 2028. Pence said the National Space Council, which he chairs, will send recommendations to President Trump for a "major correction of its trajectory" to NASA.

"To achieve this, we must redouble our efforts," said Pence.

Speaking at the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, near NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Pence spoke about the Space Launch System, a heavy rocket being developed for the launch of the Space Launch System. crews in the deep space. a program "plagued by bureaucratic inertia."

The development of the space launch system is managed by Marshall, which hosts NASA's major rocket propulsion programs since the 1960s.

SLS officials said this month that the first flight of the rocket would likely be delayed by 2021, the latest in a series of disconnections since the unveiling of the launcher in 2011. At that time, officials stated that the SLS would be ready for an inaugural launch. in 2017.

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said on March 13 that he had ordered engineers to consider whether the NASA crew capsule, intended to be launched by the SLS, could fly over the moon during an unmanned test flight using two heavy commercial launchers. Orion's shakedown mission is on track for 2020 and dissuade it from further SLS delays.

At Tuesday's National Space Council meeting, after Pence's remarks, Bridenstine said he accepted the Trump government's challenge to land the astronauts on the moon by 2024.

"Our agency, NASA, will do everything in its power to achieve this vision, meet this deadline and you have my full commitment to achieve it," said Bridenstine.

This illustration shows the components of the Space Launch System Block 1 configuration, which is the version planned for the first mission of the rocket, called Exploration Mission-1. Credit: NASA

According to Mr. Bridenstine, NASA's review of commercial launch options, which would likely involve SpaceX and United Launch Alliance rockets, showed that it was possible to use commercial boosters for missions in the deep space, but that the space launch system offered the safest solution. way to a lunar landing by 2024.

"If we want to reach 2024, we have to have SLS," said Bridenstine.

But in his speech, Pence warned that NASA and its subcontractors should not assume that the space launch system is the only way to the moon.

"We need to accelerate the SLS program to achieve this goal, but know it, the president asked NASA and its administrator Jim Bridesnteine ​​to achieve this goal by all means necessary," said Mr. pence. "To succeed … we must focus on the mission, not the means. To achieve our goals, you must consider all the options and platforms available, including the industry, the government and the entire US space company. Our administration is committed to this goal. "

Pence continued by expressing its commitment to the Marshall Space Flight Center, a facility formerly headed by US-German rocket scientist Wernher von Braun, chief architect of the Moon 5 satellite.

"But to be clear, we are not committed to any entrepreneur. If our current entrepreneurs can not achieve this goal, we will find one who will, "said Pence. "If US industry can provide essential business services without government development, we will buy them. And if commercial rockets are the only way to attract American astronauts to the moon over the next five years, these will be commercial rockets.

"The urgency must be our motto," Pence said. "Not reaching our goal of returning an American astronaut to the moon over the next five years is not an option."

Trump's US $ 21 billion Trump administration budget request for the March 11th, proposes a $ 375 million reduction in space launch system funding, and would delay the introduction of a more powerful SLS upper stage capable of launching capsules and Orion crew modules for a mini-space station in lunar orbit for a single mission.

Prior to the Pence announcement on Tuesday, NASA planned to build a lunar orbit space complex called Gateway, with input from international and commercial partners. NASA sees the bridge as a waypoint to the lunar surface, where Orion spacecraft with astronauts will stop before taking off on lunar stations that can transport crews and cargoes between the bridge and the moon.

NASA officials then said that the White House 's budget request for fiscal year 2020 would provide funds to maintain a human landing schedule on the Moon by 2028. Pence Tuesday did not mention the budget request nor the details on the accelerated landing of the moon. the timeline could cost.

The first-stage space-launching liquid hydrogen tank was seen during a recent move to NASA's Michoud Assembly Center in New Orleans, after technicians applied a orange foam insulation. Credit: NASA

Much of the delays in the space launch system result from difficulties in assembling the Boeing main stage of the rocket, which consists, from top to bottom, of a liquid oxygen tank, a liquid hydrogen tank, and an engine compartment for the RS-25. main engines left by the space shuttle program.

A report released in October by NASA's Inspector General criticized the agency and Boeing for cost overruns and timing of the 212-meter (64-meter) main SLS level, which had encountered problems with which had delayed the first launch of the SLS from the end of 2018. mid-2020.

Two side-mounted solid fuel boost units built by Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, also derived from shuttle-era designs, will provide additional power at takeoff, giving the SLS about 8.8 million pounds of fuel. thrust, 15% more than the Saturn 5 rocket used in the Apollo moon program. The 32-stage SLS block 1 version, in accordance with its initial configuration, will also include an upper stage derived from the ULA Delta 4 rocket, with a single Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10 engine.

Bridenstine said that the upper stage of exploration, which would be postponed if the Trump administration 's budget request was passed, was essential to bring humans back to the moon for the first time since 1972.

"When we talk about being able to co-manifest payloads, we are talking about simultaneously placing human beings in a spaceship with housing modules and sending them to the moon, we will need an internship." Superior exploration and we will probably need it very early, from EM-3, the third launch of the space launch system, "said Bridenstine. "There is a lot to do.

"We are currently working to ensure that, at every moment that we devote to the development of SLS and the Orion crew capsule, we are only doing what is absolutely necessary to achieve this first launch, without increase the mix, whether it's additional testing or serial editing rather than parallel editing, "he said. "We are trying to eliminate any additional delay in order to reach this first launch as soon as possible."

Despite warnings from NASA officials and the Boeing program that a delay in the first launch of the SLS until 2021 was likely, Mr. Bridenstine told Pence at the National Council meeting of the National Energy Board. space that he was "confident that we will achieve the first launch in 2020 of the SLS, and a crew capsule around the moon."

Bridenstine has not explained in detail how engineers could save time on the space launch system, but Boeing said in a statement that officials are now planning to scramble the steps to integrate the central scene of Michoud Assembly Facility to New Orleans, while technicians continue to work on the engine section, which has caused many of the SLS's recent delays.

"We worked with NASA to design a final assembly production plan that allows for simultaneous work on the engine section, as we reach the rear and front sections of the rocket," said Patricia Soloveichik, spokesperson. from Boeing. "Previously, we were waiting for the completion of the engine section, by far the most complex element of the rocket. With the new plane, we can work on both sections simultaneously and assemble the engine section horizontally, which allows to continue processing all the iterations of the rocket.

"In addition, we have streamlined our processes to be essential to safety and quality, enabling us to move forward with considerable agility and speed," Soloveichik said. in a statement posted in Spaceflight Now.

The main engine part of the main stage for the first test flight of the space launch system at NASA Michoud Assembly in Louisiana. Credit: NASA / Jude Guidry

NASA said earlier this month that the workers had completed most of the main-stage engine section equipment, which serves as a structural mounting point for the four main engines and carries many thruster, power and data.

The engine section contains more than 500 sensors and 18 km of cables, according to NASA. The workers secured a cork thermal insulation on the outside of the propulsion module before moving it to another part of the fabulous Michoud factory for further testing and adding a structure of boat tail fairing at the bottom of the engine section.

Legislators led by Senator Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, chairman of the Senate's powerful credentials committee, have long supported the Space Launch System, which NASA's operation is estimated to cost about $ 1 billion a year once development completed.

Congress approved $ 2.15 billion for the Space Launch System program during the 2019 fiscal year, while Trump's budget request for the Treasury would reduce that amount from $ 375 million to about $ 1.78 billion. USD.

Shelby said earlier this month that in his role as chairman of the credit committee he had "a passing interest in what NASA is doing," according to a report in Space News.

"I also have a little parish interest in what they do in Huntsville, Alabama," Shelby said in an introduction to Marshall Center Director Jody Singer at a luncheon in Washington. "Jody, you keep doing what you do. We will continue to finance you. "

But Pence reiterated that NASA and Boeing needed to accelerate the pace with the space launch system if the rocket program were to survive.

"To develop these new technologies, NASA needs to take a holistic approach to procurement, contracts and partnerships," said Mr. Pence. "If a commercial enterprise can deliver a rocket, lunar lander, or other capability faster and at a lower cost to the taxpayer than the status quo, NASA must have the authority and courage to change course." quickly and decisively in order to achieve this goal. goal."

Boeing said Tuesday in a statement that he "was working tirelessly … to do the necessary to support NASA's launch in 2020" and "is committed to supporting the vision set forth by the vice-president." President Pence today ".

"Boeing and NASA have implemented process and technology changes to speed up production, without sacrificing safety or quality, and we are on schedule to deliver the first SLS main floor to NASA. here the end of the year, "Boeing said.

"As shown by alternative studies on commercial launch, NASA claimed that SLS remained the best approach to achieving our lunar objectives with a reconfirmation of the importance of the higher stage of exploration by EM-3", said Boeing. "SLS is also the only ultra-heavy rocket in the world capable of safely transporting astronauts to far-flung spaces with significant payloads such as landing gear, habitats and Gateway elements."

Lockheed Martin, lead contractor for the NASA Orion crew capsule, said in a statement that his engineers had been studying the needs of an accelerated lunar landing program.

"With the right level of commitment, urgency and resources, humans could walk to the surface by 2024," the company said.

Artistic illustration of NASA's Orion spacecraft and its European-built service module, powered to the moon by a top-floor engine. Credit: NASA

"Our concept would deploy a first version of the gateway using only its propulsion module and its docking port, which puts the essential activation elements into lunar orbit as quickly as possible," Lockheed Martin said. . "This would also design the crewed undercarriage around an avionics, proven propulsion structures and systems derived from the Orion crew and service modules, which are already designed for lunar exploration with human value. "

Elon Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX, tweeted: "It would be so inspiring for humanity to see humanity return to the moon!"

SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket is the most powerful launcher currently in service, but it is not capable of sending the Orion probe to the moon. The Musk company is also developing a new reusable vehicle for travel in the human space, with an upper segment called the spacecraft and a first stage nicknamed the Super Heavy.

The Starship and the Super Heavy would be able to carry more goods in space than the SLS. Musk tweeted on Tuesday that he thought the ship could be ready to transport humans to the moon's surface in five years. In their current design, the Starship and Super Heavy, which would be both a launcher, an interplanetary transport vehicle and a lander.

SpaceX has built a prototype of the vessel, called "hopper", for vertical takeoff and landing tests at the company's facility near Brownsville, Texas.

"Of course, it's worth giving our best shot!" Wrote Musk. "It would be nice to have a competitive business program to build a results-based (not cost-based) lunar base, so you're only paid for safe freight delivery."

NASA's space launch system was born after the Obama administration canceled the Constellation Moon's landing program, which exceeded budget and schedule, in 2011. The White House and Obama Congress have decided to recover the Orion spacecraft from the Constellation program and retarget NASA's space exploration goal. effort towards Mars.

NASA still has the long-term goal of sending astronauts to Mars, but plans to focus on the moon first.

The space agency has just started working on vehicles to get to the lunar surface, starting with an initiative to buy rides on new commercial landers. None of the commercial landers have yet flown into space, but NASA hopes to integrate the concepts of privately managed undercarriages, much as the government has spurred new commercial cargo and crew transport vessels for the first time. International Space Station.

The landing site for the astronauts' return to the Moon will be located near the lunar south pole, where scientists have found traces of ice in the crater bottoms all the time. The ice could be harvested and converted into rocket fuel, creating a lunar refueling repository for potential Mars missions.

Pence spoke of the recent success of the Chinese probe Chang'e 4, which made the first controlled landing off the moon in January.

"What we need now is urgency," Pence said. Do not be fooled: we are in a race for space today, as in the 1960s, and the stakes are even greater.

"It's not just a competition against our opponents, we're also running against our worst enemy: complacency," said Pence.

But the question of how the Trump administration plans to fund the moon's accelerated landing effort remains open. Bridenstine is scheduled to testify Wednesday at a hearing held by NASA's House Appropriations Committee Committee.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @ StephenClark1.

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