The world’s most powerful rocket is a money pit for NASA

The SLS rocket for the Space Launch System made its first flight on November 16. On the occasion of the Artemis 1 mission, the rocket took off from Cape Canaveral in Florida, a historic site for American launches. But this launcher, the cost of which is estimated at 4 billion dollars, is not reusable.

NASA industrialists must therefore rebuild an entire replica of the rocket for the Artemis 2 mission, whose departure is scheduled for spring 2024. With four to five missions in the coming years, the bill could reach 20 to 25 billion dollars. dollars for NASA, only in construction costs.

SpaceX: NASA’s savior

At the same time, there are private solutions. SpaceX, with the BFR (Big Falcon Rocket) is a prime candidate. Consisting of a Super Heavy first stage and a starship on top, this rocket is even more powerful than the SLS.

The only downside is that it has never flown before, and its design is already causing major problems for Elon Musk’s company. Officially, SLS is NASA’s only launch vehicle to land on the Moon. But behind the scenes, discussions exist to replace this rocket, which is already seen as obsolete.

Frank Michaux © NASA

Cannot be reused, the rocket has a high cost. At the same time, it allows the entire heavy launch vehicle industry to survive. For decades, these companies have made a fortune with the space shuttle, the closure of the latter after the Columbia accident almost killed them.

Obama’s inauguration in 2009 and the end of the program Constellation forced the Senate to immediately amend NASA’s 2011 budget to include the development of a super-heavy launch vehicle, the SLS. This political racket, once called the “Senate starting system,” saved thousands of jobs. It has since allowed NASA to resume its journey to the Moon.

Already the end?

Faced with affordable private competition, the SLS launcher already looks from another era. The device can bring 81 tons of payload into orbit, almost a quarter of the ISS, but this power is not needed to aim for the Moon. The only way for NASA to justify such a launch vehicle would be to find more distant targets, such as Mars, or transport significant payloads such as a lunar base.

SpaceX Tourism The Moon

The spacecraft atop a Falcon Heavy first stage © Leandra Rieger via Unsplash

These projects are well in the small papers of the US space agency. But here again SpaceX could do well. BFR would be able to send 150 tons of payload into orbit. More power than SLS. For now, NASA continues to publicly support its launch vehicle, and construction of SLS-2 is already underway. It must be completed during 2023.

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