Pad 39A's Next Launch Nears, As Key SpaceX Hardware Erected at Historic Site

SpaceX's Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF), whose construction was completed in 2015, stands astride the "crawlerway", beyond the Pad 39A perimeter. Photo Credit: SpaceX Facebook Group, used with permission

SpaceX’s Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF), whose construction was completed in 2015, stands astride the “crawlerway,” beyond the Pad 39A perimeter. Photo Credit: SpaceX Facebook Group (unofficial), used with permission

Not since 8 July 2011 and the final launch of the Space Shuttle Program—during which Atlantis delivered the STS-135 crew of Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley, and Mission Specialists Sandy Magnus and Rex Walheim to the International Space Station (ISS)—has Pad 39A resounded to the roar of rocket engines carrying humans into space. Last weekend, almost 19 months since NASA signed over to SpaceX control and oversight of the only launch facility from which humans departed Earth to physically touch the face of another world, the massive Transporter-Erector (TE) for future use by the Hawthorne, Calif.-based launch services organization was raised into position for two days of testing. In parallel developments, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) announced Tuesday that SpaceX had completed testing of the SuperDraco launch-abort propulsion system for its Crew Dragon spacecraft, which is currently scheduled to support an unpiloted test flight in the fall of 2016.

NASA revealed this week that the SuperDraco apparatus had been successfully test-fired 27 times at SpaceX’s facility in McGregor, Texas. Operating in four pairs—which SpaceX calls “jetpacks”—a total of eight hypergolic-fed and 3D-printed SuperDracos will be positioned radially at 90-degree intervals around the perimeter of the Crew Dragon, carrying the potential to generate 120,000 pounds (54,430 kg) of propulsive yield. According to NASA, such thrust is sufficient “to accelerate a Crew Dragon from zero to 100 mph (160 km/h) in 1.2 seconds,” thereby enabling “the ability to lift the crew a safe distance off the launch pad or far enough away from a booster failing on the way to orbit.” In May 2015, as outlined in an AmericaSpace article and portfolio of images, SpaceX conducted a long-awaited Pad Abort Test (PAT) of a Crew Dragon mockup and functional SuperDraco system from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.

A SpaceX Crew Dragon test article launches on its first Pad Abort Test earlier this year from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Photo Credit: John Studwell / AmericaSpace

A SpaceX Crew Dragon test article launches on its first Pad Abort Test earlier this year from Cape Canaveral, Fla. Photo Credit: John Studwell / AmericaSpace

Of course, it is hoped that the capability of the SuperDracos will never be needed to pluck a crew of astronauts to safety in a real situation, although a robust Launch Escape System (LES) is mandatory and renewed fears over the Falcon 9’s reliability were kindled following the loss of the CRS-7 cargo mission on 28 June. “A normal launch of the Crew Dragon atop a Falcon 9 rocket would not offer the SuperDracos anything to do during the mission,” NASA explained, “since their only responsibility is to fire in an emergency to rescue the crew on-board.” It was highlighted that SpaceX intends to use the SuperDracos as a propulsive landing mechanism, in place of parachutes, for the Crew Dragon. “After the development cycle,” NASA concluded, “the propulsion system and SuperDracos will continue evaluations at the company’s test stand to qualify them for use on operational missions.”

In the meantime, Pad 39A has proven a hive of activity since it was formally handed over by NASA to SpaceX in April 2014, under the terms of a 20-year lease. Last weekend’s arrival of the TE for two days of tests was the latest in a series of significant developments for a pad which can trace its heritage back to the earliest days of the space program. Capped, patriotically, by a fluttering U.S. flag, the TE was transported from the neighboring Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF)—situated astride the crawlerway— to the pad and raised last Saturday (7 November) for tests and fit-checks, before returning to a horizontal configuration on Monday.

A SpaceX spokesperson told AmericaSpace that the TE—which was fabricated in-place in Florida, with a few subassemblies constructed elsewhere—measures approximately 240 feet (73.1 meters) in length and, when fully loaded with a Falcon 9, is expected to carry a “rolling mass” of 1.3 million pounds (590,000 kg). It was explained that the same TE would be utilized for both Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launches, with all Pad 39A modifications expected to be complete by year’s end. With this significant milestone completed, and the assembly of several other key SpaceX facilities well underway at the site, the stage is almost set for Pad 39A’s 95th mission, expected to be the maiden voyage of the mammoth Falcon Heavy, in the Second Quarter of 2016.

Since its inaugural use to launch the unpiloted Apollo 4 on 9 November 1967—which also marked the maiden voyage of the Saturn V, the largest and most powerful rocket ever to attain operational status—Pad 39A has supported 94 missions, of which all but three were conducted with astronauts aboard.

 


VIDEO: Crew Dragon SuperDraco Test Fire Nov 10, 2015. Credit: SpaceX

Pad 39A saw the first Saturn V launch—and, by default, its own first launch—in an unmanned capacity. On the stroke of 7:00 a.m. EST on 9 November 1967, the entire Cape received a jolt as the five F-1 first-stage engines of the Saturn V ignited. A year later astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders became the first humans to rise from Earth from the site, embarking on the first piloted voyage to the Moon. Over the course of the next four years, through Apollo 17 and America’s first piloted night launch in December 1972, nine Apollo crews left Pad 39A, eight of whom voyaged to our closest celestial neighbor. And of those eight, six missions succeeded in placing a dozen humans onto the dusty lunar surface.

SpaceX's gigantic Transporter Erector (TE), pictured at the Pad 39A site during its two days of tests, last weekend. The TE was reportedly returned to horizontal configuration on Monday. Photo Credit: SpaceX Facebook Group, used with permission

SpaceX’s gigantic Transporter Erector (TE), pictured at the Pad 39A site during its two days of tests, last weekend. The TE was reportedly returned to horizontal configuration on Monday. Photo Credit: SpaceX Facebook Group, used with permission

Twelve Saturn V missions were staged between November 1967 and May 1973 and the site’s next launch came on 12 April 1981, when Columbia roared aloft on STS-1, the first shuttle flight. Over the following 30 years, no fewer than 82 shuttle missions ascended from Pad 39A. It is therefore hardly surprising that, in January 2000, Pad 39A was added as a Site to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).

Six months before the final shuttle mission, in January 2011, NASA began the process of identifying assets which were no longer required after the conclusion of the program (including Pad 39A) and a Notice of Availability (NOA) was issued to gauge potential industry interest. An Announcement for Proposals (AFP) for the pad was released in May 2013 and, at its due date in July, NASA had received responses from SpaceX and from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Kent, Wash.-based aerospace company, Blue Origin.

Original plans called for the potential bidders to begin Pad 39A operations no later than October 2013, but following the Selection Statement in September—which favored SpaceX—Blue Origin filed a protest against NASA with the Government Accountability Office (GAO), raising concerns about the competitive process. Although the GAO overturned the protest, it was not until December 2013 that NASA formally announced the selection of SpaceX to begin negotiations on leasing Pad 39A for its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy vehicles. Finally, in April 2014, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell, and Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Director Bob Cabana announced the 20-year lease. Since then, earlier this year, the Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) has taken shape, astride the historic “crawlerway,” at Pad 39A’s perimeter, although it is expected that the Rotating Service Structure (RSS) and Fixed Service Structure (FSS) will remain in place for the foreseeable future.

 

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64 comments to Pad 39A’s Next Launch Nears, As Key SpaceX Hardware Erected at Historic Site

  • James

    Thank you Ben Evans for the interesting article on a national historic and enormous launchpad, a key facility that should remain quite valuable for future national SLS/Orion missions.

    However, what is missing from this article on renting out for twenty years to the President’s ‘political supporter’ of the Kennedy Space Center’s enormous Launchpad 39A that is a valuable component for future national SLS/Orion missions?

    Why and by whom in NASA was the option of economical dual launch SLS and SLS/Orion Lunar mission architecture decided to be no longer viable for doing the missions to the Moon’s surface and cislunar space that are legally required in NASA Authorization Act of 2010 (PL 111–267)?

    Why and by whom was it decided that the SLS/Orion Lunar and cislunar missions could never benefit from the extremely useful rescue option of having a SLS/Orion launch on need capability?

    Who in Congress was consulted with and supported NASA renting out for a ‘private monopolization’ of Launchpad 39A to ‘knife in the back’ the bipartisan supported NASA Authorization Act of 2010 (PL 111–267) and the taxpayer paid for SLS/Orion system?

    Is the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 (PL 111–267) still the relevant law of the land or are NASA’s future astronauts simply going to hop on a private spaceship in ten years and work or ‘retire’ on Mars with the lame duck President’s ‘political supporter’?

    Is all the Mars talk simply the cheap process of ‘kicking the can down the Martian road’ to 2050 or 2060 by the outgoing ‘lost in space’ and highly partisan administration that is philosophically adverse to providing the needed international leadership for SLS/Orion Lunar missions and is unwilling to fully and carefully implement the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 (PL 111–267)?

    If NASA’s leaders continue to loudly reject the idea of providing that needed international leadership of robotic and human Lunar missions, will other countries provide such leadership and reap the many benefits of such leadership?

    Is using the SLS and International Orion to find and tap the Moon’s resources to reduce the high risks and costs of Lunar surface, cislunar, and beyond cislunar missions the affordable and doable task at hand?

    Last time we did cislunar and Lunar missions with the Apollo/Saturn system we needed both launchpads 39A and 39B, so the obvious question is why we no longer need Launchpad 39A to help reduce the risks and increase the options for America’s future cislunar and Lunar surface Orion/SLS missions?

    Is giving a twenty year ‘rental monopoly’ of Launchpad 39A to the President’s ‘political supporter’ simply a convenient way to ‘politically reward’ a ‘political supporter’ by assuring him a central launch role in future national missions to GEO, the Moon, and the rest of cislunar space despite the ‘odd fact’ that this ‘political supporter’ has not yet demonstrated the capability of being able to build a reliable and on-time launcher?

    Could any individual, or company, that de facto ‘politically helps’ the President to ‘slow roll’ or ‘sabotage’ the SLS and Orion national space exploration system or the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 (PL 111–267) be barred from future American government contracts?

    Does this article raise many difficult questions about NASA’s leadership’s willingness to fully implement the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 (PL 111–267)?

  • mark

    Hate to tell you this but SLS is launching from 39B not 39A.

    • Joe

      mark,

      Hate to tell you, but he was talking about having a dual launch capability to fly two SLS/Orion launches in a relatively short period of time (one Orion, one Lander) to support lunar missions. Hence questions like:

      “Why and by whom in NASA was the option of economical dual launch SLS and SLS/Orion Lunar mission architecture decided to be no longer viable for doing the missions to the Moon’s surface and cislunar space that are legally required in NASA Authorization Act of 2010 (PL 111–267)?”

      Maybe next time you should actually read the post before attempting to ridicule it. But naaah, where’s the fun in that.

    • James

      “Hate to tell you this”, not if Congress decides that the SLS is going to launch from both 39A and 39B.

      The current lame duck President and his ever wandering and zigzagging nonscientific human beyond LEO space rhetoric will be ‘ancient’ political history in two years.

      An evolved SLS and Orion system could still be around and quite useful in twenty years or even forty or fifty years. Thankfully, the President’s ‘political supporter’, if he is to be believed on any level at all, should be ‘retired’ on Mars in about ten years.

      Oh well, maybe we should build Launchpad 39C into an enormous SLS launchpad. And to be fair and quite ‘commercial’ about it, pay for that new and massive Launchpad 39C by ‘upping the rent’ on 39A to a ‘market determined replacement value’. After all, we wouldn’t want NASA to give an ‘unfair commercial advantage’ to one peculiar billionaire space company over all the other space launcher companies, would we?

      What gets a bit annoying is all the constant commercial space private/public partnership Mars ‘buzz talk’ as a club of billionaire folks repeatedly dip their greedy hands into the pockets of American taxpayers and gain a monopoly control of a NASA SLS/Orion needed launchpad asset in order to ensure their club’s ‘politically favored position’ in launching spacecraft from 39A to LEO, GEO, the Moon, and the rest of cislunar space.

      Perhaps there is not a lot of integrity or public trust in such a one-sided and secretive private billionaire club/public ‘Mars space partnership’ that appears instead to be focused on trying to build the club’s large launcher monopoly for missions to cislunar space, is there? It sure sounds like a classic ‘political’ ‘bait and switch’ con game, doesn’t it?

  • Arth

    All good questions James. In my opinion it’s called “political cold feet.” The President or the Congress doesn’t want to risk political suicide by increasing NASA’s budget to accomplish the requirements of the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 (PL 111–267l) incase NASA fails. Yet the President & Congress can spend $700 billion bailing out failing banks(go figure).

    So they gave NASA a set of rules, NASA Authorization Act of 2010 (PL 111–267l), and told NASA that they were on their own & to accomplish it within their current budget. NASA sat befuddled for awhile, then, engaged the private commercial sector & leased out facilities, provided grant money for study of concepts, to interested companies, so that they can help accomplish certain parts of the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 (PL 111–267l), that wasn’t funded by Congress.

    Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2015/11/nasa-progress-habitat-development-deep-space-exploration/

    After watching the politicians wreck our BEO programs from Apollo to Constellation, I don’t trust the politicians(government) to be 100% in charge of cis-lunar operations & lunar/asteroid resource extraction/use. We need a government/private company mix, first.

    Just my opinion.

    • Joe

      Arth,

      The NASA Authorization Act of 2010 (PL 111–267l) specifically calls for a Human Lunar Return, the current administration’s policy specifically precludes American participation in a Human Lunar Return in violation of PL 111–267l which the current president actually signed into law.

      Just a fact.

      • Arth

        “Precludes participation in a Human Lunar Return.” That only applies to NASA leading an effort. Meaning that U.S. commercial companies will have to lead the effort, with NASA providing seed money, like COTS, etc…. and saying that it’s practicing concepts for a Mars landing/return. Which is the way it should be, because, we know that fickle politicians will cancel/defund a 100% government effort.

        The “U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act” is an enabler to spur commercial growth of privately owned lunar refueling depots and scientific outposts. http://arstechnica.com/science/2015/11/democrats-and-republicans-agree-if-you-can-mine-it-in-space-its-yours/ Hopefully this will make it possible for our current & future engineers to have more job opportunities in space exploration.

        • Joe

          “That only applies to NASA leading an effort.”

          Trouble is PL 111–267l calls for an American Government led Lunar Return, so the current administration policy is still at odds with the law that the current administration signed into existence; as stated.

          As for “U.S. commercial companies will have to lead the effort…”, and “with NASA providing seed money, like COTS, etc…” get back to me when a U.S. commercial company volunteers to lead such an effort or (especially) the current administration is willing to put forward seed money – remember according to the current president we do not want to go back to the Moon because “We have already been there, Buzz has already been there”.

          Of course some future president more favorably disposed to the country having a real space program again could change that. They could simply obey the law, that is PL 111–267l.

          • James

            In the November 22, 2015 spacepolicyonline article ‘CFR Panel: NASA, Congress Need to Embrace New Paradigm for Space Leadership’ by Marcia S. Smith we find Lori Garver, NASA Deputy Administrator during 2009-2013, noting that China’s interest “in going to the Moon will likely inspire us to go back.”

            Since Ms. Garver is viewed by many folks as a primary author of the President’s lost and wandering beyond LEO human space exploration architecture, a new administrative paradigm may be possible even before the upcoming elections wherein “They could simply obey the law, that is PL 111–267l” as you suggested Joe.

            As someone once said long ago, ‘Better very late than never.’

            Both John Logsdon and Charles Miller are also noted in the article as being supportive of a return to the Moon.

            It is an interesting article and worth reading if you missed it.

  • Arth

    Here’s the kicker, word play. Return to a Lunar landing or Lunar Orbit? Because, NASA can orbit the moon and say that they have returned. They can build a temporary orbital station & say that they have returned. After the 1968 manned Apollo 8 orbital moon trip, if NASA wouldn’t have made a landing on the moon in 1969, they could have still claimed to have beaten the Russians to the moon. I have just finished scanning the NASA Authorization Act and it called for to the use of commercially developed launch and delivery systems to the ISS for crew and cargo missions in addition to the following below.

    From The NASA Authorization Act of 2010 (PL 111–267l) “it is in the United States national interest to maintain a government operated space transportation system for crew and cargo delivery to space”(SLS/Orion).

    SEC. 301. HUMAN SPACE FLIGHT BEYOND LOW-EARTH ORBIT.
    (a) FINDINGS.—Congress makes the following findings:
    (1) The extension of the human presence from low-Earth orbit to other regions of space beyond low-Earth orbit will enable missions to the surface of the Moon and missions to deep space destinations such as near-Earth asteroids and Mars.

    UNITED STATES POLICY.—It is the policy of the United States that NASA develop a Space Launch System as a follow on to the Space Shuttle that can access cis-lunar space and the regions of space beyond low-Earth orbit in order to enable the United States to participate in global efforts to access and develop this increasingly strategic region.

    The United States must develop, as rapidly as possible, replacement vehicles capable of providing both human and cargo launch capability to low-Earth orbit and to destinations
    beyond low-Earth orbit.

    The long term goal of the human spaceflight and exploration efforts of NASA shall be to expand permanent human presence beyond low-Earth orbit and to do so, where practical, in a manner involving international partners.

    • Joe

      “Here’s the kicker, word play. Return to a Lunar landing or Lunar Orbit? Because, NASA can orbit the moon and say that they have returned. They can build a temporary orbital station & say that they have returned. After the 1968 manned Apollo 8 orbital moon trip, if NASA wouldn’t have made a landing on the moon in 1969, they could have still claimed to have beaten the Russians to the moon.”

      If you want to play those kind of sophistic games, that is certainly your privilege; but you will have to play by yourself. Word play (as you call it) is of no interest to me.

      Have a nice weekend.

  • Dan

    Is the possibility that SLS can still launch from pad 39A totally excluded by this lease to SpaceX?

    From what I’ve heard the SLS will fly only 2 or 3 times per year (I read about that here: http://spacenews.com/36012tooling-processes-coming-together-for-affordable-space-launch-system/). Perhaps these launches can be squeezed between SpaceX launches, if the support structure is there already.

    At any rate, I’m looking forward to the upcoming launches of these large rockets.

    • Dan

      Ah, small correction. The article I linked mentions that only 2 SLS cores are produced per year, they’re launched even less frequently.

      • Joe

        The restriction to producing only 2 cores per year is also an artificial restriction.

        Shuttle tanks were produced in higher numbers and their is no reason that SLS cores could not be produced to support an 8 flight/year rate.

        No reason, that is, except the current administration does not want that to happen.

        • Jester Gambolt

          It’s not artificial. The production facilities at Michoud can only physically produce two cores per year.

          The only way to increase production would be to increase the number of employees to enable multiple shifts. With a tripled work force and 3 shifts for around-the-clock production, they might be able to make 6 cores per year.

          Definitely not 8.

          At any rate, there isn’t a budget for anything that.

          • Joe

            Yes Jester, whatever you say Jester.

            You know more than the people who were running the Michoud Facility at the time the Shannon report to the Augustine Commission was produced.

            I agree with everything you ever said (or thought) in your entire life, I really do.

            • Jester Gambolt

              If you’ve got a source that says otherwise, cite it.

              Every statement I’ve seen has been 2 cores per year, max.

              • Joe

                The sources can be found in presentations made in various forums (on the Side Mount Configuration SDHLV) contemporaneously with the production of the Shannon Report. If you want see them look them up, I am not your research assistant.

                If you gave it any thought at all you would wonder:

                If “Every statement” you have seen “has been 2 cores per year, max” how was the Shuttle able to fly more than twice a year?

              • Joe

                The sources are in technical presentations on the Side Mount SDHLV. It you are really interested you can look them up. I am not your research assistant.

                If you thought about it at all you would wonder:

                If only “2 cores per year, max” can be produced how was the Shuttle able to fly more than twice a year?

                • Jester Gambolt

                  The Shuttle ET was smaller and far simpler than the SLS core stage.

                  • Joe

                    The Shuttle ET was in fact more structurally complicated than any in-line tankage due to the need for the strong to hold the payload to the tankage side and the pass throughs for supplying propellant for the orbiter.

                    It was thus more complicated to produce, not less.

                    • Joe

                      Should have read:

                      The Shuttle ET was in fact more structurally complicated than any in-line tankage due to the need for the strong back to hold the payload to the tankage side and the pass throughs for supplying propellant for the orbiter.

            • Jester Gambolt

              To elaborate: I have had this conversation with several people over the past few years. Every source I have found says that 2 SLS cores per year is the max, and I would love to be shown otherwise, however, no one has yet been able to show me a source that says more is possible.

              Boeing’s SLS Program Manager, Ginger Barnes, stated in a 2014 interview that:

              “We have built our factory so as to optimize the tooling and the workforce to support 1-to-2 launches per year at rate.”

              http://www.spaceflightinsider.com/organizations/boeing/insider-interview-boeings-ginger-barnes-talks-sls/

              “Boeing has Michoud set up to stamp out enough stages for one SLS a year — two at most with the factory’s current manufacturing capabilities, and then only if NASA pours more money and personnel into the facility.”

              http://spacenews.com/an-interview-with-boeings-outgoing-sls-program-manager/

              So, aside from either increasing their work force or building another Michoud, the max is 2 cores per year. Naturally, if they are willing to spend several billions of dollars to do so, they could build a few clones of the Michoud facility and really crank out a bunch of SLSs. … what’s the plural of SLS? (well, we’ll probably never know xD )

              • Joe

                OK, I will play research assistant one time:

                http://enu.kz/repository/2010/AIAA-2010-794.pdf

                If you go to page 14 you will find that they selected 6 flights/year as optimum for use with existing facilities, but flight rates as high as 10 were considered practical.

                As discussed elsewhere in this comments section, if they have spent money to tailor the production capability to only 2 flights/year (presumably because that is what the administration has told them it wants) and that is what the statement attributed to Ginger Barnes implies; then they have spent additional money to reduce an already existing capability.

                Sadly, given the current leadership the program is receiving, that sounds all to plausible.

                • Jester Gambolt

                  Ah, that document is from January 2010, and discusses a Shuttle-C type HLV, which would have been able to use Shuttle manufacturing facilities with little modification.

                  However, that is not at all the case with the SLS. New tooling has been made for fabrication and assembly of the SLS.

                  • Joe

                    Ah, that document was written by the people who actually understand the tooling.

                    Since the Shuttle tanks were more complicated than those for an in-line vehicle, most (if not all) that tooling was applicable to the SLS tankage. One of the principal authors of the report was my bosses bosses boss when I worked for Boeing and I have talked to him about that specific subject.

                    If they disposed of the existing tooling, built all new tooling and scaled it to be able to produce only 2 tanks/year; then they spent additional money to reduce an already existing capability.

                    If that is good planning according to you, so be it; but I am not going to keep repeating myself because you want the last word.

                    If you must play by the internet rule “He who posts last wins”, then by all means do so.

                    But you will be playing by yourself.

                    • Jester Gambolt

                      The SLS core stage is more complex than the Shuttle ET.

                      It has structurally less complex of a tank, yes, but the SLS core stage is larger, has 4 engines on it, and an avionics section, all of which the ET did not have.

                      Wrong, on the whole, Shuttle tooling is not being used to construct the SLS. Some of it is Shuttle heritage, but the majority of it is new, like the vertical Weld Center. In short, the SLS is being manufactured and assembled differently than the Shuttle tanks were.

                      In other words, the existing capability to make Shuttle ETs would not have been able to make an SLS core stage.

                      I never said whether it was good planning or not. Nice try at a strawman.

                      My entire point is and has been that your claim that 8 SLS core stages could be made per year is wrong. It is 2, maximum, unless significantly more money and manpower is leveraged into making SLS core stages.

                    • Jester Gambolt

                      Here’s a NASA web page with descriptions of six of the new welding tools developed to build the SLS.

                      http://www.nasa.gov/centers/marshall/news/news/releases/2013/13-080.html

                    • Joe

                      “the SLS core stage is larger, has 4 engines on it, and an avionics section, all of which the ET did not have.”

                      Good Grief. For anyone wasting their time reading this exchange, this sort of thing is why I said it was a waste of time responding.

                      What is being described (engines, avionics) resides in the Engine Pod. The Engine Pod:

                      (1) Is built out of the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama not at Michoud.

                      (2) Is attached to the Core at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida not at Michoud.

                      Therefore it has nothing to do with the rate of tankage production at Michoud.

                      But that will not stop Jester. Once he becomes aware of this statement, he will insert a new piece of misinformation to try to confuse things and continue the back and forth.

                      If you wish to continue reading, enjoy the magic show.

                    • Jester Gambolt

                      It was hardly a waste of time, as you did have some of your misunderstandings corrected. You learned some things that you did not know before.

                      And also, if my misunderstandings are not corrected, how will I learn?

                      I did not know that the engine section was not being assembled at Michoud.

                      I’d love to see a source, of course, since nothing I can find in searches corroborates that claim.

                      Especially since it does seem that the engine section IS being built at Michoud.

                      https://www.flickr.com/photos/nasamarshall/15791108352

                      The Marshall flicker has posed a picture of the “SLS Engine Section Barrel Hot off the Vertical Weld Center at Michoud,” so I suspect you mean that engine integration will be done at Marshall? That seems plausible.

                      However, it says here:

                      http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2015/11/road-em-1-nasa-hardware-milestones-sls-debut-flight/

                      That the engines will be sent to Michoud for integration, “the four flight engines for the EM-1 mission due for delivery to MAF between April and September 2016.”

                      “This will be followed by assembly of the flight engine section in December 2016 and completion of assembly manufacturing of the flight intertank section of the Core Stage in January 2017.

                      The entire Core Stage assembly will then be joined together in late-February/early-March 2017 before the Core Stage is finished at MAF by August 2017.”

                      So it does seem that the engine section is being built and assembled at Michoud.

                      For the record, I NEVER EVER post misinformation. I post the facts as I know them. If I’m wrong, I do want to be corrected.

                    • Joe

                      I am not going to go through explaining the difference in an “engine barrel section” and an engine on the first link.

                      However, you got me on the second link. It appears that since I was last in the loop on assembly of the engine pod to the core tankage they decided to do the assembly at Michoud and then barge the whole thing to KSC.

                      Seems a cumbersome way to do it, but it really does not change the point about the facilities capability to produce tankage.

                      It is probable they would also tell you the manufacturing capability to produce engine pods is also limited to no more than 2/year. That also is a political decision, not an engineering one.

                      As this goes down they have scaled their production capabilities to only allow a flight rate that will serve no useful purpose.

                      The supposed Mars mission the administration claims to support would require at least 5 launches of the notional Block II SLS (about the same as the Ares V – where the 5 launch/Mars Mission figure is derived). With that kind of flight rate it would take at least 2 1/2 years just to put the vehicle in orbit. Totally impractical if using cryogenic propellant.

                      This is worse than even I thought it was, but it should be noted it is not a flaw in the basic SLS design/concept; it is a flaw in the intent of the people running the program (and I am talking about NASA HQ and above).

                      If any future administration ever decides it wants a real space program again, they are going to have a real mess to clean up.

                    • Jester Gambolt

                      “they would also tell you the manufacturing capability to produce engine pods is also limited to no more than 2/year. That also is a political decision, not an engineering one.”

                      It is limited to two per year. It seems you’re arguing that it was a political decision to design the system to be able to produce a max of two per year, and that perhaps engineers, if unfettered by political pressure, would have gone a different route. OK, that is most likely true.

                      I know that the SLS flight rate is far too low to support a Mars mission, I believe the most recent number I heard was 10 launches per mission.

                      http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2015/09/nasa-considers-sls-launch-sequence-mars-missions-2030s/

                      Ah, 12-14 SLS launches for the first flight of people to Mars, and 10 more for each subsequent mission.

                      So ultimately, in reality, NASA will need to enlist other launch providers if they want to have any hope of sending people to Mars (at least with their current mission designs).

                      The management of the SLS program has been a fiasco from the beginning (I lay more blame on Congress, but NASA hasn’t made anything better either, and really this dates back to Constellation, and even several other projects before that). On this we certainly do agree.

                    • Joe

                      “It seems you’re arguing that it was a political decision to design the system to be able to produce a max of two per year, and that perhaps engineers, if unfettered by political pressure, would have gone a different route. OK, that is most likely true.”

                      That is precisely what I am saying. For essentially the same amount of money a significantly higher flight rate could have been achieved. Now if anyone wanted to gain that higher flight rate: contacts would have to be abrogated, at least some hardware abandoned/written off and people (now on contract) lose their jobs and have to reapply for new ones. That will make it much harder for any future well intentioned administration to “right the ship”.

                      “So ultimately, in reality, NASA will need to enlist other launch providers if they want to have any hope of sending people to Mars (at least with their current mission designs).”

                      Truthfully I could care less about Mars missions at this point, more interested in Lunar ISRU; but the SLS (with these artificially produced constraints) will not be able to support that either (or much of anything else in the HSF area).

                      Your point seems to be that this will force the country to depend more on SpaceX (or if you prefer some other “commercial” company).

                      The question is do you think tax money should be wasted to intentionally produce an artificially restricted system intended to drive more money to Elon Musk (or whoever)?

                      Personally I do not even know the guy and have no interest in my tax dollars being wasted to make him (or whoever) richer than he already is.

                      “The management of the SLS program has been a fiasco from the beginning (I lay more blame on Congress, but NASA hasn’t made anything better either, and really this dates back to Constellation, and even several other projects before that).”

                      Not going to defend Congress (though I believe they did the best job they could in this case – you can not write legal language so precise as to preclude intentional misinterpretation) or past NASA management (they should have gone for the Side Mount SDHLV and did not), but the blame for this particular fiasco resides with the current administration (through the OSTP)and current NASA management for acquiescing to their demands.

                    • Jester Gambolt

                      Whether we decide to go to the Moon or Mars doesn’t make much difference to me, as I think both destinations are worth going to. I just want there to be a decision made and then have them stick with it, rather than cancelling programs and resetting goals every few years.

                      I was actually thinking more along the lines of international cooperation, for example some of the launches could be done with an ESA Ariane 5 (or 6) or a Russian Soyuz or Angara. But other US commercial launch services could be used as well. Either way takes the pressure off the sole use of the SLS as a launch vehicle.

                      I don’t think the SLS manufacturing was deliberately set up to be too low in order to drive more NASA business to SpaceX / commercial space. The people with the most to gain from SLS manufacturing happening in their districts have been the ones who have been most ardently working against SpaceX and commercial space in general, so that doesn’t make sense.

                    • Joe

                      “I just want there to be a decision made and then have them stick with it, rather than cancelling programs and resetting goals every few years.”

                      We really are in agreement on that one. My interest in Lunar ISRU is that it provides the capability to develop valuable (to “right here at home on Earth where we live” – as some anti-space types like to say) application platforms in Cis-Lunar Space and (eventually) to go everywhere in the Solar System.

                      “I was actually thinking more along the lines of international cooperation, for example some of the launches could be done with an ESA Ariane 5 (or 6) or a Russian Soyuz or Angara.”

                      Fair enough there. Am particularly interested to know how the Angara 5V is going to work out. Given the current international situation, however, such cooperation with the Russians may be problematic.

                      “I don’t think the SLS manufacturing was deliberately set up to be too low in order to drive more NASA business to SpaceX / commercial space.”

                      Do not really think so either, was following what I thought was your lead.

                      My own “paranoid conspiracy theories” lie elsewhere. The artificially low SLS launch rates are definitely being driven out of the OSTP and I believe the intent is to set up (by the end of Obama’s second term) the inevitable eventual end of the American HSF Program. I will leave it to others to try to divine their motives, but if that is not their intent; they are (di-facto) doing a heck of a job.

                      In the mean time, if you watch what Musk does as opposed to what he says, he seems far more interested in seizing control of the Military Satellite Launch Market than he does anything to do with HSF.

                    • Jester Gambolt

                      We are definitely in the middle of an international crisis (at least, I hope it is the middle and not just the beginning), and who knows how it will shake out. I can only say good luck to the future selves of everyone on the planet.

                      I genuinely hope that NASA’s HSF programs aren’t being driven to an end. It would be an undignified way to go.

                      Elon Musk is definitely interested in getting SpaceX into the NRO / military launch market, but I think that’s mostly because it’s so lucrative. SpaceX has had a pretty good working relationship with the military since its early days with Falcon 1, which got some of its funding from DARPA and the Air Force. I think that history paid some dividends when they retained their AF launch certification after the failure of CRS-7. I’m still surprised at how the GPS 3 competition turned out. It’s interesting times in the US space launch industry right now.

      • Arth

        From The NASA Authorization Act of 2010 (PL 111–267l)
        “(7) Human space flight and future exploration beyond low-Earth orbit should be based around a pay-as-you-go approach. Requirements in new launch and crew systems authorized in this Act should be scaled to the minimum necessary to meet the core national mission capability needed to conduct cislunar missions.”

        I believe that this is where NASA gets the 1 launch pad and 2 core SLS launch annually. The congress could’ve put in maximum instead of minimum, which would’ve required the use of 2 launch pads and an increase in NASA’s budget. Using minimum requirement leaves 1 launch pad rotting at the Cape unless it is leased out.

        • Joe

          You may believe that if you wish.

          However, the fact is that the preferred (by the actual NASA technical people) lunar architecture was the dual launch scenario presented too (and ignored by) the Augustine Commission by John Shannon. That presentation used the Side Mount Configuration SDHLV, but the Block 1 SLS is a payload equivalent launcher.

          Supporting studies at the time showed production of external tanks could be maintained to support 8 launches/year with existing manufacturing hardware at Michoud in Louisiana. The in-line tanks used for the SLS are mechanically simpler than that for the Side Mount configuration and thus the 8 launches/year production rate could have been maintained for SLS with existing hardware.

          So under administration direction extra money was spent in order to degrade the Core production capability.

          If you really believe that was done to comply with PL 111–267l, while completely ignoring it’s call for a Human Lunar Return; it’s still a free country.

          But what you believe makes no sense.

          • Arth

            “while completely ignoring it’s call for a Human Lunar Return; it’s still a free country.”

            How can you say that I’m ignoring that. You’re obscuring facts. I simply stated what the Space Act Authorization stated. If you don’t like it, then, that’s not my problem and I’m not saying any more on it. Have a nice evening.

            • Arth

              Ok, I read that wrong. I spent over 20 yrs in government service. Those administration directed federal budget requests that went out to the field agencies many times wanted minimum capability budget submissions and wouldn’t accept nothing else. The hard part was knowing that we had to submit a budget request that reduced the services provided or were going to provide. Which became the actual cuts in personnel and services. And there was nothing we could do about it unless Congress stepped in and reversed it or slowed it down.

              • Joe

                The point is that the clear intent of the language of the law was to limit budget requests for the development of new hardware to the minimum required.

                Hence language like:

                “Requirements in new launch and crew systems authorized in this Act should be scaled to the minimum necessary…”

                If the already existing capability at the Michoud facility was really reduced from a minimum of 8 tanks/year to a maximum of 2 tanks/year, that would require the expenditure of extra funds to degrade an already existing capability. Whether that was actually done or the 2 tank/year limit is a con job is a good question. Either way it is contradictory to the clear intent of the law.

    • Joe

      Dan,

      The SpaceX agreement gives them exclusive rights to 39A.

      Blue Origin also wanted to use 39A, but their offer would have shared it’s use and that would have allowed SLS to launch from it. The current administration chose SpaceX.

      One of the reasons the current administration gives for only launching the SLS 2 or 3 times a year is because they only have one launch pad.

      Interesting isn’t it?

    • Tim Andrews

      “Is the possibility that SLS can still launch from pad 39A totally excluded by this lease to SpaceX?”

      In a nutshell, yes.

      SLS is designed to launch from a clean pad. SpaceX is planning to use the fixed service structure at 39A to load crews into Crew Dragon, that tower is a big piece of either-or equipment.

      Similarly, SpaceX’ integration facility (the building in the photo at the top of this page) is built right across the top of the crawlerway. The tracks SpaceX’ transporter/erector travels on are laid on the crawlerway running up to the pad. These are literal roadblocks that would need to be dismantled for a crawler to transport an SLS between the VAB and the pad.

      What impact does that really have? Any lease can be broken – the question is what are the penalties for doing so. If congress let loose the money for SLS to fly serious exploration missions (lunar base, etc.) where dual-launch capabilities were needed, that program would have huge costs. Compared to the rest of the costs of a high launch-rate lunar program, the cost of kicking out SpaceX and rehabbing 39A to a clean pad, or building a new pad (the planned Apollo era 39C and 39D locations remain undeveloped) would not be so large as to be out of the question.

  • Joe

    “If congress let loose the money for SLS to fly serious exploration missions (lunar base, etc.) where dual-launch capabilities were needed…”

    Was with you up to that point. While Congress would have to agree to appropriate/authorize the support for the program, they cannot set the policy. They did as much as they could with PL 111–267l. Anything past that is “pushing a rope”. Policy has to be established by the executive branch.

    With each passing year decisions are being pushed out of Washington (the work that would be required to allow SLS use of 39A is only one example) that make it harder and harder to “put Humpty Dumpty together again” as far as a real HSF program is concerned. Sure all that can be done, but it will require more and more detailed attention from a future administration, and that makes it less and less likely to happen.

  • Tim Andrews

    “Policy has to be established by the executive branch.”

    We could go back and forth all day on who’s really calling the shots – congress is mandating policy with legislation like the Space Act of 2010 and continuing resolutions upholding it, NASA and the White House have to administer the program and ask for its specific funds.

    That doesn’t change the crux of the matter though – there is no big program to make use of dual SLS launches.

    If there ever is a big program to use dual SLS launches, it’s going to cost a lot of money. In the scope of such a program, setting up a second pad, whether it is a new pad, or 39A gets rehabbed (something that would still need to be done if SpaceX never used it) is going to cost money – but that money is just going to be a small percentage of the program, not some overwhelming financial obstacle.

    Of course, if both the legislative and executive don’t work together to make such a program happen, it’s a moot point.

    In the meantime, purely from a nostalgic point of view, I’m glad to see that the fixed service structure – a historic fixture used for everything from the first Saturn V launch, to manned lunar missions, Skylab and shuttle missions is being maintained and on track to once again playing a role in human spaceflight, rather than chopped up and scrapped like the FSS at 39A.

    • Tim Andrews

      Except not quite that historic… just back through the shuttle program. I was thinking shuttle FSS was built up on part of the service structure the Saturn V met at the pad – but that was mobile as well.

    • Joe

      “We could go back and forth all day on who’s really calling the shots …”

      We are in complete agreement on that point.

      The short version of this sad history is as follows:

      (1) The Administration cancelled Constellation Systems (with no Congressional consultation). They “replaced” it with accelerated funding of the “Commercial” Crew program and an open ended research program with no specific goals, objectives, or schedules (essentially a laundry list of every cool idea any space enthusiast had ever wanted from propellant depots to Nuclear Thermal Rockets – all chasing an amount of money insufficient to adequately fund half of them).

      (2) The Congress (then overwhelmingly in control of the Presidents own party) rejected the new “plan” on a bipartisan basis. PL 111–267l was specifically written to refocus on the development of HSF capability in cis-lunar space (including the Lunar Surface) and do so making maximum use of existing hardware, designs, and facilities.

      (3) The President signed PL 111–267l into law, then promptly began ignoring it and continues to do so until today.

      For anyone wanting a more detailed description of the whole thing, Jim Hillhouse has written several excellent detailed dissertations on the subject on this website.

      • Joe

        Just noticed this from Jim Hillhouse at Space News.

        A good update on his previous reporting:

        http://spacenews.com/letter-bolden-has-short-memory-on-changing-space-policy/

        I found these quotes particularly interesting:

        (1) In early 2011, because the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program had spent to its contract ceiling of $500 million, and with neither of the two contractors, SpaceX or Orbital Sciences, within another two years of sending anything into ISS, NASA had no choice but to bail out the COTS contractors with $239 million, nearly 50 percent over the original COTS contract.

        (2) And today, with public records showing that the follow-on Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) program has been paid nearly up to the contract ceiling of $3.5 billion, and with not even half the launches completed, it’s looking increasingly as though a bailout of the CRS contractors will be needed at some point.

        (3) Although Bolden calls COTS and CRS successes, one is left wondering how many more of his successes NASA can afford.

  • James

    Was the ‘monopolistic renting out’ of the enormous and valuable national launchpad 39A for twenty years to a secretive group of billionaires with a ‘not very reliable rocket’ simply the President putting a ‘political knife’ in the ‘back’ of the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 (PL 111–267) and an effective way of disrupting the SLS/Orion enabled international Lunar surface missions that are called for in the space law that he signed?

    Why did the President want to add risk, increase costs, and ‘slow roll or sabotage’ America’s leadership of future international SLS/Orion Lunar and cislunar missions?

    Does the President simply ‘hate’ America’s historic Apollo missions to the Lunar surface for personal reasons?

    Is the President still under the nonscientific and strongly partisan political influence of the former Deputy Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Lori Garver?

    Does the President view using various secretive monopolistic groups of billionaires as the most effective way for America to maintain its economic, political, scientific, and technological leadership in a historical situation where the influence of China and India will continue to grow on Earth, the Moon, and the rest of cislunar space?

    Is the President renting out the historic national launchpad 39A for twenty years of monopoly control to a secretive group of billionaires simply a means of implementing a new type of ‘Project Azorian’ that should result in America gaining unfettered ‘private’ access to Lunar resources to enable a robust American influence or dominance on the Moon and the rest of cislunar space?

    Note that the ‘Project Azorian’ CIA project cost about 3.8 billion dollars in today’s dollars and included the building of the high tech ship ‘Hughes Glomar Explorer’ in an effort to gain critically valuable information from the sunk Soviet Union’s nuclear missile armed K-129 submarine which was located in water over 3 miles deep and approximately 1,560 nautical miles, or 2,890 kilometers, northwest of Hawaii, and that the submarine was not in its normal area of operations where the Soviet Navy very actively searched for it.

    What national or international trust will be built, or what will be the reactions in other countries, if folks see America’s human Lunar exploration space program, the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 (PL 111–267), the SLS/Orion system, America’s space treaties, and the international space agreements that NASA has with many countries being ‘ignored, slow rolled, sabotaged, or made irrelevant’ by a President and his ‘anointed’ and secretive monopolistic group of billionaires that now controls the world’s most famous heavy launcher pad at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and another heavy launcher pad in California?

    If America’s new space policy is a de facto Presidential support for ‘growing’ his ‘anointed’ secretive monopolistic group of billionaires to build satellites, launch spacecraft to LEO, GEO, the Moon, and the rest of cislunar space in order for America to have unfettered access to Lunar resources and be the dominate nation in developing “this increasingly strategic region”, what could be some of the responses of American space cadets and our diversity of space companies?

    What could be some of the logical responses of international space businesses and the space cadets and space policy makers in various other countries to the President ‘anointing’ a secretive monopolistic group of billionaires to enable or implement our de facto new ‘American’ Lunar resource based space dominance policy?

    Yep, there are lots of unanswered questions as “Pad 39A’s Next Launch Nears”.

    • Jester Gambolt

      Wow, you are getting progressively more and more paranoid as time goes on.

      • James

        Nope Jester, just trying to figure out why a secretive group, similar in some respects to the secretive billionaire Howard Hughes, that hasn’t yet been able to build a reliable launcher is in monopoly control of Launchpad 39A.

        You may not have noticed in your rush to criticize my “paranoid” questions the Lee Roop article of November 16, 2015 ‘Alabama rocket builder ULA drops out of Air Force launch competition’. ULA goes down and the secretive company of billionaires, that has yet to demonstrate the reliable launcher abilities of ULA, moves up to the top of the launcher ‘political pile’.

        Note the October 14, 2015 Jennifer Chu MIT news article, ‘To save on weight, a detour to the moon is the best route to Mars For a piloted mission to Mars, fueling up on the moon could streamline cargo by 68 percent.’

        Also note, The Business Insider article By Jessica Orwig ‘MIT scientists have charted a course for Mars that they say beats NASA’s by a landslide’ and clearly indicates the critical importance of Lunar resources for sustaining Mars missions. Obviously, those Lunar resources are the key for maintaining America’s current dominance in both cislunar and beyond cislunar space.

        The good folks at MIT are simply agreeing with the thinking of the world’s space policy makers and the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 (PL 111–267) in their diverse scientific, technical, and political support for human Lunar missions.

        Jester Gambolt, it must be nice to believe that the well thrown political knives, including the renting out to some monopoly billionaires of the key SLS/Orion asset known as Pad 39A, and other ‘similar political games’ that have damaged or sabotaged the SLS/Orion Lunar mission system options and the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 (PL 111–267) are purely the result of nothing. Scientific causality apparently doesn’t exist in your ‘Jester’ political perspective.

        America’s President seems to advocate and ‘anoint’ the plan of a secretive company owned by a small group billionaires which claims its focus is on sending folks directly to Mars. Why is the President’s illogical and nonscientific Mars rhetoric, which ignores the Moon and is directly opposed to the space law he signed, unquestioningly accepted by some folks in spite of its extremely oddball face value?

        Have you noted that many or most Americans no longer trust what our lame duck President says or proposes?

        Is his ‘wandering Mars next nonsense space policy’ simply an obvious smokescreen for what the President is actually doing in promoting a secretive company owned by his ‘political friends’ that instead of hauling people to distant Mars could help America gain an unfettered access to Lunar resources that are needed in cislunar space? Which is the more probable and profitable immediate corporate objective, the Moon or Mars?

        Should we question the possible real motives of a billionaire who claims he will be headed off to retire on Mars in ten years or should we simply turn over all our major NASA and military launches to such an obvious genius?

        Note The Fiscal Times article ‘The Mega-Danger of Mega-Deals: Monopolies Are Crushing U.S. Workers and Consumers’ By David Dayen Follow on November 13, 2015.

        Serious folks around the world tend to look at capabilities, resources, and opportunities and those with wisdom tend to ignore the various lies, half truths, and insults put out by political hacks whose main task is defending inane official government policy nonsense that is all too often used to ‘hide’ a nation’s obvious objective interest in gaining control of valuable markets and resources.

        See the November 11, 2015 Stratfor article, ‘The Battle to Militarize Space Has Begun’.

        In my Websters Dictionary a jester is defined as “a professional fool employed by a medieval ruler to amuse him”.

        You seem to be a ‘staunch defender’ of empty Presidential space rhetoric that cannot be logically defended. Your type of dissembler attack games might be amusing for our President. However, other folks, including space experts around the world, may not be amused or impressed.

        Yep, history, current events, and the obvious aspects of human greed offer no useful insights to political space spinner folks who want to attack anyone who questions the current official blather and endless supply of lame excuses as to why the national SLS/Orion Lunar mission system no longer has risk and cost reducing access to the taxpayer paid for and enormous Launchpad 39A.

        • Be a man and stop using ridiculous euphemisms for Elon Musk and SpaceX, do you think you’re clever or cute or something? You’re not.

          Pads 39A & B exist in one of the most corrosive environments on earth, they don’t just sit there waiting forever like the pyramids or something. Monthly corrosion mitigation is over $100,000 a month now during the post Shuttle transition period, the cost of maintaining the pads when Shuttle was flying was >$20 million a month with the highly acidic SRB exhausts. (for more on this visit the KSC corrosion lab web site http://corrosion.ksc.nasa.gov/).

          NASA has a huge >$2 billion backlog of deferred maintenance on our national treasure of aerospace R&D facilities, like test stands, vacuum chambers, wind tunnels and so on. Just blowing $100,000+ a month on a KSC pad that may not ever be used by SLS (or if it is, it will be a decade or more from now) is insane. Leasing the pad to SpaceX who will maintain the pad (and its supporting infrastructure) is sound financial management of MY tax money. And most likely, in this era of constrained budgets, SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy will team up with SLS for mounting expeditions to Mars.

          As for spending $Billions to haul water from the lunar poles to fuel Mars bound s/c, that’s just nuts from a systems architecture, basic physics & financial perspective. Let me count the ways.

          Finally, Musk was interested in manned Mars years before Obama was elected and I became interested (and involved professionally) when Obama was in GRADE SCHOOL.
          So grow up, your paranoid conspiracy theory garbage is tiresome. What? are you trying to pick up the baton from Gary Church?

          • James

            Moving folks to Mars is pure hype. The really big money has been and will continue to be made in cislunar space.

            See: ‘How property rights in outer space may lead to a scramble to exploit the moon’s resources’ By Dominic Basulto in the The Washington Post on November 18, 2015 wherein it is noted concerning the SPACE Act of 2015, “That’s a huge win for private space exploration companies, especially for companies with upcoming plans to tap into the economic potential of the moon.”

            It is quite obvious that the business case, international technical capabilities case, and political benefits case of using Lunar resources to continue to develop cislunar commercial space activities and protect or enhance military space observation and communication options will ‘close’ long before we’ll have anyone retiring on Mars despite whatever a lame duck President or a ‘monopolistic’ Mars huckster claims to the contrary.

            It should be equally obvious that leaving American cislunar human spaceflight policy to a highly partisan President making ‘monopolistic political deals’ with a small group of secretive billionaires is foolishness on many levels and should not be considered an equal private-public partnership.

            “And most likely, in this era of constrained budgets, SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy will team up with SLS for mounting expeditions to Mars.”

            Your lack of logical thinking in this sentence is obvious because “in this era of constrained budgets” only nonscientific, or snake oil, sales folks could claim that we are going to spend the enormous amount of money needed to solve the scientific and technical issues involved in “mounting expeditions to Mars” before we tap Lunar resources simply because of a lame duck President’s empty rhetoric or a billionaire desire to retire on Mars in the next decade.

            Human missions to Mars aren’t on the national or international negotiating table and any silly claims to the contrary need to be backed up with significant documentation and quotes by the relevant experts and ‘movers and shakers’ of American and international space policy.

            SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy is supposed to be overtaken by a more efficient and cost effective methane and lox burning ‘Mars mission super heavy launcher’ once the rocket engine is developed. Then the ‘obvious economic advantages’ argument of ‘reducing super heavy launcher duplication’ and the mission limitations of the SLS/Orion system ‘having to’ share Launchpad 39B with several other large launchers could easily be used to ‘justify’ a future partisan President saying “Goodbye SLS/Orion”.

            Let’s get back to the essence of this article on the taxpayer owned Launchpad 39A.

            Where is the logical, scientific, political, and cost analysis proof that SpaceX’s ‘need’ for monopolizing the enormous Launchpad 39A is more important than the needs of the national SLS/Orion Lunar and cislunar mission system and its role in promoting American space interests on the Moon and in the rest of cislunar space as is clearly specified in the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 (PL 111–267)?

            Exactly where in the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 (PL 111–267) do we find the clear statement that the ‘commercial’ ‘Launchpad 39A monopolization needs’ of SpaceX, or Mr. Musk’s Mars retirement goal in the next decade, as being more important and valuable to America than the risk reducing option of having a ‘Launch on Need’ SLS/Orion enabled rescue mission option for when American and international space missions get into trouble in Lunar orbit or somewhere else in cislunar space?

            Where has the comparison been publicly documented that retaining the cost saving option of dual launch SLS/Orion and SLS/Lander missions to the Lunar surface is more expensive and less nationally and internationally politically useful than SLS/Orion and SpaceX super launcher/Lander missions to the Lunar surface?

            The closer you look, the more questions should appear about our President putting the severe mission constraint on the SLS/Orion Lunar mission system by requiring the using and sharing with other large launchers of Launchpad 39B while anointing the twenty year monopoly control of Launchpad 39A by a private and secretive Launcher company that has yet to achieve an on-time and reliable launcher.

            Perhaps the case could be made that gaining legally unfettered access to Lunar resources through SpaceX’s ‘private’ ‘monopolized’ Moon mission launchpad 39A with its enormously useful capabilities and fame, and other similarly useful government ‘political/financial/advertising favors’, would be in America’s best interests, as per the legal arguments concerning accessing Lunar resources addressed in the above noted article by Dominic Basulto.

            However, it is also quite possible that some of the other American and international large launcher companies could cite anti-monopoly provisions in existing laws as counter arguments and some international launcher companies may also view the American government’s ‘monopolization’, direct and indirect fiscal assistance, or ‘picking’ the ‘commercial’ ‘super heavy launcher winner’ for the ‘pseudo private’ tapping of Lunar resources as being in violation of the spirit or rules of current and future proposed international trade and space agreements.

            And yep, I was interested in Mars long before Mr. Elon Musk was born.

          • Jester Gambolt

            “James” IS Gary Church. Gary’s name is mud, so he made up a new name.

        • Jester Gambolt

          16 paragraphs of paranoia.

          • Jester Gambolt

            Paranoia which includes speculation about my user name, which is actually a reference to a sci-fi book series that was popular in the 90s.

            • James

              That you need to label questions about the monopoly control of Launchpad 39A as being contrary to NASA Authorization Act of 2010 (PL 111–267) as a form of “paranoia” is indicative of your willing and blind support of the inexplicable and nonscientific Mars nonsense coming from NASA’s politicized leadership, the wandering space rhetoric of a highly partisan lame duck President, and the President’s ‘anointed Mars company’ that hasn’t yet been able to build an on-time and reliable launcher.

              I’m for fully implementing the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 (PL 111–267), extending the ISS mission for many decades, and using SLS and Orion enabled Lunar ISRU missions to begin building the infrastructure needed for supporting the ongoing development of cislunar space and exploration missions across the Solar System.

  • Arth

    SpaceX has come a long way towards building up pad 39A. Looking forward to their first flight from there.

  • James

    This new total control of the Moon Mission Launchpad 39A by SpaceX may lead to a de facto ‘commercial Lunar Launcher monopoly’ for missions to tap the Moon’s resources that are now protected by America’s Space Act of 2015, known formally as Title IV of the “U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act”, and thus directly contribute to the international legal problems that are noted by the November 25, 2015 article in the The Conversation, titled ‘Who owns space? US asteroid-mining act is dangerous and potentially illegal’.

    As noted in ‘Who owns space?’, “the total value of the satellite telecommunications industry in 2013 was more than $195bn”. That is real money and the ongoing development of cislunar space, which legally includes the Moon, is just beginning. The article also suggests that other countries will respond to the Space Act of 2015 “with mining programmes of their own”.

    Anyone who thinks the rental to SpaceX of Pad 39A is perhaps simply an unimportant and random act of ‘political charity’ by the President to Elon Musk because of Mr. Musk’s ability to contribute or ‘bundle’ money for the Democratic Party is perhaps ignoring the potential large economic and international legal and political implications of the President designating a national ‘commercial monopolistic winner’ for the key Moon Mission transportation portal known as Launchpad 39A.

    To minimize negative international perceptions and some of the problems inherent in a ‘commercial Lunar Portal Launcher monopoly’ via SpaceX’s total control of Pad 39A, new and enormous Lunar Launcher pads at the previously proposed sites of Pad 39C and Pad 39D need to be built to reduce human LEO and beyond LEO mission risks, assure maximal large launcher flexibility, and lower mission costs for the super heavy SLS launcher and various other very large commercial launchers.

    Note PL-111-267 Sec 303 (3) requires the Orion to have: “The capability to provide an alternative means of delivery of crew and cargo to the ISS, in the event other vehicles, whether commercial vehicles or partner-supplied vehicles, are unable to perform that function.”

    The SLS/Orion system needs the legally required capability of flying backup missions to the International space Station even if building Orions with that legally required backup capability may cause some annoyance or anxiety for a ‘commercial’ space company or companies.

    Fully implement the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 (PL 111–267) or get a new space law. Don’t simply offer lame excuses to break it or ignore it.

    It seems ironic that some folks can get a ride to jail for helping someone steal a can of pop, but if an individual is involved with making it possible for someone to ‘gain a de facto monopoly’ of a key asset that could be worth billions of dollars, be it on Wall Street or on the Space Coast, no officer of the law will be able to arrest anyone.

    Maybe the President needs to quit treating SpaceX as his ‘anointed’ national Launchpad 39A monopolistic large launcher ‘political friend’ or as a ‘designated space company winner’ because his apparent ‘political favoritism’ is directly contrary to America’s best interests both in maintaining trust and good relations between nations on Earth and in reducing the high risks involved with doing the legally required international SLS/Orion enabled missions to the surface of the Moon.

  • […] and blackened stage was transferred to the historic Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) for an already-planned series of checks, leading up to a Static Fire Test of the […]

  • […] a large Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) on its “crawlerway” and in recent weeks has supported tests of the Falcon 9 Transporter-Erector (TE), together with fluid, electrical systems and propellant-loading operations associated with the […]

  • […] flight” took place on-time at 2:41 p.m. EDT on 19 April. Endeavour quickly cleared the tower of the historic Pad 39A and rolled onto her back, bound for a 51.6-degree-inclination orbit and a rendezvous and docking […]