Monday, June 20, 2022

Artemis/SLS Had A Good Day

But despite the good day with a much improved test, Artemis/SLS is still a largely screwed up program. 

Since a Wet Dress Rehearsal is slow-paced test and prone to all sorts of delays, I wasn't here at the computer at 7:00 AM when it was scheduled to start, but as the day wore on past lunch time, I opened a tab with the NASA TV Live Feed and just listened to the audio in the background.  From then until around 4PM, the commentator would update when something big was happening.  It was easy to keep track of the test. 

The WDR went into a hold at T-29 seconds, so it certainly wasn't an unqualified success, but compared to attempts one through three back in April it was light years closer to success.  The originally-stated T zero was 2:40 PM, however that had turned into 4:28 PM by the time I had the tab open.  T minus 10 minutes had been set for 3:58 PM, to add a built in hold giving the teams an extra 20 minutes before the final 10 minutes started.  Time to go over any little issues they may have been tracking.  Key word: "little."

Problems with a hydrogen leak in the second stage began to show up in the mid-afternoon, and then a problem with the quick disconnect attachment (also liquid hydrogen) from the Launcher Umbilical Tower to the vehicle.   The 20 minute hold turned into a couple of hours as the teams did their best to modify their software to get as close to engine start as they could.  Engine start would probably have been with around 8-10 seconds left in the countdown  

The next several hours or even days will be going over data and determining whether they want to claim they achieved everything they needed to or if they start a fifth run of the WDR.  

Getting back to the concept in the very first sentence of this post, Artemis/SLS is a seriously screwed up program.  The root cause of all that is what we've talked about so many times: it's simply too expensive at $4.1 billion per launch.  That cost limits the number of launches and therefore what can be done.  Even the people in the administration who think we can make up money out of thin air and buy whatever we want blanche at printing that much.  OK, I made that last sentence up.  

Add to the cost that the rocket simply doesn't have the capacity to do what they want to do, giving rise to things like Lunar Gateway (a lunar space station) and it turns into NASA (we're looking at you, Bill Nelson) having to buy other rockets to get around having bought an overpriced, underspecified system. 

Back at the end of March, I ran a story that showed that Artemis/SLS was looking at launch rates of one per year - or less.  I pointed out that the Apollo program launched 11 missions in four years.  Artemis is looking at six missions in seven years.  The article included this graphic.

Today, we learn from Eric Berger at Ars Technica that NASA has been addressing these problems and trying to develop ways around them.  

At present NASA has its baseline plan for Artemis, which is shown below. But NASA has also developed at least two "in-guide" schedule options, which agency planners believe are achievable with anticipated budgets, the documents show. These revised schedules indicate that NASA planners do not believe the baseline plan will be achievable on time or within budget.

One of the internal schedules, labeled "cadence," prioritizes launching regularly. The other, labeled "content," prioritizes launching only when the most meaningful payloads are ready. Combined, they reveal that NASA is struggling to cram an ambitious exploration plan into a finite budget. The result is a slow-moving lunar program that, in large part, fails to deliver on the goals of the US National Space Policy.

Their revised schedule, and now extended until 2034, looks like this:

Note that Artemis III, (as NASA says) the first crewed mission to the moon, is out in 2025.  The problem with this is that NASA still doesn't have moon-rated space suits, and the two companies selected to design and make those suits don't even talk about testing prototypes until 2025

  • There are huge gaps between missions. To close one three-year gap, NASA is considering the creation of an "Artemis III.5" mission that would require the agency to procure a fourth interim upper stage and delay development of other key programs.
  • The slow progression in missions puts off development of a "base camp" on the Moon for years, with the earliest emplacement of a lunar surface habitat not coming until 2034.
  • NASA will spend the next 10 years focused on assembling a small space station in lunar orbit, rather than building up capabilities on the Moon's surface.

NASA has talked about building a permanent base camp on the moon. This included a new lunar rover, a "habitable mobility platform" that would enable crews to take trips across the Moon lasting up to 45 days, and a surface habitat for up to four crew members.  This looks to be 2034 in the second schedule.  There is no mention of Mars in this schedule. 

Notre Dame geologist, Clive Neal, a prominent scientist pushing for a lunar exploration program with a permanent base there, probably had the best observation.  "I don’t get it, I just really don’t get it," he said. "Has nobody at NASA read the space policy? It is really quite bizarre. There's nothing sustainable about the approach they're taking."  

Last words to Eric Berger of Ars Technica:

Given the near certainty that there will be more delays, the Artemis Program is probably at least 15 years from having a semi-permanent habitat on the surface of the Moon. That is just about long enough to be "never" in spaceflight terms, and it would push Mars exploration into the 2040s or 2050s.




  1. Just give Elon 2 or 3 billion and a 3 year deadline, we would see a lunar habitat with bells, whistles and a bar.

    1. And, in addition, a WalMart, Starbucks, Dollar Store, etc.

    2. By all that is holy, don't put a dollar store on the moon! They'll start multiplying!

  2. I'm glad the test went well, but's a Pure Pork Boondoggle, and the program should be terminated. Musk will have dozens of people living ON the Moon by the time Artemis lifts off the pad for the first time.....

  3. NASA - Nonsensical Assemblage of Stupid Administration

    With Musk showing them up daily as a Last Century Boondoogle form of life with no brain, their days are numbered unless they change their ways. FAST!

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