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Question What will the NASA choice for the SpaceX Starship alone for Artemis Program lunar lander mean for the Space Launch System?

Nov 13, 2020
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As a substantial number of you may have heard, in the last week or so (middle of April 2021) NASA made its decision of what space companies and systems to work with further for a lunar surface lander
for the Artemis program to bring US and partner astronauts back to the Moon to stay and eventually onto Mars. From what I read beforehand NASA was going to select two of the 3 contenders to
fund for further development of their systems. The three proposed lunar lander systems are from Blue Origins, Dynetics and SpaceX with their Starship. It turns out NASA only selected Starship. What does everyone think of the possible issues with this selection? For instance what does everyone think that this could encourage NASA to mothball the Space Launch System in favour of totally relying on SpaceX for the crewed program for NASA for both the surface or orbit of the Moon or Mars? Also what do people think that this selection by NASA of SpaceX will mean the lunar lander
could dwarf the Deep Space Gateway? Also what do people think that access stairs will be needed now for Starship to get astronauts down to ground level and back up to the passenger area
of Starship from the lunar or Martian surface for flights to or up from the surface to orbit? Also finally what does everyone think that SpaceX will now have to demonstrate they can land Starship just
with propulsive landing for their Moon surface landings instead of lifting body or parachutes which wouldn't work on the Moon with virtually no atmosphere?
 
Oct 23, 2019
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Ultimately, the expensive options for Moon landings as stated above, will give way to Moon Landing Strips.
And NO .. you don't need an atmosphere to land on the Moon. Multiple SOLAR powered MAGLEV rocketport runways with auxiliary retro rocket braking will do just fine. Thus, Rocketports like "JFK-Moon", on the Moon, WILL become a standard feature in solar system travel in the near future. The enormous & continuous amount of solar power on the Moon is more than enough to make up for loss of atmospheric resistance in landing on the Moon runways.
 
Nov 13, 2020
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Hi FredM, I agree fine with what you say. I wasn't aware of spaceplanes that could land like an airplane with retrorockets and can accept that could be done on the Moon even without its significant atmosphere. However, the current use by SpaceX of Earth's atmosphere for their landing and to make the Starships as lifting bodies or the use of parachutes on the Moon would still be not feasible with its lack of atmosphere. Also I can accept the eventual construction of runways for retrorocket spaceplanes for lunar landers including for NASA's ongoing Artemis program. However, what is your or other Space.com forum's ideas to ensure immediate or near term lunar landings, such as by 2024, of the SpaceX Starship or other lander as this is still the target date under the Artemis program. I think the Starship either has or could have vertical retrorockets like the Apollo lunar modules had or the proposed red dragon and perhaps regular crewed dragon have but currently this isn't the commercial crew selected by NASA for the SpaceX lunar lander. I also don't know how many years it would take by astronauts or humanoid robots working on the surface of the Moon to make a smooth runway on the surface of the Moon for making lunar spaceports like the JFK-Moon Rocketport you mention even though I would welcome such a rocketport for an eventual lunar lander centre.
 
Nov 13, 2020
6
1
15
As a substantial number of you may have heard, in the last week or so (middle of April 2021) NASA made its decision of what space companies and systems to work with further for a lunar surface lander
for the Artemis program to bring US and partner astronauts back to the Moon to stay and eventually onto Mars. From what I read beforehand NASA was going to select two of the 3 contenders to
fund for further development of their systems. The three proposed lunar lander systems are from Blue Origins, Dynetics and SpaceX with their Starship. It turns out NASA only selected Starship. What does everyone think of the possible issues with this selection? For instance what does everyone think that this could encourage NASA to mothball the Space Launch System in favour of totally relying on SpaceX for the crewed program for NASA for both the surface or orbit of the Moon or Mars? Also what do people think that this selection by NASA of SpaceX will mean the lunar lander
could dwarf the Deep Space Gateway? Also what do people think that access stairs will be needed now for Starship to get astronauts down to ground level and back up to the passenger area
of Starship from the lunar or Martian surface for flights to or up from the surface to orbit? Also finally what does everyone think that SpaceX will now have to demonstrate they can land Starship just
with propulsive landing for their Moon surface landings instead of lifting body or parachutes which wouldn't work on the Moon with virtually no atmosphere?
Regarding access of astronauts to the lunar or eventually Martian surface from the living quarters of the SpaceX Starship I learned that SpaceX has thought of a possibly remedy to that problem. According to a recent article in Space Daily with title Protests over SpaceX contract put timetable for lunar return in limbo dated May 7, 2021 by Paul Brinkmann with link https://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Protests_over_SpaceX_contract_put_timetable_for_lunar_return_in_limbo_999.html at the end of the article there is a statement about the elevator that SpaceX apparently plans to use for crew access to and from the lunar surface from the SpaceX living quarters near the top of Starship. The competing company to SpaceX for the lunar lander, Dynetics mentions and criticizes the elevator system SpaceX apparently plans to use to bring astronauts on Starship to the lunar surface. A Dynetics spokesperson further stated in criticism to the SpaceX lunar lander proposal: "No elevator design has even been successfully used in actual lunar conditions." I am glad to hear SpaceX has thought of a way to get their astronauts on board Starship to the lunar surface and back into the Starship living quarters but agree it is unproven technology. Does anyone else have further information or thoughts in this regard?
 
May 11, 2021
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Correct to say that a lift on the Moon is "unproven technology", but how difficult can it be? Lifts have been around for hundreds of years in a vast range of sizes and types and given some competent engineering with consideration for the environment that it will be deployed in it really shouldn't be rocket science.

Rather than criticize the lift (of all things) that SpaceX want to use on the Moon, it might have benefited Dynetics more to ensure that the real rocket science in their own proposal added up. According to NASA Dynetics bid involved a substantial negative mass allocation (it was too heavy).

"Of particular concern is the significant weakness within Dynetics’ proposal under Technical Area of Focus 1, Technical Design Concept, due to the SEP’s finding that Dynetics’ current mass estimate for its DAE far exceeds its current mass allocation; plainly stated, Dynetics’ proposal evidences a substantial negative mass allocation. This negative value, as opposed to positive reserves that could protect against mass increases at this phase of Dynetics’ development cycle, is disconcerting insofar as it calls into question the feasibility of Dynetics’ mission architecture and its ability to successfully close its mission as proposed. While Dynetics recognizes and has been actively addressing this issue during its base period performance, its proposal does not provide sufficient details regarding its plan for executing on and achieving significant mass opportunities, especially when in the same breath, the proposal also identifies material additional mass threats. I concur with the SEP that collectively, Dynetics’ mass margin deficit at this juncture, coupled with insufficient substantiation as to precisely how Dynetics will address this issue, creates a potent risk to successful contract performance."
 
May 11, 2021
9
9
15
As a substantial number of you may have heard, in the last week or so (middle of April 2021) NASA made its decision of what space companies and systems to work with further for a lunar surface lander
for the Artemis program to bring US and partner astronauts back to the Moon to stay and eventually onto Mars. From what I read beforehand NASA was going to select two of the 3 contenders to
fund for further development of their systems. The three proposed lunar lander systems are from Blue Origins, Dynetics and SpaceX with their Starship. It turns out NASA only selected Starship. What does everyone think of the possible issues with this selection? For instance what does everyone think that this could encourage NASA to mothball the Space Launch System in favour of totally relying on SpaceX for the crewed program for NASA for both the surface or orbit of the Moon or Mars? Also what do people think that this selection by NASA of SpaceX will mean the lunar lander
could dwarf the Deep Space Gateway? Also what do people think that access stairs will be needed now for Starship to get astronauts down to ground level and back up to the passenger area
of Starship from the lunar or Martian surface for flights to or up from the surface to orbit? Also finally what does everyone think that SpaceX will now have to demonstrate they can land Starship just
with propulsive landing for their Moon surface landings instead of lifting body or parachutes which wouldn't work on the Moon with virtually no atmosphere?
There are issues with selecting just one provider. Two providers would definitely have been preferable to ensure competition and backup capability and the political fallout will be serious. But to be honest the blame should be laid firmly at the door of the US Government. They specified the time frame, they specified the funding, they then underfunded the program. So NASA was caught between a rock and a hard place and can hardly be blamed for making the best of it.

I suspect that the political calculus assumed that NASA would have to ask for an extension to the 2024 deadline if none of the programs were affordable. No one expected SpaceX to come in with such a low bid and no one expected a stand in NASA Administrator to make a robust stand on committing to actually building something by the original deadline as the only reasonable option. And it has certainly caused a political brouhaha.
https://spacenews.com/senate-bill-would-direct-nasa-to-select-a-second-hls-company/

IMO the political critters, by enlarge, don’t give a damn about space. From their perspective the space program just creates cover for a jobs creation program and any senator with a big aerospace company in their state wants that company to get a slice of the action cash and jobs. The tragic state of the SLS only goes to show how damaging, costly and inefficient all of this politicking is.

NASA is not able to cancel the SLS. NASA has to work within the instructions given to it by the US Government and the US Government wants SLS built so SLS is being built and only the US Government can cancel it.

The key event over the next 3 years or so (IMO) will be what happens to the SpaceX Starship system. If Starship lives up to half the promises made in terms of cost and payload (which seems probable) then even the US Government will have to accept the world has changed and there will have to be a total reassessment of what America wants out of Space and how to achieve it with an order of magnitude more capability. At that point SLS will hopefully have flown a few times and can be cancelled without too much loss of face.

If Starship fails utterly to achieve its goals (not at all likely IMO – but it can’t be ruled out) then it will be a sad day indeed. It will mean the US will probably achieve as much in the next ten years in space as it has achieved in the previous ten years, with much public money being spent by many companies in the process.

Are stairs needed to get down to the surface? No, not really. In this day and age it really should be possible to build a robust reliable working lift even on the Moon as well as a backup host for emergencies.

Yes SpaceX will definitely have to demonstrate that Starship can make a propulsive landing on the Moon and I believe this is one of the requirements of the HLS program. Landing on the Moon should be a lot easier than landing on the Earth, although will be a lot more costly in terms of propellant used as there will be no atmosphere to slow it down.

One of the real issues that SpaceX will need to focus on with the landing are the new rocket engines required to make a soft landing on the lunar surface. These should be simple (by rocket engine standards) but nevertheless will require extensive testing and proving and will be more complex than any lift by many orders of magnitude.

Note parachutes would not work for Starship even on Earth as it is far too heavy for any practical system (100++ tonnes).
 

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