Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The beginning of the end for NASA's SLS rocket?

The beginning of the end for NASA's SLS rocket?

SLS rocket
Artist rendering of the Orion Spacecraft
This week's reveal of the president's budget for NASA during the 2020 does not bode well for the SLS rocket. The budget calls for a 17% decrease in funding for the SLS, which could severely inhibit the upgrades the rocket desperately needs. The hit to the proposed budget brings some major changes to the goals of the SLS, the first being the deferral of funds for development of the Exploration second stage capsule, which would provide the necessary propulsion to carry both Orion and much of its payload into orbit. The reason for this deferment is that the president and vice president have the desire to finish the SLS Block 1 before any funding goes to further upgrades. This postponing of funds could lead to further delayed or even canceled upgrades to the SLS. The second big change is that this budget decrease opens the door for commercial rockets to carry payloads to orbit, including parts of the Gateway, while Orion and SLS deal with the crewed launches. This change would limit NASA and their ability to put together the Gateway quickly since many parts would be up on different rockets, but in its current state, the SLS does not have enough firepower to launch the payloads with the Orion craft. And with little hope of the budget being increased by Congress, this may soon be the only option. Lastly, a minor detail overall but still important to the SLS's success, is the Europa Clipper probe being moved to a commercial rocket probably the Falcon Heavy. Without Europa and the payloads, the SLS's only job would be to transport crew with the Orion. This change will supposedly save NASA 700 million dollars, but at what cost? They could be risking the future of deep space exploration for many years. What do I think? Well, I don't know if anyone cares what I think, but I'll say it anyway. Personally, I hope Congress grants funding for increased upgrades to the SLS. Now, I'm not one of those NASA fanatics that think every mission NASA puts into space must be launched on a NASA rocket, but in this case I would like to see it, mainly because of the possibilities it can do for NASA. Even though it is not reusable, if it were to carry Orion and the payload of the Gateway into launch at the same time, think about what that would do for the future of space exploration. Sure, sending the payload up on multiple different commercial rockets is a viable option, but the speed at which NASA would be able to set the Gateway up would be much greater if everything was centralized. After the Gateway is set up, I would support commercial restocks to it all the way. But until then, I would like to see the SLS reach its full potential. Also, that would be one hell of a rocket launch, wouldn't it? The biggest rocket ever made? Man, I sure am hoping for Congress to pull through. Either way, whatever happens, it will be interesting to see how this all unfolds. History is being made every day. 

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