- Delay is not the only source of grumbling.
- But politicians are also keen to preserve existing, well-paid manufacturing jobs.
- Starship’s first orbital flight will happen soon.
In the end, the biggest rocket in the world arrived. Since August 29th, NASA, the American space agency, has been attempting to launch the Space Launch System (SLS), but technical issues (and later a hurricane) have caused several delays. It did, however, succeed in taking off on November 16 at a little before two in the morning, Florida time. Due to the whims of celestial mechanics, this nighttime launch provided rocket enthusiasts with a once-in-a-lifetime treat as the vehicle’s white-hot exhaust lit up the surrounding countryside for kilometres as reported by Economist.
The Moon is practically the SLS’s final destination (or, rather, the final destination of Orion, the capsule it carries), but it won’t land there. Orion in this iteration is unmanned. But others will, if everything goes according to plan, send humans back to the moon’s surface fifty years after the Apollo programme came to an end. The SLS will serve as the launch vehicle for that project, which will be known as Artemis after Apollo’s twin sister (who was the Ancient Greek goddess of the Moon, making her name a more fitting one than Apollo, the god of the Sun). But Artemis 1, as the newly launched mission is officially known, will confine itself to leaving behind a few hitchhikers in the form of so-called CubeSats that will conduct scientific studies of varying value before making some challenging loops around the Moon before returning to Earth on December 11.
If everything goes according to plan, a crewed flyby of the Moon will occur in 2024, and a landing will take place in 2025. Few, though, believe that the schedule will be kept. The SLS’s middle name is delayed. Its initial launch was once scheduled for 2016. The end of the decade seems more likely if America does visit the Moon again.
Grumblings are not limited to delays. The Space Shuttle, which performed its last flight in 2011, provided a large portion of the SLS, including the boosters fastened to its side and the orange fuel tank that serves as its body.
The stated justification for utilising technology from the 1980s is that it has been thoroughly examined. Politicians, meanwhile, are equally eager to protect the current, well-paying manufacturing employment. This may explain why the SLS has already cost $23 billion to create and each launch is expected to cost $2 billion, despite being built using well-established technology.
There are less expensive options. The reusable Falcon-9 rocket from SpaceX is already used by NASA to transport humans to the International Space Station. And SpaceX is developing Starship, its own enormous rocket. If all goes according to plan, each launch could only cost $10 million. Soon, a starship will make its inaugural orbital voyage. If it succeeds, Starship will quickly render the SLS to be somewhat useless.
More launches are unlikely to be halted by that. Pro-SLS lawmakers rebuked Jim Bridenstine in 2019 when he stated that SpaceX’s current Falcon Heavy rocket would provide a less expensive, speedier way back to the Moon. Bridenstine was NASA’s director at the time. America will visit the Moon once more. But it won’t be inexpensive.
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