Looking at the future of manned spaceflight, and even the future of non-manned spaceflight can be confusing. There are so many players building launch capability for the U.S. it can be a bit of a quandary. NASA is spending $41 Billion on the Space Launch System (SLS) which will be completed in 2030 ($1.2 billion spent just this year). Space X is launching the Dragon Capsule to space station this year. Space X also has serious rockets in development and ready for use. Virgin Galactic has its new launch vehicle well under way, and there are many other players. NASA itself seems a bit confused as they are supporting private industry in efforts to have commercial capability developed for space access but they are also spending huge dollars on the SLS system which in many cases is capability that is already being developed or in place using private industry. On one hand NASA is building it’s own SLS but on the other they are funding and supporting private industry.
It seems like a clear plan could be developed which would eliminate some of the duplication of effort, save tax dollars, and this would allow for new programs such as robotic missions to be supported by NASA. One of the budget proposals currently under review already has fewer private companies supported as part of its content.
The recent retirement of the Space Shuttle and it’s low fly bys of over the east coast has served to inspire some but also sadden at the same time as the U.S. no longer has the capability to put a man in space.
What are your thoughts of the future of the U.S. and spaceflight? Is this the beginning of the end of U.S. leadership in manned spaceflight? Is NASA going down the right path? Feel free to leave a comment here and give us your thoughts.
Rather than reiterate all the comments that I have made on this subject, I will just say that SLS will squeeze out every other thing that NASA should be doing until some of the many other needs begin to squeal for resources. The first time that…we have a major storm hit the US without warning because the weather satellites have failed…airlines are having problems because the GPS system has fallen into disrepair…major satellites are destroyed by trash that could have been detected and avoided by a reasonable system for detection and remediation…an important mission goes awry or never starts because of funds starvation…or an hundred other things that we should be doing in space…the SLS/Orion will go away along with the huge and unreasonable amounts of money that will be required to maintain them and their production facilities and their launch facilities and the enormous crews sitting on their collective rear ends between launches. The enormous expenditures that will have already gone into them will just be lost. If there is anything left of the NASA hollowed out by those expenditures, maybe Elon can buy it up and make it work again.
Not disagreeing with you on most of what you said but….here are some facts
1) The Weather satellites are in no danger of being lost. There is currently on orbit spares and new ones being launched (GOES-R in spring 2016) and then more replacements are already under construction to assure we are never without weather coverage. This is a national priority. FYI this is funded by NOAA not NASA. NOAA goves NASA the funds to build and launch so it does not come out of the NASA budget.
2) There are also GPS spares still on the ground ready to launch and redundancy on orbit so were in no danger there either. Not sure where you’re getting tyour data about GPS falling into disrepair.
3) We do have a system in place to detect on orbit trash as you called it. Satellites do avoidance maneuvers all the time based on data from this system. I am not sure which “major” satellite your referring to that was destroyed due to space trash. Every object orbiting the planet is tracked down to a very small size, the effects of space weather and drag make this a difficult task but I think a fairly effective job is done at this. Think of it this way. Weather in Earth is hard to predict very far in advance. Were getting better but it is still not an exact science. Space Weather has very much the same effect on orbiting trash. As the weather in space changes so does the drag on these objects thus making predictions very far in advance is not exact. As the close approach time gets nearer the predictions are better. Could we spend more money on this, sure. Are we doing a bad job now, no.
That all being said your point is still valid. Funds for other programs are cut, programs are not started that could better use the funds IMHO. Between JWST and SLS were talking many years of TOTAL NASA funding that will be expended before they are done. For example SLS will have cost 41 billion (by 2030), JWST in the 10 billion dollar range. NASA yearly budget is about 17 billion total per year for ALL of NASA So that is about 3 years of NASA funding on 2 programs. Granted JWST is important and needed, Hubble will not last forever, we need a replacement up there. (I don’t want to think about what will happen if JWST fails.)….. but with the progress the private sector has made in launch vehicles I am not sure why we have to spend so much on SLS.
41B is a LOT of money….if the private companies can do it cheaper then why don’t we save that money and use it for other NASA missions. 1.2 Billion this year alone could fund and entire new mission(s) to Mars, Moon etc. 1.2 B represents a large percent of the money NASA gets this year and it seems like that money could be better spent.