NASA Awards SpaceX HLS Contact

In a Press Briefing that’s happening now NASA just announced that they are awarding the contract to SpaceX.

If you can’t beat em’ join em’.

What’s that supposed to mean?

I was under the impression that SpaceX was doing more and better work than NASA when it came to space travel. At least it is publicized more. So instead of competing with SpaceX to develop a spacecraft why not just hire them to build one.

It’s… a choice! I trust those involved made all the necessary evaluations. Glad to see progress on the front regardless.

NASA really doesn’t want to be in the business of developing the kinds of things SpaceX, ULA, Blue Origin et. all are working on now, precisely because it’s gotten to the point that orbital components are now a economically viable product. Why sink public dollars into something that the market is now willing to pay for?

Well one could make an argument that innovation by the government is public infrastructure. There is no guarantee that a private company will share any innovations with the public.

Fair point, but it’s not as if NASA’s budget is simply going away. It’s being redirected to things that are currently out of reach for profit-driven interests. I’d argue that the technologies developed through the course of these advanced projects could have more value than allocating more budget into projects that are already well understood.

Rod Pyle is of the opinion that this is as historic as JFK’s pledge to go to the moon. We’ll talk about it Sunday but here’s his hot take:

NASA is basically signing up to be the first big customer of Starship (which Elon made with his own money), and will use it to land our astronauts on the moon and return them. Flown and operated by SpaceX under contract to NASA. Pissed off Boeing and everyone involved with the SLS / Orion project, and Bezos and his cadre who thought they had the lander contract in the bag. But with the NASA budget cuts, SpaceX was all they could afford.

Funny thing is–Starship will be capable of flying dozens of people and lots of cargo to the moon on each flight, but to save face, NASA will station it–uncrewed–in lunar orbit, and deliver astronauts 3 or 4 at a time with SLS/Orion… because they have already built it and need to use it. What a white elephant.

In sum: $1.5-2 billion per flight of Orion to deliver a few astronauts to Elon’s rocket for a lunar landing… when Elon could have taken them from the Earth to the moon and back for probably 1/4 the price.

You gotta love government. Still, an unusually ballsy day for NASA.

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Here’s a link to the entire selection statement:

Eric Berger also discusses the disconnect in Starship + SLS/Orion, and I was thinking it as well. I hope Pyle is right! What’s left unsaid in the announcement is bigger than what’s said. NASA seems to be “doubling down” on it’s partnerships (investment in) SpaceX. I laughed out laud when I thought about the tiny SLS-lanuched Orion capsule docking with Spaceship on Lunar orbit. Ha! The only thing funnier is leaving Starship to get back in Orion for the trip back to earth.

Left unsaid is the reality that SpaceX is also planning to launch humans on Starship from Earth. It does not seem like all that much of a stretch to question the need for the much more costly Orion and Space Launch System rocket, when lunar crews could simply launch in a Starship into low-Earth orbit, undergo refueling there from another Starship, and then go to the Moon and back. But NASA knows that Congress—which is heavily invested in Orion and the SLS rocket, and their jobs across all 50 states—would not support a SpaceX-only program.

I recently participated in a day of meetings with Congressional staffers, organized by the Planetary Society, to advocateg for NASA programs. There appears to be quite a bit of support, if not excitement, on the Hill and in the Biden Administration for NASA’s space programs. It’s an open question whether SLS will still have strong political support after recent changes in Congress. This is an exciting time. As long as an asteroid doesn’t crash into Earth and put an end to it all!

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Eric’s reporting is great, I read (or actually listened to on Audible) his book about early SpaceX in 2 days. Also, I too am a member of the Planetary Society they’re holding some policy event for members in 20ish minutes.

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