NASA Administrator Bill Nelson has praised SpaceX for its rise within the space industry after years of being “pooped” by critics. “I think the private space industry is extremely beneficial,” he said. Newsweek. “Just look at what SpaceX has already accomplished.”
In 2011, NASA ended its space shuttle program, with high costs, slow turnaround times, and safety issues that led to the deadly Challenger and Columbia disasters among the factors in its demise. Since then, NASA has resorted to purchasing rocket flights to and from the International Space Station (ISS) from Russia.
Anxious to restore spaceflight from American soil, in 2014 NASA awarded two huge contracts, worth a total of $6.8 billion, to Boeing and SpaceX, with the aim of bringing the crew back to the ISS independently.
“When there was the beginning of space cargo and crew [programs]the two serious bidders were SpaceX and Boeing, and everyone pooped SpaceX and said, “Oh, Boeing is a legacy company,” Nelson said. “Well, guess who’s about to take their sixth flight after their first test flight with astronauts, and guess who’s still on the ground?”
SpaceX has since launched several NASA-funded crewed missions to the ISS, while Boeing, also a private company, has yet to transport humans in its Starliner capsule.
SpaceX, which was founded in March 2002 by Elon Musk, almost never happened. Between 2006 and 2008, her first three rocket launch attempts all failed, putting her on the brink of bankruptcy. The fourth launch was successful, but only after Musk raised just enough money to fund it.
” So many [Musk’s] friends advised him not to do SpaceX,” Luke Nosek, who helped set up Paypal, one of Musk’s former ventures, told the Quartz newspaper in 2014.
In an article for Forbes in 2011, aerospace and defense writer Loren Thompson expressed concern that NASA was becoming too dependent on the still-young SpaceX and also wrote that “the Musk’s enthusiasm is contagious and inspiring, but SpaceX’s performance to date has fallen short.” rhetoric.”
There were also doubts within NASA. Former NASA astronaut turned SpaceX engineer Garrett Reisman told CNN in 2020 that there was a perception of SpaceX along the lines of “they’re cowboys, they’re dangerous, they’re going to kill somebody. ‘a”.
Musk had made a name for himself by expressing high ambitions for the company. He espoused cheap, reusable, self-landing rockets and a larger goal of enabling humanity to become a multiplanetary species by colonizing Mars.
“[Boeing and SpaceX] proposed the value within which they were able to do the work and the government accepted it.”
In May 2022, SpaceX was valued at $127 billion. Its Starlink network of thousands of Internet satellites is well advanced with more than 3,000 in orbit. On Aug. 30, it launched its 39th 2022 Falcon 9 rocket, the company’s reusable launch vehicle, on a mission to deliver a batch of 46 Starlink satellites to space.
In April 2021, NASA tasked SpaceX with developing one of the most crucial aspects of the Artemis III mission to return American astronauts to the Moon for the first time in more than half a century: the human landing (HLS). It’s the spacecraft that will bring humans down to the lunar surface, while NASA’s Orion capsule remains in orbit around the moon.
Orion, developed at a cost of $20.4 billion, is NASA’s next-generation human spaceflight capsule.
The plan for Artemis III is for SpaceX’s massive next Starship rocket and Orion to end up orbiting the moon. Two astronauts from the four-person crew will then transfer to Starship and descend to the lunar surface.
Once they are done, Starship will return the two astronauts to orbit where they will return to Orion and return home.
SpaceX must keep pace with NASA and develop Starship from a rocket that has yet to fly into a rocket that must be capable of supporting a human crew and performing a lunar landing.
Nelson said SpaceX is “on track” to achieve this.
NASA hoped to launch its massive Space Launch System (SLS) rocket – the backbone of the Artemis program – on a test flight called Artemis I on September 3, but technical flaws delayed that attempt as well as the previous one. It’s unclear when the space agency will attempt another launch.
If successful, the launch will mark the start of the Artemis program, which aims to return humans to the Moon by 2025 with help from private companies like SpaceX.
NASA spent 12 years and $23 billion developing SLS alone, and that’s not including the Orion capsule.
By contrast, SpaceX has developed Starship so quickly that it has gone from exploding steel prototypes in 2020 to just weeks away from orbital flight, potentially before 2023.
Additionally, SpaceX says that when Starship flies, it will be significantly more powerful than SLS, producing a claimed thrust of 17 million pounds compared to SLS’s 9.5 million.
Nelson says he doesn’t see that as a threat. “The thing is, we have a rocket that’s human-classified,” he said. “I’m a huge fan of what these commercial companies have not only done but will do. SpaceX has been very successful in getting Starship ready. But Starship will [to the moon] and he must go to lunar polar orbit with Orion and the transfer of the crew and descend and ascend.
“But Starship is not able, at this point, to return to Earth. Only Orion is able to return to Earth.”
Looking ahead, NASA’s budget suggests it is committed to developing private spaceflight even further. According to the agency’s 2021 financial report, it tends to spend around 80% of its budget on contracts.
It’s unclear if this is expected to increase or decrease, but with the agency’s goal of reaching Mars by the 2040s, significant investment is likely. “So I want Blue Origin, I want SpaceX, I want every other company to succeed because I want us to have as many opportunities to explore the cosmos as possible,” Nelson said.
“And because of that, I think it’s a very exciting time to venture out into the universe.”
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