Monday, November 27, 2017

The P3 Funded (Maybe) Deep Space Gateway vs Those Big "Friggen" Reusable Private Sector Rockets

          By Brian Orlotti

The Japanese government has announced tentative plans to send astronauts to the surface of the Moon in cooperation with the US by utilizing NASA's proposed Deep Space Gateway (DSG) lunar space station.

It worked once before so let's do it again! According to Canadian Space Agency (CSA) director-general of space exploration Gilles Leclerc, the CSA is developing a new and smaller robotic arm as its contribution to the planned DSG. As outlined in the September 29th, 2017 Toronto Star post, "Canadian Space Agency and its partners developing plans for lunar space station," the CSA began funding the project as early as September 2017 when MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd (now MAXAR Technologies) was "awarded a $2.75Mln CDN contract to work on the new Canadarms." Here's hoping that Leclerc and his CSA colleagues would also be happy to sell Canadarm's to Elon Musk, Robert Bigelow or anyone else looking to build a space station. Photo c/o Toronto Star.

But while the inclusion of international partners such as Russia, Canada and Japan, plus the likelihood of bringing aboard the rest of the nations who collaborated to build the International Space Station (ISS) has certainly broadened the DSG’s potential base of political support, the project is still very much a paper proposal without funding or hardware.

The DSG is also struggling to combat the growing perception that it's mostly just a smaller version of the existing ISS in a slightly more eccentric Earth orbit.

And the public private partnership (P3) proposals being bandied about as funding mechanisms for the DSG are facing stiff competition from less complex, private sector derived proposals to do much the same thing.

As outlined in the November 26th, 2017 Japan News post, "Govt eyes manned lunar surface mission," Japan hopes "to join the US project to construct a spaceport in lunar orbit in the latter half of the 2020s, in an effort to realize a lunar surface exploration mission by a Japanese astronaut. The government plans to submit a draft report on the project to a meeting of a governmental panel of space policy experts."

First announced in September 2017 as a joint venture of NASA and the Russian federal space agency  Roscosmos, the DSG is a crewed lunar space station concept proposed for construction in the 2020s.

The DSG would be used as a staging point for robotic and crewed lunar missions as well as NASA’s proposed Deep Space Transport, an interplanetary spacecraft utilizing electric and chemical propulsion intended for crewed missions to Mars.

Originally part of NASA’s now-cancelled Asteroid Redirect Mission, the DSG would be developed and deployed in collaboration with commercial and international partners.

Japan is a current partner in the ISS and ISS operations have been confirmed through 2024 but operations beyond that year remain uncertain. American and Japanese leaders agreed to a general declaration to promote cooperation in space exploration at the November 6th, 2017 Japan-U.S. summit meeting.

By joining the DSG project, Japan hopes to realize its goal of landing a Japanese astronaut on the lunar surface. Such a goal would serve several purposes; scientific return, boosting the competitiveness of  Japan’s space industry and asserting Japan’s leadership in the field of space resource utilization.

The Japanese government plans to compile a report on the future of international space exploration through its Committee on National Space Policy and then, in December, will revise its space policy road map to include technologies needed for lunar exploration.

Tokyo intends to begin full-fledged negotiations with the US once a new NASA Administrator has been appointed.

Prior to the 2016 US presidential election, NASA had publicly stated it was considering selling the ISS to the private sector, but the new Donald Trump administration has been slow to offer its vision for a post-ISS era.

But interestingly enough, the government supported DSG has at least one direct, private sector competitor.

This past September at the 2017 International Astronautical Congress in Australia, space entrepreneur Elon Musk announced that his company, SpaceX, will utilize its new BFR rocket to build a lunar surface base (dubbed "Moon Base Alpha" by Musk) by 2022.

This lunar base will then be used as a staging point for SpaceX’s planned crewed and robotic missions to Mars.

SpaceX’s track record of success driven by innovative low-cost technology stands in stark contrast to NASA’s long history of repeatedly cancelled, prohibitively expensive programs.

SpaceX’s committed investors and customers as well as its excellent public relations provide a firm support base for its Moon and Mars plans. The DSG is essentially a US government jobs program being run up the flagpole to see if anyone salutes.

The DSG also seems to require the Space Launch System (SLS) a large, expensive and single use NASA designed rocket (a derivative of the cancelled large, expensive and single use Constellation program) which keeps slipping behind schedule/ budget and may never reach operational status.

Oddly enough both the SLS and the DSG were designed to utilize previously existing technologies derived from earlier programs (the space shuttle in the case of Constellation/ SLS and the ISS in the case of the DSG) in order to retain existing skill-sets and minimize industry layoffs.

The SpaceX Falcon family of rockets were under no such design constraints, which allowed for a surprising amount of innovation (including reusability) to be incorporated incrementally into later models at a far lower overall cost.

And SpaceX isn't the only private sector competitor. The Blue Origin BE-4 engine, currently under development, is also considered to be a "game changer" for the space industry.

If we are indeed seeing a "second space race" between the public and private sectors rather than global superpowers, private interests seem to have a firm lead.

To the victor belongs the spoils.
Brian Orlotti.

Brian Orlotti is a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Support our Patreon Page