Tales from the Edict 19 - NASA Refocused
Updated: Apr 30, 2021
Following the inevitable cancellation of the SLS rocket programme in the face of a more cost- effective solution on offer from SpaceX and Blue Origin, NASA went before a Senate Appropriations Committee, Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Subcommittee to explain the budgetary spend of $11.2bn. 40% higher than the original baseline costs for no net deliverables. (The $2.5bn for the Exploration Ground Systems was able to be re-tasked so sat outside the enquiry).
Chastened, some might say traumatised, by the savaging NASA and its primary contractor Boeing received at the hands of the Committee, senior management was cleared out wholesale and a new team took over, tasked with slimming down the organisation with a focus on technological delivery via autonomous systems. Over time it was clear the big loser was Boeing, who lost not only a lucrative contract but also a client, at least while a six year long auditing was undertaken.
NASA’s budget in 2024/25 was slashed by 22%, from $27bn in 2023/24 to $22.1bn. This was still a considerable sum, intended to pay for the goal of supporting Lunar Gateway, Mars Gateway and the first colonies on both bodies. With the entire exploration launch programme now contracted out, the big winner in the short term was SpaceX, whose systems could not only outperform and undercut the prices of SLS, but also every other system in the medium, heavy, and super heavy lift categories. SpaceX was awarded an $8.3bn contract for turnkey services. Blue Origin received a shot in the arm with a $1.1bn contract for low and medium lift services and would see out the repeated contract until 2035 when Blue Origin became the principal supplier to Alizon (US) Inc., a fully owned subsidiary of Alizon Corp.
In 2031 proposals for a super heavy lift vehicle formed part of NASA’s budgetary plans sent to committee. The vehicle was conceived as a 3D printed reusable system like that developed in the private sector. Their plans were turned down by the committee as redundant in the face of commercial reality. This was the last occasion NASA ever proposed to build conventional rocketry systems. In 2033 the two surviving SLS rockets were put on display, one at US Space & Rocket Center, Huntsville and one at Kennedy Space Centre.
In 2033 NASA enjoyed a moment to equal the launch of the James Webb space telescope back in 2021 with the successful placing of the Karl Guthe Jansky ultra large array space telescope. Made up of a total of 62 satellites covering 130,000 km2 (approximately the size of Louisiana) the Jansky space telescope is an order of magnitude x19K more powerful than any large array Earth based network, benefiting from a very broad-spectrum capability, able to cover frequencies from 10-10 to 10-2 m. Placed between Earth and Venus the Jansky telescope will be able to sweep the entirety of space in the next thirty years looking for answers to fundamental questions about the universe.