The plan to take humans to the moon four years earlier than expected is taking shape in the mind of NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, and he's pretty sure it's doable.
First, the agency will launch two Orion spacecraft, one human and the other without, around the moon on the back of the government's heavy cargo rocket by 2023. Then, the agency plans to enlist the help of a commercial company to launch rockets. pieces of a space station in the orbit of the moon by 2024. Finally, officials will shuffle the government's rocket manifesto to use their last flight in 2024 to send humans to that lunar station instead of a probe to Europe, the moon of Jupiter.
And while all this is being done, NASA will develop a human lunar lander to take astronauts from the lunar station, called the Lunar Orbital-Platform Gateway, to the surface.
That's a lot to do in five years. But more than anything, the problem is money.
"We have had strong bipartisan support and we have had strong budget requests in the past," Bridenstine said in an interview with the Houston Chronicle on Saturday. "But this is another level of support, so we'll find out."
Bridenstine was at Rice University speaking Saturday at the Owls in Space Symposium.
Under the leadership of President Donald Trump, NASA's plan was to put humans back on the moon by 2028. But last month, Vice President Mike Pence ordered the agency to accelerate that timeline until 2024 by using "all the necessary means. "
This announcement was received with cynicism, especially since the president's most recent budget request requested a $ 500 million cut to the agency next year. And that, of course, would not be enough.
So, NASA is developing a budget that would allow for faster operations without sacrificing security. Bridenstine said he would deliver that budget to Congress in late April or early May.
He is not sure how much more money will be needed, but he hopes the request will ask Congress for multi-year funding for the Moon's programs so that political whims and the change of support do not jeopardize the 2024 plan by eliminating the necessary money.
"The annual funding is risky," he said. "This would reduce the risk."
It also runs the risk of jeopardizing the plan of Luna 2024, the government's heavy-load rocket, plagued by problems. The Space Launch System rocket, built by Boeing, was to launch Orion in 2017.
However, it has continued to be delayed, and Boeing recently told NASA that it could not reach the June 2020 launch date, which it was supposed to send to Orion without a crew around the moon.
This would not do, especially after Pence's directive. The agency examined whether it would be better to use a commercial rocket to launch Orion instead, and found a viable option, but NASA decided it would not yet meet the launch deadline.
Bridenstine said agency officials have found a way to speed up the first SLS release so that it is only six months behind schedule. But the agency is developing a commercial support plan in case SLS continues to experience problems.
The agency needs another SLS, or a machine with the same power, to send the first Orion manned around the moon in 2023 and a third to the Gateway in 2024. The Europa Clipper, which was supposed to hook the moon of Jupiter In the third SLS, it would be launched through a commercial rocket.
"This is something that we are thinking for a second or third effort should [the Space Launch System rocket] continue to be challenged, "Bridenstine told the Houston Chronicle on Saturday. When we think of 2023/2024, we have another option in which we can begin to bademble the pieces right now if we want and we are going through that process. . "
Bridenstine said the agency is already working on a lunar lander to take humans to the surface. You will still have to find a commercial company to launch the elements of the Gateway to the orbit of the moon by the year 2024.
Alex Stuckey writes about NASA and science for the Houston Chronicle. You can contact her at [email protected] or Twitter.com/alexdstuckey.