NASA’s plan to return to the moon is as ill-fated as its name, Artemis. It was originally planned to be launched in the first half of 2021. A year later, the fuel leakage and the failure of the discharge pipeline are still difficult to solve.
In Greek mythology, the moon god Artemis was the sister of Apollo, the sun god. His love affair was obstructed by Apollo, and he could only see his lover who became “Orion” from a distance. The “Artemis Project”, which carried the “Orion” spacecraft and repeatedly “bounced tickets”, still lived in the shadow of the “Apollo Project” half a century ago.
Artemis’ ill fate
”Project Artemis” is stuck at the first step of the progress bar. Do it all at once, second time tired, third time exhausted. “Artemis 1” has been delayed for far more than three times.
In 2019, NASA officially announced the implementation of the “Artemis Plan”, with the goal of sending American astronauts to the moon by 2024 and establishing a permanent base on the lunar surface by 2028, laying the foundation for landing on Mars and deep space exploration missions.
The Trump administration at the time was ambitious, making it clear that by 2024, a man and a woman would be on the moon. This world-shattering plan actually disrupted the right steps: sending probes, robots, and then sending people to the moon. The White House forced NASA to re-prioritize, making the plan difficult.
The moon is “permanent existence” and will not “run away”. A hurried launch of a manned moon landing will only add complexity and cost, with little benefit. Even if the moon landing is successful, a man and a woman will certainly not be able to build shelters, maintain water sources, produce oxygen and rocket fuel, and lay lunar orbits like robots. They spend at least $30 billion back and forth without providing the infrastructure for subsequent moon landings.
The White House guarantees $1.6 billion a year, which is only a “small end” of spending. Industry insiders judge that once Trump fails to be re-elected as president, the next government will definitely cancel this money-burning plan. However, in February 2021, the Biden administration decided to support NASA in carrying out the “Project Artemis” to the end.
At the same time that the “Artemis Project” announced the postponement of the launch again, the astronauts of Shenzhou 14 on the Chinese space station opened the door of the Wentian experimental module and completed all the scheduled tasks. According to the plan, before the 2030s, China will achieve astronaut landing on the moon.
The space race is a metaphor, once the opponent has more advanced technology, then there must be a better ideological connotation. In 2030, “the deadline is approaching”, and the United States has to set the realization date of the “Artemis Plan” in 2028 or even 2024.
The government is too hasty, and NASA is not very reliable. The U.S. Government Accountability Office found that NASA and Boeing, the prime contractor for the Space Launch System, “underestimated the complexity of manufacturing and assembling the core engine stages.”
And private companies that outsource are in trouble. Originally, Blue Origin, Space X, Bigelow Aerospace, Virgin Galactic and other companies that entered space purely for commercial interests promoted the “new space” movement with low cost, high efficiency and economies of scale, but the government and social capital The “PPP” model of cooperation has been hampered by continuous legal proceedings. A lawsuit, casually, will take 7 months.
NASA signed a $967 million contract in 2020 with Blue Origin, SpaceX and another company to fund the development of the Artemis lunar lander. NASA finally chose Space X, which caused Blue Origin to be very dissatisfied. While suing, it publicly criticized Space X’s next-generation “Starship” for being extremely complicated and too risky. During the lawsuit, NASA suspended its cooperation with SpaceX.
The progress of “Artemis 1” may stagnate at any time.
The most powerful rocket ready to go
In the “new space race” of the 21st century, the “Artemis Project”, which has been held back by several parties, seems to be difficult to surpass the “Apollo Project”. From 1968 to 1972, the United States completed 9 manned lunar landing missions, 6 successful landings, and a total of 12 astronauts landed on the moon.
In the 1970s, the U.S. was supposed to expand its manned moon landing efforts and continue to explore Mars or the boundless universe. Such claims, however, are more of a space enthusiast’s wish. For the presidents of the United States in the 1970s and 1980s, the priorities were the Vietnam War, the oil crisis, and not squandering taxpayer dollars.
This world-shattering plan actually disrupted the right steps: sending probes, robots, and then sending people to the moon. The White House forced NASA to re-prioritize, making the plan difficult.
In space, physics problems equal economics problems. The behemoth standing on the launch pad waiting to lift off, 90% of its mass is fuel, 8% of its mass is metal casing, and the things sent into space – people and cargo, only account for 2% of the total mass.
In other words, the mechanism of manned spaceflight is to strap people to several disposable fireworks with thousands of tons of fuel and very few items. Fifty years ago, the cost per kilogram of cargo was more than $10,000.
Therefore, after the last manned moon landing of the “Apollo program” in December 1972, for half a century, people can only see astronauts raising ants and turning somersaults in a mere few kilometers above the earth. Space exploration in the 21st century is such a surprise to people in the 20th century. After all, the mainstream idea in the 1970s was to mine asteroids in the 1990s and explore the moons of Jupiter and Saturn in 2000.
It’s not all about the money either. Since 2003, the United States has spent more than $4.79 trillion in Iraq, Afghanistan and other related wars. Roughly estimated, it is equivalent to the cost of at least 40 large-scale Mars missions, enough to establish a permanent settlement on Mars.
Today’s America needs to be “great again” through the Artemis Project.
”Project Artemis” is completely designed around “manned”. The “Orion” spacecraft consists of three parts. The first is the crew cabin, which can accommodate 4 astronauts to work and live; the second is the service cabin, which houses the crew’s life support system, engine and fuel reserves; the third is the launch center system, in case of any accident, the system can send the crew cabin to the Pull to a safe place.
In order to complete manned and heavy-duty missions, the SLS built by NASA, named “the most powerful rocket in the world”, surpassed the legend of the “Apollo” era – Saturn V in many ways. It includes a cargo bay, an exploration upper stage, a core stage, and two additional solid rocket boosters. The SLS weighs 2,721 tons, of which 2,358 tons are fuel. The four RS-25D engines are currently the world’s largest stage-combustion liquid hydrogen-oxygen engines, with a maximum thrust of 39.1MN (meganewtons) at takeoff, 15% higher than the Saturn V’s 34.5MN.
It is reported that the journey of “Artemis 1” is 2.09 million kilometers and lasts for 42 days. The “Orion” spacecraft has a load of 54.4 kilograms and contains three mannequins that simulate astronauts, Snoopy dolls and other items.
With the Orion spacecraft into lunar orbit, there will also be 10 CubeSats. CubeSat was already deployed on the rocket last July. The launch is delayed by a year, and there are currently 5 rechargeables. These CubeSats carry different scientific research missions, studying different fields such as microorganisms, water, hydrogen content, solar particle infrared and so on. The cost of CubeSats is relatively low, and the failure rate is relatively high. It is also expected if a few cannot complete the task.
Space Shuttle Makeover, Commercialization of the Moon?
A more important reason for the difficulty of returning to the moon for the United States is that the cost of trial and error is high, and it has almost “wasted” more than 30 years of time. With the retirement of the last three space shuttles in 2011, the United States even lost the ability to send humans into space — at one point paying Russia $80 million to send an astronaut to the space station.
The space shuttle program, created in the early 1970s, plans to create an inexpensive low-orbit vehicle that can be delivered every two weeks. Everyone complains that rockets are too expensive, and they don’t realize that rockets are actually missiles that send cargo into space. NASA was founded on the basis of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory and the U.S. Army Ballistic Missile Agency, which employed captured German missile expert von Braun—later the chief designer of the Saturn V launch vehicle.
In the 1960s, NASA was the sixth corner of the Pentagon. The Pentagon launches missiles and never considers cost issues such as recovery. However, the popularity of television has made the “luxury” of the rocket clear at a glance. After all, it is not a missile that is fired at the enemy’s camp, and it will burn out if it burns.
The space shuttle program began with an eye toward recycling rocket boosters: scooping them up from the ocean, refurbishing them for reuse. It sounds very frugal, but the reality is that the booster is badly damaged and refurbished is much more expensive than building a new one.
Scientist and science-fiction author David Brin’s novel “Tank Farm Generator” may have some insight: If the space shuttle’s main fuel tanks were left in orbit, collected and welded in space, the United States would It is possible to have a low-cost annular facility in low-Earth orbit that generates artificial gravity and can accommodate more than 1,000 people. A layer of meaning behind the story is that NASA’s money-saving skills are simply not in the right place.
The “cost reduction and efficiency increase” under the recycling slogan strictly limits the creativity of engineers. For reuse, the cost per launch increases by about $500 million. For the sake of political enrichment, Congress has distributed contracts for various parts of the space shuttle to its own constituencies, all over the United States, east, west, north and south, resulting in unnecessary and expensive logistics costs.
In the end, the total cost of each launch of the space shuttle project is about 1.5 billion US dollars, which is enough to complete 6 manned rocket launches per year. The project was so puzzling that it terrified the Soviets at the time. Even NASA itself now admits that the space shuttle program was a mistake.
Since the Space Shuttle was NASA’s primary launch vehicle, a number of follow-on programs were affected. A satellite of a certain size and mass, designed according to the specifications of the space shuttle’s cargo bay, can only delay or cancel the launch. Space shuttle cost overruns squeezed research and development funds for better-performing launch vehicle technology, creating a vicious circle that made it increasingly expensive for NASA to fly into space.
All feats require huge effort, and huge effort requires huge sums of money. A good profit is both the purpose and the result.
In addition, the U.S. head of government changes every four or eight years, and NASA has to adjust its pace to accommodate the different blueprints of each administration. Anyway, since the 1970s, flying to Mars has always been the tune of “we will meet in another 20 years”. This is how the current Biden administration is portraying it.
Space shuttles are not like the Millennium Falcon in “Star Wars”. They take off from the ground and enter space instantly. They are gliders that need to be sent into space with rockets. Today, the popular favorite is the “space plane” that can enter low-Earth orbit directly from the ground.
The first aircraft to approach outer space largely “on its own” was the U.S. Air Force’s X-15 supersonic rocket-powered aircraft, which entered service in the 1960s. The X-15 first fell from the B-52 carrier aircraft to an altitude of 13.7 kilometers, and then rose to more than 80 kilometers. The pilot has astronaut qualifications.
The success of the X-15 inspired the concept of consumption by space plane travel in the 21st century. In 2004, “Spaceship 1” was the first private space plane to reach space, flying over the space boundary “Carmen Line” at an altitude of 100 kilometers. Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin have both developed similar projects that allow several passengers to admire the curves of the edge of the earth against the backdrop of dark space at 100,000 meters in a few minutes of microgravity, a commercial race in low-Earth orbit.
Europe also has a very forward-looking and underfunded space plane program, the Skylon, a single-stage orbital spacecraft envisioned by British Reaction Engines Ltd. It has been developed since the 1980s. The plane uses a hybrid scramjet called SABRE that draws oxygen from the atmosphere as an oxidant until it reaches speeds of Mach 5, then switches to stored hydrogen, oxygen rocket fuel for faster speed and higher thrust. Because of the lack of money, so far only a concept test can be carried out.
All feats require huge effort, and huge effort requires huge sums of money. A good profit is both the purpose and the result. The same goes for lunar exploration.
No one owns the moon. According to the Outer Space Treaty, the moon belongs to no one.
Just like the development of the South Pole, as the cost of landing on the moon gradually becomes cheaper, one scientific laboratory will be established on the moon. When resources on the moon prove to be profitable and all agreements are at risk of failure, nations and corporations will fight for the best “turf” and defend themselves against the Outer Space Treaty in international courts. When trillions of dollars of profits can be realized, the moon will eventually be “commercialized” for large-scale development.
Such is the history of the earth.