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Flight of the Space Turkey

12 Oct 2017, 09:48 UTC
Flight of the Space Turkey
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The new Orion spacecraft — Cadillac or Edsel?
Throwing a wrench into NASA’s engine of progress may not have been the intent of Vice President Pence’s first meeting of the National Space Council with his announcement that a human return to the lunar surface is the new direction for America’s human spaceflight program. But a wrench it was and will remain until pieces of the formerly touted “Journey to Mars” – the heavy lift SLS launch vehicle, the Orion spacecraft, and a relatively recent addition, the Deep Space Gateway (DSG, a small human-tended space station in a distant orbit around the Moon) – are reimagined and torqued into the new strategic direction.
Much venom has been hurled at the SLS launch vehicle, largely on the grounds of its alleged cost and its origins as a “government rocket” (i.e., “pork”). But heavy lift launch capability is extremely useful for the emplacement of a substantial cislunar infrastructure. Heavy lift permits the launch of large and/or multiple vehicles and facilities all at one time, and that makes the coordination of their arrival and assembly at a selected trans-LEO destination easier. The core SLS vehicle delivers 70-80 metric tones to LEO, more than enough ...

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