In further evidence that a grand bargain is being made between #commercial space advocates and supporters of #NASA’s Orion spacecraft and the heavy lift #space launch system, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, chaired by Dr. Alan Stern, has announced support for the two projects. Stern signaled the support during a recent conference. Later that day, William Gerstenmaier. In charge of NASA’s exploration programs, suggested that the space agency is already working to reduce the SLS’s $1 billion a launch cost. He also expressed the willingness to have comparable commercial rockets compete if and when they become available. SpaceX us currently developing the Falcon Heavy and Blue Origin the New Glenn and then the even more powerful New Armstrong rockets.
The two statements occurred against the backdrop of behind the scenes planning for a revamping of the civil space program. One proposal that has been revealed in a fly-off between the Orion/Space Launch system and commercial competitors with a crewed lunar orbit mission by 2020. Another idea is a crewed lunar landing using the Orion, the Space Launch System, and a commercially acquired lunar lander.
Ever since Congress forced NASA to begin work on the Space Launch System as a way to preserve part of the canceled Constellation program, sniping has taken place between commercial space advocates and supporters of the SLS inside and outside of the space agency. Opponents of the big rocket maintain that it is too expensive and that available or soon to be available commercial systems would take on its functions at much less cost. Supporters counter that the SLS has unique capabilities that will not be matched by commercial rockets any time soon.
Stern, who is most famous for his involvement in the New Horizons flyby of Pluto, and Gerstenmaier, who has had the unhappy task of supporting the Journey to Mars, have signaled that the war, if not already over, is at least at the peace table. The emerging consensus is that NASA will form partnerships with the commercial space sector to commence, sooner than later, the human exploration of space, starting with the moon. Call it a space version of the Art of the Deal.