Ars Technica notes that with the new Trump administration and its friendlier attitude toward both space exploration and #commercial space, #NASA has started to like heavy commercial rockets such as the SpaceX Falcon Heavy and the Blue Origin New Glenn. The space agency still sees a role to play for the #space launch system, but only when huge payloads need to be launched into space at one time. But the reusable and cheaper commercial rockets will also have a role to play in NASA future space exploration plans.
For the past few years, since sometime toward the beginning of President George W. Bush’s Constellation program, the aerospace community has been locked in a civil war between supporters of traditional NASA and commercial space advocates. The former liked big rockets like the Constellation era Ares V and the current SLS. The latter pushed for breaking up large space missions into several launches and using fuel depots in space. Each approach has its advantages and disadvantages. The former is simple but expensive. The latter may he cheap but relies on flight rates for commercial launchers that may be unrealistic.
Bill Gerstenmaier, the head of NASA spaceflight, has embraced the idea that both the SLS and commercial rockets can share the burden of a space exploration program. The idea is that the war between old space and new space could be resolved with a compromise peace. Everybody wins.
But the question arises, is it peace or just a temporary truce before a resumption of hostilities. Some commercial space advocates smell victory and are likely to resume their campaign to defund programs like the Space Launch System and the Orion and go entirely commercial where launch services are concerned.
Besides the argument that NASA would be forced to throw away the ability to put 130 tons of stuff into low Earth orbit, such a move would crash head on into congressional opposition. Space exploration advocates would waste time, energy, and political capital in pursuit of total victory when they should accept yes as an answer, If the Space Launch System is such an albatross, it will wither and die as the newer, cheaper, commercial heavy lifters come into operation. Commercial space supporters would not need to charge up the hill one last time. If they wait, if their assumptions are correct, they will win anyway.