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NASA suspends SpaceX’s $2.9 billion moon lander contract after rivals protest

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boatgeek

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The thing that stands out for me is that although they were supposed to select TWO, the budget wouldn't even cover ONE. Reports were that since SpaceX was at least close, they "shifted" money into later years to make it work but still used the ENTIRE budget. That would seem to mean that requiring two winners, without tripling the budget will result in it TWO winners, but ZERO. More likely though is that two will be selected, spread over more years, and zero (NASA) launches for five or ten years.

And leaves open the possibility that SpaceX beats everyone on their own dime.
That's a real issue. The right thing to do in that case is to either re-bid (if the proposals had already been received) or issue a change notice to the bid process (if they hadn't). Either one of those are totally reasonable and legal, though they would have extended the bid process by likely a few months. If it they could do it with a change notice, then it would probably be less extra time needed.
 

afadeev

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All this talk about the bidding process and so forth is interesting, but has anyone documented a solid plan of what we will do on the moon sustainably once we get there?
Build model rockets, of course!

Estes will bid on and win a multi-billion $ contract to develop and produce oxygen-free burning 'sustainable' motors and ignitors, and Der Red Max will go interstellar on a C-motor.
 

Marc_G

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I suppose my last post sounds very pessimistic, but I'm concerned we will spend big $ and then a few years later abandon it again.

I don't see why we don't shift the $ to robotic exploration and manufacture. Lower cost, lower risk. Once there is an infrastructure up there built by robots, if there is a reason to send people, than fine, do that.

At the moment, I'd rather we focus manned spaceflight to near earth operations.

I'm surprised Musk is focused on Mars instead of a big wheel or cylinder orbital habitat.
 

SDramstad

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Blues proposal did not meet the requirements put forth by NASA. It specified no advance payments and Blues proposal required them. Dynetics had problems with the design of the lander. It had a negative mass margin, too heavy to work and only Spacex's proposal was low enough to fit in the budget. So 3 proposals, only one of which qualified so only one winner.
 
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All this talk about the bidding process and so forth is interesting, but has anyone documented a solid plan of what we will do on the moon sustainably once we get there?
The fact that we could launch exploration missions for much cheaper and go much further than we could from earth is one big upside. Rss that are rare on earth from objects in the asteroid belt are almost surely more plentiful. They could be mined at a cost that isn’t even comparable between earth and the moon. The moon would be just a start to missions and landing bases all over the solar system. If we are wanting to understand and explore more of what’s out there and gain the technology to go beyond our solar system then we are going to have to be capable of sending much larger payloads and even humans to places that aren’t very hospitable to us. The moon is not only a better place to start missions. It’s also a chance for proof of concept. If it can be done there, it can be done in other places.
 

Crazyrocket

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I work in the nuclear sector treating radioactive waste at many of the Department of Energy sites. When DOE puts out RFPs (many are about 5-10 billion dollars), it is expected in our industry that the losers will protest the decision. Happens almost every time. The Government has a very specific process to go through and if they do not follow it properly or the bidders feel the award was unfair (provided they can provide information for the claim to the GAO), then the award is typically put on hold until the GAO can review the protest. Depending on the GAO review outcome, this usually results in 1) the award stands, or 2) the bidders get a clarification to the RFP and get to rebid, or 3) the RFP is cancelled. This is a typically Government process and I am not surprised that their were protests to the award. Our great Government at work!
 

rklapp

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Who knows, in the future they may dust off the plans to the nuclear powered Sea Dragon.
 

georgegassaway

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All this talk about the bidding process and so forth is interesting, but has anyone documented a solid plan of what we will do on the moon sustainably once we get there?
Nope.

It sounds to me like "Plant the flag again, electric boogaloo". And then get tired and LEAVE it again.

It's all about beating the (insert country name here) to being the first to land a human on the moon 50 years after the US QUIT.

I see the moon landing stuff as a distraction from Mars anyway. In the 1970's we were "10 years away from Mars". And it's been "Lucy pulling away the football" ever since then.
 

DeWain

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Super heavy is basically a bigger version of the falcon 9. They already have the technology to land this type of booster. Starship has made significant progress and is ahead of schedule actually on its testing and proof is obvious with the cancellation of SNs 12-14. The proof of concept for starship has already been proven. And spaceX also has experience with crewed capsules. And even tho starship is massive, spaceX can put that massive ship on the moon for a fraction of the cost that other companies could put a small lander there. So not only do they put humans back on the moon but they also prove that a huge amount of cargo can be brought there for a base as well. And all of that is done for a fraction of the cost that other companies would need. SpaceX is the clear best option in every scenario here. There’s a lot of things that spaceX hasn’t done yet. But that by no means should count them out because if that was the case no new company would have a chance. Nobody had landed boosters to be reused until spaceX did it. And they did it while literally everybody said they were crazy and it couldn’t be done. Including nasa.
Starship is vastly different from Falcon 9, and as every experienced engineer knows, even an incremental improvement in the design of a complex machine can turn out to cost more and take longer to develop than initially estimated. Elon Musk has consistently proven that he does not understand the complexities of product development. It is highly unlikely that Starship will be developed as quickly as Musk claims, and it is likely to go way over its wildly optimistic budget. The only saving grace that Starship is being privately subsidized out of Musk's wealth.

The differences between Starship and Falcon 9 are absolutely enormous. Falcon 9 does not have a reusable 2nd stage, and trying to reuse Starship from Earth orbit is exponentially more challenging that re-using the Falcon 9 first stage. No one has ever tried this, and in fact SpaceX has given up on just trying to reuse the shrouds from Falcons. They *might* succeed on time and under budget, but most likely the development will take much, much longer and cost more than Musk's wacky-tobaccy-induced dream. On top of that, the Raptor engines for Starship are still in development, and they are vastly different than the more mature Merlin engine used on Falcon 9/ Falcon Heavy. Starship/ Super Heavy uses Methane/ LOX, whereas Falcon used Kerosone/LOX. Another factor is that refueling in orbit has never been attempted on this scale.

Trying to go with Starship for the initial Artemis landings is incredibly risky, and it totally out of scale for what we need. If SpaceX can successfully develop Starship further down the road, then great, we can use it for landing large payloads. But trying to use it for the initial for the initial landings is a huge gamble than may not pay off.
 

afadeev

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It's all about beating the (insert country name here) to being the first to land a human on the moon 50 years after the US QUIT.
I completely agree with your premise, but the conclusion does not flow from it.

US was competing with Soviets to land a man on the Moon. Once achieved with Apollo 11, technically, that mission was over. US won, mission accomplished, over and done with.
The remainder of the Apollo program was mission creep, and quickly had run out of imagination (more EVAs, rover, ALSEP, longer duration) and funding. Last few missions were just bringing back moon rocks that still sit, sealed, in storage.

I see the moon landing stuff as a distraction from Mars anyway. In the 1970's we were "10 years away from Mars". And it's been "Lucy pulling away the football" ever since then.
If we recognize that the motivation to go the the Moon was 95% political (maybe remaining 5% were scientific and technological progress), then without that political motivation, any future such missions will remain unjustified. That goes for either return to the Moon, or trip to Mars.

The cost of returning to the Moon has dropped and now falls within NASA's meager budget, and is somewhat more exciting than the alternative of keeping ISS program going. Shuttling biomass to ISS is proving to be boring and politically pointless - folks care more about SpaceX rockets that get astronauts to ISS, than what they do once they get there. So we get to do Moon, again, on the existing NASA budget. Mars is still too expensive.

Perhaps, China will oblige NASA and the US politicians, by playing the boogie man, and deliver the motivation to fund a trip to Mars so that we can beat "(insert country name here)". If that happens, the program will, again, be 95% politically motivated. Either that, or SpaceX makes it so cheap, that a mission to Mars falls within boundaries of NASA's operational budget. Then we might do Mars (at the expanse of Moon dabbling) .

Otherwise, robotic missions can deliver science quicker, cheaper, and WAY faster than manned missions.
Please, correct me if I missed anything.
 
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boatgeek

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The differences between Starship and Falcon 9 are absolutely enormous. Falcon 9 does not have a reusable 2nd stage, and trying to reuse Starship from Earth orbit is exponentially more challenging that re-using the Falcon 9 first stage.

...

Trying to go with Starship for the initial Artemis landings is incredibly risky, and it totally out of scale for what we need. If SpaceX can successfully develop Starship further down the road, then great, we can use it for landing large payloads. But trying to use it for the initial for the initial landings is a huge gamble than may not pay off.
Landing Starship on the moon is actually pretty similar to landing the F9 booster on Earth. You'll have two or three engine burns to drop out of orbit and land. Because there's no atmosphere on the moon, there's no point in doing the hard part of Starship--the belly flop. The only thing that is marginally harder is that the lack of atmosphere means that all attitude controls have to be with engines/thrusters rather than grid fins/flaps. Still, attitude control with thrusters and engines is a pretty well-understood problem.

Where Starship is a huge reduction in risk compared to the others is that they have a standing, flying (though not yet landing) prototype. As far as I understood, the other competitors have mockups and space allocation models. Developing those to a flying object will take far more time and effort than tweaking Starship's landing systems.
 

DeWain

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Landing Starship on the moon is actually pretty similar to landing the F9 booster on Earth.
In order to get Lunar Starship to the Moon, it will need to be refueled in Earth orbit by a tanker version of Starship. SpaceX is nowhere close to getting Starship into Earth orbit, surviving re-entry, and successfully landing, let alone developing a tanker version, let alone pulling off a large-scale refueling in Earth orbit. Just designing the crew cabin alone will be a major engineering effort. Starship is an absolutely huge risk.
 

boatgeek

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In order to get Lunar Starship to the Moon, it will need to be refueled in Earth orbit by a tanker version of Starship. SpaceX is nowhere close to getting Starship into Earth orbit, surviving re-entry, and successfully landing, let alone developing a tanker version, let alone pulling off a large-scale refueling in Earth orbit. Just designing the crew cabin alone will be a major engineering effort. Starship is an absolutely huge risk.
I'm not saying there aren't risks, just that the risks may not be as large as you say, particularly in comparison to other contractors. For example, nobody else has a significant crew cabin design either. Starship has twin advantages of (a) a lot of space to work with and (b) a pretty decent weight margin to work with. If I was designing a crew cabin, I would sure rather start with a Starship-size volume than a Blue Moon-size volume. I would definitely not want to be saddled with a preliminary weight estimate that has negative margin at a time when it should have significant margin for design development. Nothing gets lighter as you go through the weight estimate.
 

Mushtang

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SpaceX is nowhere close to getting Starship into Earth orbit, surviving re-entry, and successfully landing, let alone developing a tanker version, let alone pulling off a large-scale refueling in Earth orbit. Just designing the crew cabin alone will be a major engineering effort.
How close is anyone else to any of that? Just because they have a long way to go doesn't mean they're not still the best option, being miles in front of other companies. SpaceX has a great history of being able to do the things they attempt, more efficiently and much cheaper than anyone else.

NASA can oversee the project, make sure SpaceX meets the requirements and passes all the tests before the actual mission is flown, but as others have said I also believe that without NASA being involved SpaceX would do it anyway and probably sooner.
 
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Starship is vastly different from Falcon 9, and as every experienced engineer knows, even an incremental improvement in the design of a complex machine can turn out to cost more and take longer to develop than initially estimated. Elon Musk has consistently proven that he does not understand the complexities of product development. It is highly unlikely that Starship will be developed as quickly as Musk claims, and it is likely to go way over its wildly optimistic budget. The only saving grace that Starship is being privately subsidized out of Musk's wealth.

The differences between Starship and Falcon 9 are absolutely enormous. Falcon 9 does not have a reusable 2nd stage, and trying to reuse Starship from Earth orbit is exponentially more challenging that re-using the Falcon 9 first stage. No one has ever tried this, and in fact SpaceX has given up on just trying to reuse the shrouds from Falcons. They *might* succeed on time and under budget, but most likely the development will take much, much longer and cost more than Musk's wacky-tobaccy-induced dream. On top of that, the Raptor engines for Starship are still in development, and they are vastly different than the more mature Merlin engine used on Falcon 9/ Falcon Heavy. Starship/ Super Heavy uses Methane/ LOX, whereas Falcon used Kerosone/LOX. Another factor is that refueling in orbit has never been attempted on this scale.

Trying to go with Starship for the initial Artemis landings is incredibly risky, and it totally out of scale for what we need. If SpaceX can successfully develop Starship further down the road, then great, we can use it for landing large payloads. But trying to use it for the initial for the initial landings is a huge gamble than may not pay off.
There’s no doubt that starship and falcon 9 are completely different. I was referring to the fact that the super heavy booster and the falcon 9 booster is basically the same minus the scale of each. There are huge risks doing anything in space regardless of who it is doing it. As far as what we need, we’ve already put ppl on the moon. What need is there to just putting ppl there again? It serves a much greater purpose of putting ppl there again with the means of developing an actual base for missions there. As far as budget goes, how many companies actually do something like this and actually stay under budget? None that I can think of. And I have to say that musk not understanding the complexities of product development is a little bit of a ridiculous claim considering he’s one of only 2 ppl that have built 3 billion dollar companies and actually on his way to a 4th with starlink. Again, he is ahead of schedule on the development of starship testing. And he’s also the only one that’s actually in the flight testing phase while none of those other companies are even close to that yet. IMO it’s a complete waste of money to throw it at doing something we have already done instead of investing it towards something that would yield world changing rewards and capabilities for the future of humanity. That is exactly why starship is a hands down front runner for this project.
1. it is bold, and history will tell you that it rewards the bold.
2. Further along in testing and would likely be capable of doing it before other companies could.
3. it was the only project that met all of the criteria for the mission.
4. They could put 100 tons of cargo on the moon for cheaper than the other companies could put a few ppl there.
5. How many times does musk have to prove everyone wrong before they actually realize that the impossible is in fact possible if you have a drive to do so.
 

manixFan

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Starship is vastly different from Falcon 9, and as every experienced engineer knows, even an incremental improvement in the design of a complex machine can turn out to cost more and take longer to develop than initially estimated. Elon Musk has consistently proven that he does not understand the complexities of product development. It is highly unlikely that Starship will be developed as quickly as Musk claims, and it is likely to go way over its wildly optimistic budget. The only saving grace that Starship is being privately subsidized out of Musk's wealth.

The differences between Starship and Falcon 9 are absolutely enormous. Falcon 9 does not have a reusable 2nd stage, and trying to reuse Starship from Earth orbit is exponentially more challenging that re-using the Falcon 9 first stage. No one has ever tried this, and in fact SpaceX has given up on just trying to reuse the shrouds from Falcons. They *might* succeed on time and under budget, but most likely the development will take much, much longer and cost more than Musk's wacky-tobaccy-induced dream. On top of that, the Raptor engines for Starship are still in development, and they are vastly different than the more mature Merlin engine used on Falcon 9/ Falcon Heavy. Starship/ Super Heavy uses Methane/ LOX, whereas Falcon used Kerosone/LOX. Another factor is that refueling in orbit has never been attempted on this scale.

Trying to go with Starship for the initial Artemis landings is incredibly risky, and it totally out of scale for what we need. If SpaceX can successfully develop Starship further down the road, then great, we can use it for landing large payloads. But trying to use it for the initial for the initial landings is a huge gamble than may not pay off.
I disagree with your assertion that Musk does not understand product development - he just does it differently than everyone else. The proof is clear - he's flying while Blue Origin is still testing, and Boeing et al. are trying to not completely screw up. I agree Musk's publicly stated timetables are usually unrealistic, but that compares to the industry. Nothing in Aerospace is ever on time or within budget. At least with Starship we can see what progress is being made via Youtube, and that it actually exists, if not yet ready for primetime.

And SpaceX is still reusing the shrouds, during their latest Starlink launch they clearly mentioned they were going to recover the shrouds for reuse. They just quit trying to catch them, now they fish them out of the water and refurbish them. They've been 'hardened' against water intrusion, a byproduct of Musk's understanding of product development.

It seems to me that Musk and SpaceX have proven time and time again that just because something has never been done before or doesn't seem technically feasible it is just additional motivation for them to make it work. Betting against Musk/SpaceX seems like a bad idea.

What alternative are you suggesting to the Artemis/SpaceX plan? Tthat's what NASA and congress have decided and I'd bank on Musk/SpaceX being ready when everyone else is, if not before.


Tony

PS: Starship is looking a lot better after today's landing!!
 
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