NASA Has No Plans To Purchase Any Falcon Heavy Rockets From SpaceX

Monday, 26 March 2018 - 6:43PM
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Monday, 26 March 2018 - 6:43PM
NASA Has No Plans To Purchase Any Falcon Heavy Rockets From SpaceX
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SpaceX
When SpaceX successfully launched their Falcon Heavy rocket last month, they didn't just launch a car into space. They made a pretty impressive display showing they're a serious player in the upcoming space race (and that display just happened to involve launching a car into space).

Because the Falcon Heavy isn't just powerful, it's also cheap because of how much of the rocket can be recycled for future launches. While NASA is developing their equally advanced Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, which continues to fall behind schedule and over budget, they could potentially be launching a Falcon Heavy close to a couple dozen times. So why aren't they?

This question was raised earlier this week during a committee meeting of NASA's advisory board, when Space Shuttle Program Manager Wayne Hale asked whether or not the space agency was wasting its time building this "big, heavy rocket" that is the SLS.



After all, NASA has worked with SpaceX before, and since one is government-run and the other is a private company, they're not really direct competitors either. NASA's chief of human spaceflight, Bill Gerstenmaier, attempted to answer Hale's question, and his answer left out any reasons like "pride" or "we've sunk too much money into the SLS to back out now". If those are reasons, he didn't say so and there is a bigger reason.

Essentially, the Falcon Heavy can't carry as much into space as the SLS will be able to. Gerstenmaier explained that the Falcon Heavy has a small payload capacity to trans-lunar injection (TLI) ratio, which is the amount of mass a rocket can hold while breaking out of Earth's orbit and heading toward the Moon. The first versions of the SLS will be able to carry 70 metric tons in low-Earth orbit and 26 metric tons to the Moon.

Whereas the Falcon Heavy can only carry 63.8 metric tons to low-Earth orbit, and 16 metric tons to the Moon. While NASA doesn't seem to currently have anything that heavy, the SLS would indeed be able to hold more than the Falcon Heavy. Gerstenmaier said at the meeting:

Opening quote
"We're trying to build a plan that uses SLS for its unique capability of large volumes and a large single mass in one launch. The cargo capability is pretty amazing with SLS. You can launch a big chunk of gateway in one flight; where it would take multiple flights, I'm not sure you could even break some of those pieces up into those smaller pieces to get them on a smaller rocket."
Closing quote




Beyond that, they also insisted that SpaceX and NASA are on fairly good terms and there's no either/or situation to worry about, since the two rockets will be used for different purposes.   

Another reason could very easily be pride, but NASA might be too proud to admit it.
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