During a cabinet meeting today, President Donald Trump briefly commented on the success of private industry, and that NASA seems to be using more and more vehicles from commercial companies. The only problem: the Trump administration budget requests do not advance significantly to associate with the private sector.
Trump pointed to the launch of SpaceX's Heavy Hawk last month as a good example of what the commercial sector can achieve. He marveled at how the rockets "landed beautifully" on Earth after the "wingless" launch. He also pointed out how cheap the launch cost was:
"If the government had done it, the same amount would have cost between 40 and 50 times that amount of money."
"They said it cost $ 80 million," Trump said, although technically the initial price of a Falcon Heavy is $ 90 million. "If the government had done it, the same amount would have cost between 40 and 50 times that amount of money." I mean, literally. When I heard $ 80 million, you know I'm so used to hearing different numbers with NASA. "
He is not wrong! NASA is building its own monster rocket, the Space Launch System, which will eventually carry twice as much orbit as Falcon Heavy. But it costs much more: NASA is spending almost $ 3 billion a year to develop the SLS, and the space agency estimates that each launch of the rocket will cost $ 1 billion. On the contrary, the reusable version of Falcon Heavy costs just $ 90 million, and a disposable version weighs $ 150 million.
The complete comments of President Trump on the commercial space of NASA: "It is really amazing what is happening with respect to space and our country." pic.twitter.com/ygHmtEVJzS- Michael Sheetz (@thesheetztweetz) March 8, 2018
Trump went on to say that we are using the private sector more for space flights. "NASA is making great progress, and we are using a lot of private money," he said. "A lot of people who love rockets and are rich, so they're probably a little less rich, but a lot of rockets are going up." He later added: "We are really at the forefront and we are doing it privately, and at the same time, NASA is very involved in doing its own projects, but we are recovering all that space flight."
"We are really at the forefront and we are doing it privately."
That is not quite right. The Space Shuttle program ended in 2011, but private companies have been launching rockets during the last decades (although it is true that launch rates have increased in recent years). But, in general, Trump seems to imply that the US. UU And NASA depends more on private companies to launch rockets. And that is not what is reflected in the recent presidential budget requests.
NASA has been associated more with the private sector in the last decade, that's true. Under the administrations of Bush and Obama, the space agency initiated new innovative programs in which the NASA would finance partially the development of new vehicles of private companies with less governmental supervision, as it was with the programs of commercial load and commercial crew. These efforts seem to have saved NASA money in the long term.
An artistic representation of NASA's Space Launch System Image: NASA
Even so, the Trump administration has not made any substantial move to rely more on the commercial sector. In the most recent budget request, the administration requested a future module for a new space station that will be launched specifically in a commercial vehicle. However, the latest budget request still generates large amounts of space for major human exploration initiatives: the Space Launch System ($ 2.08 billion), a new capsule for the crew called Orion ($ 1.16 thousand). million) and the development of all the terrestrial systems necessary to launch the vehicle ($ 428 million). That all takes up about 23 percent of NASA's budget, and those figures simply reflect how much NASA will spend on projects this year. The rocket is not expected to fly until 2020.
The Trump administration wants to terminate direct funding for the International Space Station program by 2025. The plan is for commercial companies to take over the capabilities of the space station at that time and establish the domain of Earth orbit. lower. The problem with that is that there is no solid plan for how that will happen. The budget allocates only $ 150 million this year to help private companies with this transition, but NASA has not divulged how it will spend the money.
This administration talks a lot about partnering with private companies. The issue has been one of the most important topics of the last two meetings of the National Space Council, in which Mike Pence discusses how to direct space policy efforts. But at this moment everything is just talk. And as long as NASA continues to finance the costly development of its large human exploration projects, government statements about the use of private money are as cheap as commercial rockets.