On its second flight, SpaceX’s mammoth Falcon Heavy rocket hurled an Arabsat communications satellite the size of a school bus nearly one-quarter the way to the moon Thursday, days after NASA’s administrator identified the privately-developed rocket as a backup to the agency’s behind-schedule Space Launch System for sending astronauts back to the lunar surface.
Vice President Mike Pence said Tuesday that NASA should land astronauts near the south pole of the moon within five years “by any means necessary,” calling for “new urgency” in the U.S. space program and sounding a warning for entrenched aerospace contractors to better meet schedule and cost commitments, or else lose work to other companies.
In a major shift, NASA is considering using two commercial launchers to send an unpiloted Orion crew capsule and its European-built service module on a test flight around the moon next year, maintaining the lunar test flight’s schedule despite fresh delays in the development of the multibillion-dollar Space Launch System that jeopardize the heavy-lifter’s 2020 inaugural flight, the agency’s administrator said in a congressional hearing Wednesday.
President Trump’s fiscal 2020 budget request includes $21.02 billion for NASA, funding the agency’s ongoing efforts to develop commercial spacecraft and infrastructure in low-Earth orbit and to press ahead with construction and launch of the world’s most powerful rocket and the Orion crew ships that will carry astronauts back to the moon.
The White House’s $19.9 billion NASA budget outline released Monday would continue development of NASA’s heavy-lift Space Launch System rocket and Orion crew capsule and begin the deployment of a mini-space station around the moon as soon as 2022, but the proposal would cancel WFIRST, a flagship-class astronomy mission planned for launch in the mid-2020s.