NASA’s Lunar Plans Panned by National Space Council’s Users Group

The Lunar Gateway formerly known as the Deep Space Gateway (Credit: NASA)

SpaceNews reports that NASA’s plan to put a lunar gateway in orbit around the moon and get astronauts down to the surface in 2028 took quite a pounding from some members of the National Space Council’s Users’ Advisory Group during the body’s first meeting last week.

“Personally, I think 2028 for humans on the moon, that’s 10 years from now. It just seems like it’s so far off,” said former astronaut Eileen Collins. “We can do it sooner.”

“This comes across as having no sense of urgency,” said Harrison Schmitt, the Apollo 17 astronaut. “I think there should be a sense of urgency.” The pace of the proposed program, he said, didn’t match what took place under Apollo. “I think of launching Saturn 5s every two months and you’re barely going to launch them every two years,” he said of the Space Launch System.

“I’m quite opposed to the Gateway,” said Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin. Using the Gateway as a staging area for robotic or human missions to the lunar surface is “absurd,” he argued. “Why would you want to send a crew to an intermediate point in space, pick up a lander there and go down?”

“The architecture that has been put in play, putting a Gateway before boots on the moon, is, from a space system engineer’s point — which is the only thing in life I was ever good at —a stupid architecture,” [former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin] said, arguing instead to move “with all deliberate speed” to go back to the moon and access its resources. “Gateway is useful when, but not before, they’re manufacturing propellant on the moon and shipping it up to a depot in lunar orbit.”

Griffin raised the prospect of China landing astronauts on the moon before the United States gets there.

Aldrin said he favors Bob Zubrin’s Moon Direct plan for getting astronauts to the lunar surface quickly. Zubrin explains his plan in the video above.

  • Robert G. Oler

    it is truly hard to fake enthusiasm for a “project” that 1) has no date to actually do a lunar landing, 2) looks like “space station mini me” and 3) most importantly depends on a rocket which has been under design/build for a decade and is going no where.

  • savuporo

    Careful, mr. Yusaku Maezawa might be offended by this comment

  • Jeff Smith

    I think the title should read “advisory” and not “user”.

  • Jeff Smith

    BAZINGA!

  • Jeff Smith

    I’m actually MORE excited that Gateway is “space station mini me”. It says that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel and much of the hardware already exists. It’s the first believable Lunar plan I’ve seen is for quite some time. After decades of X-rockets that never fly, DARPA wackiness, “Apollo on steroids”, and “just triple the NASA budget” – I am genuinely EXCITED to see something realistic.

  • Robert G. Oler

    there is nothing believable about it

  • passinglurker

    I only tentatively support the gate way out of the hope that by the time it is built the next pres will pivot us back to asteroids where it’s positioning and tech are actually beneficial.

    I certainly don’t trust anything griffin says on the matter since all he’s ever wanted is to pour ungodly amounts of money into aresV/SLS to reenact the Apollo landings. Hoping for that kind of funding is a pipe dream.

  • Jeff Smith

    Sure there is. We just might define it a bit differently. It’s either that or going back to drinking the SSTO/SSP kool-aid!

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    I’ll disagree, here’s why.

    * The modules exist and rely on a technology that’s demonstrated 20 years of flight operations.

    * The rockets exist to do it.

    Any manned concept is going to have conceptual flaws by nature of the ‘flaws’ in the arguments for sending people at all. It’s easy to take pot shots. After 50 years of doing this, we need to do something that can be done within one presidential term. Technically, this works. The orbit just needs to change, but put a propulsion module on it later and you can.

  • savuporo

    If they relied on only EELV class launchers to get it up there, it would be far more exciting though. Say, max 20mT per module/launched piece.

    ISS was put together from < 14mT payloads, after all.

  • ThomasLMatula

    No one is going to bring back President Obama’s asteroid idea. It made no since then, it makes no sense now.

  • ThomasLMatula

    The Gateway to Nowhere is as much a waste of taxpayers dollars as the SLS/Orion is. There is nothing realistic about it. If they were to be realistic they would just pay Bigelow Aerospace to produce a mini-version of the B330, say a B100, and then launch it there with the Falcon Heavy. They would have 10% more pressurized volume than the planned Gateway and the entire project would probably coast less than $300 million. Far less than they will probably waste just studying the Gateway before it gets scrapped when the next Administration hits the reset button. Really the Gateway is just more government waste.

  • Jeff Smith

    Meh, most stuff is delivered in 18-wheelers within the confines of a standard shipping container, but you get some cargo that just doesn’t fit in that. I’d rather have a the option to have the “oversized load” for the things that require it, than to design things down to meet the least common denominator.

    Space transportation will look a lot like other forms of transportation: small and medium-sized cargo will have standard sizes and rates. Oversized or irregular shaped cargo will need special provisions and you’d better be prepared to pay the specialty freight costs.

  • Jeff Smith

    You say it’s a “Gateway to Nowhere”, but then you say it’s ok to do with a Bigelow module launched by SpaceX. Do you not want an L2 station, or do you just disagree with the way NASA is is doing it? Those are two fundamentally different discussions.

  • Robert G. Oler

    there is nothing realistic about the “gateway” …its a paper project making work for the SLS

  • Robert G. Oler

    there is no reason for a gateway…it has no purpose for lunar exploration. or anything else

  • Robert G. Oler

    nor does lunar gateway. both are make work projects for SLS …and SLS consumed and is consuming both

  • savuporo

    > I’d rather have a the option to have the “oversized load” for the things
    that require it, than to design things down to meet the least common
    denominator.

    Haven’t seen a single piece that would exceed the normal 20mT EELV class limit, if launched dry.

    If you are doing dockings and some orbital modularity anyway, there really isn’t any reason to make your entire program dependent on yet to exist unicorn launch vehicles.

    ISS already fell victim of multiple of its core assembly steps requiring a unique vehicle – STS. We should learn from that.

  • passinglurker

    See people claim things like that but they never back it up the asteroid missions offer a natural progression of assembling larger and large vehicles and pushing out deeper and deeper all the while studying isru techniques and the origins of our solar system on the convenient space rocks drifting out there until we ultimately reach mars orbit and all on a sensible and realistic budget but no it “makes no sense” cause it doesn’t feed the cargo cult’s obsession with trapping the government into paying triple what it does now to do things in the most grandeous, bombastic, and brute forced way possible like Apollo did.

    The asteroid plan was brilliant and elegant. After the initial ARM technology demonstration we could have assembled larger deep space vessels to carry astronauts to the asteroids in person or to L2 to do some material science on old space probes. Want to intercept an old saturn iv upper stage? This plan let’s it happen. Then when the incursions stretch long enough and the vehicles get big enough we could actually safely travel to mars what we do there all depends on preplaced hardware.

    Did I mention that the mars vehicle hab, tug, and all would fit in an sls fairing (or neeglenn if you understandly want to split the load)? It was a plan that could be done I spite of sls so imagine its potential with a true distributed commercial launch architecture instead of just building mega rockets cause “it’s the only way that makes seeeence!”

  • passinglurker

    ARM and follow ups can be done in spite of sls but it’s not a requirement that is why it’s brilliant it’s a perfect fit for distributed architecture cause no piece is a giant bulk only a mega rocket like sls or bfr can fit.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    There’s very little reason for the ISS, and it shows from the publication train and products that have come from it. The greatest product from the ISS has been tested ISS modules and extended freefall. There’s one big reason for a gateway, full bore exposure to the interplanetary environment only one week out and one week back to Earth. It’s a great way to put your tippy toe into the interplanetary waters.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    But Bigellow did not propose or even participate in The Gateway study did they? I mean you’re asking for Lockheed to propose the F-23 for the ATF because it was a better system. LockMart and Boeing are going to propose their hardware, their systems, and their management style. As a believing capitalist, surely you understand this? My question is, where was Bigellow? Where was Space X?

  • Jeff Smith

    EELV is a 5m fairing. I think super heavy lift is pretty well coalescing around the 9m range (SLS, SpaceX, BO). I don’t see unicorns being a problem if 3 groups are making vehicles of ROUGHLY (grain of salt) the same size.

    I don’t buy the small-modularity argument. That was the rallying cry in the mid-late 2000s when F5 and F9 looked to be the next big thing. Modularity and smaller vehicles was gonna make the big stuff obsolete. As soon as Elon, Bezos (and to lesser extent ULA) got the chance – they all designed super heavy lifters for their Moon/Mars/whatever architectures. If they saw economies of scale with their smaller birds, they’d be doing it instead of waiting for their ‘next bigger vehicle’.

    I don’t consider ISS a failure – it’s a lot more roomy than Mir 2 would have been and they got it done. If the US liked automated docking as much as the Russians, I’m sure those payloads could have been redesigned. In America we’d rather have a human in the loop. I think the lesson is to have a bank account (or federal budget) big enough to take some unforeseen events (other former space companies didn’t have big enough bank accounts and are no longer with us as a result).

  • savuporo

    > I don’t see unicorns being a problem if 3 groups are making vehicles

    Three birds in a bush vs what .. around 8 launchers globally currently available ?

    > I don’t consider ISS a failure

    Nobody said it’s a failure. However, due to stand down of STS after Columbia and other Shuttle related logistics challenges, it’s massively descoped to barebones functionality and it’s construction was ( and still is, Nauka ) massively behind schedule. It’s a miracle it did survive.

  • ThomasLMatula

    And there you put your finger on what is wrong with the Gateway and government space. Its driven by RFPs designed to favor the old space firms, and the old space firms design things around the RFPs. And so the government gets a few C-5’s its constantly fixing while the commercial world gets 1600 B747s that cost far less and do far more.

  • duheagle

    Except the rocket the people who dreamed this up also have in mind to do it with doesn’t exist yet and, at current rates of schedule slippage, likely never will.

  • duheagle

    The Moon’s surface is a decent proxy for interplanetary space. And one can burrow into it and hide from the less pleasant aspects of same much more cheaply than one can armor a line shack in lunar orbit. As there is also partial-G ubiquitously available, a lot of habitat engineering gets easier and more Earth-like as well – such as laundry facilities.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Last I heard the great Gateway to Nowhere was going to be in a near-rectilinear halo orbit. When did it get moved to the EM L2 Halo orbit?

    Like many I see the Gateway to Nowhere as a huge waste. The ARM program is was part of is gone so there is no longer a reason for it.

    But if NASA is determine to build it, just in case the next Administration wants to bring a boulder from an asteroid for astronauts to play with, then they shouldn’t waste billions of dollars, and many, many years, making a mini-ISS when it could be down in two years for a tiny fraction of the money.

    But then the Gateway, like the ISS, is nothing but a jobs program, so logic doesn’t entry into it. But it will look often awful silly when BFS is flying.

  • duheagle

    I’m sympathetic to a lot of what you say here. But if a series of incremental steps toward asteroid mining is both affordable and practical as a government program or sub-program, it should be even more so if planned and paid for by the private sector. And it won’t be dependent on any superfluous government infrastructure. The key, it seems pretty clear, is BFR/Starship, not Gateway.

  • AdmBenson

    When people that have walked on the moon tell you that your lunar exploration plan is crap, maybe you should listen.

    OTOH, if your main scientific interest is the properties of vacuum near the L2 point, you can disregard their non-expert commentary.

  • ThomasLMatula

    The asteroid plan was a joke. First humans were to go and actually explore an asteroid. When NASA couldn’t find any easy to reach they changed it to bringing an asteroid to lunar orbit. When that proved impractical they changed it again to bringing a boulder from an asteriod to lunar orbit… The next iteration would probably be bringing a pebble.

    Meanwhile the Moon’s surface is littered with thousands and thousands of boulders from asteroids. But since we were there we were not allowed to return by President Obama…

    And please tell me what would anyone do with an old Saturn S-IV? We already have three in museums.

    BTW did I mention that the BFS, which has 10 times the presurrized volume of the Gateway, will be able to travel to all those destination at a tiny fraction of the cost of the SLS? You could send a couple dozen to Mars for what NASA is spending on just the EM-1 launch.

    No the Gateway and SLS are the real cargo cult, replicating outdated technology for no clear purpose.

  • ThomasLMatula

    But you don’t need a Gateway to study it, a few cubesats will do.

  • ThomasLMatula

    The problem is that one vehicle costs over a billion to launch, while the others cost about $10-20 million. Its like paying a $1,000.00 for a hammer you could buy in the local hardware store foe $9.99. Oh, wait, the government does that too, doesn’t it?

  • AdmBenson

    But what if vacuum is more vacuum-y at L2? What if it strangely lacks substance? What if, God forbid, there’s no there there?

  • ThomasLMatula

    They all you lose are a few cubesats, and not the U.S.S Enterprise, or whatever the great Gateway to nowhere is called 🙂

    Beside the Chinese already have a satellite at the EM L2.

  • Jeff Smith

    For LEO ops, the existing (8 or whatever number someone wants to use) launchers ARE JUST FINE. The question when you try to move those same payloads becomes: would you rather downsize the payloads and ‘throw away’ the payload engineering or would rather ‘throw away’ the rockets and build bigger rockets? I’m a fan of the air and ocean freight models: the cargo containers stay the same, the vessels that carry them just get bigger and can go longer distances. SLS/BFR/NG/Vulcan Heavy/whatever else are all in that same tradition.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Bigellow could have sued their way in just as SX did into the EELV contracting. Come now the kind of market jiggering you’re being mad at is right up there with what the auto manufacturers, Boeing and Airbus do. It’s human nature to rig the market.

    I’m sure there are enough airplane geegks on this blog who understand why you need a few C-5’s and not 1200 747’s to get heavy cargo to Europe for WWIII, I’ll bet you even understand why, and so I ask why you picked this example out of the air as it has no application to reality at all.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Falcon Heavy will do it.

  • passinglurker

    I’m still suspect that there would be any customer for what private industry creates out there other than ultimately the government. Using private industry for launch and transfer to lunar orbit is sound as there is a lot of dual use with the commercial satellite business but beyond that it’s a very big leap to close the business case for anything actually produced on the moon.

    Private industry provides launch nasa provides payloads that no one has any profit in that’s always been the ideal but trying to justify giant gov investment in mega rockets like bfr and sls has gotten people seeing backwards.

  • passinglurker

    The asteroid plan was safe, realistic, and incremental. The same couldn’t be said of musks jesus rocket seriously listen to yourself “10x the pressurized space?” Who believes this spacewank malarky?

    No the ideal realistic architecture is the asteroid gateway supported by the next generation commercial launchers like FH, vulcan, NewGlenn etc and a distributed launch infrastructure allowing us to reach out using commercially sound vehicles and put the real dev money into payloads not just throwing everything at whoever promises the biggest rocket like sls and bfr

  • Emmet Ford

    I wonder if “Your whole project sucks” was the kind of advice the National Space Council was looking for. I somehow doubt it, and I’m currently picturing Mike Pence with a big frowny face, though to be honest his face does feature only one expression which happens to be quite frowny. It’s his “thinking serious thoughts” face, the serious thought being, “I really want to be president.”

  • Emmet Ford

    BFR/Starship

    I don’t like the new name. He should have named it the Space Relaunch System.

  • duheagle

    Falcon Heavy can do it. Regrettably, not the same thing.

  • duheagle

    If he had, I think that would have been seen – correctly – as the throwing of shade. Musk never explicitly does that anent NASA.

    Calling the whole class Starship, though, still allows for individual vessel names – Enterprise, Jefferson, etc.

  • duheagle

    The U.S. government, and other governments as well, will certainly number prominently among early customers of privately developed lunar transport capabilities. What needs to grow as quickly as possible from that is an “ecology” of specialty businesses that can make and sell non-trivial products and services to one another on or near the Moon and which can then grow and expand to other parts of the solar system incrementally without crucial on-going dependence upon government funds of any sort.

  • Kirk

    Both. It’s the NSC “Users’ Advisory Group”.

  • Robert G. Oler

    you can go look at the plethora of op eds from me in the 90’s that said the same thing 🙂

  • Robert G. Oler

    and from a ham radio perspective its wonderful 🙂

  • SamuelRoman13

    Musk is building a SSTO. Shuttle landed at 150,000lbs. His 27’D just has a lot of open space that has no weight to make the landing weight on a runway. The Dia. is enough to give the most of the lift necessary for landing at Shuttle speed. The wings are for Aero controls. Like pitch and roll. A v. stab to mount the rudder for yaw. It is a big Shuttle instead of a Mini Shuttle. No SRB but a LRB mounted on the bottom for a fast trip to Mars. Other wise it has engines and fuel for all the other jobs, sats etc. The people he is borrowing money from, said if he does that they will lend him the money. Since he could make the loan payments, taking over for everything F9 and heavy does. Shuttle looked good at ISS, so will Star Ship(Rhutan BeechCraft). Same thing just less weight with more baked and double baked carbon. No foam to hit the double carbon baked LE. Lighter so will not need tile or slow way down to F9 speeds for reentry. This is what I think he is doing anyway.
    NASA will not have the money for Moon program. If Democrats decide to balance the budget as they have done in the past. Since Congress is divided and Trump has lost it(he said people were going pole to pole in disguises, beards etc. voting for Democrats. They got to have ID Prez) and hopefully he will be impeached for nothing like Bill Clinton. Democrat revenge. They will think of some charge to make it sound good like the Republicans did. There will be a CR forever.
    NASA only will have money for IM. A Mars- Venus free return mission with the Russian Federation(not the Federation of Planets). Once that mission is launched, there is no expense. Just the regular NASA people talking to the old people on board. Cheap. It is a Wow! mission and the whole World will enjoy it. There are several ways to do it, but NASA will try to make it expensive rather than use the IM plan and try to get Boeing to do it rather than putting out bids like FH. and Almaz or something like a 2nd stage. NASA would have to put out bids and I think something cheap would come up. It could be launched in 1.5 years if NASA got out of the way. They will say 10 years. They take 5 years to train a person for a Mission. Whats to do? Jump in a AG ship and Mission Control will do everything. Set back and enjoy the ride and do interviews and watch videos. Like football. I like F1 and sports car videos and Star Trek of course and Classical music. Exercise bike of course. No couch potatoes.

  • ThomasLMatula

    No, it will stagnate and take years longer to do as is the case of every multinational venture. It will probably take the international members a decade or more to just decide on where to land on the surface. The mini-commune in the useless orbit will just add further to the delay by giving them an excuse to put off the decision.

    It says a lot that both lunar advocates like Dr. Schmitt and Mars advocates like Dr. Aldrin and Dr. Zubrin have united in opposition to it. I think it’s the first time the two camps have agreed on anything. It will be interesting to see if NASA listens to their wisdom 😊