A deeper look at the Artemis 1 rocket

They could explore some lava tubes this time

… like in Prometheus :grimacing:


But what about the sharks?


I agree. And I know there’s some trans people on the team without whom it won’t fly - and I know them personally and that’s a childhood dream come true. Hell yeah!!



Well the shuttle showed that reusability isn’t necessarily the path towards sustainability either. The inspection regime for the engines between flights cost a significant fraction of the cost of a new engine. And the share of the propellant and mass of the thermal protection system needed to bring them back down to Earth comes at the expense of payload.

But the big problem with the shuttle was that trying to cut costs and be safe enough to deliver people to orbit are fundamentally opposed. By trying to do both, the STS ended up achieving neither. Combining your heavy lifter and your man-rated booster is not a good idea.

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I disagree. First of all. We have to re-learn how to do what we did, which is a real problem. All the old hardware and the people who built it are gone. We would struggle to build a Saturn V right now if we had to. Furthermore, Apollo was not just a rocket and a capsule. It was an entire global infrastructure– everything from the companies that made and delivered hydrazine in insane quantities, to the monitoring and radio relay stations in Australia and all over the globe. All of that is gone and nobody would pay to rebuild it.

Second, Apollo was by design a throwaway program. “Get them there by any means necessary and make our point” was the mission. Artemis is solving all the health and longevity issues that Apollo never had to, not least because Artemis is a prelude to Mars. Artemis is a research platform for handling long term doses of radiation and microgravity, for example, neither of which we have any idea how to deal with for Mars right now. People think we can get to Mars simply by building a big enough rocket. We can’t. Nobody would survive the six months of radiation to get there and currently we have no practical ideas for solving that. Artemis is gonna work on it and try some things on a much easier three day trip. Again, Space X ain’t gonna fucking solve that problem.

Saying the Moon is a solved problem is like saying the Wright brothers solved air travel and thus no work has been needed since. They barely managed to throw their pile of sticks 180 feet. Enough to technically call it powered flight. That’s what we did with Apollo. Barely got it done so we could check it off the list and thumb our noses at the Russkies. There’s decades more work to be done as stepping stones to Mars and Space X ain’t gonna fucking do it.


I don’t think that anyone is suggesting going back to the shuttle program. But depending on the source shuttle launches costed between $450M and $1.2B per launch on average. Even adjusted for inflation that’s less per launch than the Artemis/SLS system, which is currently estimated as $4.1B per. (Yeah, they do different things so a direct comparison may not be fair, but it’s clear that neither is sustainable at that cost).

There’s plenty of valid criticisms to make against SpaceX but they really have shown that reusability really can be a significant driver of cost reduction in rocket launches. No, they haven’t flown a moon rocket yet but in my mind that’s not a great reason for NASA to develop a rocket design that they know from the outset can never be sustainable.

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Again, sustainability is not NASA’s mission. It is research. That’s what Artemis is- a research platform. The shuttle program proved NASA is bad at sustainability, so their mission shifted away from that. Research never has sustainability in mind. The path to sustainability goes through research that often looked pointless at the time.


NASA does a lot of excellent research. Things like space telescopes, Mars rovers and various space probes certainly aren’t going to be done by private industry any time soon. But the only real “research” part of this mission is to study the life support systems, radiation exposure, etc onboard the Orion capsule. The big, expensive, and entirely disposable SLS rocket that puts that capsule into space isn’t a research program that will lead to future knowledge and innovation, it’s purely an engineering effort based on decades-old, yet still-expensive technology. And engineering efforts that don’t include cost optimization as a major design element are always open for criticism, in my opinion.

How much research is this program possibly going to be able to accomplish at this price point and a launch cadence of no more than one rocket per year (and that’s when everything goes perfectly, with no more delays)? At the current rate it seems very likely that private companies will have the same launch capability as SLS within a few years. And back in 2019 NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine seemed to believe that they might be able to do it with a Falcon Heavy anyway:


(Edit to add: yeah, Bridenstine has a lot of issues so take anything he said with a huge grain of salt)

the bail out was probably a few hundred billion less when accounting for what got paid back. 498 billion total ( your/ their overall point remains intact of course. the difference alone covers nasa moon funding )

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If our astronauts happen to find mutagenic alien bioweapons conveniently packaged in little bottles labeled “drink me,” well, what else can they do :partying_face:


I’m guessing that is a big part of the extra high pricetag per launch. When you amortize much* of the costs of KSC over one launch per year they’re pretty high. Ditto the development costs over the small number of scheduled flights.

*there are other launches, but the VAB and mobile launch system were designed for much higher launch rates than were ever achieved, either in the Apollo or Shuttle programs. KSC was basically designed for EOR which required twice as many launches per lunar landing.

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Unfortunately per the NASA Inspector General report from earlier this year the $4.1B per flight is just the cost moving forward and doesn’t include any of the earlier development costs:

Hows about you get us a special tour. :grimacing:

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Oh, sure. All we need is astronaut Travis Pastrana. :roll_eyes:



Well, a bit. But SLS/Orion is just a crew transfer vehicle. The plan is for astronauts to lift off on SLS, and head out to the Moon. Then they’ll dock with a small space station, and board the lander, which will carry them down to the surface and back.
Currently the front runner to provide the lander is…SpaceX, using a modified version of Starship.

So by the time Artimus 3 launches, SpaceX will probably have landed an unmanned Starship on the moon as a test.

That’s an important part that a lot of Artemis defenders are missing. Many, somewhat understandably, don’t want to put all the eggs in one basket counting on a private company, SpaceX, developing their own rocket. But the Artemis project is already depending on Starship being operational by its 3rd mission, per this NASA lander contract. If SpaceX fails then we won’t have astronauts landing on the moon any time soon. So if we’re counting on SpaceX having a functional heavy-lift rocket that can get to the moon, what’s the justification for the SLS that costs $4.1B per launch?

That said, we are where we are and I’m still hoping for a successful launch this week.

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We’ll jump them when we get to them.

Are there any reasonable (i.e. not Musk’s PR speak) estimates for what a hypothetical trip to the Moon would cost using only SpaceX gear? The current plan for getting the (uncrewed) Starship lander to the Moon involves multiple launches to refuel it in Earth orbit. A note on the Wikipedia page says up to 14 launches may be necessary, with 4 to 8 being a more realistic estimate.

WARNING: back-of-the-envelope math done by a layman from numbers found on Google follows:

Currently, a SpaceX Falcon 9 costs $67 million to go to orbit (source), burning a total of about 488 tons of propellant in the process (source). The Starship lander and the refueling missions will use the Super Heavy launch system, which will use a total of 4800 tons of propellant to get the payload into orbit (source). Assuming launch costs are proportional to fuel use, a single Starship launch to Earth orbit would cost about:

($67M ÷ 488 t) × 4800 t = $659M

Which means that the full 4 to 8 (up to 14) launches to get to the uncrewed lander to the Moon would cost $2.6B to $5.2B (up to $9.2B).

Falcon 9 is a workhorse with tens of successful launches per year, so the price per launch must be fairly well optimized by now. Starship hasn’t flown to orbit yet, and there certainly are extra costs for ongoing development and testing. Also, Starship will use different propellant (liquid methane) than Falcon 9 (RP-1 kerosene), but a quick estimate-by-Google says the prices aren’t drastically different enough to matter for this back-of-the-envelope calculation.

I assume this calculation is wrong for any number of reasons, but does anybody have better data?


I don’t know, but NASA does have a fixed-price contract with SpaceX to build the lander for $2.9B, so that’s probably one indicator.

Obviously SpaceX might fail to fulfill the contract. But if they do that also means that Artemis will fail to land people on the moon.