THERE AIN’T NO FREE LAUNCH


A few months ago, we reported on the Hubble-class telescopes NASA received as a gift from the National Reconnaissance Office. Nature reports that NASA is now putting together a plan for what to do with the telescopes.

One disturbing note in the story is this:

One way to reduce the cost of the NRO-WFIRST mission for NASA’s astrophysics division would be to launch it on one of the new fleet of rockets that NASA will be eager to test at the end of the decade as it moves beyond the now-grounded space shuttles. But that would involve NASA’s human space programme, an option that the science-definition team has been asked to consider.

We assume the new rocket they mention is the Congressionally mandated Space Launch System. (It’s hard to see what else it might refer to.) In that case, there are a couple things wrong with this statement.

First, there’s a serious question over whether Congress has actually allocated enough money to complete the Space Launch System. Many experts don’t think so.

Second, launching on SLS would not “reduce the cost” of the mission. Far from it. SLS will be a very expensive rocket, with an estimated per-flight cost of around $2 billion.

But, what a minute. This would be a test flight, so NASA’s going to be launching the rocket anyway. That means it’s a free flight, as far as the telescope is concerned, right?

Read More: There Ain’t No Free Launch — Citizens in Space.

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