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HomeScienceWatch this space: NASA’s SLS too expensive, SpaceX’s Starship too explosive

Watch this space: NASA’s SLS too expensive, SpaceX’s Starship too explosive

ISRO’s back-to-back Chandrayaan-3 and Aditya L1 missions have given the global space race a shot in the arm. But this week has poured cold water on the new race to conquer the cosmos. A United States government report said that NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket program is too unaffordable. In the meanwhile, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has grounded SpaceX’s Starship, the most powerful rocket ship ever built.

Interestingly, both the SLS rocket and Starship play crucial roles in NASA’s Artemis programme which aims to put humanity back on the Moon. During the Artemis 3 mission, four astronauts will take off from Launch Pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on the SLS rocket. Apart from developing the human landing system that will take them to the lunar surface and back, NASA has also tasked SpaceX with developing the Starship launch to carry that system.

But now, it seems like there is a bit of a question mark hanging over the status of both the SLS and Starship, albeit, to different degrees.

Also read | SLS rocket programme ‘unaffordable’, NASA unable to estimate real cost: Report

The SLS rocket has already had a successful launch. The Artemis 1 test mission showed that the powerful launch vehicle is ready to carry massive payloads to the Moon. The problem is the cost. According to a report published by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) on Thursday, NASA officials said that the SLS program is “unaffordable.”

What is more, the report goes on to say that the American space agency does not have the right tools to estimate the real cost of the program. Essentially, NASA itself might not know how expensive the program really is. This is not new. Both the GAO and the space agency’s Inspector General have brought up issues with the SLS budget starting in 2014.

As more and more private players enter the market with more and more effective launch vehicles, it is getting quite difficult to justify the extravagant costs of SLS. But for the moment at least, it is likely that NASA will continue with the SLS program in preparation for the Artemis program. With some cost-saving adjustments.

Speaking of private players, SpaceX is faced with a completely different problem. Not only has Starship not had even one successful space mission, but the rocket exploded moments into its debut test launch in April. The test itself was deemed as a success by the Elon Musk-led private space technology firm since they learned a lot from it.

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In fact, Musk himself made a post on X, formerly Twitter, on Thursday, claiming that Starship was ready for its next launch, pending FAA approvals. It didn’t take the US federal agency long to announce that it is ordering SpaceX to ground the Starship.

Also read | Elon Musk’s Starship grounded after explosion during debut launch

FAA said that it concluded its investigation into the April Starship explosion, finding that there were over 63 issues with the launch vehicle. Now, SpaceX will have to fix all those issues and apply for a modified license from the FAA before Starship can be launched again.

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These two issues that surfaced this week may have put roadblocks in front of mankind’s ambitions to explore the solar system. But Japan showed us that the party is far from over when it launched its SLIM mission to the Moon on Thursday.

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