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Guest: Dr. Casey Handmer; Topics: SLS analysis, SpaceX, Starship & the SpaceX lunar lander, market and cost analysis, Blue Origin, space stations, Casey's blog, nuclear propulsion, Starlink and much more.
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We welcomed Dr. Casey Handmer to the show to discuss many topics, most of which were topics he has written about on his blog, www.caseyhandmer.wordpress.com. I suggest you be come a regular and frequent reader of Casey's articles. For today, we focused a two recent SLS blog articles, "SLS: Is cancellation too good?" and "SLS: What now?" You can download and read these articles at these two URLs: https://caseyhandmer.wordpress.com/2021/02/24/sls-is-cancellation-too-good ;
https://caseyhandmer.wordpress.com/2021/03/04/sls-what-now. Our interview started off with Casey telling us more about himself and his approach to blogging and his. As for SLS, he was clear that he did not set out to pan or attack SLS so be sure you should hear his introduction to the subject. He said that since the SLS Green test failure, he noticed a large amount of cognitive dissonance, the disagreement, the ideology and more about SLS. Listen to what he said about feedback, who provided feedback, and how he deciphered SLS facts. In the end, he suggested to us that SLS had lots of problems which he went over with us one by one. Listen to what he said they were and then feel free to comment about his list of SLS problems by posting on this Space Show blog.
Casey responded to many email questions and multiple callers. A few email listeners referenced SLS history. In one response, Casey drew on information by Dr. Zubrin regarding the shuttle and heavy lift going back to around 1990. Then he referenced Ares 5 and President Obama followed by SpaceX and the Falcon 9. At this point I asked our guest about the pro SLS perspective based on a national security argument. In short, this argument suggests we need a gov. rocket for national security as a commercial launchers might not have the same obligations, priorities and availability as a national rocket when called upon by the government. Casey was not convinced by this argument but listen to how he replied when I asked him about it.
Listener Todd sent in a note suggesting there was no further need for SLS given the SpaceX award and the capability of the SpaceX human lunar lander. Casey said it was too soon to make that decision. I asked if he would bet on SLS or SpaceX re getting to the Moon first. He said that as of now, he would bet 50-50. Be sure to hear all of what he said on this topic. Following this part of conversation, Sharon from Denver brought up Casey's two SLS blog articles referenced above in this program summary. Casey talked about important lessons learned and actually learning more about what to do and not to do regarding developing big rockets. Ft. Worth John then called to talk heavy lift, lower stages and Starship. John also said he thought Starship might end up with some similarities of issues with the former Soviet N1 giant rocket. Casey talked about a 10% chance of catastrophe, being fool hardy and again, lessons learned. As for reusable rockets, he had much to say about reusability costs. John then asked if a cancelled SLS meant a cancelled Orion. Casey said Orion had similar problems to that of SLS, including the important one of not having a design reference mission.
Our topic changed to discussing the Starship Moon lander possibly coming back to Earth. He ran numbers and did some hard analysis for this lander so listen to what he had to say about it. He talked about cargo landers, human landers, one way and round trip vehicles. He brought up SpaceX going to stainless steel of which he had much to say. As for runner up Blue Origin and others, he talked about their being behind the curve with SpaceX and possibly changing their mission and purpose. He thought they may have waited too long and some opportunities might have gotten away from them. Listen for his explanation on these matters. Before moving on, Scott sent in a note asking about the actual market for a heavy lift rocket, wanting to know who the customer was for the service. Casey took on this question with lots of information and perspective so don't miss a word of what he had to say.
Our topic switched with the question from Judy who wanted to know about nuclear propulsion. Casey thought it would happen but not soon. He said fusion energy for space and destinations in space might be more popular and happening sooner. Next up was Marshall calling form Oklahoma. Marshall was questioning Starlink along with the Biden Administration plan to build out free wife for everyone. Marshall and Casey had an interesting discussion on this, including bringing fiber to rural locations and the cost of doing it. I jumped in with my commentary that the down stream control and regulation of the internet and markets was far more valuable that the costs involved in putting either system in place. Casey brought up China and Starlink plus their internet regulatory process.
Kim from Mexico called to talk about Starship and Artemis. Kim and Casey had a very interesting and lengthy conversation which zeroed in on dollars per pound to the Moon and annual tonnage to the lunar surface. Casey said what was going on was transformative and exciting. Listen to how Casey said markets, analysis, and how one looks at getting cargo or humans to the Moon had changed and had transformed due to SpaceX. They talked about getting lots more "stuff:" to the lunar surface than ever before which was a game changer. Casey used resource development and the Caterpillar Company as an example for one of his key points. Casey then suggested Blue and others along with JPL come to the table sooner than later do discuss missions. He thought the default went to SpaceX but there were key opportunities for the others once SpaceX proved out what they were doing. Casey then explained what he meant so both listen up to what he said and give it plenty of thought. Let us know what you think by posting on our blog.
Dr. Doug called to talk more about the NASA SpaceX selection, Blue Moon, LEO and strategy. Casey talked about how secretive Blue has been with Doug commenting on that. Casey then suggested the name of the game, that is what matters now, will be dollars per pound and tons per year. Make sure you hear how Casey explained this comment which is worth remembering. This Doug and Casey conversation was also a good one.
Rebecca sent in a note asking Casey to comment on the Chinese Long March 5 B and its uncontrolled reentry. Following that short discussion, David n NJ called to talk with Casey about a new US space station with artificial gravity. This was another good discussion you will want to hear. At one point in the discussion, Casey said the key was to get station operating costs per person down to or below $10,000. Listen to him elaborate on this "magic" amount. David pushed for commentary regarding artificial gravity so listen to what was finally said about that. The last question came in the form of an email from Luis in Venezuela asking about ULA and Vulcan. I read his note in full on air. Casey had much to say about ULA and Vulcan though we ran short of time to discuss both in more detail.
Please post your comments/questions on The Space Show blog for this show. You can reach Dr. Handmer through his blog per above or me.