Von Joey Roulette, Eric M. Johnson
WASHINGTON / SEATTLE (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s differences with rival presidential candidate Joe Biden extend well beyond planet Earth.
President Trump’s plans to win the race in space require a lunar mission in 2024 and the end of direct US financial support to the International Space Station in 2025 – handing over control of the decade-old orbital laboratory to private space companies.
Biden, on the other hand, would likely call for a belated moon shot and suggest extending funding for the International Space Station if he wins the White House, according to folks familiar with Biden’s fledgling space agenda.
Postponing the moon mission could cast more doubt on the long-term fate of Boeing Co. PROHIBITION Space Launch System (SLS) missiles, just like Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin are looking to launch competing missiles as early as next year.
Extending support for the space station by a decade would also be a major boost for Boeing, whose annual $ 225 million ISS operating contract expires in 2024 and is deep in the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic and the 737 Financial crisis is MAX grounding after fatal crashes.
Boeing and SpaceX are already delivering spaceships to transport astronauts to the ISS, as part of a program started under the Obama administration and supported by both Trump and Biden.
Although slowing down the moon shot would push back the contracts for lunar landers and related equipment the companies seek to win, Biden’s nascent space agenda appears largely to focus on reducing competition between traditional defense companies like Boeing and “new space” rivals like SpaceX to promote the promise of lower costs and reusable rocket systems and spacecraft.
For the commercial space industry, “consistency is key,” said Mike French, vice president of the Aerospace Industries Association trade group who previously served as Obama chief of staff at NASA.
“If you shake the sketch now, you risk a number of potentially historic achievements and the strong and sustained bipartisan support that NASA has seen in its portfolio,” French told Reuters.
About 20 former senior NASA officials and scientists have gathered as a volunteer subgroup on the Biden Campaign Science Committee to informally help shape ideas for a space platform.
Many had jobs in the Obama administration and are fighting for influential roles in the transition team or in a Biden administration.
Reuters spoke to three of these people, as well as over a dozen lobbyists, industry executives, and former NASA officials who had their own conversations with Biden’s campaign.
Members of the subgroup also want to increase NASA funding for geosciences and support partnerships with other nations. They stressed that Biden’s space agenda and related workforce contracts are at a formative stage as his campaign prioritizes more pressing issues like the coronavirus pandemic and unemployment.
A spokesman for the Biden campaign pointed to previous remarks by Biden. In August, after SpaceX launched and returned the first astronauts from US soil on a trip to the ISS in nearly a decade, Biden looked forward to “leading a courageous space program that will continue to send heroes astronauts to further our exploration and science to expand limits. “
Blue Origin and Boeing officials declined to comment. SpaceX and the Trump campaign did not respond to requests for comment.
FIGHT FOR BOEING ROCKET
The Biden space group, however, disagrees on what to do with Boeing’s SLS.
The super-heavy-lift missile has suffered development delays and cost overruns, but it supports tens of thousands of jobs in Alabama and California and is viewed by supporters as central to NASA’s exploration plans and the only path to Trump’s 2024 timeline for the Artemis mission.
Critics say the rocket’s aging technology and launch cost of $ 1 billion or more per mission should prompt a formal review of the program by the White House or Congress, especially if SpaceX and Blue Origin can offer new rockets at a lower cost .
It costs only $ 90 million to fly Musk’s massive but still less powerful Falcon Heavy, and around $ 350 million per launch for Delta IV Heavy, the legacy of the United Launch Alliance.
Whether a Biden space policy would be friendlier to SLS or newer commercial alternatives from “New Space” players will be heavily influenced by his choice as NASA administrator, a role the campaign would like to take on from a woman, two people said.
NASA sees SLS as the only human-rated trip to the moon in the near future, said Doug Loverro, NASA’s former head of human spaceflight.
“But is that the long-term direction we need to take?” Loverro asked.
Reporting from Joey Roulette in Washington, DC and Eric M Johnson in Seattle; Adaptation by Greg Mitchell and Edward Tobin
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