COMMENTARY: US Space Troubles – Alex Švamberk

COMMENTARY: US Space Troubles - Alex Švamberk

The repeated postponement of the launch is an embarrassment to the United States. The SLS launcher is at the heart of the Artemis program, under which the Americans are supposed to return to the moon, because the Chinese are also going there. The Artemis program should also enable a flight to Mars.

At the same time, the SLS rocket was designed from scratch to have as few problems as possible. There are no revolutionary solutions, but a bet on proven components, on engines already in use in space shuttles. So everything should work, but it doesn’t. Since last December, there have been recurring problems with controlling one of the engines, filling the rocket with propellants, hydrogen was leaking, and there were also problems with the launch pad. Due to problems with the engine last year, the first announced launch was canceled in February 2022. The other launch windows were not used, and the rocket was transported several times between the launch pad and the assembly hall.

Part of the trouble, apart from trying not to add to already high costs, is the rush. Although the rocket was first launched in the 1960s, then the spacecraft was launched into Earth orbit, where all the difficult maneuvers were tested, now it is different. The first flight of the Artemis I mission is to orbit the Moon.

It represents an attempt not to allow the Chinese to gain an upper hand in space. In this year’s State of the Space Industry Base study, the Pentagon warned that China is working hard to become a dominant “economic, diplomatic and military” force in space by 2045. While the US space industry is growing, it is growing even faster in China, which “requires urgent action.”

China is attacking us in space, and the Pentagon is sounding the alarm


The main problem, however, is the non-conceptuality of the American space program, which pays for changes in the priorities of the political leadership. After a successful moon landing, in the 1970s, the US focused on building an orbital station and building space shuttles. However, after their elimination, the Americans did not have a suitable carrier to carry astronauts to the ISS orbital station, and for ten years they relied on the Russian Soyuz. This has already been resolved, but the loss of capacity is noticeable.

Although George Bush Jr. decided already at the beginning of the millennium about the return of the Americans to the moon, his successor Barack Obama canceled the constellation program. The Orion spacecraft under development has been transferred to the new Artemis program, prepared under the Obama administration and approved by his successor, Donald Trump. However, the development of the SLS rocket, described as super-heavy, although weaker than the Saturn V from the Apollo lunar program, has been delayed. In its current version, it will carry 95 tons of cargo into low orbit, while the Saturn V could carry up to 140 tons.

Space programs are a long-term process, and their implementation is longer than two mandates of the American president. Because of the distant goals, they are not a priority for politicians, because the voters are not so interested in what will happen in 15 years, when more current problems will be unresolved. Totalitarian countries don’t need to worry about that, which is not a defense against dictatorships.

However, the problems are not only in space research itself. As the Ronald Reagan Institute warned this year, the United States lacks skilled workers, which threatens the United States’ ability to counter security challenges from China. Although it focused on defense, space programs are closely related to that. By 2030, the institute says, “two million new or skilled workers will be needed in strategic manufacturing sectors to address the critical skills gap in the current workforce.” The industry does not attract young people anywhere, and few people are interested in working in the positions of middle managers and engineers in production. The problem is also that during globalization, many parts of the production important for defense, and therefore the aerospace industry, were moved to countries with cheaper labor for economic reasons, but now these components and experts Missing.

If the West does not want to play second fiddle, it has to do something about it, because it is not only about the reputation of sending people to the moon, but about maintaining a major technological dominance over non-democratic countries . With modern technology operating, democracy is more attractive.

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