Space Bloat

Read this article The Lunacy of Artemis – and weep.

The above picture1 is an artist’s rendering of the SpaceX HLS, with HLS meaning “Human Landing System”. The Apollo Lunar Module is added for comparison.

The picture tells the whole story, which also extends to the rest of the whole planned machinery and infrastructure to land on the moon.

Just focusing on one element here, the lunar lander, quoting the article (emphasis mine):

The SpaceX HLS design is based on their experimental Starship spacecraft, an enormous rocket that takes off on and lands on its tail, like 1950’s sci-fi. There is a strong “emperor’s new clothes” vibe to this design. On the one hand, it is the brainchild of brilliant SpaceX engineers and passed NASA technical review. On the other hand, the lander seems to go out of its way to create problems for itself to solve with technology.

To start with the obvious, HLS looks more likely to tip over than the last two spacecraft to land on the moon, which tipped over. It is a fifteen story tower that must land on its ass in terrible lighting conditions, on rubble of unknown composition, over a light-second from Earth. The crew are left suspended so high above the surface that they need a folding space elevator (not the cool kind) to get down. And yet in the end this single-use lander carries less payload (both up and down) than the tiny Lunar Module on Apollo 17. Using Starship to land two astronauts on the moon is like delivering a pizza with an aircraft carrier.

Amusingly, the sheer size of the SpaceX design leaves it with little room for cargo. The spacecraft arrives on the Moon laden with something like 200 tons of cryogenic propellant, and like a fat man leaving an armchair, it needs every drop of that energy to get its bulk back off the surface.

Bloat in space.

  1. Picture credit: from the linked article. ↩︎