The plan is new deficit spending Berger 8 (Brian, Space News Staff Writer, Mar 6, [www.space.com/5054-plutonium-shortage-thwart-future-nasa-missions-outer-planets.html] AD: 7-9-11, jam)
NASA’s Pluto-bound New Horizons spacecraft, for example, is powered by a radioisotope power system fueled by Russian plutonium, as will be the system that powers the Mars Science Laboratory. Though Griffin did not mention it, the U.S. Department of Energy over the winter quietly shelved long-standing plans to resume domestic production of plutonium-238. In 2005, the Department of Energy (DOE) gave public notice of its intent to consolidate the nation’s radioisotope power system activities at Idaho National Laboratory and start producing plutonium-238 there by 2011. Restarting production was projected at the time to cost $250 million and take five years. Griffin said during the hearing that the DOE’s latest estimate is that a restart would take seven years. Angela Hill, an Energy Department spokeswoman, told Space News in an e-mail that those plans are now on hold. “DOE did not request funding in 2009 for [Plutonium-238] production, since NASA has been directed to fund any new production capabilities,” Hill wrote. “Production may or may not resume based on NASA’s decision. Based on current mission plans, DOE will only continue to provide new Radioisotope Power Systems until 2015.” NASA’s 2009 budget request includes no money for re-establishing the Department of Energy’s long dormant plutonium-238 production capability.
AT: Spending Link Turn
Orion’s very expensive even if it’s cheaper than other alternatives Montgomerie 3 (Ian, professional alternate historian, Dec 31, [www.alternatehistory.com/gateway/essays/OrionProblems.html#Environmental] AD: 7-6-11, jam)
So the question is, what is that much launch capacity good for? Especially considering that Orion's main attraction is that you can fly all over the place with it - it's not just a glorified booster to orbit, especially since it can't land once it has taken off. You could do it purely for exploration, in which case you would get a lot of exploration done - but in a fairly expensive manner. It's not all that urgent to do scientific exploration of the Solar System, and few people would argue that getting lots of exploration done ASAP would be worth spending lots of time and effort on an Orion, and risking the negative side-effects. Orion is basically nothing more than a cheap per unit weight, but high in absolute cost, option that is best used to get lots of stuff off Earth with a lot of nasty side effects. It is a propulsion system, nothing more - it puts stuff into space, and into places around the solar system. Granted this would be nice, but you still have to research and then build the useful stuff, and for any continued operations in space, you have to get more stuff up there somehow to supply it. And in most applications it helps to have a lot of experience before you actually ship all the stuff into space. Orion can't carry a space program by itself - in fact the only real sense of using it is as the major lift component of a _much_ larger and more extensive space program, which has very concrete long term plans and is very prepared, in which case costs of lifting to Earth orbit aren't so high a proportion anyway, and the budget is big enough that better propulsion systems than Orion could be researched. Orion isn't a "magic bullet" that produces a cheaper better space program. It would have to be part of a space program with much greater funding than our space program historically had, within which it could save money or expand capability in very large-scale operations. Many people have suggested that the cheap (per unit weight) launch costs of an Orion could pay for themselves by spurring early commercialization of space. Unfortunately, in the 50s through 70s, the technology did not really exist to get financial return from a permanent manned presence in space. Even with the cheap launch costs of a working Orion system.
There are four methods, in general, with which a presence in space might generate financial return with known technology.
It would fail to spur satellite tech Montgomerie 3 (Ian, professional alternate historian, Dec 31, [www.alternatehistory.com/gateway/essays/OrionProblems.html#Environmental] AD: 7-6-11, jam)
Let's take a look at these, and which of them could be satisfied by an Orion program in the 70s or before. #1 is unlikely. Not only does Orion make a bad satellite launching platform (they're not the sort of thing it's best to take tens of thousands of tons of to a single orbit, all at once), but it tends to fry all unshielded satellites already in space, and the technology of the time isn't really up to making lots of profits from satellites. Satellite technology itself is simply very primitive at this point. In order to be useful as a satellite launch platform, you have to use ground-launched Orions, the biggest and dirtiest kind.
Space manufacturing is expensive Montgomerie 3 (Ian, professional alternate historian, Dec 31, [www.alternatehistory.com/gateway/essays/OrionProblems.html#Environmental] AD: 7-6-11, jam)
#2 is likewise unlikely. It would require substantial technology to be able to produce goods in space, and they would have to be returned to Earth via a non-Orion means of propulsion (Orion cannot land). This would be a very long-term project, relying mostly on non-Orion technology anyway. Technology isn't really up to it by the 70s, at least not without a huge initial investment other than Orion. As an addendum, it's historically been found to be cheaper to develop newer, better manufacturing techniques on Earth than it would have been to simply move likely-looking processes into space.