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  •  Cool, but not remotely feasible. (0+ / 0-)

    I remember vividly how exciting it was to read Gerard K. O'Neill's fantastic proposal for self-sustaining space colonies using Space Shuttle technology. It all seemed so eminently feasible. Except that it wasn't! It was based on insanely optimistic extrapolations of Shuttle operating costs and efficiencies, which turned out to be literally orders of magnitude away from reality.

    This Skylon project is equally unrealistic.
    The NASA "national aerospace plane" design attempt had very similar goals and used a similar reusable single-stage-to-orbit flight profile. It suffered repeated catastrophic failures of its composite fuel tank in testing of a sub-scale version. Extremely low structural weight through use of cutting edge composites were essential to its potential feasibility. Incremental changes to make the tank stronger ate relentlessly into deliverable payload until it reached zero, ending the entire project. Inadequate funding exacerbated the intractable technical problems.

    This "Skylon" system has all the same insurmountable technical challenges the NASP had, and more besides because of unfortunate design choices. Its long slender shape guarantees higher dry structural weight than the more compact and efficient NASP design. The engines are insanely complex. Moreover, the location of the engines at the wingtips, coupled with that long slender shape and the tiny control surfaces, guarantees that an engine failure will instantly lead to catastrophic yaw forces and structural failure.

    We are at least 20 years of steady, generous research funding and serial testing away from a workable craft like this. And that presumes everything works perfectly. Past history suggests otherwise.

    •  Ralphdog: The NASP, as well as other... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Ralphdog

      ... HTHL vehicles have consistently come up short due to all of the reasons you site. And you may be correct in your other constructive criticisms of the Skylon vehicle.

      However, my attitude is that yeah, the engine technology is way advanced, etc., but at least things are progressing along, albeit at a snail's pace.

      If NMSTARG ever does attract the attention of investors, we hope to eliminate one of the major, if not the major barrier to any successful space adventure: funding. We hope to accelerate the design and production of these new technologies, or at least discover any design flaws and move on to something else.

      After all, the same kinds of things were said in 1959 when we were trying to design the Saturn V. The fundamental technologies were there, but it still took a huge effort and many years to reach fruition. I'm sure the space planes will follow the same track.

      Thanks for the informative comment.

      Reuse and commonality are the keys to a robust and profitable space program.

      by The NM STAR Group on Sun Sep 09, 2012 at 12:53:11 PM PDT

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      •  Don't get me wrong, with enough money this is... (0+ / 0-)

        a solvable problem. Advanced composites have made a lot of progress since the 1980s, and the NASP project was always grossly underfunded. It had many attractive features, and starting from a clean sheet of paper with the advantage of another 20 years of technology...

        But the money's the thing. I cannot imagine any conceivable collection of investors signing on to fully fund such a project all the way to commercial success. You're talking somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 billion to fully fund something this complex. Even Larry Ellison & Bill Gates can't afford that kind of price.

        Personally, I would love to see the U.S Navy scrapping half their aircraft carriers, which are increasingly outdated missile magnets, and the money invested instead a new NASP project, with the emphasis on simplicity and practical feasibility.

        •  RalphDog: Amen to that! As a guy... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Ralphdog

          ... who used to fly backseat in Navy jets off of aircraft carriers, I have to wholeheartedly agree with scrapping a few carriers to pay for a viable space program. We don't need more than 2 or 3 carriers anyway; get rid of the rest and funnel the money into space!

          As I've always said, the most important equation in all of astronautics is the funding equation. Solve that, and you can go to the moon!

          Reuse and commonality are the keys to a robust and profitable space program.

          by The NM STAR Group on Sun Sep 09, 2012 at 04:29:24 PM PDT

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          •  There ya go. (0+ / 0-)

            I could be wrong, but my understanding is that 20 years ago a U.S. carrier task force was essentially immune to effective attack from air/surface, as the E-2/F-14/Phoenix system along with attack assets made it unlikely that any opposing surface or air threats would ever get close enough to do any harm. Submarines of course are another matter.

            Nowadays the Navy has retired the F-14/Phoenix force, replacing it with the much slower, shorter-legged, overweight AF-18 equipped with a much shorter-ranged missile armament. So the carriers are far more vulnerable to air or anti-ship missile attack, just when new generation Russian anti-ship missiles have become genuinely lethal. It makes no sense to keep fielding a huge fleet of these things when they're becoming so vulnerable.

            •  RalphDog: That is correct. When I was in,... (0+ / 0-)

              ... I was a Sensor Operator (Anti-Submarine) aboard the S-3A Viking. So I know first hand the vulnerabilities of aircraft carriers, and how submarines made the carrier group obsolete.

              I remember the fleet sailing in formation, everyone right on the horizon, in a circle around the carrier, just like they did during WWII. It made for a perfect bullseye of the carrier from a satellite's point of view.

              Old school thinking is what sets us back.

              Good catch.

              Reuse and commonality are the keys to a robust and profitable space program.

              by The NM STAR Group on Sun Sep 09, 2012 at 05:18:24 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  I've read that the Viking was so efficient and.... (0+ / 0-)

                reliable that the Navy should have built two or three times as many, rather than sinking billions into far less useful things. Instead the insufficient number built were used until they were used up.

                But despite its virtues I still get the impression that it would not be that difficult for a quiet modern submarine to get within torpedo range of a carrier group.

                •  RalphDog: It used to piss me off when I ... (0+ / 0-)

                  ... couldn't find the sub during the flight sims. I stormed into my CPO's office and asked what the hell am I supposed to do in the real world? Here's what he said:

                  Don't worry. The sub has to come up to launch it's nuclear strike, so we'll get him them. Unbelievable. I told him that it's too late by then. He shrugged.

                  Subs can take out the world; take it from a former sub-hunter.

                  And yes, the S-3 was a pretty decent aircraft, and would have served the USN well in greater numbers.

                  Always good talking with you, RalphDog!

                  Reuse and commonality are the keys to a robust and profitable space program.

                  by The NM STAR Group on Mon Sep 10, 2012 at 05:00:15 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Thanks much. I was a war-gamer and military... (0+ / 0-)

                    history nut in school, so it's always a privilege to hear from folks who aren't just guessing but truly know.
                    I can still vividly recall a good friend who was a gentle soul and a real pacifist, yet he joined the Navy ROTC program and spent a summer in Marine boot camp in California. He came back a changed and somber person. He was tasked with being the squad machine gunner. We asked him how it went. He thought for a long minute and then said..."Those things...they could really hurt someone."

                    Best wishes.

      •  Too much engineering (0+ / 0-)

        There is a problem with what you are talking about - you are focused on the idea that the engineering is the problem - that we don't have the technology to do cheap spaceflight.  

        But achieving cheap spaceflight isn't a matter of just technology - there are many other pieces to this.  

        For example - why SSTO?  

        •  FerrisValyn: Engineering is not my main... (0+ / 0-)

          ... focus. I've always said that the most important equation in all of rocketry is the funding equation.

          No bucks, no Buck Rogers.

          That's not to say that I don't have a focus on engineering. I do. This diary series is about describing a credible path to a sustainable space program, so engineering details are, I hope, in order.

          Granted, there are many other pieces to the puzzle, even beyond funding and engineering. We've had spaceflight technology in it's present form now for about half a century. We're still flinging them into space the same way we've always done it.

          There's nothing wrong with that. I say that if that's what we're going to do, then by gosh, let's do it and quit farting around. Of course, that leads us right back to the funding equation.

          As far as SSTO, IMHO, a vibrant space program can only occur if flight operations and infrastructure assembly is as simple and easy as possible. With the Skylon, there are no expensive launch towers to have to build and rebuild after every launch, turnaround time is incredibly short, etc.

          Expendables are thrown away; even if is cheaper to do it this way for now, it is unsustainable in the long run. I don't have numbers to back up what I'm saying; this is, again, just IMHO. But I'm sure that the lines on the graph cross at some point in the (relatively) near future.

          Wow. That's the longest comment I've ever written. Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I would be curious as to what you think about all this. I'm going to click the links in your sig line.

          Reuse and commonality are the keys to a robust and profitable space program.

          by The NM STAR Group on Mon Sep 10, 2012 at 05:19:13 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Re: (0+ / 0-)

            Funding is the wrong way to think about the problem.  To merely say no bucks, no Buck Rogers does, IMHO, miss a larger point.  Its about how to get society to much more actively use space than we do currently.  This pushes you towards not funding, but market creation, space development, and so forth.  

            In many respects, we have a sustainable space program.  But that does not mean its a useful space program.  And that has to be teased out.  And we have to make it useful for everyone, and make it relavent to their day to day life.  Whether they are a single African-American mom in Detroit, a potato farmer in Idaho, a life-guard in California, or whoever.  

            (Sorry if I seem all over the map - I know I am coming in mid stream, but as you'll see after reading my stuff, you'll find I am an old hand at space at Dailykos, although its been a while since I posted.  I now actually work in the space industry, and so I no longer have the ability & time to post like I did a few years ago).

            But lets go back to the SSTO, and your justification, which has some important points

            As far as SSTO, IMHO, a vibrant space program can only occur if flight operations and infrastructure assembly is as simple and easy as possible. With the Skylon, there are no expensive launch towers to have to build and rebuild after every launch, turnaround time is incredibly short, etc.
            There is a lot of good points in here, but they are also mixed in with some assumptions that are questionable.  

            Where you are on the bullseye is the issue of operations and infrastructure assembly.  You need that as simple and easy as possible.  And your comments about needing to rebuild ground infrastructure is also right, and turn around time.  

            But that doesn't mean you HAVE to have an SSTO.  Its arguable that an SSTO would be ideal.  But why wouldn't an orbital vehicle developed around SpaceShipOne also minimize the key pieces as well?  Yes, 2 stages increases complexity, but it decreases the technical difficulty needed via the SSTO route.  

            Also, lets be clear - an SSTO does NOT imply reusablility.  The original Atlas was pretty close to an SSTO, but it wasn't reusable.  And there have been some interesting proposals/thought experiments around the issue of SSTOs.  

            We'll leave the discussion about reusability for another day.
             

            •  FarrisValyn: I had in mind the Apollo... (0+ / 0-)

              ... program when I mention the funding equation. The lesson of Apollo was this: throw money at the problem!

              LM behind schedule? Throw money at it to get it back on schedule. LM too heavy? Here's more money to lighten it. The CSM is a piece of garbage? Throw money at it, and you get a redesigned and better CSM (even one with an explosive hatch!). Etc., etc.

              So after seeing all of this happen, I started thinking that money must be pretty important to a space program.

              Space is already useful to the regular American; they just don't know it because of the poor job NASA does of communicating that.

              As far as buy in goes, IMHO, the Apollo lunar landings had a HUGE buy in from the public. Of course, that was because of the daredevil thrills that audiences seek, but still.

              I may have been unclear on the SSTO thing; I should have said a reusable SSTO. I agree, that not all SSTO's are reusable. Sorry about that.

              As a matter of fact, my original idea called for a reusable TSTO shuttle, with a separate launch vehicle and a shuttle riding piggy back, just like they wanted back in the late '60s and early '70s. I had hoped to lift 29,484kg along with 12 passengers!

              But, this required a VAB, a complicated launch tower (the matted vehicle would be towed to the launch pad, then erected). On top of that, there is nothing in the pipeline that even comes close to that.

              Then I discovered the Skylon.

              So even though it has less capability, flight ops would be a snap! By simplifying flight ops, that makes the whole space program more robust.

              Thanks for the comments. I find this really very interesting. I hope we can continue the discussion...

              Reuse and commonality are the keys to a robust and profitable space program.

              by The NM STAR Group on Tue Sep 11, 2012 at 08:38:27 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  part 1 (0+ / 0-)

                I am breaking this into 2 parts (makes more sense to me)

                If there is one thing I've learned, its that you can't try and recreate Apollo - nor should you.  

                Further the "throw more money at the problem" only works if you have that kind of political support, and that doesn't not ever last permanently.  Therefore, you've got to create situations that will keep the program on budget and on time.  

                In short - yes funding and money is pretty important, but just saying "we need more money" or even "we need more money because this is important and I'll tell you why" isn't really dealing with the issue.

                Space is already useful to the regular American; they just don't know it because of the poor job NASA does of communicating that.
                FULL STOP!!  First, and this is can be a subtle point, but its damn important.  NASA does not equal Space, and vice versa.  Therefore, its not NASA's job of communicating the importance of space.  Arguably, they should be about communicating why NASA is important, but that brings us to the next point.  
                As far as buy in goes, IMHO, the Apollo lunar landings had a HUGE buy in from the public. Of course, that was because of the daredevil thrills that audiences seek, but still.
                When I say make it useful for everyone, that doesn't mean better explaining spinoffs, or explaining how we are a nation of explorers (that, IMHO, is nice sound word salad crap).  What I mean is you have to make and create users of space.  If the US decided to shut down NASA tomorrow, its arguable as to whether we'd see astronauts flying anytime soon.  But that would have NO impact on the number of launches going on, because the Comm sat industry (and other satellite users) have a broad user community.  We have to do the same.  Buy in doesn't mean a pr campaign.  It means creating users.  And those users need to see a use that actively NEEDS space, not a nice side benefit (which is why I get so annoyed at the whole spinoff argument - you can't do communication satellites without space, but you can do heart pumps without space).
              •  Part 2 (0+ / 0-)

                I separated these 2 points into separate posts, because I felt it would get overly long, and the points were worth separating.  

                You are right to focus on the issue of simplifying flight ops, but you are again jumping ahead with assumptions of how a particular vehicle profile requires a particular ground op.  

                For example - why assume a Two-Stage To Orbit Has to have a tower, and be vertically integrated?  Why not have a TSTO that is horizontally integrated, and takes off and lands like a plane ( like SpaceShipOne/WhiteknightOne).

                As another - why assume that a vertical system (whether SSTO or TSTO) requires all the systems you laid out?  

                Finally - I would not consider Skylon as being anywhere close and in the pipeline.  

                Vehicles close and in the pipeline are things like the Lynx, SS2, Dragon, DreamChaser, CST-100, and so on.  

                •  FerrisValyn: Wow, you really know your stuff! (0+ / 0-)

                  I concede that NASA is more than just space; it was a sloppy way of describing the Apollo program.

                  I (finally) see the difference you are making between a consumer of space technology and a user of space technology. I took it as meaning the same word. Very intriguing idea; I would be curious as to what ideas you have on that.

                  I look at the satellite industry separately from human endeavors. I guess it's because, like you said, they will go on no matter what happens to NASA, so it's almost like that problem is already solved.

                  I assumed that HTHL TSTO spacecraft would be too heavy to lift off, so it's not that it wasn't considered. Of course, a VTVL SSTO like the old Douglas Aircraft S.A.S.S.T.O design would have been nice, but again, nothing like that is even being remotely considered (except on a smaller scale).

                  But every design we considered did not meet the lift capability that we required (14,742 kg inside a 4.57 x 9.14 m cargo hold). Yes, we considered the Dragon, Dream Chaser, the CST-100, etc. But like it says in the diary, the lift capability is just not adequate (6,000 kg). Also, the turnaround time I'm sure is a few weeks, most still need launch tower infrastructure to operate, etc.

                  When I first saw the WhiteKnight, I was excited, until I read the lift capability. Believe me, we wanted to use these spacecraft, but for what we intend on doing with them, they just didn't measure up.

                  As far as the Skylon goes, I have looked at many designs, and this is the closest that we have come to fulfilling our wish-list.

                  Of course, being part of a reality-based community like DKos, I know where the flaws in my plans are. The SABRE engine hasn't even been built; and yet a major milestone was passed with the successful tests of their air condenser. They may have trouble with their heat shield technology after all; that was supposed to have been solved already.

                  Then there's the question of continued funding, and once again, we're right back to money.

                  IMHO, if we threw money at the Skylon problem, in exactly the same way we threw money at the Apollo problem, it would be solved, and in a short amount of time. Problem solved!

                  This is the reason I am so focused on the almighty dollar. Of course, solid engineering, great ideas, capable employees, etc. are ALL important. But without the bucks, rockets are going no where.

                  The satellite industry I believe proves my point. They have the bucks, so they get to launch.

                  My hope is that we attract investors with our ideas, and then we approach the Skylon folks with the funds that they need to complete their program.

                  I know that money will not solve intractable engineering problems; however, from what I can see with the approach the Skylon people are using, I think it would be a great investment.

                  I always enjoy our discussions.

                  Reuse and commonality are the keys to a robust and profitable space program.

                  by The NM STAR Group on Wed Sep 12, 2012 at 05:00:26 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Old hand at space (0+ / 0-)

                    As I said, I am an old hand at space on Dkos

                    Full disclosure - I work in space policy everyday, and was classicly trained as an aerospace engineer (although, as I said, I work on space policy these days).

                    Before I start, let me ask the question - how are you looking for funding?  From private equity?  Government?  Who and how?

                    I concede that NASA is more than just space; it was a sloppy way of describing the Apollo program.
                    The reverse is also true - Space is more than NASA.  Which pushes to the point about user vs consumer.
                    I look at the satellite industry separately from human endeavors. I guess it's because, like you said, they will go on no matter what happens to NASA, so it's almost like that problem is already solved.
                    The answer to the question of ideas for user vs consumer can be found in examining the history of the comm sat industry.  Specifically, go back and look at the history of IntelSat, and PanAmSat, and the like.  Related to that, look up a book called Selling Peace, by Jeff Manber.  Also watch Orphans of Apollo.  

                    In short, the key thing to learn is how to commercialize manned spaceflight - that is what happened with comm sats.  Or, at a minimum, commercialize things that require frequent space access.

                    Which brings me to the issue of design of the vehicle.

                    First, why assume that an HTHL TSTO would be too heavy?  In point of fact there have been more than a few attempts at doing so.  Further, I know of at least 1 credible company that is moving towards that (the company is public, and if I say the name, you'll know em).  And how do you know what Armadillo or Blue Origin or Masten are considering for vehicles?  Yes, their first gen vehicles are suborbital, but this will be an iteriteve development process, that probably will not get to the level of access we need in the first vehicle.  

                    Which brings me back to the very first question I asked in this post - who's funding and how?  If its private funding, well, you pick which one you want, and you go fund it.  IMHO, despite the flashy claims offerred by Skylon, I'd actually start small and build up, because it allows you to build a track record, a knowledge base, and a lessons learned system.  

                    If on the other hand, it is public money, then what needs to be discussed is the what and how that money is being spent.  Because, given what you said, I suspect you wouldn't have a problem with the idea of giving NASA the project, and then fully funding it.  

                    The problem is we've tried to develop cheap space access purely from a "develop this technology, and we'll get cheap access."  We have had at least 3 attempts to develop cheap access, and the problem is we locked ourselves into a singular design and singular "wonder technology" that would "solve all of our problems."  The shuttle was going to provide cheap access because it was reusable.  The NASP was going to provide cheap access because it had air-breathing engines.  VentureStar was going to because it was an SSTO.  See a pattern emerging?  

                    What we need is to develop a reason or series of reasons to send lots of things into space, and then get MULTIPLE teams working on cheap access, and get them funded in a way that always pushes toward cheaper and more robust access (reason I am a huge fan of Commercial Crew)

                    •  FarrisValyn: I hope to attract...... (0+ / 0-)

                      ... the attention of investors. Then the paper I'm writing morphs into the technical portion of a space-related business plan.

                      Of course, if the feds want to do it, then by all means...

                      The reason that I can't start incrementally (small then work my way up) is because I need to be able to launch 14,742 kg immediately. The Dragon can only do 6,000 kg. The White Knight is even less.

                      We hope to develop a LEO station, a lunar orbit station, a lunar base, and all the assorted vehicles needed. We cannot do these things 6 tonnes or less at a time. Like I said earlier, the original requirement had called for 29,484 kg!

                      We hope to extract a commodity on the moon that currently has a value of about $5,000 USD per carat. We can show that we can bring back over 13,000 kg on our first trip alone (that's over $325B USD). We hope to bring back a steady amount, which of course, will make the price eventually drop. We estimate it will settle to around $70 per carat, or about the price of gold. So for the same 13,000 kg per year, that's $3.5B USD per year. Doubling, or even tripling that would be no problemo.

                      I'm being intentionally vague, because I wanted to first build our credibility with this diary series. Once we do that, then our idea may not sound so crazy.

                      All that hardware in space is also needed because of the other revenue streams that will open up as well, such as the satellite launching business. We would launch sats piecemeal, then assemble it in LEO, and place it in its proper orbit (all the way to GEO).

                      Space tourism comes into play as well, in that we can sell half the Skylon seats to millionaire passengers for a week in space.

                      Again, none of this is possible unless I can have a fairly heavy lift capability. I wish I could get 29,484 kg, but I'll settle for 14,742 kg. Anything less, and our plan crumbles.

                      Reuse and commonality are the keys to a robust and profitable space program.

                      by The NM STAR Group on Fri Sep 14, 2012 at 04:11:58 PM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

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