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by Marcel F. Williams

With the end of the Space Shuttle era, there has been much focus on the emerging commercial crew industry in America with the hope that these vehicles will be ready to transport humans into orbit by the middle of the decade. However, by law, NASA's new SLS (Space Launch System) must also be capable of launching humans into orbit and beyond while also serving as a backup system for delivering crew and cargo to the ISS if such missions cannot be met by the private commercial crew companies.

It has generally been assumed that the crew launch vehicle derived from a shuttle space launch system (SLS) will simply be composed of an inline LOX/LH2 rocket coupled with two 4-segment or 5-segment solid rocket boosters (SRBs). Such a system would be capable of carrying a 20 tonne Orion-MPCV (Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle) to LEO plus perhaps an additional 40 to 50 tonnes of payload to orbit.

However, without an upper stage (US), such a crew launch vehicle would have very limited beyond LEO capabilities.

SLSBut with an upper stage, a crewed SLS should be capable of transporting the 20 tonne Orion plus an additional 10 to 20 tonnes of payload practically anywhere within cis-lunar space (the Lagrange points: L1, L2, L4, and L5 and lunar orbit). And as an unmanned vehicle, the SLS could eventually evolve into a system that could carry as much as 200 tonnes to LEO and 80 tonnes to L1 if it utilized up to four 5-segment SRBs plus and upper stage.

SLS traditional

Right: crew launch vehicle with two 4-segment SRBs capable of transporting the Orion-MPCV to LEO ; left: crew launch vehicle with two 4-segment SRBs plus and upper stage (US) capable of transporting the Orion-MPCV anywhere within cis-lunar space

However, as a crew launch system could be much simpler, safer, and cheaper to operate if the SLS was launched without the SRBs. The only fatal crew launch accident ever to occur during the Space Shuttle era was due to a malfunction in the SRBs O-ring that allowed how gases and plumes to critically damage the adjacent cryogenically fueled external tank; the subsequent explosion destroyed the vessel and killed the crew. So in a new launch system, crew safety has to be a priority.

SLS crew

Shuttle derived LOX/LH2 core vehicle capable of launching a 20 tonne Orion-MPCV with a stretched SM with 8 to 9 tonnes of extra hypergolic fuel to LEO

A stretched shuttle derived LOX/LH2 without SRBs could send the Orion capsule to LEO by simply using the hypergolic fueled Service Module (SM) as an upper stage. An additional 8 to 9 tonnes of hypergolic fuel in a stretched SM with could transport 20 tonnes to LEO. Boeing Inc. has already conceived such a SLS derived crew launch vehicle without the SRBs.

SLS CREW and HLV

Left: Cis-lunar crew launch vehicle, center: HLV cargo vehicle using two 4-segment SRBs, right: HLV cargo vehicle using three LOX/LH2 core vehicles

However, a stretched shuttle derived core vehicle with a large upper stage-- but still without SRBs-- could transport the 20 tonne Orion MPCV anywhere within cis-lunar space. If the upper stage is equipped with multiple RL-10 engines then the crew launch vehicle would have uber-safe engine-out capability in both first and second stages. This would allow NASA conduct simpler and safer manned cis-lunar missions to L1, L2, L4, L5, and lunar orbit almost immediately after the SLS becomes operational in 2016. And NASA is required by law to define near term manned missions for the SLS within cis-lunar space.

Orion 1

Orion-MPCV on cis-lunar mission to lunar orbit

Coupled with SRBs, the SLS would be the only vehicle capable of deploying the largest 65 tonne plus Bigelow space stations (BA-2100) to LEO or sending the smaller 25 tonne water shielded Bigelow space stations (BA 330) to the Lagrange points. While such Lagrange point space stations would still have too little shielding to provide astronauts with adequate protection against galactic radiation and especially potentially brain damaging heavy nuclei beyond a few weeks time, such stations would still contain enough water shielding to protect astronauts from the dangers of a major solar event.

As an orbital crew launch vehicle, the two stage LOX/LH2 vehicle might be capable of transporting the 20 tonne Orion plus 30 to 40 tonnes of payload to LEO. While this might seem like overkill, it should be remembered that transporting humans to an orbital space station requires more than just transporting the human body. Every human requires nearly one tonne of water, oxygen, and food per month in order to survive in space.

Once Americans return to the Moon again (which should still be NASA's priority, IMO), it has been suggested that a reusable LOX/LH2 lunar lander be developed that utilizes fuel mined from the lunar poles. Such a lunar transportation system would be able to transport humans and cargo from the lunar surface to L1 and back. This would greatly simplify and reduce the cost of sending humans to and from the lunar surface. And such a simpler and safer SLS combined with a reusable lunar shuttle might be very attractive to private commercial spaceflight companies seeking to expand the emerging space tourism industry all the way to the lunar surface.

Reference:

Deriving Economically Sustainable Crew Launch Vehicles from the SLS

http://newpapyrusmagazine.blogspot.com/...
 

Originally posted to newpapyrus on Tue Jul 12, 2011 at 07:57 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

Poll

The primary mission for NASA's next space launch system should be to:

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| 344 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  Why don't they just start using the (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ed in Montana, chimpy

    Titan IV-B rockets again?

    This comment may not be reproduced or excerpted on other sites without my express written permission.

    by psilocynic on Tue Jul 12, 2011 at 08:05:41 PM PDT

  •  I Live In A Rural Area (19+ / 0-)

    I also live near a huge, huge Air Force base. I think it was 1983. The Challenger landed there. Our school went on a field trip to see it. To say us kids were in awe would be an understatement.

    Just a few years later our entire school went to the gym to  watch the Challenger, well you know what happened. People my parents age can recall where they were when MLK or JFK was shot.

    I can recall the exact time when the Challenger ceased to be. As a kid I recall the coolest thing in the world being going into space. I wonder if anybody even cares at this point.

    When opportunity calls pick up the phone and give it directions to your house.

    by webranding on Tue Jul 12, 2011 at 08:08:21 PM PDT

    •  hell yeah we care. cosmic darwinism. (11+ / 0-)

      Natural selection isn't confined to single planets any more than to single ecosystems on planets.  Organisms improve their odds and demonstrate fitness by expanding into new niches.

      Five billion years from now the Sun will explode.  Between now and then we can count on large object impacts and caldera eruptions.   Going to Mars and then going interstellar, is the way to keep passing the tests of natural selection on the cosmic scale.

      As soon as we go interstellar, Earth-originated life and memes are practically guaranteed to continue until the end of the known universe.

      And every step we take into space now is a step in that direction.  Ultimately that's why it matters.

      •  Jumping through narrow gap (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Athenian, G2geek

        Five billion years is way too many Congressional funding cycles away. Mass extinction events can come any day, like you mention, and those are what might spur us to action. People at large might not be used to the idea of evading a threat instead of confronting it, but really, the best way not to get killed by something is to be somewhere else. If it's phrased not as quitting our homelands, but instead of expanding into new territories, that might be understandable.

        But, even without the external threats, and way before the sun runs out of hydrogen, we're going to run out of dead dinosaurs. We've got a few decades, where we can succeed or fail to build a new economy before the old fossil fuel one sputters out. At least for the near-term, getting a crew to LEO burns the equivalent of a few hundred tons of coal in a few seconds. That's the gap we've got to make it through, and probably soon if ever.

        Why is there a Confederate Flag flying in Afghanistan?

        by chimpy on Wed Jul 13, 2011 at 09:39:38 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  I felt the same in the 60's (4+ / 0-)

      and have watched every launch possible since then.  My dad died in 1960, but was an aeronautical engineer working for a precursor to LTV, so my family was always attuned to those things.  

      One of our sons is a software engineer contracted to NASA now - I think his grandfather would approve.  ;)

      The truth always matters.

      by texasmom on Wed Jul 13, 2011 at 08:43:47 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I realize the drawings are simple, (5+ / 0-)

    but what are the manned capablities of the Orion in regard to mission length? I thought Orion would take us to LEO and possibly lunar orbit? And is Mars or any extra-earth transit possible in a lift vehicle with such a small payload? It took Apollo, the most powerful and complex machine ever built, just to collect a few hundred punds of rock and dust.

    I believe a return trip to the moon would serve us better.

    "Wealthy the Spirit which knows its own flight. Stealthy the Hunter who slays his own fright. Blessed is the Traveler who journeys the length of the Light."

    by CanisMaximus on Tue Jul 12, 2011 at 08:15:35 PM PDT

    •  orion (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      G2geek, texasmom, chimpy, Seamus D

      The Orion vehicle can be launched to LEO or to lunar orbit, but the vehicle itself would only have enough hypergolic fuel to return the command module back to Earth. 

      The SLS with an upper stage could easily send the 20 tonne Orion into orbit around Mars. However, in order to protect the human brain from the harmful effects of radiaton from heavy galactic nuclei, several hundred tonnes of mass shielding would be required. And this extra weight would make it almost impossible to use SLS to send astronauts to Mars. 

      Marcel Williams

      •  For Mars... (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        texasmom, newpapyrus, Seamus D, chimpy

        you'd need to build some sort of larger transit vehicle in orbit. Both for the reason you gave, and also to make the trip feasible in many other ways (adequate supplies, more room to move around (for psychological reasons), fuel for the return trip, etc). I don't think I'd want to be stuck in an Orion for several years.

        •  You'd also probably want it to be nuclear powered, (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Dude1701, chimpy

          possibly with a Liquid Salt Thorium Reactor with Ion engines (VASIMIR) to cut the transit time to something manageable. The living space could be based on a Bigelow inflatable design for extra space and convenience. Maybe sometime in the mid-30s if the global economy still exists in a recognizable form.

          Cheers

          We spend money we don't have on things we don't need to create impressions that won't last on people we don't care about. Tim Jackson

          by Athenian on Wed Jul 13, 2011 at 07:32:54 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Light Sail (4+ / 0-)

            A 10 kilometer in diameter (100 square kilometer in area) light sail would probably be able to transport more than 2000 tonnes to Mars in less than a year if it opertaed between Earth-Lunar L1 and high Mars orbit which only requires a delta-v budget of about 1.7 km/s. A 10 kilometer light sail plus structural supports should weigh less than 100 or 200 tonnes with the latest materials that we have.

            So a light sail should be able to transport heavily radiation shielded manned spacecraft to Mars without using any fuel at all. And it would also be a reusable spacecraft.  

            Marcel F. Williams

            •  Yes but it would still be slow. Ideal perhaps for (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              chimpy, Seamus D

              pre-positioning material and supplies before a high-speed manned ship makes the trip.

              I swear I had not seen this before I wrote my comment above:

              Other applications for VASIMR such as the rapid transportation of people to Mars would require a very high power, low mass energy source, such as a nuclear reactor (see nuclear electric rocket). NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said that VASIMR technology could be the breakthrough technology that would reduce the travel time on a Mars mission from months to days.[17]

              17 Morring, Frank (2010). "Commercial Route". Aviation Week & Space Technology (McGraw Hill) 172 (6): 20–23.

              Wiki.

              Oh and sorry for misspelling VASIMR.

              Cheers

              We spend money we don't have on things we don't need to create impressions that won't last on people we don't care about. Tim Jackson

              by Athenian on Wed Jul 13, 2011 at 09:10:32 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Nuclear plasma rocket (0+ / 0-)

                An 80 day round trip to Mars still won't solve the problem of exposing the the human brain to heavy nuclei. Plus, I don't think a nuclear rocket could make it to Mars in 39 days.

                Zubrin is calling the VASMIR a hoax:

                http://spaceandearthsciencearticles.blogspot.com/...

                Marcel F. Williams

                •  80 days (0+ / 0-)

                  That's pretty fast.  To attain speeds that will get a craft to Mars in 39 days would require quite a bit of energy.  Then  there is the problem of breaking (that is if a landing is desired).  Even if no landing, breaking would certainly be necessary to slingshot around and return - with more energy necessary to re-accelerate.  Lots of engineering problems will need to be overcome by people much, much smarter than I.

                  My prediction is that a manned mission to Mars is still about 100 years off.  I don't see that we have any serious intention, at this time, of doing such a thing.

                  •  I would think accelleration (0+ / 0-)

                    would be a problem on the human body.  I don't have the calculations, but I would be willing to bet that the rocket would have to be accelerating/decelerating more than 9.8m/s.

                    That would be hard on the crew.

                    Which is good news for John McCain.

                    by AppleP on Wed Jul 13, 2011 at 05:31:59 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

        •  I think something along the lines (5+ / 0-)

          of the "Mars First" approach is the only safe, viable way. That is, send the return vehicle first, unmanned and have it use the atmosphere to make it's own return fuel. Launch a manned vehicle only after the return vehicle is confirmed to be ready to go.

          That can reduce the heavy lift requirements significantly and take a great deal of risk out of the venture.

          "Who is John Galt?" A two dimensional character in a third rate novel

          by Inventor on Wed Jul 13, 2011 at 08:41:29 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Pre-position a few backups, too (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            leftyboy666, Seamus D

            A storm can take out a single pre-delivered return ship while the crew ship is in transit. If regular missions are planned, it doesn't add that much to keep one or two missions ahead with the returns.

            If the traffic volume warrants, the venture could even come out ahead by sharing one permanent fuel generation plant over several deliveries of return ships.

            Why is there a Confederate Flag flying in Afghanistan?

            by chimpy on Wed Jul 13, 2011 at 09:44:21 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

    •  Orion was designed for a 6 month mission (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      chimpy, Wino, Seamus D

      Stay in orbit around the moon while the crew plays on the surface. That drove a lot of redundancy.


      In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice; but in practice, there always is a difference. - Yogi Berra

      by blue aardvark on Wed Jul 13, 2011 at 06:16:06 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Can we convert Saturn V thrust to something (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dragon5616, JeffW, chimpy

    that can lift very large payloads?

    "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." --M. L. King "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White

    by zenbassoon on Tue Jul 12, 2011 at 08:28:33 PM PDT

    •  Skylab, 1970s (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      zenbassoon, Dragon5616, JeffW, chimpy

      Government and laws are the agreement we all make to secure everyone's freedom.

      by Simplify on Tue Jul 12, 2011 at 08:57:47 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Supposedly the plans for the Saturn... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      zenbassoon, chimpy

      ...were lost or destroyed.

      Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight! Clean Coal Is A Clinker!

      by JeffW on Tue Jul 12, 2011 at 09:14:32 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  There's gotta be a couple of Saturn engineers (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        chimpy, Seamus D

        still alive that remember how.

        "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." --M. L. King "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White

        by zenbassoon on Tue Jul 12, 2011 at 09:20:50 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  That's sort of like saying (8+ / 0-)

          because there's a couple of guys left alive who remember one or two instruments from one or two songs, we can recreate Bach's St. Matthew's Passion.

          I once worked on a satellite where it wound up being a several man-month effort to correct problems induced because someone put a screw in going from front to back instead of back to front on a widget.

          The screw going in front to back meant that the tip touched something else. That induced occasional changes in the behavior of the widget, which flowed through the flight software and resulted in the entire spacecraft acting just ... a ... little ... wrong. But wrong enough to notice.

          FSW had to be updated to detect the widget misbehaving and measure the error induced by that screw's tip touching something and back it out.


          In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice; but in practice, there always is a difference. - Yogi Berra

          by blue aardvark on Wed Jul 13, 2011 at 06:24:24 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  They'd tell you to start over (4+ / 0-)

          We have way better materials available to us today. We've learned huge lessons in propulsion, structures, and project management. If you asked a Saturn engineer how to build a heavy lift vehicle today, my guess is that he'd tell you to get off his lawn and send your requirements out for new proposals.

          Why is there a Confederate Flag flying in Afghanistan?

          by chimpy on Wed Jul 13, 2011 at 09:48:35 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Better all kinds of things (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            chimpy

            Better materials, better fabrication tech, computer analysis that lets you optimize parts well.

            The new Boeing 787 is behind schedule and over budget due to outsourcing and supplier issues, but the engineering is making a lighter higher performance plane.

            Space launch:airplanes as airplanes:cars.

            "All things are not equally true. It is time to face reality." -Al Gore

            by Geek of all trades on Wed Jul 13, 2011 at 04:02:32 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  not true (12+ / 0-)

        The blueprints are still around and some engineers still refer to them. But the technology is 50 years old so it wouldn't make sense to build a new one. Besides, the tooling doesn't exist. It'd cost a fortune just to build the tools again.

        All things in the sky are pure to those who have no telescopes. – Charles Fort

        by subtropolis on Tue Jul 12, 2011 at 09:35:29 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I sit corrected. n/t (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Just Bob, chimpy, Seamus D

          Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight! Clean Coal Is A Clinker!

          by JeffW on Tue Jul 12, 2011 at 10:02:34 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  You'd have to resurrect how many thousand (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Seamus D

          subcontractors, or else translate the whole shebang into Chinese or something, eh.

          Moderation in most things.

          by billmosby on Wed Jul 13, 2011 at 06:42:37 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  The current Orion/Constellation engineers (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            billmosby, JeffW, Athenian, chimpy

            took some of the older Saturn V static displays apart as they were being cleaned to study the old parts/electronics/relays to see and compare against the original blueprints.  Some parts were modified from the prints, but most were still valid.

            They learned from the old to get a new HLV started.

            The voice of silence does as much damage as hateful words

            by doingbusinessas on Wed Jul 13, 2011 at 10:08:54 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  Actually, the manufacturing manuals are the issue (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          esquimaux, chimpy

          It's true the blueprints survived, but that is not where the money in the Saturn, or any such program, goes.  The real effort is to convert blueprints to a set of manufacturing instructions. These looked like big phone books and hung on chains on the side of the assembly line.   So at each step, there would be an instruction in the book to the effect, "take a plate of alloy, measure in .05",  tap, drill with 3/8" bit," and so on.  Millions of instructions, literally.  Take them all together, follow the instructions, you got a rocket. (Today these instructions are kept in computers.)  In other words, it's easy to design things, the real trick is to figure out how to manufacture it.

          So what happened?  At the end of Apollo Nixon ordered those manuals taken to the Huntsville dump.   It would not be inaccurate to say that Nixon threw Apollo and the multi-billion dollar investment away.  The accusation is that he did it out of spite, to destroy JFK's great initiative.  Probably true, that was like him.

          Again, having the blueprints on microfilm means you very nearly have to start from scratch, just not totally from scratch.  

          You have to be careful about what you read on Wikipedia.   Those articles are often not prepared by professionals, and it is not so much that they are wrong, but that they sometimes just miss the point, as is the case here.  

          Additionally, the fact Saturn didn't have the advantage of modern material science isn't necessarily that big a disadvantage, in fact, in some cases it can be an advantage.  Saturn was basically an aluminum rocket.  Yes, heavier, but also easier to work and cheaper to build.   There are a lot of possible judgement calls as to the best way to go.  50 year old tech as it was, it was still better than the rocket we have now!  After all, look what we did with that crusty old technology.  

          The Russians eschewed NASA's urge to get the last 5% of performance, at any cost, going for cheaper and reliable.  It seems hard to argue with that point of view now.  One of the things I fear about the new launch system is that they are repeating these old mistakes, with the predictable delay after delay as they try to wring out the last pricey ounce of performance.

      •  that's Faux Noise/teabagger mythology... (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        radical simplicity, chimpy, Seamus D

        ..." the government can't do anything right, they threw out their blueprints," etc etc yadda yadda.

  •  The idea that we must use the Russians for manned (12+ / 0-)

    ...missions right now should be abhorrent to every American. It is a step back.

    It's time to go deeper into space. I heard a panel on the News Hours yesterday mention that we've had robotic rovers on Mars for a few years now, but what they've accomplished in that time could've been done by humans in less than a month.

    I'm all for unmanned missions to the outer reaches of our solar system, but it's time to brave the dangers and push our limits. I think there are many people who will gladly go boldly into the new frontier as exploration is part of the human experience.

    I'm also betting that we'll discover some new unexpected energy source some place out there as well. In any case, we simply cannot be second or third place in space exploration and development.

    "There is nothing more dreadful than the habit of doubt. Doubt separates people. It is a poison that disintegrates friendships and breaks up pleasant relations. It is a thorn that irritates and hurts; it is a sword that kills.".. Buddha

    by sebastianguy99 on Tue Jul 12, 2011 at 08:58:11 PM PDT

  •  200 tonnes?! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    chimpy, Seamus D

    That'd be very impressive indeed.

    All things in the sky are pure to those who have no telescopes. – Charles Fort

    by subtropolis on Tue Jul 12, 2011 at 09:24:53 PM PDT

  •  Using Service Module to reach orbit (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Athenian, chimpy

    means you can't use the SM to come back from wherever you just went, which was its original design.


    In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice; but in practice, there always is a difference. - Yogi Berra

    by blue aardvark on Wed Jul 13, 2011 at 06:13:23 AM PDT

    •  Service Module (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      blue aardvark, Seamus D

      Eight or nine tonnes of hypergolic fuel is required to transport 20 tonnes of payload into Low Earth Orbit according to Boeing. So they increase the amount of fuel by an extra 8 or 9 tonnes within a stretched SM. That still leaves you with an Orion vehicle that still has 8 tonnes of fuel.

      Without the stretched SM, only the 9 tonnes capsule would need to be transported into orbit, leaving you with a substantial amount of fuel to de-orbit.

      For references to pdf articles on this subject, visit  the reference section for the article: Deriving Economically Sustainable Crew Launch Vehicles from the SLS  at:  

      http://newpapyrusmagazine.blogspot.com/...

      Marcel F. Williams

      •  Boeing knows very little about the SM (0+ / 0-)

        Orion a LM project. Boeing lost.

        Anyway, in theory all you need is another set of tanks and associated tubing. In theory. There's some reliability issues and the unexpelled residuals in each tank add up.


        In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice; but in practice, there always is a difference. - Yogi Berra

        by blue aardvark on Wed Jul 13, 2011 at 09:25:52 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  I don't want NASA handling flights to LEO (12+ / 0-)

    SpaceX is poised to offer crewed launches and be able to lift twice the payload of the shuttle for 1/4th the cost.  Let SpaceX establish an efficient and routine taxi and frieght service to LEO.  That's a huge thing that NASA no longer needs to worry about.

    NASA can instead focus on how best to get people from LEO to the Moon or Mars, to design and test new technologies and start builing permanent off world bases.

    NASA needs to use crewed spaceflight to go to interesting places and explore.  Let private industry be the taxi driver.

    •  Was wondering if somebody would mention SpaceX (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      texasmom, chimpy, Wino, Seamus D

      I've read their self-written promotional stuff but would be interested in an objective outside view.

    •  I'm very optimistic about SpaceX... (6+ / 0-)

      but let's not get ahead of ourselves just yet. They don't yet have a proven track record of launching human beings reliably and safely, and that is NOT an easy thing to accomplish. Spaceflight, even just to LEO, is incredibly complicated and risky, and SpaceX will have some missteps along the way, even with NASA's assistance. Every launch system ever, almost without exception, has suffered mishaps and failures, and we have no way of knowing what the long term reliability of SpaceX's hardware will be like until they have a longer track record. And I worry about the fact that theirs is a radically new design (rather than something based on an older system), which could increase the possibility of unknown risks.

      The reason why Soyuz is a pretty reliable and safe system is because the Russians have been flying it forever. The reason the shuttle was reasonably safe, despite its problems and accidents, is because an unimaginable level of engineering work went into it and we flew it for a long enough time to figure out what many of its safety problems were and mitigate them.

      I do think that private industry will eventually get it right and provide a reliable, safe, and inexpensive LEO taxi service. I'm just somewhat skeptical that it's going to happen in the next couple of years, because I know what the history is, even just as an amateur observer.

      •  All the more reason to not have NASA do it. (0+ / 0-)

        Look, NASA has lost two space shuttles killing 14, and it was a national tragedy each time and 3 years with no shuttle flights

        If an airline crashes a 747 and kills 400, another 747 takes off 5 minutes later.  People only consider an accident a tragedy when it's the government and taxpayer dollars.

        So all the more reason to have SpaceX take the risks.  If they fail, they'll fix it and try again.  It won't be a national tragedy, we won't have to weep and hand-wring and have 40 Senators whining about spending.

        SpaceX has been doing amazing work, they have a vehicle with tons of redundancy, there will be a launch escape system.  But as Elon Musk said, if people had been aboard the last Falcon9 launch, they would have had a great ride and been perfectly safe.

        But you are wrong, the Falcon9 is NOT a radically new design.  It is based on extensive flight history and past proven designs.  There are no unproven technical risks on the Falcon9.  And before any human ever climbs aboard, there will be a dozen unmanned cargo flights to ISS to prove everything out.

        •  Depends what you mean by "new design". (0+ / 0-)

          It's new in that it's not directly derived from an existing vehicle or engines. That's all I'm saying.

          I'm not anti-SpaceX, and I do think that the private sector is the eventual future of LEO flight. All I'm saying is that we need to be careful about making overly optimistic statements that this is going to be a totally superior replacement for the government launch systems in the next few years. It has the promise of being that, but they're going to have to prove themselves over a longer period of time first. They've done some very impressive things so far, though, I'll give you that.

          •  They will prove themselves first (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            antooo

            The very first time the shuttle launched, there were crew aboard.  The Falcon9 will have over a dozen launches before it ever carries people.  And I think that will be good enough.

            We need to accept that space flight is high risk.  And we should at least accept as many deaths in space flight as we do in air travel.  We don't shut down airlines for a year when a plane crash kills women and children.  So why should we shut down spaceflight when highly trained professionals who accepted the risks die?

            But SpaceX doesn't have to be totally superior.  It only has to be good enough for a good price so that we can get market growth and get to the really interesting things.  Demanding a flawless launch vehicle, an impossibility, is the real overly optimistic expectation.

    •  Noted astronaut Jeffrey Hoffman agrees (5+ / 0-)

      He was interviewed yesterday for NPR. He's quite happy with the private sector developing LEO vehicles which NASA could lease for astronauts, and NASA concentrating its resources on deep space missions.

      Coming Soon -- to an Internet connection near you: Armisticeproject.org

      by FischFry on Wed Jul 13, 2011 at 06:59:40 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Sierra Nevada's Space Dev Division (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        chimpy, FischFry

        is developing the DreamChaser, with vertical take-off, wheeled landing.  I have a hunch that NASA will fund both Space X and the DreamChaser for interim use in delivering humans and cargo to the Space Station, and this will eventually evolve into both further missions and space tourism.  And, there is Burt Rutan's SpaceShipTwo for Virgin Galatic, but it is not expected to get beyond low-earth orbit.

        Here is a recent piece on NASA and the DreamChaser:

        http://www.space.com/...

    •  SpaceX isn't 'poised' to do anything anytime soon (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      leftyboy666

      .. they are several years away at best.

      •  They're docking with ISS this year (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        SCFrog, pat bunny, chimpy, antooo

        They've already launched, orbited and recovered the Dragon capsule.  This year they will dock to ISS and deliver cargo.

        At that point they could start flying astronauts.  Instead they'll do 12 cargo runs for NASA to prove everything out first.  They'll also develop the escape system at the same time.

        But the shuttle didn't have an escape system, and Falcon9 doesn't need one either.  If SpaceX absolutely had to get people to the ISS tomorrow, they could do it.

    •  Private (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      leftyboy666, chimpy

      NASA shouldn't have to depend on an unnecessary middle man in order to achieve orbit. And using private rockets doesn't necessarily lower cost. Just look at the rising cost the ULA, a private launch company, charges the military which now has a large space budget than NASAs.

      Secondly, NASA's not going to save any money for beyond LEO missions using commercial crews thanks to the fact that NASA is continuing the ultimate LEO program (the ISS) at $3 billion a year. That's approximately the same annual cost of the shuttle program!

      Private space companies should really focus of space tourism and launching commercial satellites into orbit rather than promoting wasteful big government programs like the ISS.

      Marcel F. Williams

      •  NASA should not be in the taxi business - nt (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Norm in Chicago, antooo

        Less "WAAAAH!", more progress.

        by IndyGlenn on Wed Jul 13, 2011 at 11:16:52 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  SpaceX isn't a middle man (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        antooo

        They're the rocket manufacturer and launch operator.  They're not repackaging someone else's offerings and reselling to NASA, they are  the main supplier.

        And why shouldn't NASA use a commercial supplier to reach orbit?  Does the US government operate an airline?  When someone from the Commerce dept. wants to fly somewhere, do they use a gov't owned airline, or do they fly commercial?

        What we need in space is mass production and the economy of scale.  If SpaceX is launching commercial satellites, space tourists and NASA astronauts all on the same rocket, then yes they will be able to offer lower cost.

        Also, don't compare SpaceX and ULA.  ULA is a frankenstein assembly of old bloated defense contractors used to building for the military on Cost Plus contracts.  They aren't built to be cheap, and they're not.

        SpaceX however is built to control costs and go after private markets that are very cost sensitive.  They're trying to stay ahead of China on costs.  SpaceX is planning on taking ULA's business away and lower costs is how they'll do it.

        But here's the bottom line.  It cost NASA $600 Million dollars to launch a shuttle.  The Falcon9 will launch 7 astronauts for ~60 million 1/10th the cost.  And the Falcon Heavy will lift twice the payload of the shuttle for ~$150 million.  Even if SpaceX has massive cost overruns, they will still be much cheaper than NASA.  And companies like Bigelow Aerospace are going to demand that SpaceX hold to their current costs.

        •  Government airlines (0+ / 0-)

          Does the government operate an airline?

          Well yes! It's called the Air Force, Navy, Army, and Marines. And even the President's plane: Air Force One. No private middle men are required to fly Us military aircraft.

          Marcel F. Williams

      •  NASA shouldn't depend on private launches (0+ / 0-)

        But, they will soon have the option. They already buy lots of things commercially. Within the next decade, LEO will be reachable by in-house or commercial options. NASA will be able to choose the appropriate option for each mission, based on payload, schedule, and cost.

        If a NASA scientist wants to take observations through a telescope above most of the atmosphere, he flies the SOFIA observatory. Then, when he presents his findings at a conference, he buys a ticket on whatever airline's got the best deal that week.

        Why is there a Confederate Flag flying in Afghanistan?

        by chimpy on Wed Jul 13, 2011 at 06:07:45 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  NASA is still involved in all kinds of aviation (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Athenian, Simplify

      They still do research on all aspects of air transport, including energy-efficient planes and safely optimizing traffic. They still have their own a fleet of (mostly) standard planes for logistics, training and research.  They still build experimental aircraft, or test aircraft subsystems. We just don't call them up every time we want to fly to Chicago or send a package to New York. When NASA employees have a conference scheduled somewhere, they go online and buy plane tickets like the rest of us.

      Similarly, NASA will always have a place directing research and setting policy for space access. They'll always be out in front for some not-yet-profitable technologies, and for designs we don't yet want to share with the rest of the world. But soon, they will have the option to buy when they can and build when the need to.

      Why is there a Confederate Flag flying in Afghanistan?

      by chimpy on Wed Jul 13, 2011 at 09:59:54 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks to Orrin Hatch, SRB's may be (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Wino, chimpy, antooo

    here to stay. Or so he said during yesterday's phone town hall here in Salt Lake City. He's got some kind of language in some bill or other that sets up criteria that should rule out other technologies. I'm not sure why the senate might think it could design a booster system, but I am sure they have tried to do stuff like that before.

    Moderation in most things.

    by billmosby on Wed Jul 13, 2011 at 06:41:10 AM PDT

    •  The Senate doesn't care... (5+ / 0-)

      about what the best technology is. They care about who will get the contracts to produce those boosters. Hatch is just looking out for those ATK jobs in Utah.

      They do have their problems, but the shuttle SRBs have been made reasonably safe now, in my opinion. They've flown long enough that many of the safety issues have been worked out. And they do provide a huge amount of power to a launch vehicle. The biggest remaining problem with them is environmental, in my opinion.

      •  I used to believe that solids (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Simplify, chimpy

        gave a lot less specific impulse than liquids, or is it just much less than LOX/LH2?

        They are pretty dirty burning, being mostly rubber or something like it, I believe.

        Living in Salt Lake City and having occasion to go by ATK's facilities once in a while I can empathize with the people who (used to) work there. So perhaps such considerations do come into play a bit.

        Moderation in most things.

        by billmosby on Wed Jul 13, 2011 at 07:20:14 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  You're correct (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          billmosby, Norm in Chicago, chimpy, antooo

          Solids do have less specific impulse than liquids, with the added disadvantage of not being able to shut them off if something goes pear shaped.

          Ares I used SRB technology for the first stage, but it turned out the solid rockets vibrated badly enough to cause visual blurring on ascent - right when you really want to see the instruments.

          No, Shuttle-derived technology is a terrible idea, as it was always finicky and expensive as a result.  SpaceX really learned their lessons and designs for minimum cost, not nearly the same thing as ICBM-derived minimum-weight designs from the Shuttle and previous eras.  Even the Chinese admitted they can't build boosters to the same price as Elon Musk's gang.

        •  You're correct. (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          billmosby, chimpy, antooo

          They do have less specific impulse, but they do provide a huge amount of thrust. So there are many tradeoffs involved, and specific impulse is not the only relevant one. They have their uses, specifically as strap-on boosters in order to provide additional performance to a vehicle in order to handle a heavier payload, higher energy trajectory, etc. Having the whole first stage be solid is probably a bad idea (as in the Ares I). They're also useful for military applications where ease of handling, storage, and fueling are a larger consideration.

          Personally, I think that all-liquid rockets are a better idea. But I will acknowledge that the shuttle SRBs have evolved into a reasonably reliable system.

    •  the Senate, at the behest of Nixon, mandated the (8+ / 0-)

      inherently-unsafe lateral-stack Shuttle design which resulted in the deaths of 14 astronauts, by forcing NASA to cobble together a design from existing SRB technology.

      Of course Nixon wanted to strangle the whole manned space program in the bathtub anyway, since it was the gleaming legacy of his personal arch-nemesis, John F. Kennedy.

  •  I have another item for your poll... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Athenian, Lawrence, chimpy, antooo

    in 5 years begin preparations to move the ISS to Mars.  It's not as far fetched as it seems.  It would be a good use of the new ion engines and we could continue sending people to it as it travels to Mars.  Once in orbit we could use it as a platform to study the planet and as a staging site for going down to the surface.

    "Aubrey, may I trouble you for the salt?"

    by Borg Warner on Wed Jul 13, 2011 at 08:04:36 AM PDT

    •  I like this idea. I certainly hate the idea of (0+ / 0-)

      dropping $100 billion into the Pacific as they are currently planning.

      If not to Mars, the ISS could be boosted out to one of the L's or at least placed into an orbit useful for preparing deeper space missions. Where it is makes it basically useless for such missions.

      Cheers

      We spend money we don't have on things we don't need to create impressions that won't last on people we don't care about. Tim Jackson

      by Athenian on Wed Jul 13, 2011 at 08:12:40 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  This doesn't seem practical to me. (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      SCFrog, Simplify, Lawrence, chimpy

      The amount of energy required to get that much delta-V on an object that size would be huge. It might be possible, but it would be quite difficult, IMO.

      In addition to that, the ISS is not designed to operate outside of LEO. For example, its solar arrays are not optimized for use that much further away from the sun, and it has inadequate radiation shielding for people to safely live there for extended periods away from the protective influence of the Earth's magnetic field.

      It's a nice idea, but I don't think it's feasible.

  •  Their is really no private space industry (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    radmul

    The governemnt has given one  space company 1.5 billion dollar to develop the next space vehicle,as far as bolster are concerned, it is  cheaper to  boost rockets from the equator, it require less fuel and you can launch bigger payload  with smaller rockets

  •  These Still Look Like the "Direct" Proposal (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    texasmom, Athenian, chimpy

    Before the Constellation Project was killed, a number of engineers suggested a shuttle-derived concept they called DIRECT which would have used a modified shuttle fuel tank with two RS-68 engines (iirc) and two four-segment SRBs that would launch the Orion capsule. There was also a "heavy" launcher proposal using three RS-68s, five-segment SRBs, and a second-stage with a Saturn-derived J-2X engine. Plus, it would have used the current shuttle launch infrastructure incl. the transporter and launch pads without significant modifications.

    Unfortunately, like too many things in American culture, everything is throw-away and re-design rather than modify and upgrade.

    Only fools do battle in a burning house

    by Uthaclena on Wed Jul 13, 2011 at 08:29:29 AM PDT

  •  I think we've already lost the space race (0+ / 0-)

    The first mistake was the space shuttle - horrid design that was antiquated even before its first launch, and far more expensive than it should have been.

    Then, when Congress kept cutting funding for NASA, along with NASA making horrid decisions about the shuttle's replacement, we completely lost it.  We're now retiring the shuttle, with no replacement anywhere in sight - it will be years, if not a decade or more before we get our act together and have a new space vehicle.

    In the meantime, China sent a probe to the moon, and is spending a fortune on catching up, nay, leapfrogging ahead of us.  It's far easier for them because they don't really have to invent this stuff, they just need to steal designs and concepts from us and the Russians (more likely the Russians).  

    That plus their system allows them to set national priorities and plan ahead for large projects such as this without some anti-science boneheads jerking the funding all over the place or forcing them to use inadequate vendors from a powerful congressperson's district.

    I truly hope we haven't lost out, but frankly I think that "American exceptionalism" died around 1980.

    New favorite put-down: S/he's as dumb as a flock of Sarah Palins

    by sleipner on Wed Jul 13, 2011 at 09:35:49 AM PDT

    •  One reason for China's ability to do such things (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sleipner, newpapyrus

      is that their government is dominated by engineers whereas ours is dominated by lawyers.

      Cheers

      We spend money we don't have on things we don't need to create impressions that won't last on people we don't care about. Tim Jackson

      by Athenian on Wed Jul 13, 2011 at 11:49:11 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Problem is, those are super expensive rockets. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    antooo

    The actual rocket engines used to power the shuttle, and being used for this 'recycling project', have numerous faults. They operate at insanely high pressures and are dependent upon extremely delicate tubes carrying liquid fuel along the walls of the combustion chamber to cool it and keep it from melting during the burn. The turbo-pumps pushing the fuel along have suffered repeated leaks, frequently the source of hydrogen leaks that scrubbed many shuttle launches. They required extremely expensive rebuilds between shuttle launches. It remains to be seen how much the design could be 'cheapened' for a disposable single-use version without even further compromising safety.

    The problems with these engines apparently stem from an obviously corrupt choice of original prime contractor. Rather than picking an existing, reliable, proven and robust design that required modest upgrading, NASA bought an unproven pig-in-a-poke from the better connected contractor, resulting in huge cost over-runs and massive technical headaches in development.

  •  Updated your tags... (0+ / 0-)

    ...added several in hopes of getting you a few more clicks.

    DK needs more support for US space endeavors.

  •  How privatized spaceflight works: (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    trekguy66, Simplify, Egalitare

    RAYTHEON:  Umm, err, it just ain't profitable.  Go talk to NASA.  (Oh, BTW, give us another zillion bucks and we'll ship you a half dozen more Tomahawks.  Y'know, to stir up kill them goldarn terraists.)

    NASA:  Oh, spaceflight's been privatized.  Viva el cuarto privado or something like that.  Go talk to Raytheon.

    Quidquid id est, timeo Republicanos et securitatem ferentes.

    by Sura 109 on Wed Jul 13, 2011 at 11:37:07 AM PDT

  •  This country needs (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Margd

    a strong, viable manned space program.  We have putzed around for the past 30 years on LEO projects and while they have given us invaluable data, we need to be exploring other places and their relationships and correlations to our current planet.

    Rovers and automated probes are a good start but nothing beats manned exploration.  We humans learn vastly so much more from seeing, touching and "tasting" an environment rather than looking through the lens of another probe.

    He who exercises government by means of his virtue may be compared to the north polar star, which keeps its place and all the stars turn towards it. - Confucius

    by TimRivers on Wed Jul 13, 2011 at 12:31:10 PM PDT

  •  How about launching nuclear waste into the sun? (0+ / 0-)

    And yes, I think it CAN be packed up safely enough to survive a catastrophic launch accident or accidental re-entry. Consider the 1986 Challenger launch disaster. Despite the massive explosion merely feet away from them, many, if not all, of the crew survived the blast, and, sadly, perished only when the Crew Cabin impacted the water. My point is that solid metal nuclear waste can surely be packed up even more securely than fragile human bodies, so much so that simple, reliable, single-use rockets can be employed to rid our planet of this dangerous scourge forever.

    There are two political aisles: Center-Left and Center-Right. It's impossible to cross them both. Republicans know this and govern accordingly; Democrats don't.

    by Jimdotz on Wed Jul 13, 2011 at 04:44:52 PM PDT

    •  Nuclear Waste (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Jimdotz

      The amount of spent fuel in the US is so tiny that you could put all of the spent fuel ever produced by American nuclear reactors  in an area the size of football field only a few meters high.

      But spent fuel is actually not waste. It can be recycled into fuel. In current nuclear power plants, the fissile plutonium and uranium from spent fuel could be reprocessed to produced 60% more energy.

      But by utilizing next generation breeder technologies, spent fuel and depleted uranium could be used to produce 100 times more energy. In such reactors, the spent fuel accumulated by the US would be worth over $100 trillion in electricity production. So with this national treasure, we could pay off the national dept more than seven times over!!!

      That's why folks like Bill Gates are investing in such nuclear breeder technologies!

      Marcel F. Williams

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