Archive for the ‘Depot’ Category

Haven’t read it yet, but I wrote about something similar (and not in name only) a few years back.

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The future is shaping as we watch.

Senator Nelson pointing out how little there is money and how past budgets have been very unrealistic.

I will bet on the following:

ISS will continue beyond 2015. There will be a no frills capsule flying on an EELV. No heavy lifter for the time being.

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Norm AugustineNorm Augustine

You can stream NASA TV with VLC, just paste this link into it:


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And partly what this blog is about (I realized in the middle that I’m typing like in a slide show, so I changed it into bullet points, as it’s an overview and not a deep text). I present my vision that should be aimed for:

What should NASA do?

  • In the near term, NASA should change to EELV:s (Atlas V, Delta 4) and COTS (Falcon 9, Taurus 2) as launchers for the ISS and lunar programs.
  • At the same time, NASA should do basic research and cheap small tech demonstrators for space technologies that give more for less.
  • This should move humanity closer towards spacefaring.

Spacefaring? Spacefaring is making space operations routine.

  • Space faring requires that space access is cheap, reliable and hassle free.
  • Launch is only part of the spacefaring,
  • But only from that point on can the better in-space technologies (tethers, ballutes, sails, ISRU, slings, whatnot) be developed.
  • Hence launch improvements are absolutely crucial for spacefaring

How can cheap and reliable space access be reached? There must be:

  • Many independent providers of space access.
  • It is done largely with well reusable vehicles.
  • The architecture – more of a market – is multi-faceted and the launchers can be improved, new ones can enter the market and old ones can be scrapped

This coal can be reached, in the next few decades.

Things to avoid:

Technically unrealistic choices at the highest level:

  • In the NASP program, the early performance numbers were fudged and there were unacceptable internal politics meaning no real independent technical criticism would be heard at the top
  • In the “Safe Simple Soon” Ares rockets vs the already flown EELV:s debacle, OMB has lacked the expertise to keep NASA on a leash so they are a “loose cannon” controlled too much by the whims of a leadership that fires all who disagree
  • Countless other examples…

Program mentality:

  • Apollo was ended since it was just a short unsustainable program with a specific stunt style goal, not fitting in any overarching smart picture as a sustained capability
  • STS has been an unimprovable yet critical massive monolith, barely sustainable, for various reasons
  • Danger of having yet another single solution launcher (or two) just for a definite program

Lack of motivation:

  • Has NASA become too big and corrupt by internal politics to really do technical or economic choices? Has it just become pure politics and internal struggles for personal or group benefits? (ESMD) There are great and talented people working there, but does it make a difference?
  • What does the whole agency exist for anymore anyway? Or its current lunar program? Is it just a relic from Apollo?
  • How much actually flying a few people to space every year conflicts and directs efforts away from the goal of reaching real spacefaring?

Summarized, NASA’s goal should be a spacefaring humanity in the future, not having a narrow minded program after another.

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This time the Aerospace Corporation deems them suitable for launching Orion, tells a Nasaspaceflight.com article . Via Clark Lindsey.

I’ve gotten bored of all this a few years ago. When Griffin was in power, absolutely no change was considered.

From a quick look at the article, the Orion seems to have slimmed down considerably from the ESAS days (probably because of Ares I performance problems). The black zones myth has also been dispelled. Oh my. What do Doug Stanley and Mike Griffin say to that? Will there be  a congressional hearing about where the billions went, and why? Of course not, it’s space policy so no blunder or incompetence is technical ever – it’s all just happy equal opinions. The end part of the article is just bites from Griffin’s speech saying how the government doesn’t give enough money to NASA.

Seems also NSF is the only news outlet on the ball (I don’t really follow them all though, don’t know what’s been up at Florida Today for example). They got information weeks earlier but requested answers from the NASA side as well and got comments on this before making it an article.

Good work, Chris Bergin, the sources, all the people writing articles, as well as the forum people. I think the site was founded in 2005 so it’s been a swift rise to the top. Internet papers didn’t get any Pulitzers in the recent awards ceremonies, but in some specialist categories they might deserve good awards.

Perhaps space journalism prizes should be founded and given out every year.

In my view the CEV is still quite big, and thus the launcher alternatives are limited. Projected LEO versions of Apollo seated as far as six people. Though if Orion’s service module is refueled in orbit, the monolithic liftoff mass might be reduced considerably. The key is to have so light elements that you can use multiple launchers – which then on its own helps to ensure  improvability for the whole architecture since it’s not stuck with one solution from here to the end. The EELV launching is already a step in that direction, and miles better than Ares or Direct.

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I’ve been an opponent of Ares I for quite a long time (not from the beginning though, but I have become more of an optimist since, regarding better  ways). In light of these things, it might seem that the huge political and bureaucratic machine that is NASA can finally start turning around. Mike Griffin in his time changed the direction of NASA very quickly by firing a lot of leaders and starting the development of the Orion capsule and the Ares rockets based on the ESAS three month quick study. On the other hand, ESAS’ conclusions somehow ended with the industrial base not changing significantly. Still solid rocket boosters for example. So one can question, did the direction really change in that sense?

But if there’s a real change, it could very well be that an Orion (or some variant or derivative of it) could fly on an EELV. It is strange to an outsider that the ESAS (with references to unpublished appendices) claimed how EELV:s are less safe and more expensive than Ares I. Then there’s the whole “black zones” kerfluffle, that warrants its own entry, if true. Basically and oversimplified, NASA said the EELV:s need new upper stages since they have tiny engines in second stages which need vertical trajectories. The vertical trajectories are a problem in case of an abort, since they result in high G loads on the way down. But some people say the EELV guys were not consulted on this, and that they could easily fly shallower trajectories. Maybe I’ll post more about this some day with better references.

There are rumors around that a new NASA administrator has been chosen. While I do not think an EELV solution itself for US manned space access is smart in the long run, it is pretty good in the short run (next five to fifteen years). What is much much more important is that if there are multiple launch providers and the payloads are switchable between rockets, then that is a field where improvement is very easy and cheap, since one can introduce new launchers to the “launcher mix” without jeopardizing the whole “program”. (The program mentality is one big problem as well.) NASA is the biggest worldwide player in tonnage to orbit, by a huge margin. They have the bucks, and thus they control the spacefaring development of the world.

A lot hinges on the new NASA administrator choice. (Unless Griffin was really a puppet too.)

Expect to hear little

I expect mainstream aerospace journalism to be as apathetic about all this as before too. It seems there are relatively few technical people there, and hence they don’t recognize the whole existence of the difference between technical solutions, they are all equally good. To them, it’s just a political definition if Ares I works or not. Even programs like NASP, people like Rob Coppinger somehow think failed because of “politics” – I find they failed because of grossly unrealistic and unjustified technical assumptions right at the beginning. That again warrants a separate post (there are books about it already).

So, if you’re a politician, a space business person or a technical person working on the space sector, maybe you should read something else than the postmodern relativist lazy mainstream media if you want real insight… And probably actually at least many of the experts have already moved to other medias.

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I wrote this architecture proposal, FLEX, a few years ago. It analyzes NASA’s approach that the ESAS study picked and notices how most of the mass in a lunar exploration stack in LEO is actually liquid oxygen. By using a propellant depot, the LOX can be lifted with tankers and any launchers imaginable (I wouldn’t use a Pegasus though). The rest of the stack is also naturally divided into about 20 ton chunks: EDS with its hydrogen, the CEV crew vehicle (Orion) and the LSAM lander (Altair).

No new heavy lifters need to be developed, there is enough US, nevermind world launch capability to support a moon exploration program. Launchers can also be improved on the run, because they are not tied to the single use, nor is the use dependant on the single launcher, and because they can fly often, hence improvements are worth the investment. This all could be achieved much sooner and cheaper than the current approach, and is much more robust for the future.

Go read it if you haven’t.

There are some comments at an old Nasaspaceflight.com thread that deal with a lot of the common questions about it.

I really don’t have the faintest idea of the background knowledge level of the readership here so I don’t know how much basics I should give, so feel free to ask in the comments if anything is unclear.

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From Slashdot via Hobbyspace.

There’s some confusion regarding Shenzou 7 (the upcoming mission), 8, 9 and 10 forming a space station by snapping together in orbit.

The orbital module of Shenzou can stay behind on orbit just fine, it can function as an independent spacecraft, while the crew returns with the crew module. They have done this with previous Shenzous as well. If the OM:s (or some of them) have docking ports on both ends, I don’t think it will be that hard to dock and chain them.

I don’t remember if they have demonstrated rendezvous and docking yet in any scale. I imagine it being quite a lot easier nowadays with better comms and computers than during the days of Gemini.

Of course, this is a model for orbital propellant depots as well. Too bad the western space agencies are too corrupt and self-absorbed to think anything like that.

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The Constellation program has been going on for about 3 years. Kicking off with the ESAS study of a few months, it still hasn’t settled very much about the architecture. Even the number of solid segments and liquid engines on the Ares I and V launchers are uncertain – issues which mean a lot for the infrastructure. A high launcher means VAB rebuilding. A heavy launcher means new crawler ways. Everything seems to be reassessed constantly.

Ed Kyle has documented the Ares I and Ares V history, while I discussed the future of Ares V here, the picture is from that post’s presentation. At the moment the design has moved along from the first configuration in January, having added half-segments, more core length and a sixth RS-68. No move to HTPB rubber in the boosters yet or composite wet parts EDS IIRC.

Ares V Evolution, Muirhead Jan 2008

Ares V Evolution, Muirhead Jan 2008

People from inside NASA have lamented the lack of conceptual design skills there, since the design keeps changing too much because of flaws being discovered.

There’s the classic story from Apollo, when Wernher von Braun simply didn’t believe the mass numbers the spacecraft people gave him, and vastly oversized the Saturn V – and it turned out that eventually all the performance was needed.

But the leaps in capabilities were huge back then. Now rocketry is routine and there is already one example of a lunar architecture to compare to. Not many new engines need to be developed for example, and a lot of the hardware is derived from STS and other flying systems.

So how is it that an agency getting 15 billion dollars a year is failing to pin down the mass numbers any better? Over ten ton sudden shortfalls in LEO mass seem to be a lot. Of course, it is a hard problem, and it’s easy to carp from the sidelines, but still…

What will the payload landed on the moon be? What propellants are used? What is the Altair’s or Orion’s mass? And work back from there to TLI mass and ultimately to launch from Earth, all with generous margins. And it has seemed that a certain cycle has formed. First a solution on Ares I is based on some logic linking it to Shuttle hardware, infrastructure or Ares V with common elements, which should save a lot of money and time and keep the workforce etc etc. Somewhat later, rumors about a severe performance shortfall on either launcher start circulating. Then after a while NASA announces a new configuration where the commonality is disrupted. And again forward we go.

The decisions made earlier are not supported anymore because new facts (performance problems) were realized later. But these decisions can’t be revisited. (Flying Orion on an EELV is one.) ESAS is referred to as having looked at all that, discarding it. Yet when some changes happen in Constellation, ESAS is mentioned as “only a 90 day study, how much can you expect from it?”. The consistency of decision justification is lacking. Ability for honest introspection is a rare thing for persons or organizations. I am just an outsider and don’t really know what’s going in inside there, maybe all is just exaggerated, but it looks troubled to me. How much can there really be progress if nobody knows what the launchers will be like in the end anyway?

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First ATV nearing ISS

The first European Autonomous Transfer Vehicle is nearing the International Space Station as I write this. It’s demo day 2 and it will go to 250 meters distance. Docking will be a few days later.

ESA has a live blog here.

NASASpaceflight.com has a live thread here. Someone just posted a screen capture:

ATV nearing ISS

There’s video at NASA TVas well as ESA’s blog.

Hope all goes well. This is a bit of a competence test for ESA and the European space industry (well, those who are in this project).

This is also important from the COTS point of view – possible new craft supplying ISS for NASA.

And of course propellant depots which require rendezvous and docking or berthing.

EDIT: apparently it came to a distance of just a few meters. Here’s a pic from NASA TV snapped to the thread on NASASpaceflight.com:

ATV close to ISS

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