Post Augustine Commission – ULA Says “Fly Me to The Moon”

United Launch Alliance (ULA) has released a series of papers to be presented at next week’s American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Space 2009 Conference. The key document from the ULA web site is Affordable Exploration Architecture 2009.

ULA compares its proposed architecture, using common vehicle and engine families, with the current Exploration Systems Architecture Study (ESAS), which “…has lead to the demand for not one but two heavy lift boosters, two large upper stages, a large lunar descent vehicle, another unique Orion service module and a lunar ascent vehicle… These machines share minimal commonality and require multiple propellant combinations and four main engine types. Each requires a separate development program with attendant costs approaching $100 billion followed by a profusion of long term support contracts to support just a couple annual flights of each element”.

Orion on Atlas

ULA Image: Core launch vehicle with Orion on ACES 41 second stage.

The first part of the ULA program is to human rate the Atlas and Delta systems. ULA’s document Human Rating Atlas and Delta IV addresses this issue. ULA states that its Atlas and Delta vehicles should be judged on three categories:

  • Launch Vehicle Reliability
  • Addition of an Emergency Detection System (EDS)
  • Intact Abort Capability

With regard to each of these, they state first that “Probably the single most important factor for human spaceflight is demonstrated reliability. Atlas and Delta have used an evolutionary approach to enhancing the capabilities of the systems, and it is evident in a long history of launching successfully.” Second, “Historically, launch systems have incorporated some level of EDS that would monitor critical systems and issue status, warning and abort commands. For Atlas and Delta, the EDS would be common and scalable, and utilize existing sensors within an architecture that used an independent, fault tolerant failure sensing system. Operational systems such as Atlas and Delta offer the advantage of flying the EDS on all missions, in addition to having flight environments that are well known and well characterized”. And third, “Liquid propulsion systems offer the key advantages of minimal catastrophic failures (compared to solid systems) and thrust termination prior to any abort. The resulting benign environment created will maximize the ability of the crewed vehicle to successfully abort and return the crew safely”.

ULA concludes their extensive review of redundancy, safety and reliability studies as follows:

The Atlas V, with the relatively minor addition of an Emergency Detection System and a dedicated NASA Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) and Mobile Launch Platform (MLP), is ready for commercial human spaceflight and complies with NASA human rating standards. The 3 1/2 year integration span is likely shorter than the development for any new commercial capsule that might fly on it”.

“The Delta IV has ample performance to support the existing Orion vehicle, without Black Zones. The Delta IV can support a mid-2014 Crewed IOC, which is superior to Orion launch alternatives. The proposed 37A pad is a look-alike counterpart to the existing 37B pad with low development risk. Human rating the Delta is a relatively modest activity, with the addition of an Emergency Detection System, an array of relatively small redundancy and safety upgrades, both in the vehicle and the engines that are almost trivial compared to the original development of the Delta IV”.

The Atlas 400 series could support Commercial Crew Vehicles by late 2013, and the Delta IV could support Orion by mid-2014.

Currently, ULA has three cryogenic upper stages used for a variety of NASA, Commercial and Department of Defense (DoD) missions. ULA proposes to replace this family with a single Advance Common Evolved Stage (ACES). This new upper stage would have a capacity of 41 mT of fuel (LOX and LH2) (ACES 41 – shown at right), and would have the ability to be refueled in orbit.

Further, the tank could be stretched for additional capacity. ULA suggests that a 71 mT (ACES 71) capacity would be sufficient to act as both a tanker and one of the building blocks for a Low Earth Orbit (LEO) depot and a depot at the Earth-Moon Lagrange point 2 (EML-2).

The depots and tankers would be launched by a combination of Atlas and Delta systems.


ULA Image: Advance Common Evolved Stage

ACES Depot

ULA Image: Propellant Depot

At left is the ACES based Depot, comprised of an ACES 41 for Liquid Oxygen (LOX) storage, and an ACES 71 tanker fitted with a sun shade for Liquid Hydrogen (LH2) storage.

ULA envisions an ongoing operation of small commercial tankers bringing propellant to the LEO depot, transfer tankers filling up at the LEO depot and transferring propellant to the EML-2 depot.

Prior to a manned Lunar mission, Altair cargo transports would be launched using a Delta IV and an ACES 41 second stage. The second stage would be refueled at the LEO depot and burn to EML-2. It would refueled again, and descend to the lunar surface, depositing cargo.

When both depots have the required propellant stocks, Orion and Altair vehicles would be launched, refueled at LEO, burn to reach EML-2. There, the Altair vehicle would be refueled, the crew would transfer, and the Altair would descend to the lunar surface.

The Altair is capable of delivery more than 40 mT of cargo, vehicles and propellant to the Lunar surface.

The Altair vehicle is comprised of an ACES 41 mated to either a cargo or crew module. At left is the Altair crew module shown as the Ascent Stage begins its return to EML-2 for rendezvous with the Orion spacecraft and return to Earth.

Since cargo is prepositioned on the Moon, ULA notes that “from a safety and reliability standpoint the entire Altair function will have been demonstrated multiple times before a crew flies on one. Confidence in the Altair will be the best that can be attained”.

The proposed Altair design is strikingly different from the current NASA concept, which entails a taller and more narrow lander, reminiscent of the Apollo Lunar Excursion Module (LEM). However, fans of the TV show Space: 1999 will recognize the vehicle.

Altair Crew Vehicle

ULA Image: Altair Ascent Launch

The ULA presentations ends with the following summary:

The proposed lunar architecture illuminates how the powerful leveraging effects of simple orbital depots can enable small expendable launch vehicles, compatible with existing DoD and commercial payload needs, to establish, support and expand a lunar base with a continuous human presence. The costs and protracted schedule associated with the development of extremely large boosters and multiple in-space stages can be eliminated and the resources applied to the lunar lander, propellant tankers and depots built around a common in-space stage. The simplicity of the architecture enables development that actually fits within projected budgets which is in sharp contrast to the present approach. The door to lunar exploration is presently shut due being simply unaffordable with the present architecture. The proposed architecture reopens that door.

By separating out propellant delivery the architecture not only encourages economic production rates for multiple launch suppliers but provides a commodity task that fosters innovation for new launch suppliers, enables contributions from foreign sources and truly effective international cooperation. In many ways it is the functional equivalent of the establishment of airmail as a commodity activity for the fledgling aircraft and airline industries of the early 20th century.

The architecture simulates in nearly every respect what is required for Mars exploration and enables the maturation of key technologies that will be required on Mars. It can directly support all planetary missions and opens the door for the very high mass spacecraft required for serious exploration of the solar system. It effectively builds a road to the sky that will be built upon by coming generations to meet needs that can now only be guessed at.

In short this architecture concept suggests a new path that has a greater utility, lower cost, foreshortened schedule, the best possible safety and reliability and the greatest engagement of industry and government- the ingredients for a successful and permanent lunar presence and ultimately the exploration of our solar

Policy wonks can read an extensive review of ULA’s proposals by Chris Bergen at NasaSpaceFlight



3 thoughts on “Post Augustine Commission – ULA Says “Fly Me to The Moon”

  1. Pingback: The Augustine Commission – Bad Day at Black Rock – And a Reprieve « The National Space Society of Phoenix

  2. Pingback: Congratulations, SpaceX! Now Maybe We Can Really Get Things Started « The Space Geek

  3. Pingback: Grand LaGrange « The National Space Society of Phoenix

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