NASA – Flexible Path and the Rocket to Get Us there

It seems pretty clear that sometime in February (watch for the release of the 2011 Budget), the Obama Administration will task NASA with the Flexible Path architecture (see Flexible Path 5D from The Augustine Commission Wrapped Up post). This is likely to involve taking aim at Phobos in a series of increasingly difficult tasks.

In the past several days, it has become increasing clear that a political compromise is being crafted concerning NASA’s rocket program. It has become obvious that NASA’s budget is not likely to increase very much, and therefore, the development of two brand new rockets is impossible (The Ares I, underpowered and over budget, and Ares V, a paper rocket that is so large we would need to rebuild half the Kennedy Space Center infrastructure). On the other hand, a true Shuttle Derived Launch Vehicle (SDLV) using the Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSME), The External Tank (ET), and the ATK Solid Rocket Boosters (SRB) would be affordable (40% of a rocket development is engine design, and we skip that step), and ready to launch large payloads to re-supply the aging International; Space Station (ISS) by 2014.

If one looks at throw weight from the Summary Report of the Augustine Commission: the Ares I + Ares V can put 185 mt into Low Earth Orbit (LEO) while two (2) SDLV vehicles can put 200 – 220mt into LEO. Its no contest.

All this is from the technical point of view. To craft a solution, one must factor in the politics of the pork. A lot of jobs are at stake. And apparently Senator Shelby has joined the compromise (see Ross Tierney’s comments). Further, Alliance Technology (ATK), which has a contract to develop a five (5) segment version of the Shuttle SRB for the Ares I rocket, is willing to settle for the 5 segment over the 4 segment SRB, and has joined the compromise.

Shuttle Derived Launch Vehicle Capable of Diverse Missions

Image Credit:
DIRECT Team

So what does the most likely SDLV look like? As discussed here, and reviewed at NSS Phoenix, the rocket will use four (4) SSMEs, a stretched External Tank to increase the fuel load to accommodate the four engines, and two (2) five segment SRBs.

And where can we go from here? A video of Manned NEO Mission concept from the Constellation program gives some idea of what to expect (ignore the launch vehicles).

And what are the missions along the “Flexible Path”? A preliminary list is given below from one of the threads on the Forum at NASASpaceFlight.com.

The List

  1. First launch of SDLV (2014):
    • the biggest launch vehicle in the world (by far)
    • the vehicle that will take mankind to the moon, Mars and beyond
    • the dawn of the next space age
  2. First crewed launch of Orion (2015):
    • the rebirth of American human spaceflight
    • the first flight of the spacecraft that will take us out into deep space
    • the beginning of a new era of exploration for all of mankind
  3. First circumlunar flight (2018):
    • returning to the moon for the first time in half a century
    • shake-down flight of the spacecraft that will take us into the solar system
  4. First visit to EML2 (2020):
    • the farthest out into space that any human being has ever gone
    • going beyond the moon for the first time
    • visiting the staging ground for all future deep-space missions
  5. First L2 base (2022):
    • building humanity’s first deep-space outpost
    • the first step in man’s expansion into the solar system
    • the gateway to the moon, the asteroids and the planets
  6. First NEO mission (2024):
    • first human visit to an asteroid
    • first trip out into the solar system
    • farthest into space that any human being has ever gone (by far)
    • longest deep-space mission ever
    • preparation for future trips to the moons of Mars
    • learning more about possible future threats to human civilization
    • developing techniques to prevent future disasters
  7. Lunar landing mission (2028):
    • mankind’s triumphant return to the moon
    • studying how to live on the moon so we can move on to Mars
    • finding ways of using the moon’s resources for future missions
  8. Phobos visit (2032):
    • first mission to Mars
    • first landing on the moon of another world
    • preparation for an eventual human landing on Mars

You can disagree over the timetable, you can quibble about the missions, you can wince at Bernie Roehl’s hyperbole, but it is an exciting list of missions that increasingly build infrastructure for the exploration of the Solar System.

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2 thoughts on “NASA – Flexible Path and the Rocket to Get Us there

  1. Pingback: NASA – The New Course « The National Space Society of Phoenix

  2. Pingback: NASA – Deciding What the Budget Will Buy « The National Space Society of Phoenix

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