Golden Spike Company – Grumman to Study Lunar Lander Design

BOULDER, CO. (January 3, 2013) – The Golden Spike Company announced today that it has entered into a contract with Northrop Grumman Corporation for the design of a new lunar lander that fits within Golden Spike’s “head start” commercial lunar architecture.

Northrop Grumman’s participation brings heritage lunar engineering expertise to Golden Spike. Northrop Grumman is a major aerospace and defense contractor. Its legacy companies — Grumman and TRW — designed and built the Lunar Module and Lunar Module Descent Engines for the Apollo moon landing missions that between 1969 and 1972 ferried a crew of two astronauts from lunar orbit to the lunar surface and back again six times.

Golden Spike debuted last month as the first commercial aerospace company planning to offer routine exploration expeditions to the surface of the Moon by the end of the decade. The company aims to use existing rockets and emerging commercial-crew spacecraft to allow nations, individuals and corporations to mount their own lunar expeditions. The lander is the only significant hardware that needs to be designed from the ground up.

“This is a significant step forward in our plans,” said Golden Spike’s Board Chairman, Gerry Griffin. “Northrop Grumman brings Golden Spike a unique body of knowledge and skills as the only company to ever build a successful human-rated lunar lander, the Apollo Lunar Module.”

Dr. S. Alan Stern, Golden Spike’s President and CEO, added: “We’re very proud to be working with Northrop Grumman, which has the most experience and successful performance record for human lunar lander designs in the world.”

Among the tasks Northrop Grumman will perform for Golden Spike are:

  • Reviewing requirements and synthesizing a set of study ground rules and assumptions emphasizing system reliability, automated/ground command operability, and affordability
  • Establishing velocity (Δv) budgets from and to low lunar orbit for pragmatic lunar landing sites
  • Exploring a wide variety of Lunar Lander concept options, including staging, propellants, engines, reusability, autonomy, systems capabilities for exploration, as well as landing site flexibility
  • Establishing the design trade space and establish pragmatic limits for future more detailed analysis and development

“This study is one of a number of initial studies we’re undertaking to begin creating the design requirements and specs for the lander contract competition we expect to hold to select a Golden Spike lander for flight development,” said Golden Spike’s Lunar Lander Systems Study (LLaSS) engineering chief, James R. French.

Golden Spike predicts its customers will want to explore the Moon for varying reasons—scientific exploration and discovery, national prestige, commercial development, marketing, entertainment, and even personal achievement. Market studies by the company show the possibility of 15-25 or more expeditions in the decade following a first landing.

Pintle Injector Rocket Engines

We have had several queries concerning “pintle injectors” (make sure you read the last paragraph of this post), as these are mentioned in the Space-X page on the Falcon 9, where it refers to the Merlin rocket engine and the “pintle style injector“:

The main engine, called Merlin 1C, was developed internally at Space-X, drawing upon a long heritage of space proven engines. The pintle style injector at the heart of Merlin 1C was first used in the Apollo Moon program for the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) landing engine, one of the most critical phases of the mission.

Based on the queries and the Space-X information, we went sleuthing. First, we came across the fact that TRW built the LEM descent engine, which used the pintle injector. We ran across David Meerman Scott’s blog apolloartifacts for a discussion and look at a model of the famous Lunar Module Descent Engine (LMDE). The engine was made famous by the Apollo 13 mission, where:

the Service Propulsion System (SPS) was never used subsequent to the cryotank stir/explosion. Because the extent of damage to the SPS was unknown, there was great concern at the time that collateral damage could have caused a catastrophic malfunction (if the engine was fired). Instead the LMDE was used for the return burn and subsequent course correction. Quite a famous engine.

In 2000, TRW demonstrated the TR-106 engine (pintle injector) using LOX / LH2 at NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Center . The engine generated 650,000 pounds of thrust, more than the 400,000 pounds of thrust generated by the Space Shuttle Main Engine SSME. Al Frew, vice president and general manager, TRW Space & Technology Division stated:

Most engines are designed for maximum performance and minimum weight, but we deliberately set out to develop an engine that minimizes cost while retaining excellent performance. We believe this engine will cost 50 to 75 percent less than comparable liquid hydrogen boosters. By reducing engine costs, which make up almost half of the cost of a launch vehicle, we will reduce the cost of launch vehicles and access to space for government and commercial customers.

Despite the promise the motor demonstrated, NASA canceled further work.

The pintle injector engines have a long history in the former Soviet Union. The NK-33 was the successor to the NK-15 engines used in the failed Soviet N1 Moon launcher. NK-33 have been used with the Russian Proton launch system. An interesting discussion of the Soviet Moon rocket, its engines and the NK-33 successor can be found here, along with spectacular video of the launch and explosion. Orbital Sciences has now contracted with Aerojet (owner of the NK-33 engines) to finish developing and testing the NK-33 engines, now designated as AJ26-58 for the Taurus II.

Jonathon Goff, at Masten Space Systems, had a commentary at Selenianboondocks on the 2006 Space-X change from an ablative Merlin engine to a regenerative engine. Jon states that the “engine related problems are interrelated, and that they have to do with the combination of using a high chamber pressure engine design with a pintle-injector and an ablatively cooled chamber wall.” That is, the flame produced by the cone of fuel and oxidizer hits the wall of the chamber and overheats the wall.

Included in the commentary is a simplified image of a pintle injector rocket engine, which illustrates the flow of liquid oxygen and fuel (RP-1 or liquid hydrogen) through the pintle injector into a cone shaped spray in the combustion chamber.

The replacement of the ablative chamber with a regenerative chamber eliminates the overheating.

Pintle Injector
Pintle Injector
Image Credit: Forschungsgruppe Alternative Raumfahrtkonzepte

Below left is the business end of the LEM Descent engine, showing the Pintle Injector:

Below right is an image by Warren W. Thompson at the unveiling of Space-X’s Falcon 1 at the Air & Space Museum on 4 December 2003.

Lunar Module Descent Engine
Image Credit: jurvetson on Flickr
Merlin Engine with Pintle Injector
Merlin Engine with Pintle Injector
Image Credit: Warren W. Thompson

Finally, while explaining the Pintle Injector to a friend, I realized that almost everybody who has a garden or tends a lawn has personal experience with pintles. You all use a nozzle on the end of your watering hose. Crank it down and you get a steady, narrow stream of water shooting out in a long arc. Crank it back the other way when you want to shut it off, and you get a wide, cone shaped fan spray. Now, turn off the water and look at the business end of the garden hose nozzle (please shut the water off first). There in the middle is a round pintle that moves back and forth as you crank the outer casing one way or the other. And the fan shaped spray of water with which you are familiar is what the fuel and oxidizer spray looks like inside the rocket engine. So take another look at the two images above and imagine the fan shaped spray. The only difference is that your spray of water doesn’t explosively combust and throw a rocket into space.

The Augustine Commission – Final Report – Hits and Misses – Part 5

(Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Wrap Up.)

In Part 1, we looked at the pieces strewn about our living room floor. In Part 2, we examined the Goals and Destinations in Chapter 3.0. And in Part 3, the three current Human Space Flight programs were reviewed (International Space Station, the Space Shuttle and the Constellation Program). In Part 4, we looked at the launch vehicles examined by The Augustine Commission.

Chapter 6 of the Augustine Commission Final Report deals with Program Options and Evaluation. This is one of the many contentious issues commentators have with the Commission. While they did select five possible exploration programs (Chapter 6), and while they did evaluate various launch vehicles (Chapter 5), the Committee seems to have ignored the possibility that different launch vehicles have greater or lesser ability to cover the five exploration programs. This failure may in the end, prove to be disastrous for human space exploration. As we write, the Space Shuttle infrastructure is being actively dismantled. The end result of failing to evaluate the physical infrastructure and the human infrastructure capable of supporting a Shuttle derived architecture may be that the United States is left with no heavy lift human space flight capability for at least the next several decades. We may have surrendered our space faring capability to Europe, China, Russia, India and Japan.

6.1 Evaluation Criteria

As noted by the Commission:

The Committee did not intend that the evaluation would generate a single numerical score; rather, it would provide a basis for comparison across options, highlighting the opportunities and challenges associated with each. Assigning weights to individual figures of merit is within the purview of the ultimate decision-makers.

Three primary evaluation dimensions were identified:

  • Benefits to Stakeholders
  • Risk
  • Budget Realities

These three dimensions were expanded into 12 criteria for comparing the options.

  • Exploration Preparation
  • Technology Innovation
  • Science Knowledge
  • Expanding and Protecting Human Civilization
  • Economic Expansion
  • Global Partnerships
  • Public Engagement
  • Schedule and Programmatic Risk
  • Mission Safety Challenges
  • Workforce Impact
  • Programmatic Sustainability
  • Life-Cycle Cost

6.2 Key Decisions and Integrated Options

6.2.1 Key Decisions

1. What should be the future of the Space Shuttle?
2. What should be the future of the International Space Station (ISS)?
3. On what should the next heavy-lift launch vehicle be based?
4. How should crews be carried to low-Earth orbit?
5. What is the most practicable strategy for exploration beyond low-Earth orbit?

6.2.2 Integrated Options

The Committee identified five basic options: One based on the Program of Record (POR – Constellation – Ares I and V, Orion and Altair), and four alternatives. Options 2 and 3 were budget compatable alternatives to the POR. Option 4 was a Moon First program (with two variations), and Option 5 was the Flexible Path (avoiding the gravity well of the Moon).

6.2.3 Methodology for Analyzing the Integrated Options

Two budgets were used. The “Constrained Budget” used the FY 2010 budget, while the “Less Constrained Budget” allowed for an increase by 2014 of $3 Billion per year higher than FY 2010.

6.2.4 Reference Cases of the Entirely Unconstrained Program of Record

The Program of Record was evaluated and found to be a total of $45 Billion over the FY 2010 budget by 2020, wherein it is $5 Billion a year over FY 2010 in 2016 and $7 Billion per year over FY 2010 in 2019.

6.3 Integrated Options Constrained to the FY 2010 Budget

6.3.1 Evaluation of Integrated Options 1 and 2

Option 1 was found to allow for rocket development, but lacked funds for exploration. Option 2 extends the lifetime of the ISS, delays rocket development, and has no funds for exploration.

6.3.2 Examination of alternate budget guidance

The Committee found no alternatives to Options 1 or 2 that were viable under the FY 2010 budget. This conclusion has been disputed.

6.4 Moon First Integrated Options Fit to the Less-Constrained Budget

6.4.1 Evaluation of Integrated Options 3 and 4

Option 3 was to execute the POR under a less constrained budget. The ISS is de-orbited in 2010, and the Shuttle flies the remaining missions into 2011. Human lunar return occurs in the mid 2020s and the lunar base becomes operation late in the decade. An alternate extending ISS to 2020 was found to push these dates out by three to four more years.

Option 4 uses the less constrained budget, scraps Ares I and substitutes commercial crew services by 2016 It extends the ISS to 2020. Ares V is scrapped in favor of a dual-launch Ares V Lite vehicle for lunar missions.

Option 4A retires the Shuttle in 2011, while Option 4B extends the Shuttle to 2015 and develops a Shuttle Derived Heavy Lift vehicle in place of Ares V Lite.

6.4.2 Examination of the key decision on the ISS extension

Given the International Partnerships that have been developed, and the fact that the extension to 2020 would only delay the lunar return by a few years, the Committee found that the extension provides greater value than ending the ISS mission.

6.4.3 Examination of the key decision on Ares V vs. Ares V Lite dual launch

Baseline Ares V has more launch capability than the Saturn V, but current NASA studies show that when used in combination with Ares I, it does not have enough launch capability to robustly deliver the currently planned landing and surface systems to the Moon.

The Committee concluded that Ares V Lite represents less development risk, likely will reduce costs and provides more substantial margin for the lunar mission.

6.4.4 Examination of the key decision on the provision of crew transport to low-Earth orbit

Commercial crew services, based on a high-reliability rocket with a capsule and launch escape system could significantly reduce development costs, as well as lower operating costs.

6.4.5 Examination of the key question on Shuttle extension

The Committee favored early retirement of the Shuttle (2010 or 2011), although they noted several advantages to Shuttle extension to 2015, including up-mass and down-mass capability and workforce retention.

6.5 Flexible Path Integrated Options Fit to the Less-Constrained Budget

6.5.1 Evaluation of Integrated Option 5

Option 5 operates the Shuttle into 2011 and extends the International Space Station mission until 2020. A variety of destinations beyond low earth orbit are possible. The Committee developed three variants of this option.

  • Option 5A develops the Ares V Lite, visits the Lagrange points, near Earth objects, on-orbit refueling and achieves a lunar return by the end of the 2020s.
  • Option 5B develops commercial heavy lift capability, restructures NASA, and follows a similar mission profile as 5A, but on a slower time line.
  • Option 5C scraps Ares V Lite and develops a Shuttle Derived Heavy Lift vehicle. 5C follows a similar mission profile as 5A, but on a slower time line.

6.5.2 Examination of the key question on Ares V family vs. Shuttle-derived heavy launcher

While the Shuttle derived in-line launch vehicle (SDLV) with two four-segment solid rocket motors (SRM) and the 8.4 meter external tank (ET) was the 2005 ESAS candidate for the cargo vehicle, it was forced to evolve into the Ares V due to the problems encountered with the underpowered Ares I. For some reason, the Committee decided that in order to match the capabilities of the Ares V, or the Ares V Lite dual-launch mission, that there had to be three SDLV launches. Therefore, operations would be more costly.

This is a clear Committee miss, as the current planned lunar return missions can be accomplished with good margin by a dual-launch SDLV program, thus costing less than the Ares V Lite. There is no need for the enhanced capabilities of the dual-launch Ares V Lite.

6.5.3 Examination of the key question on NASA heritage vs. EELV-heritage super-heavy vehicles

The Committee considers the EELV-heritage super-heavy vehicle to be a way to significantly reduce the operating cost of the heavy lifter to NASA in the long run. It would be a less-capable vehicle, but probably sufficiently capable for the mission. Reaping the long-term cost benefits would require substantial disruption in NASA, and force the agency to adopt a new way of doing business.

6.6 Comparisons Across Integrated Options

6.6.1 Cross-option comparisons

The Flexible Path program (Option 5A) scores more highly than the Baseline (Option 3) on 9 of the 12 criteria outlined in section 6.1 ( See figure 6.6.1-1). The higher rankings include:

  • Exploration Preparation (due to much more capable launch system)
  • Technology (due to investment in technology)
  • Science (because of more places visited)
  • Human Civilization (due to the ISS extension)
  • Economic Expansion (because of commercial involvement in space elements and crew transport)
  • Global Partnerships (gained by extending the ISS)
  • Public Engagement (by visiting more new locations, and doing so each year)
  • Schedule (exploring beyond low-Earth orbit sooner)
  • Life-Cycle Costs (due to commercial crew services)

6.6.2 Examination of the key question on exploration strategy

Three exploration strategies were examined in Chapter 3. The choice of Mars First was found not to be viable due to technological problems. Two strategies remained:

  • Moon First on the Way to Mars, with surface exploration focused on developing capability for Mars.
  • Flexible Path to Mars via the inner solar system objects and locations, with no immediate plan for surface exploration, then followed by exploration of the lunar and/or Martian surface.

The Moon first is favorable to lunar science and exploration (although much can be done robotically). The Flexible Path missions explore more of the Solar System, while initially doing less on the Moon. Flexible Path has the advantage of developing infrastructure for deep space exploration, including the moons of Mars and Mars itself. The Committe notes that:

Considering that we have visited and obtained samples from the Moon, but not near-Earth objects or Mars, and also that the Flexible Path develops the ability to service space observatories, the Science Knowledge criterion slightly favors the Flexible Path. Broadly, the more complex the environment, the more astronaut explorers are favored over robotic exploration. In practice, this means that astronauts will offer their greatest value-added in the exploration of the surface of Mars.

Final Scoring

Although the Augustine Commission did not publish a final tally of the scores (for reasons they made clear), the following table does compare and tabulate the scores.

Option Description Science Safety Cost Schedule NASA / Industry Jobs US Skills Retention Exploration Capability Technology Space Colony Potential Commercial Benefit Public Engagement international Cooperation Sustainability Total
1 The Status Quo 0 0 0 -2 -1 -1 -2 -2 -2 -1 -1 -2 -1 -15
2 ISS Extension plus Moon 0 0 1 -2 -1 -1 -2 1 -1 1 -1 0 0 -5
3 Status quo + $3 B 1 -1 0 0 0 -1 0 0 0 0 0 -2 0 -3
4 Shuttle + Moon 1 -1 1 0 0 -1 1 1 1 1 0 0 0 4
4B Shuttle 2015 + Moon 1 -1 0 0 0 0 1 1 1 1 0 0 1 5
5A Flexible Path + Ares Lite 2 -1 1 1 0 -1 2 1 1 2 1 0 0 9
5B Flexible Path + Commercial 2 -2 2 1 0 -1 1 2 1 2 1 0 -1 8
5C Flexible Path + Jupiter 241 2 -2 0 1 0 -1 1 1 1 2 1 0 1 7

Option 5D: We will have more to say about this proposal in our final segment: “Wrapped Up” or “The Augustine Commission for Dummies”.

Option Description Science Safety Cost Schedule NASA / Industry Jobs US Skills Retention Exploration Capability Technology Space Colony Potential Commercial Benefit Public Engagement international Cooperation Sustainability Total
5D Flexible Path + Direct 2 -2 1 1 1 1 2 1 1 2 1 1 1 13

(Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Wrap Up.)

The Augustine Commission – Final Report – Hits and Misses – Part 4

(Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Wrap Up.)

In Part 1, we looked at the pieces strewn about our living room floor. In Part 2, we examined the Goals and Destinations in Chapter 3.0. And in Part 3, the three current Human Space Flight programs were reviewed (International Space Station, the Space Shuttle and the Constellation Program).

Chapter 5.0 Launch to Low-Earth Orbit and Beyond

In this section, The Augustine Commission examines launch vehicles. We begin with the opening statement, with which we agree:

Launch to low-Earth orbit is the most energy-intensive and dynamic step in human space exploration. No other single propulsive maneuver, including descent to and ascent from the surfaces of the Moon or Mars, demands higher thrust or more energy or has the high aerodynamic pressure forces than a launch from Earth. Launch is a critical area for spaceflight, and two of the five key questions that guide the future plans for U.S. human spaceflight focus on launch to low-Earth orbit: the delivery of heavy masses to low-Earth orbit and beyond; and the delivery of crew to low-Earth orbit.

5.1 Evaluation methodologies for Launch Vehicles

The Commission used “cost, performance and schedule parameters, as well as safety, operability, maturity, human rating, workforce implications, development of commercial space, the consequences to national security space, and the impact on exploration and science missions”. They note that some of these are quantitative and some are qualitative measures. Evaluations of the claim for each launcher was made and adjusted, and the uncertainty was assessed. Historical bounds were employed where appropriate. Some 70 lower-level metrics were used to construct 13 top level metrics.

5.2 Heavy Lift to Low-Earth Orbit and Beyond

The Commission began by reiterating the Constellation plan to loft about 600 metric tons (mt) per year to low Earth orbit (LEO). By comparison, NASA launched 250 mt per year during Apollo and the International Space Station (ISS) has a mass of about 350 mt.

Figure 5.2-1 listed the five candidates and their lift to LEO (see Launch Vehicles for visuals) and Figure 5.2.1-1 gave Trans Lunar Injection (TLI) with no refueling and with in-space refueling:

Launch Vehicle LEO TLI no refueling TLI in-space refueling
EELV Super Heavy 75 mt 26 mt 55 mt
Directly Shuttle Derived 100-110 mt 35 mt 75 mt
Ares V Lite 140 mt 55 mt 120 mt
Ares V 160 mt 63 mt 130 mt
Ares V plus Ares I 185 mt 71 mt 150 mt

Notice that the Commission has brought the potential of in-space refueling front and center, either as propellant transfer from one spacecraft to another (as in a dual launch Ares V Lite or Jupiter 246), or from a true propellant depot, which would be supplied by commercial contract. However, “the Committee found both of these concepts feasible with current technology, but in need of significant further engineering development and in-space demonstration before they could be included in a baseline design”. Thus, the initial set of evaluations would need to examine the mass that an Earth Departure Stage (EDS) could push through TLI without refueling.

A detailed study of launch reliability of multi-launch missions commissioned by the Committee concluded that at most three critical launches be used. Reasonable chances for success required 90+ days of on-orbit life for an EDS or propellant depots.

Subsequent to Shuttle retirement, the need for NASA to launch 400 to 600 mt to LEO each year would consume much if not all of the existing and planned excess EELV capacity. Further, it would be expensive.

Finally, the Commission notes that heavy lift vehicles “would allow large scientific observatories to be launched, potentially enabling them to have optics larger than the current five-meter fairing sizes will allow. More capable deep-space science missions could be mounted, allowing faster or more extensive exploration of the outer solar system”.

All the foregoing was seen as justification for the development of Heavy Lift vehicles. The Commission then reviewed the choices in the chart above.

Ares V: This is the most capable of the proposed rockets. Together with the Ares I, it can launch 185 mt to LEO, 71 mt through TLI and land 14 tons of cargo only on the lunar surface, or 2 mt of cargo plus crew. Ares V requires expansion of the External Tank (ET) to 10 meters, the development of new 5.5 segment solid rocket motors (SRM), development of a regenerative version of the RS-68 engine and the development of the J2-X second stage engine (modified from the Saturn J2 engine).

Ares V Lite: Ares V Lite is a derivative of the Ares V, but with an LEO payload of 140 mt. This rocket would require the completion of the 5 segment SRM under development for Ares I. The remaining new Ares V components would still require development. For lunar missions, the Ares V Lite would be human-rated and used in the “dual mode”. In single launch it can place 14 mt of cargo on the lunar surface, and with a larger Lander than Ares V, it can land 5 mt of cargo plus crew.

SDLV Side-Mount: The side-mount and the in-line SDLV both use the existing Space Shuttle ET, the 4 segment SRM and the Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSME). The side-mount replaces the Shuttle with a cargo pod. The Committee combined the side-mount with the in-line variants for purposes of evaluation. They did note, however, that “the side-mount variant is considered an inherently less safe arrangement if crew are to be carried, and is more limited in its growth potential”.

SDLV In-Line The in-line variants are represented by the Jupiter family of rockets, as proposed by the Direct team. The Committee assumed that three Jupiter 241 vehicles would be used for a lunar mission, and that 5 mt of cargo could be landed with crew. No figure was given for a cargo only dual-launch mission, but the report states that more than 20 mt of cargo can be landed by a single Jupiter 241 using in-space refueling. Now, the three launch scenario is peculiar. Perhaps the Commission was trying to replicate the LEO loft mass of a dual Ares V Lite mission (2 x 140 mt). However, that much fuel, lander and crew far exceeds the Constellation Program (CxP) requirements. Furthermore, Ross Tierney, from Direct, has stated that “the right 2-launch Jupiter architecture is actually capable of landing 19mT of useful payload mass on the lunar surface every crew mission…Given that the Ascent Module only consists of about 6.4mT of that, this architecture is actually capable of landing almost the same 14.5mT* cargo modules as CxP are currently planning to land using cargo-only missions”. So we are left with unanswered questions concerning the assumptions and evaluations made by the Commission, not only about SDLV, but the Ares mission architectures.

EELV Super Heavy The Extended Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) is represented by the Atlas 5 Phase 2 Heavy, which consists of the core rocket plus two boosters of the same basic design along with an upgraded common upper stage (to be used by both Atlas and Delta). The common upper stage would use four RL-10 rocket engines, which have a long history of successful flights aboard Titan, Delta and Atlas among others. This configuration is capable of lofting a maximum of 75 mt to LEO. A dual launch configuration with in-space refueling is capable of conducting Flexible Path missions.

Summary of Findings

  • Heavy Lift capability is beneficial to human exploration as well as national security and the scientific community.
  • In-Space refueling represents a significant benefit to space transportation systems beyond low Earth orbit. It requires development and would not be on the critical path. A prudent approach is to develop Heavy Lift capable of early missions and phase in in-space refueling when it becomes available.
  • A new emphasis of sustainable operations is needed. “NASA’s design culture emphasizes maximizing performance at minimum development cost, repeatedly resulting in high operational and lifecycle costs. A shift in NASA design culture toward design for minimum discounted life-cycle cost, accompanied by robustness and adequate margins, will allow NASA programs to be more sustainable”.
  • In-Space Propulsion for missions beyond LEO that last for weeks or months require stages using efficient engines with high-reliability restart capabilities.

The Lunar Surface Capabilities of the various systems are compared in the following table:

Launch Vehicle LEO Cargo Only Cargo and Crew
EELV Super Heavy 75 mt NA mt NA mt
Directly Shuttle Derived 100-110 mt 14 mt* 5 mt*
Ares V Lite 140 mt 14 mt 5 mt
Ares V plus Ares I 185 mt 14 mt 2 mt

5.3 Crew Launch to Low-Earth Orbit

Crew safety is an overriding issue in human space flight. The safe delivery of crew to LEO and their return is critical. This is the fourth key question (see Part 1) that the Committee examined. The assumed that Orion would be the crew vehicle, and that the launch vehicle would either be government provided and operated, or a commercial service.

Ares I was selected in 2005 as part of the ESAS study, and was expected to be operational in 2012. The Constellation program now projects initial operational capability (IOC) in 2015, and the Committee thinks this will slip further. Both budgetary and design problems have been encountered.

International Transportation was deemed acceptable by the Committee. However, sustained U. S. leadership in space requires domestic crew launch capability.

A human rated EELV was considered by the Commission. An independent study found that the launch of Orion on the Delta IV Heavy was technically feasible, but the long term development and carrying costs offset any savings versus Ares I.

Commercial Transport of crew to LEO is a hot topic. The Committee asked “can a simple capsule with a launch escape system, operating on a high-reliability liquid booster, be made safer than the Shuttle, and comparably as safe as Ares I plus Orion”? A number of factors were considered:

  • A strong role for NASA oversight of the development would be required.
  • The cost to NASA of underwriting design, development, test, and evaluation (DDT&E).
  • The potential non-NASA uses of LEO crew transport

The Committee made several estimates of total costs, and arrived at a preliminary estimate of $5 Billion dollars. Assuming a “less-constrained” NASA budget, a commercial LEO crew transport service could be available by 2016.

Finally, the Committee assessed the risks to the human space flight program associated with commercial crew transport. Such development could distract from the near-term goal of developing commercial cargo capability. The commercial community might fail to deliver a crew transportation system. The fall-back position for NASA would be human rating the Heavy Lift Vehicle. The Committee assumes that the first stage of the HLV will be developed as quickly as possible. We leave the implications of this statement as an exercise for the reader.

5.4 Additional Issues in Launcher Selection

Launch Vehicle Performance and Costing The factors in this section include:

  • Evaluation of the claimed cost, schedule and performance of the various launch vehicles.
  • The advantage of shifting to commercial purchase of space transportation systems.
  • The loss of the workforce and expertise built up within NASA from shifting to commercial sources.
  • The health and viability of the solid rocket motor industry from all-liquid fuel launch vehicles.

Launcher Reliability The Committee reviewed the historical reliability of the Shuttle, Saturn, Titan, Delta and Atlas programs. Launchers derived from existing systems have shown greater reliability in early stages of development than newly developed systems.

(Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Wrap Up.)

Augustine Commission – 30 July 2009 Session

The 30 July public meeting of the Augustine Commission on The Review of Human Space Flight Plans was fascinating from several points of view.

First, to see some really bright folks working on a really hard problem. Second, to see how individual views had changed since the first public meeting on 17 June.

The session was devoted primarily to the subgroup “Exploration Beyond Low Earth Orbit” (see the previous NSSPhoenix post here). The chairman of this subgroup is Dr Ed Crawley, first on the left, above.  He introduced the topic.  The charter of the subgroup is to present options for Why we explore, Where and How.  There were a lot of surprises during the two and a half hour presentation.  Of major interest was Crawley’s observation that President Kennedy had changed the American space program from Pay as you Go, to Pay this Decade.  It was to have profound impact on the future of Space Exploration.

Dr Wanda Austin, second from the left above, discussed the Evaluation and Assessment methodology the subgroup would propose for evaluating the options for exploration.  Bo Bejmuk (first from the right) discussed Science at various destinations.  Then things got really interesting.

Jeff Greason (CEO XCOR Aerospace, and second from the right above)) was committed to Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELV) at the first meeting on 17 June.  At the 30 July session, he spoke on access to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and beyond.  To get beyond LEO, you need a large Earth Departure Stage (EDS) and a lot of propellant.  Then we got his first surprise.  The next few minutes were devoted to the concept of Propellant Depots (PD).  As Greason noted, this would allow launch and exploration to be decoupled.  This is similar to the “tanker mode” advocated by Werner von Braun before he consented to the Apollo Luner Orbit Rendezvous (LOR) architecture.  Greason noted that had von Braun been successful in his position, Apollo would not have landed on the Moon in 1969, but we likely would have been on Mars by the 1990’s.  The reason is that you can launch a large empty EDS with payload, and fuel it in orbit.  This Earth Orbit Rendezvous (EOR) architecture requires two launches of smaller and less expensive rockets. The Apollo program was effectively canceled with the elimination of funding for the Saturn V before Apollo 11 landed on the Moon. It was too expensive.

And now, Greason brought forth his second surprise. He suggested there were three classes of launch vehicles in sight: 25 mt (metric tons), 75 mt and 120 mt. The first, 25 mt, is represented by the Delta and Atlas EELV rockets. These he concluded, are “too small”.   The 120 mt class, represented by NASA’s Ares V rocket, is a repetition of the Saturn V problem: it is “too big” and too expensive. The 75 mt class, however, is “just right”. With propellant depots, you could launch an empty EDS with payload weighing 75 mt. Then you would add 375 mt of fuel from the depot. You now have a 450 mt EDS, which would allow you to explore a wide range of destinations in the Solar System. Such a rocket is represented by the Direct Team’s Jupiter Rocket, which was presented to the Augustine Commission at it’s 17 June 2009 meeting.

In future posts, we will discuss the options presented by the subgroup and the summation by Chris Chyba (third from the right): “Destinations are not Goals”.

Celebrate Apollo 11.

This Saturday, July 18th, Mike Mackowski and Chuck Lesher are giving back to back presentations twice that day and Don (President Moon Society Phoenix) will have a table setup at the Arizona Science Center. Mike is giving a presentation on the Apollo Program and the history of lunar exploration. Chuck will be giving a presentation on the current plans for returning to the moon with an emphasis on NASA’s Constellation Program. The first time will be at 12 noon at the Science Center downtown and the next will be at 3pm at the Challenger Center in Peoria.

After a full day of space advocating and Apollo 11 celebrating, you are all invited to come on over to Chuck’s house and socialize. Even if you cannot help out during the day, please come and join us. Bring your spouse and kids and cousin Ed if he is in town. The more the merrier! Chuck will have BBQ and sodas. BYOB or whatever. You can bring chips or salads or other munches if you want but it is not required. Let’s just get together and have some fun while we calibrate the first steps of man off planet Earth!

Chuck’s House
1982 N Iowa St
Chandler, AZ 85225
Southwest Quadrant of Arizona Ave and Warner Rd

Please feel free to call Don or me. Here are our cell phone numbers

602-616-3162 Chuck
480-330-6119 Don