NASA – Bolden – Heavy Lift Vehicles

Jupiter 140
J-140 Image Credit:

8:00 AM Phoenix time

In the Fall of 2009, Bolden tasked NASA with evaluating Heavy Lift Vehicles. These included the Ares V, the Sidemount shuttle derived vehicle, inline shuttle derived vehicles similar to DIRECT Jupiter and what appeared to be a Saturn V type vehicle capable of lifting 200 mt to Low Earth Orbit, which surfaced briefly in a NASA white paper on “Flexible Path“.

Reports indicate that Bolden will review this internal report today, Friday, 15 January. The chief contender is a configuration consisting of four (4) Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSME), a stretched 8.4 meter shuttle External Tank (ET) and two (2) Solid Rocket Boosters (SRB) from the Shuttle Program. These SRBs are likely to include a dummy fifth segment (similar to the Ares I-X test rocket), and then migrate to a full five (5) segment SRB. The core configuration is very similar to the Jupiter 140 Stretched Heavy (See Jupiter 140 image to the left).

The upper stage is reported to include between four and six RL10A-4-3 engines, a variant of the RL10B-2 currently flying on the Centaur upper stage of the Delta IV rockets. These very reliable upper stage engines date back to the Saturn V upper stages in the Apollo era.

A clue to the direction likely to be taken comes from yesterday’s meeting of the Program Requirements Control Board (PRCB). A proposal was put forward to delay the disposal of SSME assets, pending “future launch vehicle architecture” decisions. This includes certain operations at the Stennis Space Center and delays in disposing of new production capabilities for space shuttle main engines. The recommendation was to delay a decision until June 2010, in order to protect future shuttle derived launch vehicle architecture. The possible restart of SSME production was given as one to two years.

Of note is the fact that no mention of the Space Shuttle Program beyond current plans was mentioned in the PRCB deliberations.

Observers note that Charles Bolden is not one to rush to judgment. His response to the NASA report is not likely to be known for a while.

4:00 PM Phoenix. reports on the symposium “Human Spaceflight and the Future of Space Science”, sponsored by the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) and The Space Policy Institute at George Washington University (GWU). Senator Jeff Bingham (D-New Mexico) of the Senate Commerce Committee held up a working draft of a proposed bill titled the “Human Spaceflight Capability Assurance and Enhancement Act”.

Although the bill has not been introduced in the Senate, Bingham said that the bill should contain language to continue the International Space Station (ISS) until 2020, and continue support of the ISS by the United States until commercial vehicles can fly cargo and crew to the ISS. “There is only one answer,” he said. “It will not surprise you to know that we believe that answer is to keep flying the shuttle.”

Irrespective of the lack of PRCB language about additional shuttle flights, discussed above concerning shuttle engine preservation, it seems there is growing support for a shuttle extension.

It makes sense that if you are going to extend shuttle parts production (engines, tanks and SRBs), then shuttle extension is a logical step. But you need more money to do that. Which seems quite likely, as a number of senators have a lot of jobs wrapped up with the existing shuttle infrastructure. Follow the Money.

Additional details will be added here as they become available.