Random Thoughts: Game-Changing HLV/Propulsion Technologies

One of the reasons I haven’t blogged much about my reactions to the President’s NASA budget proposal is because I’ve been doing a lot of commenting over at NASASpaceflight.com.  I just realized that my latest post could actually serve pretty well as a blog post too, so I’m copying it over here for discussion.  One area that there’s been a lot of argument about is the value of the HLV/Propulsion R&D budget.  A lot of people have been saying “we know how to build HLVs, we don’t need more R&D”.  Here are my thoughts:

I’ve been a bit busy to weigh in on this for a while, but being a propulsion engineer myself, I can see *several* potentially interesting technologies that could be invested in.  To me, I don’t think the reason they’re suggesting investing in HLV technologies instead of building an HLV right now has anything to do with whether or not we can build one with existing technology.  My guesses at the reasoning are more along the lines of:

1-If they build an HLV right now and keep Orion going, they would either need to greatly increase the budget, stretch timelines out so far that it would drive the costs way up, or sacrifice the other parts of the plan that are what they’re actually interested in (tech demonstrators, ISS utilization, commercial crew maturation).
2-If they punt on actually building an HLV until after this first five-year chunk, then they’re no longer conflicting with the most immediate tech demonstrators or the commercial crew development efforts, which would allow them to build such vehicles without requiring a big increase in NASA’s budget.
3-By punting for a while, they both may have better technology options to start with, allowing for a cheaper, lower manpower HLV, but there will also be a much better baseline to start with for a new Orion vehicle.  By that point there will likely be at least two commercial capsule providers out there, and possibly some new tricks up their sleeve, which may make Orion a much smoother, better vehicle overall.
4-By punting on the actual HLV development until after the technology demonstrations, it may be clearer what capabilities you really need for the HLV.  Going ahead with one right now either has to assume that the tech demonstration will work (risky) or assume it won’t work (risky via overconservatism).  Waiting until you know more about if depots and high-Isp in-space propulsion systems are reasonable allows you to pick an HLV better matched to the new technology.

Going back to the technologies, if you understand that this isn’t a question of “we can’t do it with the technology we have today”, but more of a “we don’t want to do an HLV for other reasons, but what stuff could we do to make an HLV more affordable when we do have the budget to move on it”, then it becomes a lot clearer.  To me, the goal of any of the booster engine R&D should be to take technologies that have potential for drastically better cost/performance ratios, and mature them to the point that they could be rolled into an HLV effort when it is time to move.  TAN is one option, since if done right you could get enough thrust that a shuttle derived HLV wouldn’t need SRBs anymore to takeoff, and commercial EELV-class vehicles could either reduce their engine size, or increase their propellant load drastically for the same weight booster engine.  It might also allow you to get good performance with a lower pressure booster engine.  Other options include stuff like pistonless pumps, or some of the other pump concepts I’ve seen that while they may not have quite the performance of staged combustion, have most of the performance at a tiny fraction of the complexity/cost.  Flow separation control is another cool trick that can allow you to get more performance out of lower chamber pressure engines.  Imagine being able to build an engine that had better T/W ratio than an existing staged combustion engine, had no turbomachinery, and similar or better mission averaged Isp, but cost about a tenth as much?  That would be a game-changing set of technologies in my book.

There may be some other work relating to getting domestic high-thrust LOX/hydrocarbon engines ready.  There’s also the high thrust expander cycles you mentioned, which would be beneficial to EELVs as well as HLVs.  Depending on the engine size, it might even be interesting to further develop the Mid-Air Recovery idea that LM was investigating for their Atlas V engines.  Being able to recover the engines from an HLV launch and reuse them a few times without having to deal with salt-water corrosion issues is a great way to reduce some of the big marginal costs of a flight.  For upper stages, putting some money into ACES/Raptor related technologies might not be a bad investment either–find something that can give you some commonality between your HLVs and other stages flying (or make it so your HLV is just a family member of an upgraded EELV-class launcher family).  Or doing at least a little funding on reentry technologies could also be interesting (to allow for easier reuse of currently expendable booster stages, low the hurdle for true-RLVs, and also possibly make Orion-like vehicles easier to build and more capable down the road).  Some concepts like transpiration cooling and electromagnetic TPS/aerobraking are both really interesting.

Anyway, I’m an ideas guy and a propulsion engineer, so I may have a different view of this than most, but I for one think this is a reasonable approach.  To me, cutting back drastically on the amount of people who are needed to launch an HLV, while also using new technologies that allow you to get better system-level performance out of lower-cost, lower-complexity hardware is potentially game changing in my book.

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Jonathan Goff

Jonathan Goff

President/CEO at Altius Space Machines
Jonathan Goff is a space technologist, inventor, and serial space entrepreneur who created the Selenian Boondocks blog. Jon was a co-founder of Masten Space Systems, and is the founder and CEO of Altius Space Machines, a space robotics startup in Broomfield, CO. His family includes his wife, Tiffany, and five boys: Jarom (deceased), Jonathan, James, Peter, and Andrew. Jon has a BS in Manufacturing Engineering (1999) and an MS in Mechanical Engineering (2007) from Brigham Young University, and served an LDS proselytizing mission in Olongapo, Philippines from 2000-2002.
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25 Responses to Random Thoughts: Game-Changing HLV/Propulsion Technologies

  1. Alan says:

    I still don’t know why we need to drag re-entry systems all over the solar system. Why can’t we just build an in-space system for beyond-LEO transport/exploration. Do we take a ship/boat into dry-dock every time we want to load/unload them?

    The same logic with Lunar Landing or Mars Landing systems. Why bring it all the way back to Earth or Earth Orbit. What’s wrong with EML-1/EML-2 and Phobos “Gas Stations”.

    Aldrin Cyclers with VASMIR (or comparable tech) engines. If we get more sophisticated over time, get a couple small asteroids onto Aldrin Cycler orbits and bury the living quarters under the surface. What radiation problem? For now lift lunar regolith to act as shielding for the Cyclers. They would let us stop by Mars & Venus.

    Now THAT is exciting for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) Education. Plus the basic functionality is do-able with current technology.


  2. Jonathan Goff Jonathan Goff says:

    I actually agree with you re hauling reentry systems around. I had a blog post on the topic that I’m not quite done with. Hopefully I can have something up today or tomorrow. Patience please. 🙂


  3. 1. Delaying the development of an HLV could actually hurt developing an HLV in the future– especially if its decided that Space Shuttle solid rocket boosters should be a component of a heavy lift vehicle. We could lose our SRB work force and expertise the same way we did with kerosene rockets.

    2. Delaying HLV development also hurts the emerging commercial manned space flight companies since there’s no way– multiple– manned space flight companies can be sustained by delivering passengers to the ISS. There’s just no enough manned flights to the ISS from the US side and not enough occupants. However, if a HLV is ready to launch huge instant Skylab-like space stations into orbit for science and for space tourism then multiple private commercial manned space flight companies can be sustained.

    3. Demand is going to be the key to dramatically reducing the cost of an HLV. But if a few space spectaculars over the course of a decade or two are all we’re going to use an HLV for then heavy lift vehicles will always be expensive. Utilizing HLVs for tourism and colonization is the way to reduce their cost, IMO.

    4. By pumping still more money into the ISS program (scheduled to go up to over $3billion a year by 2013), we are actually hurting the development of an HLV and the emerging commercial manned space flight.

    5. Developing both a directly shuttle derived HLV (Jupiter) plus the Orion shouldn’t cost more than $6 billion a year over the next 5 to 7 years. The Constellation program was being funded at $3.4 billion a year. The Space Shuttle program is being funded at about $3 billion a year. And the ISS program is being funded at about $2 billion a year.

    So that still leaves at least $2 billion a year for those folks who love throwing good money after bad by continuing the ISS program, the most expensive and inefficiently run space station program ever conceived– and an absolute cancer on the NASA budget! This is one of the few things that I agree with Mike Griffin on. There’s no logical reason for a highly centralized hyper expensive super titanic microgravity space station! None! Simple customized single launched HLV space stations would be much less expensive and could accommodate a lot more scientist and tourist in space.

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  5. Jonathan Goff Jonathan Goff says:

    1. If you actually care about cost and performance more than keeping people employed in Utah and Florida, I doubt SRBs would trade well vs many of the technologies I mentioned.
    2. Where’s the money going to come from for instant Skylab like stations? Bigelow or something like that seems more likely as a secondary market for commercial crew providers.
    3. I don’t know what you’re smoking, but it’ll be a long-time before there’s enough demand for HLVs for tourism to actually create any real flight rate for them. HLVs are too expensive as-is to be used for any meaningful colonization. Right now, an HLV-based colonization effort would likely cost you in the hundreds of millions per person. Where the heck is the money going to come for that? How many people can really afford that price? Same with tourism, even if you filled an HLV with tourists, could you actually get the seat price much lower than current capsule on an EELV systems? Enough to drive up demand for even one flight per year of an HLV tourist launcher? Have you really thought this through?
    4. Not throwing away ISS does definitely make an HLV harder to fund, but providing a near-term market for commercial providers to get their legs under them is pretty darned useful. I don’t see how building an HLV would be better for commercial providers, at least in a non-fantasy world.
    5. Marcel, you just proved my point. Keeping Jupiter and Orion going involves gutting everything other than maybe keeping ISS on life-support. You get no commercial crew funding, now advanced R&D, but at least at the end of it you have two big sets of fixed-cost that you have to maintain without actually having a use for it yet, or having any near-term use for it without spending a lot more money.

    You’re doing a really poor job of convincing me that I’m wrong.


  6. InfraNut says:

    My educated guess is that the most likely HLV technology to be developed is a LOX/RP-1 staged combustion engine. Either RS-84 or something similar. LOX/RP-1 seems to be the most popular choice for big booster propulsion for most of those that have really explored the alternatives in-depth with focus on cost-effectiveness and the US currently have no big LOX/RP-1 engine (there is the medium-sized merlin, though). More importantly when it comes to the chance of being selected: Both performance fetishist engineers and politically minded managers will love the chance to catch up to the russians in booster engine technology. There is also the politically attractive opportunity to end the dependence on russian RD-180 engines for Atlas V.

    A staged combustion engine may not have enough advantages over say a gas generator cycle engine to really defend the higher development cost, but I think both NASA and Boeing Rocketdyne will enthusiastically jump on the chance to develop something like the RS-84.

  7. Alan says:

    Why do we need a NASA-built HLV? If there is a market for HLV launch services multiple private companies will build HLVs. I fully expect ULA, Orbital Sciences and SpaceX to develop increasingly “heavier-lift” versions of their craft.

    Why do we need a “huge instant skylab-sized” space-station? We can’t even effectively use the one we have? Why not launch some Bigelow modules and tack them onto ISS (or build another)? They will launch effectively on existing launchers.

    If we take advantage of Libration Point “gas stations” (i.e. a prop-depot, a manned repair bay and a small SPSS for power) for reusable beyond-LEO craft, why do we need HLV? It’s the same hub-n-spoke configurations that the airlines use.

    And as for “no one will want to fly because it cost too much”. . .
    How much did it cost to fly direct from NYC to Honolulu in 1930 compared to 2009 (heck, let’s compare it to 1990 if you’d like).
    Flying was considered a “luxury” in the early part of the last century (plus airplane technology didn’t allow us to fly direct).
    In 2009 we’re talking a spot price of around $600-700.

  8. David Gadbois says:

    Question, with this talk of HLV, are we talking 100+ mt to LEO, Saturn V class or 50 mt evolved EELV class? It seems to me that the latter might have more practical utility from a demand standpoint.

    Also, your comments about RLV and stage reentry technologies reminds me of the old TSTO posts you did here. Mid-air recovery is a good idea – we need to stop dunking stages in salt water. Can a case be made for fly (fall) -forward VTVL stages that land on, say, converted unmanned oil rig platforms? Or would the cost of building and operating the platforms outweight the benefits? Sea Launch made a similar bet and apparently (?) lost.

  9. @Jonathan Goff

    1. Developing plug nozzle engines would probably be a game changer as far as increasing payload efficiency. But fuel cost are only a small fraction of the cost of space flight. I’m more concerned about the capital cost. That’s why I’m more concerned about the long term demand for such vehicles as far as those cost are concerned.

    2. I’d probably cut funding for the ISS program by a billion to fund the program which would basically be a program designed to increasing the size of ISS type habitat modules in order to make them into instant space stations. But I certainly wouldn’t increase funding for the ISS program by $1 billion a year!

    3. Extraterrestrial colonization is a long term program that’s probably going to take decades or centuries to really accomplish. But its not done by simply dreaming about it and never starting the process. Continuously launching habitat modules to the lunar surface is easily affordable with a HLV. Assuming it cost about $1 billion for an HLV to land a habitat module on the lunar surface, you could land 2 habitat modules plus 1 habitat node every year plus a single cargo launch for other things (vehicles, regolith processing machine, food, supplies, etc.). That’s only $4 billion a year to place 2 habitat modules per year plus supplies on the lunar surface (20 habitat modules over 10 years). If you include 2 or 3 single launch manned missions to the lunar surface using a small SSTO lunar lander, that might add another $2 or $3 billion to the annual budget. And as I noted, manned space related ISS, Space Shuttle, and Constellation program cost were $8.4 billion last year (about the cost of 3 weeks occupying Iraq– a colony I really don’t want).

    4. As I noted before, polls show that 7% of wealthy people would be willing to spend over $20 million traveling into space (93% of them would not be willing to do so:-( There are 100,000 people on the planet worth over $30 million. That’s 7000 people willing to spend big bucks traveling into space. Even if only 10% of this number wanted to travel into space every year on a vessel with 4 passenger seats, you’d have to launch nearly 175 space flights per year. If I owned a modular space stations, I’d charge $1 million per head (passengers plus crew) for a 10 day stay. If my station accommodated 12 people per month, I’d make $144 million per year. That’s $1.4 billion over ten years which would probably be enough to pay off the cost of my simple NASA launched space station in the first place.

    You could also fund space tourism with a space lotto system: allowing hundreds of millions of Americans and billions of people around the world to purchase $1 lotto tickets for a chance to travel into space. I think there are a lot of Janes and Johns around the world who would love to travel to a space station or even to the Moon.

    The ISS is a white elephant! We don’t need a huge centralized space station. We need multiple customized space stations that you can place at LEO and at the Langrange Points. Let Russia, Japan, Canada and the EU have the ISS– if they really want it! Combined, they’re a lot wealthier than we are– so they can afford it!

  10. The Russians charge around $30M for 8 months training, a 10 day trip to the station and back, you pay your own way to Russia. As I understand it, Charles Simonyi paid a lot less when he went the second time.. but I don’t think anyone has the numbers. So determining how much of that $30M is training, how much is the launch, how much is the stay on the ISS, is a little difficult, but really I think it completely depends on how desperate they are for a customer and how much horse trading you can do.

  11. A_M_Swallow says:

    Using a HLV to get 6 or 7 people to the ISS will always be too expensive. On Earth tourists travel by jumbo jet, each cabin containing hundreds of people.

  12. googaw says:

    staged combustion engine, had no turbomachinery, and similar or better mission averaged Isp, but cost about a tenth as much?

    The flaw in this hope is that with a multi-billion dollar R&D budget in one organization, the results are likely to be quite gold-plated. The resulting technologies are more likely to cost ten times as much than a tenth. If the money could be spent on a large number of small prizes, contests that emphasize simplicity targets such as reducing parts counts and operations personnel and using less expensive processes, the outcome might be much better, but I’m sad to say I don’t expect it to be spent that way.

  13. Jonathan Goff Jonathan Goff says:

    I wasn’t suggesting that NASA should tie all of those technologies together right away into a new integrated engine R&D program. It would be better dividing it up among several demonstrator contracts first to take the individual technologies (possibly on a sub-scale basis) to the point where they were flight-tested and ready for integration into a new engine. Prizes could be a component of that (and would have the benefit of allowing non-traditional options to compete as well).

    But my best guess of what they’ll actually do with the money is what InfraNut said earlier: I think most of the booster money will go into something like RS-84 or americanized RD-180. Just pointing out that there are propulsion technologies out there that can definitely beat the current cost vs. performance curve.


  14. googaw says:

    Jon, I couldn’t agree more that these R&D projects need to be done sub-scale. The stuff that is good enough should also be tested in space sub-scale. Innovations pose more risks to bigger projects, and cost less for smaller projects, so it is far more productive if done in smaller projects. It’s no coincidence that the smallest technology of the last 50 years, semiconductors, has been the one to progress the most. In aerospace, most innovation occurs in small skunk-works projects (Burt Rutan’s projects being stellar examples, and obviously Masten and Armadillo). AMROC’s innovative hybrid rocket was first tested on the bench for small rockets and then first deployed in a small prize contest. But because of the label “HLV” is now to be tied to billions of research funds, and because this is NASA and politicians looking to re-employ people who were working on the Shuttle and Ares, I’m afraid that NASA won’t be doing this R&D in a way that is conducive to innovation, and we will end up with gold-plated technology that won’t work within the commercial or tight government budgets of upcoming decades. I have the same concerns for the propellant depot part of the funding.

    None of this is to say that I oppose NASA’s new direction. Far from it, the cancellation of Ares/Constellation is essential to sidelining an extremely misguided approach to space, and it’s important for NASA to pursue new directions such as propellant depots, inflatable habitats and tanks, and ISRU. But despite the billions of dollars proposed for stuff we love, it’s nothing close to a panacea, and we have to fight to make sure at least some of it gets done in ways that most promise to produce breakthrough innovations of long-term value.

    On a related note, I haven’t seen any posts on rocket racing recently: does Masten have any plans to be involved in that? I’ve long thought that rocket racing is a very good way to develop low-cost operations and low-cost and high-speed turnaround techniques for RLVs (something much closer to commercial airline turnaround or an Indy 500 pit-stop than a NASA half-year refurbishment!).

  15. googaw says:

    Marcel F. Williams:
    I’m more concerned about the long term demand for such vehicles as far as those cost are concerned.

    Judging from Obama’s cancellation of Constellation, and by the budget situation of governments generally, taxpayers aren’t demanding HLVs, and they aren’t going to be doing so anytime soon. You’ve heard of the sovereign debt crisis,? You’ve heard of supply/demand curves? The lower the cost, the greater the quantity demanded. Even governments when their budgets are strapped sometimes act that way, and Ares/Constellation is far too expensive and does far too little over far too long a timeframe for taxpayers and most politicians to want. And how did you get it in your head that another NASA gigaproject is a good way to reduce costs? You remember what the price promised for the Space Shuttle versus its actual cost was? The originally promised cost and capabilities of space station Freedom/ISS versus what it actually ended up costing and delivering?

    if a few space spectaculars over the course of a decade or two are all we’re going to use an HLV for then heavy lift vehicles will always be expensive. Utilizing HLVs for tourism and colonization is the way to reduce their cost, IMO.

    Utilizing a NASA-developed HLVs is the fast-track to destroying tourism and any hope of colonization. You will generate many false hopes of these to be sure, as you seem to have generated in yourself. And you will destroy viable private-sector alternatives. A NASA-run HLV is enough of a threat to discourage competing private investment, but far too expensive to generate significant tourism. Back to the supply/demand curves: a high cost for a ride to LEO on a gold-plated NASA HLV means demand for only a very low quantity of rides, if any.

  16. Mike Puckett says:

    It is reported Musk told Gen. Bolden he could develop a Saturn V class HLV for $2BN.

    I wonder it that is legend or true and wonder if that could have influenced their decision to pursue a Shuttle-Derived solution.

    $2BN is what Ares 1 spent on plotter paper.

  17. Coastal Ron says:

    Mike Puckett:
    1. I think that Musk rumor is FUD – SpaceX has a very focused line of products that are targeting a large market. For a young company, this is where you want to be. & 2. Bolden has been saying that he’s willing to wait on an HLV, and if that we’re not so, he would have saved himself alot of congressional grief by not cancelling Ares V (or even the DIRECT derivative).
    Marcel F. Williams:
    #2. The nice thing about using Atlas V Heavy, Delta IV Heavy or Falcon 9 Heavy is that they all use multiples of the same cores. So everytime you launch a medium payload, that launcher is validating your hardware for the heavy payload versions. In this way, spreading out crew launches across more than one supplier does not significantly affect safety, especially in comparison to what Ares I would have been.
    #5. What if you were to take the $30B+ that it will take to develop your HLV, and say that you had to instead use that money to get the same tonnage into space. Using existing launchers and modularized spacecraft (like how much of the ISS was built), I think you could do it for a lot less. Bolden is holding off on the HLV because there is no clear business case for it – we can’t afford “if you build it, payloads will come”. We have lots of good technology already built and ready to use – lets get going quicker and cheaper by using it.

  18. @googaw

    I don’t think the tax payers really want a manned space program that’s designed purely for space adventurism. I think they want a manned space program designed to pioneer the solar system mainly because most Americans would like to fly in space themselves.

    The Ares I/V architecture was foolish right from the start. The Jupiter HLV or the Shuttle C should have been chosen right from the start.

    HLVs are really not designed for efficient manned launches. They’re cargo launchers. And what they would provide for private commercial manned space launch companies are desired destinations in space (space stations & lunar habitats) and fuel depots for commercial flights beyond LEO.

  19. googaw says:


    I don’t think the tax payers really want a manned space program that’s designed purely for space adventurism. I think they want a manned space program designed to pioneer the solar system mainly because most Americans would like to fly in space themselves.

    Extremely few people expect to ever fly in space themselves. The vast majority of taxpayers don’t care about space funding, and those that do are divided into a bewildering variety of factions about what they want out of it. Most just want the nationalist feeling that our country is “ahead” of the other countries in some simplistic since, e.g. by going someplace first. Dramatic firsts, no matter how wasteful they seem from we those of us who care more about sustainability, are the Buck Rogers that bring in the bucks. I don’t like this any more than you do, but it’s the political reality.

    Another constraint that is probably emerging I call “the eight-year-rule”: an overly expensive long-term project of the last President is probably not going to survive the next one. Thus Bush’s NASA scrapped the Shuttle and tried to scrap the ISS and started Constellation, and Obama’s NASA is canceling Constellation, and if Obama attaches his name to any big projects they will be canceled by the next President. This is a blessing in disguise, since it means that an overpriced, and thus unsustainable, project is more likely to be pruned from NASA than from other government agencies. “Long term planning” by governments is very overrated.

    It’s a fascinating challenge to design missions that fit both the dramatic firsts and the eight-year-rule and yet do something to improve sustainable long-term space development as we would like. The extendable ELV plus depot approach and “flexible path” is very good in this regard. Once these are in place it means that the launcher and general infrastructure is ready for a President to pick a goal. All that is required is for NASA and it contractors to design a customized upper stage, habitat, and science packages. So hopefully we can reach a point that if Obama’s successor wants to send some astronauts to orbit around Mars and plant a flag on Phobos, or wants to prove that we can steer asteroids, or have astronauts ostentatiously grab an enemy satellite out of its orbit, or whatever dramatic stunt serves the politics of the time, NASA can focus on the beyond-LEO part of this mission and actually accomplish it in eight years, thereby motivating a President to fund it in the first place. And it’s affordable enough that the DoD can play too if that makes more sense for the politics of the time, but the promise of NASA funding can substantially increase the launch market and thus lower the costs for everybody, as long as NASA does not insist on customizing the launcher.

    Now you may complain that dramatic first and the eight-year rules make for a very irrational and wasteful approach to developing space. I couldn’t agree more. But dramatic firsts and the eight-year-rule are how NASA works. They are the rules of space politics. If you don’t like them, don’t ask NASA for money. We live here in the real world, not in a utopia of rational and efficient governments. Despite this, the system of medium-sized rockets that can be modularly expanded into the lower range of HLVs, as with the EELV and Falcon 9, combined with depots and in-space assembly for the larger projects, gives us an underlying rational system that is sustained by commercial and defense orders when NASA politics doesn’t come through.

    The Ares I/V architecture was foolish right from the start. The Jupiter HLV or the Shuttle C should have been chosen right from the start.

    As long as NASA and its usual suspect contractors were doing the development, it doesn’t really matter which approach was taken. They have X employees that need to be re-employed and they will reemploy that many regardless, unless you do something dramatic like Obama has done and cancel the whole thing en masse. The solid-centric approach of Ares is in many ways simpler than the myriad custom moving parts in liquid first stages, but nothing is simple once those X employees are all assigned to it. Furthermore, all HLV-only architectures suffer from having tooling and infrastructure scale requirements that are far outside those of commercial mainstream launch. Any HLV approach besides ganging commercial medium launcher modules will be expensive, and any HLV approach funded by NASA will be extremely expensive.

  20. Doug says:

    Punting HLV is just that “PUNTING” which as it seems is what “FLEX” is all about we just PUNT until 2030 or so. We hang-out in the relic of the past program the ISS in LEO until 2020 then we PUNT again until 2030 gee maybe by then we’ll figure out what the hell we’re doing in space???? That is FLEX…punting. However it appears the Chinese are going to run our punt right back at us. So while we FLEX and study (like we haven’t studied for past 40 years) space travel the Chinks just do it. By the time we’re done studying the Chinese will have already done it…check mate. China settles the moon in a VSE type program. The moon is the building block and the gate to deep space. The moon harbors the resources and develops the technologies needed to move outward. So thanks to FLEX we fly to LEO with 60’s style commercial launchers until the cows come home. Meanwhile the Chinese leap frog ahead to the moon and and become the gate keeper to the solar system. USA punts Chinese receives. FLEX = stymied hardware development = punt. VSE = the future, the challenge, building and flying relative hardware, a concise goal! Oh yeah by the way you can do commercial LEO with VSE to. In fact VSE pulls LEO commercail rather pushes it. VSE drives CATS to LEO to support deep space resupply. VSE jump starts a resupply market which pulls further development and innovation in focused concise requirement. We didn’t have to FLEX-UP our manned space program to go commercial VSE could have accomplished the same result only without the punt.

  21. g.r.r. says:

    You have it half right. We DO need to build the demand up there. And yes, that is exactly why we need more than the ISS. That would be the Bigelow Aerospace BA-330. Now, that has 330 cubic meters. BA is capable of building MUCH bigger. But why do they want to build 330’s? Because that is the size that NASA set.
    Again why?
    Because that was the size that the shuttle would hold.
    So, what it amounts to, is that our current fleet of EELV as well as Falcon 9 heavy can take up to LEO a BA-330. BA wants to build out multiple space stations based on hooking together 2 BA-330’s and a sundancer OR 3 BA-330’s. That will make it have just a little less than the ISS in volume. And that is with less than 4 launches. If they use 3 BA-330’s, same number of launches, they would have more volume than the ISS. Now, if they have an HLV of say 188MT, and it only fires ONCE a year, how much will it costs? Well, you have not just the variable costs, but the fixed costs of the crew that is on the ground. They are EXPENSIVE. The reason why the shuttle became so expensive is that it flew so little(4x a year). Had they flown 12 or more times per year, then each flight would have been pretty low (though total cost would have been higher).

    OTH, if we get our EELV and SEVERAL commercial LVs to fly humans to space say 20 times each year, then we are looking at NEVER losing our capability to fly humans again.
    Nixon cost us this once already.
    Now, ex-president Bush did the same to us.
    If we wish to avoid this in the future, then we MUST make sure that we have multiple companies that can launch humans. The HLV will come.

    But it gets better. If we add in the capability of doing a tug NOW, combined with a fuel depot, then we gain the ability to move the ISS, recover errant sats, recover dead sats and de-orbit them, or simply attach a BA-330 to one to move ppl and cargo around in LEO. That will ultimately lead to an ability to crawl out of the gravity well.

    There is a lot going on. It is easy to bog down in the minor things. Don’t allow yourself to do that. Right now, even if we focus on Ares I, we gain another 25MT in 5 years. If we focus on Ares V, we gain 188MT in 10-15 years.
    OTH, if we build up our capability in stages, then we can go to the moon at a fraction of the costs, with improved safety.

  22. Kelly Starks says:

    > 20 Doug
    > Punting HLV is just that “PUNTING” which as it seems is
    > what “FLEX” is all about we just PUNT until 2030 or so.
    > We hang-out in the relic of the past program the ISS in LEO
    > until 2020 then we PUNT again until 2030 gee maybe by
    > then we’ll figure out what the hell we’re doing in space???? ==

    True. Basically the Admin and congress don’t really want to do anything with NASA. So sending them to their room with some nice study adn demo contracts to demo things that don’t need to be demoed keeps them busy and out of the politicians hair for a couple election cycles.

  23. Kelly Starks says:

    > G.R.R.
    > …. The reason why the shuttle became so expensive is that it flew
    > so little(4x a year). Had they flown 12 or more times per year,
    > then each flight would have been pretty low (though total
    > cost would have been higher).
    > OTH, if we get our EELV and SEVERAL commercial LVs to fly
    > humans to space say 20 times each year, then we are looking
    > at NEVER losing our capability to fly humans again. ….

    Partly true. nicreasing flight rates no the shuttle would lower the cost per flight is dominated by the fixed costs (In the shutles case theres virtually no cost increase with increased flight rates because NASA buries it in fixed costs.), BUT you contradict yourself when you talk about several commercial LVs to fly 20 flights a year. 20 divided by several is likely about 4 a year for each. So they each are in the same trouble as shutle, all stuck giving high prices.

    Course this assumes you can get the 20 flights a year. Globally humans only launch 50 flights a year. NASA flight rate will dive after shuttle retires. So unless bigelow or someone develops a big new market, good luck finding buyers for those 20 flights.

  24. what is “FLEX”? is that your personal shorthand for The Flexible Path To Mars? While I’ve been trying to get people to stop saying shit like “the so-called “flexible path””, have you been running around promoting an even lazier meme? What part of developing the technology to go to Mars is so abhorrent?

  25. Strange no one here has mentioned drogue chutes and folding wings for flyback cluster boosters, along with the new engines.

    While Team DIRECT knew how bad solids were for manned spaceflight, they thought they would have to accommodate Thiokol, and to tell the truth, I thought they had that about right.

    But Obama has shown more guts than anyone ever imagined.

    And more intelligence as well. For the origins of FLEX, see the DPT and NEXT studies.

    The only key thing here is that the BFR will be ready for SW3 in 2022.

    E.P. Grondine
    Man and Impact in the Americas

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