NASA Needs to Develop an HLV Right Now…

…Like it needs a hole in the head.

I was going to write a blog post on this earlier, but Jeff Greason beat me to the punch in comments over on (emphasis mine):

Both the Phase I and Phase 2 versions can support 7.5m fairings; I’ve discussed the fairing size argument elsewhere and won’t repeat it other than to say that seems sufficient to me for a long time to come. To some that seems larger than needed, others envision a piece or two of hardware (such as the Mars manned entry vehicle) which we might need in the far future and which, assuming NO new technologies are applied between now and then, might require a larger fairing. Personally, I would rather start exploring soon and assess our needs again when we are a little closer to the point of need than contort our launch infrastructure today around this hypothesized future need.

Of course once we are using kerosene boosters and have kerosene engines, developing a larger booster, once there is need, presents no special technical difficulty. This was called “Phase III” in the EELV briefing to the committee in public hearings. Such a booster will cost more money (as all ultra-large boosters do), and there is limited forseeable market for it (as for all ultra-large boosters), but if it turns out we need it in the future, and are willing to spend money on it in the future, we can do so. There is no need to spend today’s scarce dollars on an ultra-large booster for which we have no near-term need, just in case we will need it someday. Those who have claimed this is an all-or-nothing decision are ignoring alternatives.

More thoughts later.

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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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16 Responses to NASA Needs to Develop an HLV Right Now…

  1. You couldn’t wait a few hours and post it as an April fools?

  2. I like posting my April Fools jokes about 12hrs in advance, so it isn’t so obvious. 🙂


  3. Josh Cryer says:

    Well, you got me, and we’re well in to April 1st. 🙂
    In fact I somehow overlooked the first sentence after the jump several times, trying to figure out how your post actually reflected the topic. 🙂

    Good stuff.

  4. Jonathan Goff Jonathan Goff says:

    Heh. 🙂 I actually have substantiative arguments, but couldn’t resist the timing. Do you have a link to where the people were confused?


  5. Nathan Koren says:

    Here’s something I’ve always wondered. The “heavy” versions of the Falcon and EELVs all basically involve strapping on two first-stage cores as boosters. My question is: why stop at two? Why not cluster them up until you’ve got six boosters surrounding the core?

    The biggest problem that I can foresee with this is that it makes staging more sensitive (the boosters have much less latitude to shimmy around during stage separation), but otherwise, this seems like it would be a good way of using *genuinely* off-the-shelf components to give you a serious heavy-lifter. Aside from the stage-separation system, your other new developments would be a new fairing and (presumably) a semi-new upper stage, but relative to developing an entirely unique heavy-lifter, how big a deal would it be to develop that by 2019, or whenever a heavy-lifter might finally be needed?

    If I recall correctly, Microcosm is the only company I’ve seen propose kind of architecture. Any reason why it isn’t more popular?

  6. Josh Cryer says:

    Jonathan, ahh, I seem to have poorly worded my response, I was the one confused! I haven’t seen your little prank posted anywhere else or anything.

    I look forward to a post by you guys on this matter in the future, as I also believe HLV is not necessary in the short term. And it pains me to say this being a huge Mars fan and especially intrigued by the Mars Direct concept. I’ve become realistic and cynical in my old age (though I still spare some optimism for SpaceX and private space).

  7. Josh Cryer says:

    Nathan Koren, we seem to have posted at the same time. Falcon 9H uses 27 engines. Add one or two more clusters and you have between 36 and 45! It’s pretty crazy. I’d rather see them design a new engine of the caliber of the F-1 (Saturn V engine).

  8. Coastal Ron says:

    Nathan, the Russian Angara rocket under development does just that, and they envision either 2, 4 or 6 additional cores that be strapped together. I think for SpaceX, they are looking at what they can do with horizontal assembly, which you can do with two boosters, but after that you probably need a vertical assembly building. There also hasn’t been a demand for this type of launcher, since Ares V was the HLV of record, and NASA wasn’t going to launch their cargo any other way.

    If Ares V is canceled, and commercial crew services is fully embraced by NASA, then I think you will start to see the commercial companies start pursuing the incremental upsizing of their products. This approach is the least risky, and as many have pointed out, it means we don’t develop it until we have a demonstrated need.

  9. anonymous says:

    SpaceX supposedly licensed the 1.1-Million-lb thrust RS-84 engine from Rocketdyne/P&W in 2008 and will use it for versions of their Falcon-9 Heavy in the future. SpaceX, P&W/ULA, and Aerojet/Orbital-Sciences all support, and are waiting for NASA handouts in FY2011-2016 to fund their high-thrust next-gen LOX/Kerosene booster engine efforts for Falcon-9H, Atlas Evolution, and Taurus-II, respectively.

    The SpaceX Dragon, Boeing/Bigelow capsule, and Orbital Sciences manned capsule are all ~ 9-tons versus 15-tons for Apollo in low-earth-orbit configuration. It is possible to conduct a manned moon mission in a single launch of a 75-ton EELV-derived HLV with the 9-ton spacecraft versus a 125-ton (to LEO) Saturn-V with the 15-ton Apollo.

    Saturn-V actually launched 15-ton Apollo with 15-ton extra fuel and a 15-ton LEM for 45-ton total to TLI versus 27-ton stack possible with 9-ton capsules on a 75-ton EELV HLV.

    NASA could go have heavy lift and accomplish any conceivable goal that it wants using existing capabilities within industry, but NASA is a political organization which will focus on spending as much money as possible (over $100-Billion) accross as many States as possible on multiple jobs programs.

  10. Fred Willett says:

    I see, in spite of the main thrust of this post, people still drooling over the path to HLV. How this BF engine or that will lead to this or that HLV.
    I want to go somewhere now. The moon, Mars, a NEO. I don’t care.
    You can do it on an existing EELV (with fuel depots) so lets do it.
    Chris Columbus didn’t sit around waiting for someone to build him a Heavy Lift Vessel he went down to the harbour, grabbed 3 Existing Empty (already) Launched Vessels and set sail.
    Sure, a HLV would take us further, but why wait?
    Atlas V, Delta IV and Falcon 9 are in the harbour now. (well a few weeks maybe for Falcon 9) Let’s start doing something.

  11. Josh Cryer says:

    anonymous, SpaceX licensing RS-84 is news to me, and as far as I can tell it’s mostly rumor, but that is really cool. Thanks for mentioning it. If true it changes things considerably.

    More ammo for the SpaceX defense force (ie, me). 😉

  12. Doug says:

    I can not envision congress letting go of HLV. Yes ULA could do with out it, but if it is required to seal the deal then I hope it is cargo only and based on existing technology engines etc…like shuttle-C.

  13. john hare says:

    HLV is like buying a cruise, you do a few preplanned ports of call in luxury for a while and then go home. Now if you are flexible enough to use the same money to buy a boat, you can reach a lot more ports for the rest of your life, though some of the frills will be missing.

  14. Patrick says:

    Literally thousands of R-7 boosters with four strap-ons each have been assembled horizontally.

    Just scale up the rotary munitions launcher from a B-1, and there you have it!

  15. Mike Lorrey says:

    Coastal Ron,
    Soyuz assembles horizontally but straps four boosters onto the core.

    SpaceX could accomplish a four booster setup horizontally, but not with the present strongback and VAB.

  16. Brad says:

    Soyuz is horizontally assembled, but consider that the Soyuz is only about the same mass as the single core stage version of Falcon 9. Horizontal assembly and deployment of a Falcon 9 with 5 or more common core stages is mind boggling.

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