HEFT Frustrations Venting

So, most of you in the space policy world have heard about NASA’s report back to Congress about how it wants to build an Ares-V classic HLV, but that Congress wasn’t giving them enough time or money, and Congress’ dignified response that “Nu Uh! You can too!”

That exchange was annoying, but utterly predictable. What really torqued my screws though was the HEFT presentation that was released yesterday. On pages 26-27, they list a bunch of key technologies needed for exploration, and which missions they were applicable to. The only technology that was included in the list that was shown to be not applicable to any of the missions was In-Space Cryogenic Propellant Transfer…

The dirty little secret most people don’t know is that the only HEFT study that was actually well within budget goals was the one based on the original FY11 proposal, which focused heavily on propellant depots and advanced technologies. I hope Chris Bergin doesn’t get too mad at me for posting a teaser from L2 of NASASpaceflight from back in September:

HEFT DRM 1 Budget Sandchart

HEFT DRM 1 Budget Sandchart

As you can see, the only point at which it breaks the “budget bogey” is near the end of the commercial crew development, but for most of the exploration phase is well below the line.  Now admittedly, this DRM is not compliant with the now-signed NASA Authorization Act, however the HEFT team had abandoned this idea long before that Act was signed into law.  The only reason I could find for this was that this approach required “an excessive number of commercial launches”.  The next two DRMs (DRM 2A and 2B) also featured propellant depots, but combined with a “modest” HLV.  They ended up costing a lot more, but were still at least close to hitting budget targets.  Unfortunately, they also got rejected for requiring “too many commercial launches”.  The HLLV focused option (which dropped depots and any new technology) completely blew the budget guidance across the board, much like what NASA proposed in its report to Congress this week.

To give the latest HEFT report some credit, they did list depots as a potential commercial partnership with NASA.  If that meant something COTS-like where NASA helped fund some of the risk maturation on a FFP milestone basis, but basically let the commercial companies drive most of the technical decisions, that would be great.  I’m worried though that what NASA really means is the same “support” Griffin gave with his “we’ll buy propellant if you guys make it work on your own dime” comments.

But it’s really frustrating to see that it looks like depots were rejected for the same flawed reasons given in the ESAS report. Problems that industry is actively proposing good solutions to.  It’s also interesting that NASA’s NEA missions end up being so big and bloated.  I asked Josh Hopkins about this at his presentation last month, and he said part of the problem is that NASA decided that most potential NEOs were “too small” to be interesting, and therefore were focusing on the bigger, rarer, and harder to reach asteroids…and letting their whole architecture bet contorted by these initial assumptions.  Just like ESAS.

Ultimately, I think the whole HEFT process illustrates once again the danger of having secret teams at NASA doing conceptual architecture development in a vacuum, and without public transparency.  Instead of openly analyzing things, getting frequent feedback, or seeing if industry has ideas to deal with supposed show-stoppers, early decisions are made that drive things off the rails.  When those early assumptions drive the analysis in completely unaffordable directions, there isn’t a good mechanism to rein things back in.  Or at least, it’s hard to tell from the outside, because all the public gets to see is occasional summary reports released at the end, long after the flawed assumptions have been buried deep into the analysis in a way that will take years to pick out.

I guess the good news is that even though there are some elements in NASA that still don’t get it, there are a lot of other programs, particularly stuff in the Office of the Chief Technologist that give me some hope.  If Congress insists on setting NASA up for failure again by forcing them to build their Zip-Code Engineered Ares/Shuttle Zombie Rocket, at least some of the commercial work will be funded that will enable us to pick up the pieces when this all flies apart another 5 years and $10-15B down the road.  I’m hoping between the rendezvous and docking work we’re trying to do at Altius, depot work being done at ULA and Boeing, NEO exploration concept work at LM, inflatable station stuff being done at Bigelow, and all the commercial crew development projects, many of these excuses and wrongheaded assumptions will be impossible to make with a straight face next time NASA decides to do another internal, non-transparent, echo-chambered, insufficiently vetted paper-study project to figure out what they should do next now that the last Congressionally underfunded project goes flying off the cliff.

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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.
This entry was posted in Commercial Space, ESAS, NASA, NEOs, Propellant Depots. Bookmark the permalink.

80 Responses to HEFT Frustrations Venting

  1. Paul says:

    Googaw,
    “You seem to be claiming that we can bootstrap an entire industrial economy, which on earth consists of quadrillions of tonnes of equipment, by launching a handful of rockets.”

    Actually, worse. The original reference to ISRU was in response to the topic of HLVs. Dennis believes that an ISRU infrastructure capable of being set up with current launchers makes HLVs redundant, and on a smaller budget.

    Eg, “IF you implement a robust ISRU system on the Moon. This includes food production, robust power implementation, and metals and propellant. It is far cheaper to do that than it is to build any of these cocamamie heavy lifters

  2. Paul says:

    Dennis,

    In spite of everything I’ve said: Go Team Dennis. In all seriousness, I wish you all the success in the world with your ISRU work.

    I am by no means hostile to the idea of ISRU. On the contrary, I get annoyed at people who want a flags’n’footprints mission to Mars (or lunar equivalent), when the same budget would allow for a huge advancement in the tools necessary for long-term human presence in space (tools like ISRU/depots/etc.)

    (I also get annoyed at programs like MSL when nothing similar is being done (or even seriously planned) on the moon. In spite of being operationally easier.)

    What bugs me, and the reason I challenged you, is that you are so convinced that large-scale ISRU is immediately ready to go that you shout down any alternative view. Just because someone disagrees with you doesn’t mean they are a nay-sayer, stuck-in-the-mud, traitor to the cause.

    Look at the level of research you are talking about doing. That’s the state-of-the-art. We are so many many steps away from “food production, robust power implementation, and metals and propellant [and building] Rover chassis, bulldoziers, cranes” on the moon. I’m glad that you (or anyone) is working on those steps, bravo, but ISRU is not at a go/no-go moment.

    “and yes you do jump the shark when you make such an inane comparison to mining He3 which is an orders of magnitude more complex operation.”

    Errr, Dennis, it is not the complexity of Helium-3 mining that makes the suggestion cringe-worthy, it’s the lack of actual commercial fusion. The market doesn’t exist outside of science-fiction.

    “You are making the mistake that all things on the Moon must look exactly like what they do on the Earth.”

    Actually, from what I’ve seen, Googaw has been the one saying ISRU will necessitate different technology/techniques. And that many systems will have to be re-engineered with that in mind.

    You’re the one saying “Instead of sending science experiments on a lander, send a large 3D printer”, as if it’s immediately available, when there is not a single 3d printer in the world capable of working with lunar materials, nor operating in a vacuum, nor being repaired by a spacesuited astronaut.

    Every single process needs to be redesigned for ISRU. Not just the machines doing the production, but also the machines being produced. But worse…

    “You are also making the mistake of claiming that I am considering replacing all terrestrially supplied supplies with their lunar variant.”

    …what Googaw means (if he will allow me the conceit), is that you have to account for every single thing. You are starting with the ultimate “green field” site. Worse than the most remote mine on Earth. You need to send every single thing you need before you can even start.

    Do I think it should be the ultimate goal of our generation’s space-program? YES! But you need to figure the first step. What is the first thing, that allows the next thing. “send a large 3D printer, a machine shop, cranes, and other hardware that would be needed on the Moon” is not a step, it is a vague wishlist.

  3. Paul says:

    Watched the Thomas Thwaites, TED talk video. Interesting that the techniques he needed were so difficult to find. (The smaller you go, the further back in time you have to look. But he still ended up using a modern technique (microwave smelting, FTW!))

    This was why I suggested a ISRU/Bootstrapping Wiki. There’s information out there, plus new work being done (as Dennis Wingo mentions), but it feels like every new player is forced to re-invent the wheel.

    Looking at the hobby crowd working with 3d-Printers, or re-creating archaic metal-working techniques, there’s plenty of people outside of aerospace and academia who do this stuff for fun. A single central wiki to collect what is already known (somewhere), and show gaps in existing knowledge, will attract many people to volunteer their time and skills.

    <Shrug> Just a thought.

  4. Andy says:

    Dennis,

    Thank you. I understand that you are doing something similar to what we are doing here in FL and will soon migrate to the mid-west.

    Jon, if you would like to give Dennis my E-mail address I would appreciate it. Thanks.

    Some years ago I undertook a series of “what if” projects to try and define a true “Settlement DRM” for space. It was instructive in many areas but the great thing that these studies showed was that almost every area of space technology needed a major push forward before it would truly support permanent space operations. In the last few years we have been working on some of these issues. there is much yet to be done but I find it easier to support a pragmatic approach such as yours. I remember the old Shuttle C studies , I think they and as they are now called, “sidemount” would be expensive but maybe necessary. Must have a look at sidemount and make sure I understand it before commenting further.

  5. Jonathan Goff Jonathan Goff says:

    Hey guys,
    I see that there was a lot of activity while I was off the internetz yesterday. I was going to chew some individuals out, but I can see that while the discussion was getting pretty far off topic, it was at least interesting…

    So instead of a chewing-out, how about a gentle reminder to try and keep things close to the topic of the original post.

    Thanks!
    ~The “Management”

  6. Googaw says:

    I am delighted with Paul’s summaries of me. And I will be happy to contribute to a Wiki, although you should look around as there is already at least one Mars colony design Wiki that has many contributions on these topics.

    Back to the direct OP subject, I actually agree with Dennis on the HLV but for almost the opposite reasons. The very fact that Wingo-like space industrialization is a distant goal means that any astronaut exploration will be a flag-n-footprints mission, whether we like it or not. For the next two decades at least the form factor for useful space activities, i.e. commerce and military, is Ariane, Soyuz, Falcon 9, EELV, and the like. The main path of evolution is to go smaller, as with Jon’s nanolauncher work, not larger. Real ISRU in its first decades will be done on a very small scale, even smaller than the Google X-Prize robots, because that is the size of the early market for ISRU. Finally, we all know, or should know, that a NASA designed and run HLV is primarily a make-work program. They have zero accountability to actually produce an efficient launcher and much incentive to pile on the bureaucracy so that it will be more expensive than even the Shuttle. For all these reasons HLV is an incredibly bad idea.

  7. Googaw says:

    If the moderator will indulge a short wrap-up of an OT point, the wiki I had in mind is Marspedia. But looking at it again the articles that aren’t economic fantasy are stubs lacking useful technical detail, and the articles that motivated technical submissions are economic fantasies. Sigh. Another idea is to find a “hackerspace” in your area, you go in there and rent time on 3D printers and the like, and just starting building things.

  8. Dennis Wingo says:

    Jon

    Please feel free to give Andy my email address.

    What bugs me, and the reason I challenged you, is that you are so convinced that large-scale ISRU is immediately ready to go that you shout down any alternative view. Just because someone disagrees with you doesn’t mean they are a nay-sayer, stuck-in-the-mud, traitor to the cause.

    There are some forms of ISRU that are immediately ready to go. Sintering of the lunar regolith needs a microwave emitter tied to a power supply. Yes, you have to build it, but there are no technical barriers of the kind that lets say, an RLV has. The same is true of using an induction furnace and a magnetic rake. These are straightforward engineering design problems, not development problems. You can disagree all you want, but the fact is that the disagreement should be based upon issues such as you pointed out with He3, not whether or not we can build hardware that is easily built, and whose analogs here on the Earth either have been developed (far more than was the case 10 or 20 years ago), or are already in production.

    The low hanging fruit of metals processing is far easier to do on the Moon than what people pushed for 40 years, which is various forms of oxygen production. I build hardware all the time and frankly with the advances in lasers, robotics, and telepresence, the vast majority of the technical risk has been retired. That is my point, but in your presentation you present as if none of these things have happened. This is 2011, not 1979.

    Look at the level of research you are talking about doing. That’s the state-of-the-art. We are so many many steps away from “food production, robust power implementation, and metals and propellant [and building] Rover chassis, bulldoziers, cranes” on the moon. I’m glad that you (or anyone) is working on those steps, bravo, but ISRU is not at a go/no-go moment.

    Yes it is, that is the point. Part of the issue is simply making the mindset change to look at the problem, study it, build things, see how that will change on the Moon, and work the engineering. Lunar industrialization is a far better expenditure of resources than a heavy lift launch vehicle or an RLV at this time as the technology development risk has for the most part been retired and the payoff is so large, that the burden of proof has been shifted to the naysayer rather than the proponent.

    Errr, Dennis, it is not the complexity of Helium-3 mining that makes the suggestion cringe-worthy, it’s the lack of actual commercial fusion. The market doesn’t exist outside of science-fiction.

    And no where and at no time have i advocated He3 mining but you continue to make the argument that building structural components on the Moon is at the same level of difficulty as fusion and He3 mining, it isn’t.

    You’re the one saying “Instead of sending science experiments on a lander, send a large 3D printer”, as if it’s immediately available, when there is not a single 3d printer in the world capable of working with lunar materials, nor operating in a vacuum, nor being repaired by a spacesuited astronaut.

    It is far more available than you think. Adapting the xy gridding and plotting of an X/Y/Z 3d printer to a vacuum is straightforward. Using microwaves to sinter regolith to molten temperatures has been proven. Mix the two together and you can do a lot of things that were not imagined ten years ago. We have already designed the paver that can sinter a road surface or a landing pad, rather than the stupid idea from ESAS of adding an extra thousand kg to every lander for wheels, landing it kilometers away from the outpost and driving it there. That is the kind of inanity you get into when you don’t make the mental shift to committing to ISRU.

    …what Googaw means (if he will allow me the conceit), is that you have to account for every single thing. You are starting with the ultimate “green field” site. Worse than the most remote mine on Earth. You need to send every single thing you need before you can even start.

    Oh golly, none of us ever thought that we might have to account for things when we design something. Actually, the so called greenfield site is quite interesting. I can land, and depending on the strength of the magnet I use, I can immediately start harvesting meteoric metal, which the Apollo samples showed were 0.1-1% metals. I can immediately, with nothing more than a high powered transmitter from a GEO comsat, which I would argue is space qualified, sinter a landing pad,

    With the amount of weight that a single Delta IV H can land, I can put a 100 kW solar power supply on the surface. If I do that at the north polar region in the northern summer, I get 24/7 sunlight to do my work. With regenerative fuel cells, I can provide a power dense supply for doing real work with small or larger rovers to move regolith, to supply the induction furnance (I hope that you will agree that a vacuum induction furnace can be adapted to the lunar vacuum).

    Money is the key today, not technology, in making this happen. The amount of money is far more modest than what one might expect, and one way or another, we will get there.

    I am not interested in arm waving, I am interested in building hardware. My 20,000 lb trailer that carries its own power supply, solar trackers, and remote monitoring and control systems (this past summer we operated a rover remotely from Pete Worden’s office over two satellite hops and the internet and recharged the rover from the trailer). That system is a bit heavy as it is optimized for its application here on the Earth but the software is there, the hardware is there, to do remote telepresence on the Moon, today, not in ten years or twenty years, today.

    So don’t tell me that what I am already doing can’t be done.

    And, this is 100% on topic of HEFT as all of these architectures that rely on lifting everything from the Earth are a failure before they start. It is time to redraw the lines, take what has been done here on the Earth, and apply it to space. I still remember the naysayers who told me that a COTS Mac computer and a standard hard drive simply would not work in space. After three successful missions doing exactly that, NASA started taking laptops to orbit.

    The time is now for the shift in mindset toward robust ISRU. Nothing else makes any sense whatsoever. Twenty years ago it would have been much harder. Today, it is an implementation problem, not a development problem.

  9. A_M_Swallow says:

    @Jonathan Goff

    So instead of a chewing-out, how about a gentle reminder to try and keep things close to the topic of the original post.

    1. Splitting this off into its own ISRU thread would be nice.

    2. What will the payload of a lunar lander be in about 3 years time?

    Andrew Swallow

  10. Paul says:

    Dennis,
    We seem to be annoying people, so I won’t point-by-point…

    Your original post suggested ISRU as a rival to the HLV currently required by Congress. Suggesting that: a) it is mature enough to build the things that would otherwise be launched by HLV, and b) it can itself be launched on MLVs that currently exist.

    I am perfectly happy to accept that your small scale experiments on Earth are at a stage where some could be included in a small scale robotic lunar mission. And accept that such a mission would teach you, and others in the field, a ridiculous amount about ISRU. And if you got such a mission, I’d be waving banners for you. (Same as I would for a tele-op lunar rover mission, same as I would for that goofy lunar R2 proposal.)

    And a small test of landing-pad sintering is exactly the “next step” mission I was talking about. Hell, call it “Paving Stone” (But no backronyms please! They’re worse than “Horsepucky”.)

    If you focus on that, the next step, and the next one after that, I think you’d convince more people. Instead of demanding “This is a mature technology, and we can have manned missions depend on it!” There is no way you will get the manned space-flight guys (and they are the ones pushing for a HLV) or anyone else to agree on that.

    And when you shout down anyone who disagrees with you, I think you are doing a tremendous amount of damage to your cause. Basic psychology – the more aggressively you challenge someone, the more you harden their original view.

  11. Paul says:

    Googaw,
    “the wiki I had in mind is Marspedia. But looking at it again the articles that aren’t economic fantasy are stubs lacking useful technical detail, and the articles that motivated technical submissions are economic fantasies. Sigh.”

    Meanwhile, the rep-rap crowd are elbow deep in small scale experimentation. But few rep-rappers, I suspect, know how new the ISRU/ISM field is. (Ditto, the neo-medieval experimenters and other hobby “makers”.)

    (Oh, hey, there’s a Lunapedia as well. Haven’t explored yet.)

  12. I’m not sure the rep-rap crowd is ignorant. I was directly inspired to “make a machine which can make itself” by the Red/Blue/Green Mars novels. I think a very sensible focus is to attempt to make such a machine on Earth First, and then figure out how to make the transition to lunar/mars materials and processes. It’s still very hard to do on Earth.

  13. Matt Metcalf says:

    If you guys can’t find another Wiki to host this on, you could set one up at wikia.com or I can set one up on my site (www.gettingtherefromhere.info).

  14. Dennis Wingo says:

    And when you shout down anyone who disagrees with you, I think you are doing a tremendous amount of damage to your cause. Basic psychology – the more aggressively you challenge someone, the more you harden their original view.

    Reasonable people are willing to look at things in a reasonable manner. When you make the statement that places the level of difficulty of making structural elements on the Moon at the same place as He3 mining, it indicates that you are not really seriously interested in discussing the issue and you have a position that is hard as stone.

    In writing these things, these hardened positions, are not actually aimed at the hard one, but at those who maybe have not looked at the advances in technology in the past several years. For example in just looking at the advances in robotics in the last three to five year, tremendous advances have been made, enough to materially effect how an architecture is put together. Some people will be interested enough to research it themselves to see what is going on.

    It is time to bash through the resistance to ISRU as a central player in lunar and Mars development. This is the key barrier and key enabler for both places, far more than an HLV or an RLV will effect commercial space development, at least in the near term. Indeed, I would argue that a robust development of ISRU will enable the traffic rates that make an RLV finally make sense in the market place.

    I am watching two efforts going on right now to do space development. One is being done by a NASAesqe person, who thinks that billions of dollars can be raised privately for exploration and science. It is failing miserably.

    I am participating with another group, that wants to look very seriously at the economics of lunar industrial development, coupled with the return of PGM’s and other valuable materials to the Earth. This second group IS money, or is tied to significant funding to make these things happen. This is the first very serious effort that I have ever seen in this area, and it is interesting to see the different mindsets involved.

    ISRU has been ignored by the first group and embraced by the second.

    Times are changing and the old school armchair space weenies on these types of forums need to change with it or be left behind.

    We are working to get these first steps done, we are working to do analog studies and all the preliminary steps that have to be done. Of course it is more difficult than a five minute blog post can convey, but guess what, unless we start doing it, there will be others, without the hardened position, that will look at it and then make it happen.

  15. Dennis Wingo says:

    I am going to do a post on this subject at my site later in the week when I get a little time.

  16. Paul says:

    Dennis,

    I don’t mean to be cruel, but you’ve been saying this for a really long time. Your old company sites are now home to cyber-squatters and have been for awhile. At some point, maybe you need to stop blaming other people. Maybe the reason they are not listening is because of your “attack” style. I mentioned a small scale test mission but I kind of get the feeling that if you were offered such opportunity you’d turn it down, or not even acknowledge it, because you’d see it as “beneath you.”

    Nonetheless, you win. I’m done. Walking away. I assume that’s what you wanted.

    C. Scott Ananian,
    “I’m not sure the rep-rap crowd is ignorant. I was directly inspired to “make a machine which can make itself” by the Red/Blue/Green Mars novels.”

    I suspect rapid prototyping/3d-printing is probably better known amongst ISRU advocates than ISRU is amongst the rep-rap crowd.

    “I think a very sensible focus is to attempt to make such a machine on Earth First, and then figure out how to make the transition to lunar/mars materials and processes. “

    Yeah. That’s why it would be cool to recruit the rep-rap crowd, they (you) are already experimenting with different materials, solving the unique problems of each (from ice, to ceramics, to concrete, to low-melting-point metals). I think those who are aware of ISRU see it as out of their league, and don’t realise that they can make a major contribution, that they are already at the forefront.

    (It would also really help to have more lunar regolith simulant, and have it widely available.)

    “It’s still very hard to do on Earth.”

    Shhh…

    Matt Metcalf,
    Re: ISRU/BootstrapWikiThing

    I had a quick look around Lunarpedia, it seems fairly recent and already there are a few ISRU articles. Logically it’s the ideal place for what I suggested, but they are using a straight Wikimedia lift, and I don’t think that the encyclopedia format suits what I had in mind… Of course it would help if I had a clearer idea of what I had in mind…

  17. Dennis, you need pictures or video to get your message across.

    SpaceX have been saying for at least a year, nearly two, that their crew vehicle will land on land propulsively. Every time I heard someone say that “splashdown” is no way to land crews, I’ve repeated the future SpaceX plans for landing. No dice. Now SpaceX have released this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W2FpFZXWrvs and all of a sudden everyone seems to get it. There’s simply a failure of imagination.

    I wonder when SpaceX will figure out that propulsive reentry of the first stage can solve their reusability problems. Fly that booster to a downrange landing site and land it vertically. Armadillo and Masten have presented us with a new technology, the vertically landing robotic rocket, and it will take at least a decade for engineers to integrate it into their thinking.. unless we shove it in their face.

  18. Bob Steinke says:

    I’d like to make a comment about the Thomas Thwaites video. The bronze age started on Earth because there were nuggets of fairly pure copper and tin just lying around in streambeds, and people who found them could put them in a camp fire and beat on them with a rock and make something out of them. And the iron age began with fairly pure meteoric iron.

    Those easy to reach deposits got depleted and humanity has been accessing and depleting harder and harder to reach deposits ever since. That’s one reason it was so hard for Thomas to make copper and iron. He had to start from very poor ores compared to what was available to bronze and iron age humans. The ore situation on the moon will be more similar to early Earth than depleted-by-millenia-of-extraction Earth

  19. A_M_Swallow says:

    To demonstrate ISRU produce a wheel from raw materials.

    Wheels are a very symbolic shape – they signify work and movement. Wheels are harder to make than people think so it will push the rapid prototyping side of the work. If the wheel is the same size as the wheels on the lunar rover then you also have the start of a self repairing system – people like practicality.

  20. Googaw says:

    Paul:
    I mentioned a small scale test mission but I kind of get the feeling that if you were offered such opportunity you’d turn it down, or not even acknowledge it, because you’d see it as “beneath you.”

    If Dennis indeed has small investors who are willing to route around NASA as he suggests (as opposed to the business as usual of hyping speculative and oddly NASA-style missions as “commerce” as bait to catch NASA contracts), very small robots are all any rational investor is going to be willing to fund. So I hope those advances in robotics are as good as he suggests.

    BTW, assuming Dennis can get a good mass throughput ratio with his lunar rakes and carbonyl reactors and so on, the PGM business plan is far, far more feasible than his ambitions of bootstrapping an industrial infrastructure made primarily out of native materials. It serves real needs of real people on earth and doesn’t require the massive infrastructure needed to build machines out of native resources. So strongly urge Dennis to stick to PGM or any similar ideas (minimal industrial steps and meeting real needs on earth) and forget about magically transmogrifying meteoric bar iron into bulldozers. As long as he couples a good plan with his positive enthusiasm (while losing the negative enthusiasm against those who disagree), and uses his enthusiasm to assemble a talented team, I don’t care how many of his old web sites have been repurposed, this combination is starting to look like the formula for success.

    None of these barriers to ISRU substituting for launched cargo comes anywhere close to justifying HLV, as there is no need for HLVs beyond 100% space agency funded economic fantasies involving flying astronauts for the sake of flying astronauts. With the advances in robotics the idea of bankrupting an ISRU business by insisting it use billion-dollar astronauts is looking sillier and sillier.

    Bob Steinke, depletion of ore quality is a valid point, but an astronomically small one, compared to the elephant in the room, namely the extreme division of labor in our economy since the industrial revolution that allows us to coordinate the efforts to obtain the over one hundred different raw materials out of which even the cheapest toaster is made, not to mention the vast number of processing, steps, using tools, machines, chemical plants, buildings, etc. that it took millions of people to make, to create and distribute and assemble all those parts. The still photo near the beginning of the Thwaite video, showing the parts layout of the toaster, is the key to understanding the problem. Right off the bat Thwaite punts about 95% of the task (reducing the number of raw materials he will use to five), an then cheats on most of the rest (e.g. using a microwave oven to smelt ore and “mining” plastic from garbage dumps), and then ends up with a preposterous quasi-toaster that lasts about five seconds before it shorts out and melts. That’s what you get when you try to make industrial, much less high technology, products from nearly scratch, and space industrialization fans typically underestimate the costs and radical redesigns required to overcome this astronomical problem by many orders of magnitude.

  21. A_M_Swallow says:

    I am assuming that PGM is Platinum Group Metals. Platinum is used for jewellery and in catalytic converts for cars.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Platinum_group_metals

    Since the PGM only react weakly it may be possible for an ISRU process to extract them from regolith and boulders without too much trouble. However getting those heavy metals back to Earth will cause rocket scientist a few problems.

    I suspect that the Earth re-entry heat shield could be made out of PGM. This would allow the cargo to also act as part of the structure. This saves take off mass at both Earth and the Moon.

    A reusable lunar lander can be refuelled on the Moon. At the polls it may be possible to crack ice into hydrogen and LOX. Elsewhere on the Moon rival propellants could be aluminium and LOX.

    If parachutes, Earth landing thrusters, hydrocarbon propellant and guidance systems are needed for safe Earth entry they can be added at an EML-1 satellite. The empty lunar lander can be repaired and returned to the Moon.

    If there is a big hole in the middle of the Earth entry spacecraft it may float but I suspect that with a heavy metal cargo a desert landing may be simpler.

  22. Dennis Wingo says:

    I don’t mean to be cruel, but you’ve been saying this for a really long time. Your old company sites are now home to cyber-squatters and have been for awhile. At some point, maybe you need to stop blaming other people. Maybe the reason they are not listening is because of your “attack” style. I mentioned a small scale test mission but I kind of get the feeling that if you were offered such opportunity you’d turn it down, or not even acknowledge it, because you’d see it as “beneath you.”

    If you are talking about Orbital Recovery Corp, then I guess it is my fault that our lead investor, CEO, and a telecom billionare was too stupid to pay his taxes, and is still in prison for it. I don’t blame anyone for that and if you have checked, the idea has just been brought public again by one of the largest Aerospace companies in the nation, and I am involved. If you are talking about Skycorp, I still own the domain, and just because I am not out there trumpeting what I have been doing, it does not mean that it is not being done.

    Funny, I attack your rational, you attack me. As for the experiment, it is a good idea and that is what is being discussed at the time. Paul I take you to task because you claim that for some reason anything related to ISRU is far in the future. That is bunk, and it is time to call it bunk, and get on with doing it. Again, this is not 1979 anymore.

    Nonetheless, you win. I’m done. Walking away. I assume that’s what you wanted.

    Naysayers will always be around. Sometimes they have a point. But I leave you with something that George Abbey told Brian Kelly to tell all of the NASA and support contractors when we were starting our first on orbit assembly effort.

    “Your job is to not tell this man why he cannot do what he wants to do, your job is to help him figure out how to do it.”

    That is sage advice, and I would ask that you spend your time helping us figure out how to do it rather than continually tell us why it cannot be done.
    __________________________________
    Trent
    You are absolutely right, and that is why I wrote Moonrush and that is why I am trying to carve out the time for the update now. It is hard to find that time, but hopefully later in the year I will be able to do so.

    ___________________________________

    Googaw

    You are also absolutely right and I have not lost focus of the PGM goal. The issue is what is the minimum amount of returnable material per year to allow you to break even, then a profit.

    That is what we are working on even as we speak.

    I don’t mean to come across as strident, I just tire of people telling me that something cannot be done, when it most assuredly can, and must, or what the hell are we even talking about space for?

  23. Paul says:

    A_M_Swallow,
    “I suspect that the Earth re-entry heat shield could be made out of PGM.”

    Wow. “So what is your heat-shield made out of?” “Oh, you know, platinum, palladium, iridium, some gold impurities. The usual…” <Choking sounds>

    (Seriously, wouldn’t that conduct too readily?)

    “At the [poles] it may be possible to crack ice into hydrogen and LOX. Elsewhere on the Moon rival propellants could be aluminium and LOX.”

    Assuming the polar deposits (if there really are polar deposits) are cometary, as theorised, then there may also be other volatiles as well as water-ice. I believe ammonia has been detected in comet spectra, along with simple hydrocarbons. They would be important industrial chemicals, for long term ISRU.

    I wonder if anyone’s working on a small-scale process to create something like hydrazine from ammonia. Any liquid hypergolic would be insanely useful. Rocket-fuel, of course. But also portable power-source for rovers, etc. High energy density, perhaps better than batteries for some applications.

  24. Bob Steinke says:

    “So what is your heat-shield made out of?” “Oh, you know, platinum, palladium, iridium, some gold impurities. The usual…”

    (Seriously, wouldn’t that conduct too readily?)

    If the goal was to deliver platinum to Earth and you weren’t trying to save mass you could very easily make a “hot structure” that would survive reentry by being a heat sink with a high melting point. I think a 10cm sphere of platinum would make a perfectly fine reentry vehicle amenable to shovel recovery.

    “Thwaite punts about 95% of the task (reducing the number of raw materials he will use to five), an then cheats on most of the rest”

    But punting and cheating is what good engineers do!

    I agree that near term ISRU is not going to replace enough of the complex parts to make Earth to LEO launch costs irrelevant. But for simple bar and plate stock it may be as easy as passing a magnet over regolith, melting, and pouring into a form made of microwave sintered regolith. With laser cutting and welding you could make block and tackle, four wheeled carts, geodesic domes for living space, etc. Maybe we all agree on that much and you are just arguing that ISRU proponents are going unrealistically far beyond that.

  25. Dennis Wingo says:

    (Seriously, wouldn’t that conduct too readily?)

    If you are going to do something like this, we have been looking at having cobalt or a cobalt/nickel allow be the re-entry vehicle. Who cares if some of it ablates. You don’t actually want to separate the PGM’s in situ, you do the Carbonyl process on the Iron and Nickel and what is left is pgm’s and some other valuable metals like Gallium, germanium, and the like.

    The Iron, nickel, and most of the cobalt you keep local and use it to slowly increase the value of locally produced items.

    I agree that near term ISRU is not going to replace enough of the complex parts to make Earth to LEO launch costs irrelevant.

    And I completely agree with this. I have never suggested otherwise. What it does provide is a force multiplier. Take a look at the mass of the original NASA Lunar Rover. Most of that mass is from the chassis.

    For motive power, closed loop regenerative fuel cells. They are already mature and their use grows daily. NASA this past year at Desert RATS demonstrated a 5 kW fuel cell system for the SEV human closed system rover.

    This is my point. 30 years ago, 20 years ago, and even 10 years ago a lot of this stuff would have required technology development. That is rapidly changing and we should rethink the axioms of the past when new data is presented.

  26. We still have a long way to go before ISRU is so readily understood that we can send families one-way to live off-planet… but that should be the goal.

  27. A_M_Swallow says:

    (Seriously, wouldn’t that conduct too readily?)

    To keep the hot metal away from the avionics adding an insulating layer to the inside of your heat shield would be advisable. Fibre glass is a good insulator and SiO2 should be producible using ISRU.

  28. nooneofconsequence says:

    Jon, and Chris (RoboBeat):
    There’s an almost trivial way to deal with the “too many commercial launches” canard.

    Have a “mutual support pact” among the 3-4 participating commercial LSP’s – such that all the others act as fall-back for the payload if one stands down for whatever reason. It can be designed like an insurance agreement, and creates a viable tactical alternative – there is precedent for it dating back to WWII. There are some interesting details (like avoiding the creation of a monopoly) I can’t go into, but what it does is staggering.

    It takes the last disadvantage of the commercial side, and turns it into an enormous advantage for commercial LSP’s – they get to be enbloc much better than any govt launcher.

    And it primarily needs to be only for prop depot delivery launches – one could even contract with ISP’s to be the backstops on demand – or contract Russian/Chinese prop deliveries alternatively. Many ways to handle that – even ISRO/Brazil for that matter with multiple launches.

    Turn disadvantage into advantage.

  29. Paul says:

    nooneofconsequence,
    Do you just mean in the prop/depot market, or in launch in general? If the latter, how much standardisation of payloads is there in the industry?

  30. nooneofconsequence says:

    Paul, as to payload standardization, that can take many forms – look to EELV and the efforts at its beginning to allow payloads with certain adapters (standardized) to move from one to another to guarantee tactical need if a LV had to “stand down”.

    The issue of too many commercial flights is rooted in the same LV same successive payload stream back to back launches being unsustainable. Look at how long certain payloads take to get off the pad. Some ULA launches have them at the better part of a year … ULA is seen as a premium service vendor, so if they can’t get them off the pad, then no one could. Thus you can’t have such expectation of back to back launches.

    What really matters with prop depots is an expectation of service from the depot that is supported by a reasonable logistical chain. You only need to assure that props delivery stream be dependable, so you only need to shift to another launcher(s) the aggregate of props themselves, and have the transfer interfaces / prox ops / etc as the standard.

    If however you constitute a mission from on orbit assembly components … then these components become elements of the logistical chain as well. Then you need standardized payload components … except for the “keystone” launch required for mission commit.

    Did that answer your question?

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