More Problems With The Shaft

Keith Cowing mentions in a recent post that:

Sources inside the development of the Ares 1 launch vehicle (aka Crew Launch Vehicle or “The Stick”) have reported that the current design is underpowered to the tune of a metric ton or more. As currently designed, Ares 1 would not be able to put the present Orion spacecraft design (Crew Exploration Vehicle) into the orbit NASA desires.

Last week after my lament that I couldn’t afford a subscription to the L2 section on NASASpaceFlight.com, a friend offered to buy me a subscription (thanks!), and I’ve been enjoying it ever since. The problems Keith was hearing about are the same ones that were being mentioned there, up to and including the supposed solution that NASA is now investigating:

One possible solution to the Stick’s current design problems is to add side-mounted solid rocket motors.

If the guys on NASASpaceFlight.com are right, there are even more problems that are going to become public over the next couple of weeks (and so far they’ve been pretty darned accurate). The contortions that are being made to the system to keep the Stick as an integral part of the VSE are getting really out of control.
Fortunately as Keith mentions, at least several of the people involved are starting to see the light:

Many inside the program are not so sure that this solution is worth the effort.

While I am sure that the NASA, ATK, and Lockheed guys working on this are capable enough that they probably could get this thing flying at some point, the question is, will it have been worth it? Sometimes a strategic retreat is better than a Pyrrhic Victory. A Stick with strapons will actually be less safe by NASA’s own standards, while costing more, taking longer to field, and being less capable than existing EELVs.

Unfortunately as Keith mentions:

It is widely known that both Mike Griffin and Scott Horowitz are reluctant (to say the least) about abandoning their current launch vehicle concept. Alternate approaches such as using EELVs are not welcome solutions by either Griffin or Horowitz.

Which raises an important question. If a project that is started in pursuit of a goal becomes detrimental to that goal, should one continue on to the bloody end? At what point do you decide that even if succesfully completed that project is no longer worth it? Will Griffin and Scotty do the honest and decent thing and put this lousy concept out of its misery? Or will they continue on down the course they’re going until they’ve completely derailed the VSE? Now that Utah and Alabama’s representatives and senators are in the minority party, will someone in Congress pull the plug on this travesty if Griffin doesn’t?

At some point Griffin is going to have to chose between the Scotty Stick and the VSE. I have a hard time believing that he won’t make the right decision in the end, but I sure hope he does it before any more unecessary money gets flushed down that rathole.

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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 the founder and CEO of Altius Space Machines, a space robotics startup that he sold to Voyager Space in 2019. Jonathan is currently the Product Strategy Lead for the space station startup Gravitics. 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.
Jonathan Goff

About Jonathan Goff

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 the founder and CEO of Altius Space Machines, a space robotics startup that he sold to Voyager Space in 2019. Jonathan is currently the Product Strategy Lead for the space station startup Gravitics. 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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4 Responses to More Problems With The Shaft

  1. Anonymous says:

    Lets hope that both see the light before Congress flushes both down the rathole along with Ares and VSE…

  2. Realist says:

    They downsized the Command Module from 5.5 meters to 5.00 meters. Then they downsized the Service Module to some whimpy size. The Lockheed Martin Service Module originally had dual engines, which was reduced to single engine. Where can the Orion Capsule go?
    LEO only? If you are going to the Moon and Mars, lets make the most robust and roomiest spaceship possible at the start. This “STICK” is determing the size of the Command Spaceship. This is not right. Lets get rid of this launcher. Nothing has been built yet and lets rethink the steps and progress that has already been taken. It is not too late.

  3. tankmodeler says:

    Realist,

    The downsizing of the CEV to 5m is one of the first smart things that the design team has done, and, if I remember correctly, allows the CEV to possibly be boosted by and EELV.

    I agree that one should optimise the CEV for the lunar and martian exploration missions, but I tend towards the two missions needing separate spacecraft, so lets optimise them from the start. As Jon’s recent post on crew size discusses, two man crews might be much more sensible and I tend to agree. Instead of large roomy CEVs for the relatively short term lunar trip, lets get smaller and lighter with a plan that has Bigelow stations at, say, L1 and then launching additional cargo LSAMs to provide more living space on the moon. There’s no reason to take large living quarters with you if they significantly complicate the overall program. If you absolutely need to have a larger living space on the trip, go with a Soyuz design where the living quarters are left behind when the capsule re-enters. Smaller, cheaper, lighter and sooner actually all work together in this case.

    Paul

  4. Anonymous says:

    Is there any good reason not to go ahead and build a cycler transport to use for travel to the moon and back? Maybe that should be one of the first things built; even before we start doing landings.

    1. Build cheap transport to LEO
    2. Build infrastructure to repair/refuel vehicles in LEO
    3. Build a cycler to travel between the earth and the moon in comparative comfort.
    3a. Build shuttles to go LEO<->cycler and cycler<->LLO
    4. Build a station at EML-1 or LLO
    5. Build transports for EML-1/LLO to Luna.
    6. Profit!

    of course, while this incremental approach does have the advantage of leaving a massive infrastructure in its wake which will make follow-on trips significantly easier; it is comparatively slow. Depending on the revenue source, it may be attractive to just start dropping habitats on the moon and suffer the troubles of cramped moonships and no orbital support.

    If on the other hand, if science and tourism to the moon can be profitably conducted from a cycler that just swings around the moon once a month; this is far cheaper initially than going all the way to the lunar surface. It is also safer and may even generate revenue more quickly.

    If sufficiently profitable; we may even see a second generation of cyclers (that rotate to provide gravity, have more space, etc) before much happens on the moon.

    –Carl.

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