Lunar Much Sooner (and Better)

Over the past several weeks, I’ve put together several different ideas that I want to tie together tonight into what I hope is a coherent suggestion for a much better way for NASA to go about lunar exploration. I need to start out by stating the caveat that while the ideas and information I’m going to talk about here are borrowed from a lot of different sources, some of whom may agree with my approach, many of whom on the other hand probably don’t. So, just because I suggest using this idea or that, don’t assume that I’m implying that anybody endorses this idea other than myself.

Overview
The purpose of this alternative lunar exploration approach is to try and show how NASA could potentially execute a plan that:

  • Is politically realistic
  • Is fiscally sustainable without large increases in NASA’s budget
  • Would begin manned lunar exploration missions by the first quarter of the next decade
  • Would allow for doing both lunar exploration and lunar outpost construction
  • Would use up less of NASA’s exploration budget while accomplishing more
  • Would leave NASA in a better fiscal and technological position to begin manned Martian exploration sooner
  • Would help leverage more effectively off of the private sector, while also catalyzing the development of truly private cislunar commerce
  • Would lower the hurdle for development of key pieces of cislunar infrastructure.

I’m going to try and describe the overall concept in this blog post, but I’m not going to be going into it in anywhere near as much detail as some alternate proposals. I’m just one person, with finite resources, and I have almost no hope that anyone at NASA is going to listen to me. I want to put the concept out, and some of the guiding principles (with just enough technical detail to flesh things out), but leave nitty gritties like trying to predict schedules and exact budgets to others if they wish.

There are a couple of key guiding principles though that I’d like to discuss before going further:

  • Avoid developing new single-use launch vehicles if at all possible–it’s cheaper to rescope and to change assumptions than to field a new high-reliability launch vehicle. If you have to develop a NASA-specific launch vehicle, minimize the number.
  • When you can’t avoid developing new hardware, require the contractors to put skin in the game as often as is feasible. If the DoD, which is in charge of national defense felt it was ok to require the two EELV competitors to pony up most of the money for their boosters, then I think it’s safe to say that NASA, which is far less critical than defense, can afford to take the same chances.
  • If you absolutely insist on reusing shuttle components and reemploying some of the same people (most of whom are manual labor jobs doing things that really are completely irrelevant to space exploration per se), try to keep the development costs to the minimum.
  • Most of the price of an architecture are locked in in the conceptual phase, not in the detailed design phase. Getting something that makes sense from the start is better than insisting that smart NASA engineers can turn lead into gold or a sow’s ear into a silk purse.
  • Take the risks you need to take. If there is a risk that has an extremely high payoff, but is moderately risky, at least put enough money into it to give it a chance. Don’t risk money for things that are low payoff. Budgetary risk is just as real as technical risk.

Light Scout Missions and DIRECT
As layed out in previous posts, the 2-3 man “Light Scout” architecture leverages existing stock boosters (Atlas V 401s and Delta IVHs initially), existing stages with light modifications (a stock Centaur with an added-on “lunar mission kit”), a simplified “lunar version” of the planned Bigelow Sundancer module, a light 2-3 person capsule, a light pressurized landing cabin, and a light, reusable single-stage lunar lander.

While I made the case for the 2-3 man architecture previously, what I’m going to suggest in this article is a bit different from what most people think I’m going to suggest. I’m not suggesting that NASA completely scrap ESAS, 4-man architectures, Shuttle Derived Vehicles, and everything else and implement a 2-man architecture instead. My suggestion to NASA is to adopt a Light Scout architecture, not as a replacement of the 4-man ESAS architecture, but as an enhancement to the Robotic Lunar Exploration Program, and a precursor to the larger 4-man missions.

Real Lunar Exploration
As it is, the current lunar exploration plan doesn’t really result in exploring most of the moon. As NASA announced today, their current plan would focus all of their manned landings not on exploration per se, but on building up a base at Shackleton crater. While that isn’t a bad goal in itself, it really leaves a bit to be desired. A lot of this is driven by how expensive the current architecture is, and how infrequently they can afford to fly it (especially if they want to actually fly anything on the missions–just the cost of the transportation hardware alone soaks up most of the budget currently). Basically, every single NASA manned landing on the moon before 2025 will be within an area smaller than the Mojave Spaceport. Before that, most of the unmanned lunar exploration will also be focused on that particular chunk of lunar real estate. If it cost 10% of what it did, it might actually be impressive, but for how much NASA wants and how long it wants to take, it ends up being a rather pathetic statement about how little things have progressed in manned spaceflight over the past 40 years.

Getting Started
My suggestion boils down to the following steps:

  • “Upgrade” Ares I to the DIRECT launcher. DIRECT satisfies the political needs to keep some of the Shuttle people still employed, while tying up less resources for what it actually can deliver, requiring less new hardware development, less new infrastructure, and having more flight heritage than Ares I/Ares V. Also since development and fixed costs tend to dominate low-flight-rate vehicles, this is the best way to free up the most cash without ditching the Shuttle hardware completely.
  • Shelve the 5-segment SRB development plans. They aren’t needed for DIRECT, end up being completely different boosters than the 4-segment ones, and soak up a huge amount of money early on. Since a lot of that money is being taken away from the kind of science programs that Democrats like, this is a great way to get ESAS seriously neutered. Getting rid of this liability sooner rather than later is important.
  • Slow down the J-2X development plans. While they may be useful for the EDS, EDS won’t be needed till shortly before 4-man lunar missions commence, and with DIRECT, the J-2X isn’t on the critical path for early CEV flights.
  • Use some of the money saved to pay for the development of something similar to the Light Scout lander designs that I’ve been discussing.
  • Determine if using the Soyuz Orbital Module and Reentry Capsule will work for the manned portion of the 2-3 person Light Scout architecture. If not, develop a 2-3 person manned capsule based off of the Apollo CM moldline, but lighter (as was suggested in the Early Lunar Return concept).
  • Finish development of and flight qualify the “lunar mission kit” for the Lunar Transfer Centaur. Possibly qualify the solar power system, restartability and long duration propellant storage as a “free-rider” on a launch of some GSO satellite. Basically, after the satellite has been delivered, test out the various mission kit technologies to make sure they work properly–but make sure that they aren’t activated until after the paying customer’s hardware is where it belongs.
  • Offer to purchase a lunar version of Sundancer at a firm fixed price per module. Say something like $100-150M each for the first five years with a renegotiation after that point.
  • Put some money into both Centennial Challenges and study contracts for bringing settled cryogenic propellant transfer all the way into practice. This isn’t needed immediately for the Light Scout program, but it greatly reduces costs (by over half) once it is available, and can help drive up demand for commercial spaceflight by large margins. It also can greatly enhance the larger 4-man missions when they come on line, and is a real enabler for cost-effective Mars exploration. As I keep saying, it’s one of the key technologies any truly “spacefaring” civilization has to master before it can deserve to be called such.
  • Split whatever money freed up by the switch from Ares I to DIRECT that isn’t being used on the Light Scout program between enhancing COTS (to relax schedule pressures on DIRECT and free it up for just doing lunar missions and big ISS module missions instead of wasting expensive launchers on ISS logistics) and giving some money back to Aeronautics and Science. That will help alleviate some of the common Democratic complaints that Bush’s space initiative is “gutting” science and aeronautics.

Other than the lander portion of the Light Scout architecture, most of what few hardware modifications are necessary shouldn’t take much time. Lockheed has already been studying what it would take to lengthen the duration of their Centaur stages, and has a very good idea of how to proceed from here. If something like using Soyuz parts for the manned return capsule part pans out, it might be possible to start doing translunar flights as early as mid-to-late 2009, and using WSB trajectories to increase the capability or number, or decrease the cost of RLEP satellites.

Once the light lander is done, initial flight tests can involve dropping off unmanned rovers and such on the lunar surface, working their way up to manned flights. If done right, the first manned lunar return could be in the 2010-2012 timeframe. Then, as DIRECT is slowly brought on line and the larger 4-man architecture components flight tested and debugged, you can get several extra years of lunar exploration for about the same price (or less) than the current architecture.

Light Scout Campaigns
A Light Scout “Outpost” campaign might follow a sequence similar to this:

  • Land an unmanned cargo lander that includes a mix of several small robotic lunar exploration rovers, landing nav aids, supplies and life support consumables, solar power equipment, scientific equipment, and light construction equipment.
  • Next, if the initial robotic exploration looks promising enough, land a Bigelow Sundancer Module at the site while the robotic rovers do some basic exploration, and possibly some preliminary site preparation (depending on how easily you can get the hardware to work via telepresence).
  • Next land one 2-3 man teams. They help bury the Sundancer module, and setup a light exploration base, and then spend the next several weeks exploring the environment using the unmanned rovers as robotic helpers. The robots help do some of the high-level exploration, with the manned explorers following up in detail, and maintaining the robotic equipment to make it last longer.
  • If the site is of sufficient interest, continue rotating crews in on a semi-regular basis.

If briefer, less thorough sorties are desired in some locations, it might be possible to just land the robotic cargo lander, or just land a 2-3 person sortie. Even with the spartan setup described in my previous posts, short 2-4 day stays should be possible off of a single mission, which is likely to be comparable to an Apollo mission (which weren’t exactly wastes of time even at multiple times the cost per mission).

By mixing and matching unmanned, manned, light outpost, and continual habitation sorties, a lot more ground can be covered a lot less expensively. Initially, on a budget of less than say $1.5B/year, you could afford to do one of the Light Scout/RLEP campaigns per year. However, if settled cryogenic propellant transfer comes on line, you could quickly drive that to 2-3 full campaigns per year, or 1-2 full Light Scout Outpost campaigns, a couple of robotic-only landings, and several Light Scout Sortie missions.

These missions can help explore some of the interesting locations on the moon that aren’t going to be visited at all under the current NASA plan, such as potential Fe-Ni meteorite impact sites, localized high magnetic field sites like Reiner Gamma (which might have something to do with the former), sites near lava-tubes and rille valleys, the lunar North polar regions, areas associated with Lunar Transient Phenomenon, etc. If Dennis Wingo’s hypotheses that some largely-intact Fe-Ni meteorite impactors may exist on the moon is right, that could have substantial economic implications, and getting some boots on the ground to do initial prospecting could be very useful.

Paving the Way
These missions can also pave the way for the larger, more capable 4-person missions to setup a base in Shackleton Crater. The unmanned cargo landers can deliver a much more substantial contingency of robotic exploratory rovers. Manned landers can scout out the terrain, and setup landing nav aids for future landings, maybe even clear some landing zones. Earlier light outpost missions could have started testing out some of the ISRU construction processes and propellant generation processes that could be taken to “pilot plant” scale at this point in the exploration schedule. The reusable single-stage light lander design, and operational data and experience from it could help make the LSAM more capable, reliable, and less expensive. If on-orbit cryo transfer is matured, the costs of getting supplies and people, and large components down to the lunar surface will be substantially lower. Not to mention as the costs drop, lunar tourism and other lunar enterprises might become feasible. Maybe even before the larger 4-man architecture or Shackleton Base enters operations.

Mars and Beyond, Sooner and Better
This could allow for a more substantial base, sooner, with more commercial and international cooperation. It could also allow for NASA to start shifting it’s focus sooner to Martian and NEO exploration. With on-orbit propellant transfer, and a now much more robust and high-flight rate commercial market for propellant delivery, Martian exploration missions can be done more frequently, and at much lower costs.

Anyhow, that’s the basic concept I’ve got. I think it’s possible to throw a bone to the Shuttle Derived crowd, placate the Science and Aeronautics crowd, get at least some light scout missions back to the moon sooner, and still preserve the heavier lift capabilities that NASA and ESAS so desire, all without busting the bank. I don’t have detailed cost, reliability and schedule estimates all taken out to 3 significant figures. I don’t have tons of glitzy slides and CAD models to back things up, but I think I’ve presented enough information here for anyone who really is interested to look the idea over, think it outs for themselves, and at least chew on it for a while.

Comments?

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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.
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 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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30 Responses to Lunar Much Sooner (and Better)

  1. Ed says:

    This is much more in line with what President Bush said in the VSE speech in 2004, compared to what NASA unveiled as their plan yesterday. NASA is so fixated on working on big projects that they are neglecting the development of capabilities.

    Back in the days of NACA, the administration concentrated on developing capabilities and didn’t try to run all the airports and the airlines – NACA wasn’t the industry all by itself.

    NASA is stuck in the mindset that they are the entire space industry. If NACA had had that mindset, there would today only be a couple of flights a year in the US, with highly-trained crew and no passengers. There’d probably only be one airport, too.

    That’s why NASA presents things like the Ares 5 and yesterday’s lunar base plan – they are under the impression that they have to do it all themselves.

    Yes, I know they mentioned international partners and commercial enterprises a couple dozen times in that briefing, but that’s obviously lip service when one looks at the design they have chosen. If they were serious about providing an open architecture, then they wouldn’t be planning the base themselves, they’d be developing the technologies (such as on-orbit propellant transfer) that would allow the entire industry to take part in the VSE.

  2. Gaetano Marano says:

    .

    as I’ve explained eight months ago in my article [ http://www.gaetanomarano.it/articles/005_SLVnow.html ] and in some space forums the FAST-SLV (now called “Stumpy” or “Direct”……) built with (ready available, cheap and man-rated) Shuttle hardware and a 3-astronauts resized mission is the BEST way to come back to the moon sooner and to save giant amount of money!

    .

  3. Bill White says:

    Jon –

    Light scouts plus Direct is a terrific idea. But how is Mike Griffin to be persuaded? If the light scout advocates bring some extra money to the table, that job becomes very much easier.

    Michael Mealling is exactly right — getting a TV deal or sponsorship money is not feasible without credibility yet Boeing and Lockheed have plenty of credibility. If the United Launch Alliance were to do some preliminary work with sponsors and TV networks they could then meet with Griffin with two items in their brief:

    (1) Jon Goff’s “Direct + light launcher plan”

    and

    (2) Additional money to put on the table.

    Enough to fully fund the light launchers? Probably not.

    But NASA could pay a purely private player to field test some of their lunar gear and scout the ground while the private player could combine this NASA money with media & NASCAR style marketing money to close their business case.

    NASA has already put 12 people on the Moon — let a ULA sponsored private team send #13, 14 (and/or 15) and include a South Asian (India) and or Japanese (depending on 2 or 3 crew). Sell the TV rights here, there and everywhere.

    It’s not an official NASA mission hence no legal barrier to the marketing angle.

    Griffin has often said that the US taxpayer cannot be expected to pay all the bils associated with opening up space. Thus, I predict he would be open to such a plan provided that plan did not undermine his own preferred route.

  4. kert says:

    I think its absolutely essential that someone does a video game on near space development in near future, using all the possible components and ideas, throw in Sea Dragons, beanstalks etc 🙂
    Something along the lines of Sim City, in space. Sim Cislunar. Sid Meyer, are you listening ?

  5. Ferris Valyn says:

    Hey Jon,

    Question for you – you gonna tie up your various thoughts and ideas into something a little more formalized than the blog entries you have here? I understand being only one person with limited resources, and yet, I feel like it might be able to have an impact if it was organized a little more formally.

  6. HaloJonesFan says:

    Ferris: I’d actually go the other way. It is not as though NASA is a bunch of morons who haven’t ever discussed the things that Jon is saying. They’re just going into the discussion with different assumptions, and so of course they are coming to different answers. And these answers are entirely logical and reasonable–if you start with the same assumptions. On the other hand, if you don’t assume that every part on the rocket and every part on the lander and every part in the moonbase has to have a NASA part number, then you come to a different conclusion–which probably looks a lot like what Jon is proposing.

    Basically, thus: if you remove the requirement that NASA own and operate every part of the mission, you can get things done a lot cheaper. The problem is that the Federal Government will never allow that to happen, because they are so addicted to ISO Kool-Aid that they will force NASA to own the mission whether NASA wants it or not!

  7. Ferris Valyn says:

    halojonesfan – huh? you wanna run that by me again? All I said was I hoped he would write it up in a little more formalized plan, instead of numerous blog entires, that are kind of disparate. On the whole, I like his idea. Its just, when they are broken up like they are in the various blog entires, lines of thought can get a little confusing.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Yeah Jon! Throw an AIAA paper together on this subject! Just because NASA hasn’t done micro-g propellent transfer on orbit does not mean that it is impossible. I’d like to see a complete test program outlined for this in your paper. And why can’t Lockheed buy one of it’s own rockets and just do it? Bigelow has done alot of things that NASA didn’t think of, or was not allowed to do. NASA is controlled by Congress and they are slaves to the “politically correct” media. Some reporter was asking “Doc Roc” how much everything was going to cost and immediately every paper picks it up as if cost overruns were imminent. Some other reporter was asking how many of the lunar bound astrounauts would be from foreign partners. Does NASA even have any partners yet? These are “issues” that commercial enterprise does not have to deal with. I still think that some commercial group is going to beat NASA back to the moon simply because they can avoid distractions like this. The only real money making proposals that I have heard of so far are tourism, mining, and power production. Because of the low-g environment on the moon, some lava tubes could be 1500 feet in diameter, compare that with 15 feet on earth. That could shelter a small city with a lot less digging! The fist thing those robotic explorers ought to be doing is looking for big lava tubes. I wonder if ultra-large precious gem formation is easier on the moon than on earth too. A precious gem the size of half a beer can could be worth literally millions.

  9. Zaydana says:

    I think the people saying that this needs to be put up into a more formalized piece of writing are right on track, although as long as Jon doesn’t feel too attached to his plan, I can’t see why he would need to do the whole thing by himself?? This type of thing seems to me to be exactly the type of thing that would really benefit from having multiple people work on it. A Wiki maybe would be a good way to go about it? That way Jon isn’t lumped with the dubious task on top of all his other commitments.

    If people (Jon, mainly) are interested in that, I could probably set up a Wiki to get it going…

  10. jv says:

    Regarding propellant transfer – What propellants are transferred between russian Progress and the ISS ?

  11. Jon Goff says:

    Jv,
    Progress transfers storable hypergols, I think N2O4/MMH or whatever the Russian equiavalent is. Transfering storable propellants in zero-G isn’t too difficult, it’s cryogenic propellants that are tougher and as yet unproven. The now ULA guys make a strong case that cryo propellant transfer isn’t that tough either, but they haven’t actually reduced it 100% to practice.

    ~Jon

  12. Jon Goff says:

    Zaydana,
    It might be interesting, but with so much of this basic concept still in my head and not very well put down on paper/electrons…I’m not sure how well a wiki would work at this point. Might be worth revisiting at some point in the future.

    ~Jon

  13. Jon Goff says:

    Ferris, et al,
    I really wish I had more time to put into this, but alas I really don’t. Unfortunately, by the time I do have time to write things up more formally, it will probably be too late.

    It’s kind of frustrating really. I have a lot of thoughts and ideas, but am not really in a position to act on most of the more interesting ones. Most of what I can do is put ideas up here for others to run with, and keep pushing as hard as I can to keep MSS alive and kicking. Eventually, if we last long enough, we may get to the point where we can execute on some of my ideas, but that’s a long way off.

    Between my thesis, my family, and trying to keep this startup afloat, the only reason why I find time for blogging is as an escape mechanism.

    Sometime down the road though, I really would like to flesh some of these details out more.

    ~Jon

  14. Ferris Valyn says:

    Jon,
    This might be a good time to consider a donation drive. I couldn’t offer up much, but I’d be willing to throw a little money to you if it encouraged you to do a formal write-up. And for something like this, I’d be willing to bet others would as well.
    Just a thought

  15. Derek Cate says:

    If a wiki gets set up and then either slashdotted or dugg, these ideas could spread really fast. And as the wiki expands and has more details, its credibility would go up. The benefits could be potentially getting some pressure on NASA, or at least more investment in private firms.

  16. HaloJonesFan says:

    A wiki? What would that do for anything? I guess “set up a wiki” is the 2000’s version of the 1990’s “put it on the Web”.

    What I’m saying is that Jon isn’t the only intelligent man on Earth, and that the people who work at NASA are not morons. Their program exists the way it does because of their constraints and requirements, and suggesting another thing to do isn’t really useful–because if they could do it that way, they’d be doing it.

  17. Warren W. Thompson says:

    Hi John:

    Very insightful stuff! By the way, the Robotic Lunar Expoloration Program (RLEP) became the Lunar Precursor and Robotic Program (LPRP) after the management of that program was moved from Ames to Marshall earlier this year.

    Keep the great ideas coming!

  18. Ferris Valyn says:

    WEll halojonesfan, 2 things
    1 – I never actually refered to anyone as stupid, and I don’t think that. So I kinda take offense to the tone of your post. The most that I said was that I think if jon’s proposal was written a little more formally, it could add a lot to the discussion.
    2 – If your arguement is that what we’ve got is the best were gonna get, and the best thing we can do is sit down and shut up, well, sorry, I don’t buy that. I think that if enough people made noise, we could get something better than what we’ve got.

  19. Derek Cate says:

    The “wiki” to my thinking is so that some of the ideas discussed can get fleshed out without Jon having to do all of it. The “wiki” is just a tool for collaboration as people can lend their expertise in various areas. Jon has stated he doesn’t have the expertise nor the time to do it all. The idea is that currently it is too easy for people to just dismiss the ideas here as mindless ramblings in the blogosphere that have no bearing on reality. If the ideas can get fleshed out and show the data that defends those ideas, then they can’t be dismissed so easily.

    The people who work at NASA are not all morons. Their program does exist the way it does because of their constraints and requirements, but being a political entity, not all of those constraints and requirements are technical. The hope is that if we can show a well-defended proposal for a program that uses a different set of constraints and requirements, is cheaper, faster, and offers more benefit, that maybe we can get more people in places that matter asking if the current NASA program is the right way to go.

  20. Zaydana says:

    Derek, you got the idea about the wiki just right. However, we can only really go ahead with something like with Jon’s approval, since it would be mostly based on his ideas in the first place.

  21. Ferris Valyn says:

    An interesting piece yesterday from USA TODAY (Thanks to Jeff Foust’s Spacepolitics.com for finding it). They had 2 pieces, one for and one against. Griffin did the for piece. The interesting thing is, the opposing piece wasn’t arguing that we shouldn’t be sending people into space. What they were arguing was largely what many of us (including Jon) have been saying – we need a better plan. This is why I think something like this could have an impact. People want something more than we have right now, but they don’t want to waste it.

    http://blogs.usatoday.com/oped/2006/12/post_12.html

    Interestingly, thi

  22. Josh says:

    If you want to start doing co-sharing/co-editing to put Jon’s ideas into a more formal order, I would suggest starting with Google Documents. It gives both wiki and desktop publishing features, is more secure than a (general) wiki and allows him to maintain better control over the material.

    Jon, I looked and http://www.lulu.com/ is the best current choice for blog-to-book format. There’s one other, but of course I’m replying from work… I’m totally serious about you turning these ideas into print – you have 90% of a book right now. I’d give you some design help with the layout, plus some copy editing and help setting it all up. I’d suggest a 4-8 person team if you were serious about some other’s help, give us all co-creator/editor creds. Putting out a book would give you a little bit of cash, doesn’t cost much to start w/ Lulu and would give you another bit of cred as a rising engineer. Plus, in the internet age, we can do this quickly. Probably not by Christmas, but by spring easily.

    And, FWIW, I’m for Lunar Much Sooner because the VSE is looking pretty shaky these days.

    Josh

  23. bill says:

    Hey Jon,

    Just wondering how well a Sundancer module would work in a 1/6th gravity situation. Isn’t the basic plan to have this as an orbital/zero-G facility? All of a sudden you put it on the ground and one side of it becomes a permanent floor. Just thought I’ld ask.

  24. Will McLean says:

    1) There is no way that Congress is going to fund a plan that depends on Soyuz capsules for a supplementary manned lunar program.

    2) Building two man reentry and lander capsules is a costly diversion from the main program. Developing a two man lunar spacecraft costs almost as much a a four seater: extra seats and cabin structure add little to the development cost. A Gemini spacecraft cost about 2/3 as much as an Apollo CSM to produce, in spite of having only 1/3 the dry mass, no docking hatch and tunnel, much less room per man, and vastly less delta v and communications capacity.

    3) Sorties are vastly less cost effective than longer stays. It costs less to deliver a year’s worth of logistics supplies for a crew to the moon than to take them there and back. Thus:

    4) If the main effort is one or two bases at the poles and you want to explore more of the moon, the cost effective way to do it is with a mobile base: a group of pressurized rovers to support long stays.

  25. Jon Goff says:

    Will,
    1) There is no way that Congress is going to fund a plan that depends on Soyuz capsules for a supplementary manned lunar program.

    First off, my plan doesn’t “depend” on Soyuz capsules–they’re one of many options for the manned reentry capsule portion of the trip. However, if an American company were to buy some Soyuz capsules, and do the lunar retrofit themselves (including say replacing the orbital module with a much more spacious one–the cramped nature of the Soyuz wasn’t as much due to weight concerns as it was to fitting inside the rather cramped payload fairing on the Soyuz launch vehicle), I wouldn’t be very surprised at all if Congress went along with it. They paid for Atlas V’s didn’t they? 😉

    2) Building two man reentry and lander capsules is a costly diversion from the main program. Developing a two man lunar spacecraft costs almost as much a a four seater: extra seats and cabin structure add little to the development cost. A Gemini spacecraft cost about 2/3 as much as an Apollo CSM to produce, in spite of having only 1/3 the dry mass, no docking hatch and tunnel, much less room per man, and vastly less delta v and communications capacity.

    Well, yes, if you allow MSFC to get anywhere near the design process. There’s no reason it should take $5B-10B to develop a manned lander or a manned capsule. None of the aerospace companies who have actual experience designing and fielding spacecraft and launch vehicles are expecting to spend anywhere near that much. It’s only NASA centers who haven’t fielded a new launcher in 20 years who seem to think that things have to cost that much.

    Think about it. For $5B, we got Atlas V and all its variants, and Delta-IV and all its variants, new pads, new factories, some new engines, etc. For about $1B (half from the government half from private equity) there is a good chance COTS will deliver on two manned launch vehicles. There’s nowhere that says these things have to be intrinsically expensive. If this is a suplement not a replacement to the main pork fest, you can afford to do this in a much more commercial manner.

    Have NASA Ames lead the development. They were already trying to do something similar on the lander front with their Microlander projects before MSFC insisted on throwing its weight around and pulling them in-house.

    Heck, the lander is about the right size for future commercial applications, so maybe have the developer put some of their skin in the game, in exchange for the right to sell it for commercial use in addition to NASA use.

    3) Sorties are vastly less cost effective than longer stays. It costs less to deliver a year’s worth of logistics supplies for a crew to the moon than to take them there and back.

    Will. Did you even read my suggestions? I was suggesting just that. If you want to do a longer stay, you can incrementally launch enough supplies to keep them there much longer. However, you have a lot more flexibility and granularity about the size of said missions. You don’t have to spend five years and $30B building up a base before you can do anything interesting on the moon.

    4) If the main effort is one or two bases at the poles and you want to explore more of the moon, the cost effective way to do it is with a mobile base: a group of pressurized rovers to support long stays.

    For some of us, putting down one or two little bases at the poles is pathetic, not an admirable goal. Especially at the cost that NASA wants for them. We’re talking something like $130-140B and 18 years by the time they can support 4 people for six months.

    I would much rather have the flexibility to put down smaller outposts or do sorties wherever we have places of interest, rather than limiting ourselves artificially.

    ~Jon

  26. Anonymous says:

    Jon;

    What’s wrong with using the http://lunarpedia.org wiki?

    That’s what it’s there for.

    Mike Delaney

  27. Will McLean says:

    Jon:

    Your light scout plan conflates several different issues. You get a smaller mission than the NASA baseline by:

    1) Two man crews rather than four.
    2) More agressive designs assuming low vehicle mass and high performance.
    3) Less delta V required: missions will never need to return or land at suboptimal times, so no extra delta V for plane changes will be needed.

    Interestingly, 1) alone doesn’t account for much of the savings. If you double the mass of your capsule and lander crew cabin to carry four rather than two, the same assumptions suggest that you should be able to do the mission with three Delta IVH launches: two each launching a Centaur and one for the lunar stack, with a fully loadeded lander providing all or most of the delta v for LOI.

    You should actually be able to do rather better than that, since a number of systems, such as hatches and communications, will mass the same even when you double the crew size.

    Trading four seats against two seems to strongly favor four for a robust program. A smaller capsule or lander costs more per seat, requires every member of the crew to be a jack of all trades, and does little to reduce the initial investment in the program.

  28. Jon Goff says:

    Will,
    You make some good points, but I think you’re also missing some others.

    First off, regarding the plane change Delta-V. I reran the numbers, using the ESAS numbers for how much extra Delta-V is needed for a worst-case plane change in LUNO. It makes the capsule a bit tighter, but is still within reason. Latest spreadsheet is here: http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=pD9i_cIb_0jC2LlfgSOQJAQ

    Some of these designs are very conservative (the mass and Isp of a base Centaur are known quantities, and the Lunar Mission Kit has been studied out in detail–the numbers for the “EDS” dry mass in this case are quite conservative). Some of them are a bit aggressive (the capsule for instance is about 14% lighter than the Early Lunar Access numbers), but probably not undoable. Some of them are agressive. The lander for instance. But not as aggressive as one would think. After accounting for the tanks, the engine (with pumps), and the landing gear, I’ve only needed about half of the dry mass. I think it’s totally feasible, especially if done as a combination project between someone like Lockheed who has a lot of upper-stage LOX/LH2 design experience, and an alt.space company that has built and flown a lot of VTVL vehicles (hopefully us, or possibly Blue Origin or Armadillo).

    There is one way to beef back up the margins quite a bit for manned missions. If you allow in-space settled cry transfer, you could launch the lunar lander with a much fuller load of propellants, some of which could be transfered back into the Centaur after the Trans Lunar Injection burn. If you do that, it relaxes all of the margins quite a bit and makes the lander itself the only aggressive piece of hardware in the system.

    One other thing that helps is that the Lunar Much Sooner design splits out surface habitation requirements from the transportation requirements. Why use a winnebago when you can have a pickup truck that drops off a camper in advance?

    But overall, good questions.

    The one thing I disagree with most strongly is your statement at the end that: “A smaller capsule or lander costs more per seat, requires every member of the crew to be a jack of all trades, and does little to reduce the initial investment in the program.” It may not reduce the cost of developing the lander or capsule (though I think there is very good reason to believe that it would), but it would drastically reduce the transportation development costs.

    Even if you throw the DIRECT bone at the shuttle guys as I suggest, you’ll be eliminating somewhere around $30B in development costs by using this method, while getting back to the moon sooner. If slashing over 30% of the development cost of the program isn’t a significant reduction in initial investment in your book, I’m not sure what would be. You have to look at the whole system, not just isolated subsystems.

    Also, the lessons learned from building the light lander can be applied to the heavier lander. Incremental development actually lowers cost in most cases.

    ~Jon

  29. Will McLean says:

    Jon, you write:

    The one thing I disagree with most strongly is your statement at the end that: “A smaller capsule or lander costs more per seat, requires every member of the crew to be a jack of all trades, and does little to reduce the initial investment in the program.” It may not reduce the cost of developing the lander or capsule (though I think there is very good reason to believe that it would), but it would drastically reduce the transportation development costs.

    Not necessarily. If your assumptions are correct on mass and performance, the four man version of your proposal can fly on three flights of the Delta IV-H. Launcher development cost is the same.

  30. Brad says:

    Jon,

    Check this out, a two man pressurized rover landed on the moon via a single Delta IVH launch! With slight modifications it might fit beautifully into your 2 man mission architecture.

    SPRITE: Small Pressurized Rover for
    Independent Transport and Exploration

    http://72.14.253.104/search?q=cache:W5AH3EowVmcJ:www.sop.usra.edu/rasc-al/forum_2005/projects/undergraduate/maryland/paper.pdf+sprite+lunar+rover&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=2&ie=UTF-8

    “…the University of Maryland design team has designed SPRITE, a rover that allows for the exploration of scientifically interesting areas that are remote to the base. SPRITE is a pressurized rover that allows a crew of two to conduct week-long expeditions to the area around a lunar base. SPRITE and its crew can accomplish this mission through both extravehicular activity and remote, robotic activity…”

    “…SPRITE’s mission divides into three different phases: en-route, post-landing, and surface. The en-route phase begins with the separation of SPRITE and its landing system from the payload fairing of a single Delta-IV Heavy launch vehicle. Burns from a retro stage engine and landing stage thrusters during this phase will successfully land SPRITE on the lunar surface near the lunar base…”

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