by guest blogger Ken
Howdy everyone! I hope everyone’s enjoying a nice, relaxing Memorial Day weekend. I just unloaded the nephews on their dad and am taking a quiet moment to contemplate…
I recently listened to the Dennis Wingo and Peter Kokh interviews on The Space Show, and I was struck at how similar the messages were. A stepwise building up process that provides longterm benefits not just to a permanent space presence and space faring, but also to planet Earth.
Dennis, of course, is in the midst of a series of missives on developing the Moon over at SpaceRef. Peter Kokh is an emeritus of the Moon Society, and longtime editor of the Moon Miner’s Manifesto. The MMM alone is reason enough to join, and there’s even a program to make it available to your local libraries for a nominal fee so that even more people can get familiar with the idea of developing our human destiny on the Moon.
There are a few themes that are becoming more common. The use of current Sun power to supply our energy needs rather than the stocks of accumulated dead dinosaurs and plants. Only nuclear and geo power are exclusive of our Sun’s effects. Solar, wind, hydroelectric, hydrocarbon, all of them are present or past Sun power. Rather than fouling our planet and fouling our air to provide energy, it makes sense to get the energy in space directly from the Sun and transmit it to where it’s needed. Peak Sun is not expected for another 4 billion years or so.
The hitch is trying to build anything suitable entirely from Earth. It’s just too punishing to try to do so, which is why it’s increasingly making sense to send the seed plant and equipment to the Moon and build the low-value added stuff like extruded titanium support girders or sheets of vacuum-processed Solar cells (the Moons got a fair amount of vacuum, you know, about 15,000,000 square miles to work with). Launch the low-value-added stuff from the Moon (even doing some assembly where it’s easier to do so with a bit of gravity), and focus on launching the lesser amount of high value-added stuff from Earth.
Dennis also advocates using the ISS as a staging point, rather than a microgravity lab. He has a strong point, as the microgravity science guys would really rather have freefloating platforms, unperturbed by human-induced jitters. This can be done in LEO near the ISS, and will increasingly make business sense if the ISS is adapted to use as a staging point, but ultimately it makes sense to do so further out, at our good friend EML-1.
Staging to EML-1 from ISS is pretty much no different dV-wise than from a 40, 28, or 0 degree orbit, so it makes sense to start now and build up capabilities at other inclinations as it becomes appropriate to do so. Once at L1, all kinds of options open up. As can be seen in the graphic, Freeflyer platforms can be sent on long orbits that come right back to where they started from. This gives ample processing time for the microgravity experiments and eventually production. L1 is also a great place to stage for a mission to the asteroids, especially if you’re supplying oxidizer from the Moon. In the end I have to agree with the Asteroid guys that the debris in cis-Jovian space needs to be mapped out and cleaned up. This is going to be the quickest way to start moving polluting industries off-Earth, by supplying raw materials at a higher degree of purity at a cheaper price.
L1 is also a good spot for running servicing missions to GEO. You can also go anywhere on the Moon’s surface 24/7, which makes pseudo-arguments like North Pole vs. Equatorial vs. SPAB kind of moot because from L1 you can do each one as appropriate. Mr. Wingo, and IIRC Mr. Kokh, prefers a North Pole location, in part because it offers access to more metal heavy mare materials at Mare Frigoris. I, like NASA, prefer SPAB because of the scientific questions surrounding the fossilized remnants of the biggest smack in the Solar system. Parts of the Aitken Basin (the AB part of SPAB) exhibit mare-ish characteristics unusual for the far side. Still, it is more than twice as far to the nearest good source of mare material, in Mare Humorum, as at the North Pole.
Still, in the long run most of the materials for a space-faring civilization are going to come from asteroids, not lithic gravity wells. Including life-support stuff like nitrogen and carbon for the Moon. Which would give the Moon leverage in transacting that stuff with Earth. If there’s ever going to be agriculture on the Moon, or even Mars somehow, then it’s going to take a fair amount of support from our asteroid friends.
By opening up the utilization of asteroids from Earth as soon as possible, you ensure a surer footing in the high frontier. It’s obvious from the diagram at right, from the Time-Life book ‘Spacefarers’ in the ‘Voyage Through the Universe’ series, that L1 is where you want to stage from to build an economy between the Earth and Moon as well as travel beyond. You can get there from ISS. Dennis’s idea of using it as a near-term logistics node is not a bad one, and one that does take advantage of existing space assets, even if the transport is apparently becoming a bit problematic. One thing that both gentlemen talked about is having NASA take a more NACA like role in created a common interface between launch vehicles and ‘CEVS’, so that transport to space would not be tied to any individual launch provider (i.e. NASA). This is what was supposed to happen with the EELVs, and I don’t think they’re a lost cause if we accept some humility and accept that about 20-25 metric tonnes is the launch market right now and it serves just fine for getting people regularly and frequently into orbit. Increasing the frequency of launches decreases individual launch costs as fixed overhead can be spread amongst more vehicles. This is basic economics, and what we have to work with until we get RLVs figured out. We can assemble a CEV in orbit if it’s never going to land in a gravity well, though we might want to consider a bit of aerodynamicity to provide an aeroslowing option.
Providing the common interface means it doesn’t matter what your CEV design is so long as it provides the info needed by the interface. Having a common interface means that it doesn’t matter who your launcher is. Imagine if the D4, A5, F9, Ariane V, Proton, and Long March were all able to launch a crew to LEO orbit because each adapted to a common interface. That’s value-added. Ultimately, I don’t think that NASA should have a monopoly on crewed transport to orbit, nor do I think that my tax dollars should be spent by NASA to create a National Space Transportation System. I’d rather they were spent enabling transportation to space for our nation.
Besides, if ESAS is so all-fired good as a transport system, why wasn’t it being competed in the Concept Exploration and Refinement process back in 2004? ATK had it ready. The Safe Simple Soon website was up. The Planetary Society report ‘Extending Human Presence into the Solar System'(pdf) was available. Here’s the Conclusion from the section on transportation options:
The nation has three or four technically viable domestic launch options for alternative crew access to low Earth orbit in the near term. The selection of one or more on approaches ultimately may depend more on political factors than on cost. For example, will it be acceptable to use a Delta IV or a Sea Launch Zenit-2 to launch astronauts to the ISS if it means closing the VAB and Launch Complexes 39A and B?
On a global level, there are many reasons to make the CEV compatible with as many launch systems as possible. Technically, such redundancy will help avoid the single-point failure vulnerability of the Shuttle system that is currently paralyzing ISS operations. Second, those participants who wish to develop and utilize their own human launch capabilities are more likely to continue to be committed partners during difficult periods. Finally, selling CEVs to the rest of the world could become a notable export opportunity and would enable the United States to retain the lead with respect to defining standards and guiding human launch vehicle operations around the world. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program may serve as a model in this regard.
At this point, SDV designs including both an SRM-based vehicle for CEV services and an in-line heavy-lift configuration appear to be very attractive options for leveraging the investment in infrastructure and people for a quick response. The manner in which the Shuttle phase-out is actually implemented and the determination of which infrastructure elements will then be available for other applications will be major determining factors in whether these vehicles can become viable options for near-term applications.
Boeing even had it as one of its transport options in their study. So if the ATK architecture which became ESAS was the solution, why wasn’t it part of the process?
There are a lot of unknown future industries awaiting us, not just on the Moon, but in between and beyond. Developing these future industries and technologies and solutions could be a wellspring of hope for beleaguered Americans as at least one new industry for the future where we have a competitive advantage. The many Americans we remember this weekend who died for our freedoms and our liberty have made this kind of future possible. We should not disrespect them by passing on the opportunity we have at this time to create a spacefaring, and not just space visiting, civilization. I am doing this space thing not just because I love my nation and want it to prosper into the future (energy, folks. Energy = prosperity), but also because I love my planet and want her to remain a beautiful and savage cradle of humanity.