Ok, two weeks ago, I mentioned that the “pre-depot” dual EELV launch concept my friend had passed to me could be adapted to do manned lunar missions. Lunar missions are a lot easier to close if you assume a depot in LEO (and even easier if there’s also a small depot at L2). But it turns out that if you use a couple of tricks, you can actually make a pre-depot concept close as well. This wouldn’t be my optimal approach, but it at least illustrates the point.
The mission uses the following tricks to make things work:
- Dual Engine Centaur for this mission is stretched by 50% and includes an “Extended Mission Kit” to allow for it to function for the ~5 days necessary for the mission (normal DEC dry mass is ~5400lb, and the EMK is ~1750lb and includes stuff like extra hydrazine bottles, more batteries, deep space navigation upgrades to avionics, sunshields, etc)
- Command module does a powered lunar swingby to go to L2, thus cutting down on overall dV requirements (~750m/s total required, 335m/s per leg), thus allowing for a much smaller CSM (possibly with the service module integrated into the command module).
- The Stretched Centaur and the Lander break into lunar orbit and descend to the surface instead of continuing to L2. I’m not positive if this allows you to land anywhere on the lunar surface or not (this is one of the few big questions for this mission mode). This avoids the extra dV requirements you normally get for stopping everything at L2 first.
- Upper stage performs part of the landing burn (between LOI and the descent burn it provides about 1950m/s out of the total 3050m/s needed for LOI and landing).
- RS-68A Upgraded Delta-IVH. This upgrade is already in engine testing and is badly needed by the DoD, so there’s a good chance this will work out. Expected payload capacity I’ve heard is 27mT for the system.
- Instead of carrying a second stretched Centaur as a payload on one of the flights, the Atlas V 552 uses the stretched Centaur as its upper stage. In order to tank up the LH2, it carries an LH2 drop tank between the lander and the command module. It gets transfered right after reaching orbit, and gets dumped shortly before TLI.
Here are the major components of the system:
- Command Module: This module is based on the Apollo outer mold line, but only carries two people, and enough life support consumables for the mission. I budgetted 11,000lb dry and 3250lb of propellant for the capsule (not including RCS propellants). I assumed hypergols for the stage, with a crappy 314s Isp. The Apollo CM wet mass was 12.8klb, and the SM weighed 54klb wet, 13.5klb dry. However, most of the SM mass was due to the CSM performing the LOI burn for the Apollo Stack. About half of the dry mass of the CSM was the huge main engine, and a good chunk of the remaining mass was electrical equipment and the huge tanks for the 40klb of propellant. With modern materials, electronics, a smaller crew, solar panels instead of fuel cells, and the much lower propulsive requirements for the Command Module in this architecture, I think 11klb is actually pretty conservative for such a system. For another comparison the latest CEV numbers I’ve heard (which are pretty far out of date) were ~18klb for a four person capsule.
- Stretched Centaur Lunar Transfer/Crasher Stage: As mentioned above, this is a dual engine centaur using two RL10A-4-2 engines, but with a 50% barrel stretch to the tanks. The tanks are actually less than 40% of the dry mass of a centaur stage, but you also need more helium for pressurization of the larger stage…assuming that the 50% greater propellant load requires a 50% higher dry mass should be a conservative estimate. The idea of a stretched Centaur shouldn’t be too crazy when you realize how many iterations General Dynamics, Martin Marietta, and Lockheed Martin have done on the Centaur just in the past 20 years (including 5m diameter Centaurs for use on Titan IV among other things). The 1750lb for the extended mission kit is also based on numbers from previous papers LM/ULA has published about converting their stages over for longer-duration missions. Total dry mass I assumed was 9850lb. Note that the Atlas V 552 performance numbers also include 5400lb worth of Centaur burnout weight, so you only have to provide ~4450lb worth of “payload” for the Stretched Centaur. Also note, that if you tank the stretched Centaur up all the way for launch, it should probably increase the payload capacity of the Atlas V 552 a little compared to a normal Centaur, but for purposes of this analysis we’re assuming only the nominal payload of a normal Atlas V 552, to be conservative.
- Single Stage Lunar Lander/Ascender: This stage takes the crew the rest of the way to the lunar surface after the Centaur has provided the first part of the descent burn, and then provides the ascent burn, and the burn to take the crew to the L2 staging point to rendezvous with the Command Module. I budgetted 1100m/s for its portion of the descent burn, 100m/s to allow for a 90s hover to find the best landing spot, 2650m/s for the lunar surface to L2 burn, and about 50m/s more for contingencies. This is probably the most aggressive part of the mission. For this vehicle, I’m assuming a piston-pump-fed LOX/CH4 stage, based off of the piston pump and LOX/Methane engine work XCOR has done (possibly combined with stuff that we at Masten have done that they haven’t like gimbals, throttling, etc). The piston pump requires very low net peak suction head, which allows for very low pressure tanks, that can be made of the LOX/Cryo-compatible Nonburnite composites that XCOR has been devleoping. XCOR developed the piston pump and Nonburnite composites explicity for making propellant tanks out of shapes that aren’t typical for propellant tanks (in their cases to make the CG numbers work, they wanted to do LOX-filled “wet wings”). Using this technology, instead of heavy pressure fed tanks and heavy helium tanks, you have lightweight composite tanks that can actually form part of the load-bearing structure of the vehicle. As I understand it, based on my recollection of their public statements, the piston pumps they’re looking at using scale to about enough flow for a 2500lbf engine in a single pump. By combining them with the 7500lbf engine XCOR developed (with a nozzle extension of course), you have significantly more thrust than you need for landing. More importantly, you can possibly make the three pumps operate in a redundant fashion, so the loss of one pump can be tolerated at any point in the mission, and the loss of a second pump can be tolerated through most of the mission. If done right, the pumps could be “armored” as XCOR calls it, but placed in such a way that they have removable manways between them and the main compartment that would allow for shirtsleeve troubleshooting/repair (the pump compartments would need to be done in a manner that if something went horribly wrong, that any debris/blast would be directed away from the crew cabin…but I can imagine a few ways that could be done). All told, I’m assuming a 4350lb dry weight, a 9000lb propellant weight, 500lb worth of hardware to be left on the moon, and a 360s Isp. The LM ascent stage was 4200lb, but held only 65% of the propellant mass, and only about half the propellant volume of this lander, and didn’t have to do landings, and didn’t have to support the crew for as long (about 3 days vs. the target 9 days to give you a week on the surface and 2 days in transity to L2). But as mentioned above, it used pressure fed tanks, with the mass of a helium blowdown system, had to provide significant RCS capabilities since the stage did not have a gimballed main engine, was using crappy 60s era electronics and electrical systems, and had tanks that were entirely non structural, and also didn’t have access to modern materials like lithium-aluminum or modern composites. However, the 13,850lb total mass for the lander actually compares pretty well with the 13,510lb currently assumed for the pressure-fed, hypergol-fueld Altair Ascent stage (from this document), which carries 4 crew for the same mission duration.
- Pre-Depot LOX Tank: This ~2.2klb Tank holds ~57.1klb of LOX for the Stretched Centaur. It includes a docking port (possibly using LIDS technology?), a sunshield, and a Centuar-derived LOX tank. It gets launched as the sole payload for the Delta-IVH, using up all but about 200lb of its capacity. But since it is so dense, it might be able to get away with using a shorter (and lighter weight) fairing than is typical for Delta-IVH if that wouldn’t require lots of expensive aero analysis. This tank, if launched with the LOX pre-chilled can hang out for over a month waiting for the Atlas V 552 launch.
- LH2 Drop Tank: This ~62.5 m^3 tank weighs about 2000lb (with another 2000lb budgetted for connecting structures between the various parts of the launch stack). It would be housed between the Lander and the Command Module on the Atlas V 552 launch. It would possibly use 5m tankage derived from the Delta-IV US. After reaching orbit, the LH2 from this tank would be transfered (using propulsive settling) into the Stretched Centaur. After the Command Module docks with the Pre-Depot LOX tank, and has transferred all the propellants from that (and discarded the pre-depot LOX tank), the CM and empty LH2 drop tank would separate from the stack, the drop tank would be discarded, and the CM would reattach to the lander much like was done on the Apollo Missions.
Now, this mission model isn’t perfect. It uses most of the capabilities of the two launchers without a huge amount of margin (except in the fact that the Atlas V 552 with stretched Centaur probably has some margin built in that isn’t being explicitly called out). And I’m not a fan of launching the crew on an EELV with 5 solid strapons. It would be a lot easier if you assumed the development of something like the Common Upper Stage that ULA has been talking about recently. With that, you would have tons more margin (since a CUS would add nearly 7mT of capacity to the DIVH, and probably at least 5mT to the Atlas V 552–possibly enough to go with less or no strapons on the crew launcher). But it demonstrates that a 2-launch EELV mission using almost no modifications to existing launch vehicles (beyond the Centaur mods) is within feasibility.
The system also has several good things going for it. First off, it can deliver lunar crew to the surface without a depot. It doesn’t need Autonomous Rendezvous and Docking (since the rendezvous and docking can be piloted), or tankers to be developed. It doesn’t need HLVs or 10m fairings (everything can fit within a stock Atlas V fairing). It doesn’t need really long term LH2 storage in orbit. It only requires two launches for the mission, and doesn’t put anywhere near as much launch timing constraints as the ESAS architecture does. It can provide for cargo missions (~19klb delivered mass to the surface assuming that 2klb of the lander stage is in the form of a removable crew cabin, which just happens to be enough to land a Bigelow Module).
And most importantly, if depots do come into existence, it can immediately take advantage of them. With just an LEO depot, you can both cut down on the number of EELV launches to just one (and use lower-cost systems like Falcon 9’s, Zenits, Ariane-Vs, Soyuzes, future commercial RLVs, etc to launch the remaining propellant). Also by getting rid of the huge LH2 drop tank, you simplify the stack, remove about 15klb worth of hardware from the Atlas stack , dropping it to the point where it can possibly be launched by a 502 launch instead of a 552 launch (since the stretched Centaur provides almost as much propellant as a Phase 1 Atlas, which was supposed to boost the LEO capacity of the single-stick Atlas to almost 30klb). Or you could use that saved mass to beef up the lander and/or command module for more capable missions.
If you have both a LEO and an L1 or L2 depot, the Centaur can top itself up again that depot, and provide a much larger chunk of the descent burn to the lander stack. With enough propellant left over to return to LLO then to L1/L2 after separating from the lander, allowing the Stretched Centaur to be reused multiple times. With such a system you could actually soft-land bigger payloads than the Altair cargo lander…and you’d have the capability of making the lander and transfer stage fully reusable. The transfer stage, since it wouldn’t see atmospheric flight, reentry, lunar dust, or even particularly bad thermal environments should actually be reusable for several flights–the RL10 is after all rated for 200 relights. The lander may be tougher, but by the time you have an L1/L2 depot, you’ve probably had enough time (and enough surface infrastructure built up) that you can work that out to.
Ok, so maybe it’s not so bad of an idea after all.