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back to article NASA inks deal for Shuttle replacements

NASA has signed a $1.8 billion contract with Utah-based Alliant Techsystems (ATK) for "design, development, testing, and evaluation of the first stage of the Ares I and Ares V launch vehicles." Ares I and V will replace the Space Shuttle fleet as NASA's primary means of getting people and stuff into earth orbit. The deal, …

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That's one giant leap backward for Mankind...

In 1993, at Huntsville, Alabama, USA, at the Space Programs and Technologies Conference and Exhibit, a few Boeing engineers presented a fairly old concept; a two stage reusable spacecraft. Page one of the paper can be seen at http://pdf.aiaa.org/preview/1993/PV1993_4161.pdf

Safety issues with the Shuttle orbiter have *always* involved damage caused by the archaic solid rocket boosters, or foam shedding from the external fuel tank. The concept of discarding half your space vehicle at every launch has led directly to the loss of Challenger and Columbia, along with 14 astronauts.

And now NASA wants to discard the *entire* launch vehicle again.

It's time for a total replacement of the NASA administration. These people are without vision.

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Rat

Agreed

I agree with Morely. Where's the pioneering spirit that put men on a sound stage in Nevada?

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Not a Step Backwards

Morley states this appears to be a step backwards, but he is incorrect in several of his conclusions.

He is incorrect in stating that the entire launch vehicle will be discarded. The "archaic" SRBs will still be reusable, only the liquid fueled section is not. The Command module is also reusable, though not its service module.

So they want to throw away *half* the launch vehicle. Not necessarily an improvement over the current system I'll admit, but better than the Apollo systems.

Morely is correct in stating that the foam insulation is frequently a problem. However the fact that the crew will be perched atop the rocket, rather than strapped to the side of the fuel tank seems to me to be much safer. Foam doesn't fall up, and for the crew vehicle there is no tank to one side of a SRB for a blown o-ring to burn into.

Finally, I'm not sure how useful the idea of a space plane is. Adding wings to an interplanetary vehicle is useless. They're fine for low Earth orbit tourist runs, but a dumb waste of mass for Moon or Mars jaunts. Wings only get used during recovery, which accounts for less than 1% of mission time.

NASA does have its problems but I'm personally happy for a simpler interplanetary vehicle that draws on the best aspects of its predecessors.

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Bronze badge

Boldly going...

... where men have gone before.

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Whither SSTO?

Where did DCX and the X-33 disappear to? There was some very promising technology for a reusable single stage launch vehicle. This offered us decreased cost over the longhaul. Like the Shuttle, the initial expense was higher, but as you got more launches, the price per launch goes down.

I noticed that at no point in the article did you use the world "aging".

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Shuttle tech

Shuttle tech was a silly idea at the time, it's a silly idea now. Replacing a shuttle with a payload launch vehicle and a separate manned vehicle is much more sensible. It is more flexible and you don't have to punt up all the extra weight of a full-on air frame which makes the shuttle's fuel consumption silly. We aren't talking about going back to Saturn V here.

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The good reason for a space plane

The real reason to use a 2 stage reusable space plane system like the one Morely pointed out, or the Scaled Composites system, is because you can use the "mothership," a B-52, or even a freaking balloon to do the heavy lifting.

On a vertical takeoff system, so much of the fuel is wasted just getting the high-altitude booster off the ground. If you use a regular high-altitude airplane as the first stage, you eliminate the need for 80 or 90% of the rocket fuel.

Vertical takeoff rockets are a wasteful, brute-force approach to getting into orbit (even the X-33 design was wasteful. 90%+ of it's projected takeoff weight was fuel). There are much better ways to get to space. We were well on our way to developing one with the X-15 program, but the space race with the Soviets made us turn to a quick-and-dirty brute force method for the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs. Too bad NASA can't remember it's own history.

PS - Although I disagree with their decision, I do have to acknowledge that there were extenuating circumstances that NASA had to deal with when they chose Ares/Orion. They needed a space shuttle replacement pronto, and they didn't feel that they could wait for brand new launch systems to be tested and developed. So they went with known, off-the-shelf, already working parts to make the new delivery system.

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...and will be canned in a few years time like the rest.

> Where did DCX and the X-33 disappear to?

Cancelled after over $1bn spent on it mainly because of problems with the LOX tanks that were solved a few months later; Just not using the ultra-high-tech materials NASA wanted to use. I beleive it was more or less complete at that point.

Would have been nice to see Venturestar/X-33 fly :( Rather than going back to this old stack-em-high approach. Reckon the Greenies will have em though after they've finished on Patio Heaters ;)

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Anonymous Coward

The problem with external fuel tanks

All the problems have been caused by shedding of the *external* insulation. So insulate the damn things internally. For goodness sake the Saturn rockets were designed/built like that in the 1960s. No foam shedding incidents as far recall.......

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Humans should not ride on solids

Solid rockets can not be turned off if anything starts to go wrong. Liquids can be much safer.

"As an aside, Von Braun had said that no human should ever ride on solid rockets. They were just too dangerous. One in twenty-five blew up due to defects. They could not be stopped once lighted and thus had the potential for a major loss of life." (before challenger)

http://msl1.mit.edu/ESD10/block4/4.3_-_Challenger.pdf

"I tend to consider solid rocketry a branch of fireworks rather than transportation."

-- Henry Spencer

Private ventures, like spacex.com, will have much safer and cheaper rockets for humans before NASA gets this big dangerous solid finished, and so it will probably not see much use.

-- Vince Cate

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Zero-X

I still think Gerry Anderson's 1966 Zero-X design is the way to go.

Totally resuable aircraft with detachable lifting bodies

Picture of a scale model here http://davidszondy.com/future/Thunderbirds/zerox.htm

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Saturn V shed too

Scads of ice chunks fell off the Saturn V at launch -- they just weren't moving very fast. The SV didn't have quite the cryo problem the shuttle has because it was using kerosene, not liquid hydrogen as the propellant. It wasn't extensively insulated to the degree needed by an LH system.

Putting the payload on top of the part that sheds, leaks, vents or conflagrates is a really good idea. Failure to do that with the shuttle because it was so frikkin big they couldn't fit it in the VAB or on the pad if it was on top is perhaps the worst of all the compromises that were made in it's serve-all-masters design.

As far as I'm concerned, if one wants to dredge the past, some Saturn 1s would be more useful than SVs, which many nostalgia fans think would be fun to build. The SV really was too too big for other uses.

However, the best idea really does look like one of those mothership B52/Rutan concepts. Maybe that's something to do with a few of those big Airbus A380s.

-dB

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Zero-X

I still think Gerry Anderson's 1966 Zero-X design is the way to go.

Totally resuable aircraft with detachable lifting bodies

Picture of a scale model here http://davidszondy.com/future/Thunderbirds/zerox.htm

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Surely there is a better way

It's about time that scientists came up with a better way to get into orbit than strapping a great big firework to your arse and lighting the fuse.

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Anonymous Coward

Better way?

We're still driving the same type of cars we did a century ago, why should space be any different?

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Anonymous Coward

Space should be different

...because there's fewer vested interests in the technology. The same contractors would get the job whatever the approach used, so there should be less commercial inertia than in the automotive industry.

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jai
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space elevators

space elevators are the answer. no need for gob loads of fuel being spent in getting to low orbit and discarding loads of rocket boosters. just a nice steady (kinda slow) ride to the outer atmosphere. okay, so it's probably technically a little difficult to get one to work, but it's a one-off payment for many years of continued use - it's green and affordable. instead of creating more landfill sites, we could ship all our rubbish up them when they're not being used to send up people and spy satellites and stuff, and then fire the garbage into the sun.

and it'd be cool - they could build a resturant at the top or something. maybe it could stop halfway down and people could skydive or bungie the rest of the way. no reason why the space and entertainment and extreme sports industries can't work in harmony is there?

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Anagram ;-)

Coming from Scotland, I can think of a great anagram of ARES.

Ed.

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Space Elevator - a better way

Only limited by the right materials, engineering and technology.

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Dammit!

Where's my flying car?? Where's my space elevator??

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Segemented boosters

The other trouble with the solid fuel boosters is that they're bolted together bits of piping. NASA signed the shuttle booster contract over to the present supplier despite the fact there was a company that could supply a single booster tube which would have been far less likely to fail and kill the crew of Challenger.

But that's irrelevant, the solid fuel boosters should have been abandoned long ago.

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Other Ways

Space Elevator - needs materials advances before its truly feasible, has massive up-front costs, then practically free to run (compared to rockets).

Magnetic Cannon - a launcher frequently used in Sci-Fi is an electromagnetic launch system - basically a 20-50km long electromagnetic cannon that accelerates a payload to orbital speed, with the higher-speed end climbing into the upper atmosphere to reduce friction (see The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Heinlein for several viable locations). Again, massive up-front cost, but relatively easy to maintain/repair since everything is on the ground and accessible. We also have a degree of expertise in building these from things like the CERN particle accelerators and their equivalents elsewhere.

Mothership-style first stage - as proposed numerous times to NASA over the past 30-40 years, and now being developed by private space exploration companies.

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SRB Reuse

Paul F states that the SRBs "will still be reusable".

Shuttle SRB reusability is one of the great myths of the Shuttle program.

In order to "reuse" an SRB it first has to be dismantled right down to component level, and every component retested. Those that pass will then be used in building new SRBs.

The entire process costs just about the same as bulding new SRBs from scatch.

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Anonymous Coward

Sounds like the Telstra Christmas bash

Vibration test articles... strap on boosters... is it just me?

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space tethers - not space elevators

You can build space tethers with the ropes we have today. They are much shorter and cheaper and could toss a payload every 90 minutes. We can make a reusable rocket that gets to the speed needed to hand-off to the tether. So the time Space Elevators take materials that we may never get, or at least not in the next 30 years. If an elevator takes a couple weeks to life a payload you only get 25 per year and amortizing your capital costs over a few trips means each one is going to cost a lot. As we get better and better ropes, the rocket part of a space tether can do less and less.

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NASA is not about science

Having been a NASA contractor on and off over the years I can tell you that NASA has not been about science since it was gutted by the Nixon administration.

The Space Shuttle and International Space Station are simply jobs programs.

Major programs and contractors are selected based on how many congressmen it will support it.

Thats an upgrade from being welfare for the military industrial complex as it was during the years of Ronald Reagunz.

Now that the Bush administration has provided the welfare in the form of the war on terror, NASA is having to struggle to not have its big money programs canceled. Having as many people employed in as many districts as possible is one means to that end. Why go with a sensible solution provided by one company in one state when you can go with something insane that employs people in ten or more states.

And having worked on the ISS project recently it has become apparent that Clinton made a huge blunder in canceling the SuperConducting SuperCollider in favor of the ISS. The problem with the SSC is it involved only one state. Now years later the ISS makes the SSC look like that bargain of the century.

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space shuttle - NEXT!

Certainly the space shuttle was a huge detour for NASA – all due to the concept it had to look like a plane. Risking men every time cargo had to be carried, having the space craft mounted where it could get hit by debris, carrying wings into space, the concept of not doing a “walk around” before flight (the one down into the atmosphere), and of course vertical take of with its huge fuel cost. Werner von B. must have been spinning when the committees chose that path.

Speaking of huge fuel cost, and other ways to launch – has anyone in an idle moment figured out what the fuel benefits would be if Mt Kilimanjaro was used as a launch site – first 3.7 miles altitude gained by truck, exactly on the equator so you get 1000 mph velocity free, lower initial air resistance at 19,000 feet, the oblateness of the earth makes the equator 20 Km further from the center than the poles, and it’s all nice and flat up there. Once the road's built could be a good little earner for Tanzania :+)

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Anonymous Coward

Helium3

How we get back to the moon is going to be very interesting. Why we go back to the Moon is most interesting. "The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress" by Heinlien is a fascinating look at the future by the Dean of Sci Fi. The reason for going back to the Moon is literally world shaking. A substance called Helium3 is one very exciting answer to the fusion story and the Moon has many tons of it. I say this because it is the dream we need to seek. Whether a vehicle has wings or not should be determined by later needs. For now, I suggest we focus on the least expensive, most effective way into space. "Firstest, fastest and biggest" would be a good motto. I say we sell the Tokomak reactor and buy off the shelf stuff until we get back with a big load of Helium3. I read that one shuttle load (couple of tons) has enough energy to last the US for a year. Hmmm... I think I detect blue smoke and mirrors...

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