Feeds

back to article NASA eyes Atlas V for 'naut-lifting duties

NASA has welcomed United Launch Alliance aboard its Commercial Crew Program, and the two organisations will investigate the possibility of using the Atlas V lifter (see pic*) to launch astronauts into low-Earth orbit. An Atlas V launch. Pic: ULA NASA head honcho Charles Bolden said of the deal: "I am truly excited about the …

COMMENTS

This topic is closed for new posts.
Thumb Down

I bet they are pleased!

Similar capabilities to a Falcon 9, but at twice the price.

5
0
Anonymous Coward

Yes...

I'm sure that NASA are happy to pay twice the price that they need to, after all it's well known that there are no smart guys at NASA and that they don't think about that sort of thing.. Or maybe it's better at the required job than the Falcon 9?

0
0
Flame

Hahahahahhaah....

Oh yea, NASA is TOTALLY free from politics and ALWAYS bases its decisions on the technical merits of the options available.

I have NO DOUBT!!11oneone that the only reason the Atlas is only being considered is due to the fact that it stomps all over Falcon 9 and not because of pressure from industry giants / politicians or anything, nuh-uh, technical only.

Excuse me, there is a bridge I have to go and buy.

2
0
FAIL

Atlas V

Atlas V has approximately 1.8x the payload to LEO than the falcon 9.

Atlas V 551, Payload to LEO: 18,814 Kg

Falcon 9, Payload to LEO: 10,450 Kg

There is already a heavy lift version of the Atlas V which can put 29,400 Kg into LEO, given the Orion capsule all up weighs 21,250Kg it's entirely possible they are looking at this, as the existing Falcon 9 wouldn't meet their needs.

They are building the Falcon 9 Heavy, but obviously this isn't ready yet.

1
0
Gold badge
Happy

@GettingSadda

"Similar capabilities to a Falcon 9, but at twice the price."

And ULA know it.

While it was designed to be 50% the cost of the system it replaced (the Titan IV) that's still several times more expensive than anything that was not bankrolled by Uncle Sam would be allowed to use.

The funny emails from that reliability "Expert" were I suspect just the opening shots in this little spat.

0
0

@annodomini2

Yes, the 551 can lift significantly more than the Falcon 9, but most speculation about this development has been based on the 402.

The 551 uses 5 SRBs to get its payload aloft and I would expect that SRBs will be a long way down the wish-list for manned flights.

0
0
FAIL

No...

You confuse smart engineers with greedy politicians. ULA is a Boeing / Lockheed unholy abomination whose main reason for existing is to ensure neither company has to pay any benefits.

EELV (Delta IV and Atlas V) already had their chance. NASA paid oceans of cash for these two launch vehicles, both of which thoroughly failed to live up to the "evolved" part of the name - other than maybe evolving into yet another giant waste of money to established companies.

Allowing Boeing / Lockheed / UAL into this program is the worst conceivable news. America (and the world) would be FAR better off if they turned to money spigot off entirely than let these companies ruin the initiative.

If NASA does the expected and now funnels all the money into the pockets of the top bureaucrats' future employers a once in a generation opportunity will be lost and commercial spaceflight will amount to naught before it even starts.

2
0
Gold badge
Happy

@GettaSadda

"The 551 uses 5 SRBs to get its payload aloft and I would expect that SRBs will be a long way down the wish-list for manned flights."

I'd guess SRB's are on the *not* wished list for crewed flights.

Von Braun pointed out that solids of *all* sizes can (and have) exploded and big solids are *very* difficult to shut down. A problem know during Shuttle development but never *effectively* addressed IE the methods NASA devised stressed the stack (and the crew) to pieces if tried.

They also give a lousy ride. Loud (most of the 170Db of a Shuttle takeoff was the SRB's, mostly *because* they were SRB's and not liquids) and very rough. The USAF developed the first suspension system for satellites to allow them to survive the beating of riding a converted solid fuel ICBM to orbit without having to be built like a tank.

0
0
Gold badge
Happy

@Terry H

"ULA is a Boeing / Lockheed unholy abomination"

True

" whose main reason for existing is to ensure neither company has to pay any benefits."

Not quite sure how that works but I'll leave that one.

"NASA paid oceans of cash for these two launch vehicles, both of which thoroughly failed to live up to the "evolved" part of the name "

No they did not. The *USAF* paid the shedload of cash. Roughly $500m to each while Boeing and Lockheed are claimed to have laid down North of a $1Bn to complete their designs. The USAF goal was to lower launch prices to *them* by 50%. They are meant to have been successful and Boeing/Lockmart reckoned they could even compete on the the world market.

Turned out "50% cheaper than the stuffing the USAF were getting on titan IV launches is still several *times* what any *non* US customer is paying or wanting to pay.

"If NASA does the expected and now funnels all the money into the pockets of the top bureaucrats' future employers a once in a generation opportunity will be lost and commercial spaceflight will amount to naught before it even starts."

Note that Boeing have continued to develop their CST-100 capsule anyway, which *could* in theory inherit Orion's crew escape system.

You might also conclude that NASA has no faith in the Senate mandated SLS and want to have backups when the wheels come off.

The bottom line is that both Atlas V and Delta IV cost an arm and both legs more than a Falcon 9 and are unlikely to *ever* be even comparable *but* they are available now while F9H is still in design. You might also consider that Musk is keen to move into the National Security market which Atlas V and Delta IV have monopolized.

0
0
Paris Hilton

Not sexy

Not very sexy though is it? Well, obviously it looks like a giant penis.. but it looks like a huge step back from the shuttle in terms of.. well, looks.

Of course, the design flaw with the shuttle is that it is placed *next* to the rocket component where bits can fall off and damage the spacecraft. With the Atlas, if anything falls off then at least it won't damage the spacecraft perched on the top.

0
0

Strap On?!

Giant penis indeed. Coupled with 5 solid strap on's - quite a party! (if a little expensive). Phnarr

4
0
Bronze badge
Holmes

for a really good comparison...

...check out some of the old archival footage of Saturn V launches, especially the close-up shots from the launch tower cameras as the Saturn passes by, and check out all the huge slabs of frozen crud shaking loose and falling off the side of the rocket, with its tanks full of supercooled LH2 and Lox. Of course, it's all traveling in the exact opposite direction from the spacecraft, owing to it being mounted on top of the booster.

Then, just to drive the point home, check out the long-range camera footage of the STS107 launch, where that rock-solid frozen slab of insulation is knocked loose from the tank, blows back and hits the wing of the Orbiter and makes a big SPLAT! and instantly disintegrates at 700+mph.

This was a point often discussed among spaceflight geeks about the time the CAIB was beginning its work.

1
0

amazing

it's amazing how such an earth-friendly chap like Obama can accept going back to a DISPOSABLE vehicle... while paying another country massive ammounts of money borrowed from a third country.

1
5

Cost

Even at the prices Boeing/LockMart charge through ULA and with the kindest possible accounting on shuttle costs, refurbishing the shuttle between missions and replacing the disposable bits (tanks aren't cheap) cost multiples of an Atlas-V launch. You'd need 3 Atlas-V 551s to orbit the same payload mass as one shuttle, but you still win on price.

3
0
Silver badge
Stop

Not as green as you think

All that extra weight in making the shuttle reusable (which it nominally was, but so much was thrown away or refurbished between missions it might as well not have been) cost vast amounts extra in fuel to lift to orbit. It's greener to use disposable, minimum weight craft.

4
0

kaizan

The shuttle, as it was designed and built once, had to be able to do any mission asked of it. If you are remaking the vehicle each time it is far easier, though not easy, to tailor the vehicle to your needs. This could in fact be a far greener solution. The fact is that it is very difficult to justify the shuttle's design as a basic people mover.

0
0
FAIL

Disposable is better for the environment.

"it's amazing how such an earth-friendly chap like Obama can accept going back to a DISPOSABLE vehicle."

Because it's actually cheaper on resources.

Re-useability has a cost: mass. Making a launch system that can return to earth in a form that allows it to be reused means increasing the strength of components, which means they are heavier. Every kilo of launch vehicle is a kilo less cargo you get into orbit, for a given size rocket. OR, every kilo of launch vehicle is another 10 to 50 kilos of propellent you have to add to get the same cargo into space (which requires a bigger fuel tank, which means more mass, which means more fuel....)

For a manned vehicle, you don't really have a choice on the "return to Earth" part, so the amount of added mass to make it reusable isn't very great. For a cargo ship, you can easily double the amount of cargo by making the launch vehicle last *just* long enough to reach orbit.

1
0
Bronze badge
Boffin

Obama, Earth-friendly? ...and, reuseable crew modules...?

We ARE talking about a President whose Interior Secretary was enforcing an offshore oil-drilling ban that wasn't, issuing twenty-odd new permits for offshore drilling _after_ the BP/Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Regarding another commenter up the scroll a ways... based on what we know now, it probably wouldn't be that hard to make a "traditional" ballistic re-entry, capsule-type crew module reusable for at least several flights. This idea was tested out by the USAF on the Gemini II CM in the '60s as part of its "Blue Gemini" program; the Gemini II CM, flown once on a NASA unmanned test flight to certify the Gemini spacecraft, was refurbished and refitted with a new heatshield and reflown by the USAF as part of a "Blue Gemini" test flight.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_Gemini

http://history.nasa.gov/SP-4203/ch6-2.htm

0
0

The Problem...

...with the space shuttle is/was that it tried to do two jobs at once.

Rather like using an 18 wheeler to commute to work.

3
0

And...

1. Bureaucracy got involved.

2. Job retention programs got involved.

3. Major Aerospace companies were involved.

4. It was heavy lift when it didn't need to be.

5. It has cross range capability that's never been used.

6. It costs more than twice what a disposable launcher costs to launch.

3
0
Gold badge

@Disco-Legend-Zeke

"Rather like using an 18 wheeler to commute to work."

it's not *like* that. Given the size of the payload bay and the size of the living accommodation that's exactly what it *was*.

0
0
Facepalm

I was always led to belive

That the take off velocity of Delta and Atlas launchers, basically ex ICBMs converted to lift satelites, generated too much G's to lift squishy humans.

0
1
Silver badge
Thumb Down

John Glenn....

appeared to be remarkably unsquished when he became the first American in orbit after a ride on the top of an Atlas.

As did the rest of the astronauts who rode on Mercury-Atlas and Gemini-Titan (also an ICBM) stacks.

1
0
Silver badge
Flame

I am not a rocketeer

But is this not just a matter of tweaking the nozzle geometry and O2/H2 pumping rates? Same energy out, just over a slightly longer time...

Please note title before laughing and pointing.

0
0
Bronze badge

re: I was always led to believe...

"That the take off velocity of Delta and Atlas launchers, basically ex ICBMs converted to lift satelites, generated too much G's to lift squishy humans."

Well, the Redstone IRBM and Atlas ICBM used to lift Mercury, and the Titan ICBM used to boost Gemini, were originally designed to boost warheads, but underwent extensive modifications, retesting and recertification to boost human-piloted spacecraft.

Mind you, I don't know if the current Atlas launch vehicle is in any way evolutionarily related to the Atlas vehicle which boosted the Mercury orbital missions.

Saturn V, as I recall, was the first US booster designed from the outset for the specific purpose of lifting human crews into orbit, and to the Moon... not that it made the ride during boost phase any more enjoyable. Jim Lovell has a lot to say about this in his book "Lost Moon" (adapted for the film "Apollo 13").

1
0
Gold badge
Happy

@DJ2

You might like to look at the end of the James Bond film Dr No.

The missile Dr No is trying to destroy is actually an *original* design Atlas carrying a Mercury capsule, with man in it.

NASA did the same with some "Re-purposed" Titan ICBM's in the Gemini program.

Modern designs of Atlas and Delta share only the *name* of previous versions and are *completely* capable of carrying humans.

The big issue is can you *throttle* the engines down to lower the acceleration at the *standard* payload mass or do you have a bigger payload (which has the same effect).

0
0

Back to Atlas now?

Ok, it worked for Mercury and since some of the blueprints from the Apollo program are missing we might better start again at the beginning.

Will we get a remake of "I dream of Jeannie", too?

2
0
Paris Hilton

I Dream Of Jeannie Remake...

Let's see: A) Beautiful women in skimpy costumes, check; B) Rockets, check. Works for me!

Paris, for well, innit obvious?

0
0
Bronze badge
Thumb Up

"I Dream of Jeannie: The Next Generation"

Wow, that'd be sweet, except that our having had female astronauts for nearly thirty years kind of takes some of the punch out of it.

One important question, though... who plays Jeannie? All we've got in Hollywood now is malnourished stick-insect women with fake tits the size of bowling balls. Where in Hollywood is there a sweet, luscious, curvy babe like Barbara Eden?

0
0
Anonymous Coward

Just nip down the valley

<blockquote>Where in Hollywood is there a sweet, luscious, curvy babe like Barbara Eden?</blockquote>

Plenty just down in San Fernando Valley.

1
0
Gold badge
Happy

@Volker Hett

"and since some of the blueprints from the Apollo program are missing we might better start again at the beginning."

A popular UL. AFAIK (and NASA have stated often) they are micro filmed and in storage.

Being microfilmed they might be the *only* high density storage media still *easily* accessible if civilization ever collapsed.

0
0

Atlas V never launched any ICBMs

According to wikipedia, the conjecture here that connects Atlas V with ICBMs or pre-2002 activity is incorrect. There was a failed launch in 2007, though.

I don't know where the conjecture for cost is coming from.

The most significant issue is, where is the manned-piece. These kinds of rockets are highly dependent on 'capsule technology' to enact the required rescue measures. MPCV (Orion replacement) is not economical for LEO missions, as to the ISS. There has to be something else. Perhaps they can cross-procure Dragon!

1
0

Not the same Atlas

Of course the current Atlas V is not the same as the Atlas that orbited John Glenn. The original Atlas was a 1 1/2 stage affair with 3 engines built by Rocketdyne; the current Atlas V uses engines derived from a Russian design.

1
0
Bronze badge

Ah ha, thanks...

You answered my question a few posts back about the lineage of the current Atlas launch vehicle. The Atlas V bears only the vaguest resemblance, and... yeah, the Russian-designed engines make it pretty much unrelated to the Atlas vehicle used in Project Mercury.

1
0
Gold badge
Happy

@aircombatguy

You missed the fact that even the *tanks* are not made the same way. They were pressure stabilised with *no* stiffeners in stainless steel (easier to weld and in fact *not* heavier than aluminium at the same stress levels).

Atlas V uses Aluminum with machined in stiffeners.

But (through the magic of "Inheritance") it is expected to have *exactly* as good a launch record as the earlier designs, because it's "Evolved" from them.

Now what's that I can smell?

0
0

Leading-edge designs = High operating costs

I think part of the cost problem with the Shuttle is down to using very complex components which were designed to achieve the highest possible efficiency, but which proved to be very costly to maintain. This probably made more difference than any comparison between re-useable and throwaway vehicles.

The main engines are a case in point. Compare the plumbing on a SSME with that on a Russian RD-180, and you see what I mean. The RD-180 is a clever design with a number of innovations, but it's also an exercise in efficient use of materials and labour. For example, while the three SSME nozzles require no less than twelve pumps between them, the RD-180 has a single turboshaft doing the pumping for two nozzles. Plus, the SSME has all the additional safety issues created by using hydrogen fuel. Which, is partly responsible for high expendable tankage costs owing to its low density and consequent very large tank size, plus the need for fuel tank insulation. The RD-180 sticks to traditional kerosene, somewhat less efficient but simpler to handle and safer.

SpaceX have evidently looked-at this cost/complexity aspect too, as their designs use extremely conservative technology. Yet so far have been very successful.

The question is, could a reuseable craft operate economically if its systems were designed around less-costly, less leading-edge principles?

1
0
Gold badge
Happy

@Anteaus

"I think part of the cost problem with the Shuttle is down to using very complex components which were designed to achieve the highest possible efficiency, but which proved to be very costly to maintain. This probably made more difference than any comparison between re-useable and throwaway vehicles."

Certainly made a substantial difference.

The SSME's staged combustion cycle was chosen to give NASA experience of it as at the time nearly all Russian designs used.

Most of the SSME's issues come from a) Being the first US rocket engine *designed* for reuse (although as *all* liquid propellant engines are fired at least once before launch they are all re-usable, it's how much effort you make in the design) and b) using Hydrogen with it's density 1/16 that of LOX (making a common drive shaft design AFAIK impossible), its very low BP and its compressability (Hydrogen is the only fluid I know that at SSME pressure levels can be *compressed* by about 6%) making it a PITA to design for or even simulate (LN2 is a *very* poor simulant for leak testing. NASA spent c100days at about $1m/day finding this out).

"SpaceX have evidently looked-at this cost/complexity aspect too, as their designs use extremely conservative technology. Yet so far have been very successful."

Yes and no. Their pump is a single shaft design but its a "Radial inflow" type that has *never* been used by US engines (although I think it's quite common on Russian designs). They also plan to re fly both 1st stages *and* capsules

"The question is, could a reuseable craft operate economically if its systems were designed around less-costly, less leading-edge principles?"

And will be until someone does it. You might like to Google "Gary Hudson" for some views on that.

0
0

Shuttle set back NASA 30 years

The space shuttle was a huge costly and dangerous mistake right from the beginning. Bringing wings and wheels into space makes no sense at all. The sole "benefit" is that it can land on a runway rather than using a parachute. Yes, the wings and wheels look cool, and the public enjoys the Star Wars fantasy of a "space plane," but this overly complex and heavy design leads to great expense and increases the chance of mechanical failure. Plus the overweight shuttle could only fly to a maximum altitude of 350 miles - compare that to the Apollo spacecraft that could land on the moon.

It's hard to imagine any way that the wings and wheels could be deployed for real space exploration. Even if the shuttle could reach the moon or Mars, it couldn't land because there are no runways there, and the thin Martian atmosphere (and non-existent moon atmosphere) would render the wings useless. And this is not to mention the fact that if the shuttle could land on the moon or Mars, it would not be able to take off again.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy is that the many billions of dollars sucked up by the shuttle program could have funded NASA's very successful NERVA rocket:

http://www.daviddarling.info/encyclopedia/N/NERVA.html

Had NERVA been built instead of the shuttle, a manned journey to Mars could have been a reality in the 1980s.

3
2
Gold badge
Happy

@Candide

"The space shuttle was a huge costly and dangerous mistake right from the beginning."

The idea was quite reasonable.

The implementation met criteria which had *nothing* to do with the technical requirements, specifically financial and political.

It was probably the best design that could keep *all* the stakeholders happy *most* of the time. That did *not* include US citizens, who were *never* stakeholders.

Learning some history might help you understand why things are as they are, and perhaps working out how to stop history repeating itself.

1
0
Silver badge
Alien

Back to the future!!

All we need now is NASA or ULA to roll out a chief designer or spokesman named "Vern Irvin Brown" and we are ready to go!!

1
0

saturn V revisited

The Delta IV Payload Planners Guide (which I commend to you) offers a potential development outline which would exceed Saturn V capabilities. maybe not as necessary now as in the Apollo days, since some of the wrinkles of in orbit construction seem to have been worked out. the document might also provide some information (as opposed to unbridled and unwarranted speculation - though who wants facts?) on which to base opinion.

1
0
FAIL

Lack of development killed the Shuttle

The sad fact is that lack of development killed the Shuttle, and that's as much the US government's fault as it was NASA's. Instead of commissioning a lighter, safer, more powerful, and more efficient Shuttle for the mid-90s, first there was the adsurdly over-ambitious Freedom station, then an attempt to start from scratch and build over-ambitious SSTOs, then they panicked and tried to reinvent the Apollo programme with Constellation.

All the time, there was a platform that could have been incrementally developed and improved, but there was no policital capital in it, and the aerospace industry didn't really want Shuttle to become more efficient than expendables like Atlas V, so I'm sure they lobbied heavily to keep every NASA project in development hell, so the pork kept flowing with no results.

2
0
Gold badge
Happy

In summary

Atlas V <> earlier Atlas designs.

Crew Rating was looked at in the context of the other ULA launcher Delta IV by the Aerospace Corp during Orion.

They reckoned it would add about 1000Lb of weight but make *no* difference to the payload and require *no* structural stiffening (all loads *well* within the safe margin if you chose the right *version* of Delta). The big items were a 2nd hydraulic circuit for wiggling the engines about, dual redundant avionics (historically even launchers carrying *billion* dollar payloads have had *single* string control systems. CPU or inertial system goes off on one, sorry fill out your insurance claim and come back with more money) and an "Emergency Detection System" to tell the crew something's happened. What they *do* with this information is a payload design problem.

There is little reason to expect crew rating an Atlas V will be much different.

However during Orion *that* would have made the need for Ares 1 redundant and the SRB makers would shut down mfg of big solid boosters *until* Ares V, with an estimated cost to re-start production of $6Bn for the Ares V strapons.

0
0
This topic is closed for new posts.