back to article NASA trumpets Orion completion as India heads to the Moon

As the rocket world settled down after the excitement of that Apollo anniversary, there was plenty to keep the faithful entertained last week. Orion is complete and the Green Run is go US Vice President "Iron" Mike Pence whipped the covers from the first complete Orion spacecraft, due for an uncrewed lob around the Moon in the …

  1. Adair

    50 years since landing on the moon...

    and still landing back home by parachute. In the sea!

    Come on guys and gals, we may never have flying cars for everyone, but at least bring the travellers back home with some dignity and finesse.

    1. defiler Silver badge

      Re: 50 years since landing on the moon...

      Cheap. Light.

      Not much point dragging an elaborate landing system all the way to the moon and back. The extra payload would be crippling at launch.

      Also not much point in keeping a landing module in Earth orbit and docking before re-entry because then you have the delta-v requirements of establishing orbit on return. You can drag a heatshield and parachutes along for the ride and skip all that malarkey.

      Mass. Bah.

      1. iron Silver badge

        Re: 50 years since landing on the moon...

        Because landing on terra firma really cripples Soyuz at launch.

        1. defiler Silver badge

          Re: 50 years since landing on the moon...

          Soyuz doesn't go to the moon, hasn't gone to the moon, and has no intentions of going to the moon. It'takes a lot more oomph to get to the moon than to LEO, and that takes fuel. And the fuel takes fuel.

          So, whilst we're looking at n kg to fit the retro rockets onto the capsule, you're then looking at 200n kg to get them to the moon and back. (Apollo capsule at 15 tonnes, Saturn 5 launch mass at 3000 tonnes - approximately).

          Why the hell would I put 1kg more mass on the top end than I absolutely need? By the time they got to Apollo 17 they were counting the plasters (band aids) in the first aid kit to keep mass down.

          The Russians have an awful lot of dry land to park on in their own borders. The USA is a tiny target by comparison, but they have a conveniently large navy.

          TL;DR - they're carrying parachutes to slow down anyway, they're carrying a heatshield anyway. They don't need anything else if they plop in the sea. Certainly nothing with the mass of retro rockets or wings.

          1. Adair

            Re: 50 years since landing on the moon...

            And going to the moon has nothing at all to do with landing back on Earth - the margins, especially today, really are not that tight.

            The fact remains, landing by parachute is crude, landing in the sea wrecks the kit and the whole concept is the technological equivalent of paddling a log.

            It's just a demonstration of how lacking in funding, vision and determination we have been; not that we haven't got more important things to be doing right here on Earth, but then we're not exactly taking looking after this planet very seriously either, are we?

            1. defiler Silver badge

              Re: 50 years since landing on the moon...

              Well, I believe the Orion capsule can land on land. It uses airbags rather than the Soyuz retros. Good for ten flights.

              1. F111F
                Boffin

                Re: 50 years since landing on the moon...

                Starliner will land on dry land, Orion and Dragon will land on wet water. SpaceX proposed a propulsive landing, but NASA wouldn't pay for the development.

            2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

              Re: 50 years since landing on the moon...

              Adair,

              The margins are tight for going to the Moon. Although admittedly that's more financial - in the sense of limiting the number of launches you require.

              Apollo did a direct return to Earth, without entering orbit. Which saved an awful lot of fuel, they'd have otherwise have to have boosted from the ground, then carried all the way to the Moon, then slowed down to achieve lunar orbit and then carried back again. All of which would have required more fuel on those burns, which would equally have required more fuel to carry and so on.

              Hence direct return, and some higher g aerobraking. Even more fuel would then be needed to land the capsule - and that also has to be carried and increases the fuel budget for all other burns.

              Apollo couldn't do that with Saturn V. And as I understand it, we're not proposing anything significantly beefier - so the same constraints apply. Although the alternative is to use more launches for one flight to the Moon, rendezvous in orbit - and then you can carry as much of everything as you like. The constraint then being cost.

              1. Adair

                Re: 50 years since landing on the moon...

                Actually the real constraint is still being locked into using fifty year old technology when it comes to getting people back down the gravity well. FIFTY YEARS!

                Look where we were with aircraft fifty years after the Wright bothers efforts.

                1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

                  Re: 50 years since landing on the moon...

                  Aeroplanes still use wings. And that's 115 year-old technology! It must be rubbish!

                  Heat shields work. They're simple, they do the job for minimal weight.

                  Wings are a bastard of a technology to shield from heat - as well as being incredibly heavy - you only use them for landing. We could, of course, go for a lifting body - which saves lots of weight - but is still going to have the problem of a heat shield.

                  The best solution is either going to be new wonder materials or it's going to be a breakthrough in propulsion othat allows us to slow down enough not to need to do aerobraking. Although in the case of the second, you've still got to carry the fuel - so there'll always be the temptation to just carry more payload and aerobrake.

                  If we could capture a nice icy comet, and refuel in orbit, then everything would be just tickety-boo. But all of this is a way off. At the moment re-usable rockets are winning over spaceplanes. It'll be interesting to see what the future holds.

              2. Brangdon

                Re: significantly beefier

                "Apollo couldn't do that with Saturn V. And as I understand it, we're not proposing anything significantly beefier - so the same constraints apply."

                SpaceX are proposing Starship/Super-Heavy, which is about as beefy, and more importantly allows for orbital refuelling, so the same constraints don't apply to that. It will land on its own flume using retropropulsion even from lunar trips. It will probably be flying before SLS. SpaceX have the raptor engines being flight-tested now, and are working on two prototypes for Starship (the second stage) to be flying later this year, and Super-Heavy (the first stage) to follow, so the whole stack will hopefully make orbit by end of 2021. The dates might slip but it shouldn't be many years out.

                Landing on and returning from the Moon with this architecture is admittedly challenging. It's not enough to refuel once in low Earth orbit. You need to refuel a second time in a high elliptical Earth orbit, and for the refuelling tankers to reach that they need to be refuelled in LEO themselves. Also it means landing Starship on an unimproved site and then taking off again. Musk thinks it can be done by around 2024.

                Nowadays, NASA are not where the action is when it comes to launch vehicles and ambitions beyond LEO.

                1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

                  Re: significantly beefier

                  Interesting. Although there's quite a lot of "if" there. And I'm not sure I buy the idea of landing the entire rocket on the Moon.

                  I'm a great admirer of SpaceX, but I'm betting that those deadlines will slip by multiple years too.

                  I must admit I've not read anything about modern lunar landing. So I've no idea what NASA are planning to use - given they're talking about 2024 - not that SLS will be ready by then...

                  I thought SpaceX's original plan was to use Dragon. But obviously that would now require something of a re-design, seeing as they're only using the Super Draco engines for launch abort, and nothing else. But I'm assuing they've kept them (rather than going for an escape tower) in order to use them for different missions.

      2. DougS Silver badge

        Re: 50 years since landing on the moon...

        So leave a piece in orbit, either launched along with the moon rocket or separately, for the lunar module to dock with when it gets home. If it had wings they could swoop down like the shuttle.

        1. defiler Silver badge

          Re: 50 years since landing on the moon...

          But then you have to carry enough fuel for an orbital rendezvous. If you fall straight to re-entry, you only have to have enough fuel to aim carefully.

          Not saying that these things are impossible. They're just extra payload, and that gets expensive (and eventually incredibly difficult).

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: 50 years since landing on the moon...

            On the other hand, you aren't carrying the re-entry vehicle to the Moon. They are still looking at and following the Apollo model of launching everything at once, command module, LEM and return capsule.

            Docking is a done deal, so have the return vehicle in Earth orbit. Lunar Gateway is the Command Module. The SLS only needs the LEM, the astronauts and life support.

            1. DougS Silver badge

              Re: 50 years since landing on the moon...

              The advantage to this is that they could re-use some of these pieces that are left in orbit and would only need to be re-supplied. Imagine if Apollo 12 had arrived in lunar orbit and docked with a lunar lander left by Apollo 11, transferred some fuel and food to it, then two astronauts boarded it and landed on the Moon, then came back up (not leaving part of it behind) and docked, then left the lander in orbit for Apollo 13.

              The nice thing about the moon is there is no atmosphere and no magnetically induced radiation belts, so little or no orbital decay compared to Earth.

              1. Michael Maxwell

                Re: 50 years since landing on the moon...

                The lander that Apollo 13 carted along did come in rather handy... although I suppose that's not a good reason to cart one along on every trip.

                IIUC, it's not easy to transfer fuel (and oxidizer) in orbit. That said, it can be done. But don't forget that half of the Apollo lander stayed on the surface of the moon. If you wanted to re-use the entire lander, not just the part that flew back up to orbit, you'd need more fuel.

      3. DiViDeD Silver badge

        Re: 50 years since landing on the moon...

        .. and it's all down to the fact that we still have no orbital launch facility. Back in the early days of the moon program, Robert Heinlein said in an interview that NASA should be lloking at establishing a space station and constructing the project vehicles in space. lower fuel requirements to get parts into LEO, and way lower to get a ship from the station to the Moon, with shuttles (or Mercury capsules) to get the astronauts back to Earth

        The interviewer said "I see what you mean. Once you're in orbit, you're halfway to the moon"

        "No," says Heinlein, "Once you're in orbit you're halfway to anywhere"

        1. DougS Silver badge

          Re: 50 years since landing on the moon...

          The nice thing about staging stuff in orbit (for which you don't need a space station) is that things launched earlier can be launched a lot cheaper if you don't care how long it takes for them to reach final orbit. Satellites are now using electric (ion) propulsion not only for station keeping but for orbit raising. It takes a long time - for instance it may take almost half a year to circularize a GSO satellite's orbit after launch instead of a few days with chemical propulsion, but requires a lot less fuel (i.e. launch mass) to do so.

          If you launch everything the astronauts will need the "slow" way ahead of time, you need only launch the astronauts the "fast" way with a much smaller rocket since it doesn't need to bring anything along for going to the moon, landing on the moon, leaving the moon, getting back from the moon, or going back down to Earth. Where they sit during launch could double as an emergency re-entry vehicle with parachutes that splashes down in the ocean.

          All they need is enough fuel to get them to dock with the stuff prepared for them, they can move into less cramped quarters and send the vehicle they launched in back down to Earth where it would splash down for recovery and re-use.

          No need for a space station, I think it is way beyond our capabilities to build spacecraft in orbit from small parts sent up from Earth, that's just a silly dream. Much easier to send large finished pieces into orbit and rendezvous with them. The only possible advantage of making things in space comes if you source the raw materials in space, and some future advanced 3D printer can make most everything except fiddly things like computer chips.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: 50 years since landing on the moon...

      Don't you like Apollo 1.1? It took only fifty years to get it. But don't worry, it will have now LCD touchscreens and a Facebook app. That's progress!!

      Waiting for the LM 1.1 now - I guess it will have better joysticks, and nothing more. - but they could run it on Android or Windows 10 - the telemetry comes for free.

    3. JimmyPage Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: 50 years since landing on the moon...

      Build the heat shield on the moon ?

      Or park the heat shield and re-entry lumber in LEO, go to the moon, and pick it up and drop back to earth that way ?

      1. Michael Maxwell

        Re: 50 years since landing on the moon...

        "Or park the heat shield and re-entry lumber in LEO, go to the moon, and pick it up and drop back to earth that way?" That is what Apollo did; the lunar lander was not capable of re-entering the Earth's atmosphere, only the command module (which had the heat shield).

  2. sawatts

    Isn't the SLS a great way for the US Gov to keep pumping money into Boeing.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Just, all the innovative Apollo hardware wasn't made by Boeing. Not surprisingly now Boeing can only peruse the North American and Grumman blueprints of fifty years ago and "improve" the original designs - like they do with the 737 - just hope they don't add a MCAS somwhere...

  3. Josco

    India is going to the moon with my tax.

    The UK is still giving aid to India I understand, aid paid for by my tax.

    With HS2, the NHS, MP's salaries and pensions and a myriad other costs I am going to have to work for the rest of my life to pay for it all.

    1. phuzz Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: India is going to the moon with my tax.

      The money is used to invest in Indian businesses (ie it doesn't go to the Indian government, and so it didn't pay for their space program, whatever the tabloids might have told you).

      The idea is that it creates new markets for the UK to trade into, and thus makes us back more money. I have no idea if it's worked, but our exports to India have increased, so something must be working.

      Perhaps when you read the headline in the Express or the Mail, you could have thought to yourself "hmm, these papers have a tendency to whip up xenophobia, possibly they are doing that now, perhaps I should go look at some actual facts".

      Or you could just read their shit and wind yourself up, whatever floats your boat I guess.

      1. Mo'Fo B'dass

        Re: India is going to the moon with my tax.

        "The money is used to invest in Indian businesses"

        <cough>bribe corrupt officials</cough>

      2. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: India is going to the moon with my tax.

        the UK Money ends up going into Indian Businesses who take jobs from here and offshore them to India.

        simple ain't it eh?

    2. John 110
      Trollface

      Re: India is going to the moon with my tax.

      @Josco

      You forgot to moan about all that money being spaffed on Scotland and Wales...

    3. Toltec

      Re: India is going to the moon with my tax.

      It may be self-interested altruism, but if the people that need the help end up even better off because we* get something out of it too then why not?

      Call it ethical investment if you like rather than aid or subsidies or perhaps karma.

      *If anything it is this end that needs examining, are we paying tax to make bigger profits for companies that then avoid paying much tax.

      1. BuckeyeB

        Re: India is going to the moon with my tax.

        Companies don't pay taxes. Their customers do. If you raise corporate taxes, the prices of the products go up. The company is going too make their 6% profit(or whatever). That is the scam certain political parties try to pull over on us and for the most part, they're successful because the population doesn't get it. They pay ALL taxes. A corporate tax is just treated as an expense. You sue a company, it's an expense. If someone steals/shoplifts products, it's just an expense. These expenses affect product prices and the customers(citizens) pay for it in the end. They won't make less profit, you'll pay more. So the next time a politician tells you that they will not raise taxes on you, but on a corporation instead, they're lying to you. They're raising your taxes.

    4. Glen 1 Bronze badge

      Re: India is going to the moon with my tax.

      "I am going to have to work for the rest of my life to pay for it all."

      Twas ever thus.

      We only finished paying the US for Lend Lease in 2006.

      Going cap in hand to the IMF in the 70's

      The 2008 bail-out.

      The big ticket item coming up however, is the millennials having to pay for the baby boomers pensions.

      With the baby boomers being currently the richest generation, and birthrates declining, how do you think *that* will turn out?

      1. Alister Silver badge

        Re: India is going to the moon with my tax.

        the millennials having to pay for the baby boomers pensions

        Yeah, 'cos the fucking OLD people never paid a penny towards their own pensions, bastards.

        1. Glen 1 Bronze badge

          Re: India is going to the moon with my tax.

          Old people paid for the pensions of those who were claiming when *they* were working. More people working, fewer people claiming.

          As that changes with the aging population and fewer people around to pay for it, either the current workers will pay more, the pensioners will get less, or a mixture of the two.

          It has already started with increasing of the state pension age... TV licences... WASPI women...

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Old people paid for the pensions of those who were claiming

            Yep quite true but I also put lots of money into a Company pension via AVC's even when interest rates were 11%. Later I took out a private pension and paid lots into that.

            That's what I'm living on now. The State pension will be a minor part of my retirement income when I decide to take it.

            Many of us are able to live quite well because of the sacrifices we made in out 20's, 30's, 40's and 50's.

            1. Glen 1 Bronze badge

              Re: Old people paid for the pensions of those who were claiming

              If only there were a way to attract younger people to work here, y'know, after they've grown up somewhere else so we've not had to pay for their education.

              They'd arrive, get a job, and be *immediately* profitable from a tax point of view. Shazam! The boomers are more easily provided for, unless there's a vote or summat to make the UK less attractive to migrants... In that case it might end up being the other way around...

        2. phuzz Silver badge

          Re: India is going to the moon with my tax.

          I was just chatting to my mum about pensions last night.

          She was a teacher (after being in the civil service), so her pension relies on how many years she worked for, and her final salary. The amount she paid in had nothing to do with it.

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: India is going to the moon with my tax.

            >The amount she paid in had nothing to do with it

            So it wasn't based on the government putting a percentage of her salary into the scheme each year and so giving her a pension based on years if putting money in and what her salary/grade was?

            1. Evil_Goblin

              Re: India is going to the moon with my tax.

              Nope, not at all, the old style Gov pensions - those working now pay for those currently retired. No-one envisaged massive crashes, ageing population and huge gov. worker cuts, hence the rush to bin off all those style of pensions ASAP in recent years

          2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

            Re: India is going to the moon with my tax.

            The amount she paid in had nothing to do with it

            Wrong - even under the old (ie Classic) government pension, you could make extra contributions to top up the end pension sum. Under the current (Nuvos or Alpha) pensions (neither of which are final salary - they are sort-of career average with every year of service adding to the percentage of your career-average salary that you get as a percentage) you can buy extra years of pension elegibility, pay to bring forward your pensionable age or pay extra contributions to top up the pension.

      2. D@v3

        Re: Glen 1

        A purge?

        1. Glen 1 Bronze badge

          Re: Glen 1

          AKA underfunding the NHS? They wouldn't do that would they? /s

    5. Abdul-Alhazred

      Re: India is going to the moon with my tax.

      Don't you get it Old Boy?

      India's space program is a lot cheaper than doing it in (for example) Manchester and having to bother about unions, diversity and gender balance.

      You have outsourced your space program for economic efficiency.

    6. Richard Tobin

      Excellent

      If the UK won't use some of our taxes on going to the moon, I'm glad that India will!

  4. Alister Silver badge

    The European Space Agency contribution arrived last year, and engineers are still working to connect the two modules together.

    All those damn USB plugs with tri-state orientation...

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
      Happy

      No. It's that all the European connectors are SCART...

      1. Glen 1 Bronze badge
        Trollface

        listen here PAL...

  5. MrReal Bronze badge

    NASA is nearly back to 1962 !!!!!

  6. DonniePA

    We can all thank Obama and his far left administration for this long delay getting back to space and the moon.

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