Nothing so hard on laurels as resting on them
NASA seems to be progressively becoming irrelevant from the rocket launch point of view. They seem to be crawling while everyone else in the world is racing (with the possible exception of Russia)
NASA is making preparations to ship the first core stage of its monstrous Space Launch System (SLS) rocket to a Stennis test stand ahead of firing it up. It has been a long time coming, but engineers have deemed the core stage complete enough to be to rolled over to Building 110 at the agency's Michoud Assembly Facility in New …
Unfortunately a lot of their work now looks more like the Federal lobbying agency for the aerospace industry than the agency for the science and engineering of space exploration. Political appointees are awarded administrative positions and they spend their tenure trying to balance Federal policy with the strategic goals of industry players and pork barrel demands of Congress members.
Boeing & Friends created a situation where they are driving not only mission selection, but also the technical aspects of those projects and the metrics of success. The biggest impediment to returning NASA’s rocket program to excellence is its role as a political reward. Currently it’s what you give someone when you’re out of military, State Department and agriculture presents to hand out. It’s treated like a toy and it sucks.
Right at the very end of "For All Mankind", there's a nice and surprising CGI launch of Sea Dragon. That looked impressive! I suspect it was done for production value, but it seemed the visualisation was done with about 90% of the rocket underwater whereas the original plan was for only about half or so underwater. Either way, I found it as impressive as that first moment when the Empire Star Destroyer flew over the camera vantage point in the original Star Wars back in the day.
>> first moment when the Empire Star Destroyer flew over the camera vantage point in the original Star Wars back in the day.
> "As impressive as the CGI in Star Wars." Not sure I'd take that as a compliment.
Pedantic bit... that moment was most definitely not CGI. It was filmed with a large model and some of the first computer-motion-controlled cameras.
The main problem nowadays is the LACK of "almost unlimited budgets". So I guess it's the difference between "just doing it" and "doing it well".
Oh, and landing the rocket on it's tail so it can be re-used again. Gotta admit, that is AWESOME!
"The main problem nowadays is the LACK of "almost unlimited budgets"."
That would all change if the Moon or Mars was covered in disgusting bugs, particularly if they had oil.or an equivalently useful resource, the military would take over and the budget would extend as needed.
During Apollo, NASA was given funding with few strings attached, as long as it was going towards the moon.
These days NASA gets much less funding, and it's tightly constrained in what it's allowed to spend it on. In order to make sure that all that money goes to the home states of the politicians directing that funding.
I thought there were only 16 + an order for 6 new ones for only $1.5e9 ($170e6 per engine + $1.16e9 for the factory to build them). NASA has ordered 6 Orions for the first 5 Artemis missions with a threat of buying 6 more. If someone has found another 24 RS-25 engines under the sofa cushions I am sure congress would have provided funding for the extra 6 Orions. They are only $600e6 each.
But would you want to fly on the "new design" of that engine?
The entire point of that redesign is to cut back on all the redundancy and margins that made the engine reusable. What's the chances of something being cut back slightly too far?
And because they're not going to be recovered, it won't be possible for the engineers to check whether their new, single-shot lifetime predictions are accurate for a real mission, only a test stand.
Test stands don't suffer the G loading, vibration and aerodynamic stresses of an actual launch. Probably other differences too.
Not what I meant.
If you take an existing design intended for re-use and then try to strip out everything that made it re-usable, you are in reality designing a new engine. But they will claim it's the same as the old Shuttle engine and do there will be a huge pressure to fly it without proper unmanned test flights.
The redesign is quite likely to go too far somewhere - I see this very often with "value engineering", swapping out an expensive component for a cheaper, similar one without fully understanding why the original was chosen.
My reference to a step backwards is that the competition is designing their rockets for reuse - and SpaceX is already recovering theirs. It may be that a competitor with a cheaper, recoverable launch alternative is in place before we actually see an SLS launch.
yeah, an SLS that lands on its tail would be pretty good.
Unfortunately for NASA, they haven't been designing too many new rockets lately... so it'd take a bit of effort to play "catch up" to what SpaceX is doing.
Maybe they could SUB-CONTRACT some of the design work to SpaceX ?
Blue Origin landed their New Sheppard (non-orbital) rocket backwards in 2015. New Glenn's first flight is currently in 2021 so we will have to wait a bit before we see Blue Origin land the back end of an orbital rocket.
Rocket Lab cannot buy 3D printers fast enough to support their customers so they will try parachute+helicopter+droneship recovery after a few practice runs with thalassabraking. Even if the tanks and engines are too dented to fly again there are some nice electric motors and lithium batteries on an Electron rocket that are worth getting back.
Musk's timeline (totally unrelated to everyone else's concept of time) has Starship landing from orbit in the first half of this year. (Starship is single stage to orbit with a payload of about 0kg.)
ULA have a picture of a plan to blow their Vulcan rocket into two big pieces, attach a hypersonic decelerator and a parachute to the bit with the engines then catch them with a helicopter. It sounds spectacular but do not wait with abated breath. This will be no earlier than 2025.
The physics of landing the SLS core stage shows the idea is sane. It uses electrical igniters built into the injectors so in theory the engines can re-light. The engines throttle down to 67% so one engine + the tanks has a thrust to weight ratio of 1.4. Even using two engines for symmetry the thrust to weight ratio is lower than popular estimates for a three engine Falcon 9 landing (3.7). Real world cows are not perfect spheres. Reserving about ⅓ of the propellant for landing would prevent it from sending Orion to LOPG which is the only non-pork excuse to have SLS at all.
I have confidence in Rocket Lab re-using Electrons in a year or two. Blue origin ought to be landing New Glenn's backwards shortly afterwards but gradatim ferociter should perhaps be spelled festina lente. It is quite likely that the next company to land a new rocket backwards will be SpaceX-Starship followed by SpaceX-SuperHeavy. Everyone else but Ariane and ULA will have to put something in orbit before I take their landing plans seriously. Ariane: where's the money? ULA: need to cryogenicly preserve Senator Richard Shelby so they can get funding next century.
Musk's timeline doesn't involve landing from orbit until a bit later. Starship can't make orbit and land again on its own even with no payload. It needs the Superheavy booster, which SpaceX haven't started constructing yet. There's a chance it will happen by end of this year if all goes well, but even Musk doesn't think it will be in the first half of the year.
And to think they managed it with the tech equivalent of a smartphone stuck on a cardboard and tin foil contraption - some 60+ years ago and somehow we've not been able to go back because we "don't have the tech anymore".
The world's most overrun overbudget project. Beats any other government project hands down.
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