News NASA Delivers Heavy Lift Proposal to Congress

Ark

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As much as I like NASA, it's looking like we'd be better off giving that $11 billion to SpaceX and saying "Here, you've got five years to build a human-rated Dragon and a 100+ ton to LEO heavy lift rocket. Good luck."

Because I don't think five years from now SpaceX would be asking for another 2 years and $9 billion the way NASA would.
 

T.Neo

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AFAIK that'd pretty much defeat the purpose of SpaceX, as far as I can tell COTS is reward based, so you have to meet your milestones to get paid/get the contract. The way Constellation worked, as I understand it, is you have the contract and you're paid and paid and paid as you develop, so the contractors just sit around developing slowly while they grow fat on NASA money, and results take a long time to develop...

SpaceX already has ideas for the Falcon X, which would use more powerful first stage engines as well as a hydrolox upper stage for a higher payload to orbit. The single-core variant could carry 38 tons to orbit, the three core heavy could launch 125 tons, which is superheavy and within the range of shuttle-derived concepts.

38 tons alone is already quite darn heavy, it's nearly 20 tons up from the average medium launcher of today. And if both the 1 core and 3 core variant can be developed easily enough from the currently existing Falcon 9 technology, it would prove far more advantageous than any SDLV.

Furthermore SpaceX has looked into using fission propulsion for the upper stage, in the Falcon XX concept, and that would be capable of 140 tons to orbit.

Whether their plans are feasible or not, I think they're very daring bringing up nuclear propulsion, and I like it.
 
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Wishbone

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I suppose the next project after Falcon XX (Dos equis) will be using fusion, and called Falcon XXX (Tres equis, or too blue to be true)...

EDIT: clarification :)
 
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T.Neo

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A fusion powered launch vehicle? I don't much see the benefit of it, to be honest.

As far as I can understand it, a chemical (or fission) engine is able to dump waste heat out the exhaust because the mass flow is high enough (there's enough mass in the exhaust to absorb the waste heat).

The problem with a high impulse high thrust engine is that there is a huge amount of waste heat and not much mass (the latter of which is good for the physics of travel though, because it means a lower mass ratio), which means that only a small amount of heat is removed via the exhaust, and you need a really big cooling system to deal with the rest.

It's hard enough on an interorbital vehicle, I'd hate to have to see it on a launch vehicle especially considering their acceleration requirements.
 

Victor_D

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As much as I like NASA, it's looking like we'd be better off giving that $11 billion to SpaceX and saying "Here, you've got five years to build a human-rated Dragon and a 100+ ton to LEO heavy lift rocket. Good luck."

Because I don't think five years from now SpaceX would be asking for another 2 years and $9 billion the way NASA would.

I am just reading Zubrin's "Entering space: Creating a spacefaring civilization" and there is a very good chapter in which he explains how the established space industry companies work. Basically, to sum it up, it is in their interest

a) not to innovate too much (new technologies are developed only if the US government specifically asks for them)
b) make the development of any new vehicle as expensive as possible (in order to make more money - there are no 'fixed' costs, so they can overprice)
c) not to compete against each other (after a string of mergers in the aerospace sector there isn't enough companies left to create a healthy competition environment anyway)
d) keep the costs of launching things to space as high as possible (strangely, the governments are generally fine with that because they consider space as a strategic area for their national security, so money doesn't matter)

Of course he talks mainly about the situation in the US, but since the US is such a major player, the result is that space launch costs around the world are outrageously high. Much higher than they should be even with the current obsolete technologies (yes, we're using basically the same tech to launch things to space that we've been using since the late 1960s).

What SpaceX has done was to reveal this craziness for all to see. Just look at that: with a fraction of the big players' budget they have developed and tested a new rocket engine, a new launch vehicle, a new capsule with both cargo/human capabilities, and many other things.

They have basically exposed that the other companies have been milking the government wherever they could. If SpaceX, a new company with ZERO previous experience, can build a mid-heavy lift rocket (Falcon-9) together with a capsule (Dragon) for a couple hundred million dollars instead of the $10 billion or so that Boeing or Lockheed-Martin would demand for the same thing, something is seriously off here.

As for the heavy-lift vehicles, just give the $10 billion to the Russians. They will embezzle two thirds of it, but the remaining funds will still be more then sufficient to revive Energia or some other HLV project they've researched in the past few decades.

(Why they abandoned Energia is really beyond me. It had so much potential.)
 

Urwumpe

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A fusion rocket engine would be nowhere like todays rocket engines in terms of size - they would need to be gigantic already because of the nuclear physics, and the thermal problems would result in a larger surface area of the engine as well - for pretty little thrust.

Fusion would have poor thrust to weight, but extremely good specific impulse, in the range of electrostatic engines, but with higher thrust.

---------- Post added at 05:26 PM ---------- Previous post was at 05:20 PM ----------

Zubrin is also one of the "evil empire", though one of the more friendly persons there, but he describes the problems pretty well. ;) :)


a) not to innovate too much (new technologies are developed only if the US government specifically asks for them)

They do innovate - but in big leaps of high technological risks. Why? Because even if the big expensive project fails, the patents for the small detail solutions can be used commercially.

b) make the development of any new vehicle as expensive as possible (in order to make more money - there are no 'fixed' costs, so they can overprice)

That is likely not intentional, but rather caused by the other points.

c) not to compete against each other (after a string of mergers in the aerospace sector there isn't enough companies left to create a healthy competition environment anyway)

Exactly - they are rivals among each others, but allies against the rest of the world.

d) keep the costs of launching things to space as high as possible (strangely, the governments are generally fine with that because they consider space as a strategic area for their national security, so money doesn't matter)

That is wrong - They want to have cheap launches for their own commercial launch services. But government controlled spaceflight needs to be made expensive, by adding more and more red tape to it.
 

SiberianTiger

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A fusion rocket engine would be nowhere like todays rocket engines in terms of size - they would need to be gigantic already because of the nuclear physics, and the thermal problems would result in a larger surface area of the engine as well - for pretty little thrust.

Fusion would have poor thrust to weight, but extremely good specific impulse, in the range of electrostatic engines, but with higher thrust.

Don't you think this is an argument resembling "A steamer will never be able to cross the Atlantic, just because it can't hold the necessary amount of coal"? Maybe fusion hardware can evolve to perfection over time? Are there any deep rooted physical obstacles to that?

As for the heavy-lift vehicles, just give the $10 billion to the Russians. They will embezzle two thirds of it, but the remaining funds will still be more then sufficient to revive Energia or some other HLV project they've researched in the past few decades.

We have some amazing engineers here, but what you propose would work only if you create a natural reserve for them to live happy and make designs in the wilderness, with high voltage wired perimeter. Take a special care to guard against Russian officials trying to trespass!

(Why they abandoned Energia is really beyond me. It had so much potential.)

By direct order of Mister President Yeltsin.
 

Victor_D

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Zubrin is also one of the "evil empire", though one of the more friendly persons there, but he describes the problems pretty well. ;) :)

Oh sure, he's crazy, but that doesn't mean he's wrong. I disagree with many of his conclusions (regarding the electromobiles, the Outer Space treaty and other things), but he's usually right about the 'common sense' stuff, if you know what I mean. He's not afraid to say things that need to be said.

They do innovate - but in big leaps of high technological risks. Why? Because even if the big expensive project fails, the patents for the small detail solutions can be used commercially.

Yes. And of course, it doesn't matter if some project is cancelled, because they still make a lot of money out of it. See Orion/Constellation - even though it is dead, they're still getting money and continuing in its development.

But for instance, there is no wish in the established aerospace industry to develop a real, reusable SSTO - simply because it would render most of today's commercial rockets effectively obsolete, as a result of which they'd lose more money than they'd earn.

That is likely not intentional, but rather caused by the other points.

Zubrin mentions the "Cost Plus" scheme. As I understand his argument, he claims that the way US government places commercial orders is deeply flawed in that there are no fixed costs agreed in advance - as in, "we want you to develop and build the vehicle XY for 1 billion dollars. If you make it cheaper, you still get the one billion, but if you can't, you'll pay for the cost overruns." .

Also, there is some sort of rule that these companies can't make more than 10% profit from government orders. As a result, the companies keep inflating the costs of development in order to make more money. 10% of 5 billion is more than 10% of 1 billion, you see. Ergo, there is absolutely no incentive for them to keep the development costs low.

Also, NASA's red tape is really making the whole development process terribly inefficient. SpaceX proved that once you're free of NASA's smothering oversight, you can do things much cheaper and faster.

Exactly - they are rivals among each others, but allies against the rest of the world.

Not even that - see United Launch Alliance. But you're right that the US government rules really do suffocate international competition. If the Russians or the Chinese were allowed to launch US satellites on equal terms with the US companies, the costs would surely decrease.

On an unrelated note, I really fear for Arianespace. They should really think about the future of the launch market, otherwise they're going to lose it.

Maybe they should invest into Skylon... (just sayin' :) )

That is wrong - They want to have cheap launches for their own commercial launch services. But government controlled spaceflight needs to be made expensive, by adding more and more red tape to it.

There is a sort of feedback loop here. Costly launchers are making everything else in the space business costlier. The problem is that the "strategic national interests" continue to distort the space launch market. If the US air force is willing to spend 300 million dollars a launch, why should the providers do it cheaper?


---

One more note on the heavy lift business - I am a bit sceptical about SpaceX's plans there. I don't think that there is a real demand for an HLV outside the government programmes. It would be hard to make a truly commercial HLV profitable enough to sustain its production line.
 
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Urwumpe

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Don't you think this is an argument resembling "A steamer will never be able to cross the Atlantic, just because it can't hold the necessary amount of coal"? Maybe fusion hardware can evolve to perfection over time? Are there any deep rooted physical obstacles to that?

Yes, a few - if fusion would be easy, we would be doing it all the time. Also, remember you need not only to achieve fusion (which is the easy part), but also convert this energy into powering the next fusion processes AND generate thrust at the same time. Which isn't that easy at the same time, in the same place.
 

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Yes, a few - if fusion would be easy, we would be doing it all the time. Also, remember you need not only to achieve fusion (which is the easy part), but also convert this energy into powering the next fusion processes AND generate thrust at the same time. Which isn't that easy at the same time, in the same place.

Why are we even talking about fusion here? It's not like it will become available as a propulsion technology in the next 40 years. As a realist, I don't see fusion playing any major role in space propulsion in this century.

NTRs using fission are a completely different matter, but I don't think this tech will be used on an expendable rocket - what would you do with the burnt-out NTR upper stages? Leave them in LEO? Plus, the public would go crazy if you flew hot reactors on rockets launched from Earth. You're from Germany, so you surely know that the public isn't very rational about nuclear energy these days.

In other words, Falcon XX with an NTR upper stage is politically impossible.
 

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You're from Germany, so you surely know that the public isn't very rational about nuclear energy these days.

I suspect, the German public is much more rational about nuclear energy these days, as politicians and classic corrupt nuclear power companies. It is a bit hard to not become concerned after seeing 50 years of unsolved problems get ignored and ignored, for having the next big money printing machine.
 

T.Neo

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The public isn't rational about nuclear energy these days.

Of course there is danger, but there is a difference between danger, and uneducated alarmism. When people hear "nuclear", they think atomic bombs, lethal radiation and "radioactive for thousands of years". This all translates to nuclear energy being an axis of evil of the "most toxic substances known to man", which doesn't translate to the real world reality of nuclear power at all.

Is a nuclear engine in a Falcon XX politically impossible? I would like to say that it is not, but is definitely extremely politically difficult. Perhaps something on the order of better public relations (read: propaganda about nuclear stuff that the public willingly laps up :rolleyes:) might fix things, but when you look at the reaction to even RTGs being launched into space...

SpaceX says they plan to reuse the upper stages- somehow -though I don't really understand how they plan to do so, and I'm skeptical of the feasibility. Presumably they would at least retrieve the engines or the fuel elements of the reactor to disposal/reprocessing.

Yes, a few - if fusion would be easy, we would be doing it all the time. Also, remember you need not only to achieve fusion (which is the easy part), but also convert this energy into powering the next fusion processes AND generate thrust at the same time. Which isn't that easy at the same time, in the same place.

Indeed. And waste heat also means a large nozzle (which is physics related, no amount of technology advancement will change that). That isn't intrinsic to fusion engines in general, but it's important for any one that aims to achieve an acceleration even a fraction of that needed by a launch vehicle.

Fusion will really require big infrastructure. The dry mass of a manned fusion spacecraft would likely number in the hundreds of metric tons...
 

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(...)
but when you look at the reaction to even RTGs being launched into space...

Yeah, that's just :facepalm: What's more disturbing is that even some scientists subscribe to this anti-nuclear hype. For me personally it is hard to accept that anyone with an honestly obtained PhD (or any degree for that matter) can oppose nuclear energy in space. I am not saying we should be careless (I wouldn't allow active NTRs below LEO), but if we are to have any future in space, we'll have to use nuclear energy sooner or later.

SpaceX says they plan to reuse the upper stages- somehow -though I don't really understand how they plan to do so, and I'm skeptical of the feasibility. Presumably they would at least retrieve the engines or the fuel elements of the reactor to disposal/reprocessing.

Well, if the upper stage could safely re-enter and fly back to base, then it would be possible. Otherwise they'd need some sort of shuttle to bring the expended stages back. I don't think it would be safe or practical.

About the re-usability - I think they'll have enough trouble as is trying to re-use the lower stages.

BTW, didn't the Russians have a concept for a fully re-usable Energia-derived heavy lift launch vehicle? That would be interesting, if it worked as advertised.
 

T.Neo

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(I wouldn't allow active NTRs below LEO),

Why is that careless? Fallout is minimal during operation, and the fuel elements would be designed to survive an accident, they'd be quite resistant anyway due to what they'd have to withstand during their operation alone.

if we are to have any future in space, we'll have to use nuclear energy sooner or later.

Agreed. :thumbup:

Well, if the upper stage could safely re-enter and fly back to base, then it would be possible. Otherwise they'd need some sort of shuttle to bring the expended stages back. I don't think it would be safe or practical.

About the re-usability - I think they'll have enough trouble as is trying to re-use the lower stages.

BTW, didn't the Russians have a concept for a fully re-usable Energia-derived heavy lift launch vehicle? That would be interesting, if it worked as advertised.

I'm not sure if "flying back to a base" is part of the reusability strategy, it could be possible they're just intending to deorbit the stages, protect them with some sort of TPS and parachute them into the ocean.

The reusable Energia was Uragan, and I don't like it, to me it has too many seperate components, the mechanics of the fold-out wings on the boosters scares me, and the TPS over the core would badly affect payload to orbit.

Mind you, the latter will affect any second stage you try to reuse.

And exposure to salt water wouldn't be very good for the components either...

Mind you if you just intend to salvage the nuclear fuel elements for safety, it might make sense.
 

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Why is that careless? Fallout is minimal during operation, and the fuel elements would be designed to survive an accident, they'd be quite resistant anyway due to what they'd have to withstand during their operation alone.

Because accidents do happen in the space launch business. If an active NTR upper stage failed to reach the orbit and re-entered over (gods forbid) a populated area, it would constitute a major PR disaster that would probably turn NTR to a synonym of Chernobyl for decades to come - even if the actual damages were negligible.

Plus, there is always the danger that the NTR core would just melt. The danger is zero in terrestrial reactors used for power generation, because they operate at much lower temperatures. NTRs are a different animal, stuff can happen and I'd rather if it happened in a place where it can't do any harm. Beyond LEO, even if some major mishap occurred there would be no damage to Earth (= no radioactive release, no chance of debris hitting the ground) and therefore also the political impact would be limited.

I'm not sure if "flying back to a base" is part of the reusability strategy, it could be possible they're just intending to deorbit the stages, protect them with some sort of TPS and parachute them into the ocean.

If that's what they're planning to do with hot burnt-out NTR stages, they'd better launch their rockets from a giant secret submarine, otherwise the anti-nuclear activists will eat them alive :lol:

The reusable Energia was Uragan, and I don't like it, to me it has too many seperate components, the mechanics of the fold-out wings on the boosters scares me, and the TPS over the core would badly affect payload to orbit.

So it would launch, say, 50 tons instead of 100+ tons. Still a good deal if all you need afterwards is to re-assemble and re-fuel the stack. No sea recovery, no waste of engines, no solid boosters, no side-mounting.
 
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T.Neo

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Because accidents do happen in the space launch business. If an active NTR upper stage failed to reach the orbit and re-entered over (gods forbid) a populated area, it would constitute a major PR disaster that would probably turn NTR to a synonym of Chernobyl for decades to come - even if the actual damages were negligible.

If that happened with a chemical rocket, it would already be a PR disaster... hence why rocket flight paths are put over ocean or wasteland with low population density (random Russian/Chinese/Mongolian steppe). It might be worth mentioning that Russian Proton stages fall in these places, and if I understand correctly, they have to spend quite a bit of money on cleanup.

I don't know if the population would be that stupid about it with a lack of radiation release, especially if they've been educated enough to let the vehicle exist in the first place.

Plus, there is always the danger that the NTR core would just melt. The danger is zero in terrestrial reactors used for power generation, because they operate at much lower temperatures. NTRs are a different animal, stuff can happen and I'd rather if it happened in a place where it can't do any harm. Beyond LEO, even if some major mishap occurred there would be no damage to Earth (= no radioactive release, no chance of debris hitting the ground) and therefore also the political impact would be limited.

I think your melting risk is quite low, in that the actual failure mode is so violent that it explodes rather than slowly melts, properly designed fuel elements should stay intact even if they themselves are spread over a wide area.

This image is that of a KIWI reactor being destructively tested. The image caption states that the engineers imposed a power increase on the reactor, and the increased heat and energy caused it to break apart.

The article further states that the Rover program tested a reactor to simulate a fall from altitude, and that no radioactive material was released (without a source, mind you). I don't know if these are one and the same test, or if the power increase test released any radiation.

If properly designed, the reactor shouldn't release fallout in the event of a failure.

If that's what they're planning to do with hot burnt-out NTR stages, they'd better launch their rockets from a giant secret submarine, otherwise the anti-nuclear activists will eat them alive

Why? The stages would be intact and they would obviously recover them, I don't see the inherent danger in that...

So it would launch, say, 50 tons instead of 100+ tons. Still a good deal if all you need afterwards is to re-assemble and re-fuel the stack. No sea recovery, no waste of engines, no solid boosters, no side-mounting.

You'll need to do much more than reassemble and refuel the stack though, it'll incur a ton of maintainance, just like STS. Even a modern airliner needs maintainance, you can't get away with it.

My feeling is that Uragan would require an enormous amount of maintainance. And there comes a point where that refurbishment makes it more economical just to go for relatively less complex expendable boosters instead.
 
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It might be worth mentioning that Russian Proton stages fall in these places, and if I understand correctly, they have to spend quite a bit of money on cleanup.

I saw in a TV documentary that the people of the steppes take these debris to do tools and more with the materials. The program showed the stage pieces falling from the sky. I think to remember that they also sell some metals.
 

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I saw in a TV documentary that the people of the steppes take these debris to do tools and more with the materials. The program showed the stage pieces falling from the sky. I think to remember that they also sell some metals.

That had been Soyuz stages in the documentary, since you likely saw "Space Tourists" just like I did.

Those few junk collectors, that go into the Proton stage drop zones, often stay there for eternity. Each stage is still containing many tons of toxic substances at impact, and not all combust to harmless gases after impact.
 

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Cleaning up the steppes is not exactly the first priority of Kazakhstan... Routing oil through pipelines is economically a better option... The land East of Baikonur is a giant rocket junkyard and toxic waste.

Proton/Briz crater :

craterkazakhstan453q.jpg


True story : local peasants used N1 rocket debris to build animals shelters...

The same applies for the seabed east of Cape Canaveral and Kourou... Sea looks more clean : you don't see what's under the surface... Yeah, of course, rockets stages provides the perfect natural environnement for the reproduction of various fish species...
 

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Doesn't that depend on what the propellants are, though?

Kerolox or hydrolox shouldn't be nearly as toxic as hypergolic propellants...
 
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