News NASA Delivers Heavy Lift Proposal to Congress

Urwumpe

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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...

Exactly. Soyuz rockets also contain Hydrogenperoxide, but this is also not that dangerous for humans.

UDMH and N2O4 is much worse stuff. UDMH is a powerful neurotoxin, N2O4 can combust any organic matter.A crashing rocket stage does mostly spread both substances over a wide field, without clean combustion.
 

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Yeah, the worst disaster is probably a Proton rocket 1st stage failure. This was quite common in the mid-60's when the rocket was in the experimental phase. And when the USSR fell, they didn't cleaned their junkyard. I wonder why... :hmm: Well, just west of Baikonur, they almost dried out the Aral sea, to grow cotton in the steppes... :rolleyes: In the marxist theories, it's the Man vs the Nature. The Man has to dominate Nature, progress can only occur this way. Ecology was seen like a retrograde (and then subversive) idea...

Sidenote : S.P. Korolev was strongly against the use of N2O4/UDMH, saying with rightness that it was a poison. He always used LOX/Kerosene, and when he died in 1967, his plans for the N1 were to switch to LOX/LH2 as soon as powerful cryogenic engines would be available. Which never happened.

LOX/Kerosene is not very different from napalm. Not ecologically friendly though : I would not eat animals fed from the short grass that can regrow on it ! But well, N2O4/UDMH is so far worse, if I had to choose my poison...

Of course, the best of the best is LOX/LH2. Oxygen and di-Hydrogen are light and harmless. A DeltaIV-H liftoff looks like inferno, but actually it's clean in environnemental criterias. Shuttle launches are clean too, since the SRBs have parachutes and are recovered.
 
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T.Neo

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Shuttle launches clean? The boosters spit out hydrogen chloride and aluminium oxide! Solids are quite toxic indeed... :shifty:

Hydrolox is nice, but from a technical perspective I don't like the density of hydrogen very much.

Frankly, that's why I think stages should be crashed at sea. Hopefully any leftover propellant will (eventually) wash away...
 

Urwumpe

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LOX/Kerosene is not very different from napalm.

You'll notice the difference, if you have Napalm sticking on you. Napalm is VERY nasty stuff, LOX/Kerosene is just honest hostility.
 

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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.

First, these are lower stages, not upper stages. If an upper stage fails to reach high enough orbit, it can re-enter practically anywhere (depending on the intended orbit's inclination, of course).

Second, when conventional upper stage re-enters, it just disintegrates and burns up. The resulting debris is usually pretty harmless. If an NTR stage re-entered, it would either disintegrate too, releasing tens of kilograms of really nasty stuff, or it would fall down in one piece. If it hit a populated area, it could cause both damage and contamination.

Even though conventional stage causing some damage would be bad, the same kind of mishap involving a hot NTR stage would be disastrous. And I mean truly DISASTROUS. It would probably lead to some kind of intensified anti-nuclear hysteria followed by a ban on NTR technology.

For these reasons, I don't think using NTRs inside Earth's atmosphere and below stable LEO orbits would be wise.

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.

You know politics. You can push something through just barely, only to see the whole scheme collapse when something goes wrong.

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.

Try telling that to the average Joe. "Don't worry, when our nuke rockets fail, they just blow up" :)

NTRs have never been tested in space (as far as I know), so common sense tells me there are dozens of things that will go wrong once we start testing them there.

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

Depends on the failure. If you planned an NTR upper stage intended to boost your rocket's LEO/whatever capability, you'd have to keep it relatively light, which means you wouldn't be able to provide it with all the shielding and other stuff to survive all possible modes of re-entry in one piece. I don't know, I am just guessing here.

In any case, the public wouldn't care anyway. For the average Joe, nuclear = scary black magic. The activists are eagerly jumping at every opportunity to demonize nuclear energy still more and they'd certainly use any NTR accident to their advantage. We'd better deny them that chance.

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

Again, you need to develop a feel for how the "uneducated masses" think. "They're shooting nuclear reactors full of DEATH down to Earth in giant fireballs. OMG we're all gonna die, somebody stop this!"

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.

I didn't say there would be no maintenance. But given the fact this rocket is unmanned, doesn't use solid rocket boosters (that need to be recovered from the ocean, disassembled, refilled with propellant, furnished with new parachutes, and gods know what else) doesn't use (expendable) external tank that needs to be attached to the stack, the overall recurring costs should be much lower compared to STS. Especially if you avoided building a standing army of thousands of engineers and bureaucrat running the show.

If you had enough orders and decent enough launch rate, it could still make enough money to make economic sense.
 

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You'll notice the difference, if you have Napalm sticking on you. Napalm is VERY nasty stuff, LOX/Kerosene is just honest hostility.

From an environnemental point of view, of course ;) The first mixture is designed to be a weapon, the second is not.

Frankly, that's why I think stages should be crashed at sea. Hopefully any leftover propellant will (eventually) wash away...

No, sorry, the sea isn't a giant waste. That's the most precious thing we have and that Ocean of liquid water is unique in the solar system.
 
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Urwumpe

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In any case, the public wouldn't care anyway. For the average Joe, nuclear = scary black magic. The activists are eagerly jumping at every opportunity to demonize nuclear energy still more and they'd certainly use any NTR accident to their advantage. We'd better deny them that chance.

Again, you need to develop a feel for how the "uneducated masses" think. "They're shooting nuclear reactors full of DEATH down to Earth in giant fireballs. OMG we're all gonna die, somebody stop this!"

I think, you need a bit more respect for the average Joe. You are likely right, if you say that they can't tell fission from fusion. But they do know to tell if somebody is making serious work, or if somebody is trying (again and again) to cheat them.

Many people complain about the uneducated masses, without even bothering, that actually, the worst people are the educated elites, that prescribe what the masses should appreciate, or be uneducated fools otherwise.

The "uneducated" masses also don't blindly trust or distrust scientists, they have a pretty good compass for telling if a scientist is helping them or not. It just takes a lot of effort for becoming a scientist for the masses, because you then need to explain things, that would among academics be written or unwritten laws.

Von Braun for example was not a popular engineer in the US TV for his visions of a spaceflight future, that appeared right at the right time, during the prime of science-fiction. He simply didn't lecture spaceflight, he explained it and explained as well, why spaceflight makes the world better and why it is needed. And people understood it.

It is the democratic version of "leading your leaders". The average citizen has no clue about your job, but will decide if it is getting his taxes, or if he will become customer of a satellite company. If you don't help the citizen in his decisions as his expert, he will not know how to decide and which factors are important in the decision.

If you can explain nuclear technology properly, and tell him in a realistic way, what nuclear technology can do now, and what can be done in the next few years, and what is a possible vision for the future, he will maybe not automatically buy it, but he will understand which factors he should consider in his personal decision.

The problem is just: If you remove all blind optimism and urge for more power from nuclear technology, it becomes a technology that is still needing to mature. We use it blindly and mostly happily for 60 years, but actually, the list of unsolved problems in nuclear technology did not get shorter. It grew with every new problem we discovered, and the competition gets more fierce with other energy sources. But for finally tackling those known problems and find ways to remove them from the list, we need a real change in the mindset of nuclear engineers and scientists.

Just saying "Oh well, things did work most of the time." is no solution, but also implying that you actually have not yet enough competence for the technology. If something goes wrong, you have not quickly the solution at hand, and for things that constantly and systematically go wrong (like nuclear waste), you lack the vision to change them.

And IMHO, if the doctrine of "Tough and competent" should be applied to a technology, nuclear technology would be the first that gets in my mind: If something goes wrong in nuclear technology it can harm many million people.

---------- Post added at 05:55 PM ---------- Previous post was at 05:52 PM ----------

From an environnemental point of view, of course ;) The first mixture is designed to be a weapon, the second is not.

Not just that. Napalm is design to stick to any surface while burning, making it much harder to fight. Burning kerosene is ugly, but not nearly as ugly what burning Napalm (or WP) can do.
 

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First, these are lower stages, not upper stages. If an upper stage fails to reach high enough orbit, it can re-enter practically anywhere (depending on the intended orbit's inclination, of course).

Second, when conventional upper stage re-enters, it just disintegrates and burns up. The resulting debris is usually pretty harmless. If an NTR stage re-entered, it would either disintegrate too, releasing tens of kilograms of really nasty stuff, or it would fall down in one piece. If it hit a populated area, it could cause both damage and contamination.

Even though conventional stage causing some damage would be bad, the same kind of mishap involving a hot NTR stage would be disastrous. And I mean truly DISASTROUS. It would probably lead to some kind of intensified anti-nuclear hysteria followed by a ban on NTR technology.

For these reasons, I don't think using NTRs inside Earth's atmosphere and below stable LEO orbits would be wise.

Reenter almost anywhere, yes, but it is important to note that most of the Earth's surface is sparsely populated, desert, steppe, ocean, etc.

The NTR engine components and fuel elements, specifically, would be designed to operate within a rocket engine, where the conditions could be considered similar to reentry conditions... I don't think there is much of a problem with major radioactivity dispersion.

This kind of thing hitting a populated area is a real worst case scenario, it is one you already run with any kind of debris in LEO, and one that definitely doesn't need to be nuclear to be a disaster.

I'd be more worried by a PR disaster, to be honest, all of this talk of nuclear disasters and whatnot is overdone, nuclear technology is not engineered by chimps in hard-hats.

Furthermore the whole point is that you wouldn't use it on an ordinary expendable stage that you just leave in LEO to randomly reenter, that is bad foresight blindness.

You know politics. You can push something through just barely, only to see the whole scheme collapse when something goes wrong.

And you're saying that a nuclear rocket has an intent to destroy itself? :p

If the public is smart enough to fully understand the nature of this technology, they wouldn't throw such a fit when they hear news of, say, "minor radioactivity release over the Pacific".

Try telling that to the average Joe. "Don't worry, when our nuke rockets fail, they just blow up"

The rockets blow up, the components that contain radioactive materials do not. Simple.

That's how you engineer things, especially things like this. You engineer it not to go wrong, you engineer it to go wrong safely when it does go wrong, and you engineer the impact to be as minimal as possible if it goes wrong in a way that you didn't forsee or compensate for.

NTRs have never been tested in space (as far as I know), so common sense tells me there are dozens of things that will go wrong once we start testing them there.

I don't know anything that makes engine testing in space automatically more dangerous to the point that engines start blowing up as often as the pyrotechnics in a 4th of July fireworks display, unless, maybe... Alien Space Bats. I dunno...

I have a hunch that the internal forces on the rocket engine are far worse than anything the environment of space can unleash on it, at least on the short term.

Depends on the failure. If you planned an NTR upper stage intended to boost your rocket's LEO/whatever capability, you'd have to keep it relatively light, which means you wouldn't be able to provide it with all the shielding and other stuff to survive all possible modes of re-entry in one piece. I don't know, I am just guessing here.

It's built to survive in very adverse conditions already, so reentry would be relatively easy to survive. In addition such heavy, monolithic parts tend to be the ones that survive, obviously it'd be built to survive more easily than your run of the mill engine, but it shouldn't be very problematic considering that an engine is already quite a (relatively) durable component.

In any case, the public wouldn't care anyway. For the average Joe, nuclear = scary black magic. The activists are eagerly jumping at every opportunity to demonize nuclear energy still more and they'd certainly use any NTR accident to their advantage. We'd better deny them that chance.

So... if you can't use nuclear energy because an accident might demonize it in the eyes of activists, what's the point about worrying about using it at all?

Again, you need to develop a feel for how the "uneducated masses" think. "They're shooting nuclear reactors full of DEATH down to Earth in giant fireballs. OMG we're all gonna die, somebody stop this!"

That is when they remain uneducated. The whole point is to educate the public (through propaganda about nuclear technology :shifty:) to a point where they have a rational outlook. As Urwumpe says, the average Joe deserves more credit than one might give him.

I didn't say there would be no maintenance. But given the fact this rocket is unmanned, doesn't use solid rocket boosters (that need to be recovered from the ocean, disassembled, refilled with propellant, furnished with new parachutes, and gods know what else) doesn't use (expendable) external tank that needs to be attached to the stack, the overall recurring costs should be much lower compared to STS. Especially if you avoided building a standing army of thousands of engineers and bureaucrat running the show.

If you had enough orders and decent enough launch rate, it could still make enough money to make economic sense.

I get what you are saying exactly, but the problem is that the maintainance and refurbishment costs more than building a new external tank, and reassembling, refueling and repacking those solid rocket boosters.

For example the boosters have four engines each, and you have to refurbish all of them after each flight. And if we look at the SSMEs, that is not easy. In addition to that you have to refurbish the engines on the main booster, and it's thermal protection system, as well as the myriad of other systems.

In the end you need the workforce of thousands, because there's so much work needed getting the vehicle to fly.

Reusability doesn't automatically make things cheaper. There is a threshold beyond which it's cheaper just to build a new rocket, and the shuttle is a good example of it.

No, sorry, the sea isn't a giant waste. That's the most precious thing we have and that Ocean of liquid water is unique in the solar system.

The most precious thing we have? Very precious maybe, but that statement disregards a lot of other important (or even more important) things.

Either way, the point is, the oceans are big. Most of the seafloor is a mud covered ecological desert shrouded in eternal darkness from the kilometers of water above.

A few rockets dumping some residual kerosene should not be a problem, when compared to the amount of hydrocarbons that are leaked into the oceans each year due to manmade activities, and even natural processes.
 

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Furthermore the whole point is that you wouldn't use it on an ordinary expendable stage that you just leave in LEO to randomly reenter, that is bad foresight blindness.

That's not what I am saying. I am saying that using any sort of NTR upper stages (reusable or not) that get "hot" (that is, active, so that we understand each other better) before a stable LEO is achieved is an open invitation to a disaster. If such a stage shuts down prematurely or fails to achieve stable orbit, then it can re-enter BEFORE it can be recovered.

While this can happen to any conventional chemical stage too, the impact of this happening with an NTR stage could be much more catastrophic both from the PR standpoint and for the environment/people down on the ground.

Therefore, it seems PRUDENT to use NTRs in a different way: launch them conventionally and only activate them for missions beyond LEO in order to minimize the possibility of their falling down on Earth.

Did I make myself clear enough, or do I need to rephrase that in some other way? :)

And you're saying that a nuclear rocket has an intent to destroy itself? :p

If the public is smart enough to fully understand the nature of this technology, they wouldn't throw such a fit when they hear news of, say, "minor radioactivity release over the Pacific".

Is my English so bad or are you just avoiding my point?

What I meant was, that if you can just barely convince the people that NTRs are safe and can be used on rockets (that's really the best you can hope for in this world), then ANY mishap, however insignificant from an engineering point of view, can turn the public against you and this time they won't believe anything you say. Once the public is rapidly opposed to NTRs, then the politicians in democratic countries will make their use impossible.

Such a setback could delay human expansion in space by decades. That is my concern, and if you're so pro-NTR, it should be your concern too.

So... if you can't use nuclear energy because an accident might demonize it in the eyes of activists, what's the point about worrying about using it at all?

This question is rather self-defeating. Do you want nuclear energy in space, or not? If you do, you need to be prepared to make compromises - political compromises - that will ensure the continuity of such programme. I believe that using NTRs too close to Earth (metaphorically speaking) is the surest way to turn the public and therefore the politicians against it.

Compare that with Chernobyl - one single disaster caused by multiple human errors that didn't even kill that many people (and killed nobody outside the ex-USSR) has effectively turned TWO GENERATIONS of Westerners against nuclear energy. You can tell the people million times that something like this can't happen with modern fission reactors, but they won't believe you.

You simply can't afford similar mishap with an NTR, because that would be the end of NTRs for at least another several decades.

That is when they remain uneducated. The whole point is to educate the public (through propaganda about nuclear technology :shifty:) to a point where they have a rational outlook. As Urwumpe says, the average Joe deserves more credit than one might give him.

That's a fantasy. People are people, they're naturally afraid of "invisible things that can do harm", be it radiation, dangerous chemicals (see the recent panic about dioxins in Germany), diseases (see the hype about flu) or other things.

Sure we need to educate people more, I am all for that. But you have to be realistic about the results you can conceivably achieve. Because if you believe that better education will magically turn people into avid supporters of nuclear energy, you're fooling yourself.


And that's all from me, I don't think I need to say more on this matter, and it would be off-topic anyway :tiphat:


I get what you are saying exactly, but the problem is that the maintainance and refurbishment costs more than building a new external tank, and reassembling, refueling and repacking those solid rocket boosters.

For example the boosters have four engines each, and you have to refurbish all of them after each flight. And if we look at the SSMEs, that is not easy. In addition to that you have to refurbish the engines on the main booster, and it's thermal protection system, as well as the myriad of other systems.

That all depends on the design choices (for example, a different re-entry profile combined with the larger volume of the Uragan core stage should decrease the need for heavy thermal protection). I am confident that the Russians would be able to keep the costs much lower than the Americans.

In the end you need the workforce of thousands, because there's so much work needed getting the vehicle to fly.

Reusability doesn't automatically make things cheaper. There is a threshold beyond which it's cheaper just to build a new rocket, and the shuttle is a good example of it.

I think that basing any conclusions on the Shuttle experience is short-sighted. Shuttle costs are being kept ultra high by many things, many of which you can alleviate or remove from the picture altogether. We won't know until we try.

That is, I am not saying Uragan-as-proposed back in the 1980s/1990s is necessarily the best way forward (we've come a long way in terms of material science since then). What I like is the concept of a fully reusable heavy-lift booster that is essentially a hybrid between a traditional rocket and a shuttle. Although I'd like to have some SSTO like, say, Skylon, it is clear that any such spaceplane will have a very limited payload capability, at least in the foreseeable future (Skylon should lift about 15 tons to LEO in its D1 configuration, I think). Therefore, having a reusable heavy-lift (over 50 tons) rocket to complement it would be nice. Once you'd be able to launch it often enough to amortize the costs of development and early bugfixing, it could even be profitable.

Crucially, fully expendable heavy-lift boosters are an evolutionary dead end. Are we supposed to use them forever?
 

Urwumpe

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Victor_D: Let me recommend you to stop making assumptions about other people. I just had a "Strong desire to shout"-moment after reading your latest comments. You can loose patience sometimes with the masses, but that is always a problem for elitists.

But what you said about the Dioxin scandals in Germany is a pretty strong sign that you only see what you want to see "Stupid masses getting scared", and do not even slightly care for the facts there. It is not like we are talking about "A small accident with the wrong fat". We are talking about animals food having been intentionally contaminated with dioxins for the profit of food companies, resulting in the final animal products (eggs) having had hundred times more dioxin inside them, as the legal limits, far into the range that they can cause health problems for the average egg consumer, since they bioaccumulate inside the fat tissue. And dioxins are really evil stuff, if you don't know that, maybe you should educate yourself about the history of dioxins. The only reason why they had never found use as chemical weapon, as intended, was the fact that it was impossible to control them.

https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Polychlorinated_dibenzodioxins

Sorry, but your opinion is pretty disgusting for somebody who is a bit closer to the impact. Maybe you feel fine about paying a lot of money for food that can kill you slowly. I don't.

Do you really feel intellectually superior to the "uneducated masses", if you permit yourself such hubris?

Or are you maybe feeling better informed by those companies that make profits by secretly selling you poisoned products for almost the same price as products by companies that work correctly?

https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Dioxin_controversy
 

T.Neo

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Did I make myself clear enough, or do I need to rephrase that in some other way?

I understand what you're saying, but I disagree. ;)

Such a setback could delay human expansion in space by decades. That is my concern, and if you're so pro-NTR, it should be your concern too.

You're assuming that any NTR accident will be a catastrophic one that would release a large amount of radiation, which I have repeatedly explained as not being the case.

If you deny the use of NTR in a place where it is very advantageous, you are also engineering a setback in human space exploration.

You simply can't afford similar mishap with an NTR, because that would be the end of NTRs for at least another several decades.

The answer is in your own post:
You can tell the people million times that something like this can't happen with modern fission reactors, but they won't believe you.

The key is safety aspects. Something that Chernobyl lacked.

That's a fantasy. People are people, they're naturally afraid of "invisible things that can do harm", be it radiation, dangerous chemicals (see the recent panic about dioxins in Germany), diseases (see the hype about flu) or other things.

Sure we need to educate people more, I am all for that. But you have to be realistic about the results you can conceivably achieve. Because if you believe that better education will magically turn people into avid supporters of nuclear energy, you're fooling yourself.

I think Urwumpe answered this rather well.

I am often personally frustrated with the stupidity that people in general display, but it's practically an insult to humanity to claim that (almost) every human on Earth has the intelligence of Ralph Wiggum.

That all depends on the design choices (for example, a different re-entry profile combined with the larger volume of the Uragan core stage should decrease the need for heavy thermal protection). I am confident that the Russians would be able to keep the costs much lower than the Americans.

A better reentry profile makes the problem a bit better, it does not remove it.

Buran itself would be a pretty good example in terms of costs, it was a project in the USSR but I seriously doubt it was cheap, even if it was a bit cheaper than STS.

The Russians can do things for less, but they are not miracle workers.

I think that basing any conclusions on the Shuttle experience is short-sighted. Shuttle costs are being kept ultra high by many things, many of which you can alleviate or remove from the picture altogether. We won't know until we try.

Look, I'm not saying that any reusable vehicle will be like STS. But we can learn much from it, to ignore history is setting oneself up for failure.

There are a lot of technical things that you can't get away from, at least, not easily.

That is, I am not saying Uragan-as-proposed back in the 1980s/1990s is necessarily the best way forward (we've come a long way in terms of material science since then). What I like is the concept of a fully reusable heavy-lift booster that is essentially a hybrid between a traditional rocket and a shuttle. Although I'd like to have some SSTO like, say, Skylon, it is clear that any such spaceplane will have a very limited payload capability, at least in the foreseeable future (Skylon should lift about 15 tons to LEO in its D1 configuration, I think). Therefore, having a reusable heavy-lift (over 50 tons) rocket to complement it would be nice. Once you'd be able to launch it often enough to amortize the costs of development and early bugfixing, it could even be profitable.

Good, in that case, you can entirely ignore Uragan, aside from it's very vague concept.

Skylon would be limited to 15 tons, I don't see why a larger vehicle couldn't have more payload, obviously there is a limit and I find launching 50 ton payloads off such a vehicle to be a bit improbable.

Reusability only makes sense when it's more economically sound than expendability. For now, expendable launchers make sense. And 50 tons is only going to be economic when there's a demand for 50 ton payloads...

As for reusability, STS proved the ability to consistently reuse solid rocket motors, and there is the potential for reusable vehicles to use (mass produced and cheap) expendable drop tanks.

One day we will have reusable 50+ plus launchers, but that day won't be for (relatively) long time, and such a vehicle certainly won't resemble Uragan.
 

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NASA should build the SDHLV
Costing about 6.6 billion dollars, and only 4 years to build, you could be able to fit the Orion capsule on the top, and Altair in the cargo bay, atleast I think.

The whole space shuttles, Discovery, Atlantis, Enedavour, Columbia, and Challenger cost about 5 billion dollars. Plus, the SDHLV is 20% of the Ares I and V cost.
But im pretty sure you all are going to be able to prove me wrong.
 

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There is no funding or work being done on Altair, there are no plans to land on the Moon.

Ahh, if only STS had its main engines on the bottom of the ET like Energia, this whole HLV thing would be much simpler..
 
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