More questions. Some answers…

August 7, 2009

Being a (modest) response to the questions set out by Professor Ed Crawley at the Human Spaceflight Meeting 5th August 2009 Carnegie Institution for Science.

What is the phase out plan of the space shuttle?

The Shuttle should be flown out to beyond 2015. Simultaneously reducing the “GAP”; enabling the augmentation of the ISS beyond “Core Complete” with, in addition to the scheduled AMS: one, two or all three of the space hardened MPLMs, all the ORUs we can eat, a new centrifuge module and everything else but the kitchen sink! Plus lifting some of the next generation space hardware Hypergol Orbital Transfer Vehicle prototype and Hypergolic Propellant Depot testbed. (Crash projects. Not programs! Building on from Orbital Express.) The retiring Shuttles (Atlantis, Discovery) will be recycled for flight spares, depending on the current manifest and launch constraints. Finally all three shuttles will have their Thermal Protection System removed and the tiles apportioned out to suitable sites with a emphasis on the next generation: schools, planetariums and space camps rather than dusty museums. The Shuttles (or what is left of ’em) can be outfitted by the receiving museums AT THEIR COST.  In this way NASA achieves public outreach and finds a second use for those $$$ing tiles!

This extension maintains the current infrastructure: ET + solids + SSME and allows America the option of pursuing either the in-house “Not Shuttle-C” or the in-line “Not DIRECT – Really!” Hence a smooth transition to the next iteration of the best Heavy Lifting Vehicle [HLV] BAR NONE. Thus America maintains invaluable expertise, workforce, and the lead in an unparalleled reliable heavy lift architecture.

If  Bo-Lock-Mart [BLM] wants to develop their own Heavy Lifter they can do it on their own dime. Or cough up some serious cash! As neither NS-C nor ND-R will be operated by NASA/USA! Instead a new streamlined Public-Private Partnership should be set up to operate the system with the incentive of 12 launches/year downstream. Fixed Price Contract. But a commitment to backing additional launching sites and commercial payloads with an expanding space market. LEO SPS test systems, new ISS modules as well as modules and infrastructure for further Stations at: L1, L2, LLO, ESL2 etc…. Even leasing the technology to other trusted International Partners [IPs]. (c.f. Soyuz at Kourou) In all cases the Federal government would retain a “Golden Share” as would the State of Florida. Private Investment will be used to accelerate development.

Whilst the crewed variant of NS-C is more problematic, both systems would provide last resort crew launch. This now becomes the remit of private enterprise with NASA merely the purchaser of launch services.
Initially the ULA should be encouraged to “man rate” their choice of rocket ASAP at their own cost; with the promise of all crew launches in the short term. BUT with the proviso that this agreement will be revised if a further round of COTs-D is outrageously successful: Currently Falcon, Dreamchaser and Blue Origin are still too experimental. By the time that they are regarded as reliable there will be a greater requirement for “UpCrew” especially if there are multiple locations requiring multiple crew rotations. As well as an expanded ISS.  Free return Lunar Tourism etc.

There should be plenty of work for everyone!

America retains existing capacity (skills, workforce, infrastructure, pork,… ) in a proven HL architecture without a “Gap”and with additional NON-Federal funding. Architecture provides more than enough Upmass for any of the proposed “Beyond LEO” mission profiles: Moon Base, Global Lunar, Flexible Path, Mars Direct.

Thus some 864 options are reduced to 2: NS-C or ND-R both systems enable Commercial Enterprise, Propellant Depots and International Partnerships. Sorted! As we say here in the U.K.

Ares V and I are cancelled. The latter duplicates existing commercial infrastructure at a higher cost to launch and is unsustainable. Ares V as currently projected is just unsustainable! Increasingly so as it evolves further and further away from the original SDLV design.

What is the future of the ISS?
To put forth an historial precedent the ISS MUST become an Orbital Mulberry Harbour (used in the D-Day Landings) a LoPort and Hub of all LEO activity. In the distant future the permanent inhabitants of LoPort will point out bits of hardware and proudly announce that it was part of the original station! In the long term: other free-flying human tended modules; spin environments; various flavours of depots (see below); refuge habitats and other structures will be present in other orbits. However in the near term 2020+, by concentrating our human presence in a singular entity we only have to worry about one Station w.r.t. orbital debris, resupply, politics. Thus serious thought should be given to additional modules.. Especially from other International Partners: China; India; Brazil;… Perhaps a refitted MPLM could be converted into a new IP sponsored ‘junior partner’ Space Lab or sold to a Commercial concern. Finally a retrofitted MPLM could act as an American Space Hotel (Every revenue stream should be considered!) Ultimately new Commercial and International Partners could come up with cold hard cash. With regard to the Chinese, if their prototype Station proves itself then a new Chinese “FGB” Block could be incorporated. Or their station could be internationally expanded to become a Refuge of first resort and vice versa.

The financing of the future expansion of the ISS should be revisited. The current barter system involving modules/ resupply missions and whatnot should be put in a firmer orbit. I would suggest Upmass and Downmass as the prime currency. Especially if the Upmass is in the form of fuel! Oh and cold hard cash!

Post 2020: if elderly modules/ nodes start to lose their structural integrity use an external bracing! If the seals start to go find a way to caulk the gaps. After all, this why it was built in the first place! A testbed for space construction. By prolonging the ISS, the experiment continues in the form of maintenance and repair. When the maintenance costs become astronomical: all infrastructure that can be salvaged, is integrated to the non-spin part of a bigger complex “ISS-II” and the stuff beyond any sensible repair, moved to a suitable mothball orbit as a long term space exposure facility and tourist destination. (Perhaps we can park Hubble there too!) We must learn, as a species, to stop throwing stuff back down into the Well after spending so much time and energy in getting it up here in the first place.

How much heavy-lift capacity is needed?
As much as you can afford! Rationally from the options: 25 metric tonnes seems too cold, 125 t too hot and 75t is just about right!

How many dry launched modules can you envisage massing greater than 75t? (Skylab was 91t!) And if you need volume for a really big free fall gymnasium, stardance hall,  hydroponics or aquaculture experiment… why not use the ET! (CCB) And two ETs plus a bit of Tether and you have a variable Gravity Lab and a Space Elevator Cable building experiment in one neat package.

Should the government developed launch system be based on NASA/Shuttle heritage or an EELV based systems?
There should be no government (heavy) launch system with the aforementioned exception of a Federal and State “Golden Share” in the the SDHLV system (NS-C or ND-R) that can carry Crew in emergencies.

How should crew be carried to LEO (ISS in particular)?
Exclude no options i.e. the Chinese! One political act of reciprocity might be telling. A Taikonaut on one of the remaining Shuttle flights to be followed by an American visit to the Chinese orbital module! And Soyuz flights should not be a anathema… if they are cost effective! But with the Shuttle extension and an accelerated Orion on EELV program and a streak of outstanding successes by Falcon 9 + Dragon; the Gap can become a Glut! Like London Buses you wait for hours and then three come along all at once! So we had better prepare some destinations…
Meanwhile a targeted RLV COTS-D should be considered. Notably DreamChaser and Blue Origins with some fresh blood. Perhaps a revisit of t-Space CXV system may be useful as a really low cost option. If things get really tight!
Ensure that PPTS system and ARV have common standards of pressure, comms,… think seriously and soon about international space standards of fuel, power, umbilical connectors and other docking hardware.

What should be the plan for in-space depoting/refueling?

This should be pursued robustly as it is the only option: to develop a sustainable space presence; cheaply involve IPs in a common effort and open up the commercial launch sector. Just why we have not done this eludes this Space Cadet. I have pictures of refueling operations in my space books dating to the 1930’s!

Infrastructure should be internationalised to play to IP strengths. The following is a roughly chronological (!) and politically acceptable (?) spiral of development of Propellant Depots [PDs].

  1. NASA: Hypergol PD in LEO in conjunction with an ATV Mk2 orbital tug (ESA.) Arms by CSA. (Just the announcement will get the Russians to produce PAROM!)
    1. LOX PD + CH4 PD with LH test facilities. Long duration low boil off EDS evolving to OASIS/RASC style Hybrid Propellant Module. Chemical Transfer Vehicle.
  2. Roscosmos (LOS) Core Module and Hypergol PD in Low Lunar Orbit [LLO] + Reusable Lander. Tele-robotic construction of Base Camp (=Radiation shelter)
    1. International Modules added with their Hypergol Landers.
    2. Base Camp Complete. (Largely built by Robotic Precursors)
      International Crew Boots and Flags moment 2020! Hurrah!! In Situ Resource Utilisation [ISRU]. Regolith vitrification to mitigate dust! LUNOX test plant.
    3. 2025 LUNOX PD in LLO. Primarily for life support on other
    4. 2030’s Lunar Global Sorties to points of Scientific and Historical interest.
    5. Armstrong Base. Mass Driver construction site. Tranquillitatis? LUNOX Industrial scale production.
    6. 2040 Aluminium/LOX IRSU Lunar Tug.
    7. 2050’s Nuclear Rocket Lab (on the Moon!) Orion Mk1! Fast
      Breeders, Nuclear Propellant Depot and Nuclear Waste Dump.
    8. Mass Driver complete. L-5 beckons.
  3. NASA L1 “Nearside” Station Core Module L(UN)OX and CH4 evolving to [=>] LH Prop Depot. Refuge. Rescue Station with Tugs and high Delta-v craft. Transit station. Lunar cargo warehouse. 2nd gen Lunar Cargo Lander  (LUNOX+CH4=>LH) IP 2nd gen landers.
  4. L2 “Farside” Radio astronomy constellation
    1. Low Delta-v Refuge
    2. Neutral Gas Depot (Autonomous but Crew repairable.)
    3. Mass Catcher
  5. ESA LEO Neutral Gas Depot Argon/Xenon (ESA) Various IP Solar-Electrically Propelled [SEP] Tugs.
  6. SEL2 “Nightside” Core Module CNSA lead with a little help from everyone. All fuel flavours. Other IP Modules. Crew tended servicing outpost for Astronomical Telescopes, Refuge, Deep Space ISS, prototype for Deep Space Vessel (and eventual Cycler?) Servicing of prototype Nuclear power plant. Radiation mitigation experiments. Beamed power experiments. Assembly Node for outer Near Earth Objects (Asteroids) and Phobos/ Deimos [PhD]  Deep Space Vessel including Phobos base camp Module.) With increasing confidence in radiological protection = hydrogen tankage and other mechanisms: Nightside station is permanently inhabited.
  7. LEO LUNOX Prop Depot!
  8. SEL1 “Dayside” Core Module ISRO lead with other IP Modules. All fuel flavours. Assembly Node for inner NEO DSV and Venus Departure node; Solar Power Plant experiments. Solar Furnace experiments. Solar mitigation experiments (Really big Solar Sails!) With increasing radiological protection = hydrogen tankage and other mechanisms. Dayside station is permanently inhabited.
  9. Hydrogen and Nitrogen scooping from top of the atmosphere.
  10. Dash to NEO: propellant and volatiles ISRU
  11. Dash to Phobos & Deimos propellant and volatiles ISRU
  12. All fuels now sourced extra-terrestrially!

What is the first destination for exploration beyond LEO?
Earth. We only have one world. So let’s not spoil it irretrievably before we learn to build our own micro-worlds. Thus a constellation of satellites to analyse and mitigate the effects of Global Warming is a priority. But not within the remit of this Committee!
For America: L1 “Gateway” (Let the Russians do LLO!) But (re)do the Moon together: “For all Mankind!” America should take the lead in assisting other IP’s to get their Boots and Flags on the regolith. Not so much like a Gatekeeper (ESAS) but as a good Host!
Selling the concept of an empty point in space as a destination to the American Public is another matter. However if it were a rescue station with America taking the lead in making space safe for free lunar return space tourists! With the softly voiced whispering campaign; “Shhh High ground!” Remember to get some DOD cash! And there should be no “Dashing” anywhere or “Running with scissors!” for that matter. Sustainable growth is characterised by small increments in capability and reductions in cost.

What is the role for commercial entities in exploration?

Both commercial entities and IPs will only be interested if America sets out some clear goals and sticks to them! The four to eight year chop and change along with Congressional micro-management result in a quagmire for everyone. To paraphrase: “ask not what commerce can do for the space program but what the space program can do for commerce!”
The ESA model seems to work. A state (country) stumps up the cash and that state (country) gets the work. Added value by the company makes the profit! NASA cannot be allowed to continue as the provider of state access to space! Go to all commercial launch ASAP. (See above.) W.r.t. human exploration: NASA should be developing the technologies to enable commerce to build the production model of NASA’s last experimental vehicle! The fact that NASA has not had a successful  last experimental vehicle since the Shuttle is telling! Which leads us to the unasked question:

What should we do about NASA?
NASA is seen to have failed as a keeper of historical record. Vide Lunar Orbiter records rescue and more recently the loss of original lunar landing tapes! And is seen to be failing as the provider of a National Launch System. Otherwise why the need for this committee! Alas! NASA was a product of the cold war and like much of the American Military Industrial Complex needs to
be ‘rationalised’ before it consumes all the oxygen in the room! Urban Myth has it that during a previous downturn, Ford Motor Company fired three floors of middle management at company HQ without any visible effect to the efficiency of the Company. But at considerable savings!

From the 60’s NASA has evolved into a self perpetuating bureaucratic paper trail; a Möbius strip of  PowerPoint Space Programs on one side and contractor KickBacks on the other. With no REAL hardware. For two, no three (and some would say four) DECADES.

If NASA doesn’t change RADICALLY it will soon cease to exist as a meaningful organisation. As other commercial and international entities bypass it in expertise, culture and enterprise.

NASA Deconstructed:

Prune the various competing (warring!) centres (back) into a singular area of expertise or, failing one:  shut them down. Thus: “The xxx centre for Advanced Propulsion”; “…Advanced ECLSS”; “…Advanced AeroEngineering”; “…Advanced Bleeding Edge Technology” “…Advanced Bleeding Obvious”. Give ’em all a modest federal research budget and a management capable of finding corporate sponsorship.

Yes! Let Corporate America pay for your Vision! After all the shoe has been on the other foot for long enough!

NASA is reduced to a DARPA like agency for blue sky space research and the Next Best Thing.  Keep some of the bureaucrats on as a mouthpiece for IP interactions; overall coordination and political make work. But on an ever tighter  budget. Encourage the career bureaucrats to leave and replace with people with vision and passion and prepared to work for less. A bit like a space finishing school before they move into the private sector ideally somewhere out there! Many space advocates: like this Space Cadet, work for free! In the full knowledge that they will NEVER get there!

Extend the Orbiter, Give The Stick the Shaft, Can Ares V, Go EELV for Crew IF IT IS CHEAPER THAN SOYUZ (Note: A politically expedient ESA is building that capability at Kourou.) A properly studied program really using Shuttle Derived HL eg DIRECT;  Shuttle-Z; … whatever gives the cheapest upmass. And PRIVATISE IT! Abandon the MarsDoggle. (But not Phobos/Deimos!)

REASSIGN the surplus to a new NON HSF Space Adventure with emphasis on CHEAP Downmass to the Lunar Surface.  (I would suggest a SEP Tug fleet maintained and operated from the ISS.) PURPOSE a series of tele-operated Lunar Bot Hamlets at sites of special scientific or commercial interest. LET THE KIDS HAVE A GO! Cooperate with OTHER Nations’ KIDS in building an
International Bot Village>>Town>>City at a suitable site. Charged with constructing the infrastructure of a permanent International Lunar Base camp: IRSU; LUNOX and other acronyms yet to be invented. Establish an automated lunar launch capability to Low Lunar Orbit. Establish human tended outposts, propellant depots, lunar observation and communication platforms, lunar power stations… in LLO; L2 (Quiet please Radio Astronomers at work!); and L1. Solar weather permitting. THEN with a big Radiation Proof Bunker and spartan accommodations already built out of Mooncrete, Lunar Glass and Aluminium; send your KIDS (cos you are gonna be too old) to do what has to be done: emote, choose the curtains and fix those £_*&ing Bots!

NS-C or ND-R?
Now IANARS but given the choice between the  sidemount and in-line design: which looks more elegant? (Sod the engineering!)  The Shuttle was forgivable as it was a cludge from the Get Go and a reusable one at that. (Even the ET! Sigh!) NS-C ND-R does not have that excuse. They probably will both even throw away the SSMEs!
However there is a  subtle bit of politics here. By going for ND-R BIG TIME you send a clear message to NASA that simultaneously criticises its past performance and leadership. Whilst simultaneously validates NASA’s very own hardcore Space Cadets who risked jobs, spent their own time and money on SAVING NASA and HSF despite itself!

One day there will be a Film.  Which tells the better story? A secret in-house redesign of a failing system put together by a bunch of “Rebel Rocketeers” into The Next Best Thing? Or an officially sanctioned cludge of a cludge! The real question is: “Do the Committee want to be in the black hat camp or the ones on the white horse riding out to the stars…?”

I think its time to think boldly!

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