Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Space

NASA Eyes Shuttle Replacements 353

Posted by chrisd
from the big-rubber-bands-are-not-under-consideration dept.
jonerik writes "According to this article at Space.com, NASA yesterday released a status report on the first year of NASA's Space Launch Initiative; the search for a space shuttle replacement, currently planned to begin operating ten years from now. The competing contractors - Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and a team consisting of Northrop Grumman and Orbital Sciences Corp. - have their work cut out for them. NASA is looking for both a ten-fold improvement in per-pound launch costs (from $10,000 per pound to $1,000) and massive improvements in crew survivability."
In related news, Rubyflame writes: "Aviation Now has a story about four new kerosene-fueled rocket engines being developed by Aerojet, Pratt & Whitney, Rocketdyne, and TRW. These are engines that will produce a million pounds of thrust, intended to outdo Russian designs in reliability and launch cost, and one of them may power a new reusable launch vehicle. Kerosene has the advantage that it's denser than hydrogen, so the fuel tanks can be smaller."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

NASA Eyes Shuttle Replacements

Comments Filter:
  • Haiku (Score:4, Funny)

    by MrHat (102062) on Wednesday May 01, 2002 @10:49PM (#3448011)
    Nasa space shuttle
    Takes off like a pile of bricks
    Lighter craft required
  • This is just another money-grubbing scheme, same as the X-33, same as countless others before it. The last thing they want is to really lower the cost of space launch and let the riff-raff in.

    They just want gobs of money to spend on technology development programs (read "new toys"). The ultimate goal of upper NASA management these days is to reach retirement without having any disasters (like Apollo 1 or Challenger) on their watch -- the easiest way to avoid that is to launch things as infrequently as possible.

    (Note, there are probably a few naive engineers and rocket scientists still at NASA who believe the PR and have honorable intentions. But they're not the decision makers.)
    • Note, there are probably a few naive engineers and rocket scientists.

      Funny, I always thought the terms "naive" and "rocket scientists" were antithetical.

    • They just want gobs of money to spend on technology development programs (read "new toys").

      American tax dollars are working to make these "new toys". The primary justification for NASA's funding is that the technologies that come out of these "technology development programs" push the cutting edge of modern tech.

      It's been a long time since Congress has thought about the values of "exploring space". That's just an side-effect of research spending.

      It's like those robot-construction competitions where they have to get all the balls into the goal. The contest isn't to designed to solve the great "yellow ball problem", it's to build and explore ideas in technology.

      Congress views funding NASA the same way; by funding NASA they're advancing America's technical know-how. Not to mention that NASA contracts go to high-tech american industries.

      There's not some sort of conspiracy to keep regular people out of space here. NASA's just doing its job.

      Sweat
      • If congress really wanted to advance american know how they would put the money into universities, that would make all their discoveries and developments available to the public.

        Currently the money goes to a couple of aerospace companies that keep all of their important developments in secret.

        And all those advances in know how are so esoteric they are quite useless for most Americans.

        The primary justafication for NASA's funding is to feed powerufl contractors. Luckily we can get some important science done as a byproduct of that.

      • technologies that come out of these "technology development programs" push the cutting edge of modern tech.

        That may have been true in the Apollo era, and even for a little while after, but it hasn't been the case for years -- at least, not in the launch vehicle category. (I agree that some of the Centers do useful research, but that's a small fraction NASA's budget compared to what gets eaten by Houston, the Cape, etc.)

        If you want "spin off technologies", you get a much better pay off by focusing on those, not on wasting the money pretending you're spending it on innovative launch vehicle design. (The X-33 project is a classic example, with that thoroughly stupid oddly shaped composite propellant tank that couldn't stand up to internal pressures (because of the odd shape) without reinforcing it so much that it was heavier than a metal tank would have been. Among other design stupidities, like VTOHL, which means you have to design for perpendicular load paths, and have no safe abort mode immediately after launch.)

        As for "not some sort of conspiracy to keep regular people out of space" -- they tried pretty damn hard to keep Tito out of the International Space Station when he bought a ride on a Russian vehicle.

    • With the ammount of money poured into NASA (especially the shuttle program) you'd think that the US would have found a cheap way to put things into space.

      Instead the Russians still do things cheaper (and so far quite reliably) with their Energia rockets.

      It is really hard to believe that those contractors are actually trying to make things cheaper.
      • Instead the Russians still do things cheaper (and so far quite reliably) with their Energia rockets.

        Most of launches in last 10 years are Soyuz and Proton. These are relatively cheap rockets.

        Energiya flew only couple of times, taking Buran into orbit in one of those flights. But it became obvious that Buran would be a financial black hole (exactly as Shuttle is), and the Buran program was stopped (with no ill effects, as we see today). Energiya rocket was mostly developed to launch Buran, and therefore it got shelved too.

    • What about the XB54? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by rdelsambuco (552369)
      This may be a bait and switch, but I have to say that it looks promising. I worked on the NASA/Boeing XB54 back in the day, and we had similar ciriticisms. But really; we had a delivery vehicle that took of f and landed on convential runways, delivered c argo at $75/lb (back in the day) and ran on clean burning methanol hybrids. Too bad it never was funded fully

      Give NASA a chance!

      • rdelsambuco, tell me if i'm wrong, but I think NASA won't be getting SCRAMJETs anytime soon.

        There is some research right now on using plasma to reduce drag on aircraft. Evidently the Russians are using it for their next generation of MIG's (they are using it mostly for stealth, since the plasma absorbs radar).

        Anyway, they've done windtunnel tests with welder's torches, and they have found that it reduces drag by up to 30%.

        Ramjets can only get up to about mach 5. What if you attached one of these plasma generators onto a ramjet? It might be able to get to Mach 7.

        It seems like with such a setup you could use the ramjet to get up to Mach 7, and then use a kerosene rocket to get to orbital velocity.

        I figured with a kerosene/LOX fueled rocket motor at 350 seconds, you should be able to reach orbital velocity with about an 8/1 fuel to payload ratio.
      • Give NASA a chance!

        They've had their fucking chance. More than once. Space launch costs more now than it did in the sixties -- completely counter to all other technology trends.

        Give somebody else a chance.
  • about time (Score:3, Insightful)

    by EricBoyd (532608) <mrericboyd&yahoo,com> on Wednesday May 01, 2002 @10:53PM (#3448029) Homepage
    I sure hope NASA sticks to their guns this time. Shuttle technology is like 30 years old now, and it's seriously *embarassing* because of that. I mean, the gains that they are expecting are reasonable - which shows you how out of date the Shuttle is.

    Websurfing done right! StumbleUpon [stumbleupon.com]
    • Re:about time (Score:2, Informative)

      by Jubedgy (319420)
      Well, I wouldn't call it embarassing since:

      There's been only one major accident (challenger) in those 30 years

      No one else has a reusable launch vehicle (that I know of...I don't think russia does, pretty sure no one else does either

      --Jubedgy

      • .I don't think russia does, pretty sure no one else does either

        Russia used to have a shuttle called the Buran or some such. Buran means Snow Storm, IIRC. I doubt if they fly it anymore, some enterprising Russian Engineer probably carved it up and traded the scrap metal for vodka.

        One feature it was supposed to have that the US shuttle doesn't is some power on landing, allowing a wider margin of safety in landings.

        I'm sure somebody has more info, or check google for "buran shuttle"

        • The Russian Buran program was based on what the Russians thought the US space shuttle was. They were unable to duplicate the effort and Buran was never practically employed.

          It now sits as an amusement park exhibit that you can walk through, and as for it "not flying anymore"...well, it never really flew in the first place in a practical sense.

          I don't know why people constantly bring up Buran. There is no comparison between this pseudo-prototype craft that was never practically used, and the shuttle, which has over two decades of nearly perfect mission records.

          • by scotch (102596) on Wednesday May 01, 2002 @11:53PM (#3448229) Homepage
            I don't know why people constantly bring up Buran.

            Because we like to torment you. It obviously bothers you.

            I also heard that France was working on a shuttle. Portugal has been flying their shuttle for years, though it's not widely publicized. Mexico scrapped their shuttle project in favor of their rail-gun / light-sail combination system with which they've manage to supply migrant workers for the asparagus farming on Venus.

          • This is a misnomer. The russian shuttle program actually partially built several shuttles, Buran is the name of the first of them.

            One shuttle was completed, but never actively used - it performed an unmanned orbit and return, admirably.

            There is a flight test prototype currently on display in Sydney I believe (that's where it was when I last looked anyway), but was never space capable.

            There is at one other almost complete space capable shuttle in storage (named Ptichka (Little Bird)) along with the one that orbited - Buran. Three more (unnamed) were under construction when the program finished.

            They were obviously externally designed in the same way as the american shuttles with one major difference. They don't have engines. Instead to launch they are strapped to the back of one VERY powerful rocket system - an Engergia.

            Anyway, this site [k26.com] is the best place for all your Buran needs.

          • I don't know why people constantly bring up Buran.

            Because the Buran program is interesting? Yes, Buran does come up ever six months or so here. I learned quite a few things during those discussions.

            I didn't know that the Burans had considerably larger payloads than the American shuttles. I didn't know that the Buran crew had ejection seats.

            I hadn't really realized that the main reason the Buran program was stalled was that the Soviet Union totally ran out of rubles.

            Here are some of those previous slashdot threads.

            Russia Revives Buran Space Shuttle [slashdot.org]

            Own Your Own Russian Space Shuttle [slashdot.org]

      • Russia has the Buran. It looks like the american shuttle but it is larger and carries more cargo.

        I think it has only flown once. After that they parked it on a runway and it has been there ever since AFAIK. I think one of the fuselage models used for testing is a tourist attraction in moscow.

        The Russians dont use it because it is much cheaper to use their rockets.

      • Reusability is an absolute crock of shit. Just because it happens that the air (space?) frame is the same, doesn't make it cheaper to operate. The Shuttle is practically disassembled and reassembled each time it's launched. Cost per pound of payload for the Shuttle is large relative to other alternatives, like the boring ol' rockets.

        You're right about the safety record...it's enviably good. But just because the rocket is reusable doesn't mean it's cheap.
        • You seem to be forgetting. The shuttle isn't expensive on a per pound basis because it's reusable. It's expensive on a per pound basis because it needs to guarantee a certain level of SAFTEY. It needs to do that because it's manned.

          You don't need these guarantees with unmanned payloads. Mostly because it's not economic.

          Let's say you have a $50 Million Satellite you want to launch.

          If you can build a disposable rocket with a 99.999% chance of success per launch, but it will cost you a cool $2 Billion per launch, why would you do that if you can build a rocket with a low 95% chance of success per launch for say, $200 Million?

          Even if you loose the rocket and the payload on the pad, you're still ahead money-wise of the 99.999% launch vehicle buy building and launching the dangerous rocket *seven times*!

          On the other hand, though, would you willingly get into a craft that you knew had a projected 1 in 20 failure rate?

          *THAT* is why the shuttle is so expensive. The closer to 100% safe you get, it's an exponential curve in cost. The current effort to create a second generation reusable craft won't eliminate the curve, but it will (hopefully) lower it because of the lower costs of newer technologies.

          As for reusability being a crock, that's not really true either. Although the shuttle is horrifically expensive (and I hope I just illustrated why) a disposable craft with similar capabilities would be even more costly. Not only that, but how do you create a craft that can retrieve satellites from orbit to the earth without replicating something like the shuttle? Once you've got something large enough to do that coming back to the earth as the crew return vehicle, it becomes more economical to refit that and relaunch it than it does to throw it away.
          • If you didn't have to practically rebuild the whole fucking Shuttle after every flight, you could get reliability the same way you do with aeroplanes. I.e., if it worked on the last flight, it'll probably work on the next (otherwise known as "if it ain't broke, don't fix it").

            Problem is that Shuttle is practically designed to break on every flight. (SRBs, ET, etc). Then the whole thing is decertified for flight as soon as it lands.

            Air travel would be expensive too if the plane had to be reinspected for a new Certificate of Airworthiness between every flight, let a lone doing a full overhaul on the engines.
    • Shuttle technology is like 30 years old now, and it's seriously *embarassing* because of that.

      What seems more embarassing to me is that the Russians have a much more appropriate and cost effective system to launch humans into space -- and it uses 45 year old technology.

    • I hear these gripes all of the time...but who is the US in a race with? The Russians can barely afford to pay for anything on the ground let alone in space. The Chinese are at least fifteen years off of anything serious in the way of manned spaceflight. The Euros? The Japanese?

      So please tell me why the shuttles are an embarassment. As far as I can see they're still the only space craft that lands on wheels.

      • So please tell me why the shuttles are an embarassment. As far as I can see they're _still_ the only space craft that lands on wheels.

        Well, that's one reason right there. What the heck is the point of wheels on a spaceship? It doesn't take off using those wheels, or the wings either for that matter. Total dead weight, useful only for landing -- and then only after you've got high enough and light enough that the wings will lift and the gear won't collapse.

        Fscking stupid way to design a vehicle. Hell, how many helicopters have wheels? (not counting the tiny ones to make it easy to drag the thing around on the tarmac).
  • Crew survivability? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Cutriss (262920)
    "...and massive improvements in crew survivability."

    No, I didn't read the article, but, assuming this poster is reasonably accurate with his description text, why is this necessary? Aside from Challenger, have we had any significant (or even insignificant?) problems with shuttle crews surviving the trip?
    • by Chairboy (88841) on Wednesday May 01, 2002 @11:17PM (#3448107) Homepage
      Aside from Challenger?

      Please note that during the first 2.5 minutes of every shuttle launch, there are NO abort modes that are survivable. If there are any problems with the SRBs, they cannot be turned off. If there are any catastrophic problems with the ET, it doesn't matter, you must continue your launch profile until the SRBs have stopped.

      Three engine shutdown during SRB burn? Shuttle disintegration.

      ET rupture? Shuttle disintegration.

      Pretty much anything, dead astronauts.

      The russians use 40 year old technology, but at least they have survivable aborts throughout the entire flight profile.
      • by Bios_Hakr (68586)
        You also forgot to mention the fact that before every launch, an explosive demolition team arms a large satchel of c4 in the nose of the SRBs. Gee, I'd hate to be the one to press that big red button when the shuttle deviates from its flight plan.
    • by Llywelyn (531070)
      The trick is anticipating problems before they occur. As another posted out, there is nothing that allows for an abort in the launch sequence and there are a long list of things that--should any of them go wrong--repair and getting the shuttle back to Earth with a living crew is going to be *nontrivial*.

      The probability of any of them going wrong is actually fairly low (as our record as indicated with 10 deaths, and only 7 in the shuttle) and our ability to recoup is actually pretty good, but I think NASA wants a system in which *if* something does go wrong, they won't loose an astronaut.

    • "...and massive improvements in crew survivability."

      why is this necessary?

      The Soviet Buran, which was not a knockoff of the American Shuttles, had ejection seats for a certain number of crew members. Were the lives of Soviet Cosmonauts more valuable than those of American Astronauts?

  • by flowerp (512865) on Wednesday May 01, 2002 @10:58PM (#3448043)

    A German concept, AFAIK. Way more reusable than anything NASA has come up with ... 8-)

    The days of vertical launches are over.

  • Multi-stage Launch (Score:5, Informative)

    by jchawk (127686) on Wednesday May 01, 2002 @11:00PM (#3448049) Homepage Journal
    This article is light on details but does mention that all of these systems that they are working on are two-staged.

    At first you may think that two-staged launches are a waste of money, but some of it does at least look promising.

    The design from Boeing is an interesting one. It looks like a smaller shuttle attached to a jumbo jet. It's then flown near the limits of space where the top ship would then come apart and finish it's journey into space on it's own.

    The jumbo jet would then return to the launch site.

    I must admit that I would love to see a 1 stage space craft. :-)
    • by Ars-Fartsica (166957) on Wednesday May 01, 2002 @11:51PM (#3448224)
      From what I could see from the photos [slinews.com], tthe Boeing stages appear to be identical (?), which would be a huge cost-savings in terms of parts reuse, interchangeability, etc.

      Its true though that all of the designs share some characteristics...one stage to get you off the gorund, one to get you into orbit. Obviously this isn't by accident...the physics of the problem and materials/fuel presently available must dictate this design.

    • by prisoner-of-enigma (535770) on Thursday May 02, 2002 @12:24AM (#3448322) Homepage
      Unfortunately given our current level of rocket propulsion technology a single-stage-to-orbit (SSTO) isn't terribly practical. They made some prototypes and actually flew a scaled down prototype in the desert, but ultimately they had tremendous problems with the extremely high performance rocket engine they had to use, couple with the experimental composite cryogenic fuel tanks.

      I honestly don't think we'll ever get SSTO going with conventional chemical propellants. You simple have to carry too much weight in fuel, which means you need a bigger rocket, which means more fuel, then a bigger rocket...you get the idea. What we need is a way to extract more energy from whatever fuel we use. One way to do that is to go nuclear.

      Nuclear rockets have been proposed in the past and always shot down by the enviro-Nazi, anti-nuke crowd. Seems you can't split an atom these days without attracting a lot of attention from this fringe crowd that cringes at the very word "neutron". Yes, nuclear technology CAN be dangerous. So can a lot of other things. NASA has an enviably safety record given the hazardous work they do, and I have no doubt that if the nuclear engine project were ever to become reality it would be a paragon of safety.

      Of course, there could always be something flying out of left field here like some sort of teleportation technology or anti-gravity, but I doubt it in my lifetime.

      And if we ever get REALLY serious about getting off this planet, the ONLY way to fly would be a space elevator. A monumental engineering task to be sure, but once in place it'd be the cheapest ride into low Earth orbit that we could come up with.
      • by rgmoore (133276) <glandauer@charter.net> on Thursday May 02, 2002 @12:56AM (#3448418) Homepage
        Nuclear rockets have been proposed in the past and always shot down by the enviro-Nazi, anti-nuke crowd.

        You do realize that opposition to nuclear propulsion comes from rational concerns about its safety as well as irrational hatred of everything nuclear, don't you? I don't have particular problems with nuclear energy in general, but I have serious reservations about any flying nuclear system. A nuclear powered spacecraft is not like the radiothermal generators that have been used in spacecraft so far. It would require a large amount of quite hot material, so any accident could spread a lot of radiactive contamination over a very wide area. I'd want to be damn sure that there were adequate safeguards against that before signing off on such a thing.

      • Nuclear rockets have been proposed in the past and always shot down by the enviro-Nazi, anti-nuke crowd.

        Launch fail rates are at what now? 1 in 20? 1 in 30? Contamination isn't just a knee-jerk reaction its a real statistical risk with the liability outweighing the benefits.

        What's wrong with multiple stages anyways? If the next shuttle is going to ride on the wing of a high altitude plane and lauched like a missile then so be it. Aesthetics can wait.
      • by WolfWithoutAClause (162946) on Thursday May 02, 2002 @08:07AM (#3449595) Homepage
        > Unfortunately given our current level of rocket
        > propulsion technology a single-stage-to-orbit
        > (SSTO) isn't terribly practical. They made some
        > prototypes and actually flew a scaled down
        > prototype in the desert, but ultimately they had
        >tremendous problems with the extremely high
        >performance rocket engine they had to use, couple
        >with the experimental composite cryogenic fuel
        >tanks.

        No. This isn't the case; I was talking to some engineers that worked on the Roton just last weekend. They indicated that they knew of no problem that would have precluded the design from working. The composite cryogenic fuel tank THEY used (as opposed to the X33 debacle) - it worked fine in all testing; including something like 50 pressure cycles IRC.

        >I honestly don't think we'll ever get SSTO going
        >with conventional chemical propellants. You simple
        >have to carry too much weight in fuel, which means
        >you need a bigger rocket, which means more fuel,
        >then a bigger rocket...you get the idea.

        No, the simulations converge- SSTO is definitely possible. I've seen atleast 2 hard and fast designs for SSTO vehicles- the Roton and Mockingbird. The Roton would have carried 3 tonnes to LEO; the Mockingbird design didn't have a payload of any note, but was really tiny (1.5 tonnes), and cheap. I've studied both concepts extensively; they both appear workable.

        The biggest argument against SSTO is that it may be more expensive. TSTO may be cheaper. Still, the argument isn't totally watertight. There's a lot of ground processing for TSTO that SSTO doesn't require and that's going to cost something. Although SSTO designs use more fuel- fuel is cheapest bit of the whole rocket by far.

        >What we need is a way to extract more energy from
        >whatever fuel we use.

        Another thing I saw on the weekend- I was at a presentation by a guy talking about a laser powered launch system. The idea is you take a large bank of lasers and point it at a hydrogen powered launch vehicle, which has a heat exchanger it uses to heat the hydrogen. The ISP is about 600 seconds, which is plenty for reaching orbit. The laser bank was priced at about $1 billion but its dropping at about 30% a year currently- only cheap semiconductor lasers are needed, and they're getting cheaper and cheaper.
        • >performance rocket engine they had to use, couple
          >with the experimental composite cryogenic fuel
          >tanks.

          No. This isn't the case; I was talking to some engineers that worked on the Roton just last weekend. They indicated that they knew of no problem that would have precluded the design from working. The composite cryogenic fuel tank THEY used (as opposed to the X33 debacle) - it worked fine in all testing; including something like 50 pressure cycles IRC.


          It's good to hear that someone's worked on the problem a bit. Still, I'm sure it's quite expensive.


          >you need a bigger rocket, which means more fuel,
          >then a bigger rocket...you get the idea.

          No, the simulations converge- SSTO is definitely possible. I've seen atleast 2 hard and fast designs for SSTO vehicles- the Roton and Mockingbird. The Roton would have carried 3 tonnes to LEO; the Mockingbird design didn't have a payload of any note, but was really tiny (1.5 tonnes), and cheap. I've studied both concepts extensively; they both appear workable.


          I will point out that the payload capacity you're speaking of is about a tenth of what one Saturn V can hurl into LEO. It's like comparing an old big-block V8 with a 4 barrel carb versus a high-winding multicam, turbocharged, intercooled 4 cylinder engine. Both will make gobs of horsepower, but the latter is going to be much more expensive than the former AND generally more prone to failure. The Shuttle main engines are a case in point with their trouble-prone turbopumps. The J5 engines on the Saturn only had to work once, thus were much cheaper AND more reliable.


          >What we need is a way to extract more energy from
          >whatever fuel we use.

          Another thing I saw on the weekend- I was at a presentation by a guy talking about a laser powered launch system. The idea is you take a large bank of lasers and point it at a hydrogen powered launch vehicle, which has a heat exchanger it uses to heat the hydrogen. The ISP is about 600 seconds, which is plenty for reaching orbit. The laser bank was priced at about $1 billion but its dropping at about 30% a year currently- only cheap semiconductor lasers are needed, and they're getting cheaper and cheaper.


          I've seen this concept demonstrated with computer simulations, but I'm still skeptical of it. Ground based lasers will always be subject to thermal blooming due to atmospheric attenuation. By the time you're 50 miles up, that's got to be a tremendous power loss, meaning you'd have to have incredibly powerful lasers chewing up gobs of power. You'd need a nuclear power plant on site just to power the darn thing most likely.
  • by Sir Elton John (577301) <e_john@musician.org> on Wednesday May 01, 2002 @11:01PM (#3448052) Homepage
    The companies listed as possible contractors for the new project aren't incredibly surprising. When I met with Lockheed Martin executives a while back as part of a consulting gig that didn't pan out, I asked them a few questions about the industry.

    Now, I am coming from a background where I am not incredibly familiar with either U.S. capitalism or with issues of defense. Basically, there are a handful of these companies that compete for every government contract. To maintain "competition," the government will try to spread the love around, going with different companies for succesive contracts.

    But each individual contract is too big for a single company to fulfill on its own, so whomever ends up winning the contract will turn around and outsource some of the work to...the same "competitors" whose bids they beat out!

    As a retired rocketman, I am the first to support expansion and improvement of any nation's space program. I just wanted to point out that the notion of "who will build the next generation shuttle" should be taken with a grain of salt.

  • It's about time (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Shouldn't they have been looking into this years ago? The fact that the shuttle is massively expensive compared to rockets isn't very new.

    I find it kinda ironic how they're doing this only a year or two after canceling practically every alternative-launch-system project NASA had (X-33, X-34, and a few others that I can't remember). I'd think it would be cheaper to just finish a few programs at once rather than stop and restart them constantly, as NASA seems to be doing lately.
    • I'm a big fan of the X-33 (I have a model on my desk at work and it's my Winamp skin) and I thought GWB was more or less responsible for the cancellation of the X-33, not NASA. Either way, it's a damn shame.
  • by SkyLeach (188871) on Wednesday May 01, 2002 @11:04PM (#3448058) Homepage
    "Rockhound: You know we're sitting on four million pounds of fuel, one nuclear weapon and a thing that has 270,000 moving parts built by the lowest bidder. Makes you feel good, doesn't it?"

    hehe...

    Fore more quotes from that movie go here [atlyrics.com]
  • by Caractacus Potts (74726) on Wednesday May 01, 2002 @11:09PM (#3448075)

    With everything that's been going on lately, you might have missed this important piece of 'news'.
    Anyway, here's the link [bobfromaccounting.com].
  • Why not just wait until all those brave entrants in the X-Prize [xprize.com] contest have had a go.

    Who knows, mybe that crazy Englishman [bbc.co.uk] with his "Thunderbird" rocket made from plywood will astound us all.

    Or not.
  • by Cerrian (545606)
    "Furthermore, a second-generation reusable launch system is being sought that lowers the cost-per-pound to orbit from $10,000 to just $1,000 a pound. The second-generation launcher would be capable of lofting crew and cargo separately" Finally!! I was wondering how much longer NASA/Aerospace industry planned on trying to keep crew and cargo on the same payload. Yes, it's not as efficient, but it's more economic and it's the economics that's the space industry's main obstacale. It never made sense to me as to why you would launch a billion dollar payload on a risky rocket transporation system and then on top, make a crew part of the payload. As if there wasn't enough risk and cost to the whole operation.
  • Need For Shuttle? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ONOIML8 (23262) on Wednesday May 01, 2002 @11:21PM (#3448127) Homepage
    Not that I'm an expert by any means but...

    I would hope that they start by questioning the need for a shuttle to begin with. Manned orbital flight is pretty well handled with the ISS and the Russians have a cheaper, time proven method of transport to/from ISS that is pretty hard to beat.

    As far as repair of orbitals, has that proven to be worth the expense? Maybe it is, especially if they use such a vehicle to do trash collection. Again, I'm no expert but I hope those who are will be considering these things.

    It would seem to me that some of the would be costs of new shuttles would be better spent on upgrading the design of Soyez/Progress and making them even more efficient. The rest of the money could be better spent on other projects including unmanned deep space research or manned missions to other planets (assuming those make sense).

    • Manned orbital flight is pretty well handled with the ISS and the Russians have a cheaper, time proven method of transport to/from ISS that is pretty hard to beat.

      First off, how is the ISS a solution to manned orbital flight??? Secondly, giving up manned spaceflight to the Russians is idiotic on many levels.

      They aren't dependable.

      They don't have the funding to pursue future programs.

      They have nuclear weapons pointed at us.

  • Cost growth (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Animats (122034) on Wednesday May 01, 2002 @11:23PM (#3448138) Homepage
    The current Shuttle was supposed to reduce the cost per pound to orbit to around $1000. It came in around 10x that price, partly because the Shuttles need a lot more refurbishing per launch than originally anticipated, and can't be used as many times as planned.

    The Saturn V was cheaper than the Shuttle in cost per pound to orbit. Which is embarassing.

    • Very true, but NASA dumped the Saturn V for political, not technical, reasons. A shuttle meant new aerospace contracts, more congressional pork-barrel spending, and something sexy and new -- a "shuttle" to space. $1000/lb was considered an UPPER limit when the shuttle was being initially planned. They actually said it'd be even lower than that. Put that one down next to "electricity too cheap to meter" and "inexhaustible fuel from seawater" as stuff we were promised that didn't come to be.

      The sad truth is that the Saturn V was probably the most effective and efficient heavy lift vehicle this planet has ever seen. The Russian Energia system is damn close but I haven't had a chance to really compare the two on the fine details of cost and payload. Suffice to say, though, that if we'd spent the last 20 years upgrading and perfecting the S-V design, it would undoubtedly be the pre-eminent heavy lift vehicle in the history of manned spaceflight. The space station would've been DONE by now and we'd be starting on a lunar colony. And it would've been done BETTER, FASTER, and CHEAPER than anything NASA is fielding right now.

      Discover magazine had a huge expose on this whole subject about 10-15 years ago where they showed how NASA had systematically rejected "Big Dumb Booster" (BDB) ideas, not because they were technically or economically unfeasible but because they weren't sexy, or didn't provide some congress-critter's home district with enough jobs, or other nonsense. And the original shuttle idea had some HUGE differences from the final product, like air-breathing engines for power landing, no solid rocket boosters, etc. etc.

      We need to scrap the shuttle and scrap all manned missions that do not actually involve setting up humans PERMANENTLY somewhere else in the solar system. The space station should be scrapped in favor of a permanent lunar colony -- after all, why cart all that aluminum, silicates and titanium up to orbit when there's billions of tons of it already on the moon? Low lunar gravity is an EXCELLENT place to stage interplanetary missions to Mars and the asteroid belt.
      • You can't do zero-g research on the Moon. For that reason, and that reason alone, a space station is worth having.

        As to the possibility of launching interplanetary missions from the Moon, as I understand the orbital mechanics that only works if you actually construct your spacecraft out of lunar materials, requiring a *very large* industrial infrastructure on the moon. If you build your spacecraft on Earth, the fuel you'd use stopping your craft on the Moon for refuelling (no aerobraking on the Moon, unlike Mars, remember) is greater than the fuel you'd use going to Mars in the first place.

      • NASA dumped the Saturn V for political, not technical, reasons

        Of course they did. Many here seem to forget that NASA is, at its core, a government bureaucracy, and the fundamental imperative of any bureaucracy is to perpetuate itself. Mind, NASA has been particularly good at PR, painting itself as high tech innovators. (To a degree they are, but look at the results compared to their budget.)

        But there's no reason to believe that NASA is going to be any more efficient at its stated mission than any other goverment bureaucracy. (INS anyone?)
  • Considering what all the artist's renditions of what the ISS is supposed to look like in about 10 years from now, there shouldn't be a problem with building space vehicles up there (other than getting the materials to build them, but that's for the logistics monkeys to figure out). Ones that don't have to worry about reentry. Such a vessel would undoubtedly be useful for manned missions outside the earth's current sphere of influence (currently earth orbit and the moon), for example going to Mars or even to our Trojans.

    My only concern is using such a vessel for travelling to other planets, we'll need something like the shuttlecraft from countless sci-fi series and movies to move from orbit, to surface, and back.

    Of course, build the ship large enough (perhaps a standing crew of 50 - 100) and with a large cargo space, and part of the problem may be solvable about setting up colonies offworld. The cargo space can house a dropship that can deploy into a base. Just a notion I've been toying with in my (still unpublished) stories.
  • Whatever happenned to the Roton [rotaryrocket.com]???
  • CNN's bit (Score:2, Interesting)

    by sehryan (412731)
    There was an article [cnn.com] at CNN.com about this, and something interested me from that article. Speaking of the common specs each design must have:

    "They must be developed and operated by private industry."

    Now maybe I am misinterpreting what "operated" means, but that sounds like NASA is planning for someone else to run these bad boys. Could this the first step towords commercialization?
  • First off, I thought the main advantage to using kerosene is that you don't need a cryogenic gas tank.

    Anyway, didn't Bush start talking about pushing nuclear propulsion in space (maybe ala NERVA)? Does anybody think there's a snowball's chance in hell of one of the competitors for SLI to team up with General Atomics or Electric Boat or anybody else with experience in portable nuclear power plants? After all, a rocket that simply can't explode has got to do wonders for crew survivability, not to mention the weight savings of not having to carry around LOX.

    Yeah, and while I'm dreaming we can use those rockets to send manned missions beyond Mars...
    • The shielding needed to protect the crew (and everyone around the thing) is far too heavy.

      I recall reading about back in the 50s someone built a nuclear powered cruise missile. The thing would kill anything it flew over as it was entirely unshielded to save weight...

      • I recall reading about back in the 50s someone built a nuclear powered cruise missile. The thing would kill anything it flew over as it was entirely unshielded to save weight...

        Hey that would work along the same lines as the shuttle, ie a reusable vehicle. All you would need to do is send it off fly over a few terrorist training camps then back to base. Then you can refueld it and be ready to send it off on other missions. Of course you would have a rather high turnover of base personall, but think of the material savings!
    • I thought the main advantage to using kerosene is that you don't need a cryogenic gas tank.

      If you want to efficiently burn kerosene (or mostly anything, to that matter) you need liquid oxygen. That's where a cryogenic gas tank might be of use.

  • Why not get rid of NASA and encourage private companies to take over? What has NASA accomplished in the past two decades that really justify its budget? I know it's a bit idealistic right now to hope that we could get the government to cut back on its spending, pay off the national debt and create a sustained tax cut, but that's IMO the only way to spur innovation here.

    Let's face it, if there were very few to no regulatory hurdles to creating private space travel, colonies, etc coupled with low enough taxes for the venture capital to be there, we could accomplish NASA's "goals" in about half the time. Telling corporate America, "you see that big, beautiful, mineral-rich asteroid worth 2 trillion USD? Well if you can get to it, you can mine it for free!" would spur space R&D faster than NASA ever could.

    No generation of Americans has ever had simultaneously the kind of economy we have and the scientific know-how. The only thing keeping us back is the government. The national debt's interest alone consumes 13% of the budget! If we got rid of it, filed the charters of 70% of the federal agencies in file 13, booted the majority of people off social security and medicare (keep only those that even if they stuck only to survival, could not pay for medical care) and cut the taxes to something minimal who knows what we could accomplish. There would be so much money availible for private research grants that it would be mind boggling.
  • Freud would be proud.
  • by NewtonsLaw (409638) on Thursday May 02, 2002 @12:09AM (#3448286)
    The most expensive stage of any orbital or even suborbital launch is the first 30 miles or so.

    At these low altitudes, air resistance is a major factor and, due to the heavy fuel-load still onboard, a great deal of power is required.

    Conventional rocket motors suffer from the need to carry their own oxidizer (O2) but if the first stage of flight used air-breathing engines then far less of this heavy fuel element would be required. The result would be a lighter "wet" vehicle that required less power to fly.

    This is why NASA and other researchers are spending such huge amounts of money on things such as the SCRAMJET and Pulse Detonation Engines [aardvark.co.nz].

    Unfortunately it appears that there's still a big gap between laboratory and launchpad as far as these new engine designs are concerned.

    Liquid-fueled rocket engines will always be risky and fuel-hungry. The magnitude of improvement in safety and price-performance being sought will probably have to wait until they're perfected.
    • No.

      Airbreathing engines do you no good anywhere but during the first few minutes of takeoff; after that, they are extra mass you have to push around. Also, a design with both airbreathing engines and rockets is more complicated than a design with just rockets.

      Liquid oxygen is cheap. It takes up little room onboard. Carrying a bit extra is no big deal.

      You want a design that will work every time. A multiple-engine rocket, with enough engines that you can handle one or two engines failing, is what we need.

      Note that in a two-stage design, it might make sense for the first stage to be air-breathing.

      And that is all I know about air-breathing engines on spacecraft. I gleaned this by reading sci.space.* newsgroups on USENET.

      steveha
  • by cprice (143407) on Thursday May 02, 2002 @12:41AM (#3448375)
    I wonder what has become of Lockheed Martin's "Linear Aerospike" engine technology. When X-33 went down the tubes, LA engine tests continued. The results looked somewhat promising.
    • > I wonder what has become of Lockheed Martin's "Linear Aerospike" engine technology. When X-33 went down the tubes, LA engine tests continued. The results looked somewhat promising.

      Excellent question. Take a close look at Lockheed Martin's proposal [spaceflightnow.com]. See anything you recognise? :-)

  • Every time a NASA is mentioned 'round here - sombody always mentions how screwed up the shuttle is. How it's expensive, and comlicated, and it sucks. I can see their point - if our goal was to launch a bunch of crap into space. But our goal isen't that - it's to learn things. In this endevour (pun intended) the Shuttle has been wonderfull. When we get to colonising the moon, we'll resurect the Saturn 5 - but for advancing the state of the art, the shuttle has been worth it.

    As an aside, I'll bet you that the the SR-71 'Blackbird' replacement, the Auroura, was made possible by things learned by making the Shuttle - like the tiles. But as we don't know much about the Auroura, so I'm just pulling crap out of my butt.

    Anyways, comerial rocketry is great for launching stupid XM radio satelites - the shuttle is great for learning and doing wacky things like fixing Hubble.

    • No way could you use Shuttle-like ceramic tiles on a high performance military aircraft. Those tiles can't even withstand raindrop impacts on ferry flights. Buran could, but not the Shuttle.

      There's been talk of reviving Buran, which would be good. It's a more modern design than the Shuttle.

    • Firstly, no, the shuttle's primary mission is to launch stuff into space. If all we wanted to do was "learn stuff," we could do it far more economically using subscale unmanned test vehicles.

      Secondly, the shuttle was originally supposed to save money vs. the Saturn V. It doesn't. It is at minimum an order of magnitude more expensive to run than the staged rockets it replaced. Just how expensive is not clear: it depends how much of the cost of its infrastructure you include in the cost of a launch. But the absolute minimum I've seen quoted is 300 million a launch, and that does not include infrastructure at all. Compare it to a cost of 20 million for a commercial flight of a Soviet space capsule, which includes both payments on infrastructure and a profit margin. And, because the shuttle was designed at the command of politicians and beaurocrats, the infrastructure is spread all over the country, to spread out the pork and give work to each of the beaurocrats' petty little domains. Why, for instance, didn't we just build the shuttle factory adjacent to the launch site, and cut out the cost of transporting it across the country? Why weren't the landing fields adjacent to the launch site from day one? Why use expensive and dangerous booster rockets? Why build the booster rockets using completely different technology than the main engines? Because it was a beaurocratic clusterfuck, that's why.

      The shuttle was supposed to be reusable, so that it could be turned around quickly and relaunched. Instead, it takes months to refit a shuttle.

      The shuttle was supposed to be safer than the systems it replaced. Obviously, Challenger blew up, the Saturn V's did not (the crew of Apollo 1 died in a ground test of the capsule, not the rocket). But also, one has to look at the underlying problem of operational complexity: the shuttle is just too damn complicated. It is a credit to the people involved that it has flown as safely as it has.

      There were supposed to be many shuttles, flying every few weeks, which would have made each launch less expensive by spreading out the infrastructure costs more. Instead, there are a handful of shuttles, flying about once a year. They're too expensive to build, and take too much time to refit.

      I'm not even going to talk about it landing at airports.

      Lastly, when you look at Shuttle, you have to point out that at the time we stopped production of the Saturn V, we HAD THE SATURN V ALREADY. The space shuttle cost billions to develop, on top of what we had already spent to develop the Saturn V. Worse, it set the space program back at least 20 years. Hell, we still don't have a replacemnt for the Saturn V.

      Jon Acheson
  • by Y-Crate (540566) on Thursday May 02, 2002 @01:47AM (#3448613)
    Commercialization of space could make NASA's life easier. Now, they loathe the idea of having to compete, it would show just how much mismanagement there really is at the organization.

    However.......one of the single biggest problems with the Space Shuttle is also one that could be solved in the future by creating a market for them - with space tourism or somesuch.

    When you decide to build something like the Shuttle or the Concorde and then you find yourself with one or two users and no need for any more beyond the origional production run, then you have serious problems down the line that drive up costs to an insane level.

    Simply put, you run out of spare parts.

    The Shuttle and the Concorde were built all at once. The factories churned them out one after another. They needed parts - lots of them - so factories mass produced them.

    Then, there weren't any more Shuttles to be made, so there was no need for parts to be built.

    Time passed.

    Things broke down.

    And they broke down again.

    And again.

    Guess what happened? They started to run out of things. But you can't retool an entire factory to make 100 more of something you need - and do this for every part. So, instead, when something breaks, you have to make it. If some parts of the Shutte go bye-bye, guess what? Someone has to walk into a file room, pick up the blueprints and make a one-off of that part by hand.

    Sounds like excruciatingly time and money consuming fun, huh?

    Well, it _is_ .

    A growing market for a vehicle such as the Shuttle would mean more parts could be built, and for less. A permananet Shuttle maintence industry could be established, driving costs through the basement.
  • telepresence (Score:3, Insightful)

    by j09824 (572485) on Thursday May 02, 2002 @03:14AM (#3448859)
    For earth orbit, telepresence is a much more cost-effective way of having "astronauts" perform work in space. You still get all the benefits of human flexibility with none of the costs of life support systems. And telepresence at this point is probably less cumbersome than a space suit.

    If we need real-time human intelligence for planetary exploration, telepresence from orbit is likely also a better choice than human landings: you reduce risks greatly, save on equipment, and still get real-time manipulation. But current planetary exploration goals are so modest that purely robotic systems are probably better.

    So, let's scrap human space flight for the time being. We can do an enormous number of really neat exploratory missions in space for the cost of the shuttle program and its replacements. When we return to the issue of human space travel again in a few decades, we'll have much better technologies.

  • by Richard Kirk (535523) on Thursday May 02, 2002 @08:44AM (#3449764)
    Who remembers the Rolls-Royce HOTOL proposal? It must be over 25 years ago now. It was to be a reuseable airbreathing horizontal take-off thing. It looked like an aircraft, but it had no crew, and it was aimed at the space bulk freight market. This would have saved a bunch on all the life support and pressurization stuff for the early models. If it had been found reliable after, say, 50 flights, then there was the option to add and extend a pressurized cabin, toilets, lemon-scented towels in individual sachets, and other comforts.

    Okay, Britian has a long history of telling people what they ought to have built without actually putting very much together themselves. But it still strikes me as the right solution.

Recursion is the root of computation since it trades description for time.

Working...