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Space

Competition to Build the Space Shuttle's Successor 345

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the strap-a-rocket-to-a-dodge-dart dept.
Neil Halelamien writes "The competition for the prime contract to build the Crew Exploration Vehicle, the successor to the Space Shuttle, is ramping up. Currently, 11 different companies are creating preliminary designs for systems and vehicles which could be useful in implementing NASA's Vision for Space Exploration. By the end of the year, NASA will select two teams to independently develop and build a CEV design. The two teams will launch competing unmanned prototypes in 2008, at which point NASA will award a final winning contract. Aerospace giants Boeing and Northrop Grumman have formed one team. Another "all-star" team, announced a couple of days ago, is headed by Lockheed Martin. A third team in the running is underdog t/Space, a company with a free enterprise approach to space exploration, which includes notable figures from the commercial spaceflight arena, such as Burt Rutan and Gary Hudson. There is concern that a NASA budget boost to help pay for the exploration program could draw some opposition, as most other government programs are anticipating budget cuts."
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Competition to Build the Space Shuttle's Successor

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 02, 2005 @09:51AM (#11549861)
    At a certain point it becomes counter-productive. Just tell me which one to click on to get the article.
  • by Illserve (56215) on Wednesday February 02, 2005 @09:53AM (#11549877)
    "However, it is likely that the CEV will follow the module and capsule design principles used in the Apollo, Gemini, Soyuz and Shenzhou systems, instead of the reusable spaceplane design principle used in the space shuttle system"

    Hoo-ray for NASA! There's hope for them yet.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      As I understand it, the reason you can't use anything similar to SpaceShipOne for orbital missions is the weight of the heat shielding. But a capsule like this still has to carry that shielding up to orbit, right?

      I don't really see why a spaceplane design is out of the question. The shuttle was hugely complex compared to SpaceShipOne. Couldn't a more modern design of the shuttle still be useful?
      • by meringuoid (568297) on Wednesday February 02, 2005 @10:09AM (#11549977)
        I don't really see why a spaceplane design is out of the question. The shuttle was hugely complex compared to SpaceShipOne. Couldn't a more modern design of the shuttle still be useful?

        The trouble with a spaceplane is its inefficiency. Too much of the energy expended in a Shuttle launch goes to carry the orbiter's main engines, wings and other structure into orbit. If you could leave those off, with a capsule design, you could either save a whole lot of fuel and get a cheaper launch, or use the same amount of fuel and carry a much larger payload.

        The idea behind the Shuttle was that the engines were worth keeping, and reusing them could save money. Apollo used to drop its main engines into the sea... But it turns out that there are plenty of factories on Earth capable of producing rocket engines very cheaply, so that economy didn't really work out.

        • by TheGavster (774657) on Wednesday February 02, 2005 @10:37AM (#11550195) Homepage
          The reason that the shuttle was inefficient is that it was designed to land without crossing the Soviet Union, not because spaceplanes in general are inefficient. You can make it rather better if you allow for a longer glide path.
          • by Illserve (56215) on Wednesday February 02, 2005 @11:54AM (#11550920)
            Incorrect, spaceplanes are inefficient in general principle. The problem is the fuel required to lift those wings and flight control mechanisms into orbit. They do you no good in space, they are only used in re-entry, so why not use a design for which you get controlled reentry dynamics(ie keeping the heat shields down and the parachute port up) for free?

            Look at what you what you need for re-entry:

            Wings
            A hugely increased heat shield
            Flaps
            Hydraulic motors for flaps
            landing gear
            more hydraulics
            more sensors
            more wiring
            more computer control
            more everything

            The weight just spirals up and up until you have a fuel tank the size of the Good Year and achieve at best a moderately safe vehicle.

            • by Rei (128717) on Wednesday February 02, 2005 @01:48PM (#11552242) Homepage
              I disagree. Spaceplanes may be inherently inefficient *per mission* compared to a disposable capsule design, but if maintainance costs were lower, they would easily outshine capsules with disposable rockets.

              And maintainance doesn't *need* to be high. If the shuttle had the budget for its initial design plan (a titanium frame, no solid boosters), it never would have had any of the problems that it's had that led to high maintainence costs and its 2% failure rate.

              A couple of things about your list:

              * A hugely increased heat shield: Not really hugely increased. An optimal shape for reentry is a large, slowly curved surface, and the further from that shape, the larger amount of shielding you need for a given size and density. However, the shuttle manages relatively well given its size and density compared to what an equivalent capsule would be by turning its bottom side into the direction of incoming air.

              * Hydraulic motors for flaps: Not necessarily. Hydraulics in space are problematic because of temperature regulation (in the tanks, in the cylinders, in the lines, etc). However, it is possible to use electric actuators to replace them for most, if not all, tasks. Electric actuators are increasingly being used in high force tasks.

              However, the key issue is reusability. Reusable capsules have never really come into their own - they tend to have a pretty rough landing. The more payload return you want them to be able to bring back, the rougher it is.

              If one can get reusability without high maintainence, in any design, that truly is the holy grail of spacecraft design. :)
      • A capsule has a much smaller reentry profile, accordingly it needs to protect a much smaller area. Hence a much smaller amount of heat shielding is required.

        Further, a Capsule falling through atmosphere is kept in the proper orientation through simple newtonian mechanics, it requires no gadgetry to keep it stable, unlike a spaceplane, which is an inherently unstable reentry vehicle.

        The capsule is the way to go for cheap and reliable missions.
        • Hmm...they could even make the capsule concept reusable as well. Just make a big heatshield from the same material the shuttle uses.

          I think I read somewhere that the plane concept was picked because our astronauts did not like that they could NOT land the capsules. Back then, most astronauts were all US Air Force and Navy pilots. They probably still are, but now alot of these guys are much smarter then alot of the astronauts of old. Not that they old guys were dumb, it's just they wanted things a certa
    • Hoo-ray? In a sense it seems like a giant step backwards to 1960s technology. That may be fine for retro looking cars, but not space vehicles. Whatever happened to NASP (National Aerospace Plane) and all the high-tech and, more importantly, affordable to orbit vehicles that were under development before the rampant budget cuts?
      • The NASP is still in pre-production, and will be ready soon.
        Right now, if you purchase a flying car, you get a voucher for a ticket on one of them, and also a preview beta version of Duke Nukem as well :)
      • It seems that the practical physics of the NASP made it impractical. See this [fas.org] for a good history of the NASP. In most cases, the "spaceplane" concept is driven by 1950s science fiction, rather than actual science.
      • Hypersonic air breathing vehicles are not viable in the short term. Scram jets, for instance, in small prototype vehicles have burn times measured in seconds not minutes.

        With the demise of the shuttle, relying on exotic technologies is a bad plan. We need simple, reliable tech as soon as possible. Space planes are not the answer to that.
      • by Illserve (56215) on Wednesday February 02, 2005 @10:44AM (#11550236)
        Whatever happened to NASP (National Aerospace Plane) and all the high-tech and, more importantly, affordable to orbit vehicles that were under development before the rampant budget cuts?

        Hopefully those designs have been put in the circular file drawer where they belong. 100 years from now, our fascination with space-planes will be seen as a great folly of the later 1900's.

        Capsules are a superior re-entry vehicle in every way, and cheaper too, when you factor in maintenance costs on reusable space vehicles (with the exception of the suborbital "toys" that we hear so much about, but they won't get huge wings into LEO and back again cheaply).

        NASA knew this simple truth back in the day when they were the crackinest aerospace research agency in the world. They had blank checks for designing ugly but functional space vehicles and boy did they. Aesthetics didn't enter to into the design of the capsule and LEM then, and shouldn't now.

      • by R.Caley (126968) on Wednesday February 02, 2005 @11:41AM (#11550730)
        Hoo-ray? In a sense it seems like a giant step backwards to 1960s technology.

        No, to 1960s design rather than technology. There is nothing wrong with this if the 1960s design turns out to still be the best anyone has come up with. You do the same kind of design with more modern technology and get the best available solution to the problem.

        Just because Buck Rogers had space planes, that doesn't mean they are actually the best engineering solution, silver jump suits are not practical streetwear either.

        Look at bridges, the fundamental designes of modern bridges are really nothing a Roman would be supprised by, it's the details of the technology applied to the basic designs which makes them better.

        • Good comment, and I actually agree. My original post was partially meant to be flamebait, so I'm (pleasently) surprised at all of the insighful remarks!
        • I thought the whole point about Buck Rogers (thinking the old version, not the Erin Gray/Gil Gerard version), was that spaceships landed tail first with their engines firing for braking thrust and landed on their tail fins.

          When I heard about the DC-X approach to reusable spacecraft reentry and landing, my reaction was "that is so Buck Rogers" meaning that I didn't think that landing on rocket thrust made sense.

          But the Soyuz lands tail first on rocket thrust (it has braking rockets for the final ground c

    • by OwnedByTwoCats (124103) on Wednesday February 02, 2005 @10:19AM (#11550035)
      The shuttle had a mission: drive the cost of getting to Low Earth Orbit down by reusing the vehicle. To be a "space truck". At that, it failed miserably.

      The mission for the CEV, "to boost national security by providing a presence in space" is so bland, so wishy-washy, so unmeasurable, that there will never be an accounting.

      Oh, and Bush says we need to hack $300 Billion out of the budget to cut the deficit in half without raising taxes or undoing his precioussss tax cuts. Oh, and Defense is excluded. How big is the discretionary, non-defense budget? $440.9 Billion.
      • by Radar Guy (827922) on Wednesday February 02, 2005 @11:15AM (#11550493)
        Whoa - how is this insightful? Not to nitpick too much, but to say "Defense is excluded" isn't entirely accurate. A quick google search of 'budget cuts defense department' returns this Washington Post article [washingtonpost.com] as the *first* hit. The short of it - $55 billion in cuts over 6 years (same timeframe as the $300 billion in cuts the parent mentions), including $5 billion from missile defense.

        That might not be a huge chunk of the $300 billion, but during time of war I'd say that's definately more than "excluding" the DoD.
        • That's not quite right.

          Of the $55 billion in cuts, they then redirect $25 billion to the Army (mostly for Iraq-type support stuff, I think).

          So it's $30 billion in cuts, which is still a decent amount. But I dunno how much of that will survive, since $18billion of that affects LockMart, and I have never ever seen political operators smoother than they. I'm not sure that Georgia's Congressional delegation will allow F-22 to be cut, and I'm sure some other (or the same) delegation will feel the same way ab
  • After ShuttleOne went up for backing as little as $20 million, is it just me or is NASA throwing around too much money to make this happen? I'd like to see someone else make the new crew vehicle and sell it back to NASA. I guess the other side of the coin is the German's saying Mars by 2009. *shrug* I guess when you have nothing substantial in your space program in the past, you've got nothing to lose with ridiculous goals for the future?
    • by I confirm I'm not a (720413) on Wednesday February 02, 2005 @10:03AM (#11549939) Journal

      I guess the other side of the coin is the German's saying Mars by 2009. *shrug* I guess when you have nothing substantial in your space program in the past, you've got nothing to lose with ridiculous goals for the future?

      Uh, Wernher von Braun [wikipedia.org] ring any bells?
      From Wikipedia: "In the United States, he is regarded as a hero of the space program."

      • Von Braun (Score:3, Funny)

        by meringuoid (568297)
        In the United States, he is regarded as a hero of the space program.

        You, too, could be a big hero, once you've learned to count backwards to zero...

    • First of that thing is called SpaceshipOne [wikipedia.org], secondly it did go nowwhere near where the shuttle went. SpaceshipOne did a little hop out of the atmosphere and then got back, didn't even need a heatshield for that. Bringing something into a stable orbit is a whole different beast (100km vs 400km + heck a lot more speed). The NASA did basically the same as SpaceShipOne in the 1960s with its X-15 [wikipedia.org].

      That said, yes, the NASA could probally be a lot more cost effective, but just saying SpaceShipOne did for 20mio$ w

    • SpaceShipOne and the shuttle are two different vehicles when it comes to purpose, size and capacity. SpaceShipOne can do suborbital hops, while the space shuttle can reach 400 km orbit. SS1 takes three passengers and no cargo, while the shuttle can take a crew of seven and plenty of cargo. The shuttle was developed during the 70's, being a huge jump from the small capsules that were in use before that, so that it took a lot of cash to develop should surprise no one. The SpaceShipOne and the shuttle are very
  • I can see the underdog putting up a good fight as most government contractors are bogged down under "red tape" that causes prices to sky rocket. If they run lean on overhead BS they have a shot. Well, as long as the product is good from more aspects than functionality (reliable, maintainable, safe)
    • Re:I can see.... (Score:2, Interesting)

      by SIGPUNKT (853627)
      Actually, it's the "red tape" that makes the smaller contractors certain to lose. You need a small army of people just to manage the blizzard of forms and documents required, let alone do the real work of researching and developing a vehicle. And don't think that NASA's going to let them get away with a bunch of FEAs and flight sims, they're genna have to build and crush a few airframes to get real data. Parent's not entirely wrong, though, a smaller company won't have to share the overhead of managing o
  • by bigtallmofo (695287) on Wednesday February 02, 2005 @09:54AM (#11549886)
    Is NASA putting the cart before the horse here? Don't we need a coherent goal to shoot for before designing a vehicle? The goal as stated on NASA's site is:

    "The fundamental goal of this vision is to advance U.S. scientific, security, and economic interests through a robust space exploration program."

    Could they be any more vague? Whatever happened to the days of "land a man on the moon and return him safely to the Earth." You know, goals that people actually knew what the heck you were talking about?
    • decision making (Score:4, Interesting)

      by millahtime (710421) on Wednesday February 02, 2005 @09:59AM (#11549913) Homepage Journal
      This does show a fundamental lack of decision making going on in many branches of government leadership. No one wants to put forth a goal and be the leader who didn't make it. So, they don't make a goal so that way they just keep the status quo as long as they can and hope the next guy deals with it. No one or agency wants to look bad so to them it's safer to not do anything at all.
    • by JediTrainer (314273) on Wednesday February 02, 2005 @10:06AM (#11549955)
      Could they be any more vague? Whatever happened to the days of "land a man on the moon and return him safely to the Earth." You know, goals that people actually knew what the heck you were talking about?

      I thought the Wikipedia article above was very clear on what the CEV is supposed to be able to do. It mentions it's likely it'll follow the module-and-capsule approach, and is supposed to be capable of getting to LEO while also taking part in the assembly of lunar expeditions while in orbit (and, presumably Mars too, since that's a listed goal as well). Reusability is apparently desirable, but not essential to win the contract.
    • by Bruce Perens (3872) <bruce@perens.com> on Wednesday February 02, 2005 @10:08AM (#11549973) Homepage Journal
      The worst thing about Apollo was that its goal, though of course ambitious for the time, was too shallow. Land a man on the moon and safely return him to earth we did, and then ran out of goal and the motivation to go any farther. If the goal is not to establish a viable self-sustaining human presence in space, a permanent colony away from the perils of Earth, there is no point in sending more people out there. If the goal is just scientific exploration, robots are 1000 times more cost-effective.

      Bruce

      • If the goal is just scientific exploration, robots are 1000 times more cost-effective.

        Not to mention slightly safer.
      • I couldn't agree more. There are very few things that humans can do in space that cannot be done by a robot more efficiently and safer. However, the one thing that humans can give is their perception of what they see and feel. This sort of information is something that no robot can possibly provide us.

        I completely agree that our goal should be to establish a permanent off-world presence. We honestly have no idea how much we would learn from being out exploring, but most of the advances of our race have

        • However, the one thing that humans can give is their perception of what they see and feel. This sort of information is something that no robot can possibly provide us.


          And how is seeing and feeling worth multi-billions of dollars?


          We honestly have no idea how much we would learn from being out exploring, but most of the advances of our race have come from exploring the unknown and taking risks.

          Exploring has with few exceptions been driven by economics and need, not wonder. Columbus was looking for g
      • Agreed, and the process whereby you achieve that goal needs as much scrutiny as the goal itself. If you shackle the "permanent colony on the moon" goal to "achieved using existing infrastructure," you're doomed to failure.

        If the gub'ment dictates that the Shuttle shall be involved, now all components must a) break down to fit in a Shuttle cargo bay; b) meet Shuttle safety requirements; c) visit LEO and possibly the ISS before moving onward. Yeah, it uses the existing infrastructure, but certainly isn'
  • by Dagny Taggert (785517) <hankrearden@gmail.TEAcom minus caffeine> on Wednesday February 02, 2005 @09:57AM (#11549901) Homepage
    A replacement for the Shuttle is needed, but is NASA working on our heavy-lift capabilities? It seems to me that there is still a need for a Saturn V-type rocket to put the big stuff into orbit. After all, while orbital assembly may seem cool, it doesn't seem very cost-effective yet.
    • After all, while orbital assembly may seem cool, it doesn't seem very cost-effective yet.

      It will work a whole hell of a lot better than on earth assembly. To get to lunar orbit, you don't have to worry about earth gravity or anything. You won't need a smooth skin either. It could look like a flying pig and be as ugly as you wanted. You also don't have to worry about the thing staying intact and not getting damaged on the way up.

      As for a heavy lifter, That might be what heavy rockets are for. Though
    • Maybe Nasa should use the Energia [energia.ru] for that. 100 tons into LEO, and development's already done.
  • Good Designs (Score:5, Interesting)

    by NardofDoom (821951) on Wednesday February 02, 2005 @10:04AM (#11549944)
    I'm happy to see they're moving away from the "spaceplane" idea and getting back to capsules. In most ways they're superior to shuttle-like designs.

    For example, they self-orient on reentry, they don't have expensive and heavy control surfaces or landing gear, and from their position on the top of the rocket they can use escape systems like those in the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs.

    About the only thing they can't do is bring things back down from orbit. But, really, if we want a real future in space the biggest issue is getting things up there.

    • Actually I am sad to see this move away from the space plane idea. Capsules superior to shuttle-like designs? Simple yes. Cheap to develop yes. Better?
      the shuttle was at least something new. If you go and look at some of the early shuttle designs they where much more likely to offer long term cheap access to space than the shuttles we have now. Why where they not built? Because the development cost would have been much higher. NASA did not want to use SRBs. Going with solids was an idea the military pushed
      • The Shuttle was the first. Think of it as the Comet of space craft.

        Well, it might be the Comet - but what if it's actually the Spruce Goose of space craft...?
        • The Spruce Goose is a bad example. It was nothing new . And lets thing about this. The Spruce Goose flew in I think 1946. The Shuttle in 81 I believe. So add 25 years to 1946 and you have... 1971. If I am not mistaken by 1971 there where airplanes that carried as big of a load as the spruce goose was supposed to, farther and faster than the Spruce Goose could. They where the 747 and the C-5.
          Still works out fine. I think the Comet is a better example. It had issues but was a pretty good design that could and
      • Um, APU's ARE electric. The generate electricity. They are the FULE CELLS.
    • About the only thing they can't do is bring things back down from orbit.

      This one is easy. Refit the shuttle to be remote controlled from the ground. The Soviets were able to do it with Buran, I'm sure we could do it ourselves, or even easier with the help of Energia.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    ...would be a good choice for engine on the next gen space shuttle. Here's a brief introduction [aerospaceweb.org].
  • This reminds me of when they were first planning the space shuttle (when it was riding on the back of a 747 for initial testing). It's too bad NASA couldn't bring itself to dump the space plane concept earlier so that we're not waiting another 30 years for a viable replacement.
    • by TheKidWho (705796) on Wednesday February 02, 2005 @10:25AM (#11550087)
      The space plane concept wasn't bad, and it still isnt. One of the main problems with it though was because of constant budget cuts to the program NASA had to keep on taking out certain features of the shuttle which eventually made it what it is now. Some of the original concepts for the spaceshuttle were truly fascinating and much more effecient then the current shuttle.
      • While I'm not so sure about the space plane concept, this [afa.org] is a good history of the research to date. It seems that as speeds increase beyone mach 5-8, thermal management becomes an issue. In most cases, the additional complexity and weight of an active thermal management system renders the current implementations less effective than conventional rocket-based systems.
  • It's been reported that monkeys and dogs have declined to test this round of space vehicles, seeing as there is no ice cream in space.
  • Military (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jeffkjo1 (663413) on Wednesday February 02, 2005 @10:28AM (#11550113) Homepage
    I can only hope that NASA is allowed to make the final decision on this spacecraft, and is not forced to make concessions to every government department under the sun like happened with the shuttle.
  • by Sophrosyne (630428) on Wednesday February 02, 2005 @10:29AM (#11550119) Homepage
    It should look state of the art with straight-lines, a red stripe down the side... Here are some preliminary designs for NASA:
    Image Here [starfleet-museum.org]
    Now if we could only get Majel Barrett to do the voice-over for the computer :(
  • The Rutan plan (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 02, 2005 @10:32AM (#11550148)
    For a good overview of the Rutan proposal, check this pdf [transformspace.com] at their website. It's a heckuva read...they advocate building a real frontier which ultimately generates tax revenues. They want to use flotillas of vehicles for redundancy, and keep it simple...eg., to land on the moon, just burn more fuel and land the whole vehicle, instead of just a separate lander. Less development time, less to go wrong, and for the first 20 to 40 flights it's cheaper that way. They also ding NASA for micromanaging...they say engineers should question everything, and you can't do that if you have to justify every deviation from the written plan to NASA's managers.
    • It's a heckuva read...they advocate building a real frontier which ultimately generates tax revenues.

      We tried that when we settled North America. Building a real frontier, OK, but you run into serious difficulties when you try to get it to generate tax revenues...

      Especially if the country's being run by a lunatic called George at the time.

  • NASA Budget (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ibm1130 (123012) on Wednesday February 02, 2005 @10:33AM (#11550163)
    The total NASA budget ( $15+ Billion ) is a very small sub 1% fraction of US Gummint spending. Unfortunately it is in the discretionary category and lumped in with some agencies that often have a rancorous debate attached to their estimates. If other gummint agencies' budgets had been constrained the way NASA has been for the last 15 years or so, we probably wouldn't have a deficit, War On Terror notwithstanding.
    • Re:NASA Budget (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Eminence (225397)
      The total NASA budget ( $15+ Billion ) is a very small sub 1% fraction of US Gummint spending.

      Pathetic, isn't it? Especially considering that space exploration is in the long run the most important and beneficial government program of all (with military being the second).

      • Re:NASA Budget (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Idarubicin (579475)
        Especially considering that space exploration is in the long run the most important and beneficial government program of all (with military being the second).

        Eh?

        I suspect that there might be some rather important things going on in some other [nih.gov] agencies [nsf.gov]. Just a thought. I suppose it depends how one chooses to define 'important' and 'beneficial'.

  • Space Tug Boat. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Doverite (720459) on Wednesday February 02, 2005 @10:51AM (#11550282)
    Why not build a small powerful space tug boat instead of a truck. Large payloads could be launched into space unmanned. Then the tug could pull them over and attach them to the ISS and leave them there, or drop them over the ocean when done if need be. The ISS gets completed faster and we have a small reusable space plane that could be used more efficiently and more frequently and it wouldn't need crew quarters or sleeping quarters it would use the ISS as a base station. It could be fitted with a smaller crew and quarters for higher missions such as to the Hubble if it is still there or whatever. We don't have to keep dragging tons of equipment back and forth to orbit. Part of the danger of the shuttle is its size so keep the reusable part smaller and safer. We could even build an unmanned parachuting return vehicle for bringing large equipment back down.
  • by FireIron (838223) on Wednesday February 02, 2005 @10:55AM (#11550313)
    Unfortunately, neither the new Bush space initiatives, nor a new spaceship design will fix all the things that are wrong with the federal space program. Key among these problems is the lack of clear leadership and good management on NASA's Board of Directors, a.k.a. the US Congress.

    Congress has never been able to give NASA a set of clear goals, and then provided it with the long-term funding to meet those goals. This has forced NASA into sort of bureaucratic survival mode, lurching along from fiscal year to fiscal year, trying to keep moving the ball forward without a long-term roadmap to follow.
  • Awesome... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Chanc_Gorkon (94133) <gorkon&gmail,com> on Wednesday February 02, 2005 @11:00AM (#11550354)
    FINALLY! This will be some exciting times in the aerospace community. I don't hold hope for Burt Rutan to be able to top Northup Grumman/Boeing or Lockheed Martins team but I sure as heck hope that the follwing things are considered:

    1. Modern, yet tested hardware for the flight computers and a way to upgrade them easily should they be needed. I still like the idea of multiple redundant computers and a voting structure that the shuttle uses for it's flight computers.

    2. Reuseablity is nice, but can be expensive as the shuttle has pointed out. If we do go reusable, I hope we find some new heat shielding that is less fragile.

    3. Ejection seets for the crew or a crew module rescue system of some sort.

    4. Sensor the HECK out of it. Put little cameras in the superstructure and have one monitor cycle through them on both launch and landing. If teh crew sees something the least bit suspicious, they can initiate a emergency eject.

    5. Make it FAST to launch another incase there's damage to one crew module. Maybe make it so that we launch 2 at the same time with both being capable of holding the whole crew in a emergency landing situation. You could even make sure one is always on orbit and is in good shape(docked at ISS or whatever).

    6. Make it REPAIRABLE in space either via ISS assistance or a small repair kit heald on board.

    I could go on, but this is the opportunity to make a funcitonal system that is much safer then the shuttle. Consider that the shuttle's design is almost 30-40 years old and BOTH planes and cars are MUCH safer today then ones designed that long ago.
  • Bigelow's America's Space Prize [space.com] is already funded. This Nasa program sounds like yet another boondoggle with no real clear criteria for success(which means "customer management" can determine the winner). I'm not saying Bigelow's prize is _perfect_ but it sounds like more a real competition.

    What I'd rather see here:
    a series of smaller prizes that required the winner to disclose their technology(as effectively Open Source). The reason for smaller prizes is that is would make the financial entry ticket less

  • by digitalgimpus (468277) on Wednesday February 02, 2005 @11:44AM (#11550785) Homepage
    I admit I love human exploration, but after the Mars Rovers have had such success, I wonder if it's cheaper to consider researching that more.

    Leave Human exploration to harder goals (Mars). But for experiments in orbit, repair missions, etc. Why not consider robotics?

    The Mars rovers have done a very impressive job. I'd bet if NASA put the effort into robotics that it did into the Moon Launch effort.... they would be 10000X better.

    They can also work more, don't suffer from fatigue, don't need life support systems, etc.

    I'd like to see the human/robot space exporation roles change. Save humans for stuff like going to Mars, or the Moon, or other places where the goal is to get a person there. But lets use Robots for the most dangerious stuff, and situations where a Robot can easily do the job.

    IMHO a shuttle should be looking at Earth --> Mars.
    • I hate to be a rtfa poster, but that's exactly what one of the competitors is suggesting. Although they seem to be focusing on teleoperation instead of autonomic tech.
  • by metope (855722) on Wednesday February 02, 2005 @12:17PM (#11551226)
    First of all, I think that China will probably beat the US in terms of manned space exploration. They will go back to the moon before the US even finishes their new space vehicles. This is sad because China apparently understand economics better than current US leaders do. It might seem that the Apollo program was just a big expensive government program but the truth is that all the expensive science generated far more money that it spent. Science is good for the economy for it provides people with technology that lifts the economy and increases growth in the country. As complicated as going to the Moon and Mars and expensive as it seems might be, it is good for the economy. All the new technologies generate new industries which will further the economic growth. Our leaders in the US have forgotten that by limiting science funding and cancelling things like the particle accelerator in Texas. Second and most important, it is too expensive to think of old ways to get out of this planet. The best and most efficient way is to build the SPACE ELEVATOR. Fund nanotechnologies to get the cable for the elevator built. It is estimated that it would cost $100 a pound at the beginning to lift things into orbit using the elevator and maybe even go down to $1 a pound as more elevators are built. Science fiction but so was landing on the moon before Apollo 11.
  • by borgheron (172546) on Wednesday February 02, 2005 @12:23PM (#11551296) Homepage Journal
    All companies like Boeing, Lockheed, Raytheon, etc. really do is figure out how expensive and over costly can they make the project so that the result we be this huge iron beast which is neither practical nor fully reusable, as there has to be a "sustainable revenue stream".

    Look more towards the underdogs in this fight.

    GJC

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