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NASA Moon Space Science Technology

NASA Engineers Work On Alternative Moon Rocket 340

Posted by timothy
from the doesn't-even-have-a-hybrid-engine dept.
Gibson writes "A team of 57 engineers at NASA's Marshall Spaceflight center feel that the Ares rocket is not the best solution for launching the new CEV. They are currently working on their own time developing an alternative launch system known as Jupiter. The 131 page proposal, along with other information, is available on the project website. Proponents of the project say that it is 'simpler, safer, and sooner' than the Ares project, predicting the ability for a return to the moon in 2017, two years before the current goal. Ares management has so far dismissed the proposal as a 'napkin drawing.'"
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NASA Engineers Work On Alternative Moon Rocket

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  • by everphilski (877346) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @01:18PM (#24199071) Journal
    Where is Ares? Oh, it's in AUTOCAD! Well, that makes ALL the difference!

    Guess I'd beg to differ, having seen metal cut for Ares I-X. Just do a google image search and see for yourself.

    And by the way, the Ares side of things is, to the best of my knowledge, on schedule to launch in 2009. If you have facts to differ, please let me know. The one thing that will probably delay them is the upcoming Hubble mission - until they vacate pad 39B, the appropriate pad modifications can't be made, so it's a day-for-day slip as the Hubble mission slips.
  • by Nimey (114278) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @01:28PM (#24199225) Homepage Journal

    No, actually we don't. The tooling's been long-since destroyed, and there are no blueprints for many of the parts because they were farmed out to contractors, let alone information on things like what precise alloys to use for said parts, and other methods of manufacture.

    There are a couple Saturn Vs left, yes, but they were left out to the elements for many years and may have been scavenged for parts.

  • by Burdell (228580) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @01:44PM (#24199535)

    You should check the designs before you criticize them. Ares I uses an extended solid rocket booster (upgraded from the Shuttle) and a J-2X engine (upgraded from the Saturn V second and third stages). Ares V uses extended SRBs and RS-68 engines (from the Delta IV).

    The Shuttle main engines (SSMEs) were considered instead of the J-2X and/or the RS-68, but the cost was too high. The SSME is a high performance engine, but it is an expensive engine. Also, one concern for using it for the Ares I is that the liquid engine is the second stage engine, which will be started in-flight and at high altitude. The SSME has never been tried like that (nor was it designed for that), while the J-2 was used that way in the Saturn.

    As for Scaled Composites Tier 1b, it is a sub-orbital vehicle (good for nothing but tourists and hype). IIRC Tier 2 may be an orbital vehicle, but that is a long way off as well, since Scaled is working on Tier 1b (Ares is much further along in development).

  • by locokamil (850008) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @01:45PM (#24199555) Homepage

    Didn't the guy who invented ethernet sketch out his idea on the back of a napkin back in the day?

  • by OmniGeek (72743) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @01:51PM (#24199695)

    I *am* a rocket scientist, BTW. I read the Jupiter concept doc a few months ago, and I find it reasonably persuasive. The thing that makes the Jupiter concept "simpler" is that it reuses existing designs (specifically, main engine systems and fuel tanks) that have already been fully developed and put into use, rather than designing new ones that employ untested techniques.

    What makes a design safer isn't necessarily lowest component count; in the space business, proven designs count for a LOT in risk mitigation. Consider the Russian Proton rocket: not modern, not the most efficient, but a very reliable system that gets its job done at low cost (assuming that the recent Soyuz QA problems don't mean that their whole production infrastructure has gone rotten from lack of funds). Incremental changes are almost always faster, better, and cheaper than radical design departures (at least until the radical tech is fully worked out, which takes time).

    Indeed, a big part of the argument here is that Ares junks an existing manufacturing infrastructure THAT WORKS, just like NASA did after the Apollo program. Jupiter, on the other hand, maintains the current Shuttle-related tech base and builds on it. Having a functional tech infrastructure to build on, with suppliers who've been designing and delivering product based on the same design for many years, is an immense advantage in terms of cost, lead time, and reliability. Folks who've made the same system dozens of times make fewer mistakes than those building something brand-new with no comparable predecessor product.

  • by notadoctor (1296593) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @01:56PM (#24199775)
    The Ares I-X has no commonality with the actual Ares I. It will still use a four segment solid rocket motor from the space shuttle, instead of the five segment one (a $2 billion dollar development project) that the real Ares I will use, and will have a dummy fifth segment and dummy upperstage. The actual Ares I-Y (a closer test vehicle that uses the proper solid rocket motor) won't fly until 2013, and the real Ares I won't fly until 2015 at the earliest and can't fly earlier because the upper stage engine won't be ready until around that time. The flight next year is more of a political stunt by NASA to give the appearance of progress. It's like driving out a Ferrari, but the body is plastic, and there's a Ford engine and a one gear forward only transmission under the hood.
  • by willith (218835) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @02:04PM (#24199919) Homepage

    No, actually we don't. The tooling's been long-since destroyed, and there are no blueprints for many of the parts because they were farmed out to contractors, let alone information on things like what precise alloys to use for said parts, and other methods of manufacture.

    You are wrong. The blueprints for everything, down to the last nut and bolt, are on file at MSFC. Source. [space.com]

    There are a couple Saturn Vs left, yes, but they were left out to the elements for many years and may have been scavenged for parts.

    You are wrong. There are three, but none of them is "one" rocket. The one at the Johnson space center, made up of three flight-rated stages from different rockets, was left out for 20+ years but has been restored to pristine (though obviously not flight-worthy) condition. The one at MSFC is all static test stages and has been similarly restored. The one at KSC is two flight stages and one test stage, and has been kept in perfect (but again, obviously not flight-worthy) condition since the day it was rolled in. NONE of the rockets were ever "scavenged" for parts--they're all property of the Smithsonian and are maintained in trust as artifacts by NASA.

    Recreating a Saturn V isn't impossible because we don't have the plans--it's impossible because the blueprints call for standard parts and items that don't exist any more (like a left-handed widget with widget gauge #12, which was used by, say, Boeing in 1960, but not any more).

  • Re:Napkin Drawing (Score:4, Informative)

    by IndustrialComplex (975015) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @02:24PM (#24200247)

    This is why we glorify the mental prowess of "rocket scientists". They consider a 131 page proposal with this level of detail to be the equivalent of a napkin drawing.

    In the world of government and military systems, 131 pages is just enough to cover the information declarations, the acronym list, and the table of contents. Page 131 probably says "Pages 131-542 TBD".

  • by Thelasko (1196535) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @02:42PM (#24200611) Journal

    Incremental changes are almost always faster, better, and cheaper than radical design departures (at least until the radical tech is fully worked out, which takes time).

    As an engineer, I agree with that statement. I wish to add that the team knows, and has addressed the current failure modes of the technology they are planning to use by relocating the payload to the top of the craft.

    I will also point an error in the grandparent's post.

    The Jupiter are looking to use 2 shuttle boosters and the center fuel tank with shuttle engines mounted on it to put a crew into space, while NASA is using only one booster and one engine for the 2nd stage.

    They are planning to use the RS-68 [wikipedia.org] engine, which is considered superior to the space shuttle main engines. These engines are currently in use on the Delta IV. The engine NASA is planning is yet to be developed, but based on the J-2 [wikipedia.org] from the Saturn V.

  • by Markvs (17298) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @02:43PM (#24200627) Journal
    Proportionally, the Viet Nam War cost more far more: 9.4% of GDP vs. the Iraq War @ 1% of GDP. The entire military budget is 4.4% of GDP, and that's including spending on Corp of Engineer projects and other non-combat related spending. (BTW: The Department of Defense estimates a presence in Iraq through 2017 at $1.7 trillion. $3 trillion is a number came up with by some people with some VERY vested interests.) We WERE in a recession in 1957-1958 (when NASA was founded) and the housing bubble, while bad, is no where NEAR as bad a Black Monday or The Crash or perhaps even the .Com bubble. The only reason why people are bemoaning it (and rightly so!) is because people lost homes. That many of them were homes they never should have bought is another discussion. And we've gone nowhere NEAR the limits. We could easily to manned missions to Mars, set up a real scientific lab on the Moon, even have missions to asteroids all on chemical rockets and boosters. By some logic, it's never a good time to do anything. But human advancement depends on it. And NASA's budget is a mere 0.6% of the US GDP. Call me a kook, but if I wanted to save money, let's ax something really worthless like The Department of Education. It gets [b]3.3 TIMES[/b] NASA's budget, but the kids are dumber today than they were when Carter formed the DoEd thirty odd years ago!
  • by OhEd (877009) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @02:44PM (#24200641)
    It wasn't even the shock wave that caused Challenger to disintegrate, it was the sudden deviation from its course while under Max-Q. Trying to separate quickly from the stack would have been just as bad. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Shuttle_Challenger_disaster [wikipedia.org]
  • Wrong (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @02:58PM (#24200949)

    The O-ring failure was IN the srb. The O-ring sealed the gaps between each section of the srb, and when it failed to do so, hot gasses escaped and burned through the external tank and boom. Of course if lobbying and politics hadn't forced the boosters to be made in utah which required them to be made in sections to make the trip to the east coast, we would have never had the o-ring problem in the first place.

  • by Thelasko (1196535) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @03:09PM (#24201161) Journal
    Basically what happened was the DIRECT team said their design will work if they re-optimize the RS-68 engine for high altitude.

    The Ares team said their design will work if they re-optimize the RS-68 and the J-2 engines.

    NASA management chose the Ares over the DIRECT.

    The DIRECT team reworked their design to require no engine optimizations. This resulted in DIRECT 2.0
  • Re:I don't get it... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Jeff1946 (944062) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @03:14PM (#24201253) Journal

    The SRB's have a good track record. Only one failure in 100+ launches. Cause of the failure identified and fixed so it should not be factored into reliability calculations. Unless some new system is significantly cheaper in the long run,then stick with the SRB's for a heavy lift vehicle. Remember they are recovered after launch and reused. The steel cylinders (about 1/2" thick walls) are taken apart and refilled with propellant and reassembled. All the infrastructure to do this is already in place.

    Whether people need to go to the moon or Mars is another question. If not do we need heavy boosters in the first place?

  • by Shoeler (180797) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @03:18PM (#24201337)
    The external tank didn't explode. The SRB burned through its o-ring an then burned a hole into the tank, releasing its contents which then turned into vapor. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Shuttle_Challenger_disaster [wikipedia.org] "Contrary to the flight dynamics officer's initial statement, the shuttle and external tank did not actually "explode". Instead they rapidly disintegrated under tremendous aerodynamic forces"
  • by director_mr (1144369) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @03:56PM (#24201985)
    There have been 294 consecutive safe solid fuel rocket launches since the O-Ring problem with the Challenger. The proposed Jupiter launcher uses both solid and liquid fuel rockets, the Solid rockets boosting the initial stage and then separating. They address the solid fuel rockets don't stop issue by providing systems that detach the solid rockets from the launch vehicle in an emergency, and detaching the launch capsule from the rest of the launch vehicle and parachuting it down.

    I'm not sure you read my post beyond just trying to spew vitriol. How is the fact a solid rocket can't stop inherently more dangerous if you engineer the launch vehicle to take that into account?
  • by khallow (566160) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @04:04PM (#24202151)

    For starters, there is thrust oscillation [aviationweek.com]. In theory, that is an issue for the Shuttle, Ares V, and DIRECT (what is called "Jupiter" in this story), but these other vehicles have much more mass relative to the sold rocket motors' (or SRM) thrust and two unsynchonized solid rocket motors. This issue won't even be properly tested until the first 5-segment Ares launches some time around 2013.

    Second, the Ares I and V use a new 5 or 5.5 segment variant of the SRM and a new rocket engine under design called the J-2X. DIRECT uses the 4 segment SRM just like the one used on the Shuttle and the well tested RS-68 motor.

    Finally, using DIRECT, there are no mass issues with the CEV. But Ares I can barely lift the CEV. Already signficant redundancy has been stripped from the lunar version of the CEV and they apparently still have a too heavy heat shield. That means that the choice to use the Ares I is at the expense of adding risk to lunar missions which are already much higher risk than launching people into space is.

  • What makes a design safer isn't necessarily lowest component count; in the space business, proven designs count for a LOT in risk mitigation.

    The problem being that Jupiter/DIRECT is just as proven as Ares - that is to say, not at all. While it reuses a few components unmodified, the large remaining balance of reused components are modified (sometime considerably) which takes it right out of 'proven' category.
     
     

    Consider the Russian Proton rocket: not modern, not the most efficient, but a very reliable system that gets its job done at low cost (assuming that the recent Soyuz QA problems don't mean that their whole production infrastructure has gone rotten from lack of funds).

    Keep in mind that 'very reliable' equates to 'reliability essentially equivalent to that of the Shuttle'. One of the conundrums that various bodies and persons involved or interested in space travel shy away from examining is this paradox - cheap and limited in capability or expensive and highly capable, the failure rates keep coming out roughly the same.

  • by Waffle Iron (339739) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @04:15PM (#24202377)

    Rutan 1 (low earth orbit vehicle on a shoe string budget)

    He has not put a vehicle into orbit. He launched a flimsy rocketplane into a little parabola with only about 1% of the energy required to reach orbit. Nor will his next design achieve orbit.

    Get back to me when you get your basic facts straight.

  • by Medievalist (16032) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @04:19PM (#24202431)

    The data recovered after the crash suggest the crew were killed by impact with the water. I don't believe it's known how badly (if at all) the crew were injured by the orbiter's breakup. Several of the suits' emergency air supplies had been activated, however, which tends to support the idea that at least some crew members were still functional after the cabin lost pressure due to hull breach. The guys at NASA who studied the crash didn't think the forces on the cabin would have hurt anyone strapped in, but the altitude was sufficient to knock people out from lack of oxygen.

    This is dredged up from memory, so it may have been superseded by now. I was working for Morton-Thiokol when it happened, and it was not a fun time for myself or my cow-orkers.

  • by Waffle Iron (339739) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @05:33PM (#24203725)

    How many School Teachers, Pilots, and Scientists has NASA lost in the last 20 years again?

    Fourteen, after having achieved several man-years in orbit

    How many has Rutan lost?

    Three, after having achieved about 5 man-minutes in a parabola

    Look, NASA has been stupid, bloated and has wasted hundreds of $billions of our money on the ISS and shuttle, which both should have been scrapped a decade ago. However, that doesn't mean that Rutan has done anything useful either. Compared to *real* space activities, he is just puttering around. By the time he builds anything that could safely get humans in and out of orbit (which would require 100X his current fuel capacity, heat shields, life support systems, etc.), his "shoestring budgets" would be totally busted.

  • by camperdave (969942) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @06:45PM (#24204837) Journal
    Just off the top of my head...
    • The fire leaking from the side would cause a sideways thrust vector which could push the rocket into a corkscrew trajectory (or worse).
    • The loss of thrust out the side would mean that there isn't as much thrust out the bottom, meaning the craft probably would not attain orbit.
    • The fire leaking from the side would melt/burn a hole in the side of the booster. The aerodynamic forces acting on the compromised panel could rip it away from the booster, further damaging it.

    So, while the Ares I may not turn into a giant fireball, A side leak would likely still mean a loss of the rocket. The crew module would have a much higher chance of survival, though.

  • by iamlucky13 (795185) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @07:02PM (#24205135)

    Easy statements first:

    Meanwhile, their brilliant project isn't expected to get anyone to the moon before, what, twenty years?

    It depends on congressional funding. Current plans are between 2018 and 2020, but first operations of the rocket for ISS and LEO operations should be about 2015. NASA can't really get cracking on this until the shuttle retires in 2010, which will free up about $3 billion/year in funding...unless congres wants to dole out some extra right now.

    How can anyone whose project is in the design stage, scoff at another that is in the conceptual stage?

    Design is definitely a step ahead of concept. To be fair, calling it a napkin drawing was a press-briefing response, not the whole story. In fact, several engineers gave it a fairly detailed going over and pointed out some problems. The Direct team then addressed those problems and developed version 2. This is all after NASA already examined the basic architecture of Direct in their ESAS study and concluded two launches of the same vehicle was workable but less than ideal for a lunar mission, and required a vehicle that was overkill for ISS operations. However, some of the assumptions in that study didn't hold true, and Direct is maintaining that NASA needs to take a another look at it.

    Neither of them EXIST yet! Where is Ares? Oh, it's in AUTOCAD! Well, that makes ALL the difference!

    Much more in-depth analysis has been conducted on Ares I/V than on Direct's Jupiter proposal. Actually, since Direct uses an essentially unmodified shuttle SRB, they can reasonably contend that some of the hardware does exist. Meanwhile however, NASA is building test hardware for the Ares I, and they've begun detailed design on quite a few components, including the J-2X 2nd stage engine and 5-segment SRB. In some ways Direct is ahead, but as far as work that's been done, Ares is ahead.

    My take on it is that Direct honestly has a pretty decent proposal. It is definitely feasible. NASA maintains that it doesn't mesh well with what they were directed to do under Bush's Vision for Space Exploration, which is intended to be scalable to Mars missions. NASA prefers the payload splits of the Ares I/V system for lunar missions, the theoretically higher safety of the Ares 1 for manned-launches, and the fewer flights needed for a Mars mission the giant Ares V would afford. Given the engineering issues they've encountered, however, I think it would be a good idea to give the "two-launch" architecture another look.

    At the same time, some are maintaining that NASA is pursuing the Ares I/V as a means of protecting jobs in important congressional districts or for major contractors like ATK who will have $billions in contracts for Ares. Others accuse NASA administrator Mike Griffin of having delusions of granduer, wanting to be the engineer responsible for creating the largest rocket ever. I see no convincing arguments for buying into those accusations.

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