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DIRECT Post-Shuttle Plan Pitched To Obama Team 189

Posted by Soulskill
from the mavericks-with-hope dept.
FleaPlus writes "Popular Mechanics reports that a 'renegade' group including NASA engineers has met with President-Elect Obama's space transition team to present information on the DIRECT architecture for launching NASA missions after the Space Shuttle is retired. According to the group, DIRECT's Jupiter launch system will be safer, less expensive, better-performing, and be ready sooner than the Ares launch system NASA is currently developing, while still providing jobs for much of the existing shuttle workforce. Meanwhile, it's expected that current NASA head and adamant Ares supporter Michael Griffin will be replaced by a new NASA administrator."
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DIRECT Post-Shuttle Plan Pitched To Obama Team

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  • FTFA:

    A group of renegade space vehicle designers, including NASA engineers bucking their bosses, today got their chance to make their case to the next presidential administration.

    So, they ride Harleys and put pocket protectors in their leather jackets? Their calculators say "Bad Mother Fucker" on them?

    See what happens when you use hyperbole in descriptions?

    • by shiftless (410350) on Saturday January 10, 2009 @08:50AM (#26397911) Homepage

      They are 'renegade' engineers, and they are 'bucking' their bosses. I'm not sure what part of the factually-correct description you have a problem with.

      And knowing the kinds of engineers who work at Marshall Space Flight Center, I wouldn't be surprised if some of them did ride Harleys.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by $RANDOMLUSER (804576)

        They are 'renegade' engineers, and they are 'bucking' their bosses.

        ...and 'maverick' was already in use.

        • by Kartoffel (30238)

          That's MAVERIC without the "k".

          -- Subaru-driving Marshall engineer.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Scrameustache (459504)

          They are 'renegade' engineers, and they are 'bucking' their bosses.

          ...and 'maverick' was already in use.

          They wanted to use it, but were told "Negative, the pattern is full" :-p

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by meringuoid (568297)
        They are 'renegade' engineers, and they are 'bucking' their bosses.

        If I remember correctly, the original 'renegades' were Christians who had joined the Muslim Barbary pirates and gone into business as white-slavers. For the metaphor to hold, these engineers ought to have left NASA and gone to work for a rival. If any ex-NASA people are now at SpaceX, they might well be considerer renegades, but not if they're still within the organisation.

    • Their calculators say "Bad Mother Fucker" on them?

      Of course not.

      They say "Bad Mather Fucker", naturally.

  • Of course DIRECT is "cheaper, quicker and safer" than Ares - because it is a paper project. All projects are cheaper, quicker, safer, happier, and will make your cock bigger etc etc until someone tries to implement them.

    If any of the problems of developing a SDLV that have plagued Ares so far occur for Jupiter, then switching at this point will be a false economy.

    • by ZarathustraDK (1291688) on Saturday January 10, 2009 @09:02AM (#26397945)

      First chance to see if Obama is a retard or not

      NASA-engineer: "So Mr. President, will you fund our project?"

      Obama: "My Momma always said life is like a box of chocol..."

      NASA-engineer: "FFS, not again!"

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Smidge204 (605297)

      How many Ares class rockets have been build and tested to date? I wasn't aware they actually build any yet.

      =Smidge=

    • Actually, after reading TFA and looking at the comparison chart [popularmechanics.com] it really looks like the Direct Jupiter design is better, if only because of the reuse of SST components.

      • by damburger (981828)
        Whether or not the design is better is largely irrelevant to this debate; what is relevant is the DIRECT team are failing to take into account the overhead of switching projects and switching managers at this stage. Regardless of which was the better approach, DIRECT lost the debate some time ago, and revisiting it now (even if it results in a better vehicle in the long run) isn't going to make anything either cheaper or quicker.
        • by Tumbleweed (3706)

          Whether or not the design is better is largely irrelevant to this debate; what is relevant is the DIRECT team are failing to take into account the overhead of switching projects and switching managers at this stage. Regardless of which was the better approach, DIRECT lost the debate some time ago, and revisiting it now (even if it results in a better vehicle in the long run) isn't going to make anything either cheaper or quicker.

          This is short-sighted thinking. If DIRECT would result in a better platform in

        • by FleaPlus (6935)

          Whether or not the design is better is largely irrelevant to this debate; what is relevant is the DIRECT team are failing to take into account the overhead of switching projects and switching managers at this stage. Regardless of which was the better approach, DIRECT lost the debate some time ago, and revisiting it now (even if it results in a better vehicle in the long run) isn't going to make anything either cheaper or quicker.

          Actually, if you look at NASA's budget documents [nasa.gov] only $2-3 billion has been spent on Ares so far, although that annual rate will increase over the next few years. If we're going to switch architectures now is the time to do it, particularly since DIRECT estimates a savings over Ares in the tens of billions.

          As an added bonus, Orion capsule development will also be benefited, since they won't have to spend so much time trying to figure out what to cut and what safety systems to get rid of to squeeze onto the

    • Direct's JUPITER project is not just a paper project. They are re-using existing, functioning technology. For example, they are using the exact same solid rocket boosters that the shuttle uses. Manufacturing facilities and expertise already exist for these. They are using the same external fuel tank, and are simply extending the nose cone to become the payload bay. They are also using existing rocket engines.

      Ares is no longer a Shuttle Derived Launch Vehicle. The fuel tank is now at 10 metres diamet
    • by kurt555gs (309278)

      Really seems like to time to resurrect the Saturn V. Bigger, faster, more payload, and proven. Modern metalurgy and machining techniques would make it better and safer.

      Problem? The Bush admin goons have been running around destroying the original plans and specs. My opinion is that none of the usual suspect contractors like Lockheed-Martin own the IP for the design and systems. How coul;d they possible charge 100 times what a part should cost if that part has been already made, and it's price is known.

      • by frieko (855745)
        Even with a complete set of blueprints it would be much easier to start from scratch than to try and build a Saturn V. For a small example, log on to newark.com and try to order some magnetic core memory. Similar situation for all the mechanical components, not to mention the required expertise that's been lost.
      • That would require 1960s style budgets ;)
        And it would be wrong to assume that the engineering knowledge and expertise from making the Saturn V didn't go into the development of newer space technology. The Ares V actually looks like a better rocket than the Saturn V. It's just that designing one rocket is easier than designing two.

    • by khallow (566160)

      Of course DIRECT is "cheaper, quicker and safer" than Ares - because it is a paper project.

      The Ares V is a paper project too.

      If any of the problems of developing a SDLV that have plagued Ares so far occur for Jupiter, then switching at this point will be a false economy.

      "Any", you mean "all". Here's some problems that are already fixed in the DIRECT design. Thrust oscillation is already mostly fixed because DIRECT will use the Shuttle design which succesfully dampens the oscillation before it gets to the external tank. A payload on the top of the vehicle may require some additional dampening, but it's going to be a lot weaken problem than the Ares I, which has no built-in mechanism for dampening this vibration. Second, payload capability.

  • The article's illustration includes an astonishing statement regarding the two J-2X engines: "NASA says the extra engine doubles the chance that something will fail". Wow! Applying that logic would really simplify most of our jobs. RAID? Don't waste your money; all those extra disks just increase the odds of failure.

    Whoever said that leaves us with a conundrum: Does he actually believe it, in which case his academic credentials should be subjected to very close scrutiny? Or is he lying deliberately in order

    • "NASA says the extra engine doubles the chance that something will fail". Wow! Applying that logic would really simplify most of our jobs. RAID? Don't waste your money; all those extra disks just increase the odds of failure.

      THE POINT: you miss it.

      Rocket engines aren't redundant, like disks in an array are. If a disk fails, you can replace it, and reconstruct the data from the redundant copies on the other disks in the array. If a rocket engine in a cluster fails, the launch aborts, and if you're very,

      • by damburger (981828)
        More to the point, when a hard-drive has a head crash, it doesn't explode and take the entire rack with it.
      • by ashitaka (27544)

        Someone didn't see the Apollo 13 launch. The center engine of the 5-engine second stage cluster stopped early mid-launch. They ran the remaining four longer to make up for the loss of the fifth engine.

        I'm not saying in the event of a catastrophic loss of one engine the other could take up the slack. If one engine blows up it doesn't matter how many you have it's time to hit the silk. But if one engine just stops you have the possibility of running one longer to get to a safer re-entry point or even to ME

      • SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket is supposed to have engine-out redundancy "at any stage of flight". The Saturn V rockets apparently also lost engines and completed missions. However, that doesn't help if the engine fails in a more spectacular way than just spluttering to a halt...
    • The article's illustration includes an astonishing statement regarding the two J-2X engines: "NASA says the extra engine doubles the chance that something will fail".

      I would assume that they're following logic similar to this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Failure_rate#Additivity [wikipedia.org]

    • by TheKidWho (705796)
      Right, I'm sure you know more than NASA Mr Armchair Engineer.
  • by Keebler71 (520908) on Saturday January 10, 2009 @09:49AM (#26398163) Journal
    Ok, so there has been a lot going on with respect to constellation. Let me put some things in perspective. At the turn of the millennium it had become clear that tremendous expense of both shuttle and station had forced NASA human space flight out of the "exploration" business with all resources more or less locked up in LEO. Shuttle requires a veritable army of engineers and support personnel to maintain the vehicle and conduct operations and the costs to maintain this capability was crushing NASA. NASA felt "trapped" into their existing architecture with little hope for returning to an exploration role without significant additional funding. NASA needed to find a cheaper alternative to LEO that would free up the budget to being developing concepts beyond LEO.

    Then comes the Columbia disaster and the subsequent investigation which recommended [wikipedia.org] that shuttle be retired by 2010.

    In 2004 Bush announces the Vision for Space Exploration [wikipedia.org] clearly defining our country's goal to resume our manned exploration of the moon and Mars.

    NASA conducts an extremely detailed study into literally hundreds of architecture design alternatives known as the Exploration Systems Architecture Study [wikipedia.org]. It is a fantastic report - read it here [nasa.gov]. The study rejects using EELVs (due primarily to safety concerns)and recommends a shuttle-derived re-using shuttle and Apollo technology across the two launch vehicles (then called CLV and CaLV). The recommended architecture becomes the basis of the Constellation architecture. (Which later replaces Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSMEs) on the CaLV with RS-68 engines and extends teh CLV from 4-seg to 5-seg (which was actually in the original trade space). This configuration was chosen as it was both the safest configuration as well as having one of the lowest O&M costs (particularly compared with alternatives that leveraged SSMEs more heavily.) NASA is finally on a path to returning to a capability beyond LEO as well as dramatically reducing its workforce with the looming retirement of shuttle a somewhat simpler to maintain replacement

    Therein lies the problem... as retirement looms and irreversible decisions begin to be made (reconfiguring pads, not-ordering certain long-lead items for shuttle, etc..) that huge workforce of shuttle support finally realize what Constellation means to their job security. Without shuttle and its extremely complex reusable sub-systems, many of these people will be out of a job and their pet projects in jeopardy.

    Not surprisingly, there becomes no shortage of personnel at Shuttle-oriented NASA sites who begin advocating against Constellation and for an extension of Shuttle. Adding to the detractors are of course the disgruntled "establishment" consortium of launch providers, ULA, advocating using EELVs. Then there are the Direct guys [wikipedia.org] who are brilliant NASA engineers but this concept was in essence already considered in the ESAS study and deemed less favorable than the CLV approach.

    Add to the mix the political baggage that comes with the program's genesis stemming from an unpopular president and the oncoming president's commitment to "change" at all levels of government and you have a perfect storm of opposition - much of it which has absolutely nothing to do with the actual merits of the current design.

    People who have not worked on Constellation simply don't understand how much work has gone into it compared with any of the above mentioned alternatives. Of course they look good now. They have been studied by small groups of engineers for months. Compare with the thousands who have been working on Constellation for years. Despite what anyone says about their program being cheaper or faster - any change at this point will result in

    • by Yvanhoe (564877)

      NASA conducts an extremely detailed study into literally hundreds of architecture design alternatives known as the Exploration Systems Architecture Study. It is a fantastic report - read it here.

      And for people who don't have time to read this 24MB pdf, here is the list of the members [nasa.gov] who redacted it. Feel free to find conflicting interests about these people. I used to think that Constellation was Griffin's little pet and that little people really had a say about the decision. I am now quite unsure. I think that getting a definite answer requires diving into both reports and checking their facts cautiously. It can easily take several weeks.

    • by Rich0 (548339)

      From what I've read over the years getting rid of the SSMEs sounds like a big plus in terms of operational cost. Those engines are true technical marvels, but they are also extremely expensive to turnaround after each flight. They're reusable engines that cost almost as much to reuse as to build from scratch.

      I don't profess to be qualified to truly evaluate the proposals on the merits. However I've been involved with large IT projects both on the inside and the outside. Sometimes the renegades are right

    • by khallow (566160) on Saturday January 10, 2009 @12:55PM (#26399723)

      Ok, so there has been a lot going on with respect to constellation. Let me put some things in perspective. At the turn of the millennium it had become clear that tremendous expense of both shuttle and station had forced NASA human space flight out of the "exploration" business with all resources more or less locked up in LEO. Shuttle requires a veritable army of engineers and support personnel to maintain the vehicle and conduct operations and the costs to maintain this capability was crushing NASA. NASA felt "trapped" into their existing architecture with little hope for returning to an exploration role without significant additional funding. NASA needed to find a cheaper alternative to LEO that would free up the budget to being developing concepts beyond LEO.

      This is the cost of a bad decision. 30 years of LEO. Stretching out the Space Shuttle decision (to the early 80's) by ten years, but getting a powerful space industry in the process would have been far better.

      NASA conducts an extremely detailed study into literally hundreds of architecture design alternatives known as the Exploration Systems Architecture Study. It is a fantastic report - read it here. The study rejects using EELVs (due primarily to safety concerns)and recommends a shuttle-derived re-using shuttle and Apollo technology across the two launch vehicles (then called CLV and CaLV). The recommended architecture becomes the basis of the Constellation architecture. (Which later replaces Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSMEs) on the CaLV with RS-68 engines and extends teh CLV from 4-seg to 5-seg (which was actually in the original trade space). This configuration was chosen as it was both the safest configuration as well as having one of the lowest O&M costs (particularly compared with alternatives that leveraged SSMEs more heavily.) NASA is finally on a path to returning to a capability beyond LEO as well as dramatically reducing its workforce with the looming retirement of shuttle a somewhat simpler to maintain replacement

      A path which depends wholely on whether someone in the 2016-2018 timeframe decides to support Ares V. If that gets cut, then there is no manned spaceflight past LEO. We can whine about how that future government is shortsighted, but it's just another shortcoming of the Ares plan. If you want the future to turn out a certain way, you lock it in now, not ten years from now (remember they started this in 2005).

      Moving on, the ESAS has serious problems. First, the safety numbers are completely unrealistic for several reasons. First, they exaggerate the safety of the "stick". The Stick is claimed in this report to have a loss of mission (LOM) odds of 1 in 400 roughly. The first stage is the solid rocket motor. The problem is that the first stage on its own doesn't have the reliability to meet this LOM figure. There have been 123 launches of the Space Shuttle which uses two of this type of motor and one failure. Thus, the historical LOM failure rate is 1 in 246. I understand it gets worse when you consider test firings of the SRM.

      Then we go to the unequal treatment of the EELVs. The relatively low LOM figure is due in part to "black zones" (parts of the launch phase where the mission cannot be aborted) and consideration of the launch vehicles using the 1.25 structural safety factors used in the launch vehicles now. A manned EELV would not have the black zones and would have a 1.4 structural safety factor.

      Then we have to consider that NASA is going to compromise on safety anyway. That is what happened in the two Shuttle accidents and there's no reason not to expect it to happen again in my view. For example, they stripped out some of the redundancy of the Orion capsule for lunar flights. Transfering risk from space launch, which frankly is low risk to start with, to the higher risk portions of a lunar flight just doesn't make sense. But that's the sort of decisions you get. These will reduce the actually safety and reliability of the Ares I. My b

      • by Vornzog (409419)

        I believe they intend to use RS-68 motors (which are also used on the Delta IVs) which results in some performance hit over the SSMEs (Space Shuttle Main Engines).

        That'll be taken care of by the time you get to the point where you could build one of these. You've got two choices:

        1. Use the RS-68A engine, currently in development to upgrade the Delta IV heavy. Same basic engine, ~20% better performance.

        2. Use the RD-180 design used on the Atlas V heavy. It is Russian designed, but Lockheed (now ULA) are working with the Russians to get them manufactured state-side. Better performance than either the RS-68 or 68A.

        Either way, you reuse existing EELV technology, whic

    • by logicnazi (169418)

      Yah, and the CIA had an extremely detailed report describing why we knew Iraq certainly had WMDs. Lots of paperwork making a show of comparing the possible theories isn't worth squat if the process that produced that report isn't fair, objective and openminded. And there have been reasonable credible allegations that the NASA process that selected Ares was, like the CIA intelligence on Iraq, biased by a boss who already knew the "right" answer.

      For instance I seem to remember hearing (but can't verify so t

      • by FleaPlus (6935)

        For instance I seem to remember hearing (but can't verify so take with a grain of salt) that the selected proposal was very similar to the proposal Griffin himself advocated in one of his theses. Whether he did or not the credibility of the ESAS is already somewhat questionable given that it's rejection of the previously preferred approach coincided with Griffin's appointment. In this context the accusations made by people involved in the process that Griffin had already decided on the desired answer seem reasonably credible.

        You're probably thinking of this report [planetary.org] which Griffin was co-leader of, which presented the inline SRB design which eventually became the Ares I, and concluded it was superior to all the other launch alternatives. The report came out in 2004, a year before Griffin became NASA Administrator.

        The amount of space research and propulsion/vehicle research that NASA could finance if it abandoned the ISS or better yet put man space flight on hold until launch technology improved is enormous... Useful human presence in space requires cheaper launches and the money NASA wastes on manned exploration now could fund an amazing amount of research into new launch technologies.

        I'm going to have to disagree on this one. In fact, it's looking like things like COTS missions to the ISS are going to do more for making launches cheaper than anything else NASA's done in the past 20 years.

    • by FleaPlus (6935)

      NASA conducts an extremely detailed study into literally hundreds of architecture design alternatives known as the Exploration Systems Architecture Study [wikipedia.org]. It is a fantastic report - read it here [nasa.gov]. The study rejects using EELVs (due primarily to safety concerns)and recommends a shuttle-derived re-using shuttle and Apollo technology across the two launch vehicles (then called CLV and CaLV).

      Actually, the ESAS is regarded by many to have had some pretty dubious assumptions built in from the get-go, which were pretty much devised to make sure the EELVs couldn't pass them. Also, much of what made the Ares-progenitor design look so good under the ESAS analysis doesn't really apply anymore, since the Ares design and components have been changed to much as to make it "shuttle-derived" only in the loosest sense of the term.

    • Dismissing the EELVs was bunk. If the reliability was bad, no commercial satellite would be launched with them. EELV could easily replace the stillborn Ares I.

      If EELV reliability was that bad, why are they now using components from EELV (namely RS-68 engines) in Ares V? One Ares V uses more RS-68 engines than a Delta-4 Heavy would. So how come it has better reliability? Any person with a small notion of statistics would smell the bullshit.

  • by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Saturday January 10, 2009 @01:24PM (#26399993)
    ...is there a chance that the NASA chiefs are pushing for Ares specifically because it will require a complete reworking of the infrastructure and launch support systems? What better way to get funding to rebuild all your facilities than by saying it's required to support the new vehicle(s).

    I'm not a rocket scientist, but after reviewing the various on-line resources for DIRECT and Ares, DIRECT looks like the *obvious* better way to go -- reusing (and/or slightly modifying) many existing components and facilities.

    Perhaps the problem is simply that DIRECT is less expensive. As any pointy-haired boss will say, "where's the fun in that?"

    • by Tumbleweed (3706)

      is there a chance that the NASA chiefs are pushing for Ares specifically because it will require a complete reworking of the infrastructure and launch support systems?

      And, that's not necessarily even a bad thing if they are (aside from the ethical problem with it, of course), if the end-result is something that better meets the long-term needs of what we want NASA to be doing. The question of what we want NASA to be doing is, of course, the zillion dollar question, which is going to be reevaluated by the Ob

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