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NASA Moon Space Science Technology

NASA Engineers Work On Alternative Moon Rocket 340

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 mlwmohawk ( 801821 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @01:04PM (#24198807)

    That a "napkin drawing" by engineers never amount to anything.

  • by Illbay ( 700081 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @01:05PM (#24198817) Journal

    How can anyone whose project is in the design stage, scoff at another that is in the conceptual stage? Neither of them EXIST yet!

    Where is Ares? Oh, it's in AUTOCAD! Well, that makes ALL the difference!

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


  • Build Both (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @01:10PM (#24198921)

    Why build one when you can build two for twice the price?

  • by Fastfwd ( 44389 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @01:14PM (#24198985)

    It's the old engineers vs management debate on who gets to make the decision. Seeing as both cost and speed are on the engineer's side I don't see why management would be against.

    oh wait I know

    Because it will make them look like they have been wasting time and money and they would rather waste even more money while looking like they are not.

  • Moon not only goal (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @01:20PM (#24199117)

    Relative to the Ares I and V system, the proposed alternative "Jupiter" lacks the small lifter. Every launch, therefore, is a costly heavy lift.

    I suppose that's an improvement if your only goal is the Moon. NASA, however, has other obligations. They need a small, cheap lifter to crew and service ISS and perform other LEO only missions.

    So, yeah, you chop out half the program and save billions...

    Doesn't matter in the end. Obama will gut Ares; Ares I will be built for ISS use and Ares V will never get beyond drawings.

  • by RockClimbingFool ( 692426 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @01:25PM (#24199199)
    Well, considering the original post was written in a condescending and arrogant manner, I think the response fits just fine.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @01:26PM (#24199207)

    It will probably crash into the moon. Notice the units in the presentation are a mix of english (pounds per square foot) and metric (kilograms). Last time they did this they crashed a probe into Mars.

  • by ari_j ( 90255 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @01:26PM (#24199211)
    The problem is keeping all 131 napkins in order and intact.
  • Re:Napkin Drawing (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @01:29PM (#24199253)

    Mod parent up more. If 57 NASA Engineers (best ones out there) say something, they likely are correct. Especially when this plan really seems saner with less risks (reusing old reliable parts) and seems more independent (not'ish project). That plan was made by people who care, and contains well founded criticism towards Ares.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @01:31PM (#24199301)

    Flying into space in any kind of rocket is dangerous

    True, but in your quest to belittle the original poster, you fail to address his (completely legitimate) concerns:

    1.) SRBs can't easily be throttled

    2.) SRBs can't be shut down in flight

    Even had the Challenger crew known about the O-ring breach that was burning holes in the external tank, there'd have been exactly dick they could have done about it short of trying to blow the orbiter off the stack and hoping it remained controllable. Liquid fueled rockets are *much* safer once you're in the air, and "space flight is already dangerous" is not a good reason to avoid mitigation of risk whenever possible.

  • by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <> on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @01:32PM (#24199317) Homepage

    It was engineers who did the ground work for Ares - it's not like management created the booster out of thin air and in secrecy and isolation.
    I often wonder how today's space fans would have reacted back in the 1960's - when the Saturn (V) initially ended up nearly a third larger than the Nova booster that was supposedly sufficient for a lunar landing mission... and then required a 20% performance increase on top of that in order to be barely able to conduct the mission.
    Everything is cheap and fast and easy - on paper. When you start getting off the page and bending real metal, they usually turn out not be fast, cheap, or easy.

  • by jandrese ( 485 ) <> on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @01:37PM (#24199421) Homepage Journal
    2009? If that's true color me shocked. I though it would take much longer.
  • by director_mr ( 1144369 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @01:40PM (#24199453)
    Solid fuel launches with the shuttle seem fine from a safety standpoint. The one danger that did in a shuttle (falling Ice) came from the liquid oxygen tank, no the solid fuel. The other failure was of an O-ring connecting the booster to the liquid fuel tank. That failure was addressed.

    The falling ice problem is addressed by putting the cargo above the boosters. The O-ring has already been addressed. So the new proposal seems even safer than the shuttle. I fail to see how solid fuel rockets are inherently more dangerous than liquid fuel ones.

    Solid fuel rockets can't stop, and they have to be carefully made so there isn't any open pockets of no fuel or they explode. But if you carefully make them (Nasa has) and engineer the launch system to take into account the thing won't turn off (Nasa has), it is a great system. Liquid Fuel can be throttled or turned off, but requires a very complex (read point of failure possibility) pump system to work properly. That has its drawbacks as well. In summary Liquid Fuel and Solid Fuel have different strengths and weaknesses, and when the vehicle is engineered to handle them, it shouldn't exclude either from being used the human passengers.
  • by camperdave ( 969942 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @01:40PM (#24199461) Journal
    Though Challenger was arguably a booster failure, would it have been catastrophic without the center fuel tank explosion?

    A better question would be: would a center fuel tank explosion cause a catastrophic loss of the crew module if the module were at the top of the stack, rather than at the side (especially if the crew module has abort rocket that can pull it away from the stack)?
  • One more.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mlwmohawk ( 801821 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @01:47PM (#24199603)

    After getting most prized "first post" position, I have one more...

    I would trust a set of napkin drawings from dedicated engineers more than I'd trust a polished proposal from a committee of military contractors and NASA administrators.

    Think of it this way, the latter said the O rings were safe, the former tried to warn everyone of the danger.

  • by mudetroit ( 855132 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @02:00PM (#24199835) Journal

    The concept of using the Moon as a launching pad to go further into space is almost completely broken from the start. What fuel source for launching rockets is present on the moon to take advantage of? None really, so it becomes an excercise of launching from earth, using more fuel to slow it down and land it on the moon, and then yet more fuel to have it take off again.

    Explain why this is a good plan again?

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @02:06PM (#24199949) Homepage

    The US can't afford a manned space program any more. The Iraq war has cost $3 trillion, we're headed into a recession, and it's going to take years to unwind the housing bubble. The next administration is going to have to focus on digging out of the hole left by the Bush administration.

    And, face it, sending a few more people to the Moon on chemical rockets doesn't really get us anywhere. Been there, done that, know what the Lunar surface is like.

    If fusion power ever works, space is worth revisiting, but with chemical rockets, we hit the limits a long time ago.

  • by Tired and Emotional ( 750842 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @02:31PM (#24200385)
    Probably would have been fatal without the main tak explosion. The shuttle was going fast enough that it probably could not have survived the large changes in attitude that were likely, even if you could disconnect instantaneously, because of aerodynamic buffeting from the main tank shocks. Plus once you get way out of shape you probably are not going to be able to recover,
  • Pointless Exercise (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SoupIsGood Food ( 1179 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @02:38PM (#24200519)

    The cold reality is that we're probably not going to send a manned mission to the moon. The cost of robotic probes drops by the day, at the same time their capabilities increase. By the time we're ready to send up more astronauts, we'll be able to send up probes that can stay longer and perform more tasks than a human in a rubber suit who has to live in a little tin can. This whole moon-shot thing was basically a PR stunt by the Bush administration - McCaine or Obama will probably kill it, as it's wasteful and frivolous.

    Humans will only return when it's time to construct something permanent there, like a telescope or automated mining equipment. (Even then, it would probably be cheaper to send unmanned probes to small asteroids, directing them to fall in the middle of the desert for harvesting.

    The realities of space exploration have changed - going just to go isn't a useful aim anymore, unless you're paying on your own hyper-rich dime for a vacation to orbit.

  • by MozeeToby ( 1163751 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @02:53PM (#24200837)

    Why exactly would the powers that be use NASA to launch orbital weapons when the Air Force already has a larger total launch capacity than NASA?

  • by rbanffy ( 584143 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @02:53PM (#24200857) Homepage Journal

    To conduct both projects in parallel would require building a couple more launch pads as the current shuttle/Jupiter-compatible ones will have to be changed for the Ares rockets.

  • by e03179 ( 578506 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @02:54PM (#24200887) Homepage
    If "a left-handed widget with widget gauge #12" is the "impossible" that keeping a Saturn V from flying, then I'm guessing there's a mom and pop engineering company around here somewhere that would gladly make the part for NASA.
  • You know (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bluefoxlucid ( 723572 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @03:20PM (#24201379) Homepage Journal

    One person with 50 years more experience than all of you still isn't nearly as smart as 57 of you that came to the same conclusion!

  • by khallow ( 566160 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @03:29PM (#24201523)
    Eh, I disagree on the housing bubble. First, your stock market crashes are out of order. The Crash of 1929 was by far the worst US stock market crash ever. Black Monday wasn't significant in the long run aside from increasing regulation on computer trading. And the dotcom bubble was pretty signficant in size, but not that much effect compared to other US recessions after the Second World War. The housing bubble is signficant for two reasons. First, most people have substantial assets tied up in their home and the "wealth effect" from this tends to be larger than for stocks. Second, the housing market is a bit bigger than the public stock market and with long standing expectations of growth going back probably 60 years. If that changes, we'll see a correction that might take many years to settle out. Given that the decline in the housing market and the instability in mortgage companies is still ongoing, I think it's premature to say that the housing bubble will be less significant than a minor recession. We'll just have to see what happens.
  • by Beezlebub33 ( 1220368 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @04:42PM (#24202835)

    Wait a minute.

    Earlier in this discussion, we have people concerned about the flight dynamics, controllability, number of SRB's, etc. The Ares I-X will test these things, won't it?

    Maybe I'm wrong, but to me this does not seem to be a boondoggle or publicity stunt. It's a reasonable stepping stone in the project.

  • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @05:28PM (#24203651) Homepage

    I'm no rocket scientist (though I am an engineer), but a simple look at the NASA plan shows that the crew vehicle is much simpler than this Jupiter plan. 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.

    Jupiter has three times the payload capacity. Jupiter uses the normal 4-segment SRBs, while Ares uses a brand new five segment SRBs. The 5-segment SRB is really a completely different rocket; it even uses a different propellant mix with a different core shape. Even with its larger rocket, it may not be able to cut it with that. Ares has so many design flaws, it's not even funny. The whole thing is way overweight, the reentry G-forces would be like riding a centrifuge pointed backwards, the vibration loads are going to be terrible... it's just a bad design.

    But, as the Jupiter team points out, the biggest issue (cost-wise) is that while Ares may resemble the Shuttle family, most of the components are only "similar". It is constrained by what the Shuttle system was like, but doesn't benefit from all of the trial and error experience on that hardware. Even things you might think would carry over, like SRB recovery, have to be completely reworked with the new stack. They're even having to rebuilt a lot of the ground infrastructure to accomodate the changes -- the crawlers, the VAB, etc. They might as well just have started a brand new program; they would have been in a far better position. There's a reason the first crewed launch got pushed back from 2011 to 2015. With Jupiter, the components aren't just similar; they're the same; the expensive shuttle orbiter is all they're really ditching. Nothing needs to be completely re-engineered.

  • by everphilski ( 877346 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @05:38PM (#24203785) Journal
    Sure, it's not 1:1 with the final vehicle, do you really expect the first test flight to be?

    You've listed the ways it is not Ares I, now list the ways it is not Shuttle. You will find the list is much longer. Yes, only four segments on FS plus a dummy stage but it's not a stock SRB. The upper stage is a mass accurate dummy, but is instrumented for re-entry. The CLV is testing an abort scenario.

    It's not a complete PR scenario ... some of us are getting * data from this launch.

    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.

    It's more like driving a concept car. It's not street legal, you won't be able to buy it, but it drives and you can get data from it to design the final product you market to the general populace. IMHO.
  • by willith ( 218835 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @08:19PM (#24206061) Homepage

    You going to find a "mom and pop engineering company" to duplicate IBM's work and make another Instrument Unit [] to fly it? Manufacture two tons of 1960s-vintage analog computers and gyroscopes? Rebuild equipment designed to determine the rocket's launch azimuth based on star sightings, not GPS like we'd use today? What about all the other analog and early digital equipment that's integral to the design? It's not just a giant fuel tank and some engines--it's a launch vehicle. It's got a flight manual [], and it's designed to be used in conjunction with an Apollo command and service module pair flying it.

    Re-design the rocket to use new technology? By the time you've de-Apollo'd Saturn, you've made a whole new launch vehicle. Which is exactly what Ares is.

    The Saturn V is an awesome piece of technology, yes. An awesome piece of 1960s technology. Rebuilding it today would not work, period, no matter how cool it might be.

  • by evilviper ( 135110 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @08:44PM (#24206297) Journal

    The US can't afford a manned space program any more.

    But China can?

    The Iraq war has cost $3 trillion,

    The most recent figures I saw put that at $1 trillion, not 3, but either way, that's a blip on the radar. Hell, the first space race took place DURING the height of the Vietnam war, which was far more expensive and difficult in every sense of the word. The trip was also occurring with brand-new technology, no knowledge of the challenges faced, etc., etc. This time around it's going to be much cheaper, and substantially less difficult (though certainly not easy).

    we're headed into a recession, and it's going to take years to unwind the housing bubble.

    Since WWII, there have been several recessions, but none have lasted longer than 18 months. You're suggesting this is going to be an unprecedented DEPRESSION, the first in 80 years, which seems extremely unlikely...

    The next administration is going to have to focus on digging out of the hole left by the Bush administration.

    This recession should be fading by the time the next president takes office. And besides that, many administrations have had to dig out of the mess caused by their predecessors, but that doesn't stop them, or more specifically, the nation, from accomplishing other goals at the same time.

  • by prisoner-of-enigma ( 535770 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @09:03PM (#24206485) Homepage

    The shuttle is made up of a bunch of very well engineered components, they're just all stuck together into an overall package that isn't that useful. Sure, the next generation of spacecraft doesn't need wings. But that doesn't mean that technology developed for the shuttle's engines isn't better than Apollo era engines.

    That depends on your definition of "better." Do the SSME's produce more thrust than any other similarly-sized liquid fuel rocket yet flown? Yes. Their efficiency and power are unmatched. However, an F1 racing engine produces far more power from a 2.4L V8 than anything you can buy on your dealer's lot. It also costs 100x-1000x as much and only lasts for a few hundred miles between overhauls. Yet despite the incredible power and efficiency of the SSME's, the Shuttle can only lift a fraction of what the Saturn V could with its "primitive, inefficient, non-reusable" engines.

    What about the heat tiles? Are they "better" than ablative, non-reusable materials? Operational evidence says no. The tiles are fragile, as Columbia found out. They are difficult to maintain, requiring significant overhaul between missions.

    Other than its engines and re-usable nature, there is very little on the Shuttle that departs from the typical rocket formula (except for the wings that we no longer want or need). If I'm missing something notable, please point it out. There's nothing in it or on it that's demonstrably "better" than either its predecessor or successor. In fact, Ares pretty much repudiates the entire idea. So, I'd again say that while we learned to build some interesting things during the Shuttle program, ultimately we've gained very little from the whole experiment.

  • Re:oh, silly me (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Markvs ( 17298 ) on Wednesday July 16, 2008 @10:21AM (#24212161) Journal
    My point was that the US could fight a war in Viet Nam that proportionally cost 9x what the Iraq wars costs *and* go to the moon *and* fund "The Great Society". The original poster saying we need to ax manned spaceflight until fusion due to cost/benefit was what I was railing against, not saying that wars are good. Sheesh!

If graphics hackers are so smart, why can't they get the bugs out of fresh paint?