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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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  • A bit disingenuous (Score:2, Interesting)

    by amliebsch ( 724858 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @01:12PM (#24198943) Journal
    I scoffed a bit at their description of the excess payload capacity of the crew-launch configuration as "free." I mean, you still pay for that capacity in fuel and delivery. You're not getting something for nothing. The Ares CLV has far less capacity but it should be far less expensive as well. And I'm not entirely persuaded that the costs of operating two launch systems will be that much greater than one combined system. We currently launch a wide variety of rockets for different purposes without it being cost-prohibitive. On the other hand, the Ares CLV really seems to be cutting to the bone, to the point where they've cut land-based recovery. If your goal is efficiency, reducing your CLV capacity to the point that you can only ever do expensive seaborne recovery seems like a false savings.
  • by ultraexactzz ( 546422 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @01:16PM (#24199033) Journal
    If NASA is unwilling to consider Jupiter as an alternative to Ares, then would there be private corporations willing to invest in what appears to be a good heavy-lift flight system? You might even find Russia or the ESA willing to purchase flights, either to service the ISS in the pre-Ares years, or to service an ISS v2, if and when. Pie in the Sky, perhaps, but I'm finding this to be an intriquing proposal, and it'd be a shame if it didn't end up flying.
  • by schwit1 ( 797399 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @01:17PM (#24199055)
    A handful of engineers and a stenographer cooped up in a hotel room over a weekend, designed and developed the B52 [boeing.com]. And its still going strong 50 years later.

    After all, it not rocket surgery.
  • by MightyYar ( 622222 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @01:18PM (#24199067)

    While I'm sure that it would cost less to have one vehicle instead of two, I disagree with their safety and "simpler" claim.

    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.

    Do I have this right? Seems to me that NASA's solution for the crew vehicle is simpler (and thus probably safer). Especially considering that there's never been a booster failure, has there? Though Challenger was arguably a booster failure, would it have been catastrophic without the center fuel tank explosion?

  • by scuba_steve_1 ( 849912 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @01:20PM (#24199107)

    Design phase means they have requirements. Most likely detailed requirements...with detailed interface specifications between thousands of systems. Design of a system like Ares is not just industrial engineering. There are most likely a myriad of electrical, computer, and software systems being designed in parallel. Most likely thousands of items in fact.

    Of course, the real issue is most likely that people have a vested personal interest in the current direction...and perhaps congressional support for tasks being performed (or that will be performed) in their districts.

    Of course, I am just guessing. I don't build rockets...but I do work on software systems that have 5-10 million LOC...and there is a heck of a lot of work that is performed before coding starts...so I wouldn't assume that they don't have much invested in Ares yet just because they are not yet building...unless they are performing extreme agile spiral rocket building. ;)

    Of course, good ideas should not be dismissed...and given the size of this contingent, their proposal almost certainly warrants further investigation. Napkin drawing? Some of the most creative ideas in the world started in this fashion...and 57 engineers with a 100+ page white paper and a website is one hell of a napkin. Of course, it's almost certainly orders of magnitude less mature than the Ares design, but I think that the idea at least warrants a DAR.

    What happened the last time that NASA ignored a bunch of their engineers? I think they had plenty of time to reconsider while they were picking up Shuttle parts all over the western US.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @01:57PM (#24199801)

    Uh, no, actually that's exactly what happened. Griffin and Horowitz (the PHB's) came up with their Ares plan many years ago, did a 60 day "study" that came back with the recommendation to follow their plan, and ordered the MSFC engineers to build their designs, rather than the engineers' long standing plans to develop more conventional and cost-effective derivatives of the Shuttle (NLS/Magnum) or EELV.

    Back in the '60s, the NASA PHB's were at least smart enough to see that John Houbolt had come up with a solution to fix their performance gap. Today, the PHB's are too busy doing political spin to promote their preferred solution and hide the 7mT performance shortfall, the 6 year spaceflight gap, and the $1.4 billion to $2 billion per launch total cost.

    Thats one heckuva' job Mikey.

  • by notadoctor ( 1296593 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @02:19PM (#24200163)
    The initial architecture of Constellation was based on the congressional requirement that NASA actually use Shuttle derived rockets. The moment the original architecture was rolled out, though, (space shuttle main engines, four segment solid rocket boosters, 28 ft diameter tank), NASA ditched both the SSMEs and the 4 seg SRBs. They couldn't air start the SSME, so they had to develop a new engine. (The J-2X sounds like the Apollo J-2, but they have very few components in common, and the J-2X is 30% more powerful.) Then, they dumped the SSMEs for the Ares V core vehicle, and replaced them with RS-68s from the Delta IV. That was a smart move because the cost is way lower. But, since the performance is lower, they had to enlarge the tank (read develop a brand new one.) Now, it's 33 ft in diameter, and requires all new tooling and massive modifications to the manufacturing, preparation and launch facilities. That costs a lot, too. All this after developing another much smaller but equally expensive Crew Launch Vehicle. So, while the Ares now has nothing in common with the Shuttle, it costs many times more to develop, and twice as much to operate. DIRECT does have the side effect of maintaining more jobs than Ares does in the near term, but in the long run, Ares would require more employees, and that is a large part of where the cost increase comes from. The extra money saved would be used to speed up the moon missions by two years, close NASA's manned spaceflight gap by three or four years, and perform more science missions.
  • by prisoner-of-enigma ( 535770 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @02:21PM (#24200203) Homepage

    in the space business, proven designs count for a LOT in risk mitigation.

    Very true, which is why the Shuttle continues to fly with 1970's-era technology controlling most of it.

    However, I would posit the following: the Shuttle program dumped most of Apollo in the trash bin and started with something new. I'm of the opinion that what we ended up with was not an improvement over Apollo. The Shuttle is more expensive, more finicky, less reliable, and arguably much more dangerous than Apollo ever was. So, while we have a large body of knowledge centered around Shuttle systems, the systems themselves may not be worth prolonging through to Ares. Hence the justification for breaking with the (Shuttle) past with Ares.

    The Shuttle was a great experiment, but ultimately we learned it was something we shouldn't have built. Everything it's done in the last quarter century could've been done better, faster, and cheaper with Apollo-era tech (with incremental improvements as you alluded to earlier) just as the Russians have proven with their launch systems.

    No human has been out of low Earth orbit in roughly thirty years. The last three that did, did so on top of a Saturn V. The Shuttle has had us going in circles (literally) since then. The ISS prolongs that boondoggle. Why do we need an ISS? To give the Shuttle some place to go! Why do we need a Shuttle? To build the ISS! What fantastic circular logic. What a horrific waste.

  • Deja Moon (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @02:23PM (#24200221) Journal

    Wasn't the Apollo system shaped by a similar event? As I remember it, the original plan was to travel and land directly on the moon. However, a handfull of engineers felt that the launching rocket could be simpler and smaller if there was an orbital undock/docking stage. The problem was that orbital rendezvous docking was untried and required technology that didn't exist yet. The docking group eventually won out after heated discussion.

    In the end, everyone was happy except Michael Collins, who had to wait in orbit while his buddies danced on the moon for the first time. (Although perhaps felt safer being that this was all new stuff.)

  • Re:I don't get it... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @02:28PM (#24200337)

    Looks are very deceiving in this case. Jupiter, Ares V, and the current shuttle stack all have big orange fuel tanks, and white SRB boosters. But Ares V requires billions for completely new SRB boosters and a completely new (wider and longer) fuel tank, plus billions worth of new facilities and infrastructure for handling this bigger rocket. The Direct Jupiter instead proposes retaining the exact same SRB boosters and the same size fuel tank as the Shuttle, and retaining the current shuttle infrastructure at KSC with minimal changes.

    Rather than launching one little rocket (Ares I) and one huge rocket (Ares V) for each lunar mission (and having to pay for the billions of development and fixed costs for each of these rockets), Direct proposes launching two identical not-too-big but not-too-little Jupiter 232 rockets for each lunar mission.

    In doing so, Direct results in a rocket that NASA can afford to build and sustainably operate (unlike Saturn V or Ares V). Direct also reduces the gap between the Shuttle and its successor from 6 years down to about 2 or 3.

    The root design flaw that doomed both Challenger and Columbia was having the crew vehicle mounted in the potential debris path of the SRB and fuel tank. That's why all of these new designs show a small Orion capsule with an emergency abort system mounted on the top of the stack and as far away from the engines as possible. Direct offers the additional protection of being able to put several tons of ballistic armor between the crew capsule and the fuel tank - an option that Ares I can't provide.

  • by dpilot ( 134227 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @02:53PM (#24200859) Homepage Journal

    > The ISS prolongs that boondoggle.

    IMHO the ISS is valuable as an engineering experiment. Yes, we're having a really tough time making the thing run, so what makes people think that we can make some different space station run better? The ISS is barely above the tin-cans-bolted-together stage, so we're a LOOOOONG way away from Von Braun's wheels.

    There is a rough maximum size we can launch from Earth, so if we want to do more, at some point we're going to have to be doing some serious construction in space. That's especially true if we want to quite sending everything up, and start using space-based resources, like asteroid mining. Maybe the ISS isn't much, but it's a first step, we're having a tough time doing it, and we have to master all of these things before we can do anything tougher. That said, I do wish the TransHab was still going to be attached.

  • by Picass0 ( 147474 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @03:01PM (#24201011) Homepage Journal

    Looking at the Jupiter design and the Ares V, they look to the untrained eye to be very similar. I see a shuttle liquid oxygen tank on both designs, SRBs on both, aft skirt thrust modules on both, and similiar configurations for the upper command modules and payload.

    The Jupiter uses some delta engines. The Ares doesn't.

    Asided from that what are the major differences? More importantly, why should we feel one of these projects offers a great advantage? The Jupiter paper talks as if NASA is heading down a bad path, but it looks like they both are using shuttle bits.

  • by cowscows ( 103644 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @03:24PM (#24201447) Journal

    While I'll agree that in the context of expanding humanity's abilities in space, the shuttle didn't live up to the hype, I don't think it's fair to say that the only thing we learned from it was that it was a bad idea. 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.

    Sometimes through great design you can end up with an end product that's greater than the sum of its parts. The flip side of that is that you can take all of the nicest parts in the world and still make a piece of junk out of it. There's lots of good technology in the shuttle, stuff that's well designed and heavily tested. I'm sure there's plenty of value in there.

  • by WhiplashII ( 542766 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @04:01PM (#24202093) Homepage Journal

    Interestingly enough - it was survivable. The astronauts (at least some of them) were alive until impact. The shuttle just didn't have very good "final redundancy" measures - because such things would greatly effect the payload capability.

  • by sokoban ( 142301 ) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @07:18PM (#24205353) Homepage

    Meanwhile, who does have the capabilities to put people into space right now? The Russians, on well-engineered, cheap-to-produce ballistic missile-style vehicles. And while NASA flounders around redesigning 30 year old shuttle derived technology, and watching their launch date slip out for years, if not decades, we will be dependent on the venerable Soyuz keep Americans in space.

    That's one thing that has puzzled me. Why not use soyuz capsules to ferry people to and from orbit where they can meet up with a semipermanent vehicle which remains in orbit and is resupplied by cargo launch vehicles?

    Supplying durable commodity goods to orbit, moving around while in orbit, ferrying humans to orbit, and returning them from orbit seem as though they would have vastly different needs as far as vehicles are concerned. Combining the crew to orbit and reentry vehicles makes sense because for every person sent to space, you hope to have one person return, but an orbiter vehicle parked in orbit in some sort of protective garage would seem to reduce the need to lift that heavy object every time and supplies are more expendable and often more durable than people.

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