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Space Science

NASA Unveils Design for New Space Launch System 288

wooferhound writes with an article in the Orlando Sentinel about NASA's Deep Space Exploration project. From the article: "After months of debate, NASA has settled on plans for its next spaceship — a space shuttle hybrid that will fly twice in the next decade and cost $30 billion through 2021, according to senior administration officials and internal NASA documents. That NASA decided to recycle elements of the shuttle is not unexpected. Last year, Congress and the White House agreed NASA should reuse equipment from old programs and the new design — which includes a giant fuel tank and two booster rockets — largely reflects that compromise. The most noticeable change is the plane-like orbiter will be replaced by an Apollo-like crew capsule atop the tank." The Space Launch System will be powered by a combination of the Shuttle main engine for the core launch stage, and the J-2 engine (from the Saturn V project) for the upper stage. The same solid booster rockets used for Shuttle missions will be used for at least the initial unmanned launch in 2017, but NASA will have a design contest to replace them for the 2021 crewed launch and beyond.
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NASA Unveils Design for New Space Launch System

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  • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Wednesday September 14, 2011 @11:47AM (#37399604)

    And for only $30 billion, and with 50,000 kg LESS lift capacity than it had in 1969.

  • by Sockatume ( 732728 ) on Wednesday September 14, 2011 @11:55AM (#37399722)

    Not really. More like, they're reusing designs for some Saturn V components (the J-2 engine for the 2nd and 3rd stages of that rocket) and designs for some Shuttle components (the orbiter's main engines) as analogous components in this vehicle. If it ain't broke, don't reinvent the wheel, we won't be fooled again etc.

  • by JoshuaZ ( 1134087 ) on Wednesday September 14, 2011 @12:00PM (#37399806) Homepage

    So if you thought that the shuttle was a political compromise of various different interests this will look even worse. There's one primary reason that this new design uses so much of the shuttle: whiny lobbyists and politicians who want to make sure that the factories in their home districts stay doing the exact same thing. To most Slashdot readers the space program isn't what may be the first stepping stones to the stars, and we imagine people a thousand years from now looking back on this early age as we look back on the great achievements of the past. These people don't look at that way. They look at this as one more form of pork. And frankly, given how bad the economy is, I sort of understand that. Their home districts need every job they can get.

    But even given that, this still pisses me off. This will have less lift capacity than the Saturn V or the shuttle, will be less frequently launchable, will be essentially not reusable. This is a clear step backwards. More expensive and less capable. Great way to go.

  • by mlong ( 160620 ) on Wednesday September 14, 2011 @12:10PM (#37399912)
    Oh no they will work on it at least until the next president and congress is elected...then they will scrap it and come up with something else to start and abandon
  • by emc ( 19333 ) on Wednesday September 14, 2011 @12:15PM (#37399966)

    And for only $30 billion, and with 50,000 kg LESS lift capacity than it had in 1969.

    To quote Neil deGrasse Tyson, "Apollo in 1969. Shuttle in 1981. Nothing in 2011. Our space program would look awesome to anyone living backwards thru time."

  • by NoNonAlphaCharsHere ( 2201864 ) on Wednesday September 14, 2011 @12:22PM (#37400064)
    In this case, the "lobotomized drooling morons" are the Congressional spec writers and component selectors who are also happen to be in charge of the budget. Imagine if someone told you to design an airplane, they'd pay for the budget, you just had to include a giraffe and 1963 Volkswagon Beetle in the final airframe design.
  • by tp1024 ( 2409684 ) on Wednesday September 14, 2011 @12:32PM (#37400154)
    What is NASA going to do with those two flights and what are they going to do next? There is no credible plan at all. Fly to some asteroid, then maybe to mars. But in order to do what? Put a flag in the sand of Mars so that half a century later somebody can fly a space probe to the planet and make a picture to combat the conspiracy theories that the Mars flight was all fake?

    There is no vision in this other than giving even more money to the firms that provided overpriced space ships and rockets in the past. There is no research in this, other than whatever happens to be picked up along the way by some great coincidence, just as with Apollo that had a grand total on one scientist flying to the moon.

    If you want to do manned spaceflight, you need a vision or it doesn't work. Because manned spaceflight in and of itself is stupid. As stupid as plonking down huge stones after dragging them for kilometers through the dirt in order to build Stone Henge. As just as stupid as breaking out stones in a quarry, carrying them along the Nile and building pyramids. Or wasting your time to write a symphony, playing football, chess or go (my favorite).

    There is no credible economic reason. There is very little indication, that the scientific gains of manned spaceflight will be worth the monetary expenditure for centuries. But that doesn't mean it isn't worth it, if that is what you decide to focus on. If you say, we think it's worth it, because human nature sometimes requires a higher goal that doesn't have a lot to do with the individuals of the society, but the society as a whole - and as such can truly be enjoyed by all because nobody has any tangible benefit - then this is a good enough reason.

    But unfortunately our societies have devolved to the point of regarding everything that doesn't have a tangible benefit to identifiable individuals as a waste of time - unless it is part of those practices that were grandfathered in from eras when people thought otherwise.
  • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Wednesday September 14, 2011 @12:38PM (#37400222) Homepage

    Oh, we're not exactly cowards. We just stroke our ego on manly war escapades. Keeping the world safe from (non aligned) tinpot despots by using the world's largest military industrial complex to stomp a bunch of backwards, third tier, fourth world countries into molten dust!

    Or not.

  • by thefuz ( 1076605 ) on Wednesday September 14, 2011 @01:01PM (#37400492)
    What is being overlooked here, imo, is the factor that drove the Apollo program to such fantastic feats on its relatively short timescale. That type of commitment and effort is _never_ going to be undertaken without the threat of another country topping the US. Barring the type of wake-up-call moment like Sputnik or Gagarin, the necessary desire to get us to the aspirational next level will continue on this iterative path of fits and starts. The key factor that allowed for Mercury -> Gemini -> Apollo was the race to the moon. Right now we have these wishy-washy blurred objectives like wouldn't it be great to visit an asteroid or maybe we'll be walking on Mars in 20 years. F that. We really need a challenger. China. Like the title says, they need to get to Mars. Will them putting something real into orbit do the trick? Is that even attainable given their current launch capabilities (I think so). Until something like that happens, we're doomed to live in this bureaucratic netherworld of pork. The public (I'm guilty too) is too apathetic to realize the country could really use something inspiring like this. Otherwise all the wonderful brainpower out there will continue to funnel into the world of spooky finance transactions... who can blame them!!
  • by sznupi ( 719324 ) on Wednesday September 14, 2011 @02:00PM (#37401336) Homepage

    This will have less lift capacity than ... the shuttle

    What is the point of including the wasted upmass of airframe? Excluding it, the lift capability of STS was in the range of many inexpensive expendable launchers; and there's nothing wrong with expandability - physics, rocket equation, are a bitch.

    Some simple, back of the napkin calculations so you might get the feel of how much waste the "spaceplane" scifi cargo cult dream brought with it: the empty weight of the orbiter was 80 tons, weight at liftoff 110 tons including maximum payload of 24 tons. Lets be generous and assume, say, a capsule of 15 tons for comparable crew transport capabilities (other capabilities being superfluous []), launched on a typical ~20+ tons launcher... that gives a wasted upmass of around 70 tons in each Shuttle launch.

    Through 134 successful launches. Over 9000* tons of launched mass which could be in LEO, but was wasted on Buck Rogers style contraption.
    Even if merely half of that was used for a space station, it would an order of magnitude larger than the ISS, probably easily of the spinning, "gravity" generating type. And on a somewhat higher orbit (ISS was for a long time on non-optimal one so that Shuttle would be able to reach it with usable payloads)

    *Yes, I perhaps slightly inflated the above "70" ( ~65 being more realistic), but I wanted badly to sneak in the 9k line ;p

  • by tsotha ( 720379 ) on Wednesday September 14, 2011 @02:09PM (#37401474)

    Go Mediocre rehash of 40+ year old designs!!!

    There's nothing wrong with using old designs. There's even nothing wrong with making a mediocre hash of old designs if it results in a large cost savings. Cost, after all, is the big problem with these kinds of systems, not capability.

    But an expensive mediocre rehash of old designs needs to be killed with fire. This is a make-work jobs program, not a launch system.

  • by Cajun Hell ( 725246 ) on Wednesday September 14, 2011 @02:14PM (#37401542) Homepage Journal

    "Apollo in 1969. Shuttle in 1981. Nothing in 2011. Our space program would look awesome to anyone living backwards thru time."

    Nothing in 2011? I thought we launched two rockets to the moon just a few days ago, and it was ho-hum routine! Look at the stuff crawling around on Mars right now, and think of how lame they would be by comparison, had the mission occured in 1969 or 1981.

    Maybe we ought to be happy we don't need to impress cold war rivals anymore. Imagine if in the 1960s, you told someone that 3000 deaths would be considered a big deal that would shake up international affairs for a decade. They probably misunderstand you. They'd think you were talking about the death toll per some kind of futurist micro-nuke MIRV, which would fit into individual ICBMs by the hundreds.

    Play the tape forward, Tyson, not backward. See through the special effects and pay attention to the plot.

  • by sznupi ( 719324 ) on Wednesday September 14, 2011 @03:02PM (#37402094) Homepage
    Those strap on boosters are very unlike that of Soyuz / R-7 rocket. In the latter, they are very similar to core stage, burning the same fuel mixture (kerosene and oxygen; a mix very suitable for first stages, giving nice balance of good specific impulse, high fuel and exhaust density, hence small tanks and large static thrust; a sweet spot, one sort of aimed at in coupling and "averaging" characteristics of STS hydrogen-burning engines with SRBs ...yeah, "so why not just use kerosene?", like Saturn V also did BTW)

    Generally, seeing capsules as a step backwards is at odds with basic chronology. Everybody at first expected "aerodynamic" or "spaceplane-ish" shapes from reentry vehicles, and worked towards it hard. They proved relatively unworkable. Blunt shape entry capsule was a relatively late innovation, an improvement; and a bit of a surprise. There's nothing wrong with capsules; physics, rocket equation, are a bitch.

    Soyuz also worked out fine, being "the most reliable ... most frequently used launch vehicle in the world" [] (and one of least expensive ones). With designs like Angara or Falcon improving even more on the concept, for example with parallel grouping of identical first stages (bringing even more benefits of mass production)

"It takes all sorts of in & out-door schooling to get adapted to my kind of fooling" - R. Frost