NASA's Plan B

By Phil Plait | July 3, 2009 10:15 am

According to Discovery News, NASA has a "Plan B" program in case something happens with the Constellation program. It’s an alternative way to get back to the Moon, and they made a video for it.

There are some obvious advantages with taking Shuttle parts and using them in a new program. For one, the technology already exists and has been tested in well over 100 launches. For another, the machinery and manpower already exist as well, which would save billions of dollars in new development and training.

But I’m a little nervous seeing things like the same external tank being used that sheds foam on launch (in the video, the hardware mounted on the ET is protected by a fairing, but still, that doesn’t thrill me), and is prone to hydrogen vent leaks, like the leak that has delayed Endeavour’s launch for weeks. Second, the solid rocket boosters as they exist now are not the best tech; they are expensive and cost a lot to refurbish.

Now, it’s easy for me to poopoo this; it’s always easier to cast stones after the fact. Maybe this is a better idea than Constellation, and maybe not. I’ve never liked the Shuttle Orbiters; they are hugely overbuilt and extremely expensive. They are exquisite and amazing and all that, but from a cost/benefit point of view they’re a colossal waste of money. We need cheaper access to space! So not having an Orbiter on this Plan B Moonship is a good start.

I’ll be honest: I have not been able to follow all the intrigue going on with Constellation right now because it’s complex and there are machinations afoot that are complicated. But I find it extremely odd that — with only a handful of Shuttle launches left before an at least four year gap in being able to get people into space — NASA is still presenting plans for a Shuttle substitute. Seriously, NASA: this should’ve been in the bag five years ago. Ten. Then we wouldn’t be facing a lengthy gap where we have to rely on foreign partners to get to space, and domestic companies that, while their futures are very bright, do not have the capacity to launch people into space and won’t for several years.

Still, I’d rather have alternatives discussed now rather than build an expensive and untested rocket that might prove to be another ISS or Shuttle program: bloated and unable to do most of what was initially promised.

And let me say that this very fact ticks me off. I want access to space, and I don’t want a lot of corporate maneuvering and political sideshowing. But with hundreds of billions of dollars at stake and a government agency in charge, it’s what we get.

I still support a return to the Moon… if done correctly. But it’s things like this that make me wonder if this whole thing is a good idea on paper, but an impossibility in reality.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: NASA, Piece of mind

Comments (64)

  1. Flip

    I remember seeing similar designs in the early 80’s.

  2. Joe

    Looks just like Shuttle-C.

    On the same subject, what’s your opinion on the DIRECT proposals?

  3. Grand Lunar

    The design looks like the Shuttle C concept.

    It seems close to the idea for Direct 2.0.
    I suppose this is close enough.

    Given that the spacecraft is shrouded, and that the heat shield is not exposed like with the shuttle, I’m not too concerned with foam shedding.

    As for the hydrogen valves, I hope there’s a way to retool them to reduce leakage.

    I wonder if this new design can allow for a heavier Orion, one that can touchdown on land, as originally conceived.

    All in all, it’d be a no-brainer for me for NASA to switch to this plan; cheaper, makes use of what’s already there, and solves various design problems.

    I see going back as a reality. We just need the right method.

  4. pontoppi

    Yay – a shuttle without wings and windows. Maybe it’s because they’ll just launch Real Dolls ™ – or pigs? Seriously, my morale concerning human space travel is at its lowest ever. Somebody needs to come up with a completely new idea. Imagine if $10^12 was used on developing robotic space travel instead. Would we have nanobots transforming asteroids into space ships? Tiny probes on interstellar missions? I find that a much more exciting thought than a few test pilots on the moon (again).

  5. Siguy

    Why are they willing to consider this but not paying attention to DIRECT?

  6. matteus

    We’ll get there. Constellation is doing well, from all that I read and watch. We’ll get there. Moon again (and permanently) and then Mars. There are too many excellent people in NASA, the universities and at private space flight firms for us to fail at this.

  7. Adam

    @pontoppi
    Why do you think there isn’t any windows?

  8. A return to the moon shouldn’t be on the horizon right now, not for a manned mission. NEOs are far more interesting, and despite the longer travel time, cheaper to get to/from. For the foreseeable future, robots are the way to go.

  9. gss_000

    Phil, I hate to say this, but your analysis is off.

    NASA did have their plans “in the bag” ears ago, its called Constellation. But when there is a review board going on that has a day specifically set aside to look at alternatives, it would be irresponsible for NASA not to present an alternative they were looking at. Furthermore, in much of the reporting, shuttle program manager John Shannon, who proposed the plan, specifically said he supports Constellation as the way to go.

    You also seem to think NASA is the sole reason for the gap. As though Congressional and Presidential funding has nothing to do with it. Say what you will about former NASA Administrator Michael Griffin, but he predicted this problem with the gap years before everyone started screaming about it. It also doesn’t help that NASA has lost $12 billion in funding it was promised when the Vision was first proposed.

    Remember, NASA policy comes from the office of the President. It doesn’t make it up. Sure, it’s not a perfect agency, but it’s incorrect to blame it for everything.

  10. What about SpaceX’s (http://spacex.com/) Falcon 9 / Dragon or other private systems?
    Should NASA get out of the business of launching rockets and focus on the science/exploration aspects?

  11. Wayne Conrad

    As I recall, the other safety issue with the SRB’s is that they can’t be shut off once lit. That’s not the best thing for manned flight, where, as I understand it, being able to shut the things off gives you some more options during an abort.

  12. JACK

    Ohhh, I want one of those!

  13. I really have my doubts that any plan to send manned missions back to the Moon will survive in the current political/economic climate.

  14. mk

    But it’s things like this that make me wonder if this whole thing is a good idea on paper, but an impossibility in reality.

    I’ll take ‘Impossibly Stupid’ for 500 Alex!

  15. mk

    Oh, and for about the fifth time, I would sincerely like to hear what your idea of “done correctly” is.

  16. According to the designers, “Plan B” (isn’t that some sort of contraceptive?) costs out at $6 billion as opposed to Constellation’s $35 billion and can be delivered a year earlier than Constellation too. When you’re being offered an 80% discount and a 20% improvement on the delivery date, you darned well better sit up and take notice.

    Perhaps in the end, this alternative plan will not cut it (only two passengers, smaller payload, etc) but with so much tax-payer’s money at stake, it certainly deserves a close look. I’m almost certain that if it was chosen in favor of Constellation, it would be as a stop-gap (a few years), saving money in the short term and allowing more time for alternative launch solutions–perhaps based on some private design of today–to be developed and matured.

  17. Lurker #753

    @Wayne
    They can’t be shut down, but they can be jettisoned and then blown up – they have solid fuel motors in the nose to kick them down and away, plus destruct charges to blow the nose open. The Ares 1 has the SRB right *underneath* the crew, where it can’t be jettisoned, requiring a humongous escape tower to *out-accelerate* the SRB (and that’s the SRB that’s just been unloaded to the tune of 1 crew module).

    What I don’t like about shrouding the crew module is what happens if you need to abort at high speed (i.e. >>supersonic). You have to blow the shroud off to trigger the escape tower, but the crew module is not aerodynamic…

    @ mk:
    Done correctly: Look at this

  18. Jeff

    I lost confidence in NASA in 1972 when they (or someone in the govt. ) cancelled Apollo. I thought they made a collosal blunder. They had people inspired, then let them down, not a good idea.
    I probably will either not live long enough or be very old before men set down on moon again, so I guess I’ll never know what happens. One thing I do know, it was very boring waiting out this 1981-2010 shuttle program hoping for more moon , Mars missions.

  19. JMW

    Then we wouldn’t be facing a lengthy gap where we have to rely on foreign partners to get to space, and domestic companies that, while their futures are very bright, do not have the capacity to launch people into space and won’t for several years.

    For all the conspiracy theorists out there…don’t you think this is part of the plan? If the United States has to beg, borrow or buy access on other countries’ launchers, how soon do you think some politician won’t start screaming about national pride? And then, of course, some bright entrepreneur will go to the government and say, “Give me $2 billion and I’ll get you into Earth orbit in 2 years.”

    This could all be part of a deep plot to stimulate private-sector launch capabilities…

    …Nah. That’s giving politicians too much credit for long-range planning and forward thinking.

  20. Justin

    @gss_000

    Constellation may have been presented as the way we’ll get back to the Moon about 5 years ago, but it wasn’t “in the bag.” That gap has always been there, right from the announcement that Ares/Orion would replace the Shuttle. But that gap is hard to avoid- wasn’t there a 5 or 6 year gap after Skylab/ASTP flights and the first Shuttle flight? It took all that time to change direction from capsules mounted atop rockets to the Shuttle stack. Now we’re trying to go back to capsules. NASA has started several projects to replace the Shuttle over the years- X-33 stands out the most to me- but nothing has ever been funded through the decade-long development cycle any replacement seems to need.

    With a gap guaranteed one way or another now, I’m glad there’s a *public* debate about alternatives going on, rather than NASA’s unwavering support for Ares, despite multiple reports of problems with the design.

  21. justcorbly

    >>…NASA is still presenting plans for a Shuttle substitute. Seriously, NASA: this should’ve been in the bag five years ago. Ten. Then we wouldn’t be facing a lengthy gap…

    All true, but I think primary responsibility for this rests with the White House. NASA cannot propose a major new manned program without the blessing of the White House, no more than the Navy can decide to build ten new carriers on its own. We flew this kind of Shuttle on those kind of missions for 30 years because the Nixon White House made that call. NASA is winding down the Shuttle now because the Bush White House gave them a new objective (go back to the Moon), and told NASA to find the money by ramping down the Shuttle.

    NASA can be faulted for not taking the initiative to address issues like this directly with the White house. But, for all we know, they do that every budget cycle. It does seem clear that both the White House and Congress have long had no interest in seeing NASA’s budget rise significantly beyond the bare-bones level of the last couple of decades. In the final analysis, that is the controlling factor.

  22. justcorbly

    >> Imagine if $10^12 was used on developing robotic space travel instead. Would we have nanobots transforming asteroids into space ships? Tiny probes on interstellar missions?

    Useful tools, but I am no more interested in sending tiny robots to an asteroid than I am in sending some to, say, a nice beach in Hawaii.

  23. Itzac

    Doesn’t it say something about the state of the U.S. government that it can not today repeat a feat it achieved 40 years ago, despite the existence of far superior technology?

  24. justcorbly

    >>Why do you think there isn’t any windows?

    You see no windows because you’re looking at the nose fairing enclosing the Orion vehicle. It’s not like the crew needs to gaze out the windows during launch.

    The video that Phil includes here illustrates a side-mounted option pitched by a NASA official at a session of NASA’s Augustine commission. Whether or not it represents an official NASA Plan B is a matter for intrepretation.

  25. aubreycohen

    I’m just annoyed that the animation has the rocket making noise in space. What is this, Star Wars?

  26. Josh

    I think NASA has a good idea with this. But egads, sound in space?

  27. justcorbly

    >>Doesn’t it say something about the state of the U.S. government that it can not today repeat a feat it achieved 40 years ago, despite the existence of far superior technology?

    It’s all about the money, Itzac, not the technology. Frankly, the only space-related tech that has been revolutionized since Apollo is on the digital side. Everything else has seen incremental refinement.

    That said, measured as a percentage of the fedeal budget or of national GNP, NASA’s budget for most of those 40 years has been a fraction of its size during the Apollo buildup. If NASA had been funded in the 1960’s at the same level it’s been funded at since then, those Saturn 5’s would never have left the drawing table.

  28. There remains one fully configured Saturn V booster. Get a bunch of diversity kids, give them digital micrometers, and set them loose to plan a Return to the Moon! The first post-industrial landing sets up a block and tackle. After that, it’s easy.

  29. Kyle

    Gah!! How could you all miss it….when the 1st rocket separated and fired its engine….it MADE NOISE in space. How could NASA to that to us.

    Sorry for the yelling there I’m upset. ;-)

    Oops noticed I got beat on this, never mind

  30. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Why are they willing to consider this but not paying attention to DIRECT?

    Siguy, I was going to claim that it is because DIRECT needs more testing to be man-rated. But now I see that they wisely changed to SSMEs as well. (Thanks Lurker for the link!)

    So now I’m asking the same question!

    the other safety issue with the SRB’s is that they can’t be shut off once lit.

    The first being the known problem of letting rocket exhaust burn through their gaskets, and the “gaskets” not actually being used as gaskets?

    I can see that NASA is trying to do the safest design within existing parts constraints, but replacing the SRBs would have been a lot safer. With liquid boosters they could even use the Space-X “clamp down” method, which as they note is a lot like how you notched up safety on airplanes earlier.

    Also, AFAIU the Ares-1 is a real multi-engine rocket, since separation from a stuttering spent SRB may need a lot more trust and distance than the liquid fuel hick up that crashed the third Space-X rocket by driving a previous stage into the next. If you count them and the SRB segments as safety issues, Ares-1 has something like 20 engines and 30 fuel “tanks” that all need to work at some time or other.

    If they were concentrating solely on safety (and economics) they would have a lot to learn from existing transport techniques. Alas, money is the poor mans world.

  31. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    when the 1st rocket separated and fired its engine….it MADE NOISE in space

    That is an interesting question. Space isn’t a void, and pressure is gradually increasing toward Earth surface. The SRBs separate at 46 km, well inside the stratosphere (where the airliners cruise at low altitudes). Unless I’m mistaken there is still ~ 1 mbar of pressure at those altitudes, and sound as we know it exists, as pressure waves in a hydrodynamic transported (viscous) gas.

    You can continue to look at how stages separate and how that compares to viscosity. The ISS, reachable by the Shuttle, orbits well within Earth’s thermosphere. Here you have molecular diffusion instead of viscous transport (and gases separates out gravitationally), so while you still see pressure waves of a sort they are independent pressure changes. These changes are passing through each other instead of being in viscous superposition as the sounds we are used to.

    Is that still sound? Maybe.

    On the way to the Moon at ~ 400 000 km out you pass the exosphere limit of ~ 10 000 km. Here it can not really be meaningful to speak of “pressure changes” though there is still molecular diffusion transport you see. In a Star Trek universe you could still possibly track the momenta of ionized particles on your ship’s scanner and see ‘the noise’ a space vehicle imparts on those few molecules it collides with.

    More plausibly a Nollywood (NASA-wood?) producer would claim that you are listening as an astronaut from within the noisy ship. Artistic license, suspense of disbelief, and all that jazz.

  32. T.E.L.

    Sound in space may be a bit if a cheat coming from NASA, but it’s nothing new. NASA’s promo-vids have been laying in sound effects for some years now.

  33. Brian

    I often wonder why people discount the effects of the space race on the end of the lunar flights. Before the race it was far outside the bounds of existing technology to get to the moon. Once we got there, it was now possible but still dangerous and expensive.

    Then consider the Soviets. Once they abandoned their manned lunar lander, there was no competition, no urgency. The moon’s not going anywhere (not quickly at any rate).

    Finally the moon itself. Once we got there it became obvious to even the most oblivious citizen that there’s just not a lot going on. No life, no water, no atmosphere, no weather. No volcanoes. Moonquakes are so inconsequential they can safely be ignored. Other than the meteor impacts nothing ever changes. If you left and came back in a billion years you’d still recognize the place.

    All in all, the space race accelerated our capabilities well beyond our ability and willingness to fund them.

  34. Great. So we go from a LEO system that sacrifices an entire fuel tank on each launch to a moon-shot system that sacrifices a fuel tank, carrier portion, and an entire main engine assembly on each launch, and that then requires a LOR. Grrrrrrrreat. At least the Saturn V had the benefit of being SCARY AWESOME.

    Can we just get on with building some laser-launch facilities and some orbital infrastructure, for Pete’s sake?

  35. T.E.L.

    Mooney Said:

    “Can we just get on with building some laser-launch facilities and some orbital infrastructure, for Pete’s sake?”

    What is a laser-launch facility?

  36. Benjamin

    I still believe the Constellation program is the best solution of those offered so far, and NASA apparently believes so also. This just seems to be NASA’s plan B so they can have some kind of access to space, and keep to the mission of returning to the moon on their terms. Especially as the future of manned spaceflight hangs in the air.

    I really don’t understand why so much faith has been put into Space X, and so little into the Constellation program. On the one hand you have a program based on proven technology with a company that isn’t new to this game. On the other you have Space X, more failures then successes and somehow its going to do what NASA can’t and quicker? I don’t buy it.

    Not that I’m saying I’m bias towards Constellation, I just believe its the best choice out there at the moment. Especially as we’re expecting a test launch in August.

    That being said, I’m probably in the same boat as many people in one respect. I don’t care what we use, as long as it cheaper then the shuttle program, safer, and the mission to return to the moon isn’t jeopardized. Not because the moon is the end goal, but because its only logical to start with the moon and branch outward. Six short missions on the moon some 37 years ago does not make us prepared for a two plus year Mars mission. Walk before you can run, and we were just crawling in the 60’s before Apollo was canceled.

  37. Daniel

    I dont understand why we cant just board a shuttle and go to the moon…as long as the shuttle stays in orbit and drops an Apollo type crew capsule down to land (I think the cargo bay would be big enough)..I know its probably not that simple…why?

  38. @T.E.L.:
    “What is a laser-launch facility?”

    Go out in the desert, build a big laser (or better, several big lasers and lots of mirrors). Shine the large laser beam at the bottom of a purposefully-designed vehicle, pushing it up to orbital velocity, modulating the beam as it goes up to cut down on atmospheric energy loss.

    Basically, it’s a rocket that leaves all the heavy bits (like fuel and the main motor) at home, without dropping them to burn up like this system does.

  39. Autumn

    @ #37,
    The Shuttle is too massive, and the boosters and engines not powerful enough, to generate the propulsion needed to achieve a lunar trajectory.
    Remember, the Apollo capsules were tiny (relatively) things, sitting on top of the largest rockets of the time. The Shuttle is not tiny, and its SRBs, while darned impressive, are far from the most powerful rockets in existence.

  40. Stone Age Scientist

    Then we wouldn’t be facing a lengthy gap where we have to rely on foreign partners to get to space…

    In fact, Phil, as you know, the problem goes deeper than that. I hate to be saying this on the eve of Independence Day, but there it is. The U.S. needs to dig itself out of this quandary furiously. And I mean FURIOUSLY; not only the government, but every American as well. It’s affecting everything you do, and nowhere in history has the U.S. been more vulnerable to the whim of other foreign powers.

    Btw, “the phrase may be next crisis” is very inappropriate. It’s as if the matter only started to happen yesterday. I say, like Rep. Kucinich, it’s time to WAKE UP!!!

  41. John

    “But it’s things like this that make me wonder if this whole thing is a good idea on paper, but an impossibility in reality.”

    If we did it 40 years ago, doing it today will be a breeze.

  42. Stone Age Scientist

    Mooney @ #38, that sounds like a reverse-tractor beam.

  43. justcorbly

    @ #37: The Shuttle can’t reach escape velocity. That’s the main reason it can’t go to the Moon. The Shuttle was designed to go to and from a low Earth orbit. Going to the moon requires escaping low Earth orbit.

    In addition, the Shuttle’s is not designed for re-entry at the speed involved in a return from the Moon.

    The Shuttle could carry to orbit a small vehicle that would be released and launched to the Moon, but the cargo bay can’t hold anything big enough to support a manned mission.

    The Shuttle-C and the side-mount option Phil highlights here retain the basic Shuttle architecture but increase the amount lifted to LEO by eliminating the Orbiter.

    One can argue that such a side-mount option could have been part of the plan all along, and that we could have both eliminated the ISS-access gap and rolled out a Lunar mission architecture in short order. But, that would have required the political support of every admininstration since Nixon’s as well as sustained increased funding for NASA. We always need to remember we’ve spent 30 years hamstrung with this flawed Shuttle design because President Nixon saw little political reason to continue manned space exploration after he killed Apollo and wasn’t inclined to fund NASA at the level needed to support any improved alternatives. Subsequent presidents have taken essentially the same position on NASA.

  44. T.E.L.

    Mooney Said:

    “Basically, it’s a rocket that leaves all the heavy bits (like fuel and the main motor) at home, without dropping them to burn up like this system does.”

    That’s what I thought you meant. What makes you think we’re anywhere near the point where this is feasible? It’s only an idea that’s being worked on at a preliminary level. Only some very basic experiments have been done with very modest models, and those don’t even include laser-induced ablation techniques. It’s not as if we can just get on with it at-will. Do you know how much power the laser would require? It won’t be cheap.

  45. Buzz Parsec

    Mooney, that’s like if Queen Isabella told Columbus not to waste all his time with ships, but just get on with it using a 747, which would get him and all 3 of his crews to AmericaxxxxxxChina in just a few hours instead of months.

    Seriously, I don’t think anyone has ever launched anything with a “laser launcher”, certainly not to an altitude of more than a few hundred feet an speed of more than a few tens of miles per hour. Estes model rockets can do much better. Goddard’s first rocket in 1926 did better than this, and it failed.

    Think a 5 year gap is bad? How about a 50 year gap?

  46. zamia

    The current replacement design choice is controversial and is encountering technical problems. Some NASA engineers worked on their own time to design something they think better and faster. So the Obama administration is reviewing the program. Lori Garver, current Deputy Administrator of NASA, was confronted in public by former Administrator Griffin, about the reasons for his unwillingness to have her ‘look under the hood’.

    The engineers’ alternative plan may not consider the time needed for checks and documentation and so may not be as fast as they think.

    If there wasn’t to be a gap, shuttle replacement would have been started 8-10 years ago. Apollo, a top national priority then, took 8 years to become spaceborne. Plus we had inherited an experienced and motivated team from the Germans.

    http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2009180675_nasa06.html

  47. AJ

    @ Lurker #753:

    I do like the DIRECT approach… it seems to be what the “BDB” used in Stephen Baxter’s Manifold Trilogy is based on. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manifold_Trilogy

  48. Howard

    I’m going to bring it up again – retiring the shuttle fleet without a working replacement is just plain stupid. Obama has the power and the authority to fix Bush’s nonsense. Keep the fleet flying until you have a working replacement sitting on the pad. Relying on other countries, none of which actually like us, is just asking for trouble. We didn’t make it to the moon first just so we can be hitchhikers four decades later.

  49. John

    As pointed out by John Shannon of NASA the not Shuttle C launch vehicle (Plan B) he has proposed can’t quite match the perfomance of the Ares system. However, at an estimated cost of 6-7 billion to develop a 72 mt launcher it is a huge improvement over the current 44 billion estimate to develop the less than 25 mt to orbit Ares I. The Ares I estimate also doesn’t include billions more needed to complete the development of the Ares V.

    An inline derivative of the shuttle stack such as the DIRECT Jupiter launcher would be a big improvement over NASA’s alternative design, in that for around 2 billion more in upfront cost you get a launcher capable with some improvement of putting around 100 mt into orbit and as a result could easily outperform NASA’s Ares I and Ares V combination and meet all Constellation performance requirements. But given the politics over at NASA and the push to support the Ares launch system, even allowing the presentation of Plan B is a huge step forward for the Agency. On inpection Plan B is superior to Ares in most respects even if it can’t quite meet Ares peformance goals. Hopefully, this presentation will give the Augustine Commission the political cover necessary to eliminate NASA’s flawed Ares launch vehicles from consideration for future manned space flight and focus their analysis on true Shuttle dervied launch vehicles such as John Shannon’s alternative plan if you want to minimize development cost and changes to the current system, or an inline 2-launch Shuttle Derived Launch Vehicle (SDLV) archictecture which would cost a little more to develop, but be able to comfortably meet Constellation performance goals.

    Ares is quite simply the worst launch architecture NASA could have chosen. It is complicated, expensive, demands the development of 2 separate launch vehicles, and if all of the reports on the safety of the Ares I contain on a nugget of truth potentially quite dangerous. Hopefully, eliminating the Ares I and V and focusing exclusively on true SDLV archictectures such as the DIRECT Jupiter launcher and NASA’s Plan B will be the primary focus of the Augustine Commission in it’s review of the nation’s plans for future manned space flight operations.

  50. Will

    Plan C: Give $30,000,000 and government support to a crazy engineer who claims he can build a nuclear-powered moon rocket.

    It would probably have better results than the Constellation problem, err, program.

  51. jonathan

    Couldn’t NASA make better use of the empty fuel tank then dumping it into orbit?

  52. Flying sardines

    @ 51 jonathan :

    I’d like to think so too … Read a good SF story about that idea once but can’t recall the title or author so not much use .. :-(

    Ideally NASA will get there with plan A …

    … But if they can’t I’d rather see them have a plan B and even plans C, D & E to fall back on & try than nothing ..

    But most of all I’d really like to see something just actually happening towards getting us back into the human space exploration program.

    I’d most like them to just GET ON & BUILD IT ! GET ON & DO IT!

    Return to the Moon? Fly people to Mars? Visit a Near Earth Asteroid? Blazes yes!
    Enough waiting & talking already! Let’s go, go,go!

    Impatient? Me? Why yes, I sure am! ;-)

  53. Benjamin

    48. Howard Says:
    July 4th, 2009 at 6:56 pm

    I’m going to bring it up again – retiring the shuttle fleet without a working replacement is just plain stupid. Obama has the power and the authority to fix Bush’s nonsense. Keep the fleet flying until you have a working replacement sitting on the pad. Relying on other countries, none of which actually like us, is just asking for trouble. We didn’t make it to the moon first just so we can be hitchhikers four decades later.

    Howard, the shuttle is over. Why? There is no way to service the shuttle, all those companies have phased out of business. Atlantis at least is in need of a rebuilt, so quiet simply they’re unsafe to continue to fly.

  54. Keith Harwood

    What finally happened to the DCX project? I got the impression that its worst problem was that it wasn’t expensive enough, but I missed the end. How did it finish? Is there any chance it could become Plan C?

  55. John

    DC-X was further developed into DC-Xa, the DC-Xa was destroyed during a test flight while landing. NASA ran a competition to select a follow-on to develop a suborbital test vehicle that could reach mach 15, mach 25 being necessary to reach orbit. The follow-on would be one-step closer to having a true single stage to orbit vehicle. NASA selected Lockheed Martin’s X-33 which was a lifting body design. The X-33 was cancelled after cost overruns and technical problems. Designing a single stage to orbit vehicle is pretty challenging and no one has ever successfully built one.

    Space X probably has a better approach in that they are trying to simplify and eventually reuse components from a standard 2 stage rocket design. If successful in launching and producing the falcon 9 rocket they feel they can cut costs to 1/5 th of the current price for and existing Atlas or Delta within a few years. The best approach to reach the moon would probably focus on utilizing the components we already have in the form of the basic shuttle stack since no other rocket that exists or is on the drawing board can lift the necessary volume (10 meters diameter is needed for the current Altair) and mass, around 100 mt or even more is ideal. It simply makes no sense to throw away or extensively modify the current shuttle stack that we have spent 100 billion on over the years when something on the order of an additional 10 billion can modify it into a perfectly good moon rocket.

    In addition we should fully fund companies like Space X in developing rockets to support the ISS, LEO operations, propellant transportation and support of basic lunar operations. There is no reason with the right support and right amount of time that a commercial company can’t develop a support systems to extend the effectiveness of the basic shuttle system and in the long run replace it.

  56. OldGuy

    Lies. Man will never go to the moon. Today, men marry too young and their children are as weak as worms.

  57. JB of Brisbane

    Err, NASA, it’s for you. It’s the Russians – they want Energia back.

  58. Mooney

    @Buzz Parsec and T.E.L., I am aware of how impractical trying to build such a thing right now is. I wasn’t seriously suggesting that that’s where our money should be sunk into at this particular moment in our technological development.

    It was more about the way NASA is constantly taking two steps forward by first taking two steps back. They don’t spend any money on potentialities that might someday be far, far, far cheaper ways into space; and really, given their funding level, I can’t blame them at all for that.

    But the end result is that, forty years after Man walked on The Moon, we’re still plugging away at launch systems that are designed around letting large portions of their structure drop off and burn up in the upper atmosphere. We’re essentially stuck with the “be wasteful and expensive, there’s money to burn!” conceptual framework of the Moon Shot days while there’s just a fraction of the national will to spend oodles of cash on space that those days enjoyed.

    It’s the same complaint I had long ago about the STS in general: as cool as it is, it’s a really damn expensive and inefficient way into space, especially considering that the whole shebang is completely and totally limited to LEO.

  59. Petrolonfire

    @ 16. tacitus:

    According to the designers, “Plan B” (isn’t that some sort of contraceptive?) …

    I look forward to seeing NASA’s new RU 486 rocket project …

    … But I fear that its launch may get aborted! ;-)

    (Sorry couldn’t resist.)

    So plan A was the Orion-Ares Apollo reheat … Plan B is this intermediate shuttle-Apollo cross …

    Will plan C be replacing the extra components here with the old shuttle orbiter again and taking us right back to how we are today? ;-)

    Nice video & I guess a reasonable idea but … well … its a bit of a let down. I’d like to see something a lot better & more capable. Plan B if we must be please lets try plan A a bit harder first!

  60. Petrolonfire

    @ 25. aubreycohen:

    I’m just annoyed that the animation has the rocket making noise in space. What is this, Star Wars?

    Nahh that’s the other govt space project where theyhave lots of “death ray” space satellites blowing up ICBM’s .. ;-)

    As for noise in space – well, just imagine your listening to the noise from inside the ship
    okay?

    Its just an audio cue to let us Earth-bound viewers see somethings happening anyway.

  61. If the shuttle external tank were transported into orbit and then crushed and shredded my a solar powered orbital metal recycling machine, then the crushed and shredded metal or melted into blocks, they could be used as mass shielding for space stations to protect astronauts against galactic radiation and micrometeorites.

  62. Grand Lunar

    Having looked at Direct 3.0 not long ago, I feel NASA ought to also seriously plan to use that. The way I see it, being an inline design, it’s safer.
    It returns to what we had with the Saturn 1B, which was also good.
    And it uses the same booster and engines that have used for over 20 years now. I see no excuse for NASA not to use the Direct 3.0 idea, even if it is a bit more than the current Plan B.

  63. Messier Tidy Upper

    Seems this idea has already (after less than a year!) been forgotten now with some pretty worrying and depressing rumours currently floating around – see :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2010/01/27/rumor-obama-to-axe-ares-and-constellation/

    Anybody know if this Plan B is still on the cards or what else has happened with it?

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