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Earth-to-Orbit Transport: the Missing Ingredient in Bush’s Space Policy Recipe
The Space Review ^ | Monday, February 2, 2004 | Taylor Dinerman

Posted on 02/03/2004 8:49:15 PM PST by anymouse

One assumption which everyone in the space community has been making is that the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) which NASA plans to use for future human spaceflight will be placed into low Earth orbit by a heavy-lift version of either the Atlas 5 or the Delta 4 EELVs. This, in turn, implies the end of NASA’s efforts to develop and build a reusable launch vehicle (RLV). One sign of this is the stream consistently negative comments on the RLV concept from Administrator Sean O’Keefe.

This may be a case of sour grapes, since NASA has so often failed to come up with a realistic plan for developing an RLV. Indeed, the only modestly successful test vehicle that the US government has built so far is the DC-X, which flew in 1993-1995. It was first financed by the missile defense people and only later picked up by NASA. Whether this failure was due to the NASA’s overwhelming commitment to the shuttle or for other reasons is irrelevant. They failed, and they have given up trying.

If one considers everything that gets shoehorned into their budget, it is obvious that something had to be abandoned if the agency was to pursue any sort of serious exploration agenda. This still leaves the problem of getting from Earth to orbit. While in the long run, the Pentagon has an interest in lowering the costs of access to space, right now, and for the next few years, they have an even greater interest in seeing as many non-DoD payloads as possible flying on the EELVs.

A CEV development program that launched between one and three development vehicles a year between 2008 and 2014 would be a godsend to the Air Force, which has found itself having to pay a substantial premium to keep both Boeing and Lockheed Martin in business. This problem is reflected in the fact that the Air Force is planning to pay $611 million dollar in fiscal year 2005 for three launches, compared to $604 million in 2004, which bought them four Atlas 5s and Delta 4s. Other elements of Bush’s exploration program will also probably be geared more toward using EELV’s rather than the Delta 2, which has been NASA’s science mission workhorse launcher for more than a decade.

Does this mean the US government is giving up on RLVs? Probably not, though it does mean that the nascent RLV industry will have to give up any hope that NASA will pay their development costs. The Pentagon retains a strong interest in RLVs, though not for the near term. Their recent $7.7 million dollar investment in the Waverider hypersonic scramjet experiment, scheduled for 2007, shows that interest in this field is still alive. However, a long-term credible road map for RLV development has yet to emerge.

Traditionally, the pattern is for Air Force to dedicate each decade to replacing one major element of its aircraft inventory. In the 1970s, it was fighters, with the introduction of the very successful F-15 and F-16. In the 1980s, it was bombers, with the B-1B and the B-2, and in the 1990s, it was transports, with the C-17 and the C-130J. In this decade, they are introducing the F/A-22 and the F-35 JSF. Ten years from now, it is logical to assume that Air Force planners hope to be working on something that will eventually replace the B-52 and the B-1s.

A “space bomber” that could go into orbit and deliver a small precision-guided payload to any target on earth within 90 minutes is an attractive concept, but it would never substitute for the large capacity of a B-52. Therefore, tens of billions of Pentagon dollars could never be allocated for a purely military RLV development program. The Defense Department will try and keep some research and may eventually finance the development of a small reusable satellite launcher, but there will not be any major development funds coming from the defense budget.

The US government cannot simply walk away from the substantial investment it has already made in this technology. Within the next twenty or thirty years, a workable RLV is almost certainly going to emerge and it is in the national interest of the United States that it be American. If neither NASA nor the USAF is going to fund such a vehicle, that leaves the private sector. It is, therefore, only logical for the government to devise unconventional ways to support the US RLV industry.

Tax credits for RLV development, such as the proposed Calvert-Ortiz bill which, if adopted, would provide $4.6 billion over ten years to the industry, or some variant of Dana Rohrabacher’s Zero-G Zero-Tax idea, would be most useful. Loan guarantees, such as those proposed under the ill-fated Breaux bill of 1999, probably cannot do any better now than they did back then. What might also help would be sort of binding promise from NASA to buy a certain number of rides to the ISS or to elsewhere in LEO for US astronauts.

A predictable regulatory environment is also essential for there to be a successful low-cost space launch business. Proper regulations will, over time, allow RLV operators to buy insurance at reasonable rates. Until then, the government may want to consider becoming the insurer of last resort.

Nurturing a new branch of the aerospace industry without any direct support from the Federal government is going to be quite a challenge. Serious investors like to see an imprimatur from either NASA or the DoD before they write a check. The administration and Congress have got to find a way to send supportive signals, while making sure everyone understands that there will not be any money for research and development.

Under Congressional rules the cost of tax credits is treated as if they were real money being spent; however, the revenue forgone by the US government would be negligible compared to what the nation would gain. The tax code is full of credits for things like racehorses. Redirecting some of those investment dollars into RLVs would pay off in terms of future American space power. Not even the most fleet-footed thoroughbred can provide that.

TOPICS: Business/Economy; Editorial; Government; Technical
KEYWORDS: dcx; dod; goliath; nasa; policy; rlv; rocket; space; tax; venturestar; x33
Time to hand over space launch development to those actually trying to get people and cargo into orbit inexpensively and safely.
1 posted on 02/03/2004 8:49:16 PM PST by anymouse
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To: *Space; KevinDavis
Space ping.
2 posted on 02/03/2004 8:49:38 PM PST by anymouse
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To: anymouse
What we really need are two ways to get into orbit. The first mode would be highly reliable but costly, used primarily to get humans and high-cost or high-risk components (like plutonium power supplies) up there. The second mode would be less reliable but cheaper for bulk mass -- hydrogen, oxygen, building materials, etc. Whether reusable or not doesn't really matter, only reliability and cost matter.
3 posted on 02/03/2004 9:05:04 PM PST by Gordian Blade
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To: Normal4me; RightWhale; demlosers; Prof Engineer; BlazingArizona; ThreePuttinDude; Brett66; ...
Space Ping! This is the space ping list! Let me know if you want on or off this list!
4 posted on 02/04/2004 6:48:36 PM PST by KevinDavis (Let the meek inherit the Earth, the rest of us will explore the stars!)
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To: anymouse
Another missing element is Earth to Lunar transport.

Here's an idea. Instead of the ISS being a Space Station, call it a Truck Stop and warehouse district. Fly external tanks into orbit and make them the tank farm for the interorbit tug's fuel. The interorbit tug would service geosynchronous satellites and would be operated by FEDEX and UPS. The brown truck would also carry goods to and from the Earth truck stop and warehouse district and the Lunar Truck Stop and warehouse district. The ISS should be considered the space age version of the commerical district around the airports of the world!

NASA shouldn't be the guiding force behind the commericalization of space. That's what the Department of Commerce is designed to accomplish. Add in the International partners of the ISS and maybe we can change the complexion of the whole planet.

Lunar He3 to power the fusion generators in Geosynchronous orbit al la Gene Cernan's ideas. Manufacturing plants at the LaGrange points and we then we aim to move all polluting, heavy industry off planet by 2050. These ideas aren't new but now is the time.

If we raise everone's standard of living on the planet then maybe we can solve the economic problem that continues to be the source of poverty and war.

Infinite wants and limited resources has been the clarion call of greed and war. How does it change when we go into space and find infinite resources for those infinite wants?

Star Trek anyone?

Hey, but what do I know I'm just a frustrated futurist who was saddened when that Pan Am shuttle didn't make it to the orbiting Hilton in 2001!

5 posted on 02/04/2004 7:03:32 PM PST by Young Werther
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To: Young Werther
The ISS is in a very inclined orbit, something like 56 degrees. The change in velocity, the delta V, required to move the ISS to a useful orbit for "industrial district" use is very high. Probably cheaper to build from scratch.

At least so I am told by guys who really understand that orbital mechanics stuff, unlike me!!
6 posted on 02/05/2004 12:41:58 AM PST by Iris7 ("Duty, Honor, Country". The first of these is Duty, and is known only through His Grace)
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To: Gordian Blade
I agree with you 100%, and would agree with you more if it were possible!

You sound like Robert Truax, the fellow who did the concept of Sea Dragon, back when he was the honcho of advanced concepts at Aerojet. How about a machine that could have put 500 tons into low earth orbit for a hundred dollars a pound? Sea Dragon could have been in service in 1965. Even had a reusable first and second stage. What a waste of time and money the Shuttle has been.

7 posted on 02/05/2004 12:48:06 AM PST by Iris7 ("Duty, Honor, Country". The first of these is Duty, and is known only through His Grace)
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To: Young Werther
Star Trek anyone?

Just a few reasons why the truck stop might not be a good idea...

Oh yeah! Space Teamsters! (We're on strike, bozo! Either we get a raise or the truck stop is goin' to land on your head!)

Youse guys are never gonna find Jimmy Hoffa's body now!

Space hookers. 'Nuf said.

Fourty days of orbit matching after having the chilli omlet special...With a balky air scrubber...

Overnight delivery on the dark side of the moon.

More seriously....

How does it change when we go into space and find infinite resources for those infinite wants?

Limited access. Unfortunately, the greed will be made manifest by those who will control the flow of the resources. Wars have been fought over such control, and it will inevitably happen in space, whether over air, water, or fuel.

Look at the diamond market on here on Earth, with rarity of the common gem grades supported by cartel limitations on supply (the best of the best will always be rare.) It will take tremendous resources, but a commercial free-for all with some safety limitations might be in order.

IMHO the BDB concept has never lost its luster (Big Dumb Booster). Lift the payload, utilize the upper stage for orbital maneuvering and a fuel tank when delivered, scrap or remove the fuel pods and use the rest for construction materials. Re-use what can be re-used of the lower stages on Earth.

If we raise everone's standard of living on the planet then maybe we can solve the economic problem that continues to be the source of poverty and war.

Wealth is generated when one has something the other needs or wants. controlling the supply/demand equation can lead to greater wealth. As nice as it would be, I don't see human nature changing, or war becoming extinct.

Nor do I see any space-faring species being completely devoid of agressive motivation, at least in their past. If their technological development parallels ours in any way, their quantum leaps in medicine, technology, and science would have been made through efforts arising from conflict, not cooperation. We renew our space program today, not because we are busy cooperating with the other nations on the planet, but because of the threat that Communist-Chinese dominated space would present to our nation if we do not develop and maintain a strong presence on and off-planet. While a cooperative effort could be tremendous, there are underlying philosophical differences and goals which are incompatible.

If any one nation dominates space, it will have the potential to dominate the planet. Best to be there 'firstest with the mostest', even if the Soviets orbited the first satellite.

8 posted on 02/05/2004 1:19:39 AM PST by Smokin' Joe (As the oldest generation dies, the memory of liberty fades into obscurity, replaced by an impostor)
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To: Iris7
I forgot to add that the shuttle's fatal error of conception was in trying to be both highly reliable and low cost to orbit, of course achieving neither.

Back in the day when I worked at the R&D lab of a large corporation, we had a session where we were asked to propose big ideas that would change the world. Mine were:

(1) A huge electromagnetic launcher that would throw telephone-pole sized projectiles filled with bulk mass into orbit.

(2) A clothes washing system that you would just throw dirty clothes into one end, then get them some time later from the other end dry and folded or on hangars.

(3) A robot vacuum cleaner that would cruise the house and keep the floor clean, automatically recharging and changing its bags as required.

Needless to say, my ideas didn't go over very well. I think they really wanted ideas like changing the controls on a conventional washing machine from mechanical to electronic.

I just saw idea #3 advertised on TV a couple of days back. Not from my old company, of course. They're more interested in lending money and running a TV network now.

I remain convinced that somebody is eventually going to do idea #1, but unfortunately probably not in my lifetime.

9 posted on 02/05/2004 2:12:36 AM PST by Gordian Blade
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To: Gordian Blade
The Shuttle would fly 150 tons to low earth orbit, and then fly back two thirds of that for no reason I could see. This tripled the cost to orbit right there, without including the extra costs over, say, Sea Dragon or even Saturn V. Landing gear, for Heaven's sake.

Did some concept numbers on "telephone pole" like carriers launched to orbit by linear motors. Was more interested in the projectiles, since the launcher is a done deal on the concept level. Using any given length to diameter ratio it looks to me that bigger is cheaper and easier per ton than littler, until you hit fabrication cost problems. Don't see anything impossible with twenty foot diameters, though serious production facilities are necessary, and projectiles would be a bear to ship here on Earth except by towing at sea. Twenty foot diameter tubing, six inch wall thickness, three hundred feet long, hey! Think big!

Pressurizing the cargo space with a cargo gas enough to keep the casing under tension should help keep casing weight down without getting fancy. If you used forward control surfaces they would have to be fancy, think you can do it all from the rear, and use even graphite.

I see welded drawn over mandrel maraging steel tubing, cheap, diameter and thickness "to be determined."

10 posted on 02/05/2004 11:38:35 AM PST by Iris7 ("Duty, Honor, Country". The first of these is Duty, and is known only through His Grace)
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To: anymouse
It has come as a revelation in the past week that the new space race will be a race of robotics rather than rocketry. The private sector can participate as much as it wants to in robotics while rocketry remains too expensive for the little guy to get started in that business.
--Our robots versus China's and Japan's and Brazil's and Europe's and India's robots--
There will be no launching of vast tonnage of life support systems, but relatively small effector agent payloads will be deposited on the moon, on Mars, and on asteroids and comets. Actually, no one needs to wait for NASA. Just get some parts and start programming. The launch will cost a few bucks, but that is manageable.
11 posted on 02/05/2004 11:48:47 AM PST by RightWhale (Repeal the law of the excluded middle)
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To: Gordian Blade
I think NASA's working on an electromagnetic booster thing, where you just run your ship up a hill for several miles or something, then when it hits the end of the track, start up the rocket on your spaceplane

Hm, maybe they'd be better off just using and an SSTO capsule. But they won't be able to do this for quite awhile.
12 posted on 02/05/2004 9:29:18 PM PST by unibrowshift9b20
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To: unibrowshift9b20
Oh yeah, and you could do an inflatable spacehab style thing that could really narrow the diameter, and just inflate it around the long axis in space. That would make a good way to put up useful manned space craft.

Actually, telephone pole style ships would be really interesting to design. What different space payloads exactly could you launch in a telephone pole? Not people, but you could do satellites, (earth or lunar), rockets for moving big stuff to the moon, solar panels, rovers.

What else could you do?
13 posted on 02/05/2004 9:40:05 PM PST by unibrowshift9b20
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To: Iris7
Bob Truax was a man ahead of his time. It is too bad that the Navy didn't let him build Sea Dragon. It would have lead to a profound change for the better in how space was developed.
14 posted on 02/05/2004 10:56:26 PM PST by anymouse
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To: Young Werther
NASA shouldn't be the guiding force behind the commericalization of space. That's what the Department of Commerce is designed to accomplish.

You make good points, but you're confusing the concept of the Commerce Department with the reality. In reality, it's used to funnel money to big campaign contributors.

So all we have to do is convince the donors that they have a strong interest in space development, and we're there!

15 posted on 02/05/2004 11:07:06 PM PST by irv
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To: Iris7
My thoughts as well. Cheap one use systems using the latest materials and hybrid rocket systems. Standardized, modular components, reliable and cost efficient.

A heavy lift reusable such as the Shuttle just doesn't make any sense.
16 posted on 02/05/2004 11:11:45 PM PST by FireTrack
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To: FireTrack
That sounds like the best approach to me, also.

If I were to write the development contract terms, I would let the lawyers do their thing, as if I could stop them from doing so!! and then write this:

Show as a concept and then develop if selected as vendor a cargo only delivery system to low earth orbit delivering 200,000 metric tons per year for ten years and designed for lowest total cost. Include proposed starting date for a functional system.

That is it, not one word more. Invite the Russians to bid, for sure. Don't need NASA, just the smell of the money.

Just give me that $18,000,000,000 a year and I would be on the phone to Burt Rutan and Jerry Pournelle before my wife hit the floor in a dead faint!!!!!!

Do it RIGHT.

17 posted on 02/06/2004 1:48:44 AM PST by Iris7 ("Duty, Honor, Country". The first of these is Duty, and is known only through His Grace)
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To: Iris7
Do it RIGHT.

You got it, that's exactly what needs to happen. Maybe use some of the NASA talent as contract evaluators and QA but that's it. I like your idea of at least a 10 year contract. Maybe even a longer contract period with some kinda incentive to reduce costs per pound over time and pass the savings on to the government.

A few private companies seem to be doing well putting satellites in orbit (sea launch comes to mind).

I think a reusable crew space plane type vehicle makes sense. Keep the weight to a minimum and use expendable components.

18 posted on 02/06/2004 7:00:41 AM PST by FireTrack
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