Skip to comments.Spacecraft Designer Calls for Retirement of Shuttle
Posted on 05/18/2003 5:23:01 PM PDT by anymouse
A highly-regarded spacecraft designer says the space shuttle should be retired and the human space program suspended until a better vehicle can be built.
This newest critic is Max Faget, 81, who designed the Mercury space capsule and had a managing role in the design of other U.S. human launch systems, including the space shuttle, Apollo and Gemini. He has received almost every commendation that exists for engineers and was inducted into the Ohio-based National Inventor's Hall of Fame earlier this year.
"The bottom line is that the shuttle is too old," Faget said this week. "It would be very difficult to make sure it is in good shape. We ought to just stop going into space until we get a good vehicle. If we aren't willing to spend the money to do that, then we should be ashamed of ourselves."
Faget (pronounced fah-ZHAY), director of engineering for human spacecraft design at NASA for 20 years, was blunt in his criticism of the growing U.S. reliance on the Soyuz. The craft ran into problems this month when a three-man crew returning from the space station landed hundreds of miles off course.
NASA engineers at the working level said privately that they regarded Faget as "a giant in the space community whose opinions are worth more than anybody else's."
In Faget's view, the choices are obvious.
"We ought to get a decent vehicle," he said. "It could carry fewer people, but it ought to be a new vehicle."
Faget said such a program might make sense, but he questioned why anybody would use the same shuttle architecture that he pioneered almost 30 years ago.
(Excerpt) Read more at kansascity.com ...
If this program didn't go black, then it needs to be revived.
After we get back Titan II / Atlas as a manned program, then we can do design and development on complex new vehicles.
On another note, Nasa should have over the years researched ways to replace those fragile heat-tiles. If they'd have done that, and replaced the tiles with a more robust material, we may have not lost Columbia.
Dr. Pournelle: I pointed out that the total weights he comes up with are absurd: while we are not sure that a 600,000 pound GLOW will have a payload to orbit at all, it will certainly be close, and it may even have up to 6,000 pounds: it depends in large part on drag and engine efficiencies, and all those numbers are in the third decimal place. We need to FLY things to see.
The late Max Hunter was willing to be that if you fly a 600,000 pound GLOW VTOL system he could "nickel and dime" it to orbit, and then design a better one that would have the 6,000 pound payload. I never say anyone win a rockets argument with Max, and that includes me, and I tried.
USAF/SDIO Project Have Region established that we know how to build structures that can achieve the mass ratios required to get a 600,000 pound VTOL ship to orbit, and they are strong enough.
I said as much to my correspondent who replied:
I spent a brief time attached to an IRAD product development team. We looked into different types of launch configurations. Unfortunately money ran out after about a year and I went back to more mundane endeavors. However, during that time, I was a great--in my opinion--creater of concepts. Unfortunately, my bane and archnemisis was the weights guy. I could show him my calculations on the mass per square foot of pressurized isogrid aluminum with matching FEA and he would show me his statistical database on weight trends in all kinds of vehicles going back to the Wright brothers. I couldn't go into a meeting and tout my concept unless I got Mr. X's ok. Hence, I learned to include a certain amount of conservatism. Nobody wants to invest billions of dollars in a SSTO to discover late in the game that you've got weight growth. As you know, a little bit of weight growth in a SSTO means that it comes out of payload. Too much weight growth and you've got zero payload and money down the drain. I was not involved in X-33, but I watched their oscillations and I knew they were adding mass and losing capability every time they did a loads/weight iteration. I may be too conservative in my estimates, but that was just beaten into me by people who literally laughed in my face. You may say a 5,000 pound payload with a 600,000 GLOW, but get someone to invest $50 million on a full up design study and see what kind of final GLOW comes out.
It's all your fault you know. I was just a kid that liked to read science fiction until that issue of Galaxy came out crammed with rocket and orbital mechanics equations. For me, it was a step farther out. We will get to space eventually, but it will take a market for lots of launches, and whether that market is tourists, refueling laser ABMs or something completely different I don't know.
Pournelle: To which I can only reply, we DID that. The result was DC/X because the big doubt in those days was whether you could control a VTOL ship at low speeds and altitudes (you can; we flew it); and HAVE REGION, which was intended to determine if structures that would meet the strength and weight requirements for SSTO were possible (they build them and they were).
The next step was the full 600,000 pound vehicle, which would have cost in the $1 billion range if that. The DC/X team thought they could do it for hundreds of millions at most. But the project was hijacked by Lockheed which promised the Moon and sixpence and substantial company investment in the winged abortion X-33 which had irregular shaped tanks, wings that required all kinds of dynamic flight adjustments because as fuel is consumed the CG changes and other things happen, and a linear aerospike engine that never worked properly.
The $50 million full up design study isn't the problem. Much of that was done in SDIO where they ended up with a 1.4 million pound GLOW vehicle to assure some 15,000 pound payload to meet some mission requirement. Dan Quayle wasn't able to get enough money to build anything that large, so the result was DC/X which was a 1/3 scale model of the SSX that Hunter, Graham, and I sold him. That story has been told here often enough.
The X-33 experience was expensive but not instructive: nearly everything that happened was predictable and predicted at least by me.
You do not want wings on an experimental development X project space ship. You want pure rockets. You want VTOL. You want to fly.
Fly higher and faster
And mostly you want to fly. From that we can learn things about optimum configurations. X-33 was none of the above.
As to the X-33 people laughing, if I had just taken all the money and eaten the dream to achieve nothing, I might have a slightly different emotion. They ought to be ashamed.
The problem is that we do not have enough flight data to establish what we need to have a savable and reusable ship. And everyone seems to have forgotten that SSX was an X SHIP, intended to help us learn how to build an orbiter that would be Savable, etc. Along came X-33 to siphon off all the money on a final design and which was to an X ship as a rabbit hunter is to a rabbit.
It was the insulation on the external tank, not the tiles on the shutle orbitor that was changed for not being environmentally correct. The tiles are merely old technology. Besides it probably was the wing leading edge not the tiles. The leading edges are different than the tiles which cover parts of the wings and fuseloge.
Something like putting rubber tires on a horse buggie, yes, that should really put us into a new learning curve.
Something like this was done in 1988, as an interim launch vehicle, in the aftermath of Challanger. The Titan IV went from contract to hot fire test in 18 months. It was a Titan III upgrade. The Titan II refurbishment was not as sucessful, these silo queens experienced stress corrosion cracking from the Cape salt air.
All of the old hands that worked on Titan and Atlas when it was a man rated vehicle are dead or retired. It would be a lot harder to start up the program today. Much of the production machinery is out dated or was sold off in the 1990's.
Why do you tell us what the advantages of manned space craft are. I can't think of any.
The Titan II refurbishment was not as sucessful, these silo queens experienced stress corrosion cracking from the Cape salt air.
Those Titan IIs were sitting in a silo for decades. I wouldn't propose launching astronauts on those, but on newly built Titan IIs. As for the corrosion, I heard about the problem, but only on a missle that had been sitting on the pad for an unusually long time. (You may know more about this than I, my knowledge is dated) I don't believe that there is an inherent design problem with the Titan II, because they were launched from Florida successfully in the Gemini program.
All of the old hands that worked on Titan and Atlas when it was a man rated vehicle are dead or retired.
This is a legitimate big issue, but there has got to be oodles of documentation from the original days and the refurbishment. And we obviously would not be recreating the original Gemini spacecraft, there would be a lot of substituting of current technology. We don't need to know exactly how they did everything in 1966, just workable parameters.
Judging from what I have been looking at on the web, I would switch from a Titan to the Atlas 5, launched from Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral. If I remember correctly, this pad is just south of the Shuttle pads. Vehicles are delivered to the pad by rail. Either add a new vehicle assembly building for NASA's use, or add a rail line from Complex 41 to the Shuttle assembly building, which is practically next door, and assemble man rated Atlas 5's in the shuttle assembly building.
I still think the hurdles of getting a proven technology to work again are lower than to to replace the shuttle with an unproven next generation vehicle. If the shuttle is going to be permanently grounded, we can get back into space quicker by using variations on what we've got now, using the launch facilities we have now. Then, once we've got a working manned program again, start work on developing next generation launch vehicles, and keep our Titan/Atlas system as a backup/rescue system.
Yeah, but I almost think that was his point.
I was offered a job at NASA/Goddard once many years ago when NASA was going places. Those days are gone. NASA is going nowhere, kind of sad for the space agency.
Two, technically three, slanders against me for no reason I can see. What gives? There are many in the scientific community who believe manned space flight should be halted.
NASA has been trying to relive the excitement of the 1960s, when every HS kid knew astronauts names, for the last 30 years. It isn't working. They did golf on the moon, popcorn on the shuttle, the first black in space, the first female in space, the first Israeli, the first Senator, the first teacher in space--all of it got the attention of only those connected to those in orbit.
I suspect not one American in ten can tell you the names of any of the astronauts killed in the last disaster.
It is important to get the younger generation interested in space. Throwing one person--at horrendous cost--up after the next into orbit to do pointless experiments is not the way to do it.
That's right. It isn't working. Need a new program, something to catch the attention of the young people and get them going like wildfire on their math and science homework. Man in space is a part of it, but obviously no longer a goal in itself.
Ad Astra Y'All
Kids! What about groanups? Mobile Internet moonCam with a shovel-scoop would be a blast. BagdadCam was okay, but I'd pay ten cents a minute to drive the moonCam over to a rock and tip it over to watch the ants swarm out.
Um... putting a man in space? Of course, I assume that's your point. Guess what? I disagree. We will go. We will make it profitable and we will stay this time.
An excellent article on what we should do is in the April Wired. Basically he argues that we should go up and push the ISS into a holding orbit (it is an investment we may want to use) then mothball the shuttle fleet while we develop a mission, not to space but to someplace. Go to the Moon and set up a permanent habitat with telescopes. Go to Mars. Go to the asteroids (this is the one I like) and prove that there is profit to be made (my idea, not his). But go someplace.
The article is at:
The key would be a 10 year program at the current funding of 6 or so billion per year. And NASA would have to be allowed to carry over any money not spent in the current years budget. I guarantee you we'd have a vehicle and a mission, if not a success, within that 10 years.
Of course I've also been an advocate of putting up a fixed contract, say $10 billion, for successful delivery of a usable space station to the first company to deliver it, on orbit. I bet we'd have that up and working too.
Why do you like that one?
Why? Just because? Only reason I can see--at the present time--to have manned flights is to discover the effects of it on humans. Robots can do any other scientific research faster and much, much cheaper.
Initially telescopes, both visual and radio, would be ideally positioned in the airless low gravity environment. The Far Side would especially help radio observations. The low-gravity would make maintenance operations vastly easier than the current situation with Hubble and its currently unbuilt successor.
Furthermore, the moon would make a good way-station for launching and manufacture of deep-space manned probes to the rest of the solar system and beyond. The soil is chock full of titanium. Solar smelters would allow feasibility for its production in usable form. Welding of titanium requires an airless environment. A manufacturing colony would then be able to do the gross module fuselages, assembly and fittings. The rest could be lifted from earth using the Big Dumb Boosters into parking orbits then ferried up on unmanned ionic-thrust transfer vehicles.
Clearly not true. We can design individual tools to do individual jobs, but we can't design and deploy a general purpose scientific instrument that can react to new facts on the scene. We have to design and send an entirely new device in most cases. And forget it if something goes wrong. I somehow think an astronaut could have yanked on the "umbrella" antenna of the Galileo if they'd been along for the ride.
More importantly just because isn't a rational position and worthy of debate. We need to get out there in order to establish a presence other than on earth for our species. We CAN'T stay here much longer, relatively speaking. We'll either kill off the ecosystem or it will kill us, or some external force will kill us both off. We have to go on to the next environment and make it ours, or we need to curl up and die. I prefer to go on. Now, do we need to do that Tuesday? Only to satisfy my own impatience, and to make sure that the folks that go speak english and not mandarin or hindi.
I for one see the benefits in space travel and I think scraping the program would not only be overreacting but disasterous for advances in science.
Why do you like that one?
Profit motive. We can get there for much less energy expenditure and odds are we'll be able to find something someone can make a profit from. That will guarantee a vibrant space industry.
Larry Niven has a lot of neat short stories in his Known Space series that deal with the possibilities. I also read alot of Gerard K O'Neill's books, papers and articles about L5 and related industrialization of space (even got to talk to him for about 1/2 hour when he was stopped over in SF many years ago and visited the store where I worked - he was shocked someone recognized him!).
Assumes the failure rate for manned flight is zero. That is not the case as we know. Each Shuttle launch costs about $400 million. The Mars Pathfinder costs about $260 million. We are paid the Russians $473 million to use MIR. Apollo cost $117 billion. Voyager, Galileo and Pathfinder combined were just over $2 billion. Much more bang for the buck with unmanned vehicles.
We use robots for deep sea exploration and commerical activity. Why not the same for space? At least until we have the technology to do more than what we can now.
Most of all of that was actually the massive front-loaded R&D to get to the point of actually fabricating space-craft that wouldn't blow up on the pad and get out there and back again. And a lot of the Shuttle technology was paid for with Apollo monies. The actual per-unit cost of the Apollo missions was basically a billion per. And with ramping up and the economies of scale, rather than the perverse cost-inflation of shutting it down, it's unit cost likely would have fallen to around $150 million per shot in 1970 dollars. Instead we retreated, and have the monstrous expense of the shuttle. Nonetheless, there are portions that would be affordable. The ET's (external tanks) are not horribly expensive. Neither are the SRBs (Solid Rocket Boosters). Its the bird itself, the Orbiter, which requires the lion's share of the expense with the degree of maintenance and launch-rediness preparations required.
It has been a wondrous expression of American wealth and technology. It's ability to bring repairs and return with hardware is unmatched in any other current approach. But for the dream of the common man's access to space, we need to do better. And we can. For the future, the shuttle should be reserved for repairs operations, and the unmanned boosters should do the heavy launch capability. The human-ferry mission to ISSS and other manned operations should be filled by a new set of alternate reusable vehicles. SSTO should be explored. VTOL should be explored.
I personally like the idea of a mountain-side rail-gun-launched lifting-body with throw-away strap-ons.
Is it available to read? I've read (and think I understood) the proceedings of the geophysical sciences review of the Appollo moon landings. As I said, I've read both O'Neill's book and papers and find that sort of stuff fascinating. I would really enjoy getting a chance to look at something put together by someone like yourself who has actually looked at the issue in detail, not from 30,000 feet like I have.
where did I assume that? Casualties happen. Planes crash. Connestoga wagons sink mid stream. All of the people involved are volunteers. I would go in a heartbeat, even at far worse odds than we have now.
We use robots for deep sea exploration and commerical activity. Why not the same for space?
Yes, but we don't launch those robots from shore to explore the deep ocean. We launch the deep sea robots from manned exploration vehicles. We aren't at the point where Calypso is blythely plying the waters. We're at the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria stage. We've got to get out there.
It came up with iron and aluminum as the profitable products. The companies that ought to be interested are steel companies like Weirton Steel and US Steel, and aluminum companies like Alcoa. This is at variance with popular sentiment, for sure, but business is business.
I mentioned Larry Niven's pieces on asteroid mining (by "belters"). These include not only fiction but non-fiction essays. He also highlights iron and aluminum, as well as things that would be valuable to space habitats and space industry itself, like water and other elements, or even the left over "slag" for shielding.
He wrote a really nice piece about some work done by folks he'd talked to at JPL : take an mylar Echo satellite (am I dating myself) and spray it with something to make it rigid, cut it in half to form a hemispherical mirror, place an nickel - iron asteroid at it's focal point. Drill down the axis of the asteroid and insert water tanks along the axis. Spin the asteroid at the focal point of the mirror (focusing raw sunlight) and you'll gradually make the asteroid molten, from the inside out. Finally you'll reach the water tanks, which will burst inside the molten nickel - iron mass. If you've done it right you form an instant sperical shell, suitalbe for use as a habitat. Of course he gets the basic tools for this from the tools for processing the minerals out of the asteroid in the first place. I always figured I didn't want to be the one to try this the first few times, before they worked out the math (g)
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