NASA Plenary

Here are my notes from this morning’s session on NASA and Constellation. There’s a little bit of transterrestrial commentary in parentheses, but it’s mostly just trying to capture what was said.

George Whitesides (former NSS Executive Director, now at NASA HQ): Advancing technologies will create new ways of doing things in space, and will help reengage young people in it. Wants to turn NASA communications into a two-way conversation with Web 2.0. Talking about participatory exploration, in which the public can be involved, analyzing data independently, etc. Discussing visitor centers, naming of rovers and space hardware (mentions Colbert). They’ll be pushing new aspecgs of the web to engage the public with NASA, including Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, Second-Life videogame development. Mentions Mike Massimino’s pioneering of twitters from space. Has over 300,000 followers. More people follow CNN on Twitter than watch it during prime time. NASA selected as most effective Twitter feed by Google Earth, Moon, Mars opens up possibility of working with planetary data sets for people who wouln’t have had them previously. Developing multiplayer on-line game simulating NASA missions. Many other examples: CosmosCode, Stardust@Home, MyNASAData, Dawn Clickworkers.

Talking about Centennial Challenges, showing awards to date (several millions available, less than a million awarded). Want to expand the base of people working on these problems, and open it up to new people with new ideas. Science directorate doing student collaborations with balloons and suborbital flights. Naming contest: Mars Science Lab will be named “Curiosity” by sixth grader. SMD putting on Twitter feed for each mission, and many people have develed affection for rovers. Cubesat, easier access for payloads, easier access for research grants for students. Competition for business ideas, moonbuggy races, etc. Discussing naming of node that resulted in Colbert winning, but naming of the node Tranquility and naming the treadmill COLBERT (for which they came up with an acronym).

In the short term, want to provide opportunities for public learning and participation, in the long term, want to create education and public outreach activities and products to provide multiple entry points by which an audience with diverse skills and viewpoints can support the efforts. Coming up in June — participating in LCROSS mission science. Hopes that this will get more people to understand why missions matter and why space matters.

Geoffrey Yoder of ESMD talking about the human spaceflight review. Consideration of new architectures will include expediting new capability to support ISS, supporing mission to moon and other destinations, stimjulating commercial spaceflight opportunities, fitting within budget profile and being affordable and sustainable. Moving forward with current plan until results come in, but prepared for either continuation or change.

Showing traditional chart of US displaying how well the work is spread around the country. As usual, doesn’t seem to realize that this graph could be viewed as a bug rather than a feature. Only includes NASA centers, but says that if contractors were included, this map would be “really sparkling.”

Discussing J2X gas generator test, drogue chute drop test, friction-stir weld system at Marshal, etx. Discussing Ares-1X, validates first-stage recovery sysetms, aeroacoustics, tests ground facilites and ops. On track for a 2009 launch date. Talking about how “exciting” and “phenomenal” things will be as these activities start kicking off. Hardware fabrication and testing underway for Orion (shows it on a scale to find CG — they can’t figure that out from the CAD software?). Showing PORT test of mockup to test water recovery and get crew out. Did it both calm, and then in Florida at various sea states, up to six-foot waves. Showing facility construction of J2X test stand, lighting system at 39B, manufacturing at KSC for Orion. Determining hand rail and hatch size issues for EVA.

Jim Chilton of Boeing talking about Ares 1 upper stage work. Talking about how much we’ve accomplished with flat budget levels since Apollo. Welcomes Augustine panel because he sees endorsement of policy makers as critical for long-term program like this. Showing graph of public support for Apollo, in which after first moon landing, majority decided it wasn’t worth the cost. It’s always been a hard sell, but is encouraged by George’s comments. Shows long-period graph of public support for lunar exploration, always about fifty-fifty with fluctuations. Thinks it mandatory to take a policy relook periodically.

Challenges different between Apollo and Ares. Apollo computational capabilities, technology, unknown environments, physics. Ares: mimimizing LCC, low-rate production, environmentally friendly manufacturing, designing for sustainability (must go on for decades).

Discussing NASA/Industry partnership. NASA design leader, develops requirements, interface control, assembly facilities, ops and maintenance. Industry does producibility, manufacturing and assembly, intergration and test, etc. Industry will both compete and cooperate, pool resources, and recognize the challenges. “Ares 1 is not an idea, it’s a rocket.” Factory and manufacturing process development coming together. Upper stage test article hardware is complete, flight coputer demonstrated, closeout of thruster manifold. Making great progress in the development of the Ares 1 upper stage.

Larry Price, deputy program manager on Orion. Theme: excitement of what we’re doing. “Fun part of this program to be on.” Pointy end of rocket, where astronauts are. Building a machine to do a lot for a long time. Apollo, moon as destination, Constellation, moon as outpost and stepping stone to Mars. Apollo three person, Orion four person, four on the moon. Three-day versus six-month mission. Showing development milestones. Going too fast to keep up with info on charts. Jettison and abort motors have arrived at White Sands for test of Launch Abort System. Vibro-Acoutic chamber built at Plumbrook for vibration testing.

Showing CGI video (shows astronaut shaking inside capsule, but not too much). Showing fairings coming off after atmosphere exit, Showing deployment of solar arrays, which are only power source other than batteries. Showing it docking with Earth Departure Stage, and now see the lander landing on the moon. Showing a footstep on the moon. Any latitude on the moon, and any time return, unlike Apollo. Lot of similarities to Apollo, but also a lot of enhancements. Lot of work done on trajectory planning to allow anytime return with minimum propellant. Landing in water because most weight-effective way to return. Showing standard chart of benefits of space exploration. Says that everyone he talks to in the grocery store, etc, is really excited about the space program. OK.

Talking about ISS support. Tranport four for rotation, 201-day stay time, emergency lifeboat, pressurized cargo for resupply. Can accommodate up to six crew (for lifeboat, presumably).

Showing breakout of Crew Module, Service Module, Launch Abort System and Spacecraft Adaptor. Sixteen-thousand pound abort stage dumped during ascent, and as much as possible, including consumables moved back to service module, because crew module is what has to be slowed down with TPS and parachuted down to surface. Showing another map of location of all the work. Looks like it’s mostly California, and Denver, Houston and Michoud, the Cape, Langley in Virginia, Orbital in Virginia, and Plumbrook and Glenn in Ohio. Says that people are working as a team with no badges — NASA, contractors. Working toward pad abort test. Three solid abort motors to handle all phases, from pad to 400,000 feet. Showing a horizontal solar-array deployment test. Thinks that thin solar-array technology will spin off to the rest of the country. Showing abort motor test (50,000 lbsf for a couple seconds). Motor fires upward with redirection downward via reverse-flow nozzles. Largest reverse-flow nozzle built to date. 10-15 gees to get crew away. Showing control motor for ACS on LAS (pintle valves rapidly open and shut to control attitude).

Showing the multitude of trajectories calculated to come home at any time, and managed to reduce propellant requirements by about 30% by use of trajectory tailoring. Claims to have high support for program (1200 jobs with 33,000 applicants) low attrition rate (five people out of 2000).

Steve Cook wants to talk about the progress on the Ares team that was stood up four years ago. Talking about all of the small-business participation (specifically mentions Tim Pickens and Orion). Ares more than a launch vehicle. Launch vehicle family that takes us beyond low earth orbit. Not about LEO, but moving large payloads beyond LEO. Doing sizing studies to take us to NEOs, Mars, etc. What can you do when you can put 190 MT in LEO? Integrated development, not separate teams for Ares I, Ares V. We are working on this because of Columbia crew — needed a clear focus beyond Space Shuttle, with system that prioritized crew survivability with primary goal that won’t be traded off against anything else (sounds expensive…). Building on a foundation of proven space technologies. Showing Saturn, Shuttle, Ares I, Ares V. Calls SRB “most reliable propulsion system” flying today. “One first stage.” Puts the crew a long way away from propulsion systems. Came up with common engine to support all of this, resulting in J2X, legacy from both Apollo and X-33 program (that’s supposed to be a recommendation?). Ares I plus V will throw seventy metric tons toward the moon. Not about system for ISS — goal is moon and Mars.

Ares I two million pounds on the pad, 325 feet in length, avionic designed and developed by NASA/Boeing, upper-stage propulsion by P&W Rocketdyne, ATK first stage. NASA is prime contractor, which is new management concept. More about the “badgeless environment.” First stage five segment versus Shuttle four. Cases, aft skirt the same. Booster separation motors become booster tumble motors. Replacing avionics and power systems, don’t want to have to go to Ebay for parts. Upgrading recovery system to handle extra segment. Three 150-foot ribbon chutes. ~3.2M lbf thrust.

Have poured all five segments and processed them. Developed more automated process to reduce cost and improve safety to ground crews. Will be igniting five-segment motor in August (Development Motor DM-1). Discussing thrust oscillation, how to isolate payload from 12 Hz frequency in flight. Testing isolator system to take out and detune the stack. Says that similar system on Delta IV Heavy (doesn’t note the huge difference between vibration on Delta and SRB).

Showing main parachute cluster drop. Looks like they dropped it out of C-17 at 10,000 feet at Yuma. Used a 41,000 lb sled. Test was a success.

Upper stage discussion. Similar to Saturn IVB, common bulkhead, helium bottles submerged in hydrogen tank. Interstage is aluminum-lithium except for common bulkhead which uses 2019 aluminum. Roll control system for first-stage flight. Moving ET tank tooling out of Michoud to put in friction-stir welding for upper-stage manufacture. Revisiting buckling criteria (which goes back decades). Upgraded criteria will lighten up structure not just for this program, but many other aerospace program. Upgrading J-2 with modern electronics, and new gas generator based on RS-68. Following roadmap laid out in sixties had program continued on. Built new test facility for altitude test of engine, third largest tower in Mississippi. Engine passed CDR back in December.

Ares 1-X key test for them. “Flying wind tunnel,” to see if algorithms work as planned, learn how to stack, how to stage. Enormous game changer in fleshing out design issues. Will be stacking in VAB in July if review goes as anticipated.

Discussing Ares V progress, and hardware elements that will come into it from Ares I. Have begun preliminary concept review, focused on design of EDS, payload shroud, core stage and RS-68 core stage engines, which may or many not be changed from Ares I version. Looking into additional RS-68 for more performance, perhaps stage and a half. Summary chart has usual motherhood.

Charlie Precourt (astronaut, ATK) talking first stage. Showing Shuttle, Ares I, Ares V (same “building on proven technology foundation” story). Current LOC probability 1 in 200 for Shuttle, a hundred times more risky than combat aircraft. Want to get into ones in thousands (for comparison, airlines are one in millions). Have a long way to go. Take the best of what we know, streamline things that are a problem for risk. Using heritage hardware in its heritage environments — where is it seeing a new environment? e.g., SRB sees different environment in Shuttle than as first stage of Ares I. Where is there new hardware altogether, and how does it interact with heritage hardware? Will learn much from Ares I-X.

Upcoming test milestones: Ares 1-X, five segment DM-1 test, pad abort test. Goal is to achieve 1/3000 loss of crew rate. 100% ability throughout trajectory to safely abort crew.

Showing chart of how proud they are to avoid orbital docking, assembly, checkout. Talking about how successful Apollo was at this, with no mention of how much it cost.

Putting “barber-shop stripe” on Ares I-X to show roll stability visually. Will be very impressive to roll out, over 300 feet high. Highly instrumented for data collection. Avionics package designed specifically for test flight. Four-segment motor with simulator above as fifth segment, and dummy upper stage on top. Flies to 150,000 feet, higher altitude than Shuttle, so need larger parachutes. Cases will be reused from four Shuttle missions in the nineties. LAS on track for pad abort test this fall (year behind from early 2007 time frame – rs).

I-X milestone, vehicle mate begins in June, rollout to pad August 26th, early fall test flight. “On the path to unprecedented increase in crew safety.” Vehicles will be around for decades to come. How depressing.

J-2X discussion from Dean Nunez at P&W Rocketdyne. Former program manager for RS-68, so both of his engines will be on these vehicles and proud of that. Showing 3-D of engine, with pointer for where it goes into the vehicle, for those of us too dim to get it (probably aimed at Congresspeople).

Going from 230,000 lbf in Apollo to 294,000 lbf. 424 seconds increased to 448 Isp (extended nozzle). RS-68 gas generator scaled to J-2X requirements. Tube-wall regen nozzle based on RS-27 and SSME designs. Went from slide valves to ball valves based on X-33 experience. Metallic orthogrid nozzle for extension.

First engine systems test doesn’t occur until 2011. Only previous milestone shown is PDR is CRD in November 2008. Completion of development is 2014.


Any more delays in I-X test now that Hubble mission has been completed and doesn’t compete for pad? Cook: targeting for end of August, and no obvious showstoppers for that date. Hardware is all at the Cape and being assembled, with cable layout. Biggest challenge is paperwork. Coming 18 months before CDR, so will have time to learn from it.

5 thoughts on “NASA Plenary”

  1. Rand,

    Thanks for the extensive summary. Your fingertips must experience high-cycle fatigue from typing that quickly.

    ‘Tis a bit depressing to read the Ares proponents’ comments. I can’t expect differently from them, but if they were really concerned with “where is the new environment”, I don’t think Ares I or V would be the answer.

  2. Rand, It has been a while since we chatted. I hope that all is well with you.

    Ares I was not the best or prettiest Project Constellation design proposal submitted for consideration, but it was the winner in the end. Other rocket builders and a rag tag band of bloggers immediately jumped on Ares I as the worst thing since the Ford Edsel. That claim is nonsense.

    I looked into the extremely popular but ambiguous claims of the Ares I opponents and found little or no substance to them. I asked the opponents of Ares I for some engineering analysis that supports their claims. The response was disappointing. A major proponent of EELV and/or Jupiter Direct mailed me a single engineering diagram of launch drift and one out of context NASA PowerPoint slide. The various extreme claims made by anti-Ares I bloggers wholly unsupported by the technical history of Ares I.

    The launch drift diagram was for a 28 knot wind into the LUT. Ludicrous. My inquiry about the elastic limits of the Ares I superstructure was apparently ignored by the so-called rocket engineer who made claims about Ares I column buckling. I also found that the vibration (oscillation) claims were fantastically exaggerated.

    The claims against Ares I are essentially nothing more than a very popular hoax. The opponents of Ares I, as is typical of hoax mongers, only play by the rules of science when those rules appear to favor then position. When a rigorous examination of their claims reveals significant flaws, the Ares I opponents react wither with insulting comments or conspiratorial claims against their detractor.

    I am sure that the replies to this posting, if there are any, will fit that insult/conspiracy mold. No, I am not on NASA’s payroll, nor do I receive compensation from ATK.

  3. Jim, even if I grant for the sake of the argument that it’s not a technological slow train wreck, and not vastly overrunning its budget and delayed in schedule, even if it does everything that NASA claims it will, it will be horrifically expensive to operate, costing billions of dollars per lunar mission, even ignoring the development costs. It will be as unaffordable and unsustainable as Apollo was.

    We can do much better, for much less.

  4. Yep, we can, but we won’t. The Feds have never been too interested in doing this the best and cheapest way, have they?

    Apollo was a happy accident of history that will never happen again.

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