To The Moon, Alice

Mike Pence just gave a speech in Huntsville in which he stated as an administration goal to get back to the moon in not nine years, but in five (I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that this would be at the end of Trump’s second term). And he doesn’t care how it happens, even if it takes commercial rockets. That’s a shot over Dick Shelby’s bow. And he threw a lot of shade at Boeing over SLS.

That will either require a budget increase, or SLS/Orion cancellation. I imagine that if he’s not already doing so, Elon will put people on 24/7 shifts in Boca Chica.

[Update mid-afternoon]

Here‘s the story from Loren Grush.

39 thoughts on “To The Moon, Alice”

  1. IMHO there is no amount of money you could shovel into the current NASA human spaceflight bureaucracy that would achieve Americans back on the Moon in five years. They’re just too far gone into organizational rigor mortis.

    But it won’t require a budget increase in any case. Canceling SLS/Orion would free up more than enough budget.

    What it absolutely will require is bypassing the current NASA HSF bureaucracy. Go back to the original Commercial Cargo COTS model, where the contractors could cherry-pick useful NASA expertise but NASA could *not* burrow into and control the contractors’ development processes.

    No other way it can happen.

    1. Agreed. It’s to the point where putting NASA in charge is how you stop something from happening.

      My guess is that there is only one way to do a manned moon landing in 5 years or less without a hyper-expensive crash program; SpaceX’s Starship/BFR, assuming all goes well with it.

      1. The Falcon Heavy could launch a mission to the moon if you allow for LEO assembly of a vehicle and lunar orbit rendezvous for the return. As a rough estimate, main propulsion, transfer capsule, and lander as separate packages gives plenty of mass margin to LEO.

        1. Agreed,

          However, the problem IMHO is twofold; you’d need (I think) 3 launches; one for Dragon 2, 1 for the lander, 1 to put an almost fully fueled 2nd stage (For TLI) in LEO. And for the third one, you’d need to expend the center core. Still, it would be far cheaper than a single SLS, plus SLS (without the now-mothballed EUS) would need two launches.

          The biggest problem with the FH scenario IMHO; the lunar lander does not exist. Also, you’d need some sort of service propulsion unit for Dragon2, because as-is I don’t think it has the delta/v to go from low lunar orbit to Earth return. You need about 1.3 kps for that, and Dragon 2 has around 300 mps delta/v. So, you’re going to need something to give you about a 1kps boost at least. Star38 comes to mind – put one in the trunk. 🙂

          As for the lunar lander, that’s a very difficult engineering feat, so would take a lot of time. My hunch is that Starship might be ready first.

          1. Regarding my above, oops!

            I neglected the little detail that Dragon2 plus the lander need some way to get into low lunar orbit. The FH 2nd stage does not have the in-space duration to do that burn, and something has to. Otherwise, the alternative is going to high lunar retrograde orbit (very little Delta/v requited to enter it, Dragon could handle it) but that’d require the lunar lander to have a lot of delta/v.

          2. SpaceX already has a great engine for a service module and lander, the Super Draco. It’s throttleable down to 20%, and uses N204 and monomethyl hydrazine. It has 15,325 lbf thrust (16,000 max), chamber pressure of 1000 psi, and a seal level ISP of 235 seconds. And that’s configured as an abort engine with an expansion ratio of 2.66:1 or so. Slap a big 60:1 engine bell on it and I’d expect the ISP to approach 340 seconds, which is far better than the Apollo or Shuttle OMS which only ran at 100 psi and 125 psi, respectively.

        2. Yeah. I think this is the most viable option. A dual launch architecture where you use the Falcon Heavy and the Falcon 9.
          It should also be the most cost effective way to do it.

      2. Starship/BFR won’t reliably be ready. If you want a low-risk pure SpaceX option, F9H plus Dragon 3 (Dragon 2 with the NASA gold-plating removed and the vertical landing capability restored.)

        But there are other lander contenders. Blue, and Masten/ULA, and use a Dragon 2 for crew transport to wherever the optimum rendezvous point is.

    2. –Henry
      March 26, 2019 At 10:44 AM
      IMHO there is no amount of money you could shovel into the current NASA human spaceflight bureaucracy that would achieve Americans back on the Moon in five years. They’re just too far gone into organizational rigor mortis.–

      How about 1 billion per year for 5 years, 5 billion in total.
      And 5 billion will only be spent whatever will get NASA to moon in 5 years.

      But I don’t favor idea of sending crew to Moon in 5 years, but I would do it, if I were President.
      I also not favor of going to moon and staying- but again might politically be good idea.

      What think is important is starting on robotic missions to the Moon.
      So, instead 5 billion, 3 billion is enough.
      So 1 billion per year for 3 years, and the 3 billion would only be spent of robotic lunar mission which will get to lunar surface within 3 years, and depending how that goes, I might change last 2 years to getting crew to lunar surface within 2 year, 2 billion dollars in total for such crewed missions.
      But I would see what happens, and instead manned, instead add 2 billion for more robotic mission for the remaining 2 years.

      And also tell NASA, it has 10 years to explore the Moon, and then we going to explore Mars. So for next 10 year the NASA entire agency should become far more more focused on exploring the Moon and get ready to start a mars exploration program, 10 years in the future [2029 AD] and interested in the general outline of how NASA will start Mars exploration and the various options. And would give deadline of humans on Mars surface by about 2035.
      And deadline of human crew on Lunar surface before 2030 AD.

      1. So, what part of outline of Mars exploration, involves Mars launch window and some guesses about Solar Min and Max and dealing with radiation environment.
        I also have ideas related to getting crew to Mars in 3 month time period, and I think one should use chemical rockets, but nuclear rockets also on the table [if they get crew to Mars in 3 months- or any other kind of rocket power.

  2. My favorite candidate for a manned lunar lander: a modified version of New Shepard.

    I wouldn’t be surprised at all if it turns out that the Blue Origin lunar lander project they call Blue Moon actually is a modified version of New Shepard.

  3. Back in 1989, Pres. George H. W. Bush came out with a proposal of building a space station, going back to the Moon, and going to Mars. The cost for the proposal was $400 billion. I thought at the time, that there has to be a better way. So I thought of away that was cheaper.
    Have NASA rent a space station, purchase flights to the Moon, rent base facilities on the Moon, and purchase launch flights to Mars.
    If NASA had done that back then, then we would be back on the Moon by now, and would have been on our way to Mars.
    But I did write to any of my members of congress. But in 2003, I did. In 2005, I went to Rep. Walter Jones office in Greenville N.C. I talked to one of his staffers. I also went to Sen. Richard Burr’s office in Wilmington N.C. I went there a few times. And I emailed his staffer there a few times. I talked about prizes, purchasing launch flights, and about space property rights. I mentioned lunar land claims.
    If a company builds a settlement, then the U.S. would recognize that land claim. We wouldn’t giving any land, just recognize companies land claims, if they build a settlement.
    About prizes, I even mentioned that DARPA should also offer prizes. In one email, I suggested bringing back DC-X, and let DARPA offer a prize of $1 billion to the first company to build an SSTO spacecraft.
    Is it true that Elon Musk new spacecraft, can be an SSTO if it is fully fueled? If it is, that would be a true game changer.

    1. That is what SpaceX has claimed, with the qualification that it basically could not carry any payload at all. Which pretty severely limits the utility of Starship as an SSTO.

      The more important point to SpaceX is that Starship WOULD be an SSTO on Mars or the Moon, WITH ample payload. It’s only on Earth that it’s so difficult, for obvious reasons.

    2. “The cost for the proposal was $400 billion.”

      If I remember correctly, he asked NASA to come up with a plan, and they didn’t want to go back to the moon, so they sabotaged the plan by vastly overestimating the cost.

      1. That was part of the motivation, but in addition, every center threw in its hobby shops and sandboxes as being essential to the project, and whoever pulled together the plan just threw everything in, because discriminating among them would have been work.

          1. LOx is cheap fancy airframes and engines are expensive. Best to get out of sensible atmosphere near vertically and quickly.

          2. The cost of the propellant isn’t the issue. The size of the fuel tanks, the logarithmic nature of the rocket equation, and the ground facilities required are the issues. For the time that you are in the atmosphere, the difference between an ISP of 300 and an ISP of 8000 is non-trivial. The ability to switch between air breathing and closed cycle in the same engine is huge. And the ability to take off and land on a runway at any existing international airport rather than just at a couple launch facilities would make space travel as routine as air travel.

  4. “The Resistance”, with their spite of Trump, will be sure to squander any remaining good will the American people have for NASA.

    I would almost say it will never happen in 5 years, but I can’t discount SpaceX that much. Still, if SpaceX has to do it via NASA (Pad 39); then it will most definitely won’t happen until after Trump leaves office.

    With that in mind; is this a planting of a seed that may lead to the abolishment of NASA as we know it today in Trump’s second term? Obviously, it would look bad for a re-election campaign to make declare such a plank. But if by 2021, NASA isn’t close to meeting the objective; then perhaps a regained GOP majority of both chambers in Congress might decide to go on a budget cutting spree.

  5. I wonder if Vegas is going to open a book on this. I would love to place a bet on the “Yeah right, as if! Good luck with that” option.

    As much of a Moon guy as I am, I think this is entirely the wrong approach, and we’ll end up with a program that is, in essence, Apollo 2.0, with again, no lasting legacy for the future.

    1. Apollo version 1.0 had lasting legacy.
      As did Shuttle version 1.0
      One might find some aspects of such legacies, bad.

      One aspect of Apollo legacy was it encouraged politicans to be more stupid than politicans generally are.
      So we had really dumb things, like the war on poverty.

      A legacy of Apollo, was discovering there was not much water on the Moon and if Apollo 2.0 confirms there some water in the lunar polar region, that could be a good legacy.
      If NASA proves it can explore the lunar poles, that certainly add confidence that it might be able to explore Mars.

  6. “That will either require a budget increase, or SLS/Orion cancellation.”
    Without control of congress, and unable even to get hos own party yo support his agenda, he is unlikely to accomplish either of those. Without a Cold War style imperative, the Moon is a political football, to be pushed by the party in power, and blocked by the opposition, with neither side really much caring if we get there or not. Unless and until BFR brings launch costs down another order of magnitude, there will not be a serious effort to return to the moon, and maybe not even then.

  7. There’s a more fundamental question to be answered before the United States would embark on such an ambitious program: “Why?”

    We are not in a race to establish who is technologically superior to whom, nor are we in a competition of ideologies. In fact, the current mess of competing political philosophies in the US by itself renders that whole idea a joke: Would Bernie Sanders socialism or Bush-type “capitalism” (i.e. crony capitalism, which = socialism) be better? Who cares?

    Americans were jazzed that we beat everyone to the Moon back in 1969, and it more than repaid the program cost in terms of elevating the US and demoralizing the USSR. But by Apollo 14, no one cared anymore. We were glad we did it, but were weary of overdoing it.

    Today, there is no corresponding “need” for the US to go back to the Moon. How to do it is the subject of debate here. But the debate that has to be solved before that can take place is Why do it?

    1. ” How to do it is the subject of debate here. But the debate that has to be solved before that can take place is Why do it?”

      I agree 100%. Just going to the moon because a President orders it is socialism to the max. And I don’t mean because the money comes from Government. I mean the elimination of market forces dictating where you go, for what reasons, and what you do when you get there.

      Though there could be a “Space Race” political angle in all this: the Chinese.

      1. “So committee after committee after committee kind of
        edges up to the thing: they kind of belly up to the bar and peek over a little bit and say “it’s kinda like we should be doing [whispers] – settlement.”

        Well, it seems we have quest can we do settlements now.
        But settlements most important aspect are market places.
        Places people get to together and do stuff [or rest from doing stuff]. Settlement are a focus of human activity.
        Or a coffee shop is more of settlement than ISS is settlement.
        A reason for ISS is trying to answer, can we have settlements in space. Or was a plan or idea of it, and not claiming how successful it was in terms of execution of that general idea.

        The economist mag had article which said roughly satellite market has great usefulness or there is no doubt of it’s value.
        But claim what NASA has been and will be doing, has no value.

        And NASA’s challenge is proving that the Economist mag article, is wrong. So far Economist is correct. And it seems to me, it’s dead wrong.

        So would say we have determine whether the Moon is a near term destination. I was once of opinion that the Moon was not a near term destination. But possibility of mineable lunar water at lunar poles, makes it possible that lunar polar regions could be a destination.
        So I say there is a good chance than less than 10% of the lunar surface is likely that it is, a possible destination.
        Before I thought the Moon was a possible destination, I was not even thinking about lunar poles as desirable place, but now I think lunar poles are the only near term destination that should explored.
        After exploring the lunar poles, it possible [due to unknown factors] that lunar poles might not be destination in the near term.

        One can think of 100,000 tons of water has small amount of water, and in that sense, we need to find a small amount of mineable water on the Moon.
        And it seems to me to get to point of mining lunar one has to get to point of selling about 1000 tons of water per year and making rocket from it and exporting LOX to low lunar orbit.
        Or NASA is not going to mine lunar water, and probably require madmen to do it. Rather NASA job is to determine if lunar pole regions are near term destination. And some point in time, perhaps NASA will have lunar base- perhaps to study god knows what.
        But after determining the “mineabilty” of lunar poles in regards to water, NASA should explore Mars, to determine if and where there locations on Mars which could destination in regards to humans living on Mars- human settlements.
        It seems for Mars settlements one can’t have small amount of water. A tank of water with 100,000 tons water does not make a settlement- certainly it would be valuable. But roughly one needs about 2000 tons of water person per year, so water for 50 people for year does not make a settlement. Though overkill in terms of water needed for base for explorational purposes.
        Mars has trillions of tonnes of water and what is needed is finding easiest “minable” water and the amount in a location is millions or billions of tonnes. Or that would do a lot in terms selecting a location for human settlement.
        But would do more than that, is if lunar water mining is occuring on lunar polar region. If it was just a lunar base on the Moon- it’s not too important in terms of Mars settlements. Nor is much of factor if there are NASA bases on Mars. Or what important regarding NASA bases on Mars is the exploration of Mars that they are doing.

    2. **We are not in a race to establish who is technologically superior to whom, nor are we in a competition of ideologies.

      But the debate that has to be solved before that can take place is Why do it?**

      The “race to establish who is technologically superior to whom” could be a way to describe one aspect of Apollo and the cold war, but we basically finished that when we landed a man on the Moon.
      I would say it was a PR war with Soviet Union. And Soviets lost it, big time. Or, a war effort and the war is over. Or a battle and it was one won, even if imagine that war is continuing, that battle is done.

      Now, space is important in terms military uses and it has other uses, or the global satellite is 300 billion dollar market, but we have a space agency which is suppose to explore space and determine if there is any commercial aspect of space which could be used- such as using micogravity- which one thing ISS is doing.

      I think the Moon could be useful because it has low gravity and a vacuum environment [a better vacuum than Low Earth orbit- which is still in Earth’s atmosphere {the Earth’s Themosphere}.
      There many aspects about the Moon could prove valuable- and good location to store radioactive waste [and good place to have nuclear power plants- because it’s good place to store nuclear and operation of nuclear plant doesn’t need all the safety aspect which are required on Earth [a major aspect of their costs].
      But I think what is perhaps more important is that the Moon is good location to harvest solar energy.
      And could be good location to make solar power satellites which could provide electrical energy to Earth surface [also the Mars surface].
      But Moon wouldn’t a good location to make SPS if it wasn’t a good place to generate energy- solar and nuclear.

      To understand why the Moon is good location to harvest solar energy, a good starting point is to understand why the Earth surface is not a good location to harvest solar energy.
      Trillions of dollars have been wasted trying to use earth surface to harvest solar energy- in terms of some kind of global solution of making electricity. Many have reached the conclusion that the problem is inability to store electrical power [cheaply] but this related to the fact that one can only harvest solar energy for about 6 hours a day, or 25% of a 24 hour day. This is largely due to Earth’s thick atmosphere- and you also have seasons and clouds [and weather in general].
      So you don’t have constant source of energy and the amount energy is a low amount. The most amount of sunlight reaching earth surface is about 1050 watts per square meter and in orbit or at the Moon the it’s 1360 watts meter. But because of Earth thick atmosphere, the most amount sunlight occurs when the sun is near zenith. And this called peak solar hours and is about 3 hours before and after noon.
      And on the Moon and Mars “peak hours” is basically all the day’s hours.
      So, anywhere on the Moon, one gets about 50% rather than 25%, and the 50% is 1360 watts per square meter. So, in terms of 24 hour average, 1360 times 12 hours = about 16 Kw hours. Whereas with Earth the best locations get about 6 Kw hour, and Germany [not a good location] gets about 2 Kw hours per average day [at best].
      And in lunar polar region there are sites where you get 80% rather than normal 50%, and lunar poles are a very small region in which you can encircle the region and always have solar energy being harvested- so you get 100% of time harvesting solar energy. Or storing electrical power is not needed.

      1. But I am not suggesting we go to Moon and start making SPS for Earth orbit, what saying is the it has future use in terms of doing this. And I think it possible in terms of 50 years or more in the future.
        So at present time, we need to know whether we use the Moon, now. And I think this depends of whether lunar water can mined cheap enough. And cheap enough means that within 5 years, water could be sold [in any quantity- though more quantity would be cheaper] for about $500 per kg or 1/2 million dollars per ton. And within 5 year one has to sell 1000 tons [or more] of water, which grosses, 500 million dollars of lunar water sold per year. And in 10 years, you would sell more per year and cheaper per kg and within decades have price less than $100 per kg.
        And whenever lunar water is selling for about $10 per kg or less, one consider the idea of making SPS for Earth orbit. though it’s possible you consider making SPS for Mars orbit before this- if Mars has viable locations and has human settlements of enough populations.

  8. SLS has been widely rejected by space enthusiasts and it poisons whatever good there is with Orion, Gateway, that Europa mission, and everything else the launcher was supposed to be used for. But no one had any real reason to think it would be cancelled any time soon, or could forsee a realistic way it would be cancelled.

    Would cancelling SLS get Trump any brownie points with our friends to the left? Doubtful, but maybe if what followed was actually good policy with real results? Also doubtful but you never know. Cancelling SLS is great but I share Ken Murphy’s concern about how what follows might not lead to an indefinite presence on the Moon, or anyehere else. The non-SLS development track hasn’t been articulated very well and the traditional contracters have been subverting the system. There is also a danger that rushing humans to the lunar surface will be increasingly expensive even as launch costs drop.

  9. Dr. Gingrich, call your vice president on the white coutesy phone. A couple elections ago Newt proposed offering prizes for infrastructure on the Moon. The word prize seemed to cause incredulity so call it milestone payments.

  10. Dock two Dragon “3’s” together. One with trunk and one w/o. Trunk’d version to be the lunar return vehicle with modified bell nozzled SuperDraco in the trunk. The other to be the lander. You need a sex converter module for the two Dragons to mate with each other. I haven’t run any numbers to see if this is feasible w/o mods to the SuperDracos. Just an idea off the top of my head. (or out the other end, however you want to view it). How quickly could this be knocked out for use on an FH if the SLS were gutted and it’s budgeted money used instead? Sunk cost being just that.

    1. Key questions: Can a Dragon use it’s own SuperDracos for SSTO from the moon’s surface? Anyone run numbers? If this could work, then: Can that trunk based SuperDraco(s) with bell nozzle be used for TLI and TEI? If not you need a third stage, unless you can assist with the ones in the Dragon.. if…. Also might as well send both up with trunks. The “lander” Dragon’s trunk could contain the docking adapter and comsat gear that can be used after the trunk has been jettisoned just prior to a lunar descent. That docking adapter could also be taken down to the moon with the lander and used as an airlock. Assembly in LEO through rendezvous and docking maneuvers right out of Apollo before lunar departure.

      An Apollo like architecture with separate one-way lander modules made out of Dragons to serve as lunar base modules would be a very “Moon Direct” approach. Re-use is largely limited (mainly to the FH stages) and not a big goal if you are assuming something like Starship is in the offing and you just want to get a presence on the moon in the shortest time possible.

  11. Saturn V:
    “Fully fueled, the Saturn V weighed 2,950 metric tons (6.5 million pounds), and had a payload capacity estimated at 118,000 kg (261,000 lbs) to LEO”
    “Later upgrades on the final three missions boosted that capacity to 140,000 kg (310,000 lbs) to LEO ”

    Without counting reusing first stages Falcon Heavy lifts: 63,800kg to LEO

    Or in terms payload to LEO, 2 falcon heavy can lift same payload to LEO as compared 1 Saturn V which sent crew to the Moon:
    63,800 kg times 2 = 127,600 vs Saturn V of 118,000 kg
    Or if going to reuse first stages 3 Falcon heavy should get more payload than upgraded Saturn V with 140,000 kg to LEO.
    And 3 Falcon heavy with reused first stages might cost a bit more than 2 Falcon Heavy without reusing the first stages.

    Anyhow to lift as much to LEO with Falcon Heavies with payload around the Saturn V rocket would cost about 300 million dollars.

    But sending crew to lunar surface will cost a lot more than 300 million dollars, instead it would be 1 billion dollars
    or a lot more.
    And idea that NASA could send a robotic rover to the lunar surface for less than 1 billion dollars seems quite unlikely.
    The main advantage of a rover is you don’t have to return anything to Earth, but if want a rover which will return lunar
    samples, then robotic rover could become 2 or 3 times more. Or there good reasons why we did not get Mars sample return mission- costs.
    As I recall vaguely, Curiosity cost about 2 billion and Lunar LRO was also about 2 billion, and it wasn’t the launch cost which caused such a high price tag. And there was lunar rover, which projected to cost 3/4 to over 1 billion dollars- that didn’t get beyond the development stage. And that probably was underestimated in terms of total costs.

    And anyways, it seems a NASA crew landing [and of course with lunar sample returns] it would be quite cheap if it only costs 2 billion for 1 crew mission. Though the per mission costs could [or might] be lowered if did 6 or more crew mission to lunar surface.
    So maybe 6 missions for 10 billion dollars [and with a dim hope it could be less].

    Anyhow the high cost of crew mission is getting crew off the lunar surface, so they can return to Earth.
    And of course same applies to Mars manned mission- getting crew from the Mars surface, back to Earth.
    And of course it’s more costly with Mars crewed missions. [despite “Case for Mars” assertions].
    Making or getting rocket fuel to Mars or lunar surface is not the hard or expensive part [I mean it could be, but doesn’t have to be]
    The real hard is having NASA do anything. And that part has to included- unless it’s self funded [which also
    has major costs related to this].
    So one could contract to get rocket fuel delivered to Lunar surface, and it might make it cheaper in terms of lunar
    crew mission. And same could be done with Mars.
    But this sort of thing only works if it’s part of business plan and/or
    one wants lots of deliveries of rocket fuel to lunar or Mars surface [becoming more of “the whole business”]

    Now it seems to me the cheapest way to land crew or couple missions of crew to lunar surface could be to copy
    Apollo’s LEM.
    Because as a standard of what is acceptable, would be is it good enough copy of Apollo LEM?
    Which should save tens of millions of dollars, because one can know what is wanted by NASA.
    Assuming copying it, isn’t taken to a really stupid level.

    Personally, I would want a much better lunar lander than the LEM, but, LEM, wiki:
    Launch mass: 33,500 pounds (15,200 kg)
    Dry mass: 9,430 pounds (4,280 kg)
    Seems a lot better than what has been suggested.
    A lunar lander should be using LOX and LH2, and
    Altair was:
    Total: 45,864 kg (101,113 lb)
    And seats four, and who wants four? and lots of other “good things” about it.
    But 3 times the gross mass is not good.
    Less mass would been much better, and do really need 2?
    How about 1? How about an open cockpit? I would say 2 if open cockpit but otherwise 1 crew.
    But might also land mini base- and you don’t have bring the mini base back to Earth.
    Mini base = a tent or something.

    But my idea of a proper lunar exploration is:
    Make a LOX depot in LEO
    Robotic missions that use depot.
    And finish with crew [that also use depot] to lunar surface, once
    robotic missions give a good idea of where to send crew.
    Return lunar samples with crew mission.
    Send about dozen robotic missions, and send a few crewed missions.
    End lunar exploration and start Mars exploration program.

    And time spent about 10 years or less and 40 billion total program cost and try to get made LOX and LH2 lunar landers. And have idea of lunar lander being “upgradable” or modifiable for Mars
    landers. But if can’t get private sector making landers, have them make Apollo LEMs copies.
    So, the landers can part of business plan related to commercial Lunar “activity” and/or NASA Mars exploration.

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