Buzz Speaks Out

Yes, this would be a much better architecture, but unfortunately, while Buzz is probably the most famous moonwalker, he’s also not taken as seriously by many in the industry.

Two comments: I’ll have to ask Eric where he gets the $1.5B/flight number for SLS. And is he proposing to do this in the ISS orbit, or at a lower inclination?

[Update a while later]

Meanwhile, Bob Zimmerman reports that NASA is preparing us for another SLS delay.

10 thoughts on “Buzz Speaks Out”

  1. To be honest, this just seems like a cislunar space version of the Aldrin Cycler, whose time has most likely come and gone. A better LEO element would be something like Bigelow’s proposed “Ressuply Depot Hercules,” basically a an orbit repair, refit, and refueling node. If you were going to build something like the NautilusX vehicle (or a fleet of them), something like Hercules would be essential.

  2. I’ve seen the $1.5 billion number quite often. It might originally come from the GAO or from NASA folks, but everyone seems to come to roughly that figure based on the SLS/Orion budget and flight schedule, without adding the development costs that were already spent.

    Aldrin is right that the program will die in competition with the new vehicles coming down the line. They can’t keep throwing away four RS-25’s, at a minimum of $50 million each, after signing a contract for production of six more of them, when Musk is talking about building five hundred Raptors a year for $200,000 a piece, and re-using each of them hundreds of times.

    The cost disparity is so overwhelming that it swamps any architectural considerations. SpaceX could add a Venus slingshot to lunar missions and still probably come out cheaper than the most efficient SLS approaches.

    1. I’m not sure of the origin of the $1.5 billion / flight number, but it was semi-official. It breaks down into $700 million / flight for the SLS and $850 million / flight for the Orion capsule.

    2. In addition to the massive costs of throw away hardware, you have to factor in the labor costs of the thousands of people necessary to prepare and launch an SLS/Orion. You have to pay those costs regardless of whether the rocket flies or not in any given year. Those labor costs can easily add up to several hundred million dollars a year.

  3. And is he proposing to do this in the ISS orbit, or at a lower inclination?

    I haven’t heard a whiff of Buzz talking about the Russians, so I’ve assumed he’s talking about a lower inclination.

    But even politically, Russian involvement in any such HSF program is simply not as valuable as it was in 1993.

    Buzz’s architecture certainly makes more sense, but I think we all know that the current Program Of Record is being pursued for reasons that have nothing to do with optimal economics or engineering, or inability to think hard about them.

  4. The SLS is built almost entirely of legacy Shuttle hardware and the Shuttle cost about $1.5 billion a flight without throwing the engines away. Given that this seems like an optimistic number, especially given its flight rate will be much lower than the Shuttle. And don’t forget, this is without the Orion which will be about another billion or so per flight.

    1. Much of the cost of a shuttle flight was maintaining the standing army for KSC. The price per shuttle mission dropped significantly when we could fly 8 missions in a year. There doesn’t seem to be any plan to have more than 1 SLS mission a year. The SpaceX flights will help keep some of the Pad 39 people busy, but SpaceX doesn’t need a lot of help.

      To be fair to KSC, SLS also has to keep a bunch of folks paid at JSC and MSFC, whether they fly once, once a year, or 2 times a year. The costs are more than just the parts and fuel of the rocket.

  5. How about a GTO type orbit rather than LEO.
    So, 28 degrees, 400 km by 50,000 km.
    So station needs to shielded for the Van Allen belt radiation.
    There would be large portion of orbit which be above the belts and could spacewalk in those time periods.
    In LEO one has about 60% of time in sunlight and this orbit would higher portion of time in sunlight- more solar power and less power stored in batteries.
    Obviously it takes less Delta-v to go to the Moon. And could use ion engines to get to Moon. With chemical rockets, one might lower the perigee and burn at higher velocity perigee. To get to Earth surface, one lower perigee to areocapture or have less energetic lunar return type re-entry.
    Getting to station is a bit more than GTO transfer. American manned spacecraft for ISS, could get to it.
    It seems if you want artificial gravity probably want +50,000 circular orbit- so have separate space station at same inclination. And one travel between them not using a lot delta-v. Likewise with modest amount delta-v you could have access to the dead GEO satellites.

    Though I think you could instead move ISS to to 400 by 50,000 km orbit at 51 inclination. And at some point one move ISS to even higher orbit and change it’s inclination

  6. Unfortunately, in the minds of the people who actually fund it, what we regard as spaceflight has never been about exploration or exploitation but simply jobs here on Earth.

    Even the initiator of what culminated with Apollo 11 (i.e. President Kennedy) was “not that interested in space” and initiated Apollo as a national defense project with a very simple mission goal. Once that goal was achieved, the only concern was how to ‘consolidate’ the resulting technology base and resources (e.g. jobs) without major political blow-back… hence Shuttle.

    In summary, people like Buzz (and myself up until about 20 years ago) are wasting their time pushing technical solutions because the real drivers of NASA activities are socio-political. Our only hope is via non-government initiatives, though that still faces many significant challenges related mainly to markets, or lack of them.

  7. I have looked and looked, but I have yet to see (including on NASA’s site) any explanation for why Gateway is needed for lunar surface expeditions. They say, quite accurately, that Orion’s underpowered SM can’t get to LLO and back out again. But the fact is that any lander that can get from Gateway to the moon could do it easier from a lower lunar orbit that Orion could reach.

    The while Gateway thing is looking more and more like not merely a bad idea, but frantic hand-waving. They are not even attempting to justify it in detail.

    As for SLS, I’m beginning to wonder; is the Trump admin setting it up to be canceled via the schedule? If so, I applaud this move.

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