15 thoughts on “Gray Dragon On Falcon Heavy”

  1. It’s a modestly interesting thought experiment, but the heart of the matter is contained in the final sentence of his 4th graf – “solutions for replacing SLS+Orion that involve Starship are far better.”

    Yes they are. To analogize, lunar missions using Dear Moon-class Starships for the Earth-surface-to-lunar-orbit leg and corresponding return are music group tour buses driving on an Interstate. SLS-Orion and FH-Gray Dragon are mule-drawn buckboards on a corduroy road. The main advantage of the latter over the former is that 10 – 15 FH-GD missions could be flown for $4 billion instead of just one SLS-O and that such missions could be flown far more frequently.

    These are hardly negligible advantages, to be sure, but they simply represent a relatively affordable way to not accomplish anything of consequence or scale on the Moon nearly as quickly as could the all-Starship alternative. And that alternative would be at least as much cheaper and more frequent than FH-GD as the latter would be anent SLS-O.

    The estimated time-to-IOC for FH-GD would also be, at best, no improvement on an all-Starship architecture and, in my opinion, almost certain to be significantly later of accomplishment.

    Spitballing alternative architectures can certainly be fun – though perhaps more so for the spitballer than for most subsequent readers. A few years ago, I sketched out a possible approach to making the SLS core stage reusable and SLS far more capable. But, as much fun as that exercise was, I would not have seriously urged its adoption in place of Starship. I think Mr. Bellik is ploughing the same sort of ground here.

    1. To me, continuing to look at Dragon/Falcon Heavy lunar architectures seems a bit like being in the early 60’s and looking at Gemini parts for a lunar flyby mission in case the Saturn program hit problems.

      Focusing on a Starship-centric lunar architecture is more interesting and hopefully useful, especially since there’s plenty of potential optimizations and time/budget/payload tradeoffs to consider, along with design cross-over to Mars flights.

      And of course the way political shifts are happening with SpaceX, Roscosmos, and NASA regarding the ISS, it would be amusing to see SpaceX plant a Ukrainian flag on the moon.

      1. I wrote a story for Asimov’s called “Harvest Moon” about a Gemini-based US expedition stranded on the Moon. The Soviets send an Almaz-based vehicle to the rescue, which proceeds to crash land. It was a lot of fun to write. It was traslated into Russian for publication in Esli a while later, which was pretty cool. A lot of my stuff was published in Russia, some paid for, most not. My story “Off on a Starship” was made into a radio play and broadcast.

    2. ” [a] way to not accomplish anything of consequence or scale on the Moon nearly as quickly as”

      If this was the mission statement for SLS-Orion, then it would all make sense.

  2. Why not just launch the lunar bound Starship, refuel it with Starship tankers in LEO, launch crew to it aboard Dragon, rendezvous in LEO and then off to the moon?

    1. Hi Cyrot. Can you continue to explain how the crew would return to the Moon. Lunar Starship doesn’t have a heat shield so how does the crew get from Luna back to Earth? How does re-entry occur in your scenario?

      1. Since Lunar Starship has to be refueled, probably in a fairly high orbit, it needs only to return to that orbit for refueling. Crew and cargo transfers could take place there. However, I’m not sure that the extra hardware to complete complex cargo transfers in high orbit wouldn’t add more weight than the re-entry tiles. There are a lot of options to weigh.

        But one problem with a sustained lunar presence is that there’s often going to be one or two crews between the Earth and moon, and at some point there’s going to be a major solar flare that could zap them without sufficient shielding. With Apollo we kept an eye on solar activity, were in a quiet part of the solar cycle, and kept our fingers crossed. The system won’t be able to get away with that forever, so the question is whether they’ll take the weight penalty before or after an incident occurs.

        1. Could point the nozzles at the sun, keeping the propellant and almost all the ship’s mass between the sun and the crew. I don’t know how much that would help, but it would be better than nothing. SpaceX is almost certainly considering that problem anyway.

          1. I don’t know how much that would help

            The problem is that solar flares consist of charged particles, which get deflected by magnetic fields, and by the time they reach Earth, they’re not just coming from the direction of the sun. It’s actually closer to the truth to say they’re isotropic.

        2. There’s more than enough excess capacity to put a flare sheltefr aboard every BEO Starship. I wish more people understood what Musk is talking about when he says, “Fuel rich environment.”

  3. If SLS/Orion budget and launch cadence numbers are anywhere close to accurate, then this is not architecture, it’s a museum piece being delivered once every couple of years.
    Spacex talks of more than one vehicle in space at one time. Maybe even hundreds at a time. That could be called architecture. SLS cannot.

  4. This is an idea whose time came and went at least 5 years ago. That said, some time before that I floated my own idea, which was a Dragon with a Falcon 1 upper stage derived propulsion module (inside a separate extended fairing) and an ECLSS package stacked on top of that (inside the trunk but not connected to it). I think I posted it on sff.net (which is now gone, and the idea’s not worth an archive search).

    Getting LSS back from NRHO to LEO is just a matter of a few more standard tankers. One point that’s too often missed is, even if Starship doesn’t perform as advertised, if it works *at all* then everything else is obsolete. Let’s say it fails reusability. Then you have an expendable rocket that can put 350-400 tons in orbit, or send 150 tons moonward, without refueling, at a cost around 1/20 SLS. Musk knows this, and even named it Starkicker.

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