News From The Augustine Panel

I have it on fairly good authority that one of the subpanels will have an interesting announcement this morning, that some readers may find encouraging. Don’t know much more than that, and I’ll be incommunicado until this afternoon, when we get back to Boca.

[Mid-afternoon update]

I see from comments that there was a strong endorsement of propellant depots for exploration beyond LEO (which, as Jeff noted, should have been so obvious that historians will look back dumbfounded in retrospect that we remained hung up on megalaunchers for so long). I haven’t seen the presentation yet, but Clark Lindsey has a summary.

[Update a few minutes later]

Jon Goff: “The most amazing twenty-five minutes in NASA history.”

Well, that’s probably a slight exaggeration — I think an event that happened a little over forty years ago probably tops it, but I know what he means. The question is whether or not the policy establishment will pay attention. I have an email from someone in the know who notes that everyone on that subpanel gets the Frontier Enabling Test.

I’m sorry I missed the presentation live, but I assume that it will be replayable, or Youtubed. It certainly should be — I think that it probably will prove to be quite historic.

[Update about 4 PM EDT]

What is Norm Augustine thinking
about ISS?

If he was not playing devil’s advocate, then Augustine’s first question indicates a belief that the American public might not be so excited about funding a lengthy and costly mission to Mars that isn’t clearly an American mission. His second question suggests he believes that when you get right down to it, there isn’t much to the space station beyond the great international coalition it has wrought.

There are many strong arguments to keep the space station — most notably that it seems ridiculous to abandon it just five years after it’s completed — but if Augustine believes deep down that it serves no real scientific or exploration purpose, that will carry a lot of weight with Obama.

I think that for current planned uses, and in its current location, it’s not worth the money of keeping it going. If “international cooperation” is so important to Sally Ride and the other politically correct astronauts, let them scrounge up the couple billion a year to do so from ESA, Japan, and others. But I’d like to see some serious proposals to move it to a more affordable location at 28 degrees (it wouldn’t take long to save the money that it would take to move it in reduced launch costs) and use it as a base facility for depot operations and research, as well as a primary base for extended-duration crew research for deep-space missions, perhaps using coorbiting Bigelow modules. With a short-distance cargo-crew tug, this would eliminate the need for a back-to-earth lifeboat, for everything short of a coronal mass ejection or alien attack.

[Evening update]

Jon Goff has posted his white paper on propellant depots, which I would assume played at least some role in today’s results.

60 thoughts on “News From The Augustine Panel

  1. Bill White

    Thanks, Rand. The link was to Wikipedia, no big deal.

    China’s new launch facility on Wenchang Island (targeted to open 2014?) will be just south of 20 degrees north latitude. They will be able to reach any inclination reachable from CONUS.

    Google “Wenchang Island launch facility” for more details.

  2. Brad

    I’m with Pete on this one. The cost to move ISS to a very different inclination is better spent on a new commercial station at a lower inclination. Isn’t that what Bigelow is counting on?

    Besides, for the near term how vital is having the maximum number of launch points available to increase flight rate? Wouldn’t that maximize the ability of a propellant depot to substitute for HLV? And that means a high inclination orbit.

    I think that maximizing the number of launch points might also facilitate competition if a real free market to deliver propellant to the depot was allowed.

  3. Brad

    Bill,

    Wengchang Island? That’s new to me, I’ve heard of the Hainan Island launch facility (which the new Long March 5 is supposed to fly from0, but not of Wengchang Island.

    So when I did google wengchang island launch facility, the hits I come up with are for a launch facility on Hainan Island near Wengchang City. Is that what you meant?

  4. Martijn Meijering

    @Dennis:

    Flexible path means no manned outpost anytime soon, but orbital telerobotics is an explicit part of it. And if Phobos/Deimos ISRU becomes part of the plan as it well might, then lunar ISRU would be the obvious precursor. Most of that should be able to be done telerobotically and much of it not even necessarily from lunar orbit, but operated from the Earth.

  5. Michael M

    How exactly are you expecting to lift huge tanks of fuel into orbit without heavy launch vehicles like the ares V. The refueling idea may be a good idea,but it still requires the heavy lift capability.

  6. Robert Horning

    If the goal is to move the ISS to another inclination, could the ISS survive a partial dismantling caused by the Russian components being removed? The politics involved with the International Space Station are (by design) a convoluted mess, and I think that doing anything with the beast, even deorbiting the thing and crashing it to the ground, is going to be fraught with unbelievable headaches and political fallout. Had this been the original “Space Station Freedom” that was a U.S. station from the beginning, authorization for moving it or doing something different like a propellant depot would have been “merely” an act of Congress to get something to happen.

    I’ll be the first to acknowledge that there are a number of things that I would like to see the ISS be a test bed on, starting with some test of space-based solar power research (you got a 150 kW generator already up there, why not use it!), advanced space propulsion techniques like large scale ion propulsion or VASMIR research, and sure why not, propellant depot experimentation. I see all of this as putting what was supposedly a worthless platform to excellent use, and doing something other than merely figuring out how to build the thing in the first place.

    BTW, just thinking aloud, why not merely send water up into space from the Earth? The problem with liquid oxygen and hydrogen is a combination of how bulky the materials are and trying to provide insulation for what are arguably cryogenic materials. As a storage medium (not as a fuel) water is much easier to handle and doesn’t require nearly as complex components for transferring from one place to another. Yes, I realize that you would have to provide the refining equipment to break liquid water into fuel components and raw energy to produce the fuel, but think of that as an ISRU test bed in orbit as well. If we want to do this stuff on the Moon, LEO would be a good place to start, where the “fuel” is stored as water until it is needed, reducing the need to concern about fuel boil-off and how to store the fuel for longer periods of time when the vehicles needing the fuel aren’t coming by for whatever reason.

  7. Rand Simberg Post author

    How exactly are you expecting to lift huge tanks of fuel into orbit without heavy launch vehicles like the ares V.

    Who said the propellant has to be lifted in “huge tanks”?

  8. Tom Hill

    Robert-

    I realize the post is old and you may not see it, but I’ve been down the ‘bring water up instead’ model. The energy requirements just for hydrolysis are HUGE, and you still need to liquify. My preferred method is to deliver hydrogen heavy (more hydrogen than stoichiometrically required to burn with LOX), and use boiled-off hydrogen to cool the LOX. A small amount of LOX can be tapped off to react with the LH2 to make a nice little water plant, which of course stores easily. Low mass, very reliable.

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