Mars And SLS

I really find Chris Carberry’s op-ed on SLS incomprehensible. Oh, I don’t mean I don’t understand it, it just seems disconnected with reality, and the interests of anyone seriously interested in seeing humans go to Mars. He speaks about SLS as thought it has kind of reality, and actual utility. To me, a sane Mars organization would be screaming bloody murder at the waste of money to the detriment of hardware needed to actually get to Mars.

[Thursday-afternoon update]

Thoughts on the ever-receding SLS, from Bob Zimmerman.


27 thoughts on “Mars And SLS”

  1. Its so bland and it sounds so reasonable. How many USA Today readers will know the opportunity costs either in completing SLS vs alternatives or when SLS is operational? How many will know enough to evaluate potential launch rates?

    Explaining these points are simple and are things everyone can understand.

    However, having multiple options can provide us more flexibility and safeguards against delays and failures of certain mission elements.

    That is why we need FH, New Glenn, and Vulcan, to provide safeguards against the delays and failures of SLS, tehehe.

  2. Carberry was a long-time organizer of citizen lobbying efforts for The Mars Society. He’s been on Dr. David Livingstone’s The Space Show a couple dozen times. I listened to one or two of his segments a few years back and it became fairly clear that Carberry is not really a person of any importance anent consequential space activity. I’ve skipped his segments since.

    Explore Mars appears to be a vehicle Carberry developed to provide himself a living and a source of travel funds to take his citizen space activism show on the international road and add foreign political figures to his Rolodex alongside all the U.S. political types already included therein.

    His orientation has always been Congress/government-centric. Prior to the space activism he seems to have specialized in organizing the public papers of retired politicians looking to make deals with college or university libraries to host their collections. He would have worked with key staffers, some of whom succeeded their former bosses in office. Anyone with connections to even a few Congresscritters, and/or their key staffers, generally has no problem monetizing those relationships.

    Hence the defense of the establishment tropes about space in his USA Today piece. Good relations with Congress are Carberry’s literal bread and butter. Maintaining those is his highest priority. Actually getting people to Mars ranks no better than second place, if that.

    1. Thank you for this insight. I saw “CEO of Explore Mars Inc.”, and my first thought was “what is Explore Mars Inc.?” followed by “how much of a concern is Explore Mars that it would warrant a CEO?” Initial findings suggested only one or two paid employees, but the website suggests far more.

      I would have called him a K street lobbyist, but he’s in the wrong town for either K street. The only way I can read his op ed is to acknowledge it simply as a NASA cheerleader, and government cheerleaders have been in the news recently.

      I’ve worked at NASA and have many friends that still work there. I know cutting SLS will mean many will lose their current job. But SLS just seems so much like a soul sucking project. ISS felt that way to me in the late 90’s, but at least there was no competition, so you knew it was either you succeed or nobody does. With SLS, it’s like designing the world’s largest and fastest sailing ship, when across the dock already floating in the water is the first steam powered paddlewheel (as big as any sailing ship already in existence), and in the nearby dry dock, the keel is already laid for a larger cargo variant of the paddlewheel.

      1. But SLS just seems so much like a soul sucking project.

        Waste nothing. Especially souls. There are so many more important things NASA could be doing, with SLS we are wasting everything….

      2. All the info about Carberry is pretty much included in his bio on the Explore Mars website. I just “de-spun” it a bit by drawing some obvious inferences.

        Nice analogy about sailing ships vs. steamers. Another aspect of that comparison may hold true as well. Sailing ships held on for nearly a century after the arrival of steam because, even given their greater schedule uncertainty, windjammers were still economically competitive in some markets.

        Come to that, it wasn’t until the American Civil War that steamers without auxiliary masts and sails appeared. The Cutty Sark was laid down over 30 years after the Great Western made her first Atlantic crossing. There were some steel-hulled clippers and schooners still in service even after WW1.

        SLS is so wildly uneconomic, it has no chance of being a latter-day Cutty Sark. But smaller expendable rockets may hang on long after all the really big stuff has gone reusable.

        1. In mind for the analogy, the sails are SRBs and the steam is liquid fuel cross feed. I agree that solids will have a role for quite a long time. But their best application is weapons, since you can fuel them up and sit them in a silo for a long time. The move away from liquid was precisely because it was difficult to keep a rocket fueled for on demand launch over a very long time. But that’s not a problem for scheduled launches. Flights to the Moon and Mars will be scheduled.

  3. A quick observation, and a question:

    “On its second launch, the SLS will have a lift capacity of 105 metric tons to a low Earth orbit, and over 35 metric tons to an orbit around the moon…”

    First, “an orbit” appears to be a DRO, not LLO, and probably not even NRHO.

    Second, does EUS have the stage life to do an injection into any kind of lunar orbit? Orion obviously does (and it can even get back from some of those orbits!), but that’s not what’s said here. I suspect that this is just sloppiness, but I’d view the EUS a lot more favorably if it could remain functional for a couple of weeks.

    1. EUS is a hydrolox upper stage so, absent something like ULA’s IVF stuff intended for ACES, no, I don’t see any way EUS has any role beyond being a TLI stage.

      Anyone with definite knowledge to the contrary – link appreciated – is invited to check me on this.

  4. Just because I haven’t posted it here, here’s my proposal on how to come up with a politically viable way of killing SLS:

    Give most of the same pork recipients most of the same pork, but have them do something useful with it:

    1) Keep Orion. Yes, it’s a terrible spacecraft for almost everything, but it’ll be qualified for deep space sooner than anything else. Note that this will make Lockmart extremely happy.

    2) Launch almost everything on Falcon Heavy for now, doling out goodies to New Glenn and Vulcan as they come online. Note that to launch Orion on FH requires some real work.

    3) Get ULA to spin up ACES as fast as they can, and then use it for pretty much all propulsive tasks on-orbit. Note: I’m counting on IVF actually delivering on the one week+ stage life. Orion can’t do both LOI and TEI (pause for obligatory bang of head on desk), so having ACES do both the TLI and LOI burns is essential.

    4) Turn ACES into a lunar lander with XEUS. Alternative: give Boeing a lunar lander contract if they can get the sucker done in something less than 10 years.

    5) With all of those ACES stages floating around, they’re going to need to be refueled before heading off to TLI or wherever. Get Boeing and Michoud to manufacture lots and lots and lots of dumb 50-tonne hydrolox tanks. (launchable with 3-stick FH reusability, I think). Eventually, it’d be nice to have a prop depot. In the meantime, docking tanks and transferring prop seems like it would be fairly straightfoward.

    6) There’s an issue with how to get ACES to LEO. Three options:
    a) Launch it empty on an F9 (obvious payload attachment work to be done, but other than that, it just needs a nosecone).
    b) Launch it empty on an Atlas.
    c) When Vulcan comes online, there’s no problem.

    7) Boeing is still obviously getting the short end of the stick here. Give them lunar hab and ISRU work to compensate.

    8) Marshall can run the program, just like they do with SLS. Given that it’s an actually useful program, my guess is that lots of people will have different jobs, but only a few senior managers will get fired.

    9) Buy off ATK with extra NGL work for DoD. This will require transferring some of NASA’s human exploration budget. It’ll be worth it.

    Now let’s add up the score:

    a) The Alabama congresscritters are happy, because MSFC is OK and ULA Decatur is turning out ACES at a furious rate.

    b) The LA and MS CC’s are happy, because Michoud gets to keep bending and welding sheet metal into pretty shapes.

    c) Boeing is kinda grumpy, but they’re mostly made whole because they own half of ULA, they’re making lots of hydrolox tanks at Michoud, and they have a bunch of lunar technology development to do.

    d) Lockmart and the Colorado CC’s are overjoyed, because Orions can actually be used to put people in LLO and facilitate missions to the lunar surface, and Centennial (?) gets to make more of them.

    e) ATK is… Aw, screw ’em.

    f) I suspect that SpaceX will be ambivalent about this. Certainly making them do the work to launch Orion (and maybe ACES) is distracting from BFR, but on the other hand they get a buttload of FH launches out of the deal. And of course they can snatch the whole market away from ULA simply by executing on BFR/BFS.

    1. That solution looks like it would exacerbate procurement problems in the long term. SLS will die eventually because it can’t compete. A better way to buy off these companies is to do a COTS/CCDev approach with multiple winners for tugs, depots, habs, landers, ect.

      Traditional contractors may not want to compete but they are also well positioned to compete.

      1. What I’m proposing is essentially a COTS approach–it’s just that only FH can do the job today. As for CCDev: sure, just as soon as somebody comes up with something that can do Orion’s job. (Note: Dragon 2 and CST-1000 can’t do deep space with long dwell.) Same thing for the tugs and landers: there are clear frontrunners today (and ACES is it right now). You don’t need to do exclusive procurement with them to get started soon.

        The problem with waiting for SLS to die is that it completely precludes any useful development of deep-space or lunar systems until it does, because it soaks up all of the human exploration money. It’d be nice not to wait 8 or 9 years before doing something useful.

        1. “Note: Dragon 2 and CST-1000 can’t do deep space with long dwell.”

          Do you even need such a thing? It’s not like you could fly to Mars in such a capsule. It’s just too cramped. It has enough endurance for going up and down a gravity well. If you need it to last across such a long trip, it could probably be covered with a foldable screen. I think it’s a non-issue really.

      2. Does anyone have any interest in a notion Rand was advancing a while ago, of on-orbit tanking, that is, propellant transfer? Have people given up on that as physically unworkable?

        1. If moving fluids from one tank to another in space is too difficult, what kind of future is there in space anyway?

        2. SpaceX’s BFR/BFS Mars plan relies on in-orbit refueling, and that’s just one off the top of my head. Prop transfer/prop depots are very workable, but what they are right now is politically unworkable; they would destroy the excuse for SLS.

    2. Your proposal is certainly much superior, overall, to letting SLS go on the way it has.

      To the extent your plan has any single point of failure it’s the heavy reliance on ACES. It’s by no means obvious ULA could get ACES into flyable shape as early as would be optimal for the other parts of your plan.

      Also, what engine would power ACES? Since XCOR’s contract was ended, the only ACES engine candidates left seem to be a quartet of RL-10’s or a single BE-3. I suspect the BE-3 choice would be, by far, the more economical of the two. And Blue Origin and ULA already have a relationship where engines are concerned.

      Politically, that would mean consigning Aerojet-Rocketdyne to all-but-certain death as SLS cancellation would mean no RS-25E and a BE-3-powered ACES would mean no more RL-10 sales either. AR-1 is already pretty much all dressed up with nowhere to go. I don’t see A-R surviving in anything much resembling its present form by just building small hypergolic and electric thrusters.

      Understand that I don’t necessarily regard the death of A-R as a bad thing. But it would present obvious political complications – worse than those anent NGO-ATK, which at least would still have USAF’s new ICBM program to chase and maybe even NGL to build once SLS SRB’s went away.

      Still, the critical path item here is ACES.

      1. Yes, AJR should be added to the list of gored oxen, but I’m pretty sure that AJR has been flying on Payne Stewart’s airplane for some time now. Killing SLS and moving up ACES might be killing it a few years early, but that’s about it.

    3. Something else NASA could do besides SLS is work on the next Space Station. If they pushed for funding in FY19, they would have about 5 years to get hardware built before ISS reached its currently planned service life. We may not need another station, but I think there is a better argument for a national lab, such as ISS is, than there is for SLS.

      1. Something else that NASA could be doing is designing habs and rovers that can fit inside BFS.

        It will be very embarrassing for NASA if 2024 rolls around, and Elon has a rocket ready but they have no hardware of their own for it to deliver to Mars.

  5. Ever receding… I’m reminded of that old mathematical saw…

    Every annual expenditure on SLS will advance us halfway along the path to Mars…

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