Back To The Future

Paul Spudis says that it’s time to restore the Vision for Space Exploration, and proposes a way to do it that is launch-system independent. Too bad that Mike Griffin couldn’t do that.

I never had a problem with the VSE per se, though I think that the Aldridge Commission erred in insisting on a heavy lifter. That recommendation was pretty much incompatible with the others, such as encouraging commercial development and promoting national security (not to mention living within the budget). But a new plan, based on Aldridge sans heavy lift, could be successful, and it looks like that’s what Paul and Tony Lavoie have come up with.

[Update a while later]

I’m skimming the paper now. Interesting stuff. I have a nit, though. On page 14, they write: “The WEFS has mass of about 1200 kg and requires about one kW per day to crack and freeze 4.5 kg of cryogen.” I think they mean “The WEFS has mass of about 1200 kg and requires about one kW to crack and freeze 4.5 kg of cryogen per day.” It makes no sense to talk about a daily power requirement.

One other point. I believe, but am not sure, that both NASA and the Augustine panel dramatically overestimated the costs of lunar lander development, which is a key factor that drove them to Flexible Path. I have never believed that lunar first was unaffordable, because I think that landers can be developed much more cheaply than many do, with people like Masten and Armadillo (and perhaps Blue Origin) leading the way. I suspect that it was the Altair cost estimates, foolishly based on LM estimatesactuals, that created this myth (if it is one). I also think that, based on announcements like this one from the past summer, that we’re going to see some interesting low-cost cryo engines coming out of XCOR, making for some interesting industry collaborations along those lines.

[Update in the early afternoon]

I haven’t finished the whole thing yet, but this is key:

This return to the Moon is affordable and can be accomplished on reasonable time scales. Instead of single missions to exotic destinations, where all hardware is discarded as the mission progresses, we instead focus on the creation of reusable and extensible space systems, flight assets that are permanent and useable for future exploration beyond LEO. In short, we get value for our money. Instead of a fiscal black hole, this extensible space program becomes a generator of innovation and national wealth. It is challenging enough to drive technological innovation (Table 4) yet within reach on a reasonable timescale.

Propellant and water exported from the Moon will initially be used solely by NASA, both to support lunar surface operations and to access and service satellites in Earth orbit and to re-fuel planetary missions, including human missions to Mars. Over time, other federal agencies such as the Defense Department (intelligence satellites) or NOAA (weather satellites) may need lunar propellant for the maintenance of their space assets. Additionally, international partners or other countries may require propellant for access to their own satellites and space platforms. Finally, lunar propellant would be offered to commercial markets to supply, maintain and extend the wide variety of commercial applications satellites in cislunar space as well as enabling other emerging space ventures.

The modular, incremental nature of this architecture enables international and commercial participation to be easily and seamlessly integrated into our lunar return scenario. Because the outpost is built around the addition of capabilities through the use of small, robotically teleoperated assets, other parties can bring their own pieces to the table as time, availability and capability permit. International partners can contemplate their own human launch capability to the Moon without use of a Heavy Lift vehicle. This feature becomes politically attractive by simply providing lunar fuel for a return trip for the international partners. This flexibility makes international participation and commercialization in our architecture much more viable than was possible under the previous ESAS architecture.

One issue that I see that he hasn’t addressed, at least up to this page. He’s proposing that the propellant be delivered in the form of water, and then cracked on orbit via solar power. Water is certainly a useful form in which to store it, in terms of payload density (no need for huge tanks for hydrogen), but it’s going to take a long time to electrolyze it with solar power. Also, what is he going to do with the excess LOX? Rocket engines prefer a 6:1 lox/fuel ratio for maximum specific impulse, which leaves two extra atoms of LOX, given the stoichiometric ratio of 8:1 for water. Does he propose to burn it inefficiently, or to use the remainder for breathing or other applications? A related question — is there sufficient lunar water to make attempts to crack breathing oxygen from the silicates not cost effective, compared to electrolysis?

Why Small Business Isn’t Hiring

It’s the government, stupid:

…we have a real problem. Businesses are reluctant to hire due to two hard years behind and concern about the future policies of an ideologically driven government that is clearly not pro-business ahead. Business conditions in 2010 are a little better than 2009, but nowhere near the prior levels that might encourage a more aggressive view. The three major forces in policymaking, President Obama, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi, continue to hold office and make no secret that they desire to advance their agenda with or without regard to the Constitution. They and their anti-business orientation will remain in place for at least two more years. On the other side of the aisle, most of the senior Republicans who were so ineffective over the past decade will retain the same ability to compromise away government restraint for the next two years. The November elections may have helped the situation, but the Republicans have a long, long way to go to prove they are up to the generational level change it will take to turn things around. Worse, it is becoming easier to accept the possibility that the corruption between all the special interests, including corporate, and government is just too firmly entrenched and too lucrative to break apart at all. If that is true, nothing changes until an ultimate collapse.

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Biting Commentary about Infinity…and Beyond!

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