Thoughts over at Space Transport news. It was a little dismaying to see Augustine’s comment.
I have no predictions as to the outcome, but I’m not particularly hopeful, given the nature of bureaucracy and entropy. But we are continuing to get useful ideas out there, for the private sector to pick up on even if we continue to waste billions on NASA’s HSF program.
[Update in the evening]
This article would indicate that the panel overall remains stuck in the conventional wisdom that heavy lifters are on the critical path to space exploration. One of the hopes for my piece in The New Atlantis was to break that consensus, but it doesn’t seem to have succeeded, so far.
[Late evening update]
Here’s an interesting chart (that appears to have been captured by a camera at the actual presentation) that summarizes the seven options currently being considered. I assume that “IP” is international participation (aka the Russians). I’m not sure what “SH” means, but perhaps one of my readers will be smarter at deciphering than me. I’m guessing something like “Super Heavy.”
Note that the panel (as a whole — there could be dissent among individuals) assumes that refueling is not an option within the current budget, as the chart is currently configured. Note also that it assumes that Ares V is required. I assume that these two assumptions are not coincidental. Take away the heavy lifter, and there’s abundant budget for depots, and other things.
The real question to me is: what is the driver for the perceived heavy-lift requirement? Is it a credibility factor with the flight rate necessary for smaller vehicles to deliver all the propellant for (say) a Mars mission? Or a “smallest biggest piece” (again for, say, a Mars mission) that begs credibility in terms of ability to assemble it on orbit? Or a “let’s keep the options open for some kind of need that we can’t anticipate”? Or all of the above? I expect that we will know the answers to these questions in a very few weeks. I don’t think that the panel will hide the ball the way that NASA did with ESAS.
But one hint might be in noting that the Mars mission (presumably to the surface) is the biggest driver — it assumes both “many” Ares V launches while also noting that refueling is “enabling” (i.e., cannot be done without it). This is a simple recognition of the reality that at some point, even the heavy-lift fetishists have to recognize that there is a limit to the degree to which they can afford to avoid orbital operations — there are some missions simply a bridge too far to do with a single launch.
Anyway, I’m slightly more encouraged by this chart, if for no other reason that it recognizes refueling as a viable option, and that minds are clearly starting to change. I may have more thoughts anon, though, and it’s a long way to August 31st, I suspect, with a lot of perturbations to come.
[Update a few minutes later]
One other point. The chart isn’t good news for Ares I.
[One more update before crashing to catch with with loss of last night’s sleep]
“Brad” has some more comments on the table:
1) The porklauncher, Ares I, looks dead. Only two of the seven options use Ares I, and one of those two options uses commercial crew services as well.
2) Commercial crew services is going to happen. Five out of the seven options exploit commercial crew services.
3) The Shuttle orbiter looks like it will still retire close to schedule. Only one of the seven options extends orbiter operations through 2015.
4) Ares V may not survive. Even though HLV is endorsed with every option, Ares V is only included in four out of the seven, and those four (IMHO) consist of the less probable choices.
5) Propellant depots are enabling to one option, and mentioned as enhancing three options, so depots are not ignored and have a fair chance for future development. Particularly when you take into account that commercial services are included in every option.
6) The ISS is not going to de-orbit in 2016. Five of the seven options extend ISS operations through 2020. The committee’s hope to expand international cooperation will only emphasize the importance of the ISS. Perhaps this might not be a drain on NASA, if international cooperation offsets the cost of flying ISS beyond 2016.
[Thursday morning update]
Todd Halvorson reports on the subject. Does anyone else see something missing in the reporting? You know, the thing that’s “enabling” for Mars First?