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The End Of Manned Spaceflight?
No, despite the title of this article, which is actually a pretty devastating critique of the Orbital Space Plane and NASA's manned spaceflight plans in general.
It gets a few things wrong (e.g., Columbia actually was capable of docking to ISS, albeit with less payload than the rest of the fleet), and I'm pretty leery about simply going back to Apollo capsules. I also disagree that the benefits of wings are "dubious," though it may be that they don't justify their costs.
And where have we heard this before?
The basic limitation on the operational lifetime of Shuttle, OSP, or any reusable spacecraft is not the loss rate of crews, it is the loss rate of spacecraft.
Unfortunately, like most such pieces, it assumes that the current manned space program goals (continuing to support ISS at some minimal level) are appropriate, and that NASA has simply come up with the wrong technical solution. The reality, of course, is that we need to completely rethink the purpose of even having a government-funded manned space program, and until we've done that, trying to come up with solutions is pointless.
His title is wrong. It's not the end of manned spaceflight--it's the beginning, as private investment is now starting to flow into the field. But it may be the end (and not necessarily inappropriately) of NASA's operational program to provide it.Posted by Rand Simberg at July 11, 2003 03:32 PM
If O'Keefe wants something "Sooner, rather than later." It will almost have to be the Apollo Type capsule option.
I would far perfer an Apollo capsule that can carry seven vs. a space plane that can carry four.
Besides, the capsule should be readily adaptable to deep space use by trading some crew for consumables and adding a heavier heat shield. A plane design would be stupid for deep space use.
(Remember what happened to 'Ranger 7 and Cpt. William 'Buck' Rogers!, The deep voice of Willam Conrad should be resonating in your head right now. Dare I even mention the little story of the space plane and intelligent apes coming to dominate humanity in 2000 or so years!)Posted by Mike Puckett at July 11, 2003 08:07 PM
Lessee, Delta and Atlas boosters have 2 failures in 100 attempts.... That's surprisingly close to the actual catastrophic failure rate of the "man-rated" STS. And why is a 98% catastrophic failure rate considered acceptable for routine spacelift? Even the Post Office does better than that! Who makes these rules anyway? Oh yeah, it's the same people who tell us that a private space launch system could never work because space is "too hard" for private citizens. I have but one thing to say to that -- move aside and quit standing in the way of progress!!Posted by Mark at July 12, 2003 11:28 AM
I read the article and have general thoughts to note first:
The article states that there has been no new technology that would make a new spacecraft more affordable, but I disagree. Maybe this is sort of true for actual rocket technology (?), but what about Computer Aided simulation and Design which allowed Boeing to greatly save on the 777? What about all the phenomenal materials that are being developed for other industries that can be readily applied to spacecraft - Composite frames and all the F-22/23/35 engine metallurgy?
Space station resupply seems to be a big grip of his - rightfully so. I think he understated the ESA’s ATV, which will also be able to boost the space station. Making a US version is a likely solution but I’d rather us just fund more ESA models. The real problem here involves the cancellation of that one Shuttle derived heavy-lift booster (National Something?) that got canned - as I pointed out - in a congressional subcommittee. If I’m not mistaken, there was even an artist drawing showing this rocket boosting a space taxi. Subcommittees should not have such authority! Such a booster would have greatly effected this entire space program - especially involving Station construction and its resupply. As we set about very complex endeavors that demand many different components to ultimately arrive at the desired abilities, we can’t just cancel a component liberally. They are all a package deal! Cancel one and the whole rest of the package is jeopardized.
I agree that another shuttle loss would really be the death nail of the whole affair.
For the rare use of a lifeboat in the event of a one-time station crisis, a ballistic capsule would obviously be the ideal solution: for which a seven-passenger model would be fundamentally important (if that is still the goal of the station). If it is to be used regularly, as the main crew return - we start having to ask about the need for some level of re-usability. I don’t favor capsules normally because the ‘service module’ needed to put and keep a Soyuz, Gemini, or Apollo in orbit was a big chunk of what got lost with each mission. Just look at what all the shuttle brings back - not only the crew, but the orbital/living module (in Soyuz terms) and the massive service module needed for a crew of seven over a duration of 16 days - imagine the cost of loosing that each time! For small crews, limited use, and no need for an ‘orbital’ module a
I covered a lot so I’ll end here. We’ve all talked about ‘what to do in space’ before and I hope Rand is keeping track - I know one guy did one time and said in our various exchanges we had no less than six proposals that would have taken a large corporation six months to come up with! Remember that?
Would anyone like to talk about the fundamentals of Design: such as why a package is a package deal?
Posted by Chris Eldridge at July 14, 2003 09:00 AM
A couple of years ago I sent two of my students (one undergrad, one grad) to Johnson to participate in a Phase 0/1 Safety Review for a small satellite we're building here at Virginia Tech (www.aoe.vt.edu/~hokiesat). As a bonus, I arranged for them to have dinner with one of my former PhD students, who was in astronaut training at the time. As an additional bonus, he got a couple more astronauts to join them. During the debrief I got when they returned, it appeared that all of the astronauts they met were at least a little disillusioned with the process, the mission, and their chances of flying any time soon. Both students had wanted to be astronauts *before* the trip, and both had their minds changed by their meeting with the astronauts. I agree that current "space exploration" is not all that exciting, but as you and others have noted in several places lately, there are some exciting non-NASA projects brewing. I think those students might just change their minds.Posted by Chris Hall at July 14, 2003 12:55 PM
Well why can we make 747 which can bring 400 people too a destination and not a spaceplane.
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