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More Fur On The Dinosaurs

There's an interesting article over at the New Scientist (via Clark Lindsey, and including a quote by Jon Goff) on human rating the Atlas for Bob Bigelow.

One comment I have:

One requirement is to make the rocket more robust against failures. The goal is to have enough redundancies that the rocket could survive two simultaneous failures of any of its parts. Another is to have an emergency detection system that could sense problems and abort a launch when required.

The second requirement is the most critical, and is what really lies at the heart of human rating (a subject that I have ranted about occasionally).

If the vehicle doesn't currently have enough redundancy to be reliable, then the satellite insurance companies should be asking Lockheed Martin why it doesn't--their clients' satellites aren't cheap, and they expect, for the price they're paying, them to end up in orbit and not at the bottom of the Atlantic. No, I think that the real issue is FOSD (Failure On-Set Detection), which doesn't currently exist on the EELVs other than for range-safety destruct purposes. Fortunately, the failure modes of a liquid-engined vehicle like the Atlas tend to be fairly benign, at least for propulsion, with ample warning if the right sensors are in place (much more so, in fact, than for the SRB which, while it has never had any in-flight failures, if it does, they're more likely to be unexpected and sudden).

Anyway, let's talk about The Gap, the one that Babs Mikulski and Kay Bailey Hutchison think is so critical to "national security" (at least Senator Hutchison, though she never explains exactly how) that NASA must get an extra couple billion dollars to close it.

What gap is that? The only gap will be that of NASA's inability to put up astronauts on their own new launch vehicle, based on a flawed concept, that's turning out to not be "safe," "simple," or "soon," as originally advertised. As far as I can tell, as Bigelow and Lockheed Martin's plans continue to move forward, either with a Dragon or Dreamchaser, (and possibly with the use of a Falcon 9, should Elon finally get it flying) there will be no gap. Americans will be able to fly into space, and probably even to the ISS (unless NASA refuses to certify the vehicles as meeting their Visiting Vehicle Requirements, which are similar to "human rating" as a means for NASA to arbitrarily exclude anyone it wants from its playground). They just won't do it on Ares or with Orion. So there will be no "gap."

And of course, I speculated at the time of the announcement that this has to be really pissing off supporters of Ares, Orion and the ESAS within NASA. It was confirmed to me a month or so later by someone fairly high in the Atlas program that this was indeed the case, and that there was even unhappiness within Lockmart about it, but that Orion and Atlas (and ULA) are two different organizations, and the latter has to find customers. This unhappiness came out publicly the other day, when Mike Griffin blamed Lockheed Martin for the recent criticism of his pet launcher.

It couldn't possibly be any technical deficiencies of the concept, no, it's just parochial carping by evil capitalists. As I replied to Mark Whittington in comments over at Space Politics, John Logsdon's comment that the criticism was about "ego and profits" is laughable, as though Mike Griffin and NASA officials have no egos, and as though ATK and Boeing are building the vehicle pro bono, and not taking any of the taxpayers' money.

In any event, it doesn't really matter in the long run. Ares will stumble on as long as this administrator is in place, and in a year or so when the new president is replacing him and reviewing space policy in general, it's likely that even further progress will have been made by Lockheed Martin, SpaceX, SpaceDev and Bigelow, and it will be increasingly clear that "The Gap" is an invention of people who simply want to be able to build NASA vehicles with the taxpayers' funds, and it will probably be the end of ESAS, and the beginning of a more rational policy.

[Update a few minutes later]

Based on further related discussion at Space Politics, John Logsdon apparently didn't even say what Mark claims he did. What a surprise.

[Early afternoon update]

Jon has more thoughts, as does Clark:

The fundamental problem is Griffin's insistence on building new launchers to fit his exploration architecture rather than fitting an architecture to existing launchers (and to soon-to-be-existing ones like Falcon 9). Yes, a robust lunar program might require development of some new technology slightly beyond what's currently on the shelf such as fuel depots and in-space refueling but that is what we should expect an R&D agency to do. The next time NASA astronauts go to the Moon, they should get there via a program that actually advances the state of the art of spaceflight rather than via a retro-architecture that "proves" to everyone yet again how impractical and unsustainable human spaceflight is.

Indeed. As I wrote over at Space Politics, to paraphrase Don Rumsfeld, with a limited budget, you go to the moon with the launch vehicles you have, not the launch vehicles you'd like to have.

[Early afternoon update]

One other point over at the Space Politics thread:

Griffin also needs some serious legal counsel with regard to his comments to the press. The agency has past and current COTS competitions, not to mention launch service competitions for robotic missions, in which Atlas V has been a proposed launcher. Unless Griffin wants those awards challenged and decisions revisited yet again, he needs to avoid potentially biased statements in the public about specific industry vehicles.

Well, he's an engineer, not a lawyer. Of course, it's part of the intrinsic conflict of interest when you have a government agency competing with the private sector. It's a hole that Mike has put himself into with his approach.

[Early evening update]

For anyone late to this particular party (though with surprisingly few comments), I have a follow-up post.

 
 

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18 Comments

Jonathan Goff wrote:

Rand,
I have further comments on the article up on Selenian Boondocks:

http://www.selenianboondocks.com/2008/02/lmbigelow-atlas-v-deal.html

~Jon

Rand Simberg wrote:

Well, I did have a link to Selenian Boondocks, as well as a link to Clark's post with a link to that post, unless it's a new one.

Terence Clark wrote:

I think it is becoming abundantly clear to the space world that NASA is now officially in the business of building overpriced albatross architecture. All the insiders have known it for decades, ever since the shuttle went from being a revolutionary vehicle to being a cautionary tale of out-of-control scope creep. And other national programs aren't much better at the moment.

It appears that even if the next generation of attempted commercial launch vehicles doesn't succeed, they will at least have demonstrated that NASA is the master of wasting money, which may turn the ship around due to public outcry. But that assumes the public is paying attention.

My money is on Falcon/Dragon and the Dreamchaser. If they can demonstrate that there is a market out there we may even have a full-blown industry on our hands.

Terence

Edward Wright wrote:

So, Mark Whittington (BA-history) takes his engineering advice from John Logsdon (PhD - political science)?


Will McLean wrote:

Bigelow and Lockmart's plan's are moving forward for the easy part of the project: talking about spending money, maybe.

The hard part will be putting a reliable manned capsule into service for the amount Bigelow is willing to spend.

Great if it happens, but I'm not counting on it.

Will McLean wrote:

What Bigelow and Lockmart are doing now is the easy part: talking about Bigelow spending money, maybe.

THe real challenge will getting a safe and reliable manned capsule into service for what Bigelow is willing to spend. Great if it happens, but I'm not counting on it.

Will McLean

Edward Wright wrote:

THe real challenge will getting a safe and reliable manned capsule into service for what Bigelow is willing to spend. Great if it happens, but I'm not counting on it.

No one has ever built a "safe and reliable" manned capsule, for any price.

Soyuz and Apollo both had fatal accidents. Mercury and Gemini didn't but they didn't fly very much, either. Both had major malfunctions that could have led to fatal accidents, as could Apollo 13. Soyuz has also had a number of close calls that haven't been widely reported, including a capsule that rolled down a hill after landing and nearly fell off a cliff, being saved only by the parachute which snagged on some trees.

The claim that capsules are safer than the Shuttle rests on faulty statistics. Riding a capsule on an ELV is like doing high-wire work at the circus or riding a rodeo bull. It's proveably dangerous, yet there are people who are willing to do it. That's what Bigelow and Lockmart are counting on.


Mike Puckett wrote:

"Soyuz has also had a number of close calls that haven't been widely reported, including a capsule that rolled down a hill after landing and nearly fell off a cliff, being saved only by the parachute which snagged on some trees."

Wasn't that the landing from an unplanned high-altitude abort aka sub-orbital Soyuz?

Thomas Matula wrote:

The most logical course would be for Lockheed to use the work it did on the OSP for NASA for this new vehicle.

This would also place it well to take advantage of any future NASA contracts if the VSE, and with the ESAS, is killed by the next administration. Its work with Bigelow will give it a running start which will be critical if the next administration is worried about closing the spaceflight gap. For info on where the OSP program was in 2004 here is a good article.

http://amelia.db.erau.edu/nasacds/200310Disc2/research/20030106071_2003122250.pdf

Note that not all the designs were capsules. There were also lifting bodies and true spaceplanes in the design space being looked it. A 3-4 seat version of the X-38 modified for launch on the Atlas V could be a fast route to a OSP for Bigelow, and NASA.

Charles Lurio wrote:

Ed, I believe it was not a Soyuz but a Voshkhod (or Vostok, no real difference but number of seats crammed in) that was in volved in the rolling- down- the mountain incident.

Anonymous wrote:

And of course, I speculated at the time of the announcement that this has to be really pissing off supporters of Ares, Orion and the ESAS within NASA. It was confirmed to me a month or so later by someone fairly high in the Atlas program that this was indeed the case, and that there was even unhappiness within Lockmart about it, but that Orion and Atlas (and ULA) are two different organizations, and the latter has to find customers. This unhappiness came out publicly the other day, when Mike Griffin blamed Lockheed Martin for the recent criticism of his pet launcher.

You know I don't buy this for a second. ULA is nothing but a manufacturing organization, the sales for the Atlas program has remained in Denver and the Boeing people still do all the sales for the Delta IV program. I sat down with the president of ULA in Washington the other day and he stated in no uncertain terms that they have nothing to do with selling their system, they just build em.


Rand Simberg wrote:

You know I don't buy this for a second.

What is it that you "don't buy"?

Edward Wright wrote:

Ed, I believe it was not a Soyuz but a Voshkhod (or Vostok, no real difference but number of seats crammed in) that was in volved in the rolling- down- the mountain incident.

Soyuz 18-1, according to Mark Wade (astronautix.com).

Astronautix.com also reports that "Lazarev suffered internal injuries from the high-G reentry and tumble down the mountain side and never flew again." Once again demonstrating that escape systems are no magic bullet for safety.


Randy Campbell wrote:


Thomas Matula wrote:
>The most logical course would be for Lockheed
>to use the work it did on the OSP for NASA for
>this new vehicle.

Not to start another place to 'debate' the "Capsule-vs-Spaceplane" argument again but from what LM has mentioned in their "Passenger" Atlas papers they are 'base-lining' a capsule based on some of their planetary entry capsule designs. (Basically a broader, flatter, more lenticular looking capsule)

>For info on where the OSP program was in 2004
>here is a good article.

Thanks I actually hadn't seen that one before... Any more? :o)

>Note that not all the designs were capsules.
>There were also lifting bodies and true
>spaceplanes in the design space being looked
>at.

The report also goes on to list the various 'down-sides' to the designs also. The various spaceplanes were seen as having inherient issues with mass-issues for payload and passenger capability vs the capsules, the need for thermal barriers/seals for landing gear and potential problems with escape system inclusion for the crew.
(The report also mentions the a pure capsule being 'inherently' more robust and safer in flight control, thermal protection, and structure but that they had a disticnt disadvantage in abort "g" loads, and aborts for ISS launch which could lead to a landing in the Alps.)

The "biggie" from what I've been able to find of the various reasons the OSP program was cancled was lifting bodies/winged vehicles where that they would probably have SERIOUS problems 'evolving' into a vehicle for use beyond Earth orbit. (Wing-and-Wheels being dead mass for Moon/Mars/L-1/2, etc flights)

>A 3-4 seat version of the X-38 modified for
>launch on the Atlas V could be a fast route
>to a OSP for Bigelow, and NASA.

Not argueing THIS point (since the need to 'evolve' for long range missions is currently not in Bigelows plans :o) but I seem to recall that Bigelow was looking for at least 5 crew? Or was that "just" the American Space Prize requirements?

I also seem to recall LM and Boeing both noting somewhere that the basic EELV designs would have to be 'modified' to handle the loads of a 'lifting' vehicle during launch?

Edward Wright wrote:
>No one has ever built a "safe and reliable"
>manned capsule, for any price.

Just a "note" but no one has every built a "safe and reliable" space vehicle of ANY kind, but that is (I suppose) part of the learning curve. Since we are not at the 'aircraft*' level of building space transportation yet it will probably continue to be a "ye-pays-yer-money-ye-takes-yer-chances" market for the near future. Since Bigelow is not willing to 'wait' on proven "safe-and-reliable" vehicles to appear he will no doubt take what he can get.

*= By "aircraft" I mean safety, reliablilty, and in-service maintenance rates comparable with aircraft at specific points in their development time line. We are currently far from that with flight rates so low that we have (technically) not moved far from the "Wright-flyer" stage despite technically advancing manufacturing, materials, and construction techniques and almost 50 years of manned space flight. (We are now building Pre-WWI aircraft with composites and other high tech materials, but no one has built Muromets, or Tri-Motors as of yet :o)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Airliner

Randy


Edward Wright wrote:

The "biggie" from what I've been able to find of the various reasons the OSP program was cancled was lifting bodies/winged vehicles where that they would probably have SERIOUS problems 'evolving' into a vehicle for use beyond Earth orbit

You're operating under a misconception. The fact that it was called Orbital Space "Plane" does not mean it was necessarily going to be a lifting body/winged vehicle. Some of the OSP concepts were ballistic capsules. (George Herbert liked to spell it "Orbital Space Plain.")

Also, there is no law of nature that says astronauts must travel from Earth to LEO in the same vehicle that takes them beyond Earth orbit.

Just a "note" but no one has every built a "safe and reliable" space vehicle of ANY kind, *= By "aircraft" I mean safety, reliablilty, and in-service maintenance rates comparable with aircraft at specific points in their development time line.

Reliability and maintenance, perhaps. As far as safety goes, Burt Rutan has shown we're at just about where airplanes were during the first 400 flights.

To change that significantly, we need to get the flight rate up. (Unfortunately, NASA's goal is to get flight rates *down*.)

Thomas Matula wrote:

What I find so funny is that when I argued in 2002 on the old Space Policy DB that the replacement to the Shuttle would be a capsule most argued that I was mistaken and that astronauts would never ride in a U.S. capsule again.

Now all see are capsule proposals, for the CEV, SpaceX and most likey for Bigelow. The space plane has just about disappeared except for the suborbital SpaceShipTwo, if they finally decide on a propulsion system for it.

Of the course reason everyone is doing capsules is that they are cheap, quick and rugged, desirable qualities after a generation of failed proposals for SSTO and TSTO space planes.

Now let's see if my other prediction, that the Shuttle will fly beyond 2010 comes true. Russian's buzzing of a U.S. carrie makes me wonder how dependent Washington will wish to be on them for access to the ISS.

Rand Simberg wrote:

Now all see are capsule proposals, for the CEV, SpaceX and most likey for Bigelow.

Then you're only seeing what you want to see. Take a look at SpaceDev.

Thomas Matula wrote:

Rand,

I am aware of SpaceDevís DreamChaser. Being in San Diego I am well informed about SpaceDev. But SpaceDevís problem, as is the case with Kistler, PlanetSpace, etc., is funding. Where is it coming from?

By contrast the funded projects, that is the projects which are backed by organizations/individuals with the deep pockets necessary to build them (i.e. CEV, Dragon and Bigelowís craft) are capsule designs. Which says a lot about what people spending money actually think will work.

Tom

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This page contains a single entry by Rand Simberg published on February 8, 2008 6:10 AM.

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