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Picky, Picky, Picky

Well, here's the latest in the Perils of Ares I--it might sideswipe the gantry as it launches:

The issue is known as "liftoff drift." Ignition of the rocket's solid-fuel motor makes it "jump" sideways on the pad, and a southeast breeze stronger than 12.7 mph would be enough to push the 309-foot-tall ship into its launch tower.

Worst case, the impact would destroy the rocket. But even if that doesn't happen, flames from the rocket would scorch the tower, leading to huge repair costs.

"We were told by a person directly involved [in looking at the problem] that as they incorporate more variables into the liftoff-drift-curve model, the worse the curve becomes," said one NASA contractor, who asked not to be named because he wasn't authorized to discuss Ares.

"I get the impression that things are quickly going from bad to worse to unrecoverable."

But all is not lost:

NASA says it can solve -- or limit -- the problem by repositioning and redesigning the launchpad.

Sure. No problem. Just reposition and redesign the launch pad. Simple, safe, soon.

NASA officials are now looking at ways to speed up the development of Ares and are reluctant to discuss specific problems. But they insist none is insurmountable.

Of course they do.

"There are always issues that crop up when you are developing a new rocket and many opinions about how to deal with them," said Jeff Hanley, manager of the Constellation program, which includes Ares, the first new U.S. rocket in 35 years.

"We have a lot of data and understanding of what it's going to take to build this."

Yes, they have so much data and understanding that they don't find out about this until after their fake Preliminary Design Review. And (just a guess), I'm betting that if I look at the original budget and development schedule, "repositioning and redesigning the launch pad" isn't even in or on it.

Look, obviously, if you pick a lousy design, you can eventually make it fly, given enough time and money. But in the process, it may end up bearing little resemblance to the original concept, and if it's neither simple (which it won't be with all of the kludges that they'll have to put on it to make up for its deficiencies), safe (no one really knows what the probability of loss of crew is, since they still haven't finally even nailed down the launch abort system design) or soon, then the nation has been sold a pig in a poke. And there's no budget line item for the lipstick either, though NASA has been attempting to tart it up as best they can.

As Einstein once said, a clever man solves a problem--a wise man avoids it. Since Mike Griffin came in, NASA has been too clever by half. Given the budget environment we'll have next year, it's hard to see how this unsustainable schedule and budgetary atrocity survives in anything resembling its current form.


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The Pathetic Earthling wrote:

I know your basic criteria for a sustainable, cheap-to-orbit system is more about production numbers and amortizing the development costs (and rightly) -- and I'm no NASA fanboy -- but what proposed architectures are out there that might fit the bill to get us there?

Curt Thomson wrote:

"repositioning and redesigning the launch pad isn't even in or on it."

Yeah that's probably a safe bet.

It would all be hilarious (for some it probably is) if it wasn't so damn sad.

Curt Thomson wrote:

There are plenty, i'll leave it to others to provide links. For the hell of it i'll throw out another. Re-do the shuttle at one-third the size, with no cargo, internal fuel, upgraded mains, no srb's (or small single-piece ones), and ablative tps. Air-launch from underneath a modified 747, three of which could be acquired and modified for less than what they will spend on mitigating a 12mpg wind gust from the wrong direction at launch.

Alex wrote:

I keep hearing how even a horrible design can be made to fly given enough money and time. And I believe it, but can someone provide me with an example of such a plane?

MG wrote:

Isn't Falcon 1 a "US Launcher" developed within the past 35 years? Or does it not count because it is privately developed by a US *cue Tocata and Fugue in D Minor* CORPORATION.

Also, check out the site for a proposed concept that could be simpler, safer, and sooner... and comply with Congressional law regarding using existing infrastructure.

john hare wrote:


Spruce Goose fits the bill. Biggest flying boat ever I believe. Kinda flew once.

red wrote:

Meanwhile, Flight Global reports that NASA is investigating other potential roles for Ares 1.

If true, from my point of view this is pretty bad misbehavior in the sense of NASA competing with the U.S. commercial launch industry. NASA studies of lunar and interplanetary robotic missions launched Ares 1 are liable to have a chilling effect on any investments in U.S. commercial launchers.

The Pathetic Earthling wrote:

MG -

The politics involved in the development of the F-111 is pretty telling for cramming money into a program to make it work despite its flawed design. Not a problem in *flying* actually, but for doing its original thing (it was initially meant to be a carrier-based aircraft for the Navy and an interceptor for the Air Force). Those roles were eventually filled by the F-14 and F-15, respectively, but of course the F-111 program could not be killed and was justified as a medium bomber.

The Pathetic Earthling wrote:

oops, my comment was to Alex, not MG

Brad wrote:

One could argue that the orginal goals of the ESAS plan are not in themselves bad choices; that is -- utilizing the existing investment in Shuttle to derive a heavy cargo launch ability, while also finding a much smaller launch vehicle for safer crew launch ability. Where NASA seems to really gone off track though, is the many choices made since the orginal plan to fit those Ares LV goals into the whole exploration program.

Now I myself favored the pre-Griffin NASA plans which involved competittion among many contractors to select not only the best equipment but the best architecture for the equipment to achieve the exploration goals. I know many other people don't even favor an exploration goal but instead futher efforts to reduce the costs of access to LEO (a goal of the original Shuttle program which sadly didn't pan out). So don't mistake what I am saying for personal support of the NASA ESAS plan.

I think NASA would have been much better off in meeting time and budgetary limitation if the choices for crew and cargo launchers were more modest. Instead Griffin seems to insist on meeting arbitrary architecture objectives (four man mission to anywhere on the moon) and forcing the launchers to fit those objectives regardless of time or cost. The silliness of the decision making in the radical growth needs NASA has accepted for the Ares launch vehicles is that the increased costs from that growth has destroyed the cost saving rationale used in selecting shuttle derived equipment in the first place. The Ares rockets are today so far removed from being shuttle derived that they are for all puposes clean sheet designs.

I think NASA should have chosen a more modest Atlas or Delta rocket for the crew launcher and a more modest sidemount style Shuttle derived cargo launcher. Rather than force the rockets to meet the architecture, the architecture should have been changed to meet the abilities of these cheaper launch vehicles. Even if that means reducing the size of crew that could be sent to the moon (why not three? Or even two?), or increasing the number of cargo launches per mission.

I am not an Obama fan, and I plan to vote against him. But one radical readjustmen of the NASA plan that I could see from an Obama administration is to cancel the Orion, the Ares I and Ares V, and substitute for them a smaller manned spacecraft launched by an EELV and then buy Energia heavy cargo launches from Russia as part of some international co-operative exploration scheme. Think of the ISS program, only applied to a beyond LEO manned exploration program. Ick.

Brock wrote:

This is the funniest post I've read on TTM in quite some time.

Say Rand, you live in Florida. Do you get winds or gusts in excess of 12.7 Mph down there?


Tom Hill wrote:

I'll have to look up my old Titan IV launch constraints to find the actual values, but wind speed no-gos were different based on direction. A wind that would blow the booster into the launch pad had a much lower no-go value than one that would push the booster away from the launch pad.

Given the huge aspect ratio of the A1, this may be a bigger factor than for other boosters, but my first thought is that this story is more over-reporting than a revelation. The talk of moving the pad is just goofy.

Dennis Ray Wingo wrote:

I would bet that this is associated with the short startup time of the Ares1 booster. It's not like an Atlas or Delta. The control system is going to have to be a lot more robust in that first 0.5 second of flight than other systems.

memomachine wrote:


"I keep hearing how even a horrible design can be made to fly given enough money and time. And I believe it, but can someone provide me with an example of such a plane?"

The Phantom? A flying brick with two engines.

Me wrote:

1. NASA isn't going to use Ares I for unmanned missions. It is too expensive. The budget for a launch vehicle comes out of the robotic mission's budget. They will always try for the cheapest LV. The studies were just busy work and "what if's". Notice that multiple launches and a 3rd stage that is either a Centaur or a new SRM would be required. All are deal breaker wrt cost. There isn't a chilling effect, just a bunch of laughs.

2. Energia is just as viable of a vehicle as the Saturn V is. Most of the infrastructure is decaying, the assembly building's roof collapsed, and the production capability lost

Kelly Starks wrote:

Oh Pishaw, this isnít a problem itís a feature!!
Add rollers and the tower will be a launch vibration damper!


jack lee wrote:

"Alex wrote:
I keep hearing how even a horrible design can be made to fly given enough money and time. And I believe it, but can someone provide me with an example of such a plane?"

I'm somewhat surprised this wasn't answered, but
i will suggest a few items.

1) R-101, possibly the worst airship ever designed.overweight,
underpowered, marginally stable, endurance less then fuel

2) Shuttle: The worst spacevehicle ever designed. SRB's bad TPS, flies like a brick

3) BD-5 : a pretty dangerous kit plane, i'd include the BD-10
but it never really flew - undersized ailerons, flutter issues

4) Blackburn B-25 : Underpowered

5) Breda 88 way underpowered

6) Fairey Battle Obsolete when designed

7) X-3 stilleto : UNderpowered, marginally stable

8) TU-144 Buggy.

9) Concorde : Buggy and uneconomical, required subsidies to fly

10) Superguppy Aircraft : It flies, but sort of inspite of

11) Shuttle Carrier Aircraft : Ibid

12) AWACS :

13) EA-6B Prowler : Take a 2 seat attack bomber and make it
a 4 seat EAW Bird? Pull back on the stick and they depart.

14) BOAC Comet: 10% of the fleet crashed over time.

15) Zubr : prone to in flight breakup

16) christmas bullet: no strut in the eing

17) beech starship. underpowered

18) hiller VZ-1 unstable

19) bell jetpack

20) boeing XB15 slow underpowered

21) globemaster

22) CH-46

ken anthony wrote:

I say get rid of the tower altogether and add a zero stage that adds zero mass to the rocket and could be launched under almost any wind conditions.

Call it the Jules Verne approach. Dig a deep hole. Make the launch platform a railgun. Get the whole rocket moving. What would 6Gs for a few thousand feet give you?

1000 meters at (6x9.8)m/s^2 gives us an initial velocity of?...

Somewhere between 300 and 400 m/s?

The platform could have much higher reverse Gs to release the rocket and stop itself for it's next use. It might require compress air to help equalize pressure during a launch.

Yeah, it's a wild and costly idea that would easily pay for itself I'm sure.

Karl Hallowell wrote:

I have the same concerns as red. In order to rationalize the Shuttle and drive up launch volume, NASA suborned a lot of payloads and projects. I wouldn't be surprised to see some future administration (perhaps with some legislative help from Congress) forcing the unmanned program to use the Ares I.

Brad wrote:

"Me wrote: ...2. Energia is just as viable of a vehicle as the Saturn V is. Most of the infrastructure is decaying, the assembly building's roof collapsed, and the production capability lost"

On the contrary, the rocket engines of the Energia live on in the continuing Zenit and Angara launch vehicle programs. Resurrecting the Energia is merely a matter of will and -- more importantly -- money.

If NASA seriously offered to buy Energia launches for VSE missions the Russians would have Energia up and running long before NASA could produce any payload for Energia to launch.

I don't like the idea of relying on Russia, but the fact is Energia could be serious and much cheaper alternative to Ares V.

Me wrote:

"Brad wrote:
On the contrary, the rocket engines of the Energia live on in the continuing Zenit and Angara launch vehicle programs. Resurrecting the Energia is merely a matter of will and -- more importantly -- money."


That is only a minor part of the Energia. Those were only the booster engines and not the more important H2 engines of the core. Having those engines still does fix the assembly building or pad.

Anyways a derivative of "Energia" engine (the RD-180) is used on the Atlas V, so no need for the Energia, just use an Atlas V derivative, after all, it is just matter of mony

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This page contains a single entry by Rand Simberg published on October 26, 2008 10:57 AM.

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