NASA inks deal for Shuttle replacements
Timing nothing to do with Endeavour dent
NASA has signed a $1.8 billion contract with Utah-based Alliant Techsystems (ATK) for "design, development, testing, and evaluation of the first stage of the Ares I and Ares V launch vehicles." Ares I and V will replace the Space Shuttle fleet as NASA's primary means of getting people and stuff into earth orbit.
The deal, announced on Friday, includes delivery of five ground static test motors, two ground vibration test articles and four flight test stages. NASA doesn't get any boosters to use under this deal: the operational rockets will be subject to a seperate contract.
ATK was seen by NASA as the only company which could develop of the first stage of the Ares I crew launch vehicle. Ares I will use solid-fuel rockets to launch humans into orbit, and the current space shuttle strap-on booster is the only solid rocket made in America rated for firing people rather than just kit.
The first stage of the Ares I astronaut-carrying launcher will be a five-segment solid rocket booster based on the four-segment design used for the shuttle. The second stage will be a J-2X liquid-oxygen, liquid-hydrogen engine with a new upper stage fuel tank. The Orion crew exploration vehicle will ride to low Earth orbit with as many as six astronauts atop this stack.
The planned Ares V bulk lifter will deliver machinery and spaceships into orbit, including the vessels which will take people back to the Moon and on to Mars under current plans. Ares V's mighty first stage will mount five RS-68 liquid-oxygen, liquid-hydrogen engines mounted below a larger version of the shuttle's external tank, with two five-segment, solid-propellant rocket boosters strapped on for extra poke. The upper stage will use the same J-2X engine as the Ares I.
NASA says a return to throwaway rocket stacks will be more reliable, affordable and flexible than the Shuttles, whose orbiter spaceplane segment is re-usable but expensive to maintain and often plagued by technical and safety problems. Others have characterised the move as a retrograde step for launch technology, saying that NASA should move forward with some blue-sky, truly reusable scheme such as rocket/scramjet spaceplanes.®
How we get back to the moon is going to be very interesting. Why we go back to the Moon is most interesting. "The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress" by Heinlien is a fascinating look at the future by the Dean of Sci Fi. The reason for going back to the Moon is literally world shaking. A substance called Helium3 is one very exciting answer to the fusion story and the Moon has many tons of it. I say this because it is the dream we need to seek. Whether a vehicle has wings or not should be determined by later needs. For now, I suggest we focus on the least expensive, most effective way into space. "Firstest, fastest and biggest" would be a good motto. I say we sell the Tokomak reactor and buy off the shelf stuff until we get back with a big load of Helium3. I read that one shuttle load (couple of tons) has enough energy to last the US for a year. Hmmm... I think I detect blue smoke and mirrors...
space shuttle - NEXT!
Certainly the space shuttle was a huge detour for NASA – all due to the concept it had to look like a plane. Risking men every time cargo had to be carried, having the space craft mounted where it could get hit by debris, carrying wings into space, the concept of not doing a “walk around” before flight (the one down into the atmosphere), and of course vertical take of with its huge fuel cost. Werner von B. must have been spinning when the committees chose that path.
Speaking of huge fuel cost, and other ways to launch – has anyone in an idle moment figured out what the fuel benefits would be if Mt Kilimanjaro was used as a launch site – first 3.7 miles altitude gained by truck, exactly on the equator so you get 1000 mph velocity free, lower initial air resistance at 19,000 feet, the oblateness of the earth makes the equator 20 Km further from the center than the poles, and it’s all nice and flat up there. Once the road's built could be a good little earner for Tanzania :+)
NASA is not about science
Having been a NASA contractor on and off over the years I can tell you that NASA has not been about science since it was gutted by the Nixon administration.
The Space Shuttle and International Space Station are simply jobs programs.
Major programs and contractors are selected based on how many congressmen it will support it.
Thats an upgrade from being welfare for the military industrial complex as it was during the years of Ronald Reagunz.
Now that the Bush administration has provided the welfare in the form of the war on terror, NASA is having to struggle to not have its big money programs canceled. Having as many people employed in as many districts as possible is one means to that end. Why go with a sensible solution provided by one company in one state when you can go with something insane that employs people in ten or more states.
And having worked on the ISS project recently it has become apparent that Clinton made a huge blunder in canceling the SuperConducting SuperCollider in favor of the ISS. The problem with the SSC is it involved only one state. Now years later the ISS makes the SSC look like that bargain of the century.