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Reusable Launch & Space Vehicle News
2004 - Feedback

Scaled Composites photos
SpaceShipOne on first rocket powered flight Dec.17th, 2003.

This section contains a selection of messages send to me by readers concerning articles in the RLV News section..

RLV News Archive Directory

February 3, 2004

Matt Wronkeiwicz comments on this item:

Regarding the quote from NASA comptroller, Alternate Access was explicitly funded by Congress not to create new launch systems, it was instead funded to cover the cost of purchasing third party launch services. It was NASA that merged it with SLI and > started churning out technology development contracts.

Yes, your're right. The original AAS concept was that NASA would sign contracts to deliver cargo to the ISS. However, the companies could use those contracts to convince investors to provide funding for the vehicle development. NASA, though, did not take the AAS program seriously and never got close to issuing contracts. Kistler did get something along these lines, though not under the AAS program (the K-1 would provide flights for RLV technology tests), with a promise of up to around $135M once it got flying. This apparently wasn't enough to help it raise the few hundred million it needs to finish the K-1. On paper the AAS program continued right up through last autumn. But as Gary Hudson said in the interview, NASA was never interested in the progam and just stuck the proposals in a drawer somewhere.

January 16, 2004

Randy Campbell comments on this item:

Just as a question/comment on this part of the review of the Washington Post article:

"Besides, the X-38 did not involve either commercial companies or the military and NASA still managed to screw it up. Even if technically it was doing OK, after spending several hundred million dollars and then just dropping the program, this certainly shows some serious management shortcomings."

I don't see a 'screw-up' during the program. The reason it was dropped was it was designed, (optimized) as a Rescue craft and not a crew vehicle. NASA had wanted to invest in turning the design into a crew transfer vehicle, but this was probably never in the cards due to Congressional hostility towards any new, (production) vehicle concepts.

And though Rand Simberg "points out" that the companies involved in the X-33/34 were just 'contractors' I have to point out that they ARE also business. LockMart promised too much and couldn't deliver on the X-33. And as Rand mentions their business 'plan' for the V-star stank to high heaven.

But, I'd also point out that NASA may be doing a lot more than suspected without the 'usual' suspects when it comes to contracts. I don't know if you noticed in the following article you posted: >http://www.aviationnow.com/avnow/news/channel_aerospacedaily_story.jsp?id=news/rlv01144.xml< (RLV Work For NASA Has Application To Moon/Mars Mission, NG Says)

I was caught by the following paragraph: NASA's vision for a reusable launch vehicle called for a tank up to 27.5 feet in diameter and 80 feet long, which would be too large to cure in any standard autoclave, Northrop Grumman says."

So I wonder WHAT vehicle NASA and Northrop have been working on? Something of this size wouldn't be needed for the OSP... unless, (as I've been wondering since I've been using your site and others to explore some of the 'shelved' proposals and studies NASAs done in the last few decades :o) your planning on using the OSP/CEV as the crew escape/command module on something.

Just some thoughts.

Randy Campbell

The X-38 actually seemed to be proceeding quite well (though I've heard it had difficulties with excessive weight growth and some other problems). Similarly, I don't think the X-34 had any big problems (except perhaps for obtaining the Fastrac engines from NASA). Starting any multi-hundred million dollar program and then simply cancelling it is a big screw-up, even more so, when the project is succeeding technically. If this had happened just once, such as for the reason you cite (though I think the X-38 actually had solid Congressional support), it would be understandable. But the fact it has happened several times indicates some serious problems.

Rand was making the distinction between a company working under a contract to build something according to NASA's specifications and NASA working in partnership with a company to develop a commercial product. The latter is what Sawyer seemed to be criticizing.

Yes, I mentioned the Aviation Week article about Northrop's composite tank work. I think this kind of technical infrastructure work, whether at a NASA center or at a contractor, is great and something NASA should continuing doing no matter what. In this case, the funding comes from NASA's program to develop general technology for future RLVs.

January 11, 2004

Dave Ketchledge offers some ideas on RLV design and NASA policies:

For the last few years I have been working on Lifting Bodies and related RLV engineering issues for a publication due out in March, when I hopefully will secure a publisher. I saw the OSP effort as a smaller more nible and lower cost shuttle craft for crew to LEO either in an X-37 , HL-10 or Lockmart ASSET winged cone. Lockmart was saying cheaper, faster, safer, sooner as well.

I think that effort is now going to be swept away for the following reasons. Which I outline below.

President Bush for mixed reasons will be directing NASA to return to the Moon and on to Mars in the next 20-30 years. this will also intail the Promethisus or VASMIR plasma drive that could cut the trip time to Mars as short as 90 days. The second impact to such a drivce is Venus and Jupiter now only a year. to power such a drice takes a pair of super conducting magnets and an radio frequency transmitter like what you have in your microwave oven, but on major vitamins. The power requirement will be from 500KW to 3 megawatts.

Since at Mars you need 4 times the area to get the same solar energy, flying a large solar panel is not pratical. Get out to Jupiter and you simpy don't have all that much sunlight. That means a nuclear power souce. Those of you who have a problem with that, please get a grip on your lives. Nuclear Power on submarines has a long and very safe operation record, I know, I llived under the ocean for 90 days at a time for 6 years at depths I can't discuss all powered by a reactor 40 times larger than what NASA needs for this interplanitary transport vessel. How can we afford this , well its quite simple.

First you tell Martin/Locheed to redesign the external tank on the shuttle to be the core of a cargo lifter. You mothball the shuttle in 5 years and NASA goes into the cargo business. With the orbiter off the external tank, and a beefing up of thje SRB, add 3-5 RS-68 engines to the base of the external tank and you will get about 200,000 pounds into orbit.

You need the following equiment to stage either a moon or Mars mission. A habitat unit like transhab for a crew of 4-8 per trip. A lander for the crew or an automatic cargo lander. A smaller version of the transhab goes on the moon for living space. And from there you follow the Zubrin plan.

You also put an automatic lander on the moon to scoop up soil and cool out the O2 in in the ground and other gases by solar energy. And you mount that mission in 3 years. You also put a lander down at the south pole of the moon to resolve the water issue there. NASA needs to pull all the old lunar orbiter data back out and start looking for a place to establish a colony as well. And the academic, scitific and engineering teams need to opening discuss were we set down at.

Where does this leave RLV technology. Well I hate to say this but NASA is not going to use a winged reentry vehicle to transport crew. because returning from the moon or mars will entail aerobraking, which wings add little to no value. So the Apollo like capsules may have won the day here. Hitting the atmosphere at 5 miles a second requires a capsule, or you can use a lifting body.

In researching my soon to publish book, I found the X-38 para wing technology very impressive. It gives you a precision landing, low weight, very low landing speed and with. Match this with a reentry capsule and you have something to consider.

Now in the long term we have to get past the ELV approach to spaceflight. And the Andrews Space folks really have a novel design. It has the best GLOW and cargo capability I have seen. But the R&D costs have some risks, but far less than the failed X-33 effort. I certainly see the potential for comerical lauches with this design.

I look forward to us returning to the Moon and onto MArs, but we need a low cost LEO method in the long term. The Space Shuttle never would have acomplished this. Usinging a Delta IV or Atlas V to haul crew at this time makes good sence. You could haul cargo and supplies with a Shuttle-C /( c for cargo) and cews with the Delta's. then industry completes the Gyphon to repalce the crew missions in a TSTO lay out. Follow the Zurbin plan to get to mars with a plasma drive / nucelr powre plant, transhable and lander.

And a word of warning. NASA needs to consider that if you run a ship for years, things break down, and that means MAINTENANCE. And afew spare parts. Go see NAval REctors who run the submarine programs and the nuclear folks for this. becuse they know this demon to the nth degree. Little wonder when NASA was trying to re-engineer its QA process after Columbia, you heard worlds like submarine quality control and naval reactors. And when it comes to living in a tin can for months in a ship headed to Mars, go ask the submarine folks how long they have been out at times. Been there and done that as well.

I look forward to hear what the President has to say.

Dave Ketchledge
Instrumentation Engineer
fmr: US Naval Reactor Operator

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