Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Why I like Constellation.....

.....and think that it is more than expensive retrofashion.

The great and wise Buckethead, of the Homage Police comments in an earlier post on the general disappointing conservatism of the NASA return to the moon plans.

His arguments are not without merit.

This does look like a step back to the 60s with a capsule that is the exact same proportions as Apollo....albiet bigger.

It is certainly galling when one compares it to things that could have been done, like this design for what became the current shuttle that was doable in 1973

Shoot, given 33 years of progress the type of ship Buckethead and I both want would be more along the lines of this....


However, the 2 stage, reusable shuttle, after going through the pork/bureaucrat/government filter ended up with the cumbersome, expensive and fatally flawed design that has left us with wrecked ships and dead crews. And that's not all.

Marcus Lindroos has a huge, comprehensive compilation of US reusable spacecraft designs, nearly all considered at least possible given the technology of as much as 40 years ago. The things that were rejected included this single stage to orbit FULLY reusable shuttle from the mid-70s ........

....and this massive super-heavy-lift VERTOL beastie that was designed in 1963 and, frankly, is still the basis of a lot of reusable proposals including Max Hunters DC-X.

But we got the shuttle.

Hell, talk about retro, riding into space on a solid is right out of the UKs lunar proposals from the 30s!

The two most promising developments of the last 15 years, the above mentioned DCX and the ill fated Venture Star were private ventures that were sabotaged by Clinton and NASA respectively, but were additionally handicapped by NASAs effective gatekeeper status regards space.

The NASA program has not covered itself in glory since Apollo, and even that killed 3 astronauts (Apollo 1) due to incompetence quite similar to that which took the lives of the Challenger and Columbia crews. Indeed, Mark Wade Points out that Gemini was capable of getting us to the moon quicker and cheaper....but Apollo had the careers of bureaucrats involved with it(not to denigrate those who worked on Apollo which WAS a triumph...but NASA has not been good at picking spacecraft).

There have been sufficient paper studies on the shuttle successor to build a space beanstalk out of the print outs....all to no avail. There main result was to kill private efforts as no investors would invest in a start up which would have to compete with NASAs in house design....and their "Pros from Dover" reputation.

There is hope however, as the X-Prize showed, Space tourism is taking off(literally) and there are more designs by private companies for spacecraft of one form or another than there have been since the 70s.

Project Constellation will develop NO reusable boosters...its reusable capsules will compete with no commercial projects.

What they will do is develop improved life support systems, in-space refueling methods and lunar construction techniques. They may even build a permanent base on the moon.
INFRASTRUCTURE! Both direct (L-1 refueling depot, possible lunar base) and indirect (tech and experience)

The rather maligned Heavy Lift Booster could even be used in a decade or so to help build a space elevator.

Is the NASA architecture viable economically? Is it spiffy and cutting edge? No.

But private industry will be, and they will compete and try new and risky things to tap into the space market. The constellation retro-rockets are a temporary fix, and a means of jump starting a manned space program that was boldly going nowhere.
In a generation NASA will be buying its spacecraft from the same companies that will be building them for space hotels, asteroid mining companies and even colonists heading to the Moon, Mars, the asteroids,and maybe Titan.

(Then, once we've mined the Titanite, we'll be ready for those pesky Gamelons!)

1 comment:

buckethead said...

Ken, posted a reply to this over at Perfidy.