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Open Lines, Sunday, 1-12-14 January 13, 2014

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Open Lines, Sunday, 1-12-14


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Guest:  Open Lines with Dr. David Livingston.  Topics: A wide ranging discussion focusing on student space inspiration, heavy lift, SLS, commercial space & more.  Please direct all comments and questions regarding Space Show programs/guest(s) to the Space Show blog, https://thespaceshow.wordpress.com.  Comments and questions should be relevant to the specific Space Show program. Written Transcripts of Space Show programs are a violation of our copyright and are not permitted without prior written consent, even if for your own use. We do not permit the commercial use of Space Show programs or any part thereof, nor do we permit editing, YouTube clips, or clips placed on other private channels & websites. Space Show programs can be quoted, but the quote must be cited or referenced using the proper citation format. Contact The Space Show for further information. In addition, please remember that your Amazon purchases can help support The Space Show/OGLF. See www.onegiantleapfoundation.org/amazon.htm.

Welcome to this 2 hour 11 minute wide ranging discussion with a surprising debate between two callers in the latter part of the second half of the show.  During the first segment, we started out with a call from Paul to talk about his AIAA Spaceflight Challenge Program for inspiring students.  The purpose of this program is to inspire students to be involved in space development and exploration.  Paul will keep us posted on the project as it develops over the coming months.  Charles Pooley called in next to tell us that his Microlaunchers book was out and that he and his co-author would be on The Space Show to discuss it in detail Monday, Jan. 13, 2014.  The book, “Microlaunchers: Technology for a New Space Age,” is available through Amazon.  If you buy it and I suggest you do, use the OGLF Amazon portal so Amazon will make a contribution to The Space Show.  Directions for doing this are on each blog archive, website archive, TSS website home page and on www.onegiantleapfoundation.org.  Let me know if you have any questions.  I believe you will be impressed with his long awaited book and hats off to Charles for finally getting it done and for doing a terrific job with it.

In our second segment, we took a call from an upstate NY college student inquiring about the returning to the Moon, lunar commerce and such.  Following Eric’s call, Marshall called in from Texas to talk about how inspiring TSS has been for him.  We also talking space mining issues with him, the use of robots and more.  Our next caller was SLS John.  John is a strong advocate for SLS and he again articulated the case for the completion of SLS.  I challenged him again with the usual arguments against SLS which did not phase him.  Dr. Jurist wanted to comment on what SLS John was saying so using another phone line, Dr. Jurist (Montana John) and SLS John had a lengthy and detailed exchange, both supporting heavy lift and SLS , although with reservations, especially from Montana John as you will hear in their discussion.  Its an interesting discussion but I doubt it will change the minds of listeners regardless of how they see and think about SLS.  That said, I strongly suggest you listen to their entire discussion many key points were addressed by both callers.  As the show was ending, I went over some of the key upcoming guests scheduled for The Space Show.

Please post your comments/questions on TSS blog above.  If you want to reach any of the callers, do so through drspace@thespaceshow.com.


1. Alan M - January 24, 2014

sorry I missed the show but . . . . . GO Dr. Doug!!!!

This short awesome novel in rebuttal is exactly what I was thinking almost point for point, except I would not have managed such an eloquent and detailed response.

Thanks, Doug for the nitrogen info.

It seems quite simple. If we build and fly SLS, there will be no money to do anything with it, just like shuttle(after the ISS was finished). It is the shuttle program on steroids. Didn’t we already choose to get rid of shuttles because of costs. We need to use the rockets we have and that develop commercially over time and spend our money on actually accomplishing things IN space and likely the moon, since it is in our celestial backyard.

Thanks Doug, keep fighting the good fight.

And Thanks to Dr. Space, and the call in guests.

2. DougSpace - January 14, 2014

This Open Lines was a particularly interesting one.  I wish that I had been available to call in but was tied up with a health program.

Forgive my rant but…

Re: the student that called in and David’s replies to him, the assumption is that business couldn’t be done until the cost of transportation comes down.  If transportation costs are high then propellant costs are high meaning any propellant derived from the Moon can demand a high price.  For an EML1 depot the delta-v is lowest from the Moon and highest from the Earth.  (13.3 vs 2.5 – with absolutely huge mass fraction differences).  Also, equipment delivered to the Moon can produce much more than its mass in propellant.  So, a few launches = a large amount of propellant.

What to do when we get to the Moon?  Produce gas, produce gas, produce gas.  Forget He-3.  Do science later, tourists later, colonize later, gain experience for Mars along the way, but First Produce Gas!  It enables everything.

Re: Marshal’s comments.  I too very much appreciate The Space Show and have benefitted greatly from David’s fine work over the years.  

Marshal is exactly right about the role and ratio of repairmen to robotic miners (better to call them ice harvesters – no hammering of rock).  It should be noted that there would be an interim phase with just robots, lots of spare parts, replacements, and Robonauts until the landers are safe to send humans on.  David was not correct to suggest the repairmen live at EML1.  Unnecessary radiation and transportation costs.

Marshal is not correct about a colony being unable to be established on the Moon.  LCROSS proved there is nitrogen ( in the form of ammonia) in lunar ice.  With recycling, a lunar colony can support its needs.

NASA has nothing at all to do with the Moon?  JSC is developing Morpheus which is aimed at the Moon.  Perhaps the prospector Scarab.  It is funding a couple of lunar data buys.  There’s LADEE, LRO, did GRAIL.  Plans for a manned circum-lunar mission and retrieving an asteroid to lunar orbit.  It has the Robonaut, chariot, hex robot, and surface rover in storage.  Nothing for lunar development so yes, certainly not enough but not zilch either.

When Obama cancelled Constellation, Congress didn’t direct the money into the general fund.  If SLS is cancelled by a Hillary administration, I expect that the Administration would try to direct the money into tech development and commercial programs.  I would hope that they would aim for the public-private development of lunar resources.

The fundamental problem with the current SLS program is that it won’t fundamentally reduce transportation costs.  Because the SLS will not have any commercial or much defense value, it won’t be launching much of anything to LEO or GEO.  Launch rates will be low.  Any artificial attempt to raise flight rates (such as building up a station at EML1 or 2) will only increase costs by increasing the variable costs.

How many more decades will America’s space program be shackled by this expensive system?  How long will worthy technologies lack funding to be developed and proven?  30 more years?  Is this what we want to do just in case times get better and we might get enough money to build some large payloads?  30 more years of constrained progress just so that we can retain our hard-won HLV workforce?  COTS has shown that there is a far more cost-effective path which is now proven.  Further, we need to trust that private-public partnerships are capable of yielding new and innovative solutions which will open up space in a technically and economically sustainable manner.  Dual-use technologies, fixed price contracts, payments for milestones, ISRU, topping off, automated docking, on-orbit cryogenic storage with ZBO, teleoperations, inflatable habs, modified upper stage landers (e.g. Masten’s Xeus) – these are the technologies which can sustainably develop cis-lunar space and lunar resources.  And lets face it – at some point in time we need to master these technologies.

But if instead we pursue the SLS and the current Path, we’ll at best end up at the doorstep of Mars with expensive missions susceptible to cost overruns and cancellation and then we’re truly back to square one.  It is large programs that get cancelled and set us back.  The public-private programs are the ones that seem sustainable (2 first stages, 2 upper stages, 2.5 cargo / crew vehicles) at a fraction of the cost of the unfinished SLS/Orion.

The fundamental question that faces us is, “Do we really need a HLV and if so, when”?  On the show, John from Fort Worth began calculating how much mass a 53 metric tonne to LEO Falcon Heavy could send on TLI while found to a lunar surface mission.  But he didn’t complete those calculations.  For the sake of discussion, I’d like to ask him if he would be willing to do the following calculations and report back to us on his findings:
  – How many total tonnes could a Falcon Heavy send on a circum-lunar mission (i.e. SLS Exploration Mission 1)?
  – Could one or two FHs do an EML-2 mission by delivering an Orion capsule and Bigelow inflatable there for a far side, South pole – Aitken teleoperated rover mission?
  – How many tonnes of payload could a FH deliver to the lunar surface?  And, compared to something that we all know about (such as a sedan) how large would an ice harvester/steamer/transporter be?
  – How large an asteroid could be returned to the Earth-Moon system if the xenon propellant were to be launched on a single FH? 
  – The hard one to calculate is, “Could a FH send astronauts to a retrieved asteroid in a lunar retrograde orbit”?

Questions for anyone:
  – So, if it is determined that FH is capable enough to do missions in the Earth-Moon system, then, how far out in time will we actually need to do missions requiring a HLV?
  – Using modern American data, what is the probability of a failed docking.  For the initial cargo missions to the Moon, what failure rate is acceptable.

Remember, initial cargo missions to the Moon would be one-way with all of the ascent propellant mass being able to go to payload and there is no separate ascent stage so structure mass would be a smaller percentage. ULA has given Dave Masten an old Centaur upper stage to experiment with.  Dave says that the well-proven Centaur would eliminate 99% of the velocity for a lunar landing and that his externally attached retrorockets would cost only about $50 million dollars to develop the ability to land the Centaur on the Moon.

I am willing to grant that the equivalent in heavy lift capability is needed for missions beyond the Earth-Moon system.  So I actually support continuing SLS but insist that alternate, cost-reducing technologies be adequately funded to see if they end up making an expensive HLV ultimately unnecessary.  Retaining the HLV workforce should not itself be the point.  If there are smarter ways of accomplishing the same capabilities, should such capabilities be established, then the HLV-specific workforce should transition to the new way of doing things.

Just because we already have the SRBs and SSMEs doesn’t necessarily mean that developing and especially maintaining a shuttle-derived HLV will save money in the long run.  For example, the F9 was developed from scratch (yes standing in the shoulders of giants) and it will likely carry cargo and crew to LEO at much less development and operational cost than the Ares-1.

The planetary defense argument for the HLV is weak.  The probabilities for the need in the mid-term are very small and hydrogen bombs don’t need 80 or 130 tonnes to send in escape velocity.

Every time we kill a large program we lose much if that investment.  But when we try the public- private approach, we succeed and develop long-term useful capabilities.  We should be willing to “risk” changing direction in that direction.  We need to stop having people do Power Points on large, commercially non- useful systems and have them design sustainable systems and then fund those to completion.  But right now, until an economically self-sustaining space ecosystem is established, we need public-private programs.  Private companies cannot just go out and raise the money and develop a BLEO transportation system.  The risk is too high.  But, because the government would benefit greatly from the existence of such a system, they should find it with an eye of handing it off eventually and then becoming a customer.

SAAs is not just another flavor if FARs.  The Air Force study showed that Falcon 9 was developed at between 1/3rd and 1/8th the cost had it been done using FARs.  That freed up money could be used to develop new technologies to further reduce costs.  

NASA shouldn’t develop technologies and then license or sell it.  Rather, the development should have commercial value integrated into it from the beginning.  This is best done via public-private partnerships.  COTS/CRS/CCDev is demonstrating the value of this approach.

“If you build it they will come” is a potentially wasteful philosophy.  They built the Shuttle.  Did companies show up en masse?  A large space station was a known use for the Shuttle from the beginning.  What do we know will require frequent SLS flights.  If we artificially create a job for the SLS (e.g. a large EML1 station) then we are committing our nation to 30+ years of inflexible space budgets.  Is that smart?

We don’t need to build a separate vehicle for every mission.  A 5.0 meter diameter cis-lunar craft could be launched on a FH, Delta IV Heavy, and Atlas V.  Modifications of that craft could serve a finite set of purposes.  Those are: OTV, lander, crewed versions of those, and propellant storage versions.  All are about the same size, have the same sized tanks, and the sane avionics.

“If things [economy] don’t improve then everything that we do is a waste of money “.  No, we will still have lower-cost access to LEO even (and especially) with a reduced NASA budget thanks to our public-private programs.  It will be the expensive programs that will have been a waste.

If we fund Masten, et al, a President could continue a relatively low-cost, incremental lunar development program within his hoped-for two terms.  Mars is what takes decades.

“I’m trying to save the space program”.  You’re trying to save the expensive part of the space program.  That approach jeopardizes America’s HSF program.  Challenger, Columbia, X-33, Ares V…SLS?

“The SLS can put up satellites and interplanetary craft”.  So can Delta IV.  Do we really, really need the SLS to do those?

“SLS logical if we don’t develop RLVs in the next 20 or so years”.  It’s not just RLVs.  In fact RLVs are not the best approach because of the relatively low payload to LEO given the relatively low usable mass delivered to LEO by RLVs.  Two FHs docking and topping off the upper stage is probably a better way.    I believe it was Griffin who described a refilled upper stage as being the best EDS.  And it was Greason who said that he was pleasantly surprised by how advanced laboratory cryogenic storage and transfer was and how it was hard to know what else should be done to advance the TRL levels apart from launching the demonstrators.  But the Administration couldn’t do this because Congress put that money into…SLS/Orion/ISS and for how many decades?

“SLS has a better political support network”.  Is that a bug or a feature?  For making space development sustainable, I’d call it a bug.

“Dan Adamo’s orbital dynamics discussion”.  New space ports creates new launch opportunities per window.  It’s not like there are a lot of BLEO missions planned.  If Falcon Heavy is used then as few as one additional launch is needed for a manned lunar mission.  With top-off, I’m not even sure you need a LEO depot.  If you use ion propulsion to push propellant to an L-point then how much could a single Falcon Heavy send beyond the Earth-Moon system.  Haven’t done that calc yet.

Again, sorry for the rant.  But I’d like to see the other side of the argument adequately represented.

Please note, I haven’t thrown the “fantasy” or “Kool-Aid” label at anyone.  These are fair discussions.  Opposing positions are essential for improving one’s ideas and civility is essential for making progress.  Disagreements are on positions and are not personal.

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