Postcards from the Bleeding Edge
Saturday, October 01, 2005

  The political rocketship

Think about the thousands of people that produced the dynamic space program of the early 60s: about all the work, all the memos and all that data and design calculations that are lost to the sands of time now, aside from what little is in the official histories and personal biographies.

NASA should adopt more open source methods. Certainly, publishing on the web EVERY single paper study that they have ever paid for - starting now, but going all the way back to the 50s - would be a huge boon for the public, the engineering, and the science communities, that all want one thing - to be in space - a lot - and cheaply.

Also, publishing on the Net all the source code that controls the rockets would ensure, via Linus's law, that fewer semicolons - and targets - would be missed.

I can't think of a single SF writer who thought that the plan for humans exploring the solar system would look like this:

  • Step 1: Go the Moon


  • Step 2: Cut Budget, have your infrastructure dissolve for 34 years


  • Step 3: Wait for the global computer network infrastructure to develop


  • Step 4: Use a search engine to find all that data again


  • A lot of the hard specs are out there on sites like astronautix.com, but when I look at the pictures on the web of the foot thick briefing books for Apollo, I yearn for a closer look.

    Starting from the top of the Shuttle replacement's design - I like the return to a capsule. It works. The escape modes are appealing. It can't manuever worth a damn, but who cares.

    Yet Europe and Russia are now touting a lifting body based design, called Kliper, which kind of blows my mind. I don't want to think about it. The Russian/Europeans seem to really have some grand plans for spaceflight. Ours is now the more mundane program. OK. I am convinced the current plans for the stick and the heavy lifter will work better than the shuttle ever has - but are the right choices being made?

    Michael Griffin outclasses me by 7 degrees, but I can't help but question things like the choice of the 25 year old space shuttle main engines (SSME) for "the stick", rather than the less expensive, 80% lower part count, higher thrust (2.8 MN vs the SSME 1.8MN) RS-68.

    Admittedly, as best as I can tell, both the SSME and the RS-68 are being considered for the second stage of the stick, and the RS-68 has had some teething problems.


    Secondly, I like the use of a solid first stage but question the use of the existing shuttle part - I've never liked segmented solids and a rocket cast in one piece and floated to Canaveral makes more sense to me.

    It bugs me, a lot, that the Shuttle SRBs are the width they are because that's the maximum width a railroad car could take. Why didn't we build the solid rocket boosters in central florida? Politics.

    The extra segment for the heavy lifter seems like a big risk.

    That said, the existing SRBs do already have a manufacturing base, and it costs money to change that.

    Thirdly, I wish that NASA had published the technical data and financial analysis behind the choice of developing a new man rated vehicle, rather than man rating something like the Delta V Heavy and closing more of the shuttle production lines.


    Proponents of reusables tend to forget - one good way to reduce costs and lower risk over the cost of the program is to manufacture a lot and fly a lot, making incremental improvements. That's why I'm leary of the heavy lifter and the 2 launches per year model. Our heavy lifter program, as proposed, already looks like the B2 bomber program as it ended up.

    And, if you're going to build a heavy lifter, why not build a REALLY HEAVY LIFTER? I'd like to see, from internal memos, etc, why a design like Sea Dragon isn't feasible.

    Still, looking at the two new designs, it's like some politician was given a bunch of parts and asked to re-assemble them without putting anyone on the unemployment line. All that said, it's all back seat carping for now, and damnit, probably, by reusing so many shuttle parts and production lines for both new designs, NASA really is saving time and money.

    I'm no longer an advocate for SSTO, reusable vehicles. The staging approach gets the mostest there, fastest - but what are the operational costs beyond that first moon landing using the stick and heavy lifter? No one knows.

    If it were up to me I'd outsource the manned program to the Russians and focus on building the heavy using tried and true Saturn V techniques. I'd also seriously think about just putting payloads on existing rockets wherever possible - stop inventing new rockets and just work on the spaceships and the asteroid bases. We're good at spaceships, and haven't tried for the asteroids yet.

    I know that there are those who think we should have our own manned program for national prestige. I feel for them. I'd like to have one too. But I want us to fly more missions and more spacecraft far more than I want to waste US time and money in developing new rockets for that purpose. Ramp up the Russian production line for the manned flights.



    Selenian Boondocks writes:

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      The Stick

    Google and NASA have teamed up. At one level I figure this is a PR compatible way for NASA to get rid of some excess space.

    At a second level I've been remembering Saturn V (from the official histories, I wasn't even born before the vital design decisions had been made) and thinking about what some in the community call "the Stick". Maybe I'll have time to write that up... but the key observation:

    For 5B dollars NASA proposes to develop a new manned vehicle for a shuttle replacement.

    Invested at 6% interest, that would be 300m a year.

    The Russians are selling manned flights to all comers for 60 million dollars each, or at 20 mil a head. (at, so far as anyone can tell, a profit). America could buy 5 3-man flights a year and we could keep flying, every year, even through the standdown period of 2010-2014.

    And that's without ever touching the principal!

    The frequency of flights (basically doubling the current pace) would lead to a natural rescue mode - with a monthly rocket on the pad.

    The biggest problem with finishing the station and having that use rate is we have yet to get the biggest parts up there, and at the moment - it's safe to fly a shuttle up - if, not necessarily, down, again.

    Maybe we could up the 5B as a prize to anyone that can make a spaceship operational, in the US, at a cost per flight of less than that. Or, just give up on manned capability for now, and offer that 5B up as a prize to anyone that can develop a heavy lifter that's worth a damn in the next decade.

    Lastly...

    I most ferverently hope that someone from google goes down to whatever Marshall Center subbasement the Saturn V plans are stored in, scans the microfiche, and puts them on the web.

    The more educated the debate is the better.
     

      Doll Dressing

    Brian Clapper has a new blog: From The Macabre world of Disney:

    Read on Brian's blog for more on those "Kinks".

    There's going to be a whole generation of warped children coming out of this. Forget video games. Dolls are the real problem!
     
    Friday, September 30, 2005

      AJ gets some

    Top news of the day: The long repressed geek character of "AJ" on userfriendly has finally confessed his true feelings and got kissed... It took repeated abuse from a "shady lady" in a video game for AJ to get this point, but perhaps there's hope for AJ.

    I've always hoped for a happy ending for dilbert, too.
     
    Monday, September 26, 2005

      tux in suits

    Oh, man, this is end - the day when Tux can't go around naked anymore and has to wear a suit! The power tie, in particular, gets under my skin.
     
    David Täht writes about politics, space, copyright, the internet, audio software, operating systems and surfing.


    Resume,Songs,
    My new blog, NeX-6, My facebook page
    Orgs I like
    The EFF - keeping free speech in the world
    Musical stuff I like
    Jeff, Rick, Ardour, Jack
    Prior Rants - Wireless and Wifi in 2015 - not what I dreamed of Saving wifi! Fixing Bufferbloat! Fighting the vend... Virgin Media - Fixing the epidemic of bufferbloat ... 49... and trying to find my navel Wheels down on mars! Tracking the landing of Curiosity, from Seattle spotting NEOs from around venus's orbit Asteroids as lunar orbit resources SOPA is bad news Departing France for England, then 'home'.
    Best of the blog:
    Uncle Bill's Helicopter - A speech I gave to ITT Tech - Chicken soup for engineers
    Beating the Brand - A pathological exploration of how branding makes it hard to think straight
    Inside the Internet Mind - trying to map the weather within the global supercomputer that consists of humans and google
    Sex In Politics - If politicians spent more time pounding the flesh rather than pressing it, it would be a better world
    Getting resources from space - An alternative to blowing money on mars using NEAs.
    On the Columbia - Why I care about space
    Authors I like:
    Doc Searls
    Where's Cherie?
    UrbanAgora
    Jerry Pournelle
    The Cubic Dog
    Evan Hunt
    The Bay Area is talking
    Brizzled
    Zimnoiac Emanations
    Eric Raymond
    Unlocking The Air
    Bob Mage
    BroadBand & Me
    SpaceCraft
    Selenian Boondocks
    My Pencil
    Transterrestial Musings
    Bear Waller Hollar
    Callahans
    Pajamas Media BlogRoll Member

    If you really want to, you can poke through the below links as well.

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