NASA, Other

Ares 1, EELV, and a conference presentation

Those who have been following NASA’s exploration architecture know there’s been a long-running debate about whether the Ares 1 launch vehicle under development is really a better alternative than a derivative of the Atlas 5 or Delta 4 EELVs. That discussion has become more prominent in recent weeks, given the pending change in administrations, continuing technical questions about the Ares 1, and questions President-elect Obama’s NASA transition team has been asking on this topic. This has included articles earlier this month in the Wall Street Journal and, just today, an extended piece in the New York Times

Also today, the Orlando Sentinel weighs in on the debate, and adds an interesting little bit of information about one event that generated additional friction between NASA and United Launch Alliance, the Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture responsible for the EELV program:

Matters came to a head Oct. 22, when ULA made a presentation to the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight, an industry show in New Mexico. Bob Walker, Brevard County’s lobbyist in Washington, who saw ULA’s presentation on its human space program, concluded that it meant that Ares I was in trouble. On Oct. 27, Walker told county commissioners; U.S. Reps. Tom Feeney, R-Oviedo, and Dave Weldon, R-Indialantic; and representatives of the local aerospace community that the word at the conferences was “that Ares I could be on the chopping block.”

Industry officials say that a few days later, Griffin called Robert Stevens, the CEO of Lockheed Martin Corp., which jointly owns ULA together with Boeing Co., and demanded that Stevens stop what Griffin called the subsidiary’s efforts to “kill Ares I” by promoting versions of its own rockets that could carry humans to space.

I was at the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight (ISPCS) in October, where Jeff Patton of ULA appeared on a panel about commercial human orbital spaceflight along with representatives of Arianespace, Orbital Sciences, and SpaceX. Reviewing my notes of the presentation, it’s hard to see what about that presentation would have raised a red flag with Walker. Patton talked briefly about the work ULA has been doing with companies like Bigelow Aerospace and SpaceDev to study how the Atlas 5 in particular could be used to launch crewed spacecraft, and some of the history of that work (which predates the Vision for Space Exploration back to the Orbital Space Plane concept of the early 2000s). The presentation, though, was entirely focused on commercial access to LEO: there was no mention of Ares 1 or Orion in the talk, which focused as much on what generic attributes a commercial crew transfer spacecraft needed as it did on ULA’s work on using EELVs for human missions.

It’s possible, I suppose, that one could read between the lines and conclude that ULA was using its commercial work as a means of keeping active any ambitions to replace the Ares 1 with an EELV-derived alternative. If true, though, that’s something that’s been clear for months: there were no new revelations or other statements in ULA’s ISPCS presentation that would have alarmed anyone who has been following the topic.

30 comments to Ares 1, EELV, and a conference presentation

  • Jeff,
    I can actually corroborate somewhat the Orlando Sentinel story above (about NASA’s overreaction to the presentation). I was speaking with a friend at ULA a few months ago about some ideas I’ve been working on, and he specifically mentioned the blowback they had gotten over Jeff’s presentation. He was extra skittish about doing anything NASA could possibly contrive as attacking Constellation, because they were getting blowback even though, as he put it, they were intentionally “pulling their punches”.

    Unprofessional behavior coming from a federal agency, IMO.


  • This has been a problem going back over two years, when Bigelow first announced that he was working with Lockmart/ULA. Lockmart upper management apparently got an angry call from NASA about that, too, particularly since it was right after Orion had been awarded to them.

  • Al Fansome

    I heard the same thing Rand heard about the blowback from NASA over ULA’s commercial work with Bigelow on using the Atlas V for commercial crew access.

    – Al

  • red

    We don’t know exactly what was said in Administrator Griffin’s call to Stevens, but the angle the Orlando Sentinel article gives to it is quite different from this excerpt from a recent speech by Dr. Griffin. Which is real?

    “For those who claim that NASA’s systems, the Orion crew vehicle and Ares 1 launcher, will compete with commercial providers, I will again remind everyone that, in our plan, commercial systems are “primary” for ISS logistics. Orion and Ares are the backstop if U.S. commercial providers are not successful in developing such capability. They are sized for missions beyond low-Earth orbit, and will not be as cost-effective as commercial systems built specifically for ISS transport. … the Earth-to-LEO market niche should be left to commercial providers, if they can fill it, and to government systems only if they cannot.”

    I wouldn’t be worried about Ares competing with commercial crew transport services at the business and technical level, I’d be worried about Ares competing at the political level (a slight hint of which is suggested in the Sentinel article, and notorious examples of which can be found in the history of the Shuttle). If we get stuck with Ares 1 and no Ares V or other missions for Ares 1 besides ISS, the situation would get even worse.

    Personally, I think commercial crew transport to the ISS (and Bigelow stations, etc) would be a big help to Ares, since it could then concentrate on the Lunar mission with less “gap” pressure (reducing Ares ISS crew support to a backup role), and since a big point of controversy (competing with commercial LEO services) would be removed. However, it’s certainly possible for an Ares advocate to feel threatened by non-Ares crew options.


    The key question is whether Griffin threatened any existing or future NASA business with ULA, LockMart, or Boeing when he demanded that they stop talking publicly about commercial human transport on EELVs. If Griffin did make such a threat (and I have no idea if he did), that would cross a bright line in procurement law. Although I doubt anything could be proven one way or the other even if that line was crossed, this is certainly something worth a little of the IG’s time looking into and doublechecking.


  • Hey….a nice information about the launch vehicle delta 6 and also related to Delta 4 EELVs regarding to NASA transition when obama is elceted.

  • Allen Thomson

    > If Griffin did make such a threat (and I have no idea if he did), that would cross a bright line in procurement law.

    I’ll note, though, that analogous government -> industry threats are pretty much SOP for other agencies. The NRO of course, but also the Navy in certain matters (non-nuclear subs) and others. Considerations of procurement law don’t seem to concern them much — and they’ve gotten away with it for years and decades, so they’re apparently right.

  • Al Fansome

    ANONYMOUS: The key question is whether Griffin threatened any existing or future NASA business with ULA, LockMart, or Boeing when he demanded that they stop talking publicly about commercial human transport on EELVs. If Griffin did make such a threat (and I have no idea if he did), that would cross a bright line in procurement law. Although I doubt anything could be proven one way or the other even if that line was crossed, this is certainly something worth a little of the IG’s time looking into and doublechecking.


    I agree that it is “A question”, but it is not “THE question” in my mind.

    First, I consider it highly unlikely that Griffin explicitly threatened any procurements.

    But it need not be explicit. Although the threat was only implied, but it was still very clear, and almost certainly heard and received.

    In my mind, the key point here i the larger story about Griffin going on a jihad against both the outgoing & incoming White House to defend his pet rocket.

    IF the EELV was not a real alternative to the Ares 1, then Griffin would not:

    1) feel compelled to call up the CEO of Lockheed and yell at him because some division of the company is talking about *COMMERCIAL* business.

    2) tell the representative of the next President of the U.S. that “If you say you want to look under the hood, then you are calling me a liar.”

    3) threaten the AIAA after its Executive Director (Bob Dickman) told the U.S. Senate in May 2008 that the EELV was a credible and cost-effective alternative for reducing the gap in human spaceflight.

    In all these cases, the NASA Administrator need only persuasively present the indisputable facts about why the EELV will not work, and the problem would be gone.

    Unfortunately, the NASA Administrator does not have this kind of persuasive facts.

    Even more unfortunately, the person serving as NASA Administrator is on public record in congressional testimony in 2003 stating that the EELV will work, and work quite well.

    Griffin has painted himself into a political corner, and I see no way out.


    – Al

    “Politics is not rocket science, which is why rocket scientists do not understand politics.”

  • SpaceMan

    Words of wisdom many here might learn from

    “…“I don’t frankly know what the answer is,” he said, “but I know it’s a lot closer and a lot more complicated answer than the one playing out in the media and the blogs.”…”

  • SSME

    Words of wisdom

    Oh bullshit, there is nothing complicated at all about our future :

    One word, young man – SSMEs.

  • Pad rat

    One thing that really disturbs me, and pisses me off is the possiblity of the Atlas V with it’s RUSSIAN engines being used to launch American Astronauts, from America into space. Shameful. Imagine the propaganda this would generate. I would rather see Ares 1 continue before this becomes a reality.

    I hope Obama will clearly see this.

    Atlas V, because of it’s Russian engines should be an automatic non-player in American manned spaceflight. It’s bad enough that the EELV is using Russian engines.

  • SpaceMan

    Gee SSME, I hear your teacher calling you. Recess must be over.

    Good luck when you get to middle school.

  • red

    Pad rat:

    If those Russian engines disturb you, just think about all of the Russian components on the Russian Soyuz, which is what American Astronauts will be using for many years under the current NASA plan, even if Ares 1 eventually goes into production and the Ares 1 schedule doesn’t slip another few years. Posters here have been pointing out for several years that the Ares plan unnecessarily creates a big astronaut spaceflight gap.

    The Russian engines don’t seem to bother the Defense Department. I’d think if there were some mystique about the Russian engines that would allow propaganda, it would be more likely to arise there than from a astronaut program that’s already cooperating with the Russians on the ISS

    If the engines are that much of a sore spot, they could always be made in the U.S.

    If you’re concerned about national security implications of the U.S. astronaut launch plans, consider that the Ares 1 duplicates capabilities of the EELVs. The EELVs are considerably underused, and as a result EELV launch costs are high. This plays into high launch costs for U.S. national security payloads, which is a big contributor to national security satellite requirements creep, cost overruns, and schedule delays in a viscious cycle. One possibly way the NASA’s astronaut program could contribute to the nation before its futuristic Moon plan produces economic and security benefits (if it ever does in fact accomplish these things) is to use the same launchers the national security payloads use, thus sharing some of the fixed costs of those launchers and in the long run helping to streamline the whole national security space payload process.

  • Pad rat

    I understand the gap.
    The Russian engines should worry the Defense Dept. It should worry congress and it should also worry the companies and employees that don’t have jobs producing our own engines.
    I’m not against using EELV instead of Ares 1. I’m against RD-180s on Atlas V’s being used instead of Ares 1. Heck, I’d love to see Delta IV get in on the manned spaceflight bandwagon. Hey, RS-68s on both D4 and the big Ares. Development could benefit EELV and manned space flight. To me, using Russian engines for our space flight diminishes our accomplishments of our American space program. Are our engineers not smart enough? Is our system of govt so inept we need to go to the Russians? It also diminishes, to me, the accomplishments of the EELV program. If we make it into manned space with the Russian engines then it will be with a big, fat asterix. Imagine the snicker coming from the Russians on their TVs. How do we look to the rest of the space faring world if we can’t even make our own engines? We have lost something if we go down the road of Russian engines.
    * Using Russian engines costs us American jobs and know-how
    * The Russian engines costs us American made pride
    * The Russians can pull support for their engines at any time (maybe after we protest the next country they decide to invade and plunder)
    * The RD-180 production is to remain in Russia (in their disquised aparment complex) located in Khimky. NOT in the USA.
    * The Russians don’t have to be, and sometimes aren’t forthcoming with fixing engineering flaws in the RD-180
    * We don’t need any Russians in our mission control during our launches for technical support.
    * Let Soyuz be Soyuz. Good on them. Stay in Russia or South America. Thanks for the ride in the mean time.

    Please, can’t we wake up and use our own developed engines? Would you put a Suzuki motor on a Harley? That goes for Taurus II as well, (which is partly developed to replace American made Delta II).

    IMO….keep Ares 1, no matter the cost if the alternative is using Russian engines for our manned space flight.

  • RocketScientist

    Forget engines and rockets. Not to rain on your parade, Pad Rat, but if NASA (and consequently the US) continues to participate in the ISS program the are relying on the Russians. Without Russians (as without Americans) the ISS is toast.

    *aside, as an engineer — the RDs are f’kn good machines. This is a highest praise from me for anything. I say it with both envy and hope that we develop something similar.

  • RocketScientist

    (as if it matters to the boss, the Ares-1/5 should be stopped immediately. It is a planned disaster)

  • Al Fansome

    PAD RAT: The Russian engines should worry the Defense Dept. It should worry congress and it should also worry the companies and employees that don’t have jobs producing our own engines.

    Pad Rat,

    If this was a real problem, then Congress would be holding hearings and Members would be making speeches. If this was a real problem, then leaders of the Executive Branch would be beseeching Congress to do something. If this was a real problem, then smart policy think-tanks would be writing white papers about it. If this was a real problem, it would be in the newspapers either in articles, op-eds, or in some other manner.

    Do you wonder why you NONE of these conditions are true?

    The reason that Congress, the Administration, the DOD, and the intelligentsia are NOT worried about the RD-180 issue is multi-fold:

    1) We have a multi-year stockpile of RD-180s in hand, and

    2) We have the ability to build RD-180s right here in the U.S. Right now. It is extremely expensive to do so, but in a national security crunch, we would just pay the price, and

    3) The DOD is in the process of completely replacing the RD-180s with an All-American equivalent that will plug right into the Atlas V.

    I don’t have access to the numbers, and if I did it it probably land me in prison to share them with you, but I believe that the DOD’s Hydrocarbon Boost initiative (which is the logical follow-on to the program that created the RS-68) is the most expensive rocket engine development program in America right now.

    Well, outside of NASA that is.

    The RD-180s are not a problem.


    – Al

  • Pad rat

    The word here is that RD-180 can not be built in the US. It was planned, but now has been given up. Sure, promises were made for our production to get us to buy into the RD-180, but like many things this has gone away. RD-180s are not going to be built here. Aren’t we the smart ones?

    I have never heard of any replacement for the RD-180 on Atlas V. I think I would have heard if there was. There are no plans to replace the RD-180 on Atlas V. If it’s not a problem why bother?

    Frankly, I feel it’s a problem. I think it stinks. It’s the 800 pound gorilla in the room. The reason you don’t hear much about it is that many people just don’t know about it. I’ll bet my congressman doesn’t know about it, (but soon he will). I think when the American public becomes aware of it it won’t sit well with them either. It sure doesn’t with me. Where’s our pride? Just ask a few people. No matter how great the RD-180 may be it doesn’t sit well with many people…..because it’s foreign and Russian. We took the low road to save some money on engine development and production at the cost of American jobs and R&D.. Aerospace is one of the last strongholds for American engineering left in this country. All other industries have gone overseas. Now rocket development? Shame on us. Russia is an unfriendly country to us. They will hold back support if they feel they can gain leverage. We are dependent on their RD-180 support now.

    If NASA wanted to make a stink about the RD-180, I bet they could….and you’d see a problem. What’s this say about the free world? The RD-180s are built in a disguised apartment building so that they could be built in secret. Geez.

    Like I said before: I’ll take Ares 1 over RD-180 any day. Because it’s ours! I’d like to spare our Astronauts the humiliation of having to read cyrillic writing on the exhaust nozzles on the elevator ride up the tower at KSC. It’s one thing to ride Soyuz from their pads, it’s another here in this country. If we have no pride for our American built rockets why don’t we just give up the whole program and buy tickets from Russia from now on? What stop at engines? Why not buy the whole thing and save us lots of money?

  • SSME

    I’ll take Ares 1 over RD-180 any day. Because it’s ours!

    Except for the little problem that the RD-180s, RS-68s, SSMEs and their launch vehicles exist right now, and the Ares I nor its propulsion don’t.

    If that’s the only reason you support the Ares I, then you need to set your sights a little bit higher. Build better launch vehicles with the engines you have or build better engines, but Ares I is so idiotic as to be almost mind boggling.

  • Pad rat

    I’m not pro-Ares 1 nor anti-Ares 1. If the plan is to use Atlas V Heavy, then that vehicle doesn’t exist right now either. I am against using NASA money, which is funded by the US taxpayer to pay Russian companies, engineers and technicians for something that American companies, engineers and technicians can and should be doing. Besides that, it’s a matter of national pride.

    Look at Taurus II. Where is this First Stage engine built? Not in the USA. Taurus II is designed in part to replace the Delta II. Hmmm, here’s a launch vehicle that exists right now…..a damn good one at that. Are you starting to see a trend?

    What’s wrong with Delta IV. 100% American made. No Ruskies on that pad. Why does ULA offer up Atlas V so fast?

    Is the plan to use the Atlas V heavy? Atlas V heavy doesn’t exist except on paper. Is this another effort requiring R&D, pad modifications, qualifications, etc. Atlas V heavy is certainly unproven. How much will all that cost? Delta IV heavy already exists and is about to fly its 3rd mission.

  • SSME

    What’s wrong with Delta IV.

    Nothing. The Delta IV Heavy and Medium are both fine vehicles. The RS-68 has a few issues, the ablative nozzle interjects some uneven burning, the engine is very heavy, has less than optima Isp and T/W and is a helium hog, besides the obvious hydrogen startup flare. But overall, the Heavy should be able to loft an Orion class mega capsule and the Medium is very capable.

    100% American made. Why does ULA offer up Atlas V so fast?

    Because it is different, and in some respect, better. Those Russian engines are the top of their class in hydrocarbon propulsion, US Americans would be well advised to at least try to reproduce them, and much can and has been learned by simply flying them. The metallurgy is nearly irreproducible and requires advancement of our state of the art at fundamental levels.

    These launch vehicles have their pros and cons, but the spread of capabilities is continuous across launch vehicle architectural niches, especially considering the clustered approach with the Merlin 1C.

    The best thing we could do is spend the money to continue manufacturing SSMEs and upgrading them with channel wall nozzles and hydrostatic bearings, finish development of the RL-60 for both EELVs even the COTS vehicles, and even … ahem, continue development of the improved J2X for deep space missions. Propulsion is everything right now, launch vehicles will evolve in the traditional Frankenstein mix and match manner as usual.

    And yes, we should continue with the program to reproduce both Russian hydrocarbon engine metallurgy and manufacture, and their channel wall nozzle technology. They want money, we are printing it in great quantities.

    Ditto for the Soyuz and Progresses. It’s another space race, remember?

    A cooperative international space race, with the goal of good will among nations as we move out into space and investigate and share its weirdness.

  • Brad

    Here’s a half-joking idea (and not one to pad rat’s liking), what if NASA uses Russian Energia rockets for cargo launch vehicles instead of the Ares V? I believe the Russians looked into restarting the Energia line a few years ago for a supposed cost of a couple billion dollars. That’s a lot cheaper than the 20 to 40 billion dollar development cost of the Ares V, and would fit right into the meme of ‘international cooperation’ which is so popular among our new democratic bosses.

  • Pad rat

    With budgets predicted to get tighter some are speaking of an EELV down-select leaving only 1 EELV standing. Would this fit into the replacement for the Ares 1 planning?

    I’d like to hear your comments on no Atlas V Heavy being available or tested and how this would play into an Ares 1 replacement. Is the talk of using an Atlas V Heavy to replace Ares 1?

    SSME, D4 may be many of the things you decribed but it was built to spec….just like Uncle Sam ordered. You forgot to say it’s inexpensive too. RS-68 upgrades may be a viable alternative. If Ares 5 continues on with RS-68, mutual benefits may be in store.

    I’m all for one big happy joint world effort in space, but, we must protect our industry. Do we want to be in front or second place or worse?

  • SSME

    With budgets predicted to get tighter some are speaking of an EELV down-select leaving only 1 EELV standing.

    That would be a business issue with ULA and their principles, and not a government issue in any way.

    If Ares 5 continues on with RS-68, mutual benefits may be in store.

    It won’t continue with the RS-68. Hydrogen vehicles scale better with larger tanks, but we’ve already got vehicles flying the RS-68, so it’s a no go. The problem with the Ares V is that the RS-68 is not sufficiently efficient to deliver the core stage to orbit, and thus is an unsustainable launch vehicle architecture in the long run. The SSME does not suffer from those problems, any booster assisted SSME powered launch vehicle EASILY has enough performance margins to deliver the core stage to orbit, where the engines may be recovered for reuse, and the tankage retrofitted into large orbiting spaceports, with plenty of margin available for excess payload.

    The problem with these architectures still remains the foam insulation.

    Until NASA is willing to do some actual real ‘rocket science’, rather than incompetent engineering from incompetent political specifications derived from incompetent political machinations, these problems will remain.

    Do we want to be in front or second place or worse?

    There is no first, second or third place in space, there is only one Earth.

  • Pad rat

    Come on, not a Government decision? OK, so you’re saying the USAF will have no say in any down select? I strongly disagree. Who do you think is looking for savings? I think the Representitives of many space business sectors will have a bit to say when their constituents are out of work.

    I think if you read some history back in the late 50’s and 60’s you’ll see that the main motivation to get to the moon had a bit to do with getting there first. What about Sputnik? Yuri Gagarin? Was this about one Earth? Heck, no. Now, putting hardware into space is big business. Much of it is for national defense. A lot of it is about making money. This money pays people’s salaries. These salaries pay taxes. Tell the American people that their taxes are going for a one Earth mind set.

  • SSME

    I think if you read some history back in the late 50’s and 60’s

    We aren’t in the 50s and 60s, we are very nearly into the second decade of the 21st century, where the entire American system of business and governance is frayed almost to the point of total collapse, held together right now by a very thin thread of low gas prices, and the prospect of unlimited artificial funding in the form of goverment bailout of failed governemnt and business institution via the mere printing of paper money. The US military knows this, the Obama transition team knows this, the Obama administration knows this, and the very few critical thinkers left in the United States knows it. I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you.

    Down selecting isn’t in the cards for the very simple reason that we are in a financial hole so deep, that even taxes won’t be able to dig us out of it.

    We need breakthroughs in the area of space and physics to save us now.
    It isn’t very hard to see if you had the foresight to foretell our current state. Most Americans didn’t have that foresight, being blinded by bullshit and propaganda from the military, corporations, your government and it’s institutions, and the Christian right – a continual barrage of indoctrination rivaled only by that of certain third world fascist and military dictatorships.

    Turn on the TV. If you can’t see the extent of it, you are apathetically blind.

  • Pad rat

    OMG, you’ve really lost it.

  • Chuck2200

    Spend the money to upgrade the RS-68.
    1. Regen Nozzle
    2. Fix the Hydrogen inlet temperature design flaw
    3. Retune the engine for optimal performance in (near) vacuum.

    We can have cost-sharing with DoD because of the Delta-IV. Overall it will cost less than switching back to the RS-25, even the disposable version, the RS-25A.

    If we do those 3 things we will have a disposable engine that is superior to the SSME in isp and thrust at 1/3 the cost. Human rate it and you can fly Orion on the Delta-IV, Ares-V or the Jupiter-120/232.

    And it will make Pad Rat happy because it’s an American engine.
    Problem solved.

  • SSME


    What God would that be?

    you’ve really lost it.

    You could be right. I do seemed to have lost sight of America’s future in the morass of greed, theft, incompetence and violence it has become today.

    Problem solved.

    And thus America’s disposable and unsustainable way of life is non-negotiably preserved!

  • Matt Colver

    If you fly on Delta IVs which use shuttle derived RS-68 engines then you solve the problem. You are flying on an EELV already in production and it’s all-american. No russian engines. It’s a no-brainer.

Leave a Reply




You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>