NASA, White House

More policy developments

The White House might be waiting for weeks—up until the FY11 budget proposal release in early February—to formally announce it plans for NASA’s future, but details are starting to leak out. Science magazine reports on its ScienceInsider blog this evening that the administration favors scrapping Ares 1 and 5 and instead developing a “simpler” heavy-lift vehicle that could enter service in 2018.

What that heavy-lift vehicle would be isn’t clear. The three versions of the Flexible Path option included in the Augustine committee’s final report had different options for heavy-lift: an “Ares 5 Light”, an EELV-derived heavy-lift vehicle, and a shuttle-derived heavy-lifter. None of them, though, had the heavy-lift vehicle ready to enter service until the early 2020s.

“The decision is not going to make anyone gasp,” a White House source told Science. However, it’s bound to make some—particularly supporters of the current Constellation architecture—cry out.

41 comments to More policy developments

  • Robert G. Oler

    Either some really good disinformation is going on, or they are clearly plowing the ground here. of course it could be either

    Robert G. Oler

  • A new heavy launcher by 2018? This smells disinformation.

  • Bill White

    A new heavy launcher by 2018? This smells disinformation.


    2018 for a Jupiter series with a J2X upper stage would seem about right.

  • NASA Fan

    Watch what Shelby does to learn which HLV is being considered. If it’s EELV derived, he’ll be in action, if it’s Shuttle derived or Ares V Lite, he’ll be happy

  • Major Tom

    “A new heavy launcher by 2018? This smells disinformation.”

    ULA provided a late 2016 IOC to the Augustine Committee for an evolved EELV heavy lifter.

    The DIRECT team provided an early 2012 IOC to the Augustine Committee for the Jupiter 130 heavy lifter.

    John Shannon provided a mid-2013 IOC to the Augustine committee for the Block I SDHLV.

    Bolden commissioned a study of heavy lift alternatives as one of his first actions.

    And the Science article indicates that the Obama Administration is going to add more funding to NASA’s budget than what the five-year ramp to $3B that the Augustine Committee called for ($1B instead of $600M).

    A 2018 date to Obama for heavy lifter is consistent with the Ares V alternatives that have been put on the table, ongoing studies, and the apparent budget decision.

    (Personally, I’d defer the heavy lift decision, dismantle the very expensive Shuttle infrastructure, push as far as possible with in-space propellant management, and pursue a heavy lift EELV only if/when needed for the most challenging targets and missions. But that’s another discussion.)

    More important than heavy lift — a decision which a future Administration will probably have to revisit anyway after the Shuttle workforce/infrastructure/overhead attaches itself to the new program and drives its costs beyond the budget — is the LEO crew transport decision and technology funding. The Space News article in Mr. Foust’s prior post indicates that NASA will rely on the private sector for all LEO operations, presumably including crew transport. But neither that article nor this Science blog entry indicates what’s left in the budget for human space flight technology development. Here’s hoping it’s substantive.


  • justanothertaxpayer

    Why does this nation need an HLV ‘heavy lift vehicle’ ( the term which has never been well defined anyway ) to begin with? Explain it to the taxpayers. We can build pressure tight vessels that fit within existing commercial launchers and then fuel them up on orbit. As ISS has proven.

    Whatever… The Washington DC has never been big on details… Just some nonsensical big words and posturing. It’s all going to end in tears again when the next president takes over and goes for something else in 3 years.

  • Mark R. Whittington

    Looks like a marriage between Moon First and Look But Don’t touch, with international partners providing some lunar hardware. Notice the absence of Russia and China.

    My one complaint is that commercial partners are not mentioned for the Moon part. Bigelow could make some good inflatables for a lunar base.

  • SpaceMan

    Details in good time since patience is a virtue.

    Surprise cometh.

  • NASA has determined that it will take 5 to 6 years to develop the SD-HLV plus an EDS stage. Hopefully, the Orion would also be ready by then.

    Allowing the Europeans, Japanese, and Canadians to help fund the development of the Altair and lunar base modules is an interesting idea that might get us back to the Moon a lot quicker. That also probably means that at least one of the four astronauts going to the Moon will be one of our international partners.

  • Robert G. Oler

    The one thing so far that I have read which is “a hoot” is the international partners building lunar hardware. That is going nowhere.

    Having been burned in the past no “partner” is going to commit to build hardware that there is no launcher for…and from what I have read no one in the international arena is all that hopped up about going to the Moon with humans.

    Patience is a virtue (grin) and there remains to be seen exactly what this thing cooks out to…but I would bet a lot of money that there is no real lunar effort in this thing. Indeed so far I feel comfortable of the prediction(s) that I made on another thread. Although “SpaceMan” is at least “amusing” in what he is saying..

    What is “entertaining” is the 2018 date for a heavy lift. I am curious to see where that is fleshing out to.

    Robert G. Oler

  • Robert G. Oler

    Gary Miles wrote @ December 17th, 2009 at 9:53 pm

    A new heavy launcher by 2018? This smells disinformation…

    IF NASA could develop a heavy launcher by 2018 that would be amazing. Considering the performance of the Ares 1 development team, it would be nothing sort of a transformation of the agency

    Robert G. Oler

  • Dennis Wingo

    A new heavy launcher by 2018? This smells disinformation.

    Shuttle side mount with SSME’s

    No problem.

  • Robert,
    Having an IP or commercial entities (or both) involved in lunar lander is only a problem if the Moon is actually on the critical path. If this is a flexible path variant, you can afford quite a bit of flexibility on how the lunar lander gets there. If IPs botch it, but there’s good reason to go to the Moon, the US can insource the lander again. If the IPs don’t botch it, it allows the US to cheaply participate in lunar landings while still being able to do stuff beyond LEO.

    To me it’s a pretty clever idea. It’s only a downer if you think that the overriding priority has to be to get to the lunar surface ASAP (which AFAICT, you don’t think that). If the Moon is just part of a larger international and commercial process of exploring and utilizing the inner solar system, having IPs or commercial entities provide the lander or other key pieces isn’t a big deal. You just need to make sure that you have at least one or two interesting paths forward that don’t depend on others.


  • Robert G. Oler

    Jonathan Goff

    nice comments. Who knows what the actual policy is going to turn out to be..

    But General Bolden is a smart person and in my view “has a plan”…

    I am probably wrong, but my view is that the first thing we do “period” is some sort of “human tended” vehicle “somewhere”…until this bit of news leaked (or was planted) my bet was that we were going to go somewhere with a human tended device near one of the Libration points.

    Now I would not be surprised if the surprise is some sort of ISS human tended “knockoff” IN some sort of lunar polar orbit whose goal is extensive mapping/etc of the lunar environment from a human tended position…

    that would be an enormously powerful platform…a couple of crew/command areas, some good power systems for high power instruments and “people” go there to tend the systems, improve them and spend time doing “stuff”…It would also have the benefit of being something that has not been done before…adn which a lot of nations could contribute to with current or near term hardware. It also is a sort of “flexible path” approach.

    As I was out in the rain jogging it dawned on me that this is a perfect mix for both the politics and science and technology drivers. Going to sleep on it…

    but it would be a subtle and clever rabbit, it would also explain at least one of the reasons for some sort of heavy lift.

    Robert G. Oler

  • […] Space Politics says that BHO will kill Ares V too. Which of the proposed rockets will be selected was not defined. […]

  • Ben Russell-Gough

    Rumours that I have seen (and I have to emphasise rumours, nothing has been authoratatively confirmed to my knowledge) say that the HLV will be something like this:

    * 8.4m-diameter core but stretched in length similar to Ares-V-Classic;
    * 5 x SSME main engines
    * Shuttle SRMs (block-I); Ares-I-style 5-seg SRMs (block-II)
    * 6 x RL-10B-2 upper stage (block-I); 1 x J-2X upper stage (block-II)

    The performance would be broadly about Saturn-V equivalent, about 120t to LEO.

    Given that both SSP and the DIRECT team were saying that they could have an HLV with EDS ready by about 2016, I’d say that 2018 is a very conservative IOC date. I would say that, if borne out, it will be solely possible because of the cancellation of Ares-I and the transfer of all ISS support to either commercial providers or international partners.

  • N.A.

    The initial one billion dollar increase is good news. However, according to Augustine we will need to increase it another billion more next year, and then ANOTHER billion the following year. Then we will only need increases for inflation. I wonder if the President or Congress will pony up to this 3 years in a row. I hope so. If not, and we stay at the one billion increase I don’t know if we can accomplish very much in beyond LEO.
    I am curious in relation to the dual launch Ares to the moon, if they choose a different heavy lift to eventually land on the moon, would one launch of a HLV be able to carry lunar module + crew to the moon?

  • Ben Russell-Gough

    @ N A

    I am curious in relation to the dual launch Ares to the moon, if they choose a different heavy lift to eventually land on the moon, would one launch of a HLV be able to carry lunar module + crew to the moon?

    Everything depends on the LV performance and the mass of the mission modules and crew vehicle. If, as I speculate above, the LV has Saturn V-like performance, then it could theoretically one-launch an Apollo and Grumman LEM to the Moon. However, the CxP lunar archetecture is different and heavier. So, if they stick with Orion and Altair, the answer is ‘no’.

    The most likely two-launch strategy is to launch the EDS and nothing else, then launch the Orion & Altair on the second. The crewed vehicles dock with the EDS (which, having only a docking adapter as payload is still nearly full) and perform TLI.

    A second and somewhat less-likely strategy is to launch the Altair and EDS on the first launch, then the Orion on the second and have the Orion LV’s upper stage equipped with a propellent and oxidiser transfer rig. The Orion LV upper stage’s large amount of excess propellent is transferred over to the EDS before the OLVUS is expended. The Orion then docks with the Altair and EDS for TLI. The advantage of this method is that it would make the archetecture orbital propellent depot-ready, which has long-term programatic advantages (as well as fitting in with the internationalist and commercial space themes of this plan).

  • N.A.

    Well, I am just really wondering if they are changing launchers will they still continue with the dual launch mentality of ares 1 and ares 5. Obviously that is how those were intended to be used. But, if they indeed give manned LEO to commercial, and they want NASA to eventually land on the moon….They would either have to have a heavy lift to “carrry everything”.
    Or they would have to mate up with a commercial vehicle which would contain the crew. Unless of course they do an Ares 5 lite and do a 2 launch scenario with that platform and cut out the commercial piece totally from anything other than LEO.

  • Ben Russell-Gough

    @ N A,

    A lot depends on the mission. Lunar and NEO can be done with a 2-launch and the crew riding up with the Orion on launch 2.

    Something more ambitious, say a Mars orbiter, would probably be a multi-launch and EOR profile (possibly with several pre-mission crews going to the MTV to outfit its interior). With Ares-I apparently cancelled as an operational vehicle, then commercial crew launch is the logical option to deliver the crew to the MTV.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Having slept and done the mornings chores on it…and with cynics hat firmly in place.

    The program to me, or at least as I envision it makes a lot of sense. (as it would of course)

    Whittington on his web site chortled that the Indians have a lunar “plan” a lot like Apollo or Apollo on steroids. The reason(s) for that are two fold. The first is that they have never done the thing before and 2) their “long duration space experience” is non existant (as is their space assembly techniques).

    That is not accurate for the US. The US has gone to the Moon, we have a lot of “long duration time” in space (ISS) and we do have a lot of space assembly time.

    ISS is like a geosync satellite in terms of launch cost. Although they are expensive to start (to expensive actuallY) they fade as time in orbit gets longer. This is accurate for any long duration flight and now with ISS the US (and its partners) have a lot of experience with long duration human spaceflight equipment and keeping it going.

    The launch cost for Apollo on steroids are high because they are one shot…ultimatly while a lot of junk is left in space, little or nothing of it is operable. the argument with ISS is that the launch cost (and assembly time frame) were probably to high, because the parts went up in to small “burps”.

    IfBen Russell-Gough is correct and the HLV he describes is where we aare headed…you can see instead of launching Apollo…what one would use the vehicle for is launching permanent things like a lunar station where once you get the infrastructure in place…the actual landing is eventually not that all wasteful of hardware (indeed one could even eventually see the lander reusable or at least parts of it).

    This in my view goes along well with what I see as military needs for a HLV in terms of larger and larger human serviced communications surveillance systems in GEO…and even things like polar tended platforms.

    I get more excited about flexible path the more I contemplate it.

    Yes it could be a road to nowhere but then if it is we all should be use to it…we are currently ensconced on that road with “Ares”.

    Robert G. Oler

  • Bill White

    pre-Griffin, several players proposed EML-1 architectures. Boeing, of course, proposed that this architecture to supported entirely by US EELV.

    However, EML-1 and EML-2 architectures can work interchangeably with any number of launchers, US and foreign.

    I also have read rumors of the HLV Ben Russell-Gough described and since it would use existing SSMEs, existing tank diameters, and either existing 4 segment RSRM or new 5 segment RSRM depending upon ATK’s progress, little new hardware needs to be invented. An RL-10 based upper stage helps the time schedule as well.

    Sidemount (as Dennis Wingo suggests) or in-line (per DIRECT)? Eh, that is a trade detail and both options fits the larger vision.

    In summary, a three part vision:

    (1) All commercial to ISS

    (2) Simple HLV to deploy EML-1 & EML-2 infrastructure followed by handing off responsibility for the Moon to international partners and US NewSpace ventures

    (3) Point NASA beyond LEO towards NEOs, Phobos and Mars.

    I would be an enthusiastic supporter of this vision.

  • The Saturn V had a TLI payload capability of approximately 47 tonnes. The SD-HLV with an EDS would also have a TLI capability of approximately 47 tonnes. However, the Apollo Command and Service modules weighed approximately 32 tonnes while the lunar module weighed approximately 15 to 16 tonnes.

    The Orion-CEV will weigh only 22 tonnes. So in theory, a single launch of the SD-HLV should be capable of launching the Orion plus a lunar lander with more mass than the lunar module of the Apollo program.

    But for a lunar base program, you’re still going to need a full sized Altair landing vehicle to transport large lunar base modules to the lunar surface. However, an unmanned Altair landing vehicle would be much less complex and cheaper than a manned Altair vehicle since it would require only a descent stage rather than both a descent and an ascent stage.

  • There’s no way we’re going to an asteroid or the the moons of Mars without substantial amounts of mass shielding to protect astronauts from galactic radiation and solar storms.

    Such journeys are going to have to wait until the age of light sails or nuclear rockets, IMO.

  • Bill White

    MFW: There’s no way we’re going to an asteroid or the the moons of Mars without substantial amounts of mass shielding to protect astronauts from galactic radiation and solar storms.

    BW: That is something depots and lunar ISRU can help solve. Water is a terrific radiation shield.

  • Loki

    I’m glad I’m not working on Ares right now. Even though no one’s talked about canning Orion, I think I’ll still be updateing my resume over Christmas break, just in case. On the bright side, Spacex will probably be hiring soon.

    An HLV by 2018 is entirely possible, if they use mostly existing technology, like the concept Ben Russell-Gough described earlier, or some kind of shuttle derived, either sidemount or inline like Direct. And Orion can definitely be ready by then. Ares was always the long pole of the constellation program. In fact, Orion has our CDR late next year or early 2011 (can’t remember off the top my head right now), and it’s not inconceivable to be ready to fly 3-4 years after that. So let’s just say 2015-2016, just to be safe, for Orion to be ready to go. That still gives a 2 year pad before the HLV is ready.

  • Bill White

    L: An HLV by 2018 is entirely possible, if they use mostly existing technology, like the concept Ben Russell-Gough described earlier,

    BW: Remember, that also includes an upper stage. The Jupiter 130 concept can be deployed prior to the upper stage being ready and can loft Orion plus cargo readily enough.

  • @ Bill White

    “That is something depots and lunar ISRU can help solve. Water is a terrific radiation shield.”

    Water shielding weighs a lot. In fact, it weighs more than a polyethylene shielding. And it would dramatically increase the mass of any Orion space craft. So you not only have the expense of trying to transport massive amounts of shielding to an L1 launch site, you also have to supply the massive amounts of fuel to launch the massive vehicle to Mars orbit and then back from Mars orbit.

    Solar event particles will pass through 25 to 50 centimeters of a water mass shield. Then you have to add substantially more shielding to deal with the spallation effects.

    The advantage of space manufactured light sails is that they could be extremely light and could transport hundreds if not thousands of tonnes of payload and mass shielding relatively rapidly to Mars without any fuel at all!

  • Ben Russell-Gough

    Re.: deep space radiation shields.

    I read somewhere that carbon composite ‘balloon’ transhabs such as those being developed by Bigelow have better performance against solar-energy particles than rigid metal hulls. It doesn’t do much against GCRs, but nothing short of an active EM field ‘navigational deflector’ system would help with that. It’s probably the reason why NASA wants nuclear-powered deep-space vehicles – to provide power for a magnetic field generator.

    That said, Zubrin in “The Case For Mars” suggested that a low-energy transfer orbit to Mars would last approximately six months which, IIRC, is just about the maximum safe time. Has the 180 day limit changed?

  • Loki

    I’m not sure anyone knows for sure what the maximum safe time for space radiation exposure is. The only long duration flights we have experience with are to the ISS, which is still pretty well protected.

    As I recall from “The Case for Mars”, his main argument was that the total dosage of radiation that astronauts would pick up on a Mars trip would put them at roughly the same odds of developing cancer later in life as your average cigarette smoker.

    Obviously, the problem with space radiation on a Mars or other long duration space trip isn’t that you’ll suddenly die after some amount of time, it’s that the cumulative dosage increases your risk factors for things like cancer later on. So it comes down to how much risk we’re willing to take. The answer undoubtedly varies from person to person. Some people may not to take the risk at all, while others would be willing to take a lot of risk in order to be among the first humans to set foot on Mars. It’s a judgement call really.

  • Doug Lassiter

    I think it’s worse than that, but the point is that a Mars trip would lead to a radiation exposure that is vastly, VASTLY more than a from a lifetime on the surface of the Earth … which is an exposure that is very, VERY tiny, and which is considered a nominal cap on safe levels for the public. That’s a factor of a hundred or so lower than the safety level for astronauts that is on the books, by the way.

    So from the point of view of colonization, where you’d kinda like people to remain healthy when they are there, such exposure is worrisome. From the point of view of exploration, where the chances of death from just being on a rocket in the early stages of human space flight are fairly substantial, it isn’t necessarily so.

    I’m not trying to belittle the seriousness of the problem, but just to point out that if we’re trying to make radiation exposure from a trip to Mars be “safe”, where “safe” is defined by radiation levels on the surface of the Earth, it’s going to be pretty hard.

  • SpaceMan

    I find it absurd that no one is considering Lunar cycler ferry architectures. Why keep throwing away expensive high technolgy when one doesn’t have to ?

    Absurd but not surprising given the mental blinders present under the current “Economics” game.

  • Robert G. Oler

    SpaceMan…I dont think that cyclers for the lunar thing are that important if we work out a lunar human tended station. The next thing that is important is some reusable crew transfer vehicle perhaps with aero braking to bring the crew back to ISS…

    Robert G. Oler

  • common sense

    Re: Aero-braking:

    I suggest reading and and of course there is “direct” entry and “skip” entry. The problem with aerobraking is the time it takes. The reason mainly is aerodynamic heating, rates and loads.

    Trying to make it simple: When you come back at lunar-like return velocity (or faster) you have to account for i) convective heating and ii) shock radiation (radiative) heating. One way to decrease convective heating on your heat shield is to increase the radius of your heat shield which unfortunately results in higher radiative heating which are very, very significant at such velocities. And this does not make your life simple. The heat rates will tell you what kind of material you need (typically the only known choice is to go with ablative materials, a la Apollo) and the heat loads (rates integrated in time) the thickness of said materials. BTW this is a painfully complex thing to do for ablative materials (some Apollo re-entry(ies?) were hmm reallly hot). Today the best CEV/Orion came up with was to re-create AVCOAT the same as the Apollo TPS (thermal protection system – heat shield), developed 40 years ago. So it is far from trivial.

    When you blend all this above and more, shake, not stirr, you end up with a very very complex process.

    Basically the development of such an aerobraking vehicle is years if not decades away. It’ll probably be an aerocapture vehicle though. And then there are a lot of questions about its mode of operation (e.g. abort in space, abort during the braking period, etc) that are far from trivial. And more.

    Hope this helps a little.

  • […] White House and NASA reacted Friday to reports, such as the Science blog post late Thursday, that decisions had made about NASA’s future. during Wednesday’s meeting between NASA […]

  • justanothertaxpayer

    From what I know the SSME is not a cost effective solution for an expendable launch vehicle. Just the process of machining its injector is overly complex/costly (unless it’s for the STS as currently) (that’s aside from questioning the utility of an arbitrary ‘HLV’)

    Atlas derivatives would make more sense if one insists on an ‘HLV’ (dual RD-180 core)

  • Neil H.

    > Obviously, the problem with space radiation on a Mars or other long duration space trip isn’t that you’ll suddenly die after some amount of time, it’s that the cumulative dosage increases your risk factors for things like cancer later on.

    How would the radiation dose with the schemes others have proposed compare to, say, the 260 mGy/year that residents of Ramsar, Iran, get throughout their entire lifetime? It appears that the effects of radiation are quite nonlinear.

  • Robert G. Oler

    common sense wrote @ December 18th, 2009 at 7:57 pm

    you obviously are well versed in the subject far more then my “semi engineer” knowledge….I agree with what you said.

    I should have been more careful in my comments I dont think aerobraking/capture is a front up technology, but I do see it as something that we “technology” up…we are going to use it if we ever do the planet thing in my view

    Robert G. Oler

  • ISS vet

    It’s amazing what the mere rumor of decisive leadership can produce. Yesterday, people were lamenting and predicting the death of human space exploration. Today, they’re talking about radiation shielding and aerobraking.

  • Robert G. Oler

    ISS vet wrote

    when there has been no leadership anything can seem exciting.

    but to the point I have talked about privatizing space lift, human tended stations around the Moon and aerobraking in terms of return for a long time.

    but who knows what will happen

    Robert G. Oler

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