Campaign '12

Putting a price on Gingrich’s lunar plans

After presidential candidate Newt Gingrich’s speech that featured the goal of a permanent base on the Moon by 2020, he was criticized by some of his fellow Republican candidates, among others, for proposing what they believe to be an expensive venture. Mitt Romney’s campaign issued a statement criticizing the plan, which it argued could cost “up to $500 billion”; Rick Santorum ran a radio ad affixing the same price tag to the plan. But just how much would a lunar base cost?

In an effort to answer that and other questions about the fiscal policies of the candidates, The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget issued a report this week estimating the costs of some of those policies. The bipartisan group examined the proposals from the four major remaining candidates—Gingrich, Romney, Santorum, and Ron Paul—and estimated how much they would cost or save the taxpayers.

On page 17, it looks at Gingrich’s plan to “Establish a Moon Base and Manned Mission to Mars”. The report sets a range of prices for the plan, from $140 billion in a “low-debt” scenario to $270 billion in an “intermediate-debt” scenario up to $620 billion in the “high-debt” scenario. The committee got those estimates from a review of two earlier reports: an April 2009 report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) that looked at several potential funding scenarios for NASA’s then plans for space exploration, and a two-page document from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) that summarized the estimated costs for an international lunar base. An endnote in the committee’s report explains the differences in the scenarios are based on different estimates of cost overruns, from 0 to 50 percent.

The committee presumably used both reports since the CBO report is focused only on the cost of Constellation, but not a lunar base; the CSIS report examined the cost of a lunar base but assumed some Constellation-specific infrastructure (Ares 5 and Orion) would be in place. (There is some overlap, since the CSIS study includes the cost of developing Altair, which the CBO also includes in their Constellation budget.) The committee’s report then simply assumes that a human mission to Mars will cost the same amount as establishing a lunar base, an assumption that the report sheepishly admits “comes with an unusually high degree of uncertainty.”

There are some flaws in the report’s analysis. One is a numeric error: the report fails to add in a 25-percent overrun for the cost from the CSIS report of the lunar base itself and it maintenance (which, for the latter, the report only includes one year of what is an annual cost, presumably since the base won’t begin operations until 2020 in this scenario.) When that happens the lunar base cost rises to $142 million and thus the total cost to $284 million. (That total works out, over eight years, to $35.5 billion a year, approximately twice NASA’s current $17.8-billion budget.) Then there’s the addition of a human mission to Mars, which Gingrich did not explicitly call for in his Florida speech last month: instead, he set a goal of developing “the first continuous propulsion system in space” to enable shorter-duration Mars missions, but didn’t state that one should be carried out by 2020.

Yet another question is whether a lunar base development plan that a President Gingrich might seek funding for would be anything like the older Constellation plans. Gingrich has given no details about his proposed lunar base, but has, in that speech and on other occasions, suggested he would make use of non-traditional approaches like prizes to fund these efforts. Whether these approaches would be successful or not is unclear, but they do suggest old models might not be the best way to estimate their costs.

183 comments to Putting a price on Gingrich’s lunar plans

  • Alex

    Newt’s proposal is basically what his friend Jerry Pournelle advocates: a $20bn prize for operating moon-base for a year. So max cost is to taxpayer $20bn & only if it happens. See jerrypounelle.com

  • SpaceColonizer

    These estimates seem dubious. They’re all based on a big gov’t program with traditional cost-plus contracts and beuracracy. Newt’s intentions were to change that culture at NASA.

  • Martijn Meijering

    Trouble is, what we need most is cheap lift, not a moon base. A moon base can help us achieve it (if done right), but it is far more than is necessary. And a prize is not the right incentive for cheap lift, because how would you measure cheap lift? Selling launch services for ten years for $1000/kg or less? Who would buy these services?

    Far better to do an exploration program (any program, manned or unmanned, to pretty much any destination beyond LEO) that establishes a propellant launch market. Then market forces will select the most effective solution, without civil servants having to determine which design and architecture is the most cost effective. It would also lead to a redundant transportation infrastructure.

    The down side would be that, unlike a prize, this would require substantial yearly cash outlays, even though they could be much less than what NASA nas historically spent on the Shuttle. The up side is that you would see much earlier incremental progress.

  • JohnHunt

    Alex is right. Newt explicitly put a price tag on his plans by limiting the prize money to $10 and $20 billion. The problem is, will anyone risk that much of their own money for the uncertain chance to win the prize?

    I have done my own rough cost estimates of a “Lunar COTS” approach where:
    – companies are paid for milestones achieved,
    – they invest some of their own money,
    – they end up owning the hardware,
    – they are guarantee a certain amount of NASA purchases of lunar ice-derived propellant

    The architecture would involve:
    – using pairs of Falcon Heavies,
    – lunar landers sized for them,
    – LEO and L1 fuel depots,
    – a telerobotic initial phase,
    – an inflatable habitat,
    – three manned landings for six colonists,
    – a delivery of frozen samples of Earth’s biosphere
    = 12 missions

    24 Falcon Heavies purchased in a block = 24 x $125 million = $3 billion.
    Development of seven major pieces of hardware: (NASA’s part)
    – Lunar lander – $400 million (same dev. cost as Falcon 9)
    – Fuel depot – $400 million + $200 million for 2nd depot
    – Robonaut (upper body only) – $200 million
    – Steaming excavator – $400 million
    – Hauler – $300 million
    – Distiller – $400 million
    – Electrolyzer – $400 million
    = $2.7 billion

    Additional purchase of non-major equipment = $1 billion. (solar panels, storage containers, RTG, solar oven, machining equipment, spare parts, high-tech stocks)

    Inflatable Bigelow habitat ($500 million each?) = $1.5 billion.

    Assembling biologic material for the BioPreserve done by universities of NASA’s budget.

    $100 million per lunar lander x 12 = $1.2 billion.

    Comm sats: $200 million.

    Operations (commercial): $1.5 billion

    TOTAL: $11.2 billion

  • Vladislaw

    John Hunt wrote:

    “Additional purchase of non-major equipment = $1 billion. (solar panels, storage containers, RTG, solar oven, machining equipment, spare parts, high-tech stocks)

    Inflatable Bigelow habitat ($500 million each?) = $1.5 billion.”

    Would it not be better if NASA just leased space from Bigelow, rather than a purchase? That way Bigelow can lease other space out to other users? More of the type of arrangement you would see on earth.

    Also instead of solar panel purchases, wouldn’t it be better if NASA just was charged per kw like a standard utility service charge? Bigelow could also be an end user for purchasing kw;s from a utility. It leaves it open for other players and more competitive supply.

  • Left Field

    A diametrically opposite approach to the Lunar COTS approach, since SLS is now congressionally mandated and funded, would be the idea of landing an empty SLS core stage onto the surface of the moon in a single launch.

    It could be done quickly, it would be dramatic, it would provide ample motivation for the public and it certainly beats tossing the SLS core stage into the ocean after a single test flight launch with no funded payloads in sight.

  • Benjamin Brown

    Either way John Hunt & Alex, a moon base clearly seems beyond NASA’s means even at your low estimates of 11 billion to 20 billion. Not to mention I think it’d be a mistake, as that funding would have to come from somewhere and do you plan on raiding the arguably the more successful robotic missions?

    At best NASA used to spend 6 to 5 billion a year on the shuttle, 11 billion to 20 billion is an increase that NASA cannot use without cutting some of the science/exploration programs. That’s of course assuming that Congress maintains the budget as it is and gives NASA 20 billion to begin with (which seems dubious).

    Again, why do we need a moon base? Its certainly not for the science. To thump our chests? Look, we’ve got a moon base! We’re superior to you? Yes it’d be a grand adventure, but how would it be anything but a giant waste of money that skills the more valuable in my opinion the broader based science programs that NASA is involved in.

    No, such thinking is backwards. Before we build a base on the moon, we need a solid reason to be there. Private companies certainly wouldn’t go into it unless they were getting sustained by government funding. They might be wanting to invest in it long term if there is any chance of making a profit from the moon’s resources. So far though, such dreams are science fiction.

    Newt’s thinking is stuck in the 60′s. We have very little use for such a massive drain on resources without getting anything out of it other than pride or what have you. Before we do the whole damn moon base thing.

    Now I am very much for human space exploration along with robotic space exploration but it has to make sense, and be sustainable. A moonbase doesn’t make sense and nor is it sustainable. I mean have we learned nothing from the ISS?

    Secondly, let the private industry prove themselves in low earth orbit before we give them the task of a moon base. In any case, Newt’s target date of 2020 is preposterous considering where we are now.

    It’s not the 1960′s anymore, to give into nostalgia will do our country no good. I agree we need to leave low earth orbit again, but not in an unsustainable and pointless manner as such a moon base would be.

  • Dark Blue Nine

    NASA spends over $8 billion per year on human space flight, or over $80 billion over ten years. Clearly, any of the lunar bases costed above would be unaffordable, unless you’re willing to wait 20-70 years to finish building the base.

    A NASA team has calculated the cost of getting back to the Moon in ten years at about $40 billion using existing launch vehicles.

    http://www.cnn.com/2012/02/07/opinion/miller-gingrich-space-policy/index.html

    Gingrich indicates that he’d pursue a similar path, augmented by prize competitions.

    This would still require half of NASA’s human space flight budget over a decade and so may still be too high a figure. That said, I’d rather spend $40 billion over the next decade or so trying to get back to the Moon than spend the same amount of dollars and time building SLS and MPCV with no actual exploration payloads.

    Rather than multi-ten or multi-hundred billion dollars efforts with vague definitions like “Moon base” or “lunar return”, I’d rather see a few $100Mx to $1Bx technology inducement prize competitions focused on the outputs of such activities. Rather than $40 billion for a vaguely lunar base effort or prize, I’d rather see $4 billion for the following three prizes (as an example):

    $1 billion — Station water, LOX/CH4, or LOX/LH2 (depending on how difficult you want to make the challenge) in Earth orbit (or a Lagrange point), maintain for a year, and at the end of the year, refuel a separate vehicle with at least 200 tons of LOX/CH4 or LOX/LH2 (or water if the other vehicle does the dissociation itself). This is roughly equivalent to the amount of propellant needed to fuel a modern human Mars architecture.

    $2 billion — Land on the Moon, harvest at least 2,000kg of water (the LEM APS needed almost 2,500kg of aerozine and N2O4) from in situ lunar resources, and then use this water to refuel the lander (or fuel a different lander), launch the lander to lunar (or Earth) orbit, and repeat within a year.

    $1 billion — Return at least 100kg (arbitrary but large) of the following kinds of samples (TBD) from the following kinds of asteroids (TBD) to Earth.

    None of these achievements produce a lunar base by themselves. Note that I didn’t even specify human missions — these would probably all be done robotically. But they give us the basic tools (transit stages, landers, long-term in-space propellant management, ISRU, deep space rendezvous, etc.) needed to do things like build and maintain lunar bases and send large missions to the asteroids and Mars. The don’t specify a launch vehicle or specific technologies — it’s up to the teams to figure out what they need and what’s most efficient — and they’re a natural extension of Armadillo/Arkyd/Masten/Dragon capabilities and the ongoing Google Lunar X PRIZE.

    I’d rather see something along these lines than a $41 billion SLS/MPCV that can’t do anything more than mount an Apollo 8 mission by the 2020s, a vaguely defined $40 billion lunar effort, or a $140-620 billion lunar base.

    My 2 cents.

  • Coastal Ron

    Left Field wrote @ February 26th, 2012 at 12:06 pm

    It could be done quickly, it would be dramatic,…

    …and kinda useless. To do it you would probably have to launch a SLS without a 2nd stage or anything else on top of it except for a fairing, then build tug motors to lower it to the Moon’s surface. But what good would it be? The lack of empty tanks on the surface of the Moon is not holding us back from doing anything.

    Let’s focus on what the real issues are that are keeping us from exploring beyond LEO – a lack of affordable transportation systems, and a lack of affordable HSF exploration hardware.

  • Coastal Ron

    JohnHunt wrote @ February 26th, 2012 at 11:16 am

    TOTAL: $11.2 billion

    Great job on this. Even if you’re off by a factor of 2 or 3X, it still points the way for not only doing exploration in an affordable way, but doing it much sooner than if we have to wait for the SLS.

    SLS supporters just want a big rocket. The rest of us want to do space exploration. It’s that simple.

  • Dan

    I like the private sector approach but if we move to fast we are putting manned space exploration at risk. If someone gets killed on the way to the moon the entire approach of moving to private sector and prizes will be put into question. Speed kills, implementing a rapid culture change at NASA and also moving to the private sector at the same time is a recipe for disaster. There are very few people left in the workforce that have a living memory of what it takes to put a man on the moon, and we are going to wind up re-learning some lessons.A change in the NASA culture is good and needed but killing someone in a race to put man back on the moon would be bad for us all.

  • Left Field

    But what good would it be?

    Er … it would keep the hardware from being thrown into the ocean when it could be sitting on the moon waiting for more hardware to join it? Perhaps?

    You’re right, it would better to just toss the congressionally mandated and funded fifteen billion dollar project hardware into the ocean and forget it.

    Who wants a robotically operated moon base complete with launch vehicles! Certainly not us. Better to think small, or better yet, not at all. Thanks.

  • Left Field

    To do it you would probably have to launch a SLS without a 2nd stage or anything else on top of it except for a fairing, then build tug motors to lower it to the Moon’s surface.

    The idea was to incorporate the landing engines and the fuel settling thrusters in the core stage, an RL-10 would probably suffice. Boiloff would be minimized and the problem of the popcorning foam insulation would be eliminated too, since the surface of the moon is within a fairly strong gravity well. At the least it would provide for long term testing of the durability of the insulation, but I can think of a lot of other applications.

    I just wanted to get some feedback on this before I go ahead and publish.

    Thanks.

  • Left Field

    SLS supporters just want a big rocket. The rest of us want to do space exploration. It’s that simple.

    Right, but since the SLS is mandated and funded, good or bad, you would be well advised to at least entertain options of salvaging a really bad thing, which in this case is tossing fifteen billion dollars of hardware into the ocean.

  • A M Swallow

    @Left Field core stages are the space equivalent of cargo shipping containers, they are useful for moving things around but you do not live in them.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cargo_container

  • Coastal Ron

    Left Field wrote @ February 26th, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    Er … it would keep the hardware from being thrown into the ocean…

    I think you may be doing this exercise backwards. If your goal is to not through away the launch vehicle, then you should be putting your efforts towards reusable launch vehicles (RLV’s). The Air Force is starting a push towards this by focusing on just the boosters, SpaceX is actively working this for their Falcon series of RLV upgrades, and there is a number of sub-orbital companies working the problem too.

    …when it could be sitting on the moon waiting for more hardware to join it?

    If your goal is to set up a lunar base, then I would suggest focusing on purpose built hardware that weighs the least amount, and needs the least amount of labor to set it up and maintain it. Remember, the Moon is 1,000X farther away than the ISS, which means that every hour of labor you need for building or fixing something on the Moon is that much more expensive. And if it costs $3B/year for us to maintain the ISS, imagine how much it will cost for a small lunar base?

    We don’t need to figure out MORE expensive ways to things in space, we need to figure LESS expensive ways to do them. That is where I put my efforts.

  • amightywind

    But Gingrich is in 4th place???

  • Coastal Ron

    Left Field wrote @ February 26th, 2012 at 12:44 pm

    Right, but since the SLS is mandated and funded, good or bad, you would be well advised to at least entertain options of salvaging a really bad thing, which in this case is tossing fifteen billion dollars of hardware into the ocean.

    I’ve done the math. It’s less expensive to develop the SLS and not use it than to develop the SLS and use it for over-priced missions.

    However I don’t think the SLS will ever make it out of development, since sooner or later the few in Congress that want the SLS will have to start getting missions for it funded, and that’s where everyone else in Congress will learn that the SLS is unsupportable – that it is literally too big for our needs now, and even over the next couple of decades.

    NASA would need a budget increase to keep the SLS busy, and that’s not going to happen. Or, NASA would have to change from being a multi-disciplinary agency to being the National Keep The SLS Busy agency.

    Why does NASA need a rocket again? Have any end-use customers, with money, said that they need NASA to operate the biggest rocket in the world?

    The SLS will die, just like it’s Ares brethren. It’s just a matter of time.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Left Field wrote @ February 26th, 2012 at 12:44 pm

    “Right, but since the SLS is mandated and funded, good or bad, you would be well advised to at least entertain options of salvaging a really bad thing, ”

    but there are many cycles of funding needed to make it “fly” and we will never get to that. RGO

  • Robert G. Oler

    JohnHunt wrote @ February 26th, 2012 at 11:16 am

    I think 20 billion but you are not far off. RGO

  • Coastal Ron

    amightywind wrote @ February 26th, 2012 at 1:39 pm

    But Gingrich is in 4th place???

    Are you embarrassed by your Republican Presidential candidates?

    Shouldn’t all of the candidates have equal coverage until one is chosen as the winner?

    You don’t like competition very much, do you?

  • Vladislaw

    Dark Blue Nine wrote:

    “I’d rather see something along these lines than a $41 billion SLS/MPCV that can’t do anything more than mount an Apollo 8 mission by the 2020s, a vaguely defined $40 billion lunar effort, or a $140-620 billion lunar base.”

    Great post, I agree that you would get a better bang for the buck when you are just actually paying for results, rather than the current NASA paradigm where results do not even enter into the equation for either cost or schedule.

    For me, it is about transportation. The results you pay for should have the transportation system in play to exploit those results. Which is why I agree with what:

    Coastal Ron wrote:

    “Let’s focus on what the real issues are that are keeping us from exploring beyond LEO – a lack of affordable transportation systems, and a lack of affordable HSF exploration hardware.”

    Gas Stations and vehicles and just spiral outward. It would be great if what Deep Blue was proposing was done at the same time in space, gas n’ go, reusable vehicles were developed. Nautilus x should have been funded, not SLS/MPCV.

  • Doug Lassiter

    I’m still puzzled about what a prize-enabled lunar base (e.g. Pournelle) would achieve. If a lunar return is about soft power, we’d thereby get to thump our chests as we point to the prize winners and say “Yep, them’s one of us, and they can do it. Our nation, on the other hand, was too cheap to even try. We’re hoping, of course, that they don’t sell the technology or the service to someone else.” That’s pretty mushy soft power. If the return is about staking claims on the Moon, well, gee, we’d better be ready to keep that base there for more than a year, or else it’s Apollo all over again. If the return is about lunar resources, then why in the world would the prize contenders spend money up front to get such resources if the prize doesn’t depend on it?

    It just doesn’t make any sense. That is, if what you want done is just to get footprints on the Moon, prizes may be a good way to do it. But if you scrape the surface and think about why you’d want those footprints on the Moon, prizes just don’t compute. Of course, thinking about why we’d want footprints on the Moon has never been a strong suit in development of U.S. space policy. It’s mostly been about reliving old glories.

  • Robert G. Oler

    http://www.politico.com/blogs/politico-live/2012/02/gibbs-zings-gingrich-115557.html

    Newts lunar gift keeps on giving…I would be curious if he cares to to hear Muncy chime in on where he thinks this is going (other then Newt is probably not going to be the nominee) RGO

  • Coastal Ron

    Dan wrote @ February 26th, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    If someone gets killed on the way to the moon the entire approach of moving to private sector and prizes will be put into question.

    Seven Marines died this past week in a aviation training exercise, but I don’t hear anyone advocating for the end of Marine Aviation training.

    The first death in space will be a novelty, no doubt. But it will the first of many.

    Speed kills, implementing a rapid culture change at NASA and also moving to the private sector at the same time is a recipe for disaster.

    Who is saying anything about “rapid”? NASA can’t even get a simple capsule completed, so I wouldn’t worry about anything “rapid” from NASA.

    And as far as the commercial sector, they have a pretty good idea about how to run safe transportation systems, so I wouldn’t worry too much about them either. With the lack of money going into space-related activities, there is no way to have a “rapid” expansion of activities in space.

    I think you are agonizing over something that isn’t a problem, and won’t be for quite a while.

  • Left Field

    If your goal is to not through away the launch vehicle, then you should be putting your efforts towards reusable launch vehicles (RLV’s).

    SpaceX has that covered, thanks. My goal is to keep $17 billion dollars worth of congressionally mandated and funded reusable launch vehicle from ending up on the bottom of the ocean. Fiurthermore, a hydrogen powered launch vehicle sitting on the moon is by definition an RLV.

    Seriously, if you are seriously interested in developing space, there is nothing that is not credible or likeable about this scenario, since we’re stuck with SLS. In a very short time you could be launching from the moon. Thanks everyone for you input, I think I’ll just go ahead and publish this. If you have any further thoughts, I would be more than happy to listen.

  • Left Field

    Field core stages are the space equivalent of cargo shipping containers, they are useful for moving things around but you do not live in them.

    No, they are shipping containers complete with propulsion, guidance, navigation and control, they are indeed complete cargo spaceships. I’m not particularly interested in sending people to the moon, and I presume Mr. Musk will be doing that in relatively short order. I’m interested in salvaging an ill proposed congressionally mandated and funded space program (Constellation II) and producing and transporting fuel on and off the moon. Since the most viable fuel producible on the moon (and elsewhere) is sunlight electrocatalyzed water, then hydrogen is indicated. Fortunately, ground launched booster assisted hydrogen core stages are eminently capable of reaching these destinations and landing, or on the case with asteroids, simply dropping down onto their exposed surfaces.

    The moon has the added advantage of extremely cold dark reservoir craters which makes the storage of liquid hydrogen considerably easier, not to say that anything is going to be easy on the surface of the moon or inside a crater that is more or less the coldest place in the solar system.

    But heck, you have to start somewhere. I’ve already proposed starting considerably closer to planet Earth – this is a follow up to that proposal.

  • Left Field

    Re: Gibbs Zings Newt

    Hey Mr. Gibbs, when there is a problem with NASA and the SLS, Norman Augustine will be the first person I call.

    Mr. Gibbs, when there is a problem with the US maintaining and preventing default on its public debt, Wen Jiabao will be the first person I call.

    Not defending Newt here, but one shouldn’t throw rocks in a glass house.

  • Left Field

    The SLS will die, just like it’s Ares brethren. It’s just a matter of time.

    Sure, just like the shuttle died and the ISS will die, NASA will suddenly embrace reusable launch vehicle design and development, the military industrial complex will suddenly start new hydrogen and hydrocarbon engine development, and commercial space flight will become a modern reality and the American public will suddenly embrace rationality and science.

    You’ll just have to excuse me for not waiting and not thinking about this.

  • A M Swallow

    @Doug Lassiter

    If the return is about staking claims on the Moon, well, gee, we’d better be ready to keep that base there for more than a year, or else it’s Apollo all over again.

    NASA could simply issue a contract to rent/lease accommodation on the Moon for a year and a day. Only a company with a building on the Moon can fulfill the Lunar Base contract. Problem solved.

  • A M Swallow

    @Left Field

    No, they are shipping containers complete with propulsion, guidance, navigation and control, they are indeed complete cargo spaceships.

    None of which is designed to land safely of a planet with 1/6 the gravity of Earth. You would need new engines for a start.

  • Doug Lassiter

    Dan wrote @ February 26th, 2012 at 12:33 pm
    “If someone gets killed on the way to the moon the entire approach of moving to private sector and prizes will be put into question.”

    Well, many NASA astronauts have been killed, and their deaths didn’t lead to questioning the approach of using a federal agency to manage a human space flight program. Actually, I think deaths in the commercial space industry will be, if tourists, like deaths in doing extreme sports. If in cargo delivery, they will be like deaths of truck drivers. In fact, such deaths will probably be much better tolerated by the American public than NASA astronaut deaths. Why? Because we, our government, were responsible for those NASA astronaut fatalities and when those fatalities occur, congressional uber-oversight and hand wringing goes into full swing.

    Sarah Burkes’ recent death in an icy halfpipe is a good example. Were the circumstances of her death to be handled by Congress, we’d be seeing interminable hearings, pronouncements, and safety legislation about such tracks. No one would be skiing in halfpipes for years. But nothing is happening. Life goes on for everyone else. Perhaps the most potent feature of commercial spaceflight is that it is not beholden to Congress, both in its successes and its failures. Of course, like for extreme sports, the public will certainly be saying “but why the #$%^&* to they do that stuff??”, and like for extreme sports, the answer will be just that those commercial astronauts wanted to be special. As long as I’m not paying for them to be special, their successes and failures are not of great relevance to me.

  • @ Left Field:

    “Right, but since the SLS is mandated and funded, good or bad…”

    I understand your logic of making the best of a bad situation, but you write as if the ‘mandate and funding’ is etched in stone.

    It isn’t.

  • Martijn Meijering

    It would be great if what Deep Blue was proposing was done at the same time in space, gas n’ go, reusable vehicles were developed. Nautilus x should have been funded, not SLS/MPCV.

    It could be done instead of the depots, a reusable spacecraft can initially be its own depot. A refuelable spacecraft without a depot is capable of doing missions, whereas a depot without a spacecraft can only sit there and no nothing until the spacecraft is developed and deployed.

    The key is to engage market forces as soon as possible, not to have nifty pieces of infrastructure straight away, since additional infrastructure and more advanced technologies can be added as soon as economics and traffic levels warrant. Establishing the traffic is what matters, since that is what will lead to a sustainable and affordable commercial space transportation infrastructure. Small RLVs are the most important part of that infrastructure.

  • Left Field

    None of which is designed to land safely of a planet with 1/6 the gravity of Earth. You would need new engines for a start.

    An RL-10 at full throttle can soft land 150,000 lbs onto the moon with an optimized trajectory.

  • Coastal Ron

    Left Field wrote @ February 26th, 2012 at 4:29 pm

    You’ll just have to excuse me for not waiting and not thinking about this.

    You won’t have to wait long. The Ares V only lasted for five years, and I think the SLS will be cancelled in either 2013 or 2014. By then Congress will have to start funding the use of the SLS, and they will quickly realize that THERE IS NO DEMAND FOR IT.

    Oh sure, people can dream up missions that only the SLS can do, but NASA can’t afford many of those, so Congress will soon realize that it can’t afford to use the SLS. It will die a quiet death like Constellation did, no matter who of the five currently running is President.

    I see the MPCV surviving, even though it is too limited for what we really need.

  • Left Field

    Sorry, I think you might be right, adding in gravity losses it might require a throttleable RL-60. I’ve only recently gotten interested in lunar landings.

    Given that the only payload is sensors, instruments and fuel, one could use a stretched tank with original ET form factor to eliminate the payload fairing, and one could attach the outbound payloads to the booster attachment points, since in leaving the moon for lunar orbit or Lagrange points is in total vacuum, and again, the primary payload would only be regolith and fuel.

  • Left Field

    You won’t have to wait long. The Ares V only lasted for five years, and I think the SLS will be cancelled in either 2013 or 2014

    The SLS is the Ares V, if you haven’t noticed, and neither Ares V or SLS have even started, contrary to congressional thoughts on this matter. All they are doing is burning cash. They are going to burn through that cash anyways.

  • Doug Lassiter

    A M Swallow wrote @ February 26th, 2012 at 5:14 pm
    “NASA could simply issue a contract to rent/lease accommodation on the Moon for a year and a day. Only a company with a building on the Moon can fulfill the Lunar Base contract. Problem solved.”

    The issue isn’t that there aren’t solutions to the problem, the issue is that the solutions aren’t part of the plan. Gingrich is raving about prizes that would get us back to the Moon fast and economically. But excuse me, did Gingrich say anything about rent/lease accommodations? Hidden costs? Oh my! Also, if I were a commercial supplier, and I won the prize, wanna guess the profit margin I’d charge for rentals and leases? Nope, NASA wouldn’t have a choice. They pay up, or we aren’t staying on the Moon. It’s a sole-source deal.

  • DCSCA

    These cost projections are superfluous and an absurd waste of time, particularly as estimating annual budgeting for servicing and maintaining such a complex once it was in place are an added cost and absurd to guestimate– particularly in an era of massive debt and deficits. Every time any mention of a ‘moon colony/base’ comes up from now on in public discourse, the punch line, ‘Newt Gingrich – Moon President’ will inevitably elicit laughter, eye-rolling and be dismissed by the 40-something media types playing at punditry and journalism. Simply review GWBush’s proposals in 2004, when such plannig was recieved with less skepticism by media-types and you’ll crack a smile– particularly when you review which pols and talking heads were opposed to it. It’s just not realistic for space advocates to keep chattering on about moon bases and trips to Mars in the Age of Austerity. It does more harm than good.

  • DCSCA

    ‘Gingrich indicates that he’d pursue a similar path, augmented by prize competitions.’

    He’s a fool and his proposal a joke. End of story.

    Twice in the past five days his comments have been go-to punchlines in the media- MSNBC’s Matthews and Scarrborough both used it as punch lines in political discourse– Scarrborough referencing Newt musing over moon bases on the living room floor, splayed out reading comic books while eating a candy bar.

  • DCSCA

    “None of these achievements produce a lunar base by themselves. Note that I didn’t even specify human missions — these would probably all be done robotically. But they give us the basic tools (transit stages, landers, long-term in-space propellant management, ISRU, deep space rendezvous, etc.) needed to do things like build and maintain lunar bases and send large missions to the asteroids and Mars. The don’t specify a launch vehicle or specific technologies — it’s up to the teams to figure out what they need and what’s most efficient — and they’re a natural extension of Armadillo/Arkyd/Masten/Dragon capabilities and the ongoing Google Lunar X PRIZE.”

    Utter and absolute nonsense. Gingrich’s ‘prize’ model is not applicable to space projects of scale which have any merit. Gingrich wants to tap government funds for his ‘prize model’ rather than the private sector sourcing private capital markets for same, there by and socializing the risk on the many to profit a few. No way.

  • DCSCA

    @JohnHunt wrote @ February 26th, 2012 at 11:16 am

    Newt explicitly put a price tag on his plans by limiting the prize money to $10 and $20 billion.

    Except the ‘prize’ monies are government funds, not a private stake– like the Ortig Prize was for Lindbergh. It’s a proposal for a back door subsidy of comemrcial space which cannot source capital in the private sector. There’s no reason to divert dwindling resources from the government managed and operated space programs as ‘prize’ incentives for private enterprised, quarterly driven, ‘for profit’ firms. You might as well offer ‘prizes’ to build highways or high-speed trains between Oakland and downtown ‘Frisco. Private enterprised firms have not launched, orbited or safely returned anybody so it’s a false equivalency to even consider them viable competitors in space operation in LEO or for lunar projects.

  • Coastal Ron

    Left Field wrote @ February 26th, 2012 at 6:52 pm

    The SLS is the Ares V, if you haven’t noticed

    I have noticed, but to me the 130mt SLS does not equal the 188mt Ares V. Big difference. Just because they look similar does not mean they are the same. That would be like saying a 737 is the same as a 777.

    Even the MPCV is a down-rated version of the original Orion. Looks the same, but is less capable.

    Griffin’s “Apollo on steroids” architecture is slowly shrinking, and will eventually go away because it doesn’t solve the right problems.

  • Robert G. Oler

    DCSCA wrote @ February 26th, 2012 at 7:17 pm
    Scarrborough referencing Newt musing over moon bases on the living room floor, splayed out reading comic books while eating a candy bar…

    that was a great “picture” almost TMI but nice RGO

  • Dark Blue Nine

    “Utter and absolute nonsense. Gingrich’s ‘prize’ model is not applicable to space projects of scale which have any merit.”

    I’m not proposing Gingrich’s model of multi-ten billion dollar prizes for vaguely defined lunar bases. I’m proposing technology inducement prizes that are 1-2 order of magnitude smaller for precisely defined products.

  • Googaw

    Doug: “I’m still puzzled about what a prize-enabled lunar base (e.g. Pournelle) would achieve.”

    I join Doug and Benjamin and others in asking this question. Griffin-style cathedral building is obviously an Apollo-like dead end, and not in the political cards anyway. Yet that is what the OP’s budgets are talking about: useless RVs buried in pathetic hobbit-holes on the moon. If a useless lunar base would cost over $100 billion, what would a useful one cost?

    The propellant-mining-and-depot thing, e.g. as Vladislaw lowballs with spectacular waves of the hand above, adds a dollop of plausibility, but only a dollop. What market is supposed to be served by this propellant? Real world satellite and satellite transport, or just further economic fantasies? If we are refueling real satellites instead of further imaginary and useless astronaut expeditions what consequences does this have for satellite design, or can it be done with current satellites? How much has to be invested in satellite and upper stage redesign? What consequences does it have for the choice of propellant (e.g. are you really going to convince satellite makers to store LH and LOX on their satellites?) If we choose propellant that satellites are actually using (e.g. hydrazine, xenon) where can these be found on the moon (or asteroids?) and how can they be cost-effectively mined? How much processing is required to purify these propellants to have them run in current rocket engines, or should we redesign the rocket engines to run on less purified propellant? What is the size of the real world market in kg/year propellant? What consequences does this have for the scale of the equipment needed to economically serve this market? What consequences does this have for the dreamed-of role of astronauts?

    Most technology companies these days have people called product managers. Their job is to talk to real-world prospects and customers, deeply understand the their problems, and from that come up with ideas and requirements for products to solve those problems. In this context, their job would be to go to satellite makers and operators, ask them these kinds of questions, figure out what problems they are having, and only then see if the moon or some other dreamed-of space goal, or (much more likely) a novel subset thereof, can solve some of their important problems in a cost-effective way. I strongly suggest that folks who want to actually come up with useful space business ideas unlearn the arts of sci-fi daydreaming and political planning dogmatism and learn the art of product management.

    As any good product manager will tell you, there are many more questions like the ones above that need to be asked much less answered. The basic problem is that there are a million possibilities here and as usual what is being proposed by space activists is grossly premature sci-fi-based “infrastructure”, to be dogmatically agreed to and centrally planned and funded by government, whether through traditional or COTS contracts or prizes. Vladislaw’s and Pournelle’s and related plans along these lines have far more to do with old NASA “visions” than with the actual needs of real-world customers, and yet private enterprise is expected to dutifully follow and benefit from it. It should be needless to say that this is a spectacular way to waste money and a terribly poor way to innovate or encourage new industry. Lose the political planning and try product management and a diverse portfolio of R&D instead.

  • Googaw

    errata: that was JohnHunt’s not Vladislaw’s plan I was referring to. My apologies to both.

  • sc220

    A significant lunar base would cost one-half to one trillion dollars to develop, and several billion dollars per year to operate. Not the smartest thing to do when the country is in arrears by $10′s of trillions and the economy is on the verge of collapse.

  • A M Swallow

    The private enterprise firm SpaceX has launched, orbited and safely returned a cargo spacecraft. Its cargo was a large cheese. Now they are working on docking/berthing to the ISS.

    The winner of the lunar building competition is only a monopoly supplier until a second firm lands on the Moon. The Centennial Challenges – Lunar Lander Challenge had a first and second prize. Congress can control total costs by ensuring that NASA does the same for the real landings.
    Centennial Challenges – Lunar Lander Challenge

  • Robert G. Oler

    Doug Lassiter wrote @ February 26th, 2012 at 7:00 pm

    Yeah I’ve said it here before and have asked some of the people who advocate prizes how it works, but I dont see how a Prize for 20 billion (or whatever) to go back to the Moon and return gets anything….RGO

  • Vladislaw

    “The SLS is the Ares V, if you haven’t noticed, and neither Ares V or SLS have even started, contrary to congressional thoughts on this matter.”

    There were a couple differences. The Ares V was going to be a 10 meter tank, the SLS is using the old Shuttle tank diameter. Ares V would be pushing about 204 tons to LEO, SLS about 130 tones

    The Ares V could do a 14 meter faring, the SLS about 10 meter.

    Not much different, but there are a couple.

  • A M Swallow

    Start by assuming that going back to the Moon and living on it are worth while in their own right, possible as part of a mining operation. If the mission is not worth while forget the whole thing.

    There are likely to be several prizes – delivering the first building, return trip for people (Apollo), constructing a lunar landing pad, delivering a manned rover able to go between the habitat and the landing pad, generating ISRU water for 4 people, delivering 2 months of food and staying in the habitat for a month.

    ISS food for a day (including packaging) = 1.83 kg
    2 months food = 4 people * 1.83 kg * 2 months * 31 days = 454 kg

  • JohnHunt

    Thanks to all who responded to my comment.

    Thanks Ron & RGO for your encouragement. But I notice that both of you suggest that my estimates may be about half of what you might think. I intend to use the Spudis-Lavoie estimates for hardware & reduce to 1/3 based upon the study showing COTS = 1/3 the cost-plus approach. Any other suggestions?

    I also anticipate that SLS will come up for severe scrutiny in time. I would hope that we could have a well-supported plan that would cost less and accomplish more.

    Vladislaw, your lease ideas seem worthy of consideration. But (like COTS –> CRS), how about NASA investing part of the development with guaranteed purchases of water-derived propellant at L1 for missions beyond the Earth-Moon system?

    A M Swallow, paying for milestones to develop two providers would cost twice as much. But incentivizing only one might put a second provider at too great a disadvantage. Thoughts?

    Doug, RGO, Benjamin, & Googaw, I don’t at all see a lunar base as a chest thumping-footprints exercise. It should have very utilitarian purposes. The lunar ice near the permanently lit poles are perhaps the most valuable, near-term, off-Earth locations in the solar system. That water ice would be used for:
    – life-support for working astronauts (who repair and construct an ever-growing telerobotic mining workforce),
    – propellant to bootstrap cis-lunar transport,
    – fueling a depot at L1 for NASA missions (e.g. science) beyond the Earth-Moon system,
    – fueling a depot at LEO for NASA missions, DOD and commercial orbital servicing.
    – yes, propellant for circum-lunar and lunar tourism,
    – and whatever else people want propellant for.

    Googaw, your product management perspective also seems worthy of consideration. You also raise a number of valid questions which a formal proposal would need to address. I know that others have assessed the demand for fuel at LEO. I would consider NASA itself to be the best initial “customer” who will also need fuel at LEO for decades.

    Doug, with more than enough life-support being produced from lunar ice, radiation protection, and some gravity, I would anticipate the astronauts at the lunar base could each stay for more than a year at a time and that the base would be permanent.

    Martin, you may or may not agree, but I would size the in-space hardware to what two Falcon Heavies could handle. Falcon Heavies will be, IMO, affordable enough. Having relatively large hardware yields economies of scale which we need in order to deliver large quantities of water to LEO from the Moon. Also, the common automated landers need to also deliver crew to the Moon and so need to be sizeable.

  • DCSCA

    Robert G. Oler wrote @ February 26th, 2012 at 9:52 pm

    Yeah, well, Scarrborough has a grudge against Newt to begin with– but Newt’s neutralized any effectiveness he could possibly offer in the discourse by his own grandiosity. Had he actually used his big head, he might have generated legitimate debate on the issue rather than laughter. The damage he has done to public doscourse on matters space for some time to come is incalculable and the more it echoes, the more the perception becomes reality.

    @A M Swallow wrote @ February 26th, 2012 at 11:58 pm

    The private enterprise firm SpaceX has launched, orbited and safely returned a cargo spacecraft. Its cargo was a large cheese.

    That’s not saying much. Fifty years ago the U.S. gov’t was flying spacecraft w/a ‘cargo’ of chimps and then humans. Commercial HSF will have no credibility until they ris kputting some skin in the game and actually launch, orbit and return a crew aboard one of their spacecraft. Gagarin/Titov/Glenn Redux, half a century on.

    Dark Blue Nine wrote @ February 26th, 2012 at 10:37 pm

    The increment doesnt really matter as Newt proposes to use portions of the budgets for government funding for the government space programs as the stake for the commercial prize structure- which socializes the risk on the many as a reward to a select few and is hardly a private enterprised venture. The Ortig Prize which Lindy and his backers won was a private stake, not a government-funded prize. Neither France nor the U.S. gov’t put up a ‘prize’ as an incentive to fly non-stop between NY and Paris. Won’t wash in the Age of Austerity.

  • amightywind

    Are you embarrassed by your Republican Presidential candidates?

    No. Mitt and Santorum were my preferred candidates from the start. I don’t like Gingrich because of has sordid personal life.

    Shouldn’t all of the candidates have equal coverage until one is chosen as the winner?

    If only that were the case. Scan the archives and see how grossly disproportionate the coverage of Gingrich is, especially considering his weakness in the polls. Gingrich’s mouth runs like a sewer and the Editor is all to happy to run with it to change the subject from the open sore that is Obama’s NASA.

  • A M Swallow

    @DCSCA you are trying to hold the commercial companies to higher standards of achievement than you apply to yourself.

  • Coastal Ron

    JohnHunt wrote @ February 27th, 2012 at 3:58 am

    But I notice that both of you suggest that my estimates may be about half of what you might think.

    Call it a “reserve” amount on top of what you think is solid. Estimates, by their nature, are only that, and can’t take into account the small things that can end up costing a lot. For instance, software is a big cost driver these days, both for development and schedule, and there are no good models for estimating software costs on never before designed hardware.

    I would actually prefer to break down the estimates into stand alone chunks. For instance, what would it cost to set up a reusable transportation system between Earth LEO and L1/L2/lunar orbit for both crew and cargo? How much to develop a reusable transportation system from lunar orbit to the lunar surface? Once you have those transportation segments locked down, now you know a good amount of your support costs for any type of lunar surface activity.

  • E.P. Grondine

    Hi John Hunt –

    When you use the term “cis-lunar” you’re primarily talking about Mars, but do you have anywhere else in mind?

    Your propellant depot idea uses L1, while NASA is currently brainstorming L2 lunar operations. Any idea why?

    Your business model assumes propellant from lunar ice would be in demand, primarily for flights to Mars.

    Bigelow’s inflatable surface structures need an improvement.

    Does fuel delivery to LEO/Geosynch make sense against when cost compared against new launch?

    There’s heaps more, but that’s enough for now.

  • E.P. Grondine

    I always joked that the neo-con plan would be to shut down NASA and hire Walmart to buy space services from China. After all, they did that to so many US industries, why not NASA? No more Aircraft Union.

    Does anyone here want to cost out the Chinese 4 CZ5 launch architecture?

    E.P. Grondine
    Association of American Television Manufacturers

  • Left Field

    The Ares V was going to be a 10 meter tank, the SLS is using the old Shuttle tank diameter.

    Do you mean the first Ares V, the second Ares V or the third Ares V?

    The original was ET diameter tank with five SSMEs and an air started SSME for the upper stage. When they couldn’t figure out how to obviously start an SSME in the air, they switched to the J2 redux. That didn’t have enough power so they entertained using kerosene for the first stage for a while, and then they suddenly decided to use the heavy and inefficient RS-68 for the first stage, and the extra fuel consumption necessitated a switch to the ten meter tank. Then they realized that the ablative nozzles of the larger RS-68 would cause adverse interactions from themselves packed into the bottom of the ten meter tank, and the heat from the SRBs. So they took cues from Direct and switched back to SSMEs for the first stage. They also realized that would be underpowered, and early on they had switched to the five segment SRB to try and make up for the weakness of the J2. These kinds of trades also plagued the Ares I, which also had intractable acoustic and vibration problems predicted from the start, which everyone remarkably ignored in they excitement for JOBS!

    So you see, the constantly moving target of the Space Launch System is no different than the constantly moving target of the original Ares V. It’s the same rocket, with the same goal of never being finished and never flying.

    Five engines, no, four engines, no, maybe kerosene boosters … whatever.

    Since it’s never going to PDR, I’m just intervening as best I can right now. If you eliminate human rating, and invoke vastly overpowered boosters, then the original Lunar Direct (a la NOVA) become a real possibility. That allows the original ET form factor upgraded to modern structural analysis to be stretched to whatever length you want, and put a lunar rated center engine on it, and voila! There is your behemoth Altair lunar lander at no extra cost, and you can put any payload you want on the attachments.

    Lunar Direct sitting on the moon empty of fuel is motivation just like an ISS sitting on orbit should be (and is) motivation, and zombie satellites sitting in GEO parking orbits should be (and are) motivation, and space debris is most definitely motivation for governments and commercial entities to get they’re acts together on what should be straightforward engineering.

    NASA is incapable of that kind of innovation and engineering. You can lay it out for them in fairly plain straight forward language who absolutely idiotic and insane tossing an SLS core into the ocean is, they don’t get it.

    Neither do you, quite frankly. Space advocates are even worse.

  • Dark Blue Nine

    “The increment doesnt really matter as Newt proposes to use portions of the budgets for government funding for the government space programs as the stake for the commercial prize structure- which socializes the risk on the many as a reward to a select few”

    That’s what “government space programs” do anyway. They use tax revenues (socialize the risk on the many) to reward a select few contractors (often in the absence of competition), astronauts, and civil servant engineers.

    “The Ortig Prize which Lindy and his backers won was a private stake, not a government-funded prize.”

    So? The Longitude Prize was a government-funded prize. There are successful examples of both.

  • Dark Blue Nine

    “Scan the archives and see how grossly disproportionate the coverage of Gingrich is, especially considering his weakness in the polls.”

    Currently. Gingrich previously led the polls twice.

    “Gingrich’s mouth runs like a sewer and the Editor is all to happy to run with it”

    Gingrich was the one candidate to put forward a human space flight plan. It’s little wonder that he’d show up more often than the other candidates on a blog about space policy.

    “to change the subject from the open sore that is Obama’s NASA.”

    Yes, let’s talk about the years’ worth of schedule slippage that SLS and MPCV have experienced in their first year, the fact that MPCV is getting ready to conduct an abort test that Orion should have completed a couple years ago, and the total lack of investment in any actual human space exploration hardware.

    “Mitt and Santorum were my preferred candidates from the start.”

    Why? They’ve made fun of the Chinese “Red Scare” argument for U.S. human space flight that you support.

  • Robert G. Oler

    DCSCA wrote @ February 27th, 2012 at 7:36 am

    Yeah, well, Scarrborough has a grudge against Newt to begin with….

    Opinions vary, I dont think Morning Joe has a grudge…its just he knows Newt, has worked with him and sees the flaws in his personality which Newt seems unable to control.

    (as a disclaimer…I like Morning Joe, I agree with his brand of conservatism…and where we disagree at least Joe is “honest”…if X=Y and Y=B then Joe will go with X=B…there are phoney conservatives who are not that…they dont like Roe but love Bush V Gore, even though the two were decided on the same Constitutional basis…………..

    Joe is honest in his ideology and if the GOP were predominately “Morning Joe” country I would be back in the GOP.

    Newt’s main issue is that his personality just simply gets the best of him most of hte time…he is by that unsuited for the office of The Presidency and in my view did a crummy job as Speaker because of it. Politics is many thing; some compromise…but it is about not letting your ego get in the way of “the best you can get” …and Newt cannot control his ego.

    Muncy is an honorable guy so I dont expect him to weigh in but I would be fascinated to know how much advise Newt took on his “Moon” speech AND if he had a prepared text. I bet he winged it…and herein lies his issues.

    Presidents might need to hthink like they are playing checkers but they need advisors who think Chess…and when you get to the Speakership and yes The Presidency the words everyone likes to tell you is “Yes Mr. President”. You need people who can say “dont do this Sir” and you listen to them…and at least pause and think what they are telling you through.

    Newt seems to be unable to do that…and his space speech; which could have been quite good and heraleded a major campaign theme…duded because of it.

    There has been no more flamboyant person in the POTUS then TR. TR was to quote Leonard Wood “a bull looking for China shops”…but in Cuba TR learned to listen to people …and during his Presidency no matter what he did if John Hay and a few others said “Col…think about this”…he usually did.

    Morning Joe has at some point in the future a chance at being POTUS…the odds could go against him, it doesnt take much to take one out of that narrow stream…but he (Joe) learned a lot from Gingrich about how not to do things…

    Robert

  • Robert G. Oler

    JohnHunt wrote @ February 27th, 2012 at 3:58 am

    I doubled the estimate in large measure because the hardest most expensive thing one is going to have with a lunar base is getting it to do something….anything.

    Take “mining lunar ice”. Assuming we do enough robotic stuff to find useful deposits of lunar ice in large enough concentrations that it is useful to set up some sort of “rig” (Platform…whatever…the Moon bound equivalent of the MARS or URSA rig) it is going to take buckets of money to make that thing work.

    No one has any experience mining/doing anything really on the Moon and all the Apollo experience was that everything on the Moon except say Golfing or dirt biking in the Rover was very very very hard. Everytime someone suggest “mining machines” I go back and read the NASA in house discussions of how the Rover worked…and wow keeping a mining machine working is going to be enormous.

    I kind of look at the notion of drilling for oil and its evolution. It started relatively easy “on land”…then eventually moved into very shallow water (the first rigs in LA were drilled in 50 feet of water…and the learning curve was very very steep) now of course they drill in water five miles deep and go a lot deeper then that in the sea floor…but one is going to go through several iterations of machines before finding something that works…thats money.

    Anyone who thinks that the first lunar “base” is going to do much more then simply try and hang on AND maybe some modest “exploration” needs to go take a look at the ISS timeline.

    There are 6 people there running a modestly sophisticated platform…and it takes 5 of them to do it. If a Navy submarine had that number of runners to operators (ie people who fought the boat) they would be enormous and even more expensive then they are.

    I dont have a clue why it takes 5 people to run ISS…most likely because the dremel tools that built it have no idea of what is done in the real world with complicated platforms…but in any event a lunar base wont be much different.

    thats why the doubled number RGO

  • Doug Lassiter

    JohnHunt wrote @ February 27th, 2012 at 3:58 am
    “Doug, with more than enough life-support being produced from lunar ice, radiation protection, and some gravity, I would anticipate the astronauts at the lunar base could each stay for more than a year at a time and that the base would be permanent.”

    Again, as I said above, the problem isn’t that there isn’t a solution, but that the solution isn’t part of the plan. You can “anticipate” all you want, but if the prize is won by just getting people there, why in the world would they stay? By the way, producing life-support from lunar ice, and developing some kind of radiation protecting habitation is by no stretch of the imagination a small deal. It’s a major investment in technology and launch mass. Why, as long as we’re “anticipating”, please allow me to anticipate that a prize driven lunar return will have humans on Mars a few years later. No, that’s not part of the plan either, but hey, it’s possible!

    I’m delighted that you can come up with some utilitarian-sounding purposes for a lunar base. But while they might be utilitarian, it’s hugely questionable whether they really offer value. Propellant is nice, but the infrastructure required to get is is vastly beyond the scope of what we’re talking about here.

  • Vladislaw

    “Vladislaw, your lease ideas seem worthy of consideration. But (like COTS –> CRS), how about NASA investing part of the development with guaranteed purchases of water-derived propellant at L1 for missions beyond the Earth-Moon system? “

    I agree, NASA can be the anchor tenant just like a Sears store at a mall. But that doesn’t mean that they can not lease. I want NASA to get away from the idea that they personally have to design, develop, test and operate everything from start to finish.

    Purchasing water, breathable oxygen etc I am also okay with, but I would rather see different infrastructure in place first and that infrastructure be duel use, Commercial and Government. That means getting NASA out of owning everything.

    I am moving more and more towards NASA providing traffic with leased commercial ships like Nautilus X. I also am in favor of fuel depots/stations.

    Martin has made some strong arguemnts against the actual depot tech investments for right now and instead just allow the ship itself to the fuel depot in the short run. I am starting to move in that direction.

    How much traffic would NASA have to provide to Luna Orbit to induce a private player like Bigelow to put a station there? Or L1 = L2?

    If NASA is only leasing the vehicles and commercial is operating one also … How many commercial seats can be sold for a Luna orbit per year?

    Fuel is one of the major keys for increased flight rates, along with cargo for long term stays in LEO. I believe if NASA just provides a ton of traffic to Luna that a station will develop there, commercial flights to the surface are sure to follow right behind it, and again, something NASA can be an anchor tenat for buying X seats per year to the Lunar surface.

    I really see no reason, after 50 years, a capitalist nation does not have the ability for a NASA lunar researcher to take a commercial flight to LEO, transfer to a commercial station. Then embark to a commercial Lunar vehicle for a ride to a Lunar orbital/lagrange point station, take a commercial ride to the surface, enter a commercial surface station and then take off on a NASA winebago towing a nuclear plant in a trailor behind them for 2-3 weeks at a time.

    America is supposed to be about businesses making a buck not a Stalinist big government doing it.

  • Vladislaw

    Robert wrote:

    “No one has any experience mining/doing anything really on the Moon and all the Apollo experience was that everything on the Moon except say Golfing or dirt biking in the Rover was very very very hard. Everytime someone suggest “mining machines” I go back and read the NASA in house discussions of how the Rover worked…and wow keeping a mining machine working is going to be enormous.”

    People who have never been involved in large scale construction projects just really have no idea on how often machines break down. Most major sites have a seperate little army that comes out after the day shift goes home to start repairing equipment that has broke down. There is also the ability on terra to just make a phone call and a rental or leased dump truck is back on the job in a matter of minutes to an hour.

    The cost of break down proof mining equipment will break the bank. If for no other reason, we will want humans on the deck just to keep the stuff running.

  • Dark Blue Nine

    “Since it’s never going to PDR, I’m just intervening as best I can right now.”

    I agree that SLS will probably never see reality for the same reasons that dogged Ares I/V. But if you agree that’s the case, then writing papers about modifying SLS to land a stage on the Moon seems rather pointless. If it won’t be built, then no piece of it will ever reach orbit (nevertheless land on the Moon).

  • Martijn Meijering

    Martin, you may or may not agree, but I would size the in-space hardware to what two Falcon Heavies could handle.

    What do you mean by two FHs? If a lander fits on two FHs, doesn’t that mean it fits on one? Or are you thinking of modular landers?

    Falcon Heavies will be, IMO, affordable enough.

    Perhaps, but why bet on that? I don’t see what we would lose by insisting that dry spacecraft should fit on a launcher no bigger than an EELV Heavy. 25mt dry mass is a massive spacecraft. I don’t think we would lose all that much even if we insisted on largest parts that would fit on a Falcon 9, but EELVs are available so there’s not much reason to avoid them.

    Having relatively large hardware yields economies of scale which we need in order to deliver large quantities of water to LEO from the Moon.

    Why would we need to deliver large quantities of water to the moon? There’s plenty of water on the moon. And if larger launchers are needed to provide the traffic we need, then the market will develop them.

    Also, the common automated landers need to also deliver crew to the Moon and so need to be sizeable.

    EELV fairings are huge and can easily hold massive landers, especially if you use a crasher stage, but even if you don’t.

  • Vladislaw

    Robert wrote:

    “I doubled the estimate in large measure because the hardest most expensive thing one is going to have with a lunar base is getting it to do something….anything.

    Take “mining lunar ice”. Assuming we do enough robotic stuff to find useful deposits of lunar ice in large enough concentrations that it is useful to set up some sort of “rig” (Platform…whatever…the Moon bound equivalent of the MARS or URSA rig) it is going to take buckets of money to make that thing work.”

    The government is not really about making money and I doubt that will ever change.

    That is why I believe everything from the start should be duel use with the government not owning a damn thing just leasing. 20 mil to get a person to LEO and back for 30 days. 50 million to get a person to Lunar orbit at a station? Another 20 million for a round trip to the Lunar surface, 10 million to rent a rover for a few EVA’s?

    90-100 million for 30 days 1-3 days LEO, 8 days Lunar orbit and return, about 14 days on the lunar surface.

    Now how many “sparkly rocks” would a commercial ‘miner’ ( picture a burro and a pick ax miner) have to bring back to earth, realistically, and the weight, to pay for a ticket?

    You could also get a bit of income from google ads on your website, you could also get a few bucks from product endorsments for equipment etc.

    The point being, the first miners and geologists to an area are more like the sterotype miner, rather than industry moving in full bore. The nuggets get picked out of the streams long before industry moves in, I would imagine you will see this on luna also.

    So how many Lunar “carats” would a miner have to bring back to pay for the ride there? 1/4 of a million a carat for sparkly lunar ‘diamonds’? 1 million a carat? what would be the weight to bring back with you?

  • Coastal Ron

    Left Field wrote @ February 27th, 2012 at 11:16 am

    Lunar Direct sitting on the moon empty of fuel is motivation just like an ISS sitting on orbit should be (and is) motivation…

    Motivation for what? The SLS core stage is just a massive empty tank, and we don’t have a demand for massive empty tanks on the Moon. An empty tank does create a market for water or propellant, nor does it help us get to the Moon in an affordable way.

    NASA is incapable of that kind of innovation and engineering. You can lay it out for them in fairly plain straight forward language who absolutely idiotic and insane tossing an SLS core into the ocean is, they don’t get it.

    There are plenty of things that I criticize NASA about, but you keep forgetting that it was a few in Congress (with Griffin’s help) that pretty much defined the SLS, not NASA. And since disposing of stages is SOP for every rocket family, your obsession over blaming NASA for this situation is a little odd.

    It gets even more bizarre when you talk about tacking extra hardware onto a stage that currently doesn’t make it to orbit, and then expect it to fly to and land on the Moon. I don’t think you’ve thought your design through very far, or maybe you’re assuming unicorns will be involved? Hard to tell which it is…

  • A M Swallow

    @Martijn Meijering

    The masses we have to deal with are to the lunar surface, which has an extra delta-V of 5.93 km/s. LEO to lunar surface is also likely to use a methane stage (lander).

    EELV = ~25 tonne at LEO
    Two FH = 2 * 53 = 106 tonne at LEO.

    The payloads are getting a bit small.

  • Martijn Meijering

    But (like COTS –> CRS), how about NASA investing part of the development with guaranteed purchases of water-derived propellant at L1 for missions beyond the Earth-Moon system?

    Why should we insist that the propellant should be water-derived? It is true that that would be more friendly to developing ISRU facilities on the moon than if you didn’t specify the propellant, and that has some value, but it would consequently be less friendly to development of cheap lift, and that’s not a good thing. A moon base may be more exciting to some, but it is also more ambitious (perhaps too ambitious) and, it seems to me, much less important than cheap lift.

    I’m in favour of leaving as many decisions to the market as possible. We could make this idea ISRU/cheap lift agnostic and propellant-agnostic by buying transportation services from L1/L2 to interplanetary destinations. This is very similar to CRS and commercial crew. Companies offering these services would have to provide fueled transfer stages at L1/L2. How the stage and its propellant get there would be up to the service provider.

    If a provider wanted to use LOX/LH2 for efficiency, they could do so but they would also have to invest in cryogenic depot technology. Someone who had good reason to believe they were very close to developing that technology could then try to steal a march on others who went for much less ambitious hypergolic transfer stages. Of course, if they misjudged the difficulty or cost, they could end up losing to competitors using such stages. SEP tugs (either for LEO to L1/L2 or for L1/L2 to beyond) would also be a near term possibility. All sorts of hybrids are also conceivable.

    Personally, I believe hypergolics, optionally augmented with SEP, are the best bet in the near term, and the likely outcome in the initial years of such a COTS-inspired program. Consequently, I don’t think we would risk losing all that much if we went ahead and forced that decision. Clearly, leaving things to the market would be better, but perhaps not by much. The reason I think this is relevant is because it would allow a way out for Orion, which could be split into two projects: a universal SM and just another commercial crew taxi. This would ensure availability of commercial crew taxis even if the ISS were abandoned in order to fund exploration and it might allow us to peel off Orion from the SLS / Orion coalition. Defeating both would be better, but defeating SLS is the only thing that really matters in the larger scheme of things.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Vladislaw wrote @ February 27th, 2012 at 2:10 pm

    People who have never been involved in large scale construction projects just really have no idea on how often machines break down….

    yes. We are in the process of moving from our home in Clear Lake to Santa Fe TX (I know been at it awhile but we are coming to the end of phase 2 at least…POH…permanent occupancy of House…is near)

    part of the deal is that we have been getting “stuff” from the road construction on 646 that is going on. They have this nifty machine that “does concrete”…ie the trucks feed concrete into it…the machine spreads it, vibrates it, floats it and puts the little traction nicks into it… and really moves…

    when it is moving. When it is not as you put it a small army attends it virtually taking it apart and putting it back together again.

    What impresses me is that people like Spudis et al think we can go from simple rover type machines that work for just a bit…to well mining equipment that makes money all in one rush…

    Robert

  • amightywind

    The nuggets get picked out of the streams long before industry moves in, I would imagine you will see this on luna also.

    Hmm. Interesting question. What process would concentrate the ore? How would the ore even form? We don’t have hydrothermal activity, that we know of, to create metal ore, or a hydrologic cycle to concentrate it. (Sounds like you and your burro are out of work.) Lunar mapping missions have shown there is a lot of Ilmenite (TiO2) on the surface. It could be concentrated locally by meteoroid gardening. Perhaps is could be strip mined. I’m afraid that term would have to be used for most kinds of lunar mining. It could then be smelted into ingots, then shot into orbit with a rail gun. People should be careful about the ridiculous claims they make in using lunar water. It would also have to be strip mined. Even under the most optimistic scenario huge amounts of regolith would have to be processed for a small amount of water. That’s why I’m a proponent of asteroid mining. Asteroids contain much more diverse material. And you could mine them out of existence without bothering the environmentalists.

  • Coastal Ron

    Martijn Meijering wrote @ February 27th, 2012 at 2:33 pm

    Perhaps, but why bet on that? I don’t see what we would lose by insisting that dry spacecraft should fit on a launcher no bigger than an EELV Heavy.

    One of the key ways of keeping costs low for exploration is to initially use existing assets. As demand builds, and future demand clarifies, then new vehicles can be defined and built to more efficiently satisfy the demand, but current ones are fine for now.

    For today, that means using the plethora of medium-heavy and heavy rockets that are capable of lifting 10-25mt to LEO. No need to wait, and no need to build new facilities to handle the load, since there are launch facilities around the globe that can used. It makes it easy for new partners to join in too, some of which could be the launch providers themselves.

    This wouldn’t preclude the use of Falcon Heavy, but the standardization of building components and cargo sizes means our activities in space can expand much faster than if we used specialized versions.

    EELV fairings are huge and can easily hold massive landers, especially if you use a crasher stage, but even if you don’t.

    My cable provider has NASA TV, and I watch what the ISS crew is doing every so often – the 5m ISS modules are plenty big for doing work in space. If we need something bigger, then I would try inflatables before I committed to a larger metal tube size.

    I also like to point to the 2009 study ULA did called “A Commercially Based Lunar Architecture“, where they show how they would set up and support a human occupied lunar outpost. All of their hardware, including lunar lander/taxis fit on existing launchers in the 10-25mt to LEO range.

    Just as the standardization of shipping containers has vastly increased shipping volume while lowering prices, so too can the standardization of space cargo and construction.

  • A M Swallow

    John Hunt wrote

    A M Swallow, paying for milestones to develop two providers would cost twice as much. But incentivizing only one might put a second provider at too great a disadvantage. Thoughts?

    The development costs may be twice as much but the operating costs will not be twice as much. The monopoly supply situation is a standard one in economics so an economist may be able to some pointers to the total costs of a monopoly supply Vs. development + two suppliers.

    NASA can tell its own story about the risks of a monopoly supplier. After the Shuttle was closed down Soyuz had quality problems. Not only did this delayed scientific work at the ISS but we nearly had to abandon the space station.

    Congress can choose – never again.

  • DCSCA

    @Robert G. Oler wrote @ February 27th, 2012 at 12:57 pm

    In fact, he does. Newt refused to support him in his bid for Congress for not being ‘conservative enough.’ And JS was part of the ‘coup’ to oust Newt. There is bad blood there hence Scarrborough’s repeated and often immature slams on all things Gingrich. And as a ‘disclaimer’ we’ve viewed MJ since its inception for the past five years and the show is best when Joe is not on it. Scarrborough is a blatant partisian– and not a very bright guy as Zbig so aptly flushed out one morning; a shallow (see clips from he precursor program for the honest flavor of his mind set) and the program itself lacks credibility when covering matters – like space– which he has dismissed with chortling glee over the years— and the tapes of the program when spacial events occurred clearly reveal.

    “Morning Joe has at some point in the future a chance at being POTUS.”

    ROFLMAO nonsense. He’s not a very bright fella, a blatant partisian and on matters space simply laughs it off. He is one of the ones playing at pundity and journalism damaging public discourse on space. Cilps from his own shows will doom any such notion of a POTUS run— besides, he wouldn’t like the pay cut. Newt’s problem is Newt. Bad messenger. Neil DeGrasse Tyson tacked Newt’s proposals today on MSNBC with a much better, less grandiose, pitch that didn’t elicit instant laughter or inspire another SNL skit. The problem w/Newt is Newt. And no GOP candidate in the foreseeable buture is every going to supporrt expanding America’s space efforts unless forced by external events- like the PRC launching out toward Luna– and even then, the cry of ‘been there, done that’ is the natural GOP response.

  • Left Field

    Motivation for what? The SLS core stage is just a massive empty tank, and we don’t have a demand for massive empty tanks on the Moon.

    As I explained in an earlier comment, it is more than an empty tank, it is two empty tanks, multiple high performance cryogenic engines, and a complete guidance, navigation and control system. More or less everything you need to launch from the moon besides the fuel and the engine starting system. That could be designed into the vehicle as well. How are you going to get on and off of the moon, without a lander? Isn’t that the subject of this thread?

    An empty tank does create a market for water or propellant, nor does it help us get to the Moon in an affordable way.

    No, it provides a motivation for lunar materials and propellant, and indeed it provides the entire lunar landing and launch infrastructure as a byproduct of launch vehicle development that is already mandated and funded by congress. Do you want to go to the moon, or not? I don’t, but since we’re going, my job is to make that process as painless as possible, which since you won’t need upper stages, staging events, fuel depots and space stations, should be considerably less painless than other means.

    It gets even more bizarre when you talk about tacking extra hardware onto a stage that currently doesn’t make it to orbit, and then expect it to fly to and land on the Moon.

    With the kind of boosters they are proposing for SLS the core stage can easily make orbit with plenty of performance to spare. NASA simply chooses instead to let it reenter after it has acheived 97% orbital velocity.

    How bizarre is that?

    I don’t think you’ve thought your design through very far, or maybe you’re assuming unicorns will be involved?

    No, just physics. If I need more payload, I just add more boosters, or more powerful boosters. That’s part of the SLS plan, is it not? Besides, I just got involved with this last week, I haven’t even reconfigured my simulators yet and it’s a work in progress you can follow in real time.

    I’m simply using the SLS as an example of how Lunar Direct could be implemented. It would certainly work better with better ahem … engines.

    Thank you for your input.

  • DCSCA

    Dark Blue Nine wrote @ February 27th, 2012 at 11:46 am

    “Gingrich was the one candidate to put forward a human space flight plan.”

    Nonsense– just grandiose verbage seasoned with vacuous rhetoric, which is SOP for Newtie and his cronies, like Bob Walker. One day its hot air on space from his comic book and candy bar days and the next its mailing FedEx packages to every illegal in the nation to track people down and then flip-flopping on Libya- and pronoucing, wroingly, that you can’t mount a gun rack in a Volt and insisting Obama is the most dangerous president in American history. Gingrich is the court jester of the GOP.

  • Left Field

    I agree that SLS will probably never see reality for the same reasons that dogged Ares I/V. But if you agree that’s the case, then writing papers about modifying SLS to land a stage on the Moon seems rather pointless.

    As I just pointed out, SLS reconfiguration is just the working example here, since that is the only parallel staged dual fuel launch vehicle in development. And furthermore I’m just using this as an extension to an already published paper on geosynchronous orbit development using the exact same concept. Most of the advanced workers in the field already do understand that the cryogenic foam insulation is the biggest barrier to infrastructure repurposing. This could probably work just as well with the Ariane VI if ESA chooses it.

  • Left Field

    And since disposing of stages is SOP for every rocket family, your obsession over blaming NASA for this situation is a little odd.

    Not a problem, I blame you as well, for your continued apologies for something that is now clearly obsolete, idiotic and quite honestly, insane.

    Thanks again for your input.

  • Coastal Ron

    Left Field wrote @ February 27th, 2012 at 5:10 pm

    Not a problem, I blame you as well, for your continued apologies for something that is now clearly obsolete, idiotic and quite honestly, insane.

    Blame? Apologies? I don’t build or buy rockets – I’m just pointing out public facts. If you have a hard time with facts, I can’t help that.

    Regarding reusability, predicating your design on a rocket that you agree will never make it to orbit seems to me to better qualify as “clearly obsolete, idiotic and quite honestly, insane.” Why not focus on real rockets like Ariane V or Delta IV Heavy?

  • Doug Lassiter

    Robert G. Oler wrote @ February 27th, 2012 at 3:34 pm
    “What impresses me is that people like Spudis et al think we can go from simple rover type machines that work for just a bit…to well mining equipment that makes money all in one rush…”

    Not to defend Paul Spudis too broadly, but “going from rover type machines” to mining equipment is actually very straightforward on the Earth. Telerobotic terrestrial mining is a BIG BUSINESS in Canada and Australia. People drive bulldozers and run drills in mines from thousands of miles away. This isn’t done for show. It’s done because mining is cheaper that way.

    And you know what? Those machines don’t break down all that much. If you design them right, they are quite robust. Not at all clear that civil construction provides good lessons here.

    Now, certainly putting large scale mining equipment on the Moon is not easy to do, and I suspect it won’t happen for a long time. But that’s not because lunar telerobotic mining equipment can’t be designed.

    That’s not to say that you wouldn’t like to have people around, but when a bulldozer jams on a large boulder, an astronaut in a space suit is going to be next to worthless.

  • JohnHunt

    Googaw & DCSCA, when it comes to space, I am not a commercial-only guy.  I am a public-private guy.  I believe that public-private partnerships can lead to commercial services which can stand on their own two feet.  I believe that COTS/CRS is demonstrating this.  We may have to agree to disagree on this. 

    Left Field, we agree on sunlight electrocatalyzed water.  But we probably disagree on the most cost-effective way to get there (SLS vs Lunar COTS).  Although I remain open to your ideas, I suspect that you’re going to find that the SLS does not become a reality.

     Dark Blue Nine, we may not be as far apart as you might think.  Small prizes vs payments after milestones achieved may not be that different.  What I’m proposing is not $40 billion for a vaguely lunar base but $11.2 billion for a cis-lunar infrastructure and lunar base of specific components.  Also, I completely agree with telerobotics.  If surgeons can do teleoperations I suspect that teleoperated replacement of worn parts with spares should be doable even with a three-second time delay.  But supposedly humans are needed for fine repairs.  But for me, the humans a needed if for no other reason than to establish permanent human settlement which I believe is a valuable goal in and of itself. 

    DCSCA, it is precisely because we cannot afford an architecture requiring a monster rocket that I suggest a plan to try and get something of value (a lunar base producing propellant) in the most cost-effective, yet likely way that I know (i.e. “Lunar COTS”). When the SLS is recognized as unsustainable, I would like to see a bold, affordable, and worthwhile alternative ready to step in.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Doug Lassiter wrote @ February 27th, 2012 at 6:27 pm

    Not to defend Paul Spudis too broadly, but “going from rover type machines” to mining equipment is actually very straightforward on the Earth. >>

    but not on the Moon RGO

  • JohnHunt

    Dan, your question of the death of an astronaut is entirely fair.  However, arguably, the first astronauts would be safer than the first astronauts of the Apollo program.  In a program with a common automated lunar lander, there would be about six successful landings before humans would be risked.  It might even be possible to land the humans on a comman lander which had successfully landed before. 

    Also, to keep NASA’s regulations within reason and to not risk an employee for which the government is responsible, I would prefer the astronauts be private.  Using pre-developed hardware, the first manned landing would cost something like $500 million.  This amount could be afforded by private sources.  Since those astronauts could repair and expand the telerobotic workforce, they could increase the production of ice-derived propellant while preventing the need for deliveries from Earth.  By so doing, they could repay their investment thereby returning value to the private investors.

    In using a public-private approach, I am not assuming that the venture will be commercially viable from start to finish. Rather I presume that NASA will have to put something like 70% of the initial money in, guarantee purchases of services and product and continue that until the market is making the operations self-sustaining. But likely NASA will continue to be a major purchaser of propellant.

  • JohnHunt

    Martin & Ron, I am sticking with the Falcon Heavy sizing for now unless convinced otherwise. I am working back from what I know. Apollo’s Eagle lander needed a Saturn B rocket which could place 117k in LEO. Two Falcon Heavies could put 106k in LEO – close enough. The Eagle could land two astronauts on the Moon which seems right to me. Can EELVs and two people on the Moon. I think they are too small. So why build a small cargo lander and then a larger manned lander which hasn’t been proven. Besides, the Falcon Heavy will probably exist before the time we’re ready and will be lower cost and fewer launches for the whole architecture.

  • JohnHunt

    In an attempt to reduce the need for repairs of mining equipment, I would suggest a “steamer” such as this image illustrates:

    http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_YoCIFkM3GQ8/SsP3NXQImkI/AAAAAAAAFAo/yYaEngwqCpw/s400/Ice-miner.jpg

  • Left Field

    I’m just pointing out public facts. If you have a hard time with facts, I can’t help that.

    I don’t have a hard time with fact, the facts being that disposable rockets and satellites are the biggest barrier to space exploration, colonization and development and the biggest contributor to orbital debris, and there are several, probably at least a half a dozen technically credible methods on the table right now which are capable of solving those specific problems.

    It’s not my problem you continue to advocate for the buggy whip industry. I’m just pointing out that is what you are doing, all the while lamenting about the crap filling up our roads and the inefficiency of horse carriages.

  • Left Field

    Why not focus on real rockets like Ariane V or Delta IV Heavy?

    Because they currently exist in configurations that are physically and technically unsuitable for the task at hand. The RS-68 has a grossly overweight and inefficient hydrogen engine with an ablative nozzle and is intrinsically a single fuel vehicle unable to achieve core stage to orbit, and the Ariane V, while technically capable of core stage to orbit capabilities, is grossly underpowered with respect to booster to core stage thrust ratio. On the other hand, it has great promise should they decide to pursue these kinds of reusable operations. They also aren’t throwing three billion dollars away like the US has for the last seven years, while not making any progress whatsoever towards ill posed space exploration goals.

    Are you not watching what SpaceX is doing? Please try to pay attention.

    Thanks again for your input.

  • Coastal Ron

    Doug Lassiter wrote @ February 27th, 2012 at 6:27 pm

    And you know what? Those machines don’t break down all that much. If you design them right, they are quite robust. Not at all clear that civil construction provides good lessons here.

    Of course today’s terrestrial mining equipment is the result of 100 years of machinery evolution. Some of that experience may apply to machinery we send to the Moon, but invariably quite a bit won’t.

    But the only way to start working out the bugs is to get machinery there and start iterating our designs, and that won’t happen until somebody coughs up enough money to get things going. I don’t see that happening for at least a decade, maybe more. There’s just nothing on the Moon that merits investing $Billions into a project like that.

    That’s not to say that you wouldn’t like to have people around, but when a bulldozer jams on a large boulder, an astronaut in a space suit is going to be next to worthless.

    I think the majority of off-world mining we’ll end up doing will be tele-robotic, and humans will only visit. There is not much more a human can do in person than can’t be done tele-robotically, especially with the latest crop of sensors. And considering the costs of keeping a human alive off-world, it makes economic sense to focus on tele-robotics as soon as possible.

  • Egad


    Doug Lassiter wrote @ February 27th, 2012 at 6:27 pm

    Not to defend Paul Spudis too broadly, but “going from rover type machines” to mining equipment is actually very straightforward on the Earth. >>

    but not on the Moon RGO

    It is to agree. The moon is a different place and missions to conduct engineering studies to see if we know how to deal with the effects of moon dirt, vacuum, etc. on moving machinery over months and years are very much in order. Me, I think that some rover missions that would both demonstrate technical feasibility and, while doing so, map out resources would a good approach. Alas, nobody at NASA has asked me about this yet.

  • Doug Lassiter

    I certainly didn’t mean to imply that lunar telerobotic mining equipment would be easy. I’m just saying that we have a wealth of experience in doing that kind of mining on the Earth, and at least some of the telerobotics would apply very well to a lunar environment. The issue is not just the hardware, but also the conops. At least, with regard to lunar telerobotic mining, we have some idea how to carry it out.

    I agree completely that off-world mining will largely be done telerobotically, which will largely obviate the need for a dominant human presence. That’s the fallacy in pictures of astronaut-tended mining outposts. But the main difference in conops between terrestrial telerobotic mining and off-world telerobotic mining will be time-delay. To the extent that can be minimized, perhaps by sending people close by, say, in orbit above, the terrestrial lessons would be potent.

  • DCSCA

    JohnHunt wrote @ February 27th, 2012 at 6:28 pm

    All for commercial HSF but not at the expense of government funded space projects of scale. Point is, commercial has to muster the fiscal courage to put some skin in the game and start flying. Unfortunately, given the basic ‘close to the margin’ elements of most commercial business plans, it’s inevitable they’re going to lose hardware and crews pursuing developing a market that so far appears to offer a low ROI to investors.

  • DCSCA

    Left Field wrote @ February 27th, 2012 at 7:18 pm

    Are you not watching what SpaceX is doing?

    Of course- lots of press releases and gerandiose promises a la Newt Gingeich…. but so far, they’ve not launched, orbited or returned anybody. Project Goose Egg is going no place fast… but Master musk does plan to retire on Mars.

  • Egad

    I agree completely that off-world mining will largely be done telerobotically, which will largely obviate the need for a dominant human presence. That’s the fallacy in pictures of astronaut-tended mining outposts. But the main difference in conops between terrestrial telerobotic mining and off-world telerobotic mining will be time-delay. To the extent that can be minimized, perhaps by sending people close by, say, in orbit above, the terrestrial lessons would be potent.

    Yes indeed. The physical/environmental questions (moon dirt, vacuum, etc.) being left aside, it would be useful to explore the time-delay problem. Which, I’d think, could be done quite well here on earth. Engineering an earth-moon-earth time delay in a link between JPL and a rover in the Mojave Desert wouldn’t seem to be much of a challenge. Nor, when it comes to that, an earth-anywhere-earth time delay.

    At some point you probably transition from essentially direct human real-time control to humans giving instructions to the robots that are in direct control and make some decisions on their own. My guess is that the transition is in the several-seconds range, maybe 10-20 seconds. But that would have to be explored by doing the experiments from JPL to Mojave.

  • E.P. Grondine

    CR –

    Thanks for this link:

    “I also like to point to the 2009 study ULA did called “A Commercially Based Lunar Architecture“, where they show how they would set up and support a human occupied lunar outpost. All of their hardware, including lunar lander/taxis fit on existing launchers in the 10-25mt to LEO range.”

  • Coastal Ron

    JohnHunt wrote @ February 27th, 2012 at 6:50 pm

    Martin & Ron, I am sticking with the Falcon Heavy sizing for now unless convinced otherwise. I am working back from what I know.

    Your plan, your choices. Just curious why you wouldn’t want to go with something like ULA’s ACES architecture? They fit on 25mt launchers, are reusable, and you can make landers and depots out of them.

  • Explorer08

    I recently had my prostate removed via tele robotics so I’m kind of thinking that lunar mining might work, too, with such technology. Granted, the surgeon was in another room close by but he could’ve been miles away.

  • Coastal Ron

    Left Field wrote @ February 27th, 2012 at 7:18 pm

    Are you not watching what SpaceX is doing?

    You’re obviously new around here, otherwise you’d know the answer to that question.

    Have fun on your project. It’s sounds like it’ll be as fruitful as the SLS itself… ;-)

  • Googaw

    RGO multiplies JohnHunt’s fantastic cost estimate by 2. I’d multiply it by at least 100. If, as the above studies indicate, a useless lunar hobbit-hole would cost at least $140 billion (and probably over $270 billion), something as ambitious as astronaut-tended mining scaled to earth mines would cost at least five times that much, and probably much more besides.

    Unless there is radical surgery: scale the machines down by two orders of magnitude, lose the astronauts, and try again. That, long ago, was the same strategy that took us from economic fantasy of the Clarke orbit space station to the economic reality of the communications satellite.

  • Dark Blue Nine

    “Dark Blue Nine, we may not be as far apart as you might think. Small prizes vs payments after milestones achieved may not be that different. What I’m proposing is not $40 billion for a vaguely lunar base but $11.2 billion for a cis-lunar infrastructure and lunar base of specific components.”

    I have no beef with your proposal. Even if your proposal doubled in cost as Robert suggests, $20 billion is only 25% of the NASA human space flight budget for a decade. It’s a little high, but that seems like an amount of funding that is in the realm of political possibilities to carve out of NASA’s existing human space flight budget for such an effort (versus 50-100+% of the human space flight budget in the other proposals).

    If you’re not aware of them, you might be interested in the 1996 Human Lunar Return (HLR) studies. They were commissioned by then NASA Administrator Dan Goldin and had an estimated budget of over $4 billion through 2005 to get astronauts back on the Moon (and suppossedly stoke the fire for commercial lunar operations). They relied heavily on a handful of Skunk Works-type x-projects, each of which is interesting in and of themselves, to get key capabilities developed quickly for small bucks. Here’s one link. There are probably better details with more digging.

    http://www.nss.org/settlement/moon/HLR.html

    “Also, I completely agree with telerobotics. If surgeons can do teleoperations I suspect that teleoperated replacement of worn parts with spares should be doable even with a three-second time delay. But supposedly humans are needed for fine repairs. But for me, the humans a needed if for no other reason than to establish permanent human settlement which I believe is a valuable goal in and of itself.”

    I doubt that a human presence will be cost effective for repairs for many decades to come. The huge infrastructure required just to establish and keep a couple astronauts alive somewhere in space, even temporarily, is almost always going to cost more than just junking the broken piece of telerobotic equipment and sending a spare. Even the Hubble repairs were at best a wash versus just building and launching duplicate Hubbles.

    There may be other reasons to send humans, which is a different discussion. But repairing mining equipment probably won’t make economic sense until a local human presence is established for those other reasons.

    Keep up the good work.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Doug Lassiter wrote @ February 27th, 2012 at 7:42 pm

    My point, and I dont think we are disagreeing is that there is going to have to be a LOT of evolution in terms of lunar machinery to come up with something that can mine anything at a cost that is affordable. Evolution is a good thing RGO

  • Left Field

    You’re obviously new around here, otherwise you’d know the answer to that question.

    I guess that’s why you still apologize for and advocate human space exploration using expendable launch vehicles, because it’s just SOP.

    Costs? Who cares right? Technical feasibility? Whatever.

  • Dark Blue Nine

    “I recently had my prostate removed via tele robotics so I’m kind of thinking that lunar mining might work, too, with such technology. Granted, the surgeon was in another room close by but he could’ve been miles away.”

    Some university researchers are already testing the Da Vinci robot that did your surgery in remote space applications:

    http://www.popsci.com/technology/article/2011-12/da-vinci-surgery-bot-could-be-dispatched-fix-ailing-satellites

  • Doug Lassiter

    Let’s be careful about humans being needed for “fine repairs” of telerobots. Humans in situ won’t be. A space suited human, with thick gloves, and peering through a helmet wouldn’t be able to do squat in the way of fine repairs. Be glad that prostate surgery isn’t being done by doctors in space suits!

    Now, if the telerobot happens to be close to the hab, sure, drag it into the garage and diddle with it, but I suspect that servicing model won’t work for much of the lunar work that is needed. On the other hand, if one has telerobots that are capable enough (think telerobotic surgery, again), and robots that are built for straightforward servicing, the future is in telerobots being fixed telerobotically using other telerobots. Again, the humans are firmly in the loop, but just not on site. I suspect those humans won’t be on Earth so they can minimize time delays, but they needn’t be down in the dust, shadows, and gravity.

    This is a modern picture of the future of exploration, rather than a picture of exploration for which the technological basis is historical.

  • A M Swallow

    How good is Robonaut at replacing the drill bit on a lunar mining machine?
    Or until such a machine exists, on an ordinary drill?

  • Coastal Ron

    Left Field wrote @ February 28th, 2012 at 8:08 am

    I guess that’s why you still apologize for and advocate human space exploration using expendable launch vehicles, because it’s just SOP.

    You are just SO CUTE! Truly like a new born foal jumping around and ready to take on the world.

    While we were waiting for you to start posting on this blog (yes I’m being facetious), many of us have (for years) been advocating for technologies and techniques that will lower the cost to access space, as we see that as one of the major stumbling blocks to expanding our presence into space.

    SpaceX has been one of the examples that we point to of doing just that, both for decreasing costs on single-use rockets, and taking a risk on perfecting true reusable rockets. So in regards to that subject on this blog, you’re a little late to the game.

    However you seem to have the same general goal of lowering the cost to access space, but focusing on redesigning a wasteful TSTO rocket into a wasteful SSTO rocket is not my idea of doing that. But hey, it’s your spare time, so go for it.

    See ya around.

  • Martijn Meijering

    Apollo’s Eagle lander needed a Saturn B rocket which could place 117k in LEO.

    Only because that included the lander, the capsule, the EDS and propellant for all three.

    Can EELVs and two people on the Moon. I think they are too small.

    An eight person lander could easily fit on an EELV heavy if you offload its propellant. There is absolutely no need for anything larger than or even as large as an EELV Heavy.

  • Left Field

    you seem to have the same general goal of lowering the cost to access space, but focusing on redesigning a wasteful TSTO rocket into a wasteful SSTO rocket is not my idea of doing that.

    Is my unfunded work more wasteful or less wasteful than embarking on multi-billion dollar space programs and projects and then cancelling them after many billions and tens of billions of dollars have already been spent (I mean wasted), turning space exploration into a jobs program?

    My general idea is to cancel costly and wasteful programs and ideas before they get a chance to cost and waste further tens of billions of dollars. Unfortunately that didn’t work for Constellation, and thus far it hasn’t worked for SLS and MPCV, but I can at least feel good about myself because I tried, and I’m still trying. That involves making them look costly and wasteful by proposing better solutions. Your mileage may vary.

    Your SOP of using conventional launch vehicles to build conventional lunar bases using non-existent fuel depots and landers can easily be made to look extremely costly and wasteful. That was Newt Gingrich’s challenge, so one must rise up to it in order to develop credible theories on how space development may actually proceed, without the burden of costly and wasteful preconceived ideas. If you’ve got any better ideas and/or solutions, I would love to entertain them, and be entertained by them.

    That, I believe, is the topic of this thread.

  • Martijn Meijering

    EELV = ~25 tonne at LEO
    Two FH = 2 * 53 = 106 tonne at LEO.

    But dry mass is the constraining factor if you use propellant transfer as you should. IIRC even the four man Altair would have been only ~13mT dry.

  • Vladislaw

    “Hmm. Interesting question. What process would concentrate the ore? How would the ore even form? We don’t have hydrothermal activity, that we know of, to create metal ore, or a hydrologic cycle to concentrate it.”

    Luna had volcanic activity in the past and the cooling period lasted a while also. Lava tubes are natural gemstone vaults and are actively mined all over our planet..

    Are you saying the physics is different on luna? Pressure and heat were available on luna. Have you ever looked at what some of the luna rocks that were returned were made up of?

    A gemstone’s value is based on how rare it is. Any sparkly gemstone that comes back from Luna, by definition, will be rare in the beginning.

  • Vladislaw

    “And you know what? Those machines don’t break down all that much. If you design them right, they are quite robust. Not at all clear that civil construction provides good lessons here.”

    They are quite robust because all the zirts get a shot of grease, all the hydrolics fluids are checked and topped off, hoses get a hose clamp or replaced, etc etc etc.

    They are designed to be easily maintained and kept in a operational state. They are not driven into a mine and then run for years and years with no hands on daily, weekly, monthly maintence cycles.

    You do not spend 1/2 mil to a few million on a piece of mining equipment and then not maintain it and expect it to keep running. In the case of the moon, with the dust, radiation, vacuum etc I would not bet on running those machines for years with no maintence cycles. You will not get this kind of reliablity for free.

  • Martijn Meijering

    Your SOP of using conventional launch vehicles to build conventional lunar bases using non-existent fuel depots and landers can easily be made to look extremely costly and wasteful.

    We can build a moon base without depots, so the fact they don’t exist yet is not an obstacle. If building a moon base with depots is cheaper than without it, in other words if the required traffic is large enough to amortise the development costs over, then the market will figure that out. If it were known that you couldn’t build a moon base without depots and unknown if we could build depots, then you couldn’t afford to take such a hands-off approach. But that’s not the world we live in.

    We cannot build a moon base without landers however. Fortunately they are known to be possible, since they were first developed over forty years ago.

    We also cannot build a moon base without enough funding, and that is problematic. Not because the absolute amounts available to NASA are insufficient, but because of the political strings that are attached. Nevertheless, we could make meaningful progress towards cheap lift even with only an unmanned program, provided we used it to create a large and fiercely competitive propellant launch market. That would require a far smaller amount of money than NASA has been spending for the past thirty years.

  • Left Field

    We also cannot build a moon base without enough funding, and that is problematic.

    You cannot build a moon base because nobody in their right mind is going to fund a human occupied lunar base – because there is simply no reason to. Humans and a lunar base are simply not necessary to develop space.

    It’s laughable. You need to completely rethink what you think you are doing. If you haven’t learned that from the ISS and space shuttle yet, those space development and exploration experiments will have been wasted as well.

    Nevertheless, we could make meaningful progress towards cheap lift even with only an unmanned program, provided we used it to create a large and fiercely competitive propellant launch market.

    And while you keep developing that meme, somebody will come along with an idea that will make earth propellant launch completely obsolete. And furthermore, propellant is useless unless you have a place to store it, engines to burn it and things for it to move. But wait, those same things are required to get the propellant to the places you need it. So, are you proposing to toss the very things that you need in space into the ocean of space unused, after burning all of that propellant just to get it out there?

    Gosh, that sounds just like the SLS! Catch … 22. Hence, my proposal.

  • Coastal Ron

    Left Field wrote @ February 28th, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    My general idea is to cancel costly and wasteful programs and ideas before they get a chance to cost and waste further tens of billions of dollars.

    Great, join the club. There are quite a few of us that post regularly on this blog that have been advocating the same for quite a few years. I’m one of the newer posters, having only been here since around 2010.

    Unfortunately that didn’t work for Constellation, and thus far it hasn’t worked for SLS and MPCV, but I can at least feel good about myself because I tried, and I’m still trying.

    Glad to have someone else around to “share the load” of debunking the SLS advocates around here – you’ll get to know who they are over time.

    Your SOP of using conventional launch vehicles to build conventional lunar bases using non-existent fuel depots and landers can easily be made to look extremely costly and wasteful.

    You haven’t been around here long enough to know what my SOP is – I advocate for those things that lower the cost to access space. I don’t have a preferred destination, and I don’t have a preferred company or technology. I praise the efforts of SpaceX a lot, but I’d be glad to praise someone else that can do more to lower the cost to access space.

    My background is manufacturing, and I tend to look at the issues at hand from a cost standpoint. That’s an area I think I have added value, especially in the various discussions about the SLS.

    If you’ve got any better ideas and/or solutions, I would love to entertain them, and be entertained by them.

    I come to this blog to discuss, debate and learn, and over time I have learned a lot from many people on this blog. I came here originally as a DIRECT supporter, but found out rather quickly about the cost inefficiencies of the SDLV architecture. Now I feel I have a clear grasp of the various issues at hand, and a good idea what the pros and cons are for the different paths forward.

    As far as “entertaining” my ideas, I could care less. You’ll know if you are providing value when people start responding to what you say in a positive fashion. So far I’ve been trying to find out if you’re just another “drive-by” poster, or if you’re someone that will provide valuable perspective over time. Time will tell. Welcome to the neighborhood.

  • Doug Lassiter

    A M Swallow wrote @ February 28th, 2012 at 11:21 am
    “How good is Robonaut at replacing the drill bit on a lunar mining machine? Or until such a machine exists, on an ordinary drill?”

    What does Robonaut have to do with it?

    Actually, using the dexterity provided by off-the-shelf surgical telerobotics (cutting, stitching, etc.), replacing a drill bit ought to be really easy to arrange. Telerobotic surgical tasks are FAR more complicated than replacing drill bits. So the technology is available, if not the actual lunar hardware. Actually, I’m sure undersea cable and oil/gas telerobots would have no trouble with drill bits either. Replacing drill bits? Heh. Let’s be thinking of tasks more challenging than that!

    I’m not talking about telerobots that exist now. By the time these telerobots are actually replacing drill bits on the Moon, Robonaut itself will be on the scrap heap, or maybe in a museum. Even the builders of Robonaut are not daft enough to presume that it would be servicing mining equipment.

  • Doug Lassiter

    Vladislaw wrote @ February 28th, 2012 at 1:20 pm
    “You do not spend 1/2 mil to a few million on a piece of mining equipment and then not maintain it and expect it to keep running. In the case of the moon, with the dust, radiation, vacuum etc I would not bet on running those machines for years with no maintence cycles. You will not get this kind of reliablity for free.”

    Ah, so let’s put humans down there for years and years to keep that mining equipment running. With all the dust, radiation, vacuum, etc., those humans will make telerobotic operation much less expensive! Hey, and I’ll bet I can even design a telerobot that can give all the zirts on the other telerobots a shot of grease.

    But seriously, no one is talking about putting terrestrial mining equipment on the Moon. I’m guessing that developing mining hardware that can endure lunar conditions for extended periods of time is not going to be a challenge to technologists who want to put humans there. Let us all admit that these things will cost more than a few million dollars. I would note that there is no one up there greasing the wheels on the MERs, and they’ve done quite well for many years.

  • Coastal Ron

    Doug Lassiter wrote @ February 28th, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    Actually, using the dexterity provided by off-the-shelf surgical telerobotics (cutting, stitching, etc.), replacing a drill bit ought to be really easy to arrange.

    The machine tool industry already has modular tooling that is changed robotically, and that should translate well to an airless environment. The tougher challenge is to replace systems that have electrical or hydraulic connections.

    I see modular robotic systems as very likely to provide the solution to breakdowns. For instance, if a wheel motor fails, the whole wheel assembly is replaced using simple tools (i.e. bolt on, bolt off) and performed by other robots. The failed unit can either be stored, or because it is much smaller than the whole mining vehicle, maybe shipped off to a depot for repair.

    With electric lunar launch systems, the depot could be in orbit around the Moon (or L1/L2). Heck, with aerobraking, you could return a failed unit to Earth LEO for repair, and then send it back to the depot in lunar orbit on a slow SEP tug. A lot of things become possible when you lower the cost of transportation.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Martijn Meijering wrote @ February 28th, 2012 at 1:21 pm

    We can build a moon base without depots, …

    We cannot build a moon base without a reason for doing so…

    if one figures out what the real story behind the coverage of Newt and his lunar base is…is that the notion of space projects just to do them is over…we built ISS and the folks who are running it have no idea what to do with it.

    They really dont. They have a 3 billion a year facility up there (or at least one that is costing them that…) and they have no idea how to use the facility to accomplish any statement of work commensurate with that cost.

    Now what people who advocate a Moon base are saying is “lets go do that on the Moon”…no RGO

  • Martijn Meijering

    Humans and a lunar base are simply not necessary to develop space.

    I’m not saying they are. But if a government is going to fund it, then it would be an excellent opportunity to develop cheap lift as a side effect. And that would be a revolutionary step. I think a moon base is much more than is necessary to develop cheap lift however. And the nice thing is, once we have cheap lift you can be sure that a moon base will follow.

    And while you keep developing that meme, somebody will come along with an idea that will make earth propellant launch completely obsolete.

    Fine, if you base the program around buying transportation services from L1/L2 onwards rather than propellant at L1/L2, then that could happen automatically. I don’t see that happening until after we have cheap lift though. And the reason I want cheap lift is not because it would allow you to launch vast quantities of propellant cheaply (although that would certainly be nice), but because it would dramatically reduce the cost of launching people into space. That in turn would make large scale commercial manned spaceflight a reality, which is what I’m after.

    And furthermore, propellant is useless unless you have a place to store it, engines to burn it and things for it to move.

    A reusable, refuelable spacecraft would be a perfect example, which is why that is what I’m suggesting.

    But wait, those same things are required to get the propellant to the places you need it. So, are you proposing to toss the very things that you need in space into the ocean of space unused, after burning all of that propellant just to get it out there?

    No, I’m not proposing anything of the kind. I don’t care where the propellant comes from or how it gets there as long as ultimately it leads to cheap lift, most likely in the form of RLVs. It would likely lead to other things too (ISRU, high Isp in-space propulsion, aerobraking, NEP, NTR etc), if for no other reason than that cheap lift will make commercial manned spaceflight profitable, so that all these things could in time become profitable too.

  • Left Field

    But if a government is going to fund it, then it would be an excellent opportunity to develop cheap lift as a side effect.

    But no government is going to fund it, especially MY government. One the other hand, my government has authorized and funded a heavy lift launch vehicle. You seem to be missing that fundamental point.

    A reusable, refuelable spacecraft would be a perfect example, which is why that is what I’m suggesting.

    That is precisely what I am suggesting too. However MY government can’t afford one, let alone two, so I’m just proposing to use the one we have already authorized and funded, which is – the Space Launch System. The only thing that will prevent that core stage from reaching orbit is a few lines of software, and by definition, the SLS is reusable and refuelable, since it possesses hydrogen engines and has all the necessary valves. Zombie satellites drifting around in GEO are refuelable and reusable too. Now get this, upper stages are what you need to get to GEO and reuse all of that hardware. Doesn’t it make sense to use what you have up there?

    I guess that just doesn’t make sense to hard core space advocates.

    Hence … the problems.

    I don’t care where the propellant comes from or how it gets there as long as ultimately it leads to cheap lift, most likely in the form of RLVs.

    Even $1000 per pound is not ‘cheap lift’ when your goal is to develop low Earth orbit and deep space. You’ll just have to learn that the hard way.

  • JohnHunt

    A M Swallow > How good is Robonaut at replacing the drill bit on a lunar mining machine?

    How good is a teleporting surgeon in replacing a needle into a needle driver forceps? It’s no problem. Check out Justin, the teleoperated robot and see it carefully connect two cables. These things can be done.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=89KSivOG5Y4

    Doug, yes, I am imagining one teleoperated rover lugging in a disabled partner into an air lock and then the astronaut doing the repair work in a short-sleeve environment.

    Also, it should be possible to create an environment on Earth with terribly cold temperatures, a vacuum, and abrasive regolith simulant. 1/6th gravity is harder but Zero Gee flights could provide brief 1/6th experiments.

    DB9 – For a lunar base, 10 years is not a long time. So spreading the costs over 15 years would make it yet less expensive per year. And if the SLS were to be cut, this plan could have access to much more than 25% of the HSF budget.

    DB9 > There may be other reasons to send humans, which is a different discussion

    Agreed. But I think that those other reasons are important enough in their own right. So, if you do have a growing human crew (because less radiation exposure means they stay longer) then what are they to do they’re? Just research? Might as well have them do repairs that cannot be done telerobotically and also producing bulky parts so they don’t have to be shipped. IMO.

    Thanks DB9 and Grondine for those suggestions. I’ll check them out. Ron, I presume ULA’s architecture uses a more expensive kg/LEO launcher than FH. And can existing EELVs send people to the Moon? Saturn V was huge and could only land two on the Moon.

  • Coastal Ron

    Left Field wrote @ February 28th, 2012 at 4:59 pm

    The only thing that will prevent that core stage from reaching orbit is a few lines of software…

    Wow, and all these years people have figured it was mass fraction issue. I knew those software guys were not to be trusted.

    …and by definition, the SLS is reusable and refuelable, since it possesses hydrogen engines and has all the necessary valves.

    Another revelation! Only hydrogen engines can be reusable, and only the SLS has “all the necessary valves” for reusability.

    Of course Congress isn’t funding a reusable version of the SLS, or really ANY use for the SLS for that matter. However Marcel (one of our SLS supporters here) thinks that Congress will fund the development of a single-core version of the SLS – you two should get together and talk.

  • Martijn Meijering

    You seem to be missing that fundamental point.

    No, I’m not missing that point. Unfortunately SLS will do nothing for the goal I’m after, and there doesn’t seem to be anything of value that can be salvaged from it – unlike Orion.

    However MY government can’t afford one, let alone two, so I’m just proposing to use the one we have already authorized and funded, which is – the Space Launch System.

    And the fact that you’re personally involved with it has nothing to do with it? Riiiiiight. And actually, a spacecraft has in fact been authorised and funded too: Orion.

    the SLS is reusable and refuelable, since it possesses hydrogen engines and has all the necessary valves.

    But not the ability to transfer or store cryogenic propellant, no long term power etc etc. To suggest it is reusable and refuelable is laughable.

    I guess that just doesn’t make sense to hard core space advocates.

    SLS doesn’t make sense to anyone with half a brain who doesn’t stand to gain from it personally.

  • JohnHunt

    Martijn > An eight person lander could easily fit on an EELV heavy if you offload its propellant. There is absolutely no need for anything larger than or even as large as an EELV Heavy.

    OK, but how many EELVs would you then need for the EDS propellant? To keep things simple, I am imaging just two Falcon Heavy launches (mated in LEO). Even if a fuel depot was not yet in place, one FH could transfer propellant to the other (top off) to keep the structural weight down.

    Now, if we already had a depot at L1 fueled with lunar ice-derived propellant and a lunar lander already at that depot, then could we use just one Falcon Heavy thrown to TLI even without having to be topped off?

    I know that we already have EELVs. But in 3 years, SpaceX may have a larger, more cost-effective launcher. I’d like to keep that option on the table.

  • Martijn Meijering

    Even $1000 per pound is not ‘cheap lift’ when your goal is to develop low Earth orbit and deep space. You’ll just have to learn that the hard way.

    So $5,000/kg (SLS, with unrealistic flight rates and phony accounting) is a better idea???

  • Doug Lassiter

    Coastal Ron wrote @ February 28th,
    “I see modular robotic systems as very likely to provide the solution to breakdowns. For instance, if a wheel motor fails, the whole wheel assembly is replaced using simple tools (i.e. bolt on, bolt off) and performed by other robots. The failed unit can either be stored, or because it is much smaller than the whole mining vehicle, maybe shipped off to a depot for repair.”

    That’s a reasonable strategy, and it obviates the need for very detailed operations (which suited humans won’t be able to do anyway).

    JohnHunt wrote @ February 28th, 2012 at 5:20 pm
    “Doug, yes, I am imagining one teleoperated rover lugging in a disabled partner into an air lock and then the astronaut doing the repair work in a short-sleeve environment.”

    Fair enough, but if the disabled unit is going to be hauled back a long distance, it may make more sense to just launch it to a depot/service station in LLO or perhaps at EM L1/2 where it could be thoroughly reconditioned. In either case, the airlock needed might have to be quite large, and it really isn’t obvious that wholesale replacement of the unit isn’t a smarter option. The advantage of an on-orbit depot/service station, as opposed to a garage on the ground, is that it would be accessible from sites all over the Moon. That garage on the ground might seem handy, except one has to land and store there all manner of replacement subsystems. As above, “repair” is probably going to mean just removing a subsystem, and replacing it.

    The word “robot” is a dangerous one, because it carries with it the implication of intelligence and autonomy (and more of a travesty, the implication that it need be anthropomorphic). A simple telerobot doesn’t have to have those. It’s just a “tool” that serves to extend our dexterity, power, and reach. An automobile is a common telerobot. You sit inside and control its motion with pedals and a steering wheel. There doesn’t have to be any intelligence in that automobile. For a lunar excavator, you could sit somewhere else, and press the pedals and turn the steering wheel, looking out the front window with a display screen. Our ability to command such tools at a distance is the truly breathtaking technological achievement that we’ve made in the last few decades that ought to redefine the concept of exploration.

  • Left Field

    So $5,000/kg (SLS, with unrealistic flight rates and phony accounting) is a better idea???

    No, but I’m only proposing this because the system is mandated and funded and the money is going to be flushed down a black hole anyways. I’d prefer new engines and tanks and a much smaller launch vehicle, but when you include the amount of infrastructure development included into the total costs, and are reminded that expensive payloads for almost all the rockets we have and are expected to have are unfunded and don’t exist, then the total costs of the development of space for colonization becomes reasonable. Looking at the big picture there is no other way to do this, in my opinion. And I’ve been looking at this for a very long time.

    Thanks for your input, it has be valuable and enlightening.

  • Left Field

    there doesn’t seem to be anything of value that can be salvaged from it – unlike Orion.

    A five to ten billion dollar expendable capsule is salvageable? I get to differ.

    Thanks again for your thoughts.

  • Coastal Ron

    JohnHunt wrote @ February 28th, 2012 at 5:20 pm

    Ron, I presume ULA’s architecture uses a more expensive kg/LEO launcher than FH.

    The ULA plan I referenced could use any EELV class of vehicle. The ACES vehicle architecture was based on their experience with their Centaur upper stage, but that too could be lifted by any EELV class lifter.

    Both Falcon and Falcon Heavy could implement the ULA plan, probably on their own, but for redundancy & competitive reasons I don’t assume any one company has a monopoly on launch services. Though it’s not the lowest possible cost way, I prefer to spread the risk as well as the rewards so the industry as a whole grows, not just one company.

    And can existing EELVs send people to the Moon?

    Yes, if you mate the mission elements up in LEO and at the Moon. Remember Constellation was going to use a LEO rendezvous to mate the Orion up with an EDS lifted by the Ares V, so NASA is OK with this type of requirement. In fact, if we don’t learn how to assemble mission components in orbit, we’ll never go very far.

    Saturn V was huge and could only land two on the Moon.

    That was because of design decisions, not because it wasn’t possible to use smaller rockets. And let’s remember we have 40+ years of experience and ability to help us the next time we go.

    I’m not sure what the goals of your project are, but if you were to design the lowest cost method for supporting continuous operations at or near the Moon, you would probably end up with something like the ULA plan. If you want the fewest launches, then Falcon Heavy might be the choice, but I don’t see the advantage of this approach.

    Were you going to post this project somewhere public when you get done?

  • A M Swallow

    Doug Lassiter,
    I chose drill heads because they, and similar items, need replacing regularly on mining equipment. Sending the machines to a EML-1/2 space station for repair would cost a fortune and require more fuel than the machine makes.

    A Robonaut (or DEXTRE) could be sent to the Moon in the next 4 or 5 years. The design of a rival machine that is space rated is unlikely to have started.

    A film of a Robonaut changing a drill bit or a wheel could be filmed to form part of a sales pitch.

  • Coastal Ron

    Left Field wrote @ February 28th, 2012 at 8:08 pm

    A five to ten billion dollar expendable capsule is salvageable? I get to differ.

    It’s likely it will cost far less to make the MPCV reusable than to make the SLS reusable, yet you are making plans for using the SLS. What Martijn stated has validity.

  • Left Field

    Wow, and all these years people have figured it was mass fraction issue.

    You have no idea what you are talking about. An SSME powered core stage ALONE is capable of reaching orbit. Now add a pair of five segment SRBs, or a couple of Falcon Heavy boosters. Or even four FH boosters.

    Only hydrogen engines can be reusable, and only the SLS has “all the necessary valves” for reusability.

    Reading comprehension : Hydrogen engines are reusable. Launch vehicles are refuelable.

    Of course Congress isn’t funding a reusable version of the SLS, or really ANY use for the SLS for that matter.

    Let’s try this again. Congress and the president have authorized funding for a Space Launch System for use in beyond earth orbit exploration. This Space Launch System, by way of its hydrogen engines and its ability to be tanked and detanked on the pad, and its ample booster power – easily enough to propel the core stage to 97% of orbital velocity with a 90 ton payload – is, by definition, an orbital capable reusable core stage.

    Your technical ignorance is showing.

  • Googaw

    Left Field:

    “It’s laughable. You need to completely rethink what you think you are doing.”

    Very well said.

  • Left Field

    It’s likely it will cost far less to make the MPCV reusable than to make the SLS reusable, yet you are making plans for using the SLS.

    Of course I am. The development of space does not require humans on site, and certainly does not require humans in deep space. What are you gonna do, deflect an asteroid with people? You guys need to get a grip on this.

  • Coastal Ron

    Left Field wrote @ February 28th, 2012 at 8:07 pm

    …then the total costs of the development of space for colonization becomes reasonable.

    Unlikely.

    Looking at the big picture there is no other way to do this, in my opinion. And I’ve been looking at this for a very long time.

    Funny thing is, lots of people have looked at this for a long time, and they have different ideas than you. Different than me too, so don’t take it personally. Point is, there are always options.

    With a significant lack of money though, the future can’t be planned out, since we’ll have to go in the direction the limited money allows, and that will be influenced by many groups and factors.

    Because of that, I think we can only depend on what has money, and though the SLS is funded for development, there is no money right now for anything beyond that, especially modifications that take away money from actually using the SLS.

  • DCSCA

    A M Swallow wrote @ February 27th, 2012 at 9:27 am

    False equivelency- commercial HSF has no basis for comparison to half a century of government funded/managed/operated HSF.

  • Doug Lassiter

    A M Swallow wrote @ February 28th, 2012 at 9:30 pm
    “A Robonaut (or DEXTRE) could be sent to the Moon in the next 4 or 5 years. The design of a rival machine that is space rated is unlikely to have started.”

    I had not realized that lunar mining, requiring changes of drill bits, had in fact started! In 4-5 years, we’ll be very lucky to have an ISRU test unit on the lunar surface, much less any kind of mining operation, and Robonaut sure won’t be needed for that test unit.

    Also, Robonaut is not, at this time, capable of working outside ISS. It itself is not “space rated”. But Robonaut is indeed quite capable of dexterous manipulation, and I’m guessing would offer more dexterity than a suited human, as well as a lot more EVA time-on-task. Yes, I suspect if the drill was properly designed, Robonaut would be able to work on it successfully.

    Film a “sales pitch”? Who would that sales pitch be aimed at? Who is selling what to whom? Such a film would be nice to assure the public that human miners on the lunar surface might not be necessary, I guess.

  • Coastal Ron

    Left Field wrote @ February 28th, 2012 at 10:02 pm

    This Space Launch System… is, by definition, an orbital capable reusable core stage.

    Your technical ignorance is showing.

    I never claimed to be a rocket scientist, though even a space fan like me knows that SSME’s are not restartable in space, and that you would need to add ullage settling motors to the 1st stage. That’s a lot of kludges for a rocket that likely will never launch anyways. All I see is a muddled business case for trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

    Left Field wrote @ February 28th, 2012 at 10:04 pm

    What are you gonna do, deflect an asteroid with people? You guys need to get a grip on this.

    Ah, now the other shoe drops. This whole effort to repurpose the SLS is to deflect asteroids.

  • Vladislaw

    Doug Lassiter wrote:

    “Ah, so let’s put humans down there for years and years to keep that mining equipment running. With all the dust, radiation, vacuum, etc., those humans will make telerobotic operation much less expensive!”

    I never wrote put humans on the moon. I have said pretty much the exact opposite for years. America needs the transportation systems first, worry about dropping into another gravity well later.

    The point I was making is that some people that think you can just drop abunch of automated robot mining bots on the moon and it will be super cheap and repairs will be a thing of the past.

    I just do not agree that, realistically, it will be cheap to build machines that have to work with absolutely no maintaine for the life of the machine. A long life satelite is one thing, digging in the dust is another.

  • Coastal Ron

    A M Swallow wrote @ February 28th, 2012 at 9:30 pm

    Sending the machines to a EML-1/2 space station for repair would cost a fortune and require more fuel than the machine makes.

    Agreed, which is why I envisioned only doing that is electric launch systems were available. Nevertheless, I would imagine that the company doing the servicing will figure out the right level of spare components and assemblies to keep local (i.e. on the Moon) and what to rotate for repair.

    Out of curiosity, does anyone know what the energy difference would be for getting a 100kg Field Replaceable Unit to lunar orbit from: A) Earth, and B) the lunar surface? Sometimes it’s cheaper to fix than to replace, but sometimes the opposite.

  • Left Field

    I never claimed to be a rocket scientist, though even a space fan like me knows that SSME’s are not restartable in space, and that you would need to add ullage settling motors to the 1st stage.

    Then you would understand if you read over the thread I wasn’t proposing to restart the SSMEs in space, to land on the moon, I’m only proposing to use them to boost continuously to high and deep space orbits to prevent them from ending up in the freakin OCEAN! And to make the hardware available for repurposing, for instance, lofting huge amounts of cargo and fuel off the moon using vastly overpowered SSMEs in one sixth gravity. If an clustered Falcon 9 core can be landed on a single engine on the Earth, then surely a clustered hydrogen core can be landed on the moon, even more so since the stack is much much lighter.

    Fact : if you don’t repurpose your deep space hardware, you are never going to explore, let alone develop, deep space. And if you insist on keep humans on the site, it’s game over. Yet you persist in your delusions.

    This thread has run its course. Thanks everybody for your input, especially Mr. Swallow. This will be finished by later today or tomorrow. What I’m basically trying to do here is embarrass the principles into cancelling the rocket. You seem to be missing that basic point.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Left Field wrote @ February 28th, 2012 at 10:02 pm

    . This Space Launch System, by way of its hydrogen engines and its ability to be tanked and detanked on the pad, and its ample booster power – easily enough to propel the core stage to 97% of orbital velocity with a 90 ton payload – is, by definition, an orbital capable reusable core stage.>>

    wow with that one statement you have shown yourself to be not very well informed. RGO

  • A M Swallow

    Doug Lassiter wrote @ February 29th, 2012 at 8:54 am

    Film a “sales pitch”? Who would that sales pitch be aimed at? Who is selling what to whom? Such a film would be nice to assure the public that human miners on the lunar surface might not be necessary, I guess.

    Robonaut is a joint effort between NASA and General Motors. Commercial companies normally like to sell lots of the products that they make. Mining companies and Congress are the obvious customers.

  • Martijn Meijering

    OK, but how many EELVs would you then need for the EDS propellant? To keep things simple, I am imaging just two Falcon Heavy launches (mated in LEO). Even if a fuel depot was not yet in place, one FH could transfer propellant to the other (top off) to keep the structural weight down.

    Depends on the size of the lander of course, but you’d need twice as many EELV Heavy flights as FH flights.

    I wouldn’t advocate refueling an EDS in LEO though, since an EDS is best done with LOX/LH2, so we would make ourselves dependent on cryogenic propellant transfer and storage. And given the properties of LOX/LH2 that probably means having dedicated depots, since in-flight refueling is an inefficient substitute for full depots if you use LOX/LH2, efficiency being the point of using LOX/LH2 in the first place.

    Instead, I would use modified Centaurs / DCSSs as small prefueled EDSs and only refuel at L1/L2. Once there you would only have to refuel the spacecraft, for which hypergolics are ideal. This would allow exclusive use of commercial launchers and would make half of the IMLEO available for propellant flights. Not quite as good as full depots, but it is close, and much easier and cheaper. The upgrade to full depots would be seamless and could be left to private investment.

    Now, if we already had a depot at L1 fueled with lunar ice-derived propellant and a lunar lander already at that depot, then could we use just one Falcon Heavy thrown to TLI even without having to be topped off?

    Easily. You don’t even need the depot with lunar-derived propellant, it could be a hypergolic lander with propellant launched from Earth. The advantage of a FH (or J-130 + DCSS as I was advocating a few years ago) would have the advantage of not needing EOR in LEO. But if you use a LEO station (ISS / Bigelow) as a staging point, you could easily use EOR too. Launch the crew first and your cryogenic EDS second. Because the crew can stay at the LEO station, there is no time pressure.

    I know that we already have EELVs. But in 3 years, SpaceX may have a larger, more cost-effective launcher. I’d like to keep that option on the table.

    Absolutely, but since FH could do anything an EELV could, making the program compatible with EELVs wouldn’t make them incompatible with FH. If you want to keep the single launch option open, you could stipulate that the fueled mass of a lander should fit on a FH, but then again there isn’t much of a need to launch the lander without EOR in LEO.

  • Martijn Meijering

    @Googaw:

    Very well said.

    Excuse me? I’m not the one advocating a lunar colony or base. I’m advocating unmanned exploration while seeking and encouraging, to the maximum extent possible, the fullest commercial use of space.

  • Martijn Meijering

    A five to ten billion dollar expendable capsule is salvageable?

    What could be salvaged from it is the SM and the avionics, which could serve as the basis for a universal SM and a reusable in-space transfer stage, a 21st century beyond-LEO Agena. Progressively larger versions could power first an ascent stage (as with Altair) and then a descent stage, or a Nautilus propulsion module etc.

  • Coastal Ron

    Left Field wrote @ February 29th, 2012 at 11:37 am

    What I’m basically trying to do here is embarrass the principles into cancelling the rocket [i.e. SLS]. You seem to be missing that basic point.

    We’re not missing your point – you haven’t made that point. You keep talking about new uses for the SLS, so how does that fit in with canceling it?

    And if you’re trying to embarrass Congress into canceling the SLS, then finding new uses for the SLS is the complete opposite of what you should be doing.

    In any case good luck, since I too want the SLS canceled, but don’t get too weepy if no one pays attention to what you’re proposing.

  • Doug Lassiter

    A M Swallow wrote @ February 29th, 2012 at 12:52 pm
    “Robonaut is a joint effort between NASA and General Motors. Commercial companies normally like to sell lots of the products that they make. Mining companies and Congress are the obvious customers.”

    GM isn’t helping to develop Robonaut in order to sell space robotics. They’re doing it to look cool, by partnering with NASA, and also, I guess, to develop their telerobotic engineering savvy. Robonaut is in no way shape or form part of GM’s sales plan.

    “For GM, this is about safer cars and safer plants,” said Alan Taub, GM’s vice president for global research and development.

    So GM is going to sell safe cars by showing people a movie of how Robonaut can change drill bits? No, I don’t think so.

  • Martijn Meijering

    This thread has run its course. Thanks everybody for your input, especially Mr. Swallow. This will be finished by later today or tomorrow.

    Just out of curiosity, who exactly do you think you are that you can declare this thread over? And how on earth is this going to be over “later today or tomorrow?” Are you on medication?

    What I’m basically trying to do here is embarrass the principles into cancelling the rocket. You seem to be missing that basic point.

    And did you forget to take your pills? Just asking.

  • Googaw

    “Excuse me? I’m not the one advocating a lunar colony or base. ”

    LF and I both thought that is what you were doing. If you go back up and read your own text I think that you will forgive us.

  • Googaw

    RGO: “I kind of look at the notion of drilling for oil and its evolution. It started relatively easy “on land”…then eventually moved into very shallow water (the first rigs in LA were drilled in 50 feet of water…and the learning curve was very very steep) now of course they drill in water five miles deep and go a lot deeper then that in the sea floor…”

    This is a very good example of how technology and industry successfully develop. Look at the history of almost any other technological field in detail and you’ll see the same pattern — very long sequences of gradual improvements. No grand central planning of futuristic infrastructures, except occasionally as vague inspiration: it’s the garage and laboratory desktop experiments, small field deployments, and practical near-term applications that get actually get funded, built, tested, and improved, not the grandiose visions that sometimes motivate a few of the inventors.

    Contrast to the profoundly unsuccessful sci-fi planning approach– the deluded economic fantasies, the grandiose power trips, the malignant low-balling, the pretense of prophecy — that gave us the Shuttle and ISS, and that still dominate space politics as illustrated by most of the discussion above. The contrast between the way it’s done in space politics and the way real technology becomes a success, and real industries are born and grow, couldn’t be sharper.

  • BeanCounterfromDownunder

    Doug Lassiter wrote @ February 27th, 2012 at 6:27 pm

    Robert G. Oler wrote @ February 27th, 2012 at 3:34 pm
    “Telerobotic terrestrial mining is a BIG BUSINESS in Canada and Australia. People drive bulldozers and run drills in mines from thousands of miles away.”

    Well I live and work in Western Australia which, along with Queensland are the biggest mining states in Australia with iron ore, coal predominately, nickle, gold, oil and lng offshore (some automation there granted) and I haven’t heard or seen anything like the above claim so I’d be grateful for a source. I know of studies and the odd trial but nothing like it in production. It’d be huge news here if it was. I can’t imagine this happening either in an open-cut environment or underground, both of which I worked in.
    Can’t speak for Canada.

  • Coastal Ron

    Googaw wrote @ February 29th, 2012 at 7:46 pm

    Look at the history of almost any other technological field in detail and you’ll see the same pattern — very long sequences of gradual improvements. No grand central planning of futuristic infrastructures, except occasionally as vague inspiration…

    I’ll agree with that. Space is not a “program”, and as long as those in charge treat it as such, we will not go far.

    If the goal of our space program is to pave the way for future expansion, then we need to be bringing together the space community and getting some consensus on who will be doing what, and why, in the future.

    For instance, the purpose of robotic exploration should be to help pave the way for future human visits, and I think they are doing a good job of that so far. For humans, certainly part of what someone should be doing (NASA would be my choice) is working out the framework for how we’re going to expand out into space.

    One example of this would be to work out an initial agreement for the transportation segments that should be put in place. That provides transportation providers with the an idea of what kind of vehicles they need to be designing. The transportation segment from Earth to LEO is a good example, and one that is already being worked on (i.e. Commercial Crew). Besides the ISS, Bigelow plans to build his own destinations, and other companies could design transport hubs for destinations beyond LEO.

    Next we need to define the next transportation destination (likely L1/L2), and that would allow companies to design reusable vehicles for that segment, as well as the next transportation hub. This type of expansion provides predictability for companies, and does not depend on 100% government funding. The involved governments don’t have to build everything, but they can act as the coordinator, and they can provide market incentives by buying services or building facilities near the transportation hubs.

    This is a vision that goes beyond the stereotypical “fund a mission to pick up rocks”. This is looking at what we need to do in order to establish a presence off planet Earth. Maybe that’s too big an effort for the current NASA charter, but it’s the direction I think NASA needs to go. Less doing, and more helping. That would be money well spent.

    My. $0.02

  • Robert G. Oler

    BeanCounterfromDownunder wrote @ February 29th, 2012 at 9:03 pm

    Robert G. Oler wrote @ February 27th, 2012 at 3:34 pm
    “Telerobotic terrestrial mining is a BIG BUSINESS in Canada and Australia. People drive bulldozers and run drills in mines from thousands of miles away.”

    thats not my quote. RGO

  • Robert G. Oler

    Googaw wrote @ February 29th, 2012 at 7:46 pm

    I agree with everything you wrote…..

    spaceflight has had exactly 1 (maybe we are on the verge of 2) “private enterprise” endeavors that took off. Ed Wright (is he still alive?) and I clash on this but while I disagree with his thoughts they do bear some reflection.

    You wonder what would have happen had the AT&T Telstar experiments lead to some sort of attempt at an operational system…would it have matured into a geo system or would we have moved toward a “Global star”????

    That question is a useful one to ponder because I agree with the effort by NASA and Hughes to “jump start” geo comm systems…it was good enough as a private enterprise…but it took some involvement through Comsat and a few more years (Westar) to enable the kind of private cycle development (although Intelsat was doing a good job nibbling at technology development).

    The cycle is completely broken in human spaceflight. All the central planning has floundered both in over promising and under delivering…and we are essentially no where…

    What I am hoping is that somehow we can start teh cycle with commercial lift…if not then there is no human spaceflight future in space.

    Robert

  • vulture4

    By about 2050 artificial intelligence will be as capable as organic humans of dealing with the unexpected events of an exploration mission, and perhaps even as capable of experiencing the thrill of discovery. On the other side of the equation, robotic systems will have vast advantages in life support requirements, radiation tolerance, and ability to avoid boredom over years of travel by simply remaining dormant.

    Will robotic exploration be the precursor of human exploration? Perhaps it depends on your definition of “human”.

  • Googaw

    Coastal Ron reminds me of an entry I forgot to put on my list of political evils that retard advances in technology and industry, and in particular space technology and space industry: dogmatic consensus-building.

    Successful R&D and the birth and growth of industries happen in an environment of unpredictability and competition — hopefully peaceful, sometimes not. It happens in laboratories and garages and hangars where people are trying to solve practical problems — keep a network up during a nuclear war (the Internet), nuke the enemy before they nuke you (missiles), improve telephone switching (the semiconductor, invented at Bell Labs), etc.

    Solving one practical problem leads to solving many others far more often than solving impractical problems does so. The Internet turned into an immensely valuable and popular global network almost everybody can use, missiles spun off into space launch vehicles, the semiconductor revolutionized computing, and so on. None of that was planned. The original inventors may on a few occasions have dreamed of bigger things, but they all focused on the original practical problems. If instead they had been daydreaming of and lobbying for funding for grandiose futuristic uses of their invention, other more practical people would have (perhaps much later) made their practical inventions, and the surprising grand things that fortuitously happened may have been long delayed.

    Now to space specifics:

    “Space is not a “program”, and as long as those in charge treat it as such”

    I agree, but I’d add that as long as there are “those in charge”, rather than researchers, inventors, and entrepreneurs competing against each other to solve practical problems, we will not get far.

    “For instance, the purpose of robotic exploration should be to help pave the way for future human visits.”

    There should certainly not be any “the” purpose to robotic exploration. One purpose is often and should often be science for the sake of knowledge or science for the sake of learning more about important things we need to learn more about here on earth (e.g. our climate, via comparative climatology). Its purpose might simply be to pave to way to practical robotic mining, or to prove out a new technology, or a million other purposes only one of which you state. Dogmatically insisting on a “the purpose” to trump all other purposes destroys most of the motivation for during robotic exploration (or almost anything else).

    “[First we do ...]…Next we need to…”

    Preposterously premature pseudo-prophecy. Not satisfied with Soviet five-year plans, you have decades all planned out for us. Back in reality you and I and everybody else have no clue what “next we need to” do until we solve the practical problems people will pay us to solve today, and discover what other practical problems that gives us solutions to.

    (In defense of Coastal Ron, he actually has ideas closer to practical than almost all the other people on this board…)

  • Googaw

    P.S.

    “work out an initial agreement for the transportation segments that should be put in place. That provides transportation providers with the an idea of what kind of vehicles they need to be designing.”

    “Initial”? Space transportation providers have been making agreements to carry cargo to orbit for many decades. And they have a very good idea of what they need to design: unless they are chasing government contracts based on NASA economic fantasies, they design to launch satellites, commercial or military.

    Futuristic central planning is awfully dumb in the first place, but your plans are going to be especially awful if your starting point is not the historical and current reality.

  • DCSCA

    “This is a very good example of how technology and industry successfully develop.”

    Nonsense, The industry ‘developed’ because there was a market for the goods and services– a groing ROI enhanced by an ancellory industry which turned away from battery and steam for for the ICE due to cheap fuel which, at the time, was literally being thrown away. No such similar market exists for commercial HSF. Unless you believe there’s a boom on the horizon for Branson and Hefner’s ‘space bunnies’ and an orbital Playboy Club.

  • Coastal Ron

    Googaw wrote @ March 1st, 2012 at 12:32 am

    Thanks for the feedback.

    Regarding invention, I agree that inventions are not planned, and a significant amount come from individual effort. But the use of them on a large scale basis is because they have been adopted, in one form or another (i.e. patents, licensing, acquisition, etc.), by companies of significant size. And large companies do innovate too.

    And while inventions can come about for any reason, those that are in response to known pain points will be adopted the fastest. And I see human transportation in space as a big pain point.

    Regarding “Next we need to…”, the thought behind this is twofold:

    1. “The Space Community” for HSF lacks consensus, and that is reflected to a certain degree in the lack of direction from our politicians. In the case of mega-rockets, they agreed to cancel one mega-rocket that had a planned use (Ares V), yet decided to replace it with one that had no use. Clearly they have no idea what is needed in the future.

    2. I think having an agreed upon set of “destinations in space” for transportation planners to use is no different than building freeways with exits planned for future local development. But in this case there is no freeway to build, all that needs to be decided upon is where the exits will be, and “communities” can decide for themselves how they will be developed.

    With agreement, companies can develop products that address a known market. For instance, if Boeing knew that the consensus was to designate Earth LEO to EM-L1 as a prime route, then they may want to focus their engineering efforts on developing a reusable transport that uses aerobraking when returning from EM-L1, and they wouldn’t work on systems that landed on Earth. Companies like future certainty, since it reduces their risk, and this type of approach does that.

    I’m pushing this for transportation because I see a lot of wasted time, effort and money going into modes of transportation that are not enabling low cost transportation, and are not promoting reusable transportation.

    For instance, right now Congress thinks we have to build a giant rocket to get to the Moon, but what if we had a reusable transport that could go between Earth LEO and lunar LEO? How would that change the thinking on rockets like the SLS and the MPCV capsule?

    While we could expand out into space through a collection of individual efforts, I think we’ll do it faster if there is some general consensus, and that’s what I think we lack.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Googaw wrote @ March 1st, 2012 at 12:32 am

    again I agree with what you wrote (and most of what Coastal Ron wrote)…there has been nothing dynamic about human spaceflight since oh Feb 1986…the station is completely lock step…there is nothing innovative allowed there RGO

  • Martijn Meijering

    @Googaw:
    LF and I both thought that is what you were doing. If you go back up and read your own text I think that you will forgive us.

    The first thing I said on this thread was this:

    Trouble is, what we need most is cheap lift, not a moon base. A moon base can help us achieve it (if done right), but it is far more than is necessary.

    And I went on to point out an unmanned robotic program using just storable propellant would be good enough. No depots, no ACES upper stage, no ISRU, no lunar base, no lander, no commercial crew, no capsule, no manned missions, no new technology. All that could and should be left to the market.

  • Googaw

    Freeways were built between cities that already had tens of thousands of people who wanted to travel between them, often evidenced by clogged two-lane roads. When people travel between cities they naturally want to stop for gas, food, and lodging in between, thus the observation (not merely a speculative idea) that more business tends to grow around their exits.

    When, in sharp contrast, people build bridges to nowhere, expecting business to follow, they are quite properly criticized and made fun of. These sci-fi “infrastructures” are even nuttier — rockets to nowhere. Instead of starting with today’s real space markets, for example the big market in GEO, you start with imaginary cult-consensus scenarios involving the moon, Lagrange points, etc. where in reality no business actually exists, and expect the space industry to agree to them. That’s seriously, as Oler might say, goofy.

  • Martijn Meijering

    When, in sharp contrast, people build bridges to nowhere, expecting business to follow, they are quite properly criticized and made fun of.

    There’s a natural progression of potential destinations for commercial manned spaceflight. Given sufficiently low launch prices, these destinations will one by one become profitable. I thought you and I agreed that this is likely to happen through private initiatives somewhere in the next one hundred years, and probably closer to the fifty year mark than to the one hundred year mark.

    I know of no persuasive arguments that governments should be involved in this endeavour and the way they have been doing it for the past fifty years certainly has not brought us appreciably closer to that. But in theory a manned space program could make this happen within twenty years. So if there is to be a manned space program at all (and there has been one for the past fifty years), it is only reasonable to demand that it should “seek and encourage, to the maximum extent possible, the fullest commercial use of space”. As one piece of the law in fact demands, even though it is sabotaged by another piece of law that demand NASA should waste billions on SLS / Orion.

  • Coastal Ron

    Googaw wrote @ March 1st, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    Freeways were built between cities that already had tens of thousands of people who wanted to travel between them

    Since we’re talking about something that’s never existed before (i.e. space versions of trade routes), you’re going to have to read a little more into my analogy.

    I used freeways as an example so as to invoke the image of no places to stop between planned destinations. You’re right that freeways are typically between existing population centers, but there are plenty of dead-end roads that are built in anticipation of future development, and that is the situation we have in space. Merge those two together in your mind.

    I also haven’t stated what the time horizon is for this expansion, so it can take however long it takes to fund the expansion. But without some sort of plan, no one will plan to spend the money on a space transportation system, because there is no planned need.

    …you start with imaginary cult-consensus scenarios involving the moon, Lagrange points, etc. where in reality no business actually exists, and expect the space industry to agree to them.

    I only suggest that the space community, made up of governments and industry, agree to a framework for expansion. No money changes hands, and none is committed.

    And you are right that there is no existing demand beyond the ISS, but there is anticipated demand. But remember when Steve Jobs said “Customers don’t know what they want unless you show it to them”? That’s what I see lacking with our current muddled direction in space – no one has shown Congress, or other leaders, the direction we should be taking. The few in Congress that have an interest (mainly financial) are enacting political plans, not agreed upon plans that build upon recognized consensus.

    We do advanced planning all the time here on Earth, but maybe since it works so well you don’t notice it. We need the same for going beyond LEO, otherwise we won’t be leaving LEO.

  • Googaw

    Martijn: “And I went on to point out an unmanned robotic program using just storable propellant would be good enough. No depots, no ACES upper stage, no ISRU, no lunar base, no lander, no commercial crew, no capsule, no manned missions, no new technology. All that could and should be left to the market.”

    This isn’t what I thought LF was responding to. He was immediately responding to a post where you go on about a moon base, but I can now see your language about it was hedged. Anyway, LF’s comment was far more appropriate to some other posters here than to yourself, and I withdraw my endorsement of it in your case.

    As for the above, a storable propellant refueling program targeted at satellites which already use that propellant and at least roughly share an orbit and a particularly unpredictable propulsive lifetime would IMHO be a good way to pioneer that potential market. Spy satellites in polar orbit come to mind as fitting those criteria, so it’s natural that the DoD has already been researching and testing this capability. There are many ways for the market to evolve after that, and of course a number of other possible ways to pioneer the refueling market, some of which I have previously described, though the larger scale ones taking cryogenic propellant off the beaten path as is usually proposed in astronaut fan circles are profoundly nonviable.

  • Vladislaw

    Coastal Ron wrote:

    “2. I think having an agreed upon set of “destinations in space” for transportation planners to use is no different than building freeways with exits planned for future local development.”

    Not to nitpic but there is a difference between a freeway and a highway. Freeway was coined in the 1930′s for roads that were free of businesses, crossings ect. They were designed to allow fast, uninterupted travel between more distant points, a free way of non interupted driving, they would make bridges and underpasses on road crosses to not allow that cross traffic to slow down vehicles on the free way..

    It would be closer to a highway than a freeway in space because there would nothing limiting for building or crossing along them, mainly at the L points I would imagine.

  • Googaw

    “dead-end road”

    A much better analogy than freeways. People don’t rationally spend billions of dollars, or even hundreds or tens of millions, on dead-end roads.

    “And you are right that there is no existing demand beyond the ISS”

    There is of course a quite large demand for spaceflight beyond ISS. To GEO, to take a big example. Just not for astronauts. There isn’t even a naturally self-sustaining demand for them in LEO, just one preposterously artificial government program after another. Why are you so obsessed with useless heavenly pilgrims at the expense of real space industry?

  • Googaw

    “without some sort of plan, no one will plan to spend the money on a space transportation system, because there is no planned need.”

    Rational businessfolk read sci-fi, if they do, for entertainment, not for commitments to base their business decisions on.

    Of course, what you are really asking for, by invoke “Congress” again as a customer, is not a mere plan, but another big whopping government subsidy. That may be good for a few more lucrative contracts, and that will surely attract some government-contract-minded business, but it will also sidetrack the natural growth of space industry with preposterous distortions, as it has already quite astronomically done.

    Anyway, Congress already has a plan under the pretense of long-range prophecy. It’s called SLS. Of course you don’t like _that_ consensus dogma do you? You on the other hand really do know the One True Future?

  • Doug Lassiter

    BeanCounterfromDownunder wrote @ February 29th, 2012 at 9:03 pm
    “Well I live and work in Western Australia which, along with Queensland are the biggest mining states in Australia with iron ore, coal predominately, nickle, gold, oil and lng offshore (some automation there granted) and I haven’t heard or seen anything like the above claim so I’d be grateful for a source. I know of studies and the odd trial but nothing like it in production. It’d be huge news here if it was. I can’t imagine this happening either in an open-cut environment or underground, both of which I worked in. Can’t speak for Canada.”

    I’m just repeating what Canadian telerobotic mining industry entrepreneur and engineer Greg Baiden (Penguin Telerobotics) has been saying for a number of years at space resources meetings. You can look up his presentations pretty easily. He says that telerobotic mining in Canada at least is understood to be highly profitable and widespread. He speaks for Canada, and he does consulting (along with other Canadian telerobotic mining outfits) in Australia. I am not a miner, but he’s an expert, and that’s what he says. My understanding, by the way, is that there is rather little telerobotic mining in the U.S. The U.S. is well understood in the mining industry to be behind the curve in that respect.

    Vladislaw wrote @ February 29th, 2012 at 10:55 am
    “The point I was making is that some people that think you can just drop abunch of automated robot mining bots on the moon and it will be super cheap and repairs will be a thing of the past.”

    You weren’t making it very well. No one (not even me) was saying anything about it being super cheap with repairs being a thing of the past. Maybe some others do, but not me. What I was saying was that until it becomes vastly cheaper to land people on the lunar surface, and to arrange for them to survive there for long periods of time (the Constellation project analyzed those costs and established how expensive it was going to be) telerobotic mining from a distance is going to be the way to go. Those telerobots may be controlled from the Earth, but may well be controlled from lunar orbit or a Lagrange point, which are advantageous because of our extensive expertise in in-space operations.

    The word “automated”, as I said above for “robots”, is a dangerous one. The implication it conveys is that these robots are smart enough to do it all themselves. That’s false. These are TELErobots, which are extensions of human eyes, hands and limbs. We understand how to make such systems. They are used very widely commercially and, especially for mining. But indeed, this is pretty new technology. In the Apollo era, the idea of telerobotic mining would have been crazy. Repairs? Well, sure, you can make some repairs telerobotically and, as has been pointed out umpteen times, for serious failures, you don’t make them at all.

    Human hands and eyes remain enormously valuable, but not necessarily in flesh standing on regolith.

  • Doug Lassiter

    A M Swallow wrote @ February 28th, 2012 at 9:30 pm
    “Sending the machines to a EML-1/2 space station for repair would cost a fortune and require more fuel than the machine makes.”

    Of course. I was too brief in my explanation. Sending a bulldozer up to LLO is not a trivial task! What I was trying to say was that repairs could be organized from such locations where, say, depots of replaceable parts could be stored and sent to the sites where they were needed, where they would be telerobotically refitted, perhaps in a specially equipped garage. Let’s be careful. This isn’t a situation where lunar handymen with a torch, dikes and duct tape and greasy overalls are going to make everything right. The idea of “repair” is going to mean something quite different than it does here on Earth, or even in ISS.

  • Coastal Ron

    Googaw wrote @ March 1st, 2012 at 5:13 pm

    Why are you so obsessed with useless heavenly pilgrims at the expense of real space industry?

    Go back and read what I wrote, and you will see that I never talked about who the customers were or what the business was that was driving the creation of the transports. Only that industry and government should come to agreement on what the transportation expansion path was.

    But since you brought it up, yes, a reusable tug vehicle that could move satellites out of LEO to GEO, or move cargo from LEO to L1, would be one of many possible businesses.

  • Coastal Ron

    Googaw wrote @ March 1st, 2012 at 5:29 pm

    Of course, what you are really asking for, by invoke “Congress” again as a customer, is not a mere plan, but another big whopping government subsidy.

    Nope. Having a plan for expansion is independent of where the money comes from. Personally I don’t see NASA’s budget going up in the future, and it could even decline, so I see what I propose as making sure that it’s limited budget is used as efficiently as possible.

    Again, Congress has no clue what they should be funding for HSF beyond the ISS. Those in Congress that aren’t involved with NASA funding think the SLS is needed, but they have no idea why since there is no plan that shows them how it will fit in with future needs. They have to believe Nelson, Shelby and Hutchison that it’s a good use of public funds. We know better, but how do you prove they are wrong when no one can agree on what truly is needed?

    You know, what I’m proposing is not new. Industry and government already collaborate on these kind of things, and the decadal surveys that NASA’s Science Mission Directorate relies upon for direction is referenced by both the Administration and Congress for guidance on what to fund next. What I’ve been proposing would do the same for HSF, or at least the transportation part of that. And my fondest hope would be that it’s not just for NASA, but for our ISS partners as well as other countries.

    Getting back to the dead-end road, communities do commit significant amounts of money to opening up new tracts of their communities. I’ve seen bridges built to vast open spaces by developers anticipating the next economic boom, and even hillsides graded waiting for customer demand. There are lots more examples too, so this too is normal in business and government.

    For space, none of that has to happen since the “roads” cost nothing, but the destinations and transports will cost significant amounts, so providing clarity on where they are and how everyone wants to move between them is very important. Consensus in this case saves money, and that is my #1 goal.

  • Martijn Meijering

    Spy satellites in polar orbit come to mind as fitting those criteria, so it’s natural that the DoD has already been researching and testing this capability.

    Larger science probes are another obvious possibility (or just ones using more delta-v).

  • Vladislaw

    “Canadian telerobotic mining industry entrepreneur and engineer Greg Baiden (Penguin Telerobotics) has been saying for a number of years at space resources meetings.”

    I am familier with Mr. Baiden, they competed in the regolith challenge. They had to revamped four major areas of that robot. Granted this was just the beginning but had that been launched, it would not have been very productive.

    The next time you talk with Greg, ask him how many mining systems have been remotely driven off the truck, into the mine and start production without any human intervention and how long did the system operate before a human had to go in and tweak a machine?

  • Doug Lassiter

    Vladislaw wrote @ March 2nd, 2012 at 4:27 pm
    “The next time you talk with Greg, ask him how many mining systems have been remotely driven off the truck, into the mine and start production without any human intervention and how long did the system operate before a human had to go in and tweak a machine?”

    Well that’s just pretty silly. Maybe I should also ask him how many $B he spent on those machines? I’m not talking about taking bulldozers and drills out of Canadian mines and sending them to the Moon, any more than I’m talking about sending Canadian miners to the Moon. You know, the terrestrial rovers we use for rescue and recon would never have worked on Mars either, but what we learned from the former helped us create hardware for the latter.

  • A M Swallow

    This site does not want to accept the url.
    ” Mining by remote control
    Financial Times / 29 February 2012

    Remote controlled trucks, driverless trains and touch screen computers are the future of mining according to Rio Tinto. The FT’s Neil Hume visits…”

    The article shows the unmanned trucks picking up ore in the Australian mine.

  • Vladislaw

    Doug, maybe we are just talking past each other.
    I have seen on this blog, more than once, that somehow humans are the problem when it comes to exploration. Robots are the way to go, if only we could somehow cut the “astronaut cult” out of the equation. They are cheaper is ALWAYS the clarion call. We don’t need humans is the other.

    My apologies if I applied a label and put you in that group. I do agree that robots can help create a base before humans arrive, what I do not agree with is that it will automatically be cheaper and more efficient. Only because we have a history of failure rates and know that putting humans into that mix makes it extremely more efficient and reliable overall.

    I have been around to many construction sites to know just how often reliable machines break down and how much human tweaking comes into play and by creating every more complex machines does not make them more reliable but actually the opposite, witness the space shuttle.

    The only point I am trying to make is that robotics alone is not going to solve all the problems and we will still want and need humans in the mix.

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