Monday, June 15, 2009

Stacking the Deck

As soon as a good defense attorney decides to take a challenging case, he or she will almost immediately move to manipulate the media with messages casting doubt on the credibility of potential witnesses. If the evidence is stacked against their client, they will plant false assumptions in the public mind and let resulting defective conclusions work their way back to the courtroom.

It was not surprising today, then, that Av Week would be handed a still unreleased report on the viability of EELVs to replace the mis-begotten Stick. Sure an EELV can do the job. And it can do the job less expensively. But guess what? It would take seven years to remake the rocket in human-rated form. Come again?

An already 8 for 9 rocket that carries multi-billion dollar satellites to orbit, has no problem getting insurance today. The design, development, and test phase has been paid for. Walk into your favorite EELV store and offer to buy several dozen and watch the prices fall.

But where to set the bar for human rating? If you are trying to get a new rocket built, and you're paying for the study, you set the bar obnoxiously high. Only then can a real rocket fall behind in the race with a paper rocket. Without getting into the tit-for-tat arguments that the Italian Waiter's minions are well studied for, there is only one more thing that our "risk is our middle name" astronauts would like to see over their heads at lift-off.

A reliable launch abort system.

And if a new one of those is going to take seven years to develop, shouldn't we get someone else to take over the job from the current contractors?


Mr. X said...

It's very telling that the AvWeek account of the EELV study takes a very different tone from the very pro-Delta piece that was running about a month ago.

It looks like the Aero Corp report's going to be a whitewash which parrots the ESAS rubbish about EELV trajectories. And what's this business about not being able to get human-rating data on the RD-180? Its heritage from the Energia program should be sufficient. Did anybody at Aero Corp bother reading the LockMart and ULA papers on human-rating the Atlas V?

NASA's got a crafty game. They write a new human-rating spec that nothing can currently meet, design a rocket around the arbitrary specs, then water down the requirements when their brand-new rocket doesn't quite measure up.

Prediction: Augustine and company anoint The Shaft, only to be eclipsed by a commercial capsule launched by an Atlas V 401 many years before Ares is ready (or after Ares is cancelled by an impatient Congress.)

ザイツェヴ said...

Existing LAS is more than enough for Orion, in fact it's way overkill for Delta, as it was designed to outrun exploding Shaft. The problem is in adding Failure Onset Detection system to Delta. Without it, the best LAS is useless. Still wouldn't take 7 years, of course, but the difficulty is perhaps not in the intuitively obvious place.

Funny how Aerospace Corp cannot get "data" on human rating of RD-180, when this engine is supposed to be ready for production by P+W. What, the docs they received from Russia were incomplete or what?

BenRG said...

Apparently, the 7 year figure comes from an estimate of the amount of time it would take to develop the Common Upper Stage. The Aerospace Corp report assumes that this is a prerequisite of Delta-IVH launching the Orion.

Of course, we know that, like the 'black zone' problem, this is a smokescreen and a fallacy. A D-IVH with RS-68A can do the job with the current upper stage. Similarly, the costs drop off once you get rid of the development of the CUS, so there is no automatic reason to abandon the HLLV, so long as you find a more reasonable (and affordable) alternative to MSFC's seven-engine 11-m core giant.

Three to four years, maximum, and I would be surprised if it actually took that long.

Antares said...

Best post yet. Distills things nicely.

Anonymous said...

The Launch Abort system may not have to be much.
The Shuttle used Ejection seats for subsonic abort
and that was around a big LH Tank and those SRB's.
The Gemini used Seats and that was that big Hydrazine booster.

I suspect Ares could fly with a simple ejection system, and do as well.

Anonymous said...

GIGO - Garbage In, Garbage Out.

Aero Corp were fed the majority of the 'data' and all of the 'assumptions' by CxP - even the data sourced from ULA still went through NASA's filter first. Yet they [b]STILL[/b] managed to find a solution that would work.

I am still waiting to see an independent analysis of all the options, Ares, EELV, Shuttle-C and DIRECT.

I am far from convinced that the Augustine Panel will get fair data because all of the analysis is still being done by NASA personnel. They really need to have a second-tier analysis done in addition to ensure nobody tips those scales.

Each group should be allowed to sign-off on the specific set of assumptions which will be used for their analysis, otherwise everything will be assessed using assumptions designed for Ares-I and Ares-V -- and that instantly tips the scales in their favor.

But more than that, each group should be allowed to partake in the analysis. It should not be conducted inside a 'black box' nobody is allowed to see. Each team should have access at every stage, to ensure nobody is making incorrect assumptions at any stage of the process.

That is what is really required if we are ever to get to the truth of this situation and be certain which solutions will work and which will not. Anything short of that will just be "yet another farce".

Jon Goff said...

And 7 years for the new CUS is also total BS. These guys have developed new revs of their upper stages within recent history, and it just doesn't take that long or that much. The only way they could make it take that long or cost that much is if MSFC were designing it.


Anonymous said...

I am doubly concerned about the fairness of any analysis that is being worked to date. NASA is going to play their silly requirements game so that the resulting rocket is made of unobtainium. Rockets with a proven performance history are being excluded because they have one valve instead of two. Never mind that the valves in the NASA design are in series and a failure of either on stops the show.

As long as NASA is the 'gate keeper' for manned space flight it will be their way or else.

It is our money being wasted here to cover up bad decisions.

Dave said...

DIRECT 3.0 in 2012?

BenRG said...

@ Dave

The initial 60t-to-LEO Jupiter-130 could be ready by then, if all goes well, yes. Factor in the application of Murphy's Universal Constant and the development of Orion, I think mid- to late-2013 for Orion/J-130 IOC is a good target.

FWIW, I have a feeling that Orion/Delta-IVH, Dragon-D/Falcon-9 and DreamChaser/Atlas-V-5xx would all be all looking at roughly the same IOC date. Note that this is a realistic target, not the optimistic assumptions of executives at several removes from the action.


Ben the Space Brit

Anonymous said...

Perhaps now would be a good time for someone to do a FOIA request and get the report on EELV-OSP utilization that NASA LSP wasn't allowed to release.

Anonymous said...


The Direct Booster is as flawed as Ares 1, just in new and undiscovered ways. The design team while nice guys are completely unproven in launcher design, they have insufficient margin to make this work, and they have failed to understand what they don't know.

The only rational choice is EELV, an architecture good enough for Mercury and Gemini.

Any paper booster always looks good compared to a real booster, but, in the case of EELV you know what you have. An in space rendevous, of system components, and propellant transfer will build a scalable architecture, it just won't preserve the contractor and NASA work force so it's been discarded out of hand.

Antares said...

"Funny how Aerospace Corp cannot get "data" on human rating of RD-180, when this engine is supposed to be ready for production by P+W. What, the docs they received from Russia were incomplete or what?"

Also funny that Aerospace has data on RD-180, sits in engine acceptance reviews at Khimki, approves RD-180 to launch MilSats, and yet claims to know nothing about it. Is this report drivel? You betcha!

BenRG said...

@ Anonymous (6/18/09 @ 9:54 AM)

This comment annoys me because it assumes that (a) I am hopelessly naive and fooled by pretty PowerPoint and (b) that I will be sufficiently impressed by vague assertions of unspecified flaws.

I would be grateful if you could tell me specifically where the "insufficient margin" is (recalling that a senior engineer at LM described their upper stage design as 'highly conservative'). Given the length of time that these designs have been debated on public forums, I would assume that any glaring flaws would be public knowledge by now and would have been expressed at the recent presentations before the Augustine Commission.