Making Life Multiplanetary

 

Here is Elon Musk’s presentation at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Adelaide, Australia. He describes a revised version of the interplanetary transport architecture he presented at last year’s IAC. The vehicle has been downsized, but the largest innovation is that he now believes it can be funded by SpaceX’s ongoing operations by replacing its existing launchers and spacecraft with the new, fully reusable system.

For the impatient, here is the “interesting new application” for the vehicle he discusses at the end of the talk.

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There are 19 comments.

  1. DocJay Inactive

    I want my next life to be funded by the Feds.

    • #1
    • September 29, 2017, at 7:41 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  2. DocJay Inactive

    I don’t mean prison John but more like getting grand visions and then billions roll in, taxpayer billions.

    • #2
    • September 29, 2017, at 7:42 AM PDT
    • Like
  3. Larry Koler Inactive

    Thanks, John. I don’t follow this too much and it’s nice to be brought up to date.

    Those landings that he shows in quick succession are quite impressive.

    Musk is truly a visionary. I am quite impressed with him. Only in America, eh?

    • #3
    • September 29, 2017, at 8:34 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  4. James Gawron Thatcher

    DocJay (View Comment):
    I don’t mean prison John but more like getting grand visions and then billions roll in, taxpayer billions.

    Doc,

    If the grand visions turn out to be nonsense that most first level engineers would have debunked then, “hey, no hard feelings taxpayers.”

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #4
    • September 29, 2017, at 10:19 AM PDT
    • Like
  5. John Walker Contributor
    John Walker Post author

    Here is Scott Manley’s take on the SpaceX presentation:

    I think that Scott still hasn’t worked out the economics of the big booster (BFR). He correctly points out that the International Space Station has no conceivable need for 150 tons of payload to be delivered on a resupply and crew rotation mission. But when the costs of a flight by the BFR are essentially just fuel costs plus the cost of launch infrastructure and operations personnel amortised over a high flight rate, the cost per kilogram delivered to the ISS may be substantially lower than existing expendable or only partially reusable boosters which fly only a few times a year, even though the BFR may not be using much of its payload capacity. (Besides, if you’re launching a light payload, you can use less fuel in both stages of the big booster, which reduces the cost of the flight.)

    • #5
    • September 29, 2017, at 11:36 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  6. OccupantCDN Coolidge

    People are afraid to fly … can you imagine the trauma that would be inflicted on the poor sap who just wants to fly somewhere, but then endures a launch and re-entry? It may only be a half hour, but it’ll kill that poor guy.

    Doesn’t the 150T to orbit include the 85T vehicle? So that’s down to 65T, granted the space station doesn’t need that much supply – but couldn’t part of that be 65T be paying tourists (further defraying costs) or heavier experiments?

    Could you build a particle accelerator in orbit?

    • #6
    • September 29, 2017, at 2:23 PM PDT
    • Like
  7. John Walker Contributor
    John Walker Post author

    OccupantCDN (View Comment):
    People are afraid to fly … can you imagine the trauma that would be inflicted on the poor sap who just wants to fly somewhere, but then endures a launch and re-entry? It may only be a half hour, but it’ll kill that poor guy.

    Launch and re-entry G forces will probably be restricted to 3 G, as they were on the Space Shuttle. Satellite operators prefer a gentle ride for their expensive payloads, which reduces the cost in qualifying them for launch stress and the weight penalty to reinforce them against it. Anybody in good enough health to walk up a flight of stairs without fainting can handle 3 G without difficulty. Amusement park rides regularly subject paying customers to up to 4 G.

    Doesn’t the 150T to orbit include the 85T vehicle? So that’s down to 65T, granted the space station doesn’t need that much supply – but couldn’t part of that be 65T be paying tourists (further defraying costs) or heavier experiments?

    No. The 150 tonnes to low earth orbit is payload after fuel and the dry mass of the vehicle. You could certainly generate some revenue by carrying tourists up and down on space station resupply missions. (They probably wouldn’t be able to actually visit the station, but would be able to observe the Earth from orbit. Although visitors to the South Pole are usually able to tour the station there if it’s arranged before their arrival, so maybe.) Deployment of secondary payloads on missions to the ISS is problematic because the inclination of the orbit of the ISS, which was chosen to allow Russian Soyuz and Proton boosters to reach it, is suboptimal for launching communication satellites and unusable for spy and earth resources satellites in polar orbit. Although, with such a large payload, you could make up for the high inclination penalty by using a larger upper stage booster to put the satellite in geostationary orbit.

    Could you build a particle accelerator in orbit?

    You could build one, but it would probably work poorly. The vacuum in low earth orbit isn’t up to the standards of particle accelerators, and building a vacuum system in orbit would cost far more than building one on the ground. The vacuum inside the beam tube of the LHC is comparable to that on the surface of the Moon, which is a much higher vacuum than in low earth orbit. Also, the detectors of any accelerator in space would have to cope with a much higher cosmic ray background than those on the Earth. Also, particle accelerators have heavy magnets and use huge amounts of electrical power, which aren’t easy to obtain in space.

    • #7
    • September 29, 2017, at 2:43 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  8. OccupantCDN Coolidge

    John Walker (View Comment):
    Launch and re-entry G forces will probably be restricted to 3 G, as they were on the Space Shuttle. Satellite operators prefer a gentle ride for their expensive payloads, which reduces the cost in qualifying them for launch stress and the weight penalty to reinforce them against it. Anybody in good enough health to walk up a flight of stairs without fainting can handle 3 G without difficulty. Amusement park rides regularly subject paying customers to up to 4 G.

    I wasnt worried about the G forces. People that unhealthy shouldn’t be traveling. No I was thinking about a phobic being subjected to the noise and visuals of a launch – the huge plumes of smoke and fire outside the window – and of re-entry where the clouds of charged plasma, sparks and fire passing the window… Would be terrifying for a aerophobic.

    • #8
    • September 29, 2017, at 3:13 PM PDT
    • Like
  9. GLDIII Temporarily Essential Thatcher

    My memory stretches back far enough that I recall that 100% reusability was the initial intention for the Space Shuttle. The orbital, velocity and mass fraction physics has not changed since the early 70’s. I hope between the advancement in materials (i.e. composites, ablation materials, unique metal alloys) and the vast increases in computation speeds that gives landing on your main propulsion system a demonstrable act now rather than an aspirational idea. I know we have learned us some serious improvements in “rocket engineering” since the 70’s

    I think his main key to success (since I think he control over 70% of Space X wealth) is that he does not have to be compromise by uncontrollable cost growth from “sharing the contractor wealth via regional congressional constituencies” and having to endure uncompromising and unused DoD requirements that in the end did not help the design process.

    The siren call of an operational model that looks like that airlines is seductive, and he is not the first that heard the song. Let’s hope he don’t not get lured on the same rocky shoals as Ulysses. I would like to see the dreams from my youth’s impressionable rocket summer (living in Cocoa Beach during the space race peak of 1972), and these reveries do not go unrealized before I return to my elemental star dust.

    • #9
    • October 1, 2017, at 3:00 PM PDT
    • Like
  10. John Walker Contributor
    John Walker Post author

    GLDIII (View Comment):
    My memory stretches back far enough that I recall that 100% reusability was the initial intention for the Space Shuttle. The orbital, velocity and mass fraction physics has not changed since the early 70’s. I hope between the advancement in materials (i.e. composites, ablation materials, unique metal alloys) and the vast increases in computation speeds that gives landing on your main propulsion system a demonstrable act now rather than an aspirational idea. I know we have learned us some serious improvements in “rocket engineering” since the 70s.

    The original concept for the Space Shuttle was full reusability, but through the myriad design iterations (documented in Dennis Jenkins’s excellent book Space Shuttle: The History of Developing the National Space Transportation System) one thing that became clear was that any design with full reusability and a useful payload was going to be huge: on the order of the size of the Saturn V or larger. The budget available wouldn’t support that, so they compromised on a partially reusable design where the external tank was expended and the solid rocket boosters had to be fished out of the ocean after each launch and shipped to Utah and back for refurbishment and reloading with propellant. They dramatically underestimated the amount of work that would be needed to turn around the vehicle between flights (many analysts have concluded that they knew the figures they were quoting were bogus, but covered up the real estimates to avoid cancellation of the program), and the resulting system wasn’t so much reusable as something which could be refurbished between infrequent flights.

    At the time of the Space Shuttle design, nobody considered propulsive landing. Doing that requires precision navigation with GPS or the equivalent, computing power which didn’t exist in the 1970s, and engines able to throttle deeply which hadn’t been developed for the thrust levels required. As a result, the Space Shuttle expended much of its mass budget on wings and wheels which were used only in the last half hour of the mission.

    The key insight which Musk had, and as far as I can determine he only twigged to within the last year, is that the win from full reusability is so great that it’s more economical to launch something bigger than a Saturn V to do routine orbital launches than to use much smaller expendable boosters. For example: you might think it inefficient to charter a 747 to fly a blue vase from San Francisco to Los Angeles (and you’d be right), but it’s a lot cheaper than buying a King Air which you throw away after only one flight. What you gain from reusability more than offsets the inefficiency from the requirement of a large vehicle to obtain reusability.

    • #10
    • October 1, 2017, at 3:31 PM PDT
    • Like
  11. OccupantCDN Coolidge

    Space X has several advantages over a government dependent design system.

    1. Congress doesnt get directly involved. Both the Space Shuttle, and now the SLS have been changed due to directives from the congress and from changes to NASA’s budget.
    2. NASA has been organized across several R&D centers in a multitude of states in order to maximize NASA’s congressional delegation. This is political engineering, and as a process is very expensive and time consuming. (as far as I know) All of Space X’s design efforts take place in 1 building, with testing being carried out in a few places (as required). Space X can do almost anything that NASA can, but in 1/3 the time, and at 1/4 the cost.

    I dont really like the Space X BFR proposed vehicle that much. The “flaws” I see are:

    1. Size – its too big. Most satellites are getting smaller. Filling the manifest with many satellites that can share a ride into similar orbits will take time – and will reduce its flight tempo.
    2. Exclusivity – Insisting that the BFR will be their only launcher will mean that an accident will knock them out of service for an extended time. I am thinking of the 1986 Challenger accident, which shutdown flight operations for an extended period, but because of the exclusivity the shuttle system had on US launches, but a huge damper on all US space activities.
    3. Lofty goals on cost of reuse. The space shuttle was supposed to make access to space cheap. It was a colossal failure. Frankly the NASA promoters who lobbied for the Space Shuttle committed fraud. Granted it was using technology and designs from the early 1970’s, and maybe the advances over the past 40 years can solve some the problems of a completely reusable launcher. Launching a satellite isnt like flying a plane. There is at least 2 orders of magnitude more energy in launching a satellite. Controlling these energies with a vehicle with the same ease that we do an aircraft, seems like an over simplified analogy that is easy enough to say, but very difficult to do.

    Doing all this to be ready for flight in 5 years would be impressive.

    • #11
    • October 1, 2017, at 4:00 PM PDT
    • Like
  12. Curt North Inactive

    I had honestly been sitting on the fence about renewing my membership to Ricochet, in fact as of this morning it had officially expired, I’m just a bit worn down by the bickering and the sniping back and forth.

    But upon reading this excellent post as well as the comments section, I have renewed hope that we can talk about things other than the current drama in Washington. Membership renewed! (and thanks much for the post @johnwalker)

    • #12
    • October 2, 2017, at 7:09 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  13. Locke On Member

    DocJay (View Comment):
    I don’t mean prison John but more like getting grand visions and then billions roll in, taxpayer billions.

    The idea that Elon’s businesses live on taxpayer subsidies is a fair cop with respect to Tesla/SolarCity, but it’s pretty much a canard when it comes to SpaceX. Yes, he’s taking government dollars, but he is delivering a service, and doing it a lot more efficiently than the government could do, given how NASA has tied itself (or been tied) into ineffective knots. It’s a fair question whether those government defined launches are the right things to be doing, but in this case he is reducing costs for the taxpayer, rather than taking taxpayer money to subsidize an otherwise uneconomic product (solar energy, electric cars).

    If you look at the current and new year SpaceX manifest, it’s better than half private launches, mostly comsats. One of the bigger questions on the BFR grand vision is whether there’s enough elasticity (and innovation) in the space launch market to reward his cost cutting with volume growth. For whatever reason, the IAC talk didn’t discuss the SpaceX idea of launching and operating its own Internet service constellation, but that appears to be at least a hedge on elasticity: Own use to build another service business piggybacked on the launch business.

    • #13
    • October 2, 2017, at 9:02 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  14. OccupantCDN Coolidge

    Locke On (View Comment):
    The idea that Elon’s businesses live on taxpayer subsidies is a fair cop with respect to Tesla/SolarCity, but it’s pretty much a canard when it comes to SpaceX.

    Actually I disagree. SpaceX also lives on the public dime just as Tesla and Solarcity do. For years, NASA funded spacex with COTS payouts which have been somewhere around $278 to $396 Million (per year or in total I am unsure) to develop the Falcon 9 and Dragon system. SpaceX wouldnt have its product line without the development funds from NASA.

    Elon Musk is a great creditist. You realize that he’s pocketed billions, developing business that have not been or have only been modestly profitable?

    • #14
    • October 2, 2017, at 6:15 PM PDT
    • Like
  15. OccupantCDN Coolidge

    Curt North (View Comment):
    I had honestly been sitting on the fence about renewing my membership to Ricochet, in fact as of this morning it had officially expired, I’m just a bit worn down by the bickering and the sniping back and forth.

    But upon reading this excellent post as well as the comments section, I have renewed hope that we can talk about things other than the current drama in Washington. Membership renewed! (and thanks much for the post @johnwalker)

    Yes! Follow @johnwalker, he frequently has the most interesting posts in a wide variety of topics. Renaissance man.

    • #15
    • October 2, 2017, at 6:33 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  16. Dan Hanson Thatcher

    OccupantCDN (View Comment):
    Space X has several advantages over a government dependent design system.

    1. Congress doesnt get directly involved. Both the Space Shuttle, and now the SLS have been changed due to directives from the congress and from changes to NASA’s budget.
    2. NASA has been organized across several R&D centers in a multitude of states in order to maximize NASA’s congressional delegation. This is political engineering, and as a process is very expensive and time consuming. (as far as I know) All of Space X’s design efforts take place in 1 building, with testing being carried out in a few places (as required). Space X can do almost anything that NASA can, but in 1/3 the time, and at 1/4 the cost.

    One of the biggest killers of engineering projects is scope creep and poor requirements analysis. This is also the hallmark of NASA’s big launch programs. By the time NSA, DoD, 50 senators and 435 congresscritters get done with the requirements, you wind up with a swiss army knife design that does everything kinda sorta, but nothing well. The success of Apollo had a lot to do with iron-clad, well defined requirements. Everyone on that program knew exactly what had to be accomplished, and they let the design go where the requirements took them. With Shuttle, it had to do everything. Or as Heinlein said, “Definition of an elephant: A mouse built to government specifications.”

    The other big problem NASA has always faced was changing requirements due to subsequent administrations, budget cuts, budget increases, yada yada. Add to that the problem of political requirements to keep obsolete facilities open and people employed, and you wind up with abominations like a manned rocket built out of a shuttle solid rocket booster.

    All of this leads to the biggest problem – lack of vision. Every new program has to be an incremental change over the last one. SLS is a good example of this. It’s just another big dumb rocket that doesn’t change the fundamental nature of space access one bit.

    I dont really like the Space X BFR proposed vehicle that much. The “flaws” I see are:

    1. Size – its too big. Most satellites are getting smaller. Filling the manifest with many satellites that can share a ride into similar orbits will take time – and will reduce its flight tempo.

    Well… To some extent that’s true. Musk’s point is valid – if all you are spending is fuel, and a fully reusable big rocket is actually cheaper to launch than a smaller one that’s either completely expendable or partially expendable, does it really make sense to build and launch those smaller rockets, which requires you to maintain multiple assembly facilities, multiple launch pad configurations, yada yada? There are huge advantages to having one universal platform. It flies more, for one thing, so development costs can be amortized over many more launches. Also, flying more means a more rapid series of incremental improvements in performance and safety that you don’t get when flying special rockets sized for each mission.

    There’s also no need to fit many satellites into one launch, if that launch is cheaper than the launch of a small rocket sized for one satellite. You can fly mostly empty and still save money. Or better yet, you can do more for the same cost. No, the ISS today doesn’t need 150 ton supply missions – but that’s because it was designed around smaller, less capable launch systems. Maybe the better thing to ask is, “What can we do with ISS now that we can inexpensively fly 150 ton payloads up to it any time we want?” Our vision is constrained by past capability. Time to unconstrain it.

    You are right in one sense, though – this is a big hail mary. If SpaceX stops producing Falcons in favor of this big, untested system, then a launch failure that unveils a design flaw could destroy the company. And if the rocket is grounded for any reason, SpaceX has no launch capability at all (after their supply of Falcons runs out, anyway). So there’s definitely a big risk factor here. For this whole thing to work, this BFR has to be reliable, have quick, inexpensive turnarounds, and be able to fly hundreds of times per year. The per-unit cost for building them will be much greater than a Falcon, so each one will have to be able to fly many, many times without serious refurbishment. These are all complete unknowns at this time.

    Lofty goals on cost of reuse. The space shuttle was supposed to make access to space cheap. It was a colossal failure. Frankly the NASA promoters who lobbied for the Space Shuttle committed fraud. Granted it was using technology and designs from the early 1970’s, and maybe the advances over the past 40 years can solve some the problems of a completely reusable launcher. Launching a satellite isnt like flying a plane. There is at least 2 orders of magnitude more energy in launching a satellite. Controlling these energies with a vehicle with the same ease that we do an aircraft, seems like an over simplified analogy that is easy enough to say, but very difficult to do.

    The failure of the Shuttle to meet its cost requirements has a lot more to do with the failure of government than with the failure of engineering. The Space Shuttle had so many conflicting requirements thrown at it that was a white elephant right off the design board. And then when the tile system proved to be far more expensive than anyone imagined, they were unable to kill it or go back to the drawing board for political reasons. The shuttle is a perfect example of why governments should not be running huge engineering projects.

    Doing all this to be ready for flight in 5 years would be impressive.

    I’d like to say “impossible”. It’s taken longer than that to go from Falcon 9 to Falcon Heavy, which is essentially three Falcon 9 first stages strapped together with a single second stage. This is an all-new rocket system of a scale never before attempted, which requires things like orbital refueling to make sense as anything but an LEO system. A more realistic yet still ambitious timeframe might look more like this:

    2022 – first launch of unmanned BFR

    2023 – first docking of BFR to space station

    2024 – First manned BFR launch

    2025 – first demonstrated on-orbit refueling attempt

    2025 – First flight of BFR around the moon

    2026 – first flight/landing of unmanned BFR on Mars

    2028 – First ISRU landing on Mars

    2030 – First manned landing on Mars

    Then, be prepared to add a year or two to each of those phases if they don’t work out perfectly, or if they uncover design flaws, or if a rocket blows up. So the first manned landing on Mars by 2030 is maybe achievable but would require everything to go smoothly all along the way. More likely, the timeframe is “somewhere between 2030 and 2040”.

    However… to me Mars is merely an aspirational target – a vision statement. The true value of BFR will be the existence of a rocket system that lowers the cost of space launch by two orders of magnitude. We have no idea what kind of market will arise when a kg of mass can be put into orbit for $60 instead of $6000. By the time BFR is ready to go to Mars, we may have a completely different idea of what we want to do in space.

    • #16
    • October 3, 2017, at 10:49 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  17. John Walker Contributor
    John Walker Post author

    Dan Hanson (View Comment):
    There’s also no need to fit many satellites into one launch, if that launch is cheaper than the launch of a small rocket sized for one satellite. You can fly mostly empty and still save money.

    This is a key point, which many people miss. I tried to explain this in the last paragraph of #10.

    There’s another factor in the economics of satellite and other spacecraft design. It costs a lot of money to make something light and sufficiently strong to withstand launch. Satellite builders spend large sums of money (a typical satellite costs much more than even today’s launch costs) reducing weight because every kilogram they shave off the structure and mission hardware means another kilogram of fuel for station keeping and maneuvering, and that translates directly into the life of the spacecraft. Satellite vendors make most of their profit from the incentive payments from their customers for each year of the satellite’s operational life, so a typical satellite today is as light as possible and then filled up with fuel to the launcher’s payload capacity.

    If you reduce the cost of launch by two orders of magnitude and have a vastly greater payload capacity in both mass and volume, there’s no need for exotic, expensive, and fragile structures. Satellites can begin to resemble industrial rack-mounted equipment, optimised for cost rather than low mass. This will both dramatically reduce the price of satellites, cut the time it takes to design and build them, and by allowing them to carry more fuel, lengthen their lifetimes.

    • #17
    • October 3, 2017, at 11:17 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  18. Dan Hanson Thatcher

    Those are very good points, John.

    For me, the most interesting thing in the announcement was the ability of the system to land on the moon and return to Earth while only needing a refueling stop in Earth Orbit. If that can be achieved, the Moon becomes trivially easy to exploit compared to current capabilities. No need to harvest fuel for return trips, or to build a special lander, or to do refueling in Lunar orbit. That would be a huge boon for lunar exploration an exploitation.

    I believe the Moon is a much better first destination than is Mars for manned exploration and even for self-sustaining colonies. The discoveries we have made about the moon in the last decade should change our entire view of it. We once thought the moon was an inhospitable ball of slag that had no real commercial uses, and with very little new information to gain from exploration.

    In the last decade, we have learned several very important things: First, the moon has many, many lava tubes. Some so big that if pressurized could have their own weather and house entire cities. GRAIL showed that fully 12% of the lunar crust is made up of void space. That’s a hell of a lot of living area. It’s safe from radiation, micrometeorites, and near the surface is a constant -20 degrees so we don’t have to worry about the huge temperature extremes. We don’t even have to dig down into them. We have found many open ‘skylights’ that will allow us to easily send robots or people into them for exploration. And there’s a lot to learn, because these are pristine environments that have not been exposed to radiation or contamination for billions of years. No telling what we’ll find when we crack the sealed ones open.

    Second, the moon has water. A LOT of water. And the moon produces water constantly due to interaction of the regolith with the solar wind. Hundreds of millions of tons of water sit right on the surface in permanently-shadowed craters. We recently found that the mantle of the moon is wet as well.

    The biggest problem for a colony is the apparent lack of nitrogen (so far). But the potential for exploration is huge – if 12% of the crust is void space, there may be volatile traps or even sealed chambers filled with gas from outgassing of the rock. We won’t know until we actually go look.

    The key thing about BFR’s capability to land on the moon and return without refueling is that it lowers the cost to lunar surface by such a huge degree that private exploration and exploitation becomes possible. Even manned bases might be created by wealthy billionaires, movie studios, hotel chains, and other commercial interests. Tourism alone might justify a serious lunar presence.

    But those Lava Tubes… Compared to terraforming Mars, pressurizing lava tube habitats that hold hundreds of thousands of people seems almost trivial. Deep lava tubes might even be above the melting point of water in temperature. We’re talking about hollow structures that could be miles across, hundreds of miles long, and have roofs over a mile above. That’s big enough that colonists would not feel like cave dwellers, but more like people living in a domed city.

    We may not be that far from Luna City and Tycho Under. Heinlein’s “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” may yet be an accurate depiction of how people will live off-planet in the future.

    • #18
    • October 3, 2017, at 1:04 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  19. OccupantCDN Coolidge

    Dan Hanson (View Comment):
    One of the biggest killers of engineering projects is scope creep and poor requirements analysis. This is also the hallmark of NASA’s big launch programs. By the time NSA, DoD, 50 senators and 435 congresscritters get done with the requirements, you wind up with a swiss army knife design that does everything kinda sorta, but nothing well. The success of Apollo had a lot to do with iron-clad, well defined requirements. Everyone on that program knew exactly what had to be accomplished, and they let the design go where the requirements took them.

    The failure of the Shuttle to meet its cost requirements has a lot more to do with the failure of government than with the failure of engineering. The Space Shuttle had so many conflicting requirements thrown at it that was a white elephant right off the design board. And then when the tile system proved to be far more expensive than anyone imagined, they were unable to kill it or go back to the drawing board for political reasons. The shuttle is a perfect example of why governments should not be running huge engineering projects.

    I agree with you on the Apollo project. It had measurable goals timelines and specific engineering challenge to over come. It was perhaps the last program in NASA’s manned spaceflight program to be effectively managed.

    The space shuttle was fraudulently sold to congress and the American people from the get go. There was no way it was ever going to make access to space cheap and abundant. Its massive standing army of ground support to refurbish the shuttle after each flight, and to prepare it for the next flight meant that it could never keep an aggressive schedule nor be considered a low cost provider. As it was originally proposed to be.

    The real problem with the shuttle, is that there wasnt a methodology of large scale continual evolutionary improvements to the vehicles. I wish that the shuttle looked more like Buran. With engines on the external fuel tank to lift the shuttle into orbit. (perhaps evolving to be a fly back booster) without the SRBs. Perhaps this external booster could have been based on the Saturn V S-1C stage. Elongated and biconic lifting body so that after separation from the orbiter, it could come back to the cape and land on a runway.

    • #19
    • October 8, 2017, at 11:00 PM PDT
    • 1 like