Thursday, 13 August 2009

Defecate or Extricate

Clark Lindsay over at Hobbyspace has been reporting on the public meeting that is assessing the US Space program, the Augustine Commission.
Key Finding:
/-- The program of record (i.e. Ares I/V/Orion/Altair), which exceeds the expected budget substantially, will no longer be in the options table but kept separately just as a reference.
It can't be done. Not with the current budget. The expressed goal of getting a US crew to the Moon and back back 2025, let alone 2020, is not feasible with the financing available.

Other crewed options, and missions, are available and useful, that work within the budget. Building infrastructure so that some day, access to space beyond Earth Orbit will be economically feasible. But the current plan of returning to the Moon won't work without a massive and sustained increase in funds. And even if the funds are available, the planned way of doing it is a clunker, and has to be scrapped.

From the Wall Street Journal :
Current budget constraints confronting the National Aeronautics and Space Administration make it virtually impossible to sustain manned missions to the Moon, Mars or further into space in coming decades, a blue-ribbon study group is expected to tell the White House.

The findings mean the Obama administration, which created the commission, faces a stark test of its commitment to pursue expensive human space exploration efforts despite ballooning federal deficits.

The advisory group, headed by former Lockheed Martin Corp. Chairman Norman Augustine, concluded at its final public meeting Wednesday that NASA's existing manned exploration plans are "not executable" under today's budget guidance from the White House. That makes it unlikely for NASA to continue an $80 billion-plus program to develop a new manned capsule, a family of next-generation rockets and a lunar lander intended to carry astronauts back to the Moon.

But it isn't clear what alternatives the White House is likely to embrace. The commission, among other things, laid out an array of manned exploration programs it considers more viable. They include using versions of existing military rockets to access space, relying on derivatives of the space shuttle to boost cargo and astronauts past low-earth orbit, and creating fuel depots in space to help power missions to explore asteroids and other parts of deep space.
All of the options recognize the importance of commercial cargo and crew delivery to the future of the International Space Station, said former astronaut Sally Ride, a member of the commission. "We need to get NASA out of the business of getting crew" to low-earth orbit, she added.

Ms. Ride said manned "exploration doesn't look viable" without significantly larger NASA budgets. The panel seeks to eventually boost NASA's manned exploration budget -- currently projected at roughly $9 billion annually -- between 25% and 50% over the next few years.
As Mark Whittington says in Cumudgeon's Corner says:
Obama is going to have to step up, in the middle of all the other problems he has brought upon himself, and either cough up more money (and sell it to the Congress and the American people) or be the President who--again--deferred American space exploration for perhaps another generation.
Or in other words, time to defecate or extricate. Sh1t or get off the pot. As Sally Ryde said, and I again emphasise, manned exploration doesn't look viable without significantly larger NASA budgets.

Somehow, I don't think a $3Bn a year increase in NASA's budget is going to be popular with Obama. Nor with Congress.

1 comment:

John Bartley K7AAY said...

Obviously, we need a REAL Orion. As in Freeman Dyson's Orion.... see en daht wikipedia daht org stroke wiki stroke Project_Orion_(nuclear_propulsion)

We can implement Carl Sagan's wishes, and use our nukes for something beneficial.

But, add a few tricks, such as:

1) launch from a barge near magnetic north so any radioactive particles don't get trapped in within the magnetosphere,

2) use HE on the launch barge as the first charge at launch instead of a nuke, and

3) HE dropped from the pusher plate as the second charge, so a nuke doesn't detonate until 90' above the surface, reducing fallout.

4) Fuel capsules with a larger-than-usual high explosive tamper, in lieu of the traditional U238 tamper, further reducing fallout by eliminating atomized U238 normally found in tampers

5) Put Penning antiproton traps in the fuel capsules and use the antiprotons to initiate fusion instead of the traditional neutron accelerators, so very subcritical masses of U-233 (preferred) or U-235 can fission, reducing unburnt fuel and therefore fallout even further.

Of course, this would bulk up the fuel capsule to above the size of a Foster's can (the original design), but that's trivial, considering you can launch a 4,000-10,000 tonne ship to beyond the Van Allens with only 800 detonations.

73s and best regards,