If NASA decides to use a private rocket in the upcoming mission to the moon, it will change the entire space industry


2019-03-17 00:15:21




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If NASA decides to use a private rocket in the upcoming mission to the moon, it will change the entire space industry

The American space Agency NASA is considering as an alternative to its own super-heavy booster SLS, the development of which is at least the last decade, the idea of using the commercial media to run is very important to the Agency's mission by sending the spacecraft «Orion» around the moon next year. The decision may be fatal not only for the specified mission, but in General can have a serious impact on how will be carried out ambitious space missions in deep space in the future, says the online edition of The Verge.

The Impetus for the Agency to "hold the nose" in the direction of commercial orientation can be a desire to fulfil its promise on schedule scheduled launch, says the publication. The finalization of superheavy Space launch system (Space Launch System, SLS) will take the Agency more time than expected and the media does not have time to prepare for at the moment is scheduled for June 2020 launch. At the same time, in the market there are already available commercial solutions that are ready right now to fly to the moon.

For NASA's change of plans in any case be a difficult choice. After all, the Agency will need to choose not one but two booster, so in this case, the mission might as well make it a reality. In addition, you will need to develop new technologies and methods for the specific docking of spacecraft without which this idea can be discarded directly in the trash.

In Other words, the process will require a lot of time and effort, and at the same time no guarantees that all will be prepared for next year, no one can not give. However, if the Agency still dare to take this step, it will be able to demonstrate the lack of need to use super-expensive and super-large rockets for the successful implementation of ambitious space missions in deep space – it's simpler to rely on smaller carriers, performing several runs at a time.


Space tugs

According to current plans of the upcoming mission, NASA wants the next year to send in a three-week trip around the moon two spacecraft: an empty ship "Orion" (in the future it will be used as a manned spacecraft) and a cylindrical module European Service Module with power supply systems and life support for the ship. To overcome the force of gravity, the output of both spacecraft in earth orbit and sending them to the moon will need a lot of rocket fuel. However, the capacity of the SLS would be enough to send both modules to the destination within a single run.

If NASA decides to use to deliver the spacecraft to the moon, "a commercial approach", you will have to use two commercial media and the powerful private rocket, is able to cope with this problem one for the trigger — simply no. At the moment the most powerful American commercial rockets are from SpaceX and Delta IV Heavy from United Launch Alliance. Both media certainly impressive, but even they are not comparable with those opportunities that will have a SLS when it finally dosobirat.

In this case, one carrier will be used for output of the spacecraft "Orion" and the module European Service Module into orbit, where they linger for a while. The second booster will be used for delivery to the "Orion" service module and space tug. Once in orbit, the tug, equipped with its fuel and engines that will make docking with the "Orion" and run the engine, pull both spacecraft to the moon.

"This is similar to the agricultural equipment, pulling a trailer or special equipment. Only in this case we are talking about a separate module, which is the propulsion system", — commented on The Verge Dallas, Bienhoff, head of the private space company Cislunar Space Development Company engaged in the development of technologies for missions in deep space.

The concept of a space tug was developed in the last century. For example, NASA began to explore this idea more in the 60-70-ies as a "promising method of accelerating space vehicles". Using it may change the approach to manned space missions that have not changed for many decades.

"One of the reasons that ultimately led US to the development of the Space Launch System is that we are accustomed to within one run yielded the maximum possible payload", — adds Bienhoff, who also worked on technologies for space tugs of the Boeing company.

However, this approach significantly complicates the run. Earth's gravity is very strong. Therefore, the conclusion is very heavy equipment into space requires a lot of energy (read – a lot of rocket fuel). And running a large amount of fuel requires the use of large rockets. And the bigger the rocket, the more fuel is required to output payload into orbit. It's a real vicious circle.

the Artistic representation of the future launch vehicle SLS

As missiles become more and more, becomes more and more expensive the production run. And this is one of the main problems of the new SLS rockets. Only one development in the past decade, NASA has spent more than 14of billions of dollars. The carrier is still not ready. Once that happens, it is expected that the Agency will be able to run it at most twice a year because the cost per launch would be about $ 1 billion. For comparison, the launch of a private heavy booster Delta IV Heavy costs about 350 million, and the cost of launch as the Falcon Heavy starts with amounts below $ 100 million. Even if you run both media together, still the cost is not even close to be near the launch price of the SLS.

In this regard, the use of space tugs will also allow NASA to save a lot of money in the future. For example, if the Agency decides to use a tug for delivery of spacecraft to the moon, then it can be returned back into orbit and just left there. When you will need it again – just to refuel and re-used.


Build in space

Of Course, for this approach to work, NASA needs to develop a new docking system with these tugs. The head of the Agency Jim Breidenstein at the hearings in the Senate said that in the current form of the capsule "Orion" is not technically capable of docking with space tugs, "therefore, in the period from now until June 2020, NASA will need to develop a connecting system with this kind of opportunity."

And yet the technologies that will be needed to implement such a system – are not new. For example, the Russian spacecraft "Soyuz", which is delivering new crews to the ISS, for a long time using an automatic docking system. The first test launch of the spacecraft Crew Dragon company SpaceX has also demonstrated the ability to dock with the station in automatic mode using a system of sensors and lasers for a safe rendezvous with a docking airlock of the ISS.

"the System of LIDAR and machine vision technology, which involved a ship Crew Dragon for an automatic docking with the ISS – those technologies and equipment that may be collected and installed on the spacecraft directly in the space" — said Andrew rush, head of the company Made In Space that developed a 3D printer in microgravity, testing of which was conducted on Board the ISS.

First docking of a space ship Crew company SpaceX Dragon with the ISS, conducted on March 4, 2019

There is another option that will simplify the task for the withdrawal of heavy spacecraft into orbit. At least in the future perspective. The question required the use of large rockets could solve Assembly equipment parts directly in space. Instead of having to send some bulky equipment in one run, it would be easier to produce several space launches of smaller capacity (and cost) with multiple payloads, and then to put it all together already in orbit. The same approach (at least partially) could be used in spacecraft. Besides, NASA has had to face problems build very large spacecraft and their location inside the rocket. Get at least the same space Observatory of the new generation "James Webb", which does not quite fit in the booster, which would get her into space. The apparatus was so large and complex that it will have to start inside PH folded, and then in space within two weeks to deploy. And if something goes wrong, the telescope may not earn, putting an end project value of nearly $ 10 billion, which in fact do not even have time to begin.

The ability to assemble spacecraft in space directly, and use technology of additive manufacturing, there will be no need in the original Assembly of devices on Earth.

"Distributing the load on several runs, and then using space technology production and Assembly, we could really create a spacecraft is more advantageous from an economic point of view," — believes the rush.


Risks and challenges

All these changes will undoubtedly require its price. And not only in financial terms. Automatic docking and Assembly in space, according to Bridenstine while carry too much risk for NASA.

"Using a special system of docking a manned spacecraft in orbit with the prospect of further movement to the moon adds unwanted complexity, and risk of future missions," — was written by the head of the Agency in an open letter to NASA employees.

In addition, the start-up of equipment in parts and further Assembly in space only for one mission involves multiple launches, what might not agree with some responsible for these missions state officials. According to some experts and officials, multiple launches increase the risk of a complete failure of the mission – if one of the launches fail, jeopardizing the entire mission as a whole.

The Use of commercial launch vehicles also will not necessarily solve all the problems. At the moment, the engineers are checking the spacecraft "Orion", using a computer simulation based on the current design of the booster for SLS. To change the vector in the direction of commercial launch vehicles they will have to postpone this work and to start a new simulation with the newcommercial PH. In addition, it will completely change the sequence diagram of flight, which in turn will require additional time for preparation. To do all this for a year and in time to the scheduled start — an impossible task.

"When you change the flight plan, which is inevitable considering the fact that all commercial media are not comparable with the SLS, all the work that was carried out before that will be useless. In this case, neither of which the launch of "Orion" in June 2020, and there can be no" — commented anonymously to The Verge, one of the employees of Lockheed Martin working on the spaceship "Orion".

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