Constructing Cislunar Infrastructure – ISDC 2011

ISDC conference report by Dave Fischer

If those who think Mars is sufficiently hard to get to and remain to settle are correct, or those who think that it would be a terrible mistake to go to Mars and return leaving only flags and footprints are correct, then we are, in fact, not going to Mars anytime soon.  So where are we going?  And why are we going?

The current Flexible Path suggests that the manned exploration of an asteroid is a reasonable goal.  It avoids the problems of deep gravity wells, and does create launch vehicles and spacecraft.  However, as critics point out, this merely repeats the standard process of throwing away everything except the manned return capsule.  What might be done to create a permanent space faring infrastructure?

Why we are going is settlement.  That is the conclusion from reading policy statements, both formal and informal, from the past 10 years.  Beginning with the Vision for Space Exploration statement in 2004, up through the 2010 statement by the Obama administration, these policy statements all point toward the unspoken word, “settlement”.  Permanent occupation of space that exploits the economic resources available is the goal.  Now, what are the initial strategic steps, and what are the tactics to implement them.

At the International Space Development Conference (ISDC 2011), two proposals were made that result in permanent cislunar infrastructure: one by Dr. Paul Spudis and one by Stephen D. Covey.

Dr. Spudis advocated the conservative approach.  During Friday’s luncheon, Dr. Spudis presented “Can We Afford to Return to the Moon” (see the paper in the NSS Lunar Library by Spudis and Lavoie Mission and Implementation of an Affordable Lunar Return – pdf)

Spudis and Lavoie argue that over a period of roughly 16 years, employing a series of 31 missions, that a robotically built water mining operation at the South Pole of the moon, later employing humans living at the base to repair and maintain the equipment, would yield the following:

1.  Commercially valuable water for use as Lox/H2 fuel on the Moon and within cislunar space, sufficient to sustain the operation, with excess available for sale.

2.  Reusable Landers and Rovers.

3.  Permanent human occupation of the Moon.

4.  Routine access to all space assets within Cislunar space, including communications, GPS, weather, remote sensing and strategic monitoring satellites.

In essence, we create a “transcontinental railroad” with permanent settlements at various points between the Earth and the Moon.  The critical element is that this can be accomplished with the $7 Billion annual budget likely to be given NASA for the foreseeable future.  The projected cost of a Flexible Path mission to an asteroid has been estimated at $80 Billion, while the Cislunar project would cost $77 Billion.

The second proposal is far more radical: “Asteroid Capture for Space Solar Power”.  Here, Stephen D. Covey argued for a purely commercial venture to capture the asteroid 99942 Apophis, mine it for metals, silicon and oxygen, build Solar Power Satellites (SPS) and sell the power to utility companies on Earth.  An initial capital base of $30 Billion would be required.  But by the end of the sixth or seventh year of operation the enterprise would be at break even, and eventually generate $20 Billion per year in revenue.

At the end of eight years, 15 Solar Power Satellites would be in operation generating $20 Billion per year in revenue.  And only 10% of the asteroid would have been processed.  A total of 150 SPSs could be manufactured before another asteroid was needed.

The end result of this initial eight-year plan would be:

1.  A fully shielded (3 meters of slag from the mining operation) habitat for 8,000 people.

2.  Space based factory capable of producing 8 SPSs per year.

3.  Space infrastructure created by commercial space companies to support the operations.

4.  3-4% of Earth’s electrical needs supplied by Space based Solar Power

At the end of production, with 150 Satellites in operation, more than a third of Earth’s electrical needs would be supplied by Space Based Solar Power.

And who is to suggest that we cannot do both of these ventures at the same time?

SpaceShip Two – First Feathered Flight

Feathered
SpaceShip Two “Feathered”
Image Credit: Clay Center Observatory

Om 4 May 2011, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip Two completed its third test flight in twelve days, and this one was special. For the first time, Virgin Galactic’s rocket plane deployed its twin tail sections in the position designed to allow it to softly return to the Earth’s atmosphere from the vacuum of space. Virgin Galactic noted:

After a 45 minute climb to the desired altitude of 51,500 feet, SS2 was released cleanly from VMS Eve and established a stable glide profile before deploying, for the first time, its re-entry or “feathered” configuration by rotating the tail section of the vehicle upwards to a 65 degree angle to the fuselage. It remained in this configuration with the vehicle’s body at a level pitch for approximately 1 minute and 15 seconds whilst descending, almost vertically, at around 15,500 feet per minute, slowed by the powerful shuttlecock-like drag created by the raised tail section. At around 33,500 feet the pilots reconfigured the spaceship to its normal glide mode and executed a smooth runway touch down, approximately 11 minutes and 5 seconds after its release from VMS Eve.

The feathered configuration is used during re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere from the 100 km height obtained by the sub-orbital spaceship. The configuration is very stable during the free fall, which means the pilot has a hands-free re-entry. High drag combined with the light weight of the spacecraft means the skin temperature remains low.

Statement on Launch Costs from SpaceX CEO Elon Musk

The following is quoted in full from the SpaceX website, dated May 4, 2011.  Note that SpaceX is participating in the NSS International Space Development Conference (ISDC 2011) later this month.

WHY THE US CAN BEAT CHINA: THE FACTS ABOUT SPACEX COSTS

Whenever someone proposes to do something that has never been done before, there will always be skeptics.

So when I started SpaceX, it was not surprising when people said we wouldn’t succeed. But now that we’ve successfully proven Falcon 1, Falcon 9 and Dragon, there’s been a steady stream of misinformation and doubt expressed about SpaceX’s actual launch costs and prices.

As noted last month by a Chinese government official, SpaceX currently has the best launch prices in the world and they don’t believe they can beat them. This is a clear case of American innovation trumping lower overseas labor rates.

I recognize that our prices shatter the historical cost models of government-led developments, but these prices are not arbitrary, premised on capturing a dominant share of the market, or “teaser” rates meant to lure in an eager market only to be increased later. These prices are based on known costs and a demonstrated track record, and they exemplify the potential of America’s commercial space industry.

Here are the facts:

The price of a standard flight on a Falcon 9 rocket is $54 million. We are the only launch company that publicly posts this information on our website (www.spacex.com). We have signed many legally binding contracts with both government and commercial customers for this price (or less). Because SpaceX is so vertically integrated, we know and can control the overwhelming majority of our costs. This is why I am so confident that our performance will increase and our prices will decline over time, as is the case with every other technology.

The average price of a full-up NASA Dragon cargo mission to the International Space Station is $133 million including inflation, or roughly $115m in today’s dollars, and we have a firm, fixed price contract with NASA for 12 missions. This price includes the costs of the Falcon 9 launch, the Dragon spacecraft, all operations, maintenance and overhead, and all of the work required to integrate with the Space Station. If there are cost overruns, SpaceX will cover the difference. (This concept may be foreign to some traditional government space contractors that seem to believe that cost overruns should be the responsibility of the taxpayer.)

The total company expenditures since being founded in 2002 through the 2010 fiscal year were less than $800 million, which includes all the development costs for the Falcon 1, Falcon 9 and Dragon. Included in this $800 million are the costs of building launch sites at Vandenberg, Cape Canaveral and Kwajalein, as well as the corporate manufacturing facility that can support up to 12 Falcon 9 and Dragon missions per year. This total also includes the cost of five flights of Falcon 1, two flights of Falcon 9, and one up and back flight of Dragon.

The Falcon 9 launch vehicle was developed from a blank sheet to first launch in four and half years for just over $300 million. The Falcon 9 is an EELV class vehicle that generates roughly one million pounds of thrust (four times the maximum thrust of a Boeing 747) and carries more payload to orbit than a Delta IV Medium.

The Dragon spacecraft was developed from a blank sheet to the first demonstration flight in just over four years for about $300 million. Last year, SpaceX became the first private company, in partnership with NASA, to successfully orbit and recover a spacecraft. The spacecraft and the Falcon 9 rocket that carried it were designed, manufactured and launched by American workers for an American company. The Falcon 9/Dragon system, with the addition of a launch escape system, seats and upgraded life support, can carry seven astronauts to orbit, more than double the capacity of the Russian Soyuz, but at less than a third of the price per seat.

SpaceX has been profitable every year since 2007, despite dramatic employee growth and major infrastructure and operations investments. We have over 40 flights on manifest representing over $3 billion in revenues.

These are the objective facts, confirmed by external auditors. Moreover, SpaceX intends to make far more dramatic reductions in price in the long term when full launch vehicle reusability is achieved. We will not be satisfied with our progress until we have achieved this long sought goal of the space industry.

For the first time in more than three decades, America last year began taking back international market-share in commercial satellite launch. This remarkable turn-around was sparked by a small investment NASA made in SpaceX in 2006 as part of the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. A unique public-private partnership, COTS has proven that under the right conditions, a properly incentivized contractor — even an all-American one — can develop extremely complex systems on rapid timelines and a fixed-price basis, significantly beating historical industry-standard costs.

China has the fastest growing economy in the world. But the American free enterprise system, which allows anyone with a better mouse-trap to compete, is what will ensure that the United States remains the world’s greatest superpower of innovation.

–Elon–

CCDev2 – SpaceX

Dragon
Cady Coleman and Scott Kelley in the Dragon
Image Credit: SpaceX

This is the final entry concerning the second round of funding in the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program.

NASA awarded $75 million to spaceX to develop a revolutionary launch escape system that will enable the company’s Dragon spacecraft to carry astronauts.

“This award will accelerate our efforts to develop the next-generation rockets and spacecraft for human transportation,” said Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO and Chief Designer. “With NASA’s support, SpaceX will be ready to fly its first manned mission in 2014.”

Dragon is designed to carry seven astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) along with cargo. It will launch aboard a Falcon 9 rocket built by SpaceX. The cargo version of Dragon is expected to make a second trip into space in 2011.

SpaceX and NASA are negotiating whether this second flight will be allowed to approach the ISS, or a third flight will be required to prove the system.

CCDev2 – Blue Origin

Blue Origin
Blue Origin Spacecraft
Image Credit:
NASA / Blue Origin

Third in our series on the second round of funding in the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program is the secretive Blue Origin company. The award of $22 million has been announced by NASA.

Funding from this round will help with development through the requirements review stage including work on the thermal protection system and an analysis of the aerodynamics of its cone shaped body.

The spacecraft is designed to carry seven astronauts to low Earth orbit.

It will carry astronauts and cargo to and from the International Space Station and serve as an ISS emergency escape vehicle for up to 210 days. The vehicle is designed for launch on an Atlas V rocket.

CCDev2 – Sierra Nevada

HL-20
NASA HL-20
Image Credit: NASA

The second round of funding in the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program has been announced by NASA.

Sierra Nevada Corporation received $80 million in the second round to go with the $20 million it received in 2010. Sierra Nevada acquired the Dream Chaser project in December 2008, and won funding in round one of the CCDev program. This was the largest award in round one.

The project derives from the HL-20 program undertaken in 1990 by NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

The Dream Chaser is designed to carry up to seven people to the International Space Station and back.

The vehicle is designed to launch vertically on an Atlas V rocket and land horizontally on conventional runways.

CCDev2 – Boeing

CST-100
Boeing CST-100
Image Credit: Boeing

NASA announced the second round of funding in the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program.

Boeing was the big winner in CCDev-2, getting $92.3 million, on top of the $18 million it won last year.

The initial $18 million allowed Boeing to complete several risk reduction demonstrations and a System Definition Review (SDR) in October, 2010. The CST-100’s system characteristics and configuration were base-lined. Boeing designed, built and tested a pressurized structure of the crew module. It also developed an avionics systems integration facility to support rapid prototyping and full-scale development.

Boeing notes that the CST-100 spacecraft relies on proven materials and subsystem technologies that are safe and affordable.

Plans include ferrying astronauts and supplies to the International Space Station (ISS), as well as crew and passengers to the Space Station being proposed by Bigelow Aerospace. The CST-100 is designed to carry up to seven passengers and is designed to be launched by a number of different expendable launch vehicles. These include United Launch Alliance’s Delta 4 and Atlas 5, Space Exploration Technologies’ Falcon 9, and the European Ariane 5.

NASA’s new 14-month CCDev-2 Space Act Agreement will enable Boeing to further mature its system to a Preliminary Design Review (PDR), a critical step that ensures the system design meets all requirements.

National Space Society Announces Space Pioneer Award for Business Entrepreneur to be Awarded to SpaceX

In recognition of SpaceX’s groundbreaking year in 2010, with the successful launch of two Falcon 9 rockets, and the safe return of its Dragon capsule, the National Space Society (NSS) is today announcing that Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) will be the recipient of the NSS’s 2011 Pioneer Award for Business Entrepreneur. This award will be presented at the NSS’s annual International Space Development Conference (ISDC), which will be held from May 18-May 22, 2011 in Huntsville, Alabama. Adam Harris, SpaceX’s Vice President for Government Affairs, will accept the award on behalf of SpaceX.

NSS Executive Director, Gary Barnhard states, “There are certain milestones and breakthroughs that accompany any successful venture, including those in the space industry. SpaceX has clearly demonstrated the engineering skill and tenacity to be a serious contender in the evolving commercial cargo and crew launch vehicle market.”

SpaceX recently announced its proposal to build a new Falcon Heavy lift launch vehicle, with a projected launch date sometime in late 2013 or in 2014. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk stated that SpaceX is working towards cost reduction in manufacturing while making the rockets lighter and stronger with improved engine thrust and reliability. Even larger vehicles, with greater lifting capabilities are envisioned by SpaceX and others to meet the requirements of NASA’s Heavy Lift program. Says Rick Zucker, NSS Executive Vice President, “Expanding our launch capabilities to include heavy lift options, such as the one which has now been proposed by SpaceX, could make a significant contribution to space exploration beyond Low Earth Orbit.”

Mark Hopkins, Chair of the NSS Executive Committee, notes that, “The high cost of launch has always hampered the exploration and development of space. With its Falcon Heavy vehicle, SpaceX seeks to achieve a major reduction in launch costs. Such a reduction could enable entirely new categories of space industry, such as commercial space stations and privately funded activities on the Moon in cooperation with a government funded lunar program.”

Information about the Falcon Heavy is at http://www.spacex.com/falcon_heavy.php
Information on the ISDC is at: www.isdc2011.org

SpaceX Announces Launch Date for the World's Most Powerful Rocket

Falcon Heavy will lift more than twice as much as any other launch vehicle

See video of full press conference.

WASHINGTON – Today, Elon Musk, CEO and chief rocket designer of Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) unveiled the dramatic final specifications and launch date for the Falcon Heavy, the world’s largest rocket.

“Falcon Heavy will carry more payload to orbit or escape velocity than any vehicle in history, apart from the Saturn V moon rocket, which was decommissioned after the Apollo program. This opens a new world of capability for both government and commercial space missions,” Musk told a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

“Falcon Heavy will arrive at our Vandenberg, California, launch complex by the end of next year, with liftoff to follow soon thereafter.  First launch from our Cape Canaveral launch complex is planned for late 2013 or 2014.”

Musk added that with the ability to carry satellites or interplanetary spacecraft weighing over 53 metric tons or 117,000 pounds to orbit, Falcon Heavy will have more than twice the performance of the Space Shuttle or Delta IV Heavy, the next most powerful vehicle, which is  operated by United Launch Alliance, a Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture.

Just for perspective, 53 metric tons is more than the maximum take-off weight of a fully-loaded Boeing 737-200 with 136 passengers. In other words, Falcon Heavy can deliver the equivalent of an entire airline flight full of passengers, crew, luggage and fuel all the way to orbit.

Falcon Heavy’s first stage will be made up of three nine-engine cores, which are used as the first stage of the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle.  It will be powered by SpaceX’s upgraded Merlin engines currently being tested at the SpaceX rocket development facility in McGregor, Texas.  Falcon Heavy will generate 3.8 million pounds of thrust at liftoff.  This is the equivalent to the thrust of fifteen Boeing 747s taking off at the same time.

Above all, Falcon Heavy has been designed for extreme reliability.  Unique safety features of the Falcon 9 are preserved, such as the ability to complete its mission even if multiple engines fail. Like a commercial airliner, each engine is surrounded by a protective shell that contains a worst case situation like fire or a chamber rupture, preventing it from affecting other engines or the vehicle itself.

Anticipating potential astronaut transport needs, Falcon Heavy is also designed to meet NASA human rating standards, unlike other satellite launch vehicles.  For example, this means designing to higher structural safety margins of 40% above flight loads, rather than the 25% level of other rockets, and triple redundant avionics.

Falcon Heavy will be the first rocket in history to do propellant cross-feed from the side boosters to the center core, thus leaving the center core with most of its propellant after the side boosters separate. The net effect is that Falcon Heavy achieves performance comparable to a three stage rocket, even though only the upper stage is airlit, further improving both payload performance and reliability.  Crossfeed is not required for missions below 100,000 lbs, and can be turned off if desired.

Despite being designed to higher structural margins than other rockets, the side booster stages will have a mass ratio (full of propellant vs empty) above 30, better than any vehicle of any kind in history.

Falcon Heavy, with more than twice the payload, but less than one third the cost of a Delta IV Heavy, will provide much needed relief to government and commercial budgets. In fact, Falcon Heavy at approximately $1,000 per pound to orbit, sets a new world record in affordable spaceflight.

This year, even as the Department of Defense budget was cut, the EELV launch program, which includes the Delta IV, still saw a thirty percent increase.

The 2012 budget for four Air Force launches is $1.74B, which is an average of $435M per launch. Falcon 9 is offered on the commercial market for $50-60M and Falcon Heavy is offered for $80-$125M. Unlike our competitors, this price includes all non-recurring development costs and on-orbit delivery of an agreed upon mission. For government missions, NASA has added mission assurance and additional services to the Falcon 9 for less than $20M.

Note that Falcon Heavy should not be confused with the super heavy lift rocket program being debated by the US Congress.  That vehicle is intended to carry approximately 150 tons to orbit.  SpaceX agrees with the need to develop a vehicle of that class as the best way to conduct a large number of human missions to Mars.  Musk also referred to the possible  future development of a Falcon “SuperHeavy” under consideration at SpaceX.

See video animation of the Falcon Heavy.

See video of full press conference.

Astrobotic Technology Signs SpaceX Contract for Lunar XPrize Mission

Astrobotic
Falcon 9 / Lunar Mission
Image Credit:
Astrobotic Technology

Astrobotic Technology, Inc., a spinoff from Carnegie Mellon University, announced the signing of a contract with SpaceX to launch its Lunar XPrize mission using a Falcon 9 rocket.

Astrobotic intends to launch as early as December 2013. The mission includes a rover designed to operate for three months, and commercial payloads on the lander priced at $700,000 per pound, plus a fee of $250,000-per-payload to cover the cost of integration, communications, power, thermal control and pointing services.

Currently, Astrobotic Technology has a contract with NASA to design a lunar mining robot that can extract frozen volatiles (water, methane) at polar locations. These can be used to create propellants for spacecraft returning to Earth.