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posted by Fnord666 on Tuesday February 28 2017, @03:44AM   Printer-friendly
from the to-the-moon-but-not-back? dept.

Howard Bloom has written a guest blog at Scientific American addressing the Trump Administration's plan to return to (orbit) the Moon. That mission would use the Space Launch System rocket and Orion capsule, which have cost $18 billion through 2017 but are not expected to launch astronauts into space until around 2023. Bloom instead proposes using private industry to put a base on the Moon, using technology such as SpaceX's Falcon Heavy (estimated $135 million per launch vs. $500 million for the Space Launch System) and Bigelow Aerospace's inflatable habitat modules:

[NASA's acting administrator Robert] Lightfoot's problem lies in the two pieces of NASA equipment he wants to work with: a rocket that's too expensive to fly and is years from completion—the Space Launch System; and a capsule that's far from ready to carry humans—the Orion. Neither the SLS nor the Orion are able to land on the Moon. Let me repeat that. Once these pieces of super-expensive equipment reach the moon's vicinity, they cannot land.

Who is able to land on the lunar surface? Elon Musk and Robert Bigelow. Musk's rockets—the Falcon and the soon-to-be-launched Falcon Heavy—are built to take off and land. So far their landing capabilities have been used to ease them down on earth. But the same technology, with a few tweaks, gives them the ability to land payloads on the surface of the Moon. Including humans. What's more, SpaceX's upcoming seven-passenger Dragon 2 capsule has already demonstrated its ability to gentle itself down to earth's surface. In other words, with a few modifications and equipment additions, Falcon rockets and Dragon capsules could be made Moon-ready.

[...] In 2000, Bigelow purchased a technology that Congress had ordered NASA to abandon: inflatable habitats. For the last sixteen years Bigelow and his company, Bigelow Aerospace, have been advancing inflatable habitat technology. Inflatable technology lets you squeeze a housing unit into a small package, carry it by rocket to a space destination, then blow it up like a balloon. Since the spring of 2016, Bigelow, a real estate developer and founder of the Budget Suites of America hotel chain, has had an inflatable habitat acting as a spare room at the International Space Station 220 miles above your head and mine. And Bigelow's been developing something far more ambitious—an inflatable Moon Base, that would use three of his 330-cubic-meter B330 modules. What's more, Bigelow has been developing a landing vehicle to bring his modules gently down to the Moon's surface.

[...] If NASA ditched the Space Launch System and the Orion, it would free up three billion dollars a year. That budget could speed the Moon-readiness of Bigelow's landing vehicles, not to mention SpaceX's Falcon rockets and could pay for lunar enhancements to manned Dragon 2 capsules. In fact, three billion dollars a year is far greater than what Bigelow and Musk would need. That budget would also allow NASA to bring Jeff Bezos into the race. And it would let NASA refocus its energy on earth-orbit and lunar-surface refueling stations...plus rovers, lunar construction equipment, and devices to turn lunar ice into rocket fuel, drinkable water, and breathable oxygen. Not to mention machines to turn lunar dust and rock into building materials.

An organization that Howard Bloom founded, The Space Development Steering Committee, has been short one member recently (Edgar Mitchell).


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  • (Score: 3, Informative) by choose another one on Tuesday February 28 2017, @03:25PM (3 children)

    by choose another one (515) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday February 28 2017, @03:25PM (#472805)

    TFA has a spectacular fail in understanding the tech (or maybe I do):

    Musk's rockets—the Falcon and the soon-to-be-launched Falcon Heavy—are built to take off and land.

    Umm... that's the first stage, built to land on earth to be reused, that bit that never gets near orbit let alone the moon. It also lands on a pre-prepared _flat_ landing pad, not an uneven rock-strewn lunar surface. It is also built to land in one g and one atm (lunar may be easier but may not). What is certain is that lunar landing will be very different, may therefore require new design of landing system and a whole new testing process as a result. It's like saying Virgin Galactic has moon landing capabilities because their White Knight first stage has landed successfully on earth.

    I am quite sure that SpaceX and Bigelow are probably a better bet for moon and Mars landing and habitats than SLS/Orion, but trying to persuade people by massively misrepresenting their current capabilities is just dumb.

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  • (Score: 2) by Grishnakh on Tuesday February 28 2017, @06:16PM (1 child)

    by Grishnakh (2831) on Tuesday February 28 2017, @06:16PM (#472933)

    While you're right that the SpaceX first stages are indeed designed for landing in controlled conditions here on Earth after boosting the second stage, you're completely overblowing the difficulty of landing on the Moon. Let me spell it out for you:

    When have we been able to land rockets on Earth? Only very recently, in the mid 2010s, after many failed attempts.

    When have we been able to land rockets on the Moon? In 1969, on our very first attempt, using computing technology that's utterly primitive compared to today's.

    Clearly, landing a rocket on the Moon is child's play if we could do it with 1969 technology. Rock-strewn surfaces aren't a big problem: you just do what the Apollo missions did, and what modern helicopter pilots do, and use your eyes to look for a relatively smooth area to land in (the Apollo missions also had pre-selected general landing areas, using observational data from telescopes). In addition, you design the landing craft to have widely-spaced legs designed for landing on lunar soil; again, that's what Apollo did. From there, it's not that hard because 1) there's no atmosphere to get in the way and cause turbulence and 2) there's only 1/6g gravity so you don't need a lot of thrust to control your descent.

    may therefore require new design of landing system and a whole new testing process as a result. It's like saying Virgin Galactic has moon landing capabilities because their White Knight first stage has landed successfully on earth.

    This is such a bizarre thing for you to write. You're acting like we've never landed rocket-powered craft on the Moon before. We've done it many times, with a 100% success rate. It's been far more successful than many other feats in our history of spaceflight, meaning it obviously isn't that hard by comparison. If NASA could do it easily and successfully in 1969 with less computing power than a 1980s HP calculator, I fail to see how Virgin Galactic is going to have much of a problem with it now if they've managed to figure out how to land 1st-stage rockets on
    Earth, something NASA has *never* managed to do.

    • (Score: 2) by choose another one on Wednesday March 01 2017, @02:49PM

      by choose another one (515) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday March 01 2017, @02:49PM (#473317)

      While you're right that the SpaceX first stages are indeed designed for landing in controlled conditions here on Earth after boosting the second stage, you're completely overblowing the difficulty of landing on the Moon.

      If that is the case, then why is Howard Bloom making such a big deal of the lack of moon landing capability in SLS/Orion? Either you're right and it's easy to build it (or transfer from a first-stage earth-lander system) in which case the lack of it is no problem, or it isn't.

      TFA is really saying why is NASA spending billions on Orion/SLS when it could spend less and get further with SpaceX/Bigelow/BlueOrigin etc. - but moon landing capability is completely irrelevant to that argument.

      When have we been able to land rockets on Earth? Only very recently, in the mid 2010s, after many failed attempts.

      How quickly we forget - Delta DCX was what 1993?, was that a failed attempt?

  • (Score: 2) by takyon on Tuesday February 28 2017, @07:46PM

    by takyon (881) <{takyon} {at} {soylentnews.org}> on Tuesday February 28 2017, @07:46PM (#472990) Journal

    All or Most Future SpaceX Launches Will Use Reusable Boosters [soylentnews.org]

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falcon_Heavy#Reusable_technology_development [wikipedia.org]

    Although not a part of the initial Falcon Heavy design, SpaceX is doing parallel development on a reusable rocket launching system that is intended to be extensible to the Falcon Heavy, recovering the boosters and core stage only.

    Early on, SpaceX had expressed hopes that all rocket stages would eventually be reusable.[42] While no efforts are currently dedicated toward return of Falcon upper stages, SpaceX has since demonstrated both land and sea recovery of the first stage of the Falcon 9 a number of times. This approach is particularly well suited to the Falcon Heavy where the two outer cores separate from the rocket much earlier in the flight profile, and are therefore both moving at a slower velocity at the initial separation event.[37] Since late 2013, every Falcon 9 first stage has been instrumented and equipped as a controlled descent test vehicle.

    SpaceX has indicated that the Falcon Heavy payload performance to geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO) will be reduced due to the addition of the reusable technology, but would fly at much lower launch price. With full reusability on all three booster cores, GTO payload will be 7,000 kg (15,000 lb). If only the two outside cores fly as reusable cores while the center core is expendable, GTO payload would be approximately 14,000 kg (31,000 lb).[43] "Falcon 9 will do satellites up to roughly 3.5 tonnes, with full reusability of the boost stage, and Falcon Heavy will do satellites up to 7 tonnes with full reusability of the all three boost stages," [Musk] said, referring to the three Falcon 9 booster cores that will comprise the Falcon Heavy's first stage. He also said Falcon Heavy could double its payload performance to GTO "if, for example, we went expendable on the center core."

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