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posted by janrinok on Friday April 20 2018, @06:12PM   Printer-friendly
from the refried-space-beans dept.

NASA is going back to the Moon, perhaps permanently, as seen in a new road map (image):

Four months after President Trump directed NASA to return to the Moon, the agency has presented a road map to meet the goals outlined in Space Policy Directive-1. The updated plan shifts focus from the previous "Journey to Mars" campaign back to the Moon, and—eventually—to the Red Planet.

"The Moon will play an important role in expanding human presence deeper into the solar system," said Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator of the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA, in a release issued by the agency.

While the revamped plan may share the same destination as the Apollo program, NASA said it will approach the return in a more measured and sustainable manner. Unlike humanity's first trip to the Moon, the journey back will incorporate both commercial and international partners.

To achieve this, NASA has outlined four strategic goals:

  • Transition low-Earth orbit (LEO) human spaceflight activities to commercial operators.
  • Expand long-duration spaceflight activities to include lunar orbit.
  • Facilitate long-term robotic lunar exploration.
  • Use human exploration of the Moon as groundwork for eventual human missions to Mars and beyond.

This may be the best outcome for the space program. Let NASA focus on the Moon with an eye towards permanently stationing robots and humans there, and let SpaceX or someone else take the credit for a 2020s/early-2030s manned Mars landing. Then work on a permanent presence on Mars using cheaper rocket launches, faster propulsion technologies, better radiation shielding, hardier space potatoes, etc.

Previously: President Trump Signs Space Policy Directive 1

Related:


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  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by All Your Lawn Are Belong To Us on Friday April 20 2018, @07:31PM (17 children)

    by All Your Lawn Are Belong To Us (6553) on Friday April 20 2018, @07:31PM (#669779) Journal

    We've been here before. [cnn.com] The real problem is any such plan will almost certainly outlive the term of the President proposing it. Then the next one will kill it.

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  • (Score: 2) by takyon on Friday April 20 2018, @07:59PM (13 children)

    by takyon (881) <{takyon} {at} {soylentnews.org}> on Friday April 20 2018, @07:59PM (#669786) Journal

    Broadly speaking, Bush's plan was to use the Moon as a "stepping stone" to Mars by around 2020, using a new manned exploration vehicle. That fits the description of NASA's LOP-G and the Space Launch System. Obama replaced "lunar base" with a plan to visit an asteroid redirected into lunar orbit [nasa.gov], and that has been replaced with LOP-G, an ISS clone and "Gateway to Nowhere". It is assumed we will make our way to Mars in the 2030s. But the Moon First strategy has stuck around throughout the last decade and a half.

    The Moon will remain a target, because at the end of the day, the Moon is right there. It's relatively easy to get to, and you can get back without completely trashing the health of the astronauts. The cost of getting stuff to the Moon in the 2020s is going to decline dramatically, with players like SpaceX w/ BFR at the high end, and Rocket Lab at the bottom. Our current Mars plans are sketchy and target possibly a flyby or orbital mission in the 2030s. It's good that they are undefined, because we don't want to use SLS when BFR becomes available, and we still need to work on things like propulsion and nuclear Kilopower.

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    • (Score: 1) by khallow on Friday April 20 2018, @08:10PM (12 children)

      by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Friday April 20 2018, @08:10PM (#669795) Journal

      But the Moon First strategy has stuck around throughout the last decade and a half.

      The strategy might stick around in some vague, almost abstract form, but the accompanying plan will probably disappear without a trace in 2021.

      • (Score: 3, Insightful) by edIII on Friday April 20 2018, @08:25PM (11 children)

        by edIII (791) on Friday April 20 2018, @08:25PM (#669801)

        Why? It's a very reasonable idea. Operationally, it's much easier on the Moon simply because of distance. This is if we were initially developing seafaring technologies and decided to use Catalina island for the first couple of generations, then when we're more comfortable, visit Hawaii, and then maybe one day Tahiti.

        Mars sounds sexy and everything, but the Moon makes more sense for us to develop the technologies on. When we can reliably and routinely traverse the distance between the Earth and Moon, it will make getting to Mars and surviving substantially easier and more well understood. Additionally, whatever space vehicles we create on the Moon can reach lunar escape velocity a heck of a lot cheaper than Earth escape velocity. It has always made more sense to me to gain our confidence on the Moon, build our Mars vehicle in Lunar orbit, and then attempt the journey.

        The benefits of finishing R&D in Lunar orbit are of course far more sophisticated craft, with substantially more radiation shielding. What's it take to lift off a regolith wall into Lunar orbit?

        What are the cons to a Moon First strategy?

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        • (Score: 3, Insightful) by requerdanos on Friday April 20 2018, @10:49PM

          by requerdanos (5997) on Friday April 20 2018, @10:49PM (#669837) Journal

          Why? It's a very reasonable idea.

          In a word, politics.

          The current president of the United States of America as of this writing has made it a point, for example, to remove, undo, abolish, or otherwise handicap policies and plans of his predecessor of a different political party mostly because "not invented here." He isn't the first to do so.

          Maybe that's a good idea in some cases, maybe not. But the phenomenon means that long-range plans stand very little chance unless they are practically ignored and attract no attention.

          It's hard to stand still and be invisible while you are asking for *illions of dollars to leave the planet.

        • (Score: 5, Interesting) by Immerman on Saturday April 21 2018, @12:10AM (4 children)

          by Immerman (3985) on Saturday April 21 2018, @12:10AM (#669853)

          One of the biggest problems with the moon is that lunar dust is completely unweathered asteroid impact fragments. Basically so many statically-charged microscopic razor-blades just waiting to destroy air gaskets and any other moving surfaces they come in contact with.

          Another major problem is the fact that a lunar day is roughly 709 hours long, rendering solar power relatively ineffective for baseline usage - you'd need enough batteries to last ~15 days of darkness. So you pretty much have to jump straight to high-wattage, low-g nuclear reactors for power.

          Finally - the moon is severely lacking in two basic ecosystem resources that Mars has in abundance - CO2 and water. Given those you can pretty much grow your ecosystem as fast as you can make room for it to expand into, producing unlimited food, air, and cellulose (an incredibly useful and flexible building material - wood is extremely useful, especially with recent "superwood" processing developments, and nanocellulose is transparent, gas impermeable, and roughly as strong as aluminum) while needing to import or mine only nitrogen and trace elements (and there's plenty of nitrogen-bearing minerals on Mars). In comparison a moon base will be completely dependent on Earth to grow its ecosystem and replace any losses at least until a mature mining and chemical synthesis industry is in place.

          That said - a moon base also has a lot more to offer Earth than a Mars colony, which is really too far away to be useful for anything other than a doomsday ark. It's basically a size extra-large asteroid mining destination (coming in at 25x the combined mass of the asteroid belt), with enough gravity to be reasonably comfortable to those of us that evolved on Earth. And if the BFR lives up to it's design goals we should be able to land and return with a substantial payload within a few years, without having to refuel on the surface. That, combined with the much more modest radiation exposure en-route, makes the entire endeavor much more convenient. It lacks the industrial benefits of micro-G asteroid mining, but makes an excellent first step to developing the requisite technologies for vacuum industry, as well as being an excellent source for bulk materials for building orbital habitats and vehicles. (A modest asteroid captured in Earth or lunar orbit would be even better, but that's probably adding decades of orbital manipulation up front)

          So basically, the Moon makes for a wonderful space outpost, while Mars makes for a wonderful colony destination. Since it's roughly the same difficulty and expense to get to either destination, which is more appealing as a "first step" depends entirely on what your goals for getting off planet are. If you're looking to establish a long-term orbital resource for Earth, Moon all the way. If you want to see humanity meaningfully expand beyond Earth, then Mars is where it's at.

          As a long term Mars advocate, I've recently come around to thinking the Moon is a better starting point after all - in large part thanks to the revelation that the BFR should be able to make a round trip without refueling on the surface. That, plus the much shorter transit time, means that a single space ship & tanker combo can provide a MUCH larger supply chain to the Moon, as measured in kg/month. Which in turn means we can afford to experiment much more aggressively, and thus develop useful technologies far faster. If the long-term goal is to have a viable self-sustaining colony on Mars within a century, then spending the first decade or so of resources on developing the Moon seems likely to yield at least as large a long-term payoff for Mars.

          It would also be really nice if we arrived on Mars ready to make reliable self-contained ecosystems, minimizing our environmental impact, and thus greatly increasing our ability to locate native life, if it exists. There's no telling what scientific and technological payoffs may come of studying life that arose completely independently of our own - or has even just been evolving independently for millions or billions of years.

          It'd probably save some lives too - but colonization has always been paid for with the deaths of many early colonists. So long as they went into it with their eyes open, I see no problem with that.

          • (Score: 2) by takyon on Saturday April 21 2018, @11:50PM (3 children)

            by takyon (881) <{takyon} {at} {soylentnews.org}> on Saturday April 21 2018, @11:50PM (#670192) Journal

            Another major problem is the fact that a lunar day is roughly 709 hours long, rendering solar power relatively ineffective for baseline usage - you'd need enough batteries to last ~15 days of darkness. So you pretty much have to jump straight to high-wattage, low-g nuclear reactors for power.

            NASA is making another Kilopower announcement on May 2:

            https://soylentnews.org/~takyon/journal/3160 [soylentnews.org]

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            • (Score: 2) by Immerman on Sunday April 22 2018, @02:25PM (2 children)

              by Immerman (3985) on Sunday April 22 2018, @02:25PM (#670345)

              Unfortunately, as cool as kilopower is for small expeditions, it's almost completely unsuited to an actual outpost capable of delivering useful goods to orbit. You really want something in at least the megawatt range for that. 10kW would power your expedition rover and maybe a few telepresence robots beautifully - but even a small outpost would require hundreds of the suckers. Not that you *couldn't* do that to at least get things off the ground, it'd certainly offer some fault tolerance, but that's a lot of individual reactors to deal with.

              Heck, the ISS with its tiny handful of residents and low-power, completely non-industrial mission profile has around 100kW of power production. Even if all we did on the moon was produce rocket fuel for refueling satellites and interplanetary missions, we're going to need a LOT more than that. Especially if we're steadily building out the outpost to become increasingly useful and self-sustaining. I mean, even largely unprocessed moon-rubble would be a valuable commodity as orbital radiation shielding - but collecting it and launching it into orbit requires a lot of power. So does growing crops underground to recycle your biomass.

              Of course, there IS the possibility of harnessing comparatively light, cheap, and simple solar anyway - just operate the heavy industrial processes on a two weeks on/two weeks off cycle, which might actually nicely break up the monotony of living and working from an underground bunker in a seasonless wasteland. Or, you could use a percentage of the synthesized rocket fuel/oxidizer as your "battery" to power things through the night - but what will your efficiency losses be?

              • (Score: 2) by takyon on Sunday April 22 2018, @02:45PM (1 child)

                by takyon (881) <{takyon} {at} {soylentnews.org}> on Sunday April 22 2018, @02:45PM (#670359) Journal

                From "NASA's Kilopower Project Testing a Nuclear Stirling Engine" [soylentnews.org]:

                Mason said the new technology could provide kilowatts of power and even be upgraded to provide hundreds of kilowatts or even megawatts of power. "We call it the Kilopower project because it gives us a near-term option to provide kilowatts for missions that previously were constrained to use less," Mason said. "But first things first, and our test program is the way to get started."

                10 kW may not be enough, but 40-100 kW could be possible. Multiple units can be brought to the destination for increased power.

                Pair that with battery systems to store the solar energy.

                Or better yet, put solar panels at multiple locations, and run some power lines. Let's get a "power grid" on the Moon.

                While there is no perpetual sunlight [nasa.gov] on the Moon, you can get up to 89% at the north pole, which could be good enough for a base or for your solar panel grid.

                It's a safe bet that initial moon base(s) will not have much industrial output, even if they ought to, so Kilopower could be sufficient. In NASA's own words, "Kilopower could provide safe, efficient and plentiful energy for future robotic and human space exploration missions to the Moon, Mars and destinations beyond."

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                • (Score: 2) by Immerman on Sunday April 22 2018, @03:31PM

                  by Immerman (3985) on Sunday April 22 2018, @03:31PM (#670371)

                  As I said, certainly you *could* stack them like cordwood to get enough power, but that's a lot of individual reactors to deal with.

                  They key words in your quote are "exploration missions".

                  There's minimal point in a lunar outpost for pure exploration missions - if we go to the immense expense of building an outpost, rather than just landing mobile "exploratory RVs" it should something useful with long term potential, both for the benefit of Earth's space program, and to practice and develop technologies for the much richer targets of Mars and the asteroids. And serve as a meaningful hub for more far-reaching lunar exploration.

                  And the benefits could be immense - it's a big dead rock in nearby space with enough gravity to be useful, and 25x the estimated combined mass of the asteroid belt. Admittedly without the asteroids' convenient material concentration or high surface-to-volume ratios, but rocket fuel and radiation shielding are going to be two of the most valuable bulk materials in orbit as we start to get serious about establishing a presence in space. And we pretty much have the technology to start producing those *now*, we just have to get a suitable outpost established on the moon. After all, it's not like we have to produce enough fuel and fuel Heinlein's Armada immediately - a comparative trickle of fuel would be more than sufficient to make much more capable exploratory missions to the outer solar system trivial (or alternatively, similarly capable using much cruder/heavier/cheaper technology) , as well as sending your lunar "RVs" on suborbital hops to whatever locations you want to study this month.

                  And since you'll be landing rockets on the moon regularly for supplies, you may as well be able to top off the tanks and haul a bunch of shielding and fuel into orbit on their return journey, instead of flying back basically empty. Pretty much the same expense either way, and it'd be nice to has some orbital research stations that don't require the residents to irradiate themselves as the cost of doing business. It'd certainly be nice to start distinguishing the health problems due to freefall from those due to radiation exposure and/or constantly traveling through the Earth's magnetic field at immense speed.

        • (Score: 2, Interesting) by khallow on Saturday April 21 2018, @12:13AM (4 children)

          by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Saturday April 21 2018, @12:13AM (#669854) Journal

          Why? It's a very reasonable idea.

          I quite agree. But as requerdanos noted, it's not the technical aspects that are the problem, but the politics. In addition to the "not invented here" situation, we also have the problem that almost no one is actually interested in any sort of aggressive space exploration and development plan. Voters and politicians are typically disinterested except for national prestige, and contractors and researchers/engineers focused on funding and obtaining work/contracts. The result is a series of one-off technology development projects with little progress made in actual space activities.

          For example, should the James Webb Space Telescope successfully deploy, it is probable that the Hubble Space Telescope will be deorbited despite the relatively low cost of maintaining it. There is considerable national prestige in a new space telescope. There is almost no additional prestige from a second, old telescope nor any profit to the usual contractor supply chain. It'll be a fight to keep the Hubble active.

          For NASA's activities on the Moon, this effect has been glaring. The Moon was important to land people on the Moon six times, but not important enough to revisit the Moon except in passing for an additional two decades! Just look at the lunar missions [wikipedia.org] in Wikipedia. There are many dozens of missions to the Moon from 1958 to 1978 (the last lunar-focused mission by NASA was in 1973), by the US and the USSR, but nothing after that by anybody, not even a flyby (that includes spacecraft that merely use the Moon for a gravitational assist and do little to no observation of the Moon), till a Japanese mission in 1990. It's only with Clementine in 1994, that NASA returned to lunar-focused missions.

          That Wikipedia list gives you an idea of the scale of the problem. The dearth of lunar exploration and development is not just a NASA problem, it's a global problem. I don't think such can be solved by the nations of the world, because there are probably already a dozen or more countries that could mount successful lunar programs. They're just not interested.

          Instead, I think break-through will come when it gets cheap enough for a private effort to conduct their own lunar expeditions. Then suddenly the nations of the world will get interested in one-upping the private effort and each other. That's when real progress will happen.

          • (Score: 2) by takyon on Sunday April 22 2018, @12:05AM (3 children)

            by takyon (881) <{takyon} {at} {soylentnews.org}> on Sunday April 22 2018, @12:05AM (#670195) Journal

            it is probable that the Hubble Space Telescope will be deorbited despite the relatively low cost of maintaining it. There is considerable national prestige in a new space telescope. There is almost no additional prestige from a second, old telescope nor any profit to the usual contractor supply chain. It'll be a fight to keep the Hubble active.

            There is plenty of scientific value left in it as long as it continues operating, it's still one of the largest aperture space telescopes, it's one of the best sources of PR for NASA, and it covers different wavelengths than JWST. Apparently, there are plans even under the current Administration to keep it running [wikipedia.org]:

            As of 2017, the Trump Administration is considering a proposal by the Sierra Nevada Corporation to use a manned version of its Dream Chaser spacecraft to service Hubble some time in the 2020s both as a continuation of its scientific capabilities and as insurance against any malfunctions in the to-be-launched James Webb Space Telescope.

            Maybe manned Falcon 9 or BFR could be used. Or maybe even unmanned. Natural reentry is predicted for between 2028 and 2040, so we have a few years to figure this out.

            Instead, I think break-through will come when it gets cheap enough for a private effort to conduct their own lunar expeditions. Then suddenly the nations of the world will get interested in one-upping the private effort and each other. That's when real progress will happen.

            /me puts fanboi hat on:

            https://www.nextbigfuture.com/2018/01/spacex-bfr-150-top-target-should-be-moon-colonization.html [nextbigfuture.com]

            The Saturn V done as a cargo lander could deliver 17 tons down plus probably another 9 tons as a dry stage (Skylab sized living space pressure vessel plus scrap metal). But $400 million then dollars (probably over $2 billion today, using that figure as the dividend) to deliver 17 tons leads to $117,000 a kilogram– $117 million dollars a ton to the lunar surface!

            [...] But the 150 tons of LANDED cargo with the new Space X design, assuming $14 million per launch plus refueling tanker, yields a far more favorable $93 a kilo– ($93,000 a ton to the lunar surface!) That is 1258 times cheaper

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            • (Score: 1) by khallow on Sunday April 22 2018, @01:59AM (2 children)

              by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Sunday April 22 2018, @01:59AM (#670221) Journal
              NextBigFuture is enthusiastic, but their numbers are off by at least an order of magnitude. They're not taking into account cost of propellant. It's not much relatively speaking, but enough to keep the price of 150 tons to the Moon far from $14 million.
              • (Score: 2) by takyon on Sunday April 22 2018, @03:22AM (1 child)

                by takyon (881) <{takyon} {at} {soylentnews.org}> on Sunday April 22 2018, @03:22AM (#670232) Journal

                Various estimates I've seen put the cost of propellant for 1 BFR launch at below $1 million. Double it to take into account using a BFR tanker to put 150 tons at any destination.

                http://www.thespacereview.com/article/3343/1 [thespacereview.com]
                https://www.quora.com/How-much-will-the-fuel-of-one-BFR-launch-cost [quora.com]

                The order of magnitude doesn't change at all from fuel costs.

                Even a more conservative estimate for a BFR launch price of $40 million (still less than Falcon 9) is less than an order of magnitude more than the aspirational $7 million.

                At double that price for using tankers, NASA could get 1,875 tons, over 4x the mass of the ISS, to the Moon for $1 billion.

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                • (Score: 1) by khallow on Sunday April 22 2018, @10:08AM

                  by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Sunday April 22 2018, @10:08AM (#670296) Journal

                  Various estimates I've seen put the cost of propellant for 1 BFR launch at below $1 million.

                  Looks like I need to revisit the economics. I didn't realize both how cheap methane was and the mass fraction of the BFR (due to the higher ISP of the methane engine combined with some assumptions that they'll be able to keep the dry mass of the vehicle down) which is in itself revolutionary.

                  That's a quite impressive mass fraction, if true - roughly 1400 mt vehicle fueled with 150 mt payload. The Falcon Heavy has the same launch mass (1420 mt [wikipedia.org], according to Wikipedia), but only puts about 40% as much into space (up to 64 mt in the non-reusable mode). The latter is typical of LOX/kerosene rocket vehicles.

                  Anyway, my calculation yields a liquid methane price that is in itself somewhere around $1 per kg (maybe as much as $2 per kg - converting from normal natural gas which is under $1 per kg currently to pure liquid methane has some cost, but it can't be that much) and a liquid oxygen cost which is way under $1 per kg (I've seen old estimates of $0.16 per kg which are probably not that far off). For 1100 mt, that means a cost under $1 million, if they can maintain the mass fraction.

                  This is more than just a big rocket, if they can manage to achieve the mass fraction above. I'm leaning towards betting against it. Methane is pretty fluffy and the ISP improvement is not that good. The Merlin 1D which uses kerosene/LOX has an ISP of 282 sec^-1 versus Raptor ISP of 330 sec^-1 - both at sea level - one atmosphere of external pressure. My math indicates that the Falcon Heavy has a dry mass (including payload, vehicle structure, rocket engines and propellant for returning the stages) of around 100 mt. Using the better ISP number only increases overall dry mass from 100 mt to 145 mt. I guess I'm missing something major.

                  But my take is that a 1400 mt vehicle with Raptor engines of the advertised performance, doesn't have enough propellant mass to put 150 mt up. Using the same one third mass as the non-reusable Falcon Heavy (yielding an overall dry mass of 200 mt), would put the rocket's actual fueled mass around 2000 mt. Still pretty cheap propellant-wise, assuming that they can meet that.

  • (Score: 1) by khallow on Friday April 20 2018, @07:59PM (1 child)

    by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Friday April 20 2018, @07:59PM (#669787) Journal

    The real problem is any such plan will almost certainly outlive the term of the President proposing it. Then the next one will kill it.

    And as long as SLS continues to burn money, they won't have the funding for anything serious.

    • (Score: 3, Funny) by requerdanos on Friday April 20 2018, @11:00PM

      by requerdanos (5997) on Friday April 20 2018, @11:00PM (#669840) Journal

      SLS

      "Hey, I heard ever since men landed on the moon, the trend has been towards high-tech miniaturization."

      "Are you kidding? We're having a contest to see who can build the biggest, most expensive devices!"

      "Really? Where do you work?"

      "NASA. I'm a rocket scientist." *

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      * Apologies to the 80s comedy film "Moving Violations [imdb.com]".

  • (Score: 1, Offtopic) by realDonaldTrump on Friday April 20 2018, @08:22PM

    by realDonaldTrump (6614) on Friday April 20 2018, @08:22PM (#669800) Homepage Journal

    So many countries have a President for life. China, Russia, many more. And it works great for them. #RepealThe22nd [twitter.com]