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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: 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.

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  • (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.