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Finish the X-33
you for your editorial to revive the X-33 program. Our first priority should
be developing a reliable, inexpensive means to Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Your assertion that we cannot spend billions of dollars on a new
reusable launch vehicle (RLV) program is absolutely correct. For example, why is President Bush’s return to the moon to occur in
2015–2020 (11-16 years from now) when President Kennedy committed us in 1961
and we landed in 1969? Because
the generous space budgets are a thing of the past. Experts say only a crisis like an asteroid on a collision course with
Earth would substantially increase funds for space. This threat is another reason we need a robust space infrastructure,
but that is another issue for another time.
X-33 revival ultimately could aid missions to the Moon and Mars. A ramp-assisted
could carry the proposed crew exploration vehicle (CEV) on its back into LEO.
Existing boosters like the Atlas V and Delta IV could carry much
heavier payloads with a ramp assist. This
would mean fewer launches would be needed to assemble spacecraft in orbit,
fact, Uncle Sam wants your help on the new space program. Citizen suggestions may be submitted at
In fact, Uncle Sam wants your help on the new space program. Citizen suggestions may be submitted at www.moontomars.org.
Ed: NASA needs to experiment with large suborbital RLVs if any progress is to be made.
NASA Can't Succeed
also other groups working on this problem, like SpaceDev, Interorbital
Microcosm, etc. I think the best thing NASA could do is let the market
the problem and just buy from whoever can provide launch services at a good
price. Sure it may not give a fully reusable launch vehicle
immediately, but seeing
NASA et al's track record with RLV development doesn't really give me much
hope that they could actually pull something off successfully. To quote
from XCOR Aerospace (a company focusing on reusable suborbital vehicles for
commercial applications), "It's hard to reduce costs by spending a bunch
or to increase reliability by adding a bunch of stuff, but unfortunately
that's all NASA
knows how to do". So to sum it all up, I think we ought to let the private space launch
Keep the Shuttle Fuel Tanks in Orbit
I'd add one almost no-cost change to the remaining Shuttle program, given the President's announced change of focus. Since all remaining Shuttle missions will now go to ISS (unless the last Hubble service mission is revived), it is now time for NASA to stop de-orbiting the Shuttle's main tank.Beginning with the next Shuttle flight, NASA should start assembling an orbital fuel tank farm in the vicinity of the ISS. The existence of this facility will provide the necessary impetus to the next logical step in permanent space presence and deep space exploration and exploitation. This is recovering some water bearing NEOs and hydrolyzing them into hydrogen and oxygen. But this mission cannot be executed unless there is an orbital refinery complex to which water can be delivered for hydrolysis and then storage.
You know as well as I do that a Shuttle with a fully refueled main tank could take a huge load to the moon, and do so very quickly. With this sort of incrementally growing facilities capacity a different possible end for the remaining Shuttles appears. This is to leave them in orbit after their final missions to serve as space tugs. Put another way, what tablet is it engraved on that the Shuttles are predestined to end their days on Earth at the Smithsonian and decorating lawns at Kennedy Space Center and Houston Spaceflight Center?
The final Shuttle missions should not be flown until after an alternate crew vehicle is operating. And in preparation for these final missions each remaining Shuttle should be outfitted for as extended a period of orbital and Earth-Moon service as physically possible. So the initial steps in a permanent manned space presence are:
1. Assemble the LEO fuel tank farm near the ISS using already orbited Shuttle tanks, instead of deorbiting them.
2. Aggressively search out and recover water bearing NEOs for use a fuel sources.
3. Develop a follow on crew vehicle and also unmanned cargo vehicle using Skyramp Technologies for assisted launch. A Skyramp can only launch in one direction. This uni-direction implies a routine destination, such as the growing ISS/Tank Farm complex developed under #1. A coherent articulated strategy like the above also overcomes the obvious objection that a Skyramp can only launch in one direction.
4. Launch permanent moon base mission. Perhaps using one or more Shuttles w/refueled tanks to boost the colony's equipment package? This is a reasonable 2010-2011 goal if we start today. And it starts by reorienting the focus of what's already being done with already paid-for equipment.
Ed: Here is a good recent article: Is the Shuttle Grounded Forever?
X-33 Not Needed
Missions to Earth orbit can be performed more cheaply by Europe, Russia, and
China than by the U.S. The international space station is configured to
only with the space shuttle, but this could be changed in a single mission. The Saturn V rocket used during the Apollo missions is the only vessel in
history that has ever performed real manned space exploration. Robert
Zubrin's Mars Direct Program could send humans to Mars and back using the
equivalent payload of two Saturn V launches. http://www.marssociety.org/
A reasonable plan to go to Mars has
already been around for a decade. It's been called "Mars Direct", since it is an
Earth-to-Mars mission, with no detour to the moon. You should take a look
Ed: Going to Mars is not that difficult; getting home is the challenge. Unlike the moon, Mars has substantial gravity so a massive spacecraft must be assembled there to blast off back to Earth. A reasonable plan is a one way trip. I'm sure thousands of 65-year olds would volunteer to land on Mars knowing they will never come home. Just send them food and television signals until they die naturally at the Mars base. This is a more interesting way of spending one's "Golden Years" than in a retirement home.