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Friday, August 07, 2009

'Dash Out of Low Earth Orbit' Best Option


The 10-member Review for U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee, more commonly known within the space community as "The Augustine Commission," is preparing its report to the President of the United States late this month having narrowed the hundreds of options to recommend to the White House to seven, MSNBC.com reports, with one being marked as the 'Dash Out of Low Earth Orbit.'

The 'Dash Out of Low Earth Orbit' option retains the shuttle fleet's 2011 retirement and the 2015 deadline for U.S. involvement in the space station, but eliminates the Ares I rocket entirely in order to focus on the heavy-lift Ares-V rocket, which could then be used to launch Orion flights to lunar orbit, near-Earth asteroids or even planetary flybys. International partners would provide crew and cargo transport until the larger Ares-V comes online. The "dash" option is aimed at launching manned missions beyond low-Earth orbit as fast as possible. Therefore, the 'dash' option firmly places reliance on international partners and commercial space launch firms for crew LEO access.

This Blogger endoreses the "dash" option as the prime presidential directive to the federal space agency. There are several logical reasons to see this as the best option:

  1. The 'dash' option keeps the space agency within the projected federal budget for NASA; and,
  2. The 'dash' option would build the massive heavy payload booster Ares-V (on par with the Saturn V booster of yesteryear) enabling Americans to place larger telescopes in space, lift cargo and crew to the space station, the moon, Mars or to the asteroids; and,
  3. The 'dash' option encourages the American [C3PO] commercial space launch providers to build rockets capable of launching from existing commercial spaceports in Virginia, Florida, and California while expanding local high-tech economies in each location and, at the same time, working in cooperation with the Russia and perhaps China, India, Europe and Japan on LEO astronaut space access to the ISS. The Ares-V could send human crews on missions to the asteroids, the moon, Mars and its moons.
  4. The 'dash' option will require significant engineering and scientific achievement throughout the civil and commercial space communities as the Ares-V is built on significant quantities of scale over years to accomplish exploration missions.

The federal budget is not going to get easier for NASA in the years ahead with large deficits and expensive programs in energy, climate change, health care all on the Congressional table. The space community must be practical to the extent that the right civil space program booster is built by the space agency working in concert with international parters and the American private sector.

History tells that one of the more significant policy failures of the civil space program was the presidential decision to halt the manufacturing of the Saturn V. When that [expletive deleted] Richard Nixon nixed the Saturn V, the United States was given only ad nauseum access to Low Earth Orbit [LEO]. The 'dash' option provides the space community with the Ares-V, perhaps a would-be better booster than the Saturn V, to loft paylaods far beyond Low Earth Orbit.

The commercial space launch firms Orbital Sciences Corporation, SpaceX and potentially PlanetSpace are well positioned to offer access to space for American astronauts in the next few years. Properly challenging the American private sector to mature to more routine LEO human-rated spacecraft is not a huge leap to request. They are ready to answer the call of the market. Our international space partners are ready for American leadership - they want it. Russia has proven itself a reliable partner and China wants to become a part of regular space access. Joint missions, based around an Ares-V booster, would build greater space cooperation and diplomatic success in space.

Finally, if the American space program is to serve to inspire and explore -- this is the chance. If we want to return to the moon, as Apollo 17 astronaut 'Jack' Schmitt suggests, or on to Mars, as Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin desires, the options remain open only with Ares-V boosters on launch pads. America must build the hardware and challenge our engineers to be the best again if we are to lead planet Earth to remote locations in the stars.

Let America 'dash' ahead!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The plan leaves us in a two-fold quandry.

It runs the risk of going the easy route, buying services from foreign powers, while taking many many years to build a vehicle (Ares V) that was always a compromise vehicle designed to save shuttle jobs.

Ares V is not the best way to get out of LEO, not close. It's certainly not sustainable, no matter how far into the future it's pushed.

On the other hand, this is the worst way to save Shuttle workforce jobs and infrastructure since those will be long gone by the time Ares is ready to roll (and the big V doesn't use a lot of preexisting shuttle infrastructure, anyway).