Dark Moon Rising: Archibald space TL

Justo Miranda

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Some fun with alt pop culture ITTL

Space station Zvezda is a techno-thriller written by Harry G. Stine under the nom de plume Lee Correy and published in 1985. The title is a reference to both novel and movie Ice Station Zebra of the 60's.


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Ilya Patchikov and Ivan Popov could have been the first Soviet citizens to the Moon in August 1974. They have trained very hard – for weeks they worked eighteen hours a day. But at the last moment and to their great dismay the Politburo decided the mission will be entirely automated; and by a fitting irony for the first time the Soviet Moon machines perfectly worked, including the very troublesome N-1 rocket. And then the Soviet lunar program is cancelled as too late and too backwards when compared to Apollo.

From 1973 onwards the two frustrated cosmonauts get involved with the Apollo – Soyuz test program, visiting the United States and befriending American astronauts Pruett and Johnson. They learn about the Apollo – Soyuz radio link; they visit mockups of the future American space station.

Within two years after the Apollo–Soyuz linking Popov and Patchikov hear of Sablin and Belenko mutiny and defection, both due to the Brezhnev era stagnation and corruption; and are troubled by it. Growing more and more disillusioned by the late Brezhnev era ramping corruption Popov and Patchikov patiently elaborate a plot. At some point in the early 80's they learn that Pruett and Johnson are to man Liberty, so they decide to go into action.

They are send to space station Zvezda, an advanced orbital facility with artificial gravity provided by spinning around Salyut-like modules. After some days they pretext a health emergency, and an hurried undocking; to be followed by a direct reentry. They then told ground controlled that the hurried undocking has consumed most of the Soyuz propellant, leaving them stranded in orbit. For a period they also shut contact with the ground. Meanwhile they use their Soyuz meagre propellant supply to get close from the American space station. But they can't dock – the rings are not compatible – so a sortie is needed. And of course the American crew may refuse to accept them onboard.

The Soviet crew then elaborates an outrageous scheme to twist arm of the American crew.

The Soyuz first gets as close as possible from the Liberty airlock. Then the crew don their space suits before opening the Soyuz docking ring, depressurizing their spaceship. Popov crawls through the docking tunnel into space, and extends his arms outside the Soyuz, with the aim of gripping the American space station external airlock hatch with his gloved hands. Patchikov has to carefully manoeuver the Soyuz in order not to crush his crewmate. The daring manoeuver ultimately succeeds. Standing halfway through the Soyuz docking ring Popov then secures his position with a rope, while Patchikov uses him like an human ladder until he grasp, too, the Liberty airlock external hatch. But the Soyuz is still very close from the two cosmonauts, and there is a real threat they might be crushed by a collision between their spaceship and Liberty. Popov and Patchikov then try a radical approach: they forcefully and repeatedly kick the Soyuz with their feet so that it moves away from them, an exhausting ordeal that ultimately works. The American crew watch the scene, startled, and report to the ground, expressedly asking to welcome the cosmonauts onboard.

With the Soviet suit providing only seven hours of life-support, the Americans have to take a difficult decision very fast. Under orders from the U.S government NASA order the Soviet cosmonauts to move back to their Soyuz and reenter Earth atmosphere. The space station crew will do his best to help the Soyuz desorbit, either with the robotic arm or using one of their Agena space tug.

But the Soviet crew refuse to comply. Ultimately Pruett and Johnson desobey orders and get the Soviets onboard, creating a dangerous situation. Once aboard space station Liberty Popov and Patchikov ask for political asylum in the United States.

The situation is made even more explosive considering the events happens late 1983, in an era of tension never seen since the Cuban crisis of 1962. Tension peaks as all of sudden Houston warns the Liberty crew that the Soviet have launched an I.S satellite killer near the American space station; they threaten to cripple the American space station. This prompt president Reagan to call Andropov on the red phone, with a heated exchange happening between the two men. Ultimately the Soviets desorbit the killer satellite as a gesture of goodwill.

Another threat is the abandonned Soyuz that dangerously drift near Liberty; the American crew decides to to use the robotic arm to pick up the Soviet spaceship and keep it at a safe distance from Liberty. A major issue is that the Soyuz lacks a grapple fixture compatible with the arm end. Instead the Liberty crew tries to clamp the arm end on a Soyuz antenna but the manoeuver goes awfully wrong. The antenna bends and breaks, sending the Soyuz tumbling into a wild spin, hitting and breaking the robotic arm. The Soyuz then strike Liberty, causing a small fire and damaging a solar array. Ultimately the Liberty crew decide to fire an Agena space tug to move the space station away from the battered Soyuz, and the manoeuver successfully clear the american space station from any danger.

Meanwhile Andropov is bargaining with Reagan. He will let the crew goes to the United States if Reagan roll back his Strategic Defense Initiative. Reagan, striken by Soviet panick vis a vis the Able Archer excercice and “The day after” gloomy movie decides to make concessions, perhaps through a meeting with Andropov.

In the end Reagan asks Congress to enact a bill granting asylum to the Soviet crew. A trust fund will be set up for them, granting them a very comfortable living. The meeting between Reagan and a terminally ill Andropov never happens, but it paves the way to Gorbatchev perestroika and the end of Cold War – earlier than in our universe, in 1987.


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According to Stine himself “Well, Valery Sabline mutiny aboard a Soviet frigate in 1975 inspired Tom Clancy to write Hunt for Red October a decade later. Meanwhile the year after, in 1976 Viktor Belenko flew his MiG-25 to Japan and this inspired another techno-thriller – Craig Thomas Firefox, published in 1982. I felt another novel could be written on a similar subject, except this time in space.

In 1980 John Barron wrote a book about the Belenko case. According to Belenko himself when asked how long did he planned his escape, and what did it involve ?

“In terms of the evolution of my thoughts and making the conclusion to escape I do not have a precise time. I did make that decision based on my dissatisfaction with that country. I tried to do my best. I was one of their best fighter pilots. When I was young I was possessed by socialist and communist ideas which are very appealing because they promise full employment, free education, free medical care, good retirement, free child care, and so on. But later I discovered that those ideas were serving only a very small number of Communist nomenclatura, and the rest of the people were basically slaves. I made my conclusion that I could not change that system. The system is so big that there's no way I could change it or exist inside of it as a normal human being. For me, it was the best thing to divorce myself from that system. I was a fighter pilot, but that had nothing to do with my decision to escape. If I had not been a fighter pilot, I would still have found way to escape from that concentration camp. Even today, with all the slogans and all the freedoms, that country is still a closed society.

It took me a while to build the critical mass in my mind to make that decision, but the final decision I made a month before my escape, and when I made that decision I felt so good about myself! I felt like I was walking on the top of clouds. I felt free. But for me to achieve my objective I must have good weather in Japan and 100% fuel, and it took one month to have those two components in place. During that month I performed my duties so well that my commanding officers were ready to promote me. But on September 6, 1976 all components were in place. By the way, I did not steal the airplane. I had clearances. I just changed my flight plans slightly in the air.” Belenko concluded.

Stine later said “Barron's book about Belenko was fascinating. Then it occurred to me that, since 1978 NASA Liberty faced the OPSEK-Mir Soviet space station. The two were in very similar orbits, 51.6 degree inclined over the equator and 200 miles high. People were saying the situation was very similar to Berlin (before the wall), but in space. This stroke me – could a Soviet cosmonaut pull a Sablin or a Belenko, that is, flying his Soyuz to the American space station and asking for political asylum ? It was an exciting pitch for a novel or a movie script, and I decided to dug the concept further. It reminded me, somewhat, of Martin Caidin Marooned. When I started writing the novel late 1983 I could hardly imagine that the legendary Clint Eastwood would adapt it into a movie at the turn of the century, in 1999.

After the end of Cold War we learned, startled, that Soyuz contingency landing zones included the American prairies. There were landing points in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, North Dakota, Texas and, Oklahoma. The Texas (contingency !) landing point for Soyuz-33 at 33N, 97.6 W was actually quite close to Fort Worth.

Imagine the situation: at the height of Cold War, a Soyuz lands on goddam Texas, kingdom of anti-communism feelings in America. It would make for one hell of a culture clash !​
Roswell Mk.II ???
 

Michel Van

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Archibald

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Not only TOWN HALL and B-58: the CIA did the same, same time (spring 1962) with their A-12 OXCART. Both studies with Lockheed Polaris missiles but no Lockheed Agena. I just had a smartass engineer getting that idea and starting a frenzy.
Somewhat ironically, I do know proposals were made OTL of XB-70 + solid fuel booster + Agena. According to my calculations it could have lifted 2000 to 3000 pounds to orbit.
 
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Archibald

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A small nugget I wrote this morning - and it was rather funny.

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The Stickney society was co-founded in 1978 by Brian O'Leary and Fred S. Singer with Richard Hoagland enthusiast backing.

In the spring of 1977 O'Leary and Singer were at JPL for Viking 1 flyby of Phobos and found they shared a deep fascination for the small martian moon. Notably at the next logical step, delta-v wise, after the Moon. "Well in fact its surface is easier to go, energy-wise, than the Moon." O'Leary noted.

Stickney is the largest crater on Phobos, which is a satellite of Mars. It is 9 km in diameter, taking up a substantial proportion of the moon's surface. The crater is named after Chloe Angeline Stickney Hall, wife of Phobos's discoverer, Asaph Hall. In 1878 Hall wrote that he "might have abandoned the search [for Martian satellites] had it not been for the encouragement of [his] wife." The crater was named in 1973, based on Mariner 9 images, by an IAU nomenclature committee chaired by Carl Sagan, an accointance of O'Leary now teaching at Cornell after a fall-out with Gerard O'Neill.

In 1977 O'Leary mind was blown by Viking 1 repeated flybys of Phobos, notably the huge crater called Stickney. He drew from his mentor Gerard O'Neill work on lunar caves to propose an underground Phobos base as the next logical step, delta-v wise. He created a space enthusiast group to promote the idea.

Singer joined because of a Soviet friend of Carl Sagan - Iosif Samuilovich Shklovsky - who was pretending that Phobos was hollow and artificial. He had thoroughly rebutted that theory back in 1962 and wanted to use the debate as a way of embarrassing Sagan, his polar opposite and nemesis, including in the medias.

Hoagland joined in the wake of a very successfull public campaign to name Space Station Liberty first module Enterprise, rather than Constitution. Hoagland was also intrigued, if not fascinated, by Shklovsky theory of Phobos being hollow and potentially artificial. He was later expelled by Singer and O'Leary when he crossed into conspiracy and fringe science territory.

The two co-founders reputations in the 80's ended nonetheless tainted by their association with Hoagland. "That's true, and we suffered a lot from it." O'Leary later said. "Particularly for Singer, who ended rather bitting about the whole thing. In my case, watching that Hoagland guy being so nut and accordingly, so humiliated, was kind of a welcome warning in a troubled period of my life. Don't go fringe science and conspiracy nut; or pay for the consequences on your reputation." And indeed in the early 80's Singer reputation among his peers – people like Bill Nierenberg and Fred Seitz – took a serious blow.

Led by a galvanized Hoagland, the society early on rapidly grew in size; its most notable feat in 1979 was a phone and letters public campaign to pressure NASA in landing one of the Viking orbiters on Phobos. Because of that Moon diminutive size, its gravity pull is so low that a landing is more akin to a docking. Singer argued that since Viking 1 was already in a trajectory that met Phobos yet it was running out of attitude control gas, landing it on Phobos may stabilize it and allow the mission to last a little longer. He was heard and in the summer of 1980 the landing was a major success – only for Hoagland to go out of control soon thereafter, and being fired in 1981. The Society fortunes took a nose dive afterwards, although O'LEary fought for it and it still exists.​
 

Archibald

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Another day, another tidbit.

Reagan, SDI, Star wars and Edward "Strangelove" Teller takes a vastly different shape than OTL.

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February 1981

Owen Gordon was horrified.

General Shoemaker, now his implacable foe, had done it. Sensing that the election of Reagan would be a welcome change, he got authorized to brief Maxwell Hunter about the incredible breakthrough that was pulsed-NTR.

Many years before in the late 60's Gordon had welcomed Hunter at Lockheed and presented him to Shoemaker: how stupid he had been ! These two of course had not forgotten each other. In turn, Hunter carefully leaked it to the varied factions trying to get Reagan involved in a new, spaceborne ABM defense.

Ted Taylor (and Freeman Dyson to a lesser level) had expressly avoided to tell Teller about pulsed-NTR; all too aware he would be as excited as a kid being handled matches and firecrackers. Back then (between 1964 and 1972) they had bet instead on Bussard and ASPEN, but Teller simply brushed them aside. The lure of giganormous payload to orbit was too strong, and Teller finally got wind of the revolutionary engine, too. Hunter for his part dusted off his old RITA nuclear single-stage-to-orbit vehicle, and did the maths, and his mind was blown.

In a nod to Intel and their famous microchip, MAxwell Hunter called it "the 8000 rocket" for a simple reason: with 8000 seconds of specific impulse, it could lift 8000 metric tons into orbit. It was a very preliminary calculation, but a rather spectacular one: 9.81*8000*ln(1000+8000)/(10+8000) = 9145 m/s.

This send Teller to the roof.

And High frontier, too.

And then, just like bank robbers flushed in dollars after the break-in of the century, they split. Soon were four factions fighting for its own ABM system. Somewhat remarquably, pulsed-NTR fit all of them like a glove. It was rebranded PUNTER, which stood for PUlsed Nuclear Thermal Engine Rocket.

Hunter, Senator Malcolm Wallop and his aide Codevilla wanted, quite simply, to split those 8000 tons into 80 spaceborne chemical lasers battlestations, a hundred tons each. Once in orbit, they would be manoeuvered by pulsed-NTR Orbital Transfer Vehicles. As a matter of fact, chemical lasers power was in the 1 to 2 MW range; when a TRIGA could briefly pulse to 22 000 MW and PUNTER, 33 000 MW.

And then was General Harold Shoemak, who semingly had found a soul mate in the person of Daniel O. Graham.
Once again, starting from the 8000 metric tons, they wanted to boost 80 000 kinetic interceptors, two-hundreds pound each: that old Random Barrage System canard. Only a SINGLE vehicle could lift the whole enormous system into orbit: it was Tommy Power & Mixson 1961's Orion ABM scheme come true - with a much more practical vehicle.
Alternatively, the interceptors could be made much heavier - 1 metric ton or 10 metric tons - and launched by some dozen pulsed-NTR lifters. This radically solved miniaturization and autonomy issues; no need for "orbital garages". Or the said orbital garages could be rapidly and efficiently manoeuvered in orbit by more pulsed-NTR vehicles: the same Orbital Transfer Vehicles dragging the chemical lasers.

Another faction - linked to the US Army - reasoned that, with such enormous payload to orbit, why not try its chance and lift SPARTAN and SPRINT existing ABM missiles into suborbital flight and fire them at incoming Soviet missiles. They had been deployed on the ground in 1975 only to be retired months after.

And finally come Teller, with his usual minions - Lowell Wood and Roderick Hyde.

He had an even more grandiose vision. He wanted to use pulsed-NTR to power his Excalibur laser.

Teller's Excalibur was a nuclear pumped laser: pumped with the energy of fission fragments. The lasing medium is enclosed in a tube lined with uranium-235 and subjected to high neutron flux in a nuclear reactor core. The fission fragments of the uranium create excited plasma with inverse population of energy levels, which then lases.

When Teller married PUNTER and EXCALIBUR, he got all excited.

It happened that Dyson and Taylor had created PUNTER in the first place to correct NASA NERVA deadly flaw. Which was: it heated hydrogen fuel using those very same fission fragments, because they represented no less than 94% of the reactor energy output. Now, how about the 6% left ? They were neutron kinetic energy. Taylor stroke of genius was to use that to heat the hydrogen, and he had a very good reason. Unlike fission fragments, neutron kinetic energy could heat hydrogen fuel without the huge, irritating constraints of the laws of thermodynamics. And that was paramount, because it solved NERVA materials temperature issue (2700 K !) that in turn impacted head-on specific impulse and kept it well below 1000 seconds; too close from chemical rockets to make a significant gain, considering many others issues that plagued solid-core NTR. Sticking with fission fragments, NASA had tried to solve the materials temperature, laws-of-thermodynamics issue by changing the reactor core shape; all the way from solid-core to gaseous core: GCNR, the mythical but unpractical "nuclear lightbulb". Taylor got a little smarter and shifted the hydrogen fuel "heater" from fission fragments to neutron kinetic energy and in passing, he worked its way around the laws of thermodynamics without violating them.

What Teller instantly grasped was that, well, with the "hydrogen fuel heater" now being those mere 6% of energy, then the 94% related to fission fragments were readily available. And by some happy coincidence, his nuclear-pumped Excalibur exactly needed THAT: fission fragments energy ! And thus, the PUNTER / EXCALIBUR hybrid vehicle ended perfectly symbiotic: 6% of the energy to be used for propulsion, 94% for the laser: it was just too good to be true !

Another rather exciting development related to one of Teller disciples with the name of George Chapline. Just like Teller – and Dyson before them – he just couldn't stand the vision of 94% of the reactor output energy going to waste.

Fundamentally, Ted Taylor had kicked fission fragments out of the "hydrogen fuel heater for propulsion" business, replacing them with neutron kinetic energy NOT constrained by the laws of thermodynamics. All right then, said Chapline. We need to do something with the fission fragments. Teller of course would use them for Excalibur and lasering Soviet ICBMs. But Chapline wondered if he could not use them again for propulsion – except this time, without heating hydrogen fuel for expansion in a rocket nozzle, since Taylor neutrons were already doing that job, thank you.

Nope: Chapline come with the fantastic idea of shooting the fission fragments THEMSELVES in a nozzle, for direct propulsion. Dyson then stepped in and told him, he had had a similar idea when Taylor had got the PUNTER breakthrough circa 1964. It was in the vaning days of Orion and nuclear pulse: they were trying to pass both concepts to NASA only for the space agency nuclear czars Harold Finger and Milton Klein to refuse, in the name of NERVA, their own baby.

Taylor and Dyson answer was to dissecate NERVA and picks glaring holes in it. Their fundamental breakthrough come when they switched "hydrogen fuel heating" from fission fragments to neutron kinetic energy, in the process bypassing the irritating laws of thermodynamics with stupendous results: a specific impulse of 5000 to 13 000 seconds, rather than NERVA paltry 800 to 1000.

Taylor instantly embraced the cause of neutron kinetic energy yet Dyson pondered about the abandoned fission fragments. Twenty years later Chapline got the exact same reasoning; and from there, was born the FIssion Fragment Rocket Engine (FIFRE), with a whopping 1 million seconds specific impulse (!): 100 times higher than PUNTER, itself 10 times better than NERVA. A startled Chapline realized a FIFRE rocket could reach 5% of the speed of light !

As for pulsed-NTR, it was also the son of TRIGA, and TRIGA had been one of Teller many babies back in 1956. These reactors could be pulsed to 33 000 megawatts (!) without melting, - and this was just perfect to power a laser. They were also extremely safe, cheap, and plentiful: 66 had been build and deployed across the Western world universities, including in Africa.

All the above was music to the ears of Teller. The many pieces in the puzzle just gently fell into place. SDI technology – PUNTER – could be used to greatly energize NASA with extremely exciting spaceborne nuclear propulsion systems; which also happened to be closer from present state-of-the-art than the impossible gas-core-nuclear-rocket, in limbo since 1973 just like NERVA. It didn't took long for Teller henchmen Roderick Hyde and Lowell Wood to jump on that bandwagon. They touted a reborn space exploration program led, not by NASA or even the military but the nuclear laboratories : such as their own, Livermore.

Teller for his part come with the vision of what he called "the pop-up laser SSTO". Dozens or hundreds or thousands pulsed-NTR vehicles would jump out of Earth atmosphere - in suborbital or orbital flights - and zap Soviets missiles firing a variant of Excalibur X-ray laser powered by PUNTER fission fragments. In fact pulsed-NTR outstanding performance wiped out a more modest but extremely similar concept called TIMBERWIND, which had a 1000 seconds specific impulse, nuclear thermal pebble bed reactor as its centerpiece.
At 5000 to 13 000 seconds however, PUNTER simply buried it.

From TIMBERWIND, the pulsed-NTR faction borrowed a very smart concept.

They would create a rocket upper stage with such a fantastic specific impulse (5000 to 13 000 seconds !): not only could it haul itself in orbit; but it could do that with a giganormous payload, hundred if not thousands tons; and even dragging that, it could still make huge maneuvers in space and in orbit to dodge any Soviet interceptor.
And so PUNTER could ride a Minuteman, a Poseidon, a Peacekeeper or any existing NASA / USAF rocket – Delta – Atlas – Titan – as an upper stage. And such was its performance, the said rockets could now lift colossal payloads into Earth orbit with only the little finger and without breaking a sweat. In fact their existence and use to lift PUNTER in suborbital flight was only tolerated to avoid public fears of a nuclear rocket firing from Earth solid ground. Teller in passing was prompt to argue that PUNTER was an offspring of TRIGA, the safest reactor ever build.

...

When Gordon learned of this whacky schemes he felt more depressed than ever. His only consolation was that nobody thought of using his Agena or suborbital refueling vehicles for SDI - not with pulsed-NTR stratospheric promises inflated even further by Teller. He noted however that Graham himself worried about public opinion feelings about some hundreds nuclear SSTOs flying inside Earth atmosphere. Even if TRIGA was the epithome of safety, as joyfully noted by Teller, that beast was different.

The NERVA side of it was much less reassuring. Hans Bethe Union of Concerned Scientists lost no time underlying that point and picking holes in the system vaunted breathtaking performance numbers. Soon a murderous "science war" raged, Robert Jastrow and Teller leading the charge and taking a lot of flak from other nuclear scientists. At least he wouldn't be part of this, and neither would Gerald Bull, his gun-launched system being another collateral victim of pulsed-NTR launch vehicle advent. It didn't bothered him. There was still a need for a non-nuclear lifter to Earth orbit for NASA - roles for Agena and his suborbital refueling rocketplane. And there were still some technical doubts over pulsed-NTR safety and radiators.
Teller, of course, did not cared: he was drummming the hype like crazy.
 

Archibald

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Folks, I've discovered that NASA administrator in the late 70's (Robert Frosch) had been manager of VELA at ARPA in the early 60's; and then, Under Secretary for USN at the Pentagon between 1966 and 1973.

As such, he was involved in the XVF-12 versus Convair 200 decision in 1972. In fact he was manipulated by lower ranking USN officers to endorse the XFV-12 which proved unworkable.

Very well explained here.


So just for the fun of it... ITTL I have VELA (and thus Frosch) being taken "hostages" by Shoemaker and Teller for their own political agendas - a USAF lunar base.
Frosch ends rather burned and pissed-off, a lesson he won't forget. Including in 1972... he will uncover XVF-12 supporters shenanigans earlier, blast them, and endorse Convair 200 as a more reasonable solution.

And this (through GD Convair) will impact head-on F-16, YF-17, F-18 and F-20 - because Convair 201 and 218...
 

Archibald

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The Soviet counter-attack !
In the mid-70's I have NASA going suborbital docking, the FLOC way - enlisting Boeing.
As for the Air Force, they have put DARPA and Lockheed's Skunk Works on the suborbital refueling case.

(NASA and USAF are each others throats after the KH-9 spysat sunk the Shuttle all by itself, late 1971.
OTL it was the main reason why the Orbiter ended with a 60 ft long payload bay... and a lot of related issues of size and weight and cost over the next four decades.
Only for the NRO to decides, right from 1975, to NEVER launch ANY KH-9 with the Shuttle. Go figure ! ITTL, that issue sinks the Shuttle program... and NASA is quite pissed off at both USAF and NRO.)

You guess, that makes the Soviets a little nervous.

And this is their answer...

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Moscow, 1981

“First, a reminder about tripropellant basic rule: we want dense kerosene to burn first at takeoff, and then be gradually replaced by pure energy hydrogen during the difficult ascent to orbit.” Despite the heavy pressure, Lozino Lozinskiy was calm. “In our post-Spiral studies from 1975 we identified five distinct ways of reaping the benefits of kerosene high density and hydrogen pure energy.

The first two are well known: separate stages with separate fuels, Saturn V style; or just one stage with both fuels and thus three propellant tanks if liquid oxygen is included. We explored such tradeoffs with System 49, 49M and Bizan: we tried to find the best mix of kerosene NK-33 and hydrogen RD-57 engines, both developed for advanced N-1 variants. Our conclusions were clear enough: these two solutions are easy to implement but definitively not efficient at all.

The three others go a step further and very much integrate the hydrogen and kerosene engines together.

Solution 1 is two separate engines – hence, two separate turbopumps and combustion chambers - sharing the same nozzle; basically firing in the same hole and mixing their exhausts. That's what Rudi Beichel proposes at Aerojet.

Solution 2 integrates the two engines even further: through very sophisticated fuel injection and injectors, it manages to burn both kerosene and hydrogen into the same combustion chamber. A notable engineering feat considering how these two fuels are polar opposites, temperatures and density wise. That was our initial objective; we tentatively called that engine RD-701.

Both engines work in similar ways during ascent: kerosene first, then a gradual switch toward hydrogen. The only difference is where the switch happens, and how. Beichel gradually shuts down the kerosene engine in favor of the hydrogen one. We more or less do the same, but at the injectors level: we gradually shut the kerosene flow into the common combustion chamber while augmenting the hydrogen one. The tricky thing is that, not only their temperatures and densities are worlds apart; so are their respective mixture ratios. I mean: it takes a bit less than 3 oxygen to burn 1 kerosene; but as far as hydrogen is concerned, its 6 to 8 oxygen. Hence the liquid oxygen injectors must be carefully monitored; because reversing the ratios would instantly destroy performance, if not the engine itself.

And then there is solution 3, which is a compromise of both 1 and 2. Let me explain this. A common aspect of 1 and 2 is that both fire through the same nozzle with their combustion hot gases mixing together. That last point is all-important, because that's how you get the best of both fuels. Since both engines are in operation the effective area ratio has an efficient low value – and that's better when at sea level and in the lower atmosphere. Later in the ascent when the kerosene engine is shut down, it leaves the hydrogen engine alone to expand its gases to a higher area ratio – perfect when firing in the vacuum of space.

All right then, so we were laboring on these siamese engines, including their combustion chambers. In the case of 1, they remain separate but as a result, the engine is quite heavy. In the case of 2, the chambers are kind of fused together, but that make the common one a daunting engineering challenge; we had our metallurgists rather worried about it.

So we were discussing the matter with Lyulka and Kuznetsov when their aircraft side took over. They said “how about an afterburner then ?” And guess what an afterburner is ? It is kind of second combustion chamber - except in the nozzle, not in the engine core.

Lyulka and Kuznetsov then said: burn the kerosene into a dedicated combustion chamber, NK-33 style; then turn the nozzle into the hydrogen very own combustion chamber. By injecting the said hydrogen and its LOX, near the throat and in the supersonic section of the nozzle. That's paramount; and there, we had our breakthrough.

We keep the most important aspect of 1 and 2 engines, remember: kerosene-lox-combustion-gases and hydrogen-lox-combustion-gases mixing and exiting through the same nozzle : getting the best of both fuels. Except we achieve that a) without the weight burden of either separated engines and combustion chambers; and b) without the metallurgy big headache of a common LH2 / RP-1 combustion chamber. Maybe not as efficient, but far lighter and easier to build.

So, where do we go from there ?

Ideally we would go, first, with that smart workaround. And then, we would ask Kuznetsov and Lyulka to pull a Beichel by getting their NK-33 and RD-57 firing through a common nozzle, mixing their hot gases. And finally, they would literally merge the NK-33 and RD-57 separate combustion chambers into one; with only the LOX / LH2 / RP-1 respective injectors remaining apart; back to the RD-701 initial plan.

But we are in a hurry, because of that rather unexpected breakthrough on the American side. Suborbital refueling or docking: nobody would have bet a dime on this only five years ago. The only clue was Aerospaceplane HIRES brief discussion of refueling at Mach 6 and testing that with the X-15s. A good case could make they come tantalizing close from the breakthrough back then, but somewhat picked the wrong X-15 record and flight profile. Don't refuel at Mach 6 and 100 000 feet, well inside the turbulent atmosphere and hypersonic shockwave; pick instead that 354 000 ft height record. To refuel high there; safely out of the atmosphere and on a short segment of orbit: four minutes of zero-G parabola. No hypersonic shockwave, heat barrier nor turbulence there.

Whatever, those smart Americans have put our backs against a wall. That's why I think we should go all out for the two lowest risk approaches, in parallel: the Beichel and nozzle ones; while refining the RD-701 “ideal” one over the long term.

What we need exactly is a joint Kuznestsov / Lyulka team working on the two approaches the following way. First, getting a NK-33 and RD-57 firing together into a common nozzle. And in parallel: Lyulka adding their RD-57 LOX& LH2 propellant injectors into a NK-33 nozzle. That's how we should proceed.

As for the RD-701 “common combustion chamber” I suggest we put Glushko's Energomash on the case, in cooperation with Lyulka and Kuznetsov; borrowing from their experience. This way we have the cream of our rocket engine industry; the best brains trying to crack the case of tripropellant engines and their variations."​

-----------

Variation on OTL MAKS and its RD-701 smart but complicated engine. Without Buran and Glushko, Lozino has a free hand to improve Spiral (49, 49M, Bizan), in a way that diverges from our universe.

 
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Archibald

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Some called it a bestiary or a zoo of names. Fact was that General Shoemaker methodically created a nomenclature related to that whole new combination: of one bomber, one booster and one Agena spysat.
Unlike NASA he had a real talent - a knack to pull names out of dry accronyms.

Air Launched Agena was ALA: the spanish word for "wing".

The spysats, then.

Air Launch would rather logically add "AL", in front of
the spysat familiar codename.
And thus he got:
ALAMOS for Air Launch SAMOS
ALCOR for CORONA
ALGA for GAMBIT (and flying FROG later)
ALLAN for LANYARD
ALGO for ARGON
ALQUIL for the radarsat.

And then came the boosters & Agena combinations

CAGE with a Scout's Castor.
PAGE for Polaris
SAGE for Skybolt
MAGE for Minuteman

The latter prevailed and thereafter MAGE combined with the three
bombers carrying it: Stratofortress, Hustler and Valkyrie.

And thus were born VALMA, SALMA and HUMA.
 
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Michel Van

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we tried to find the best mix of kerosene NK-33 and hydrogen RD-57 engines, both developed for advanced N-1 variants.
i already see the scene were Military explain to Glushko and Kuznetsov, their demands and go for the Lozino proposal.
and how Glushko and Kuznetsov "disliked" each other as competitor, that will be nasty catfight...
 

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The Soviet space program was like that memorable TV show of the 80's: DALLAS.
Glushko was J.R. Ewings (machiavellian)
Mishin was Sue Ellen (often drunk)
Chelomei was Bobby Ewings... (the unhappy one)
 

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Glushko is not working with Kuznetsov - Lyulka is. Glushko work is only a long term bonus, if it ever made to work.
 

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November 14, 1967

Afanasyev anger was kind of justified, Babakin thought bitterly. He had told rocket scientists that, when the Soviet leadership learned of what was immediately available to mount a mission to the Marius Hills ahead of the Americans, they were truly apalled.
Zond wasn't even flying correctly, and could not land. As for Babakin's robots, the next generation massive Ye-8s wouldn't be ready until early 1969.
At the end of the day, the one and only spaceship on hand was plain old Luna 9 / Luna 13: those cranky Ye-6Ms that had failed eleven times before nailing a succesfull landing. At least they were cheap, riding a R-7 rocket; and quite rugged, smart and elegant, in a sense.

A big rocket and guidance booster assumed the entire trip from Earth orbit to near the lunar surface. Once close, it very much ejected a softball-like lander which bounced across the surface, then once stabilized deflated and disclosed a small payload inside: opening petals like a flower of metal, the said petals stabilizing the spacecraft in its final resting place. A flower inside a softball: how cute. It was a crude but very smart way of attacking the difficult problem of how to land something on the Moon for the first time. On the other side of the Iron Curtain, the Ranger hard landers were equally imaginative and clever little things: in their case, a plywood-and-water ball to protect a robust seismometer inside.

As the Soviet leadership gruntled and despaired and put heavy pressure on him to "do something in the Marius Hills – anything, and if possible, spectacular", Georgiy Babakin got a stupendous idea.

He had once told one of his deputies, half-jokingly, that the American hard lander was kind of golf ball when the Soviet one more closely related to volley or basket games. A greedy capitalist sport versus a collective, popular one; in a sense, Cold War opposed ideologies applied even to the early robotic lunar race. They had had a good laugh over this. That day he remided that old joke as he watched a basketball match... when it dawned on him like an evidence.

Basketball ?

"Eureka ! I need to drop of my Ye-6 softball-landers inside that goddam lava tube opening. It will bounce its way down to the bottom and deploy there. And if we beef up the antenna enough, hopefully it should be able to communicate with us; the Americans told us naively there is a direct line of sight with Earth even from the bottom. Main problem will be to bring the rocket stage close enough from the pit, and briefly hovering above it, to eject the true lander inside the hole – like those basketball players. It won't be easy because the rather dumbarse guidance system will need to get the probe close enough from the hole, not kilometers away. But if I suceed, we will get pictures from the bottom of the damn place. And if that's not spectacular enough for my country leadership, then I can't see what will be."

He rushed out the basketball match and drove all-out to his design bureau, communicating his exciting idea to his faithfull associates.

They were now in a hellish race with Lunar Orbiter 6. In faraway Seattle, Boeing was collecting spares, rapidly assembling them into a complete probe. NASA meanwhile was getting some limited military help to secure the probe, tradding that support for LC-12 / LC-13 pads and Atlas-Agena rockets to launch it.

Unbestknown to Babakin, and in a remarquable parallel move, the space agency was also bringing back its first atempt at a lunar lander, long before Surveyor: the plain old Ranger hard landers with the seismometers inside. A bunch of them would be hanged to Lunar Orbiter 6's Agena booster. Once the probe safely delivered and out of harm's way, the Agena would be directed to a collision course with Oceanus Procellarum instead of its usual graveyard heliocentric orbit. It would release a dozen of water-plywood landers into direct free-falls to the Moon, impacting at an average 60 m/s; and deploying seismometers all around the Ocean of storms.

Once the seismometers into place, the dead Agena would activate them by slamming head-on into Ocean of storms, sending seismic waves all across the crust... and de facto disclosing to the seismometers what laid beneath. Coming later to the party would be all the dead Lunar orbiters still orbiting the Moon; and also, the Centaur booster from the last Surveyor to land in January 1968, a stage twice as heavy as the Agena. Every single of these impacts would send seismic waves across the lunar crust, Procellarum included, and help unmasking its guts even further.

And it was only a beginning.​
 

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Throwing more stuff into that big hole. I really - but really - enjoyed writting that little bit.

---------

It was a scene straight out of a (future) TV show called Space: 1999, and reminiscent of its Eagle lander. An S-IVB was descending toward the lunar surface, braking heavily under thrust of its J-2 engine... and a bunch of RL-10s. While close from the surface, the stage flipped to horizontal; deployed four legs at each corner; and gently touched down on tamed RL-10 power.

In front of the stage was its "payload": a treasure called the SLA, for Saturn Launch Adapter. It was a big truncated cone: in its basic variant an aerodynamic fairing linking the 22 ft S-IVB to the 12 feet Apollo; with the Lunar Module conveniently nested and folded inside.

But today's SLA was different, because the Apollo and LM payloads were markedly absent. Instead the adapter had been outfitted into a makeshift cockpit and pressurized module; a rather big module with volume aplenty: no less than 200 cubic meters. The crew had piloted their S-IVB to a landing from there; and now they had a comfortable, roomy habitat on the lunar surface.

And it was only a beginning.

From the SLA they send a series of commands that cleaned up, and pressurized, the S-IVB former propellant tanks: the hydrogen tank that stood on the side of the SLA, and the oxygen tank behind it. Remarquably, both tanks had similar volume that would add to the adapter itself: a whopping total of 900 cubic meter.

It was the plain old "wet workshop" idea with two improvements. First, was the low lunar gravity in place of Earth orbit zero-G: it would greatly help the crew outfitting the bare tanks with partitions, floors. Second improvement was that the outfitting would be done from the spacious SLA, rather than a cramped Apollo or airlock. Even if the tanks living quarters remained compromised and crude, the SLA was more sophisticated because it had been built on Earth solid ground as a dedicated space habitat. In a sense, it was like a mobile-home. An in-between a trailer and a house: more comfortable than the former, but still mobile to go camping.

In the days of the Earth-orbit wet workshop, Mueller had likened putting the furnishings - packed in the docking adapter back then - into the liquid hydrogen tank to building a ship in a bottle.

From the SLA module the astronauts opened a 43-inch-diameter hatch leading into the hydrogen tank. The tank's interior had been modified during manufacture to include tie-downs and attachment points for installation of a galley and hygiene, exercise, sleep, and experiment equipment, as well as lights and ventilation ducts and fans. Ideally, there should have been pre-installed walls and grillwork floors inside the tanks; but they couldn't be packed inside the docking adapter, and it wasn't sure they could withstand very cold liquid hydrogen fuel.

The SLA solved that issue its own way; walls and grillwork floors could be packed inside it, as it had ten times the volume of the old wet workshop airlock. An alternative would be for the crew to string fabric floors and walls within the tank; a "rope" running the length of the tank would aid mobility.

One thing was sure in the end: as far as outfitting a wet workshop was concerned, the low lunar gravity made things much easier for the crew, compared to zero-gravity in Earth orbit.

Starting from that important point, circa 1968 Mueller salvaged all the work done on the wet workshop instead of wasting it. The wet workshop would never be an Earth orbit station: instead, it was transfered to Bellcomm (and scientist-astronaut Gerard O'Neill) Marius Hills lunar base studies. Its 900 cubic meters of habitable volume - landed single-piece on the Moon - made it a formidable "base block module". The said blocks could be chained end-to-end like sausages; or linked in the shape of an X by a central multiple docking adapter.

A study was even made of the fat S-IVB module carefully descending inside the Marius Hills skylight; touching down at the bottom of the pit rather than on the lunar surface. O'Neill noted this would be quite formidable, as it would ensure maximum shielding against radiations, temperature shifts, dust, and meteroid impacts. What's more, it would grant crews direct access to the lava tube entries on the opposite ends of the pit.

O'Neill realized that crews could use Lunar Flying Units to jump from the pit bottom to the lunar surface - and back.

In fact two big modules could be set up: one at the edge of the pit, the other at the bottom, 200 feet low. The crew would usually live on the surface module, but if the Sun went into a massive angry flare, (as it did in August 1972, incidentally) then they would just leap into their LFU, fly down to the bottom of the pit and seek shelter into the second module, much less exposed in its steep hole.

And if that wasn't enough, they could enter the lava tube themselves, which would provide top-notch protection by more than 100 feet of rock-solid regolith.

The beauty of the "LFU solution" was such, O'Neill got Apollo 15 validating it, somewhat, in 1971. A pair of Lunar Flying Units were dropped ahead of the crew and near the skylight by a PERSEUS Mk.2 logistic vehicle. That PERSEUS module rode an Agena that, in passing, pioneered at low cost and risk the landing method imagined for the far larger S-IVB: it descended vertically on its Bell engine and once in view of the surface, flipped horizontally and landed on beefed-up nitrogen cold-gas thrusters. This put the LFUs close from the ground: much easier for the crew to unload.

After what David Scott jumped into a flying unit and flew to the bottom of the pit and near the caves entries; as David Irwin was standing in alert with the other vehicle, ready to go picking his crew mate if anything went wrong. Scott exploration allowed a very detailed map of the pit bottom to be made, pinpointing areas flat and smooth enough to receive a lander or a module, somewhere in the future. Apollo 15 was a triumph.
 
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I would like to pay hommage here to a truly awesome TL at AH.com, that tried its own take at exploring that Marius Hills skylight.


As one can see, rope-and-pulley: risky business. I was thinking about that TL when the LFUs came like an evidence.

Plus it reminds me of Interstellar Mann planet, when they hop-and-rocket across the glacier (that is, before Mann tries to kill Cooper, the miserable SOB.)

View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5TC0fTyilok
 
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CONFIDENTIAL NOTE - 1973

With Apollo over, we have lost manned access to cislunar space. While we will send Agenas in the future, could a manned lunar capability be restored in case the Soviets do something weird in the Marius Hills ? The answer is positive.

In 1973 the Air Force has kind of brought back the defunct MOL by borrowing Big Gemini – Helios - from NASA: in a program called Blue Helios. By a very fortunate coincidence Blue Helios has the exact same mass as the old MOL, aproximately 32 000 pounds. With NRO consent, we will fly stored MOL hardware inside Blue Helios cargo modules: notably powerful cameras with 72-inch mirrors. We also intend to reycle all the cameras used by Apollo - and borrowed from the military in the first place: Lunar Topographic Camera (from the Navy P-3C Orion), PanCam (SR-71) and PERSEUS (KH-7).

Meanwhile NASA is putting the Centaur on the Titan III for their robotic planetary exploration program. Initially they were content with the 5-seg solids, but we helped them getting the more powerful boosters, of MOL legacy. The resulting Titan IIIE-7 can orbit its Centaur D-1T with its tanks full. And this brings an interesting reflexion.

Let's suppose we put the Agena tug automated docking system on a Centaur, and send that into orbit. It would meet a Blue Helios and together they would dock. What kind of high orbit mission could such stack do ? A Centaur booster dragging a Blue Helios could provide 3200 m/s of delta-v. This is barely Earth escape velocity or Apollo TLI: Trans-Lunar Injection. In a few words: a lunar flyby very similar to the Soviet Zonds. Blue Helios would fly past the Moon without stopping, but even then we could use the powerful MOL camera to get a handful of ultra-high-resolution pictures of the Marius Hills.

And then where would it go ? The beefed-up Gemini-B capsule would return, hitting Earth atmosphere at 11 km/s very much like the Apollo Command Modules. As for the camera module, it would probably follow it and burn - like the spent Apollo Service Modules. Alternately, some low-energy trajectory (as explored by Robert Farquhar at NASA Goddard) could send the camera module either to EML-1 or in geostationary orbit. From there it would be in a vantage point to observe either the Moon or Earth at medium resolution.

This is a basic, straightforward contingency plan: all its building blocks – Titan IIIE-7, Agena tug, Blue Helios - are presently in development or in service. We could practice orbital docking and manoeuvering by using an Agena tug as Blue Helios booster: a combination with 1225 m/s of delta-v. Not enough to go to cislunar space; enough to fly 1000 miles high.​
 

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This paper completely blew my mind.

(Hmmm... cookies.... silly stupid thing, the link is working very well !)

See attached screenshot. This is a list of big lunar caves determined from the GRAIL probe data. Of all the places listed, only two are not part of the Ocean of Storms.
Rumker, Mairan, Aristarchus, Wollaston, Cavalerius, Marius Hills: same corner of the Moon. And look at the length of the caves: 100 miles ! And 3 mile wide.
Each one could contain a freakkin' lunar colony.
Then hire Elon Musk "Boring company" to link all of them together... and there you are, a huge colony on Earth's doorstep.
 

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publiusr

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If I were to adapt Clarke's Space Odyssey to a mini-series where it is all spelled out...I might splice it with Forbidden Planet with huge ruins there...maybe ice and biotia from Earth sealed up.
 

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HMCS Bonaventure bridge

Off the coast of Nova Scotia, 1959


The Canadair Skylancer came, screaming and hitting Bonaventure's deck with stunning violence: yet a perfect landing by naval aviation standard.

During tests the Royal Canadian Navy found that with only ten knots of wind they can operate Skyhawks at full normal take-off weight (about 20,000 Ib) out of Bonaventure. This is a matter of simple mathematics. The A-4E stalling speed is 139 mph, weight is 22,950 pounds maximum.

The Bonaventure’s shortstroke steam catapult provides a launch speed of 104 knots and the forward speed of the vessel adds another 22 knots, total 126 kt. This is just about 10 knots short of the Skyhawk’s safe launch airspeed: 136 kt, which translates as 156 mph. However, if zero wind conditions prevail the aircraft can still be launched with a sacrifice of about 2,000 Ib of fuel or other payload.

For the sake of comparison, the present RCAN F2H3 Banshees landing speed is 114 mph for a 28500 pounds maximum takeoff weight. The F4D Skyray landing speed is 134 mph for a 27116 pounds maximum weight. Finally, the much upgraded F4D known as Skylancer has a landing speed 155 mph, a stalling speed of only 112.7 mph and a 28072 pounds maximum takeoff weight.


That was pure Gerald Bull. Owen Gordon really enjoyed working with the man: he was a true genius even if a real pain in the ass at times. He had learned the man idiosyncrasies and knew how to handle them.

“Just think about the numbers of Colossus and Magestic in service all around the planet” Bull said. “Or countries wanting some of them: we Canadians, Great Britain, Argentina, Brazil, France, The Netherlands, Australia, India... yet neither the French nor Americans nor the British presently have a viable supersonic fighter small and light enough to safely land on their decks. Yet we have done it. The original Skylancer has a landing speed of 155 mph but would stall at only 113 mph. Well, that analog fly-by-wire flight control system we borrowed from the Arrow has dropped the landing speed to an intermediate value of 134 mph, a massive gain that now allows that aircraft to safely touchdown on Majestic or even Colossus carriers. And this is paramount.”

Gordon had made that happening. Many years before he had randomly ran into Bull: at the Canadian Armament and Research Development Establishment (short: CARDE) the man was firing Canadair's Velvet Glove and Sparrow II subscale models with a gun at far lower expense that test or sounding rockets. Gordon back then was working on these troubled missile programs. Soon thereafter Bull extended his gun firing of models to the nascent Avro Arrow and instantly noted a serious flaw.

Just like the first F-100A Super Sabres – one of them had just killed George Welsh at Edwards AFB - the Arrow vertical fin was too short. Classic engineering answer would have been to enlarge it at the expense of weight and drag, but the Canadians decided to try something else. They put a primitive computer between the controls and the pilot; allowing a refined and efficient piloting and also much enhanced safety. To Gordon surprise, Gerald Bull became fascinated with that technology; he felt CARDE – and Canada – had a major technological breakthrough there, that should not be allowed to slip away.

Meanwhile in 1956 Owen Gordon was detached by Canadair to Point Mugu and Douglas in California to work on Sparrow II. He returned with his hands full: of Skyrays, Skylancers, and Project CALEB / PILOT of air-launched rockets for all kind of different missions – satellite launch, inspection and destruction; same for ballistic missiles: what the Americans were already calling “ASAT” and “ABM”.

Once again, this put him on a collision course with Bull, who also dreamed of ABM - perhaps using his beloved guns. Together they also returned to computerized flight controls, as Gordon intended to make the Skylancer the Arrow little brother for the Royal Canadian Air Force... and Navy, provided HMCS Bonaventure could handle it. It was Bull that suggested to try a variant of the Arrow analog fly-by-wire on the Skylancer, as Canadair went into a partnership with Douglas to get a F5D production licence. The results were... spectacular: Skylancer handling, safety and landing speed were transformed; as would Dassault found some years later when comparing Mirage IIIs and Mirage 2000s.

The whole affair climaxed in that Skylancer very successful landing on Bonaventure. A visionary, Bull was already thinking about the next step. “Imagine the technological edge Canada presently has. Everybody loves the delta wing, but everybody is also painful aware of its basic flaws: high landing speed in a nose-high altitude; long takeoff runs; high drag in close air combat. Well we have solved many of these issues. Imagine if we sold that computerized-flight-controls tech to USAF, for their F-106s; to the USN, if they ever want some Skylancers for their Essex carriers; to the French for their Mirages; to the Swedes, for Draken; to the British, for the Javelin; and on, and on: endless potential, for combat aircraft and perhaps someday for airliners, too.”​
 

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Would you buy a book with the following "pitch" ? (trying to condense it)

-----------

General Harold S. Shoemaker is a former WWII B-29 pilot with harrowing memories driving him insane at times. He has learned how to tame his traumas - and started a meteoritic rise across the Strategic Air Command. Cast from the same mold as Curtiss Lemay and Thomas Power, he is also a cold blooded, ruthless manipulative Cold Warrior akin to Bernard Schriever. Learning his lessons from these three, as America transition from Ike 50's into the turbulent 60's he develops his own grand scheme.

At the dawn of the space age ARPA and NASA have been created six months apart, in February and July 1958, specifically to thwarth the bellicose Air Force grandiose space plans. But the Strategic Air Command has sized two concepts from ARPA and married them: Project Defender's BAMBI and Orion. The spaceborne battleship is the brainchild of General Atomics' Ted Taylor and Princeton's Freeman Dyson; powered by nuclear bombs detonated behind a spring mounted steel plate, it could led to Saturn moons by 1970.

Tommy Power' Strategic Air Command however has different plans for Orion: he has imagined a Strategic Defense Initiative long before Reagan... a space shield without the lasers. Three fleets of 5000 tons Orion vessels would patrol low Earth orbit, GEO and cislunar space. The gigantic spacecraft would assume the role of strategic reconnaissance; space bombing; and ballistic missile defence. The cislunar fleet would be backed by the LUNEX military moonbase. The Orions would carry gigatons nuclear bombs to anihilate the Soviet Union; radar, infrared, and optical sensors to prepare for the onslaught; and a fleet of 100 000 dirt-cheap interceptors to saturate space and thwarth a Soviet counterstrike. Steel pellets and wire-mesh nets would be thrown at incoming Soviet missiles to cripple and destroy them; casaba howitzers would sweep space and nuke the survivors.

The spacefleet would move nuclear war away from the United States: into space. It would be the next step beyond the Polaris submarine, and give the Air Force the final word in nuclear deterrent system. Forget JFK endeavour of "landing a man on the Moon before this decade is out" or Freeman Dyson vision of "Saturn Moons by 1970".

Space will be the next battleground.

But Orion is canned in 1964, quickly followed by Lemay, Power and Schriever retirements. NASA, ARPA, and McNamara's Pentagon civilians seemingly have prevailed. As the Soviets reach parity in missiles and warheads – 30 000 on each side - Cold War is now locked into a very uneasy and dangerous stalemate.

Or have they prevailed ? Haunted by Tommy Power grand vision, General Shoemaker staunchly refuse to give up and tries to recreate the space shield without Orion. In the process he enlists a pair of smart Canadian engineers. First is Gerald Bull and his superguns. Then is Owen Gordon, the man who rescued the Avro Arrow and is now working at Lockheed on their Agena rocket stage. Shoemaker also plans to use the entire arsenal of NASA, Air Force, Navy and Army solid-fuel missiles. The entire thing a three-tiers solution to lift its 100 000 interceptors into orbit on the cheap and from below. Some more years, and in 1967 a startling discovery on the Moon Marius Hills will drastically change Apollo fate and put Shoemaker on the path of lunar resources as way to throw even more interceptors - from above.

What Shoemaker ignores is that Orion isn't truly dead: Owen Gordon, Freeman Dyson and Ted Taylor have randomly reborn it with different and even more revolutionary propulsion systems. If Shoemaker ever discovers it, the SAC nightmarish vision will return along it; and there is a very real risk it destabilizes Cold War already precarious Mutual Assured Destruction paradigm. All too aware of it, the three men have made an alliance to keep their ideas under wraps. But will the pact hold ?

Meanwhile on the Moon's Marius Hills, Soviets Luna probes make a truly unbelievable discovery...​
 

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You have to have Proxmire, Nixon, LeMay and Rickover at Dealy Plaza and Oswald with a burp gun for any pro-space scenario to work…maybe. That and a broken spear at a USAF gathering.

If Truax, Von Braun, Medaris and god emperor Agnew are all that’s left, so much the better.
 
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Doc: This is truly amazing, a portable television studio. No wonder your president has to be an actor, he's gotta look good on television.

Marty: Whoa, this is it, this is the part coming up, Doc.

TV Doc: No no no this sucker's electrical, but I need a nuclear reaction to generate the one point twenty-one gigawatts of electricity-

Doc: What did I just say?

TV Doc: No no no this sucker's electrical, but I need a nuclear reaction to generate the one point twenty-one gigawatts of electricity that I need.

Doc: One point twenty-one gigawatts. One point twenty-one gigawatts. Great Scott.

Marty: What the hell is a gigawatt?

Doc: How could I have been so careless. One point twenty-one gigawatts. (looks at Thomas Edison picture) Tom, how am I gonna generate that kind of power, it can't be done, it can't.​

HOW THE SOLAR SYSTEM WAS WON

Or: the battle for a truly efficient nuclear rocket.


"In the early days of the Manhattan project some smart nuclear scientists already realized that someday, fission energy could be used in a rocket.

Basics of nuclear rockets seemed rather obvious. Keep hydrogen fuel as the most energetic; yet instead of burning it with liquid oxygen in a chemical reaction, just heat it with a nuclear pile; and the hotter the hydrogen, the better the specific impulse.

With nuclear fission releasing an average 20 million times more energy, atomic rockets should have had no problem roaming the solar system or even the near-interstellar medium without breaking a sweat.

And then something annoying happened: nuclear rockets failed to achieve their theoretical huge potential.
Surely enough, they doubled specific impulse... but that wasn't the major breakthrough hoped; still not enough to face Earth steep gravity well. At one end was a Gigawatt of power nuclear reactor going white-hot: to the edge of melting itself as it drove known materials to the edge of temperature: 3000 Kelvins ! Yet at the other end – hot hydrogen going out of the nozzle – was only a mediocre performance improvement compared to chemical rockets.
Nuclear fission was pure energy; hydrogen fuel, too, was very energetic; yet nuclear rockets failed to achieve a truly significant performance breakthrough over their chemical counterparts. Clearly, something was wrong there. And indeed, the weak link was soon found. It was the very transmission of the reactor raw nuclear energy to the hydrogen fuel: massive losses and inefficiencies there.
Nuclear electric propulsion was an early (and rather smart) atempt at solving the power transmission issue: calling electricity to the rescue. It suceeded at improving specific impulse from low hundreds to thousands seconds; but thrust was minuscule.

And then, a grave mistake was made.

Since the transmission was done by heat, it was claimed the reactor simply wasn't “hot” enough. But the classic solid-core – ROVER / NERVA – was already at 3000 Kelvins, bringing known materials to their temperature edge.
The only way - or so it seemed - to get around that pesky materials limit was to change the reactor very core: away from solid to get it hotter; and the hotter, the better specific impulse.

The logical (and pretty extreme) end of this was the Gas Core Nuclear Rocket, with an uranium plasma at a whopping 20 000 Kelvins to heat the hydrogen fuel; with the according tremendous technical challenges.

Yet nobody saw the issue wasn't the reactor itself, nor even its thermal energy output. It was the very energy vector that passed it from the reactor core to the fuel: the so-called fission fragments.

They had been chosen as the energy vector from reactor to fuel because they represented 95% of the energy output. Bad mistake: they transmitted the said energy via heat, and heat was severely constrained by the second law of thermodynamics; which expressedly forbade the hydrogen fuel to be hotter than the reactor; rather than the other way around.

How easy it would have been, that “other way around”: imagine, reactor temperature being dissociated from fuel temperature. Reactor temperature no longer 3000 or even 20 000 Kelvins; yet fuel temperature being very high nonetheless: which exactly translated as: better and better specific impulse.

But the second law of thermodynamics could NOT be violated: it was a basic tenant of elementary physics. And thus the reactor had to heat like crazy to try and heat the fuel for better specific impulse... except the second law of thermodynamics stood right between the reactor and the fuel like a giant PITA; ensuring massive losses in the transmission and sheer inefficiency.

End result: a white-hot reactor at the edge of materials (and melting itself) at 3000 Kelvins, only for an average 825 seconds of specific impulse at nozzle exit; not even doubling the all time record of chemical rocketry: 465 seconds for a RL-10B2. And yes, even 930 seconds wouldn't be enough of an improvement in performance to balance the well-known hassles of flying nuclear: notably that pesky radiation problem... it would take at least 1200 seconds or even 1500 - if not 2000 - to start making a significant improvement; this, because Earth gravity well and the rocket equation were equally daunting. It took 12 km/s, no less, to escape Earth starting at zero speed from its solid ground.
Against such daunting number, 465 seconds or 930 seconds of specific impulse simply wasn't enough to get a practical spaceship: of the kind able to haul an enormous mass away from Earth surface with only the little finger - and thus at an acceptable cost.

Yet all hope was not lost: back to a nuclear fission reactor energy output.

As luck would have it, the 5% of energy not used by atomic rockets... escaped that ungainly fate related to the 2nd law of thermodynamics. It was known as neutron kinetic energy and, as the name entailed, had nothing to do with thermodynamics; what's more, neutrons would interact with hydrogen fuel at the atomic level.

Eureka !
There was the breakthrough needed for nuclear rocket to unleash their tremendous potential.

Truth be told, in a classic reactor the so-called “prompt neutrons” could not replace fission fragments as the energy vector to the fuel. But in 1957 a different kind of reactor called TRIGA, was designed as staunchly melt-proof for unexperimented students. That reactor had a minuscule power of 100 Watts yet it could be brutally pulsed to 22 Gigawatts (a 220 million increase in power !) without melting; as the pulses merely lasted a fraction of second and the fuel elements were specially designed to safely endure the ordeal.

The “pulses” actually rose the (prompt) neutron flux tremendously... exactly what was needed to greatly energize the presently sedate nuclear rockets; and free them from the chains of thermodynamics; by working around the silly thing rather than violate it.

And so the reactor would pulse; unleashing a massive neutron flux that would pass its energy to the fuel kinetically and at the atomic level. This guaranted absolute and astonishing efficiency, with a fuel instantly crammed with atomic energy... and tremendous specific impulse as result.

All was not rosy however, as the now unemployed fission fragments (remember them ?) still had energy aplenty; a tremendous energy they expressed in the shape of heat... no longer used to heat propellant. The said massive heat had to be dumped overboard and this time even ultra-cold hydrogen, fuel or not, couldn't do that job; fission fragment thermal energy was just overwhelming. An auxiliary cooling system using lithium liquid metal would have to take care of that issue instead.

At worse, the heat extracted could be still be used to heat hydrogen fuel: back to square one unefficient nuclear rocket, except as secondary propulsion system to a formidable primary one.
That was for flight in space; in Earth atmosphere, air could be heat instead: this time, back to the old nuclear aircraft of the 1950's.

In passing, it was also found that the fission fragments by themselves could be used for propulsion: straight ahead. They would shoot out of a nozzle without any fuel or materials standing in the way, at a whopping 5% of the speed of light; with accordingly astounding specific impulse, perhaps 1 million seconds, a mind-blowing number. This was quite logically called a Fission Fragment Rocket.

In the end an intriguing case could be made that nuclear rockets achieved their tremendous potential the day they learned to correctly use fission fragments and prompt neutrons. It was very much a matter of redistributing the two; to heat hydrogen fuel, or not ?

Fission fragments should not be used to heat hydrogen fuel: as they sucked at the job because of that pesky second law of thermodynamics. The irony was that prompt neutrons did not sucked at the same job: as they did it with kinetic energy at atomic level.

The other irony was that fission fragments, if used themselves as fuel, also no longer sucked: it was essentially a matter of escaping the 2nd law of thermodynamics by removing the materials and hydrogen standing in the way !

It could be summarized in a few words:

-1 Prompt neutrons pouring their kinetic energy into the fuel, for propulsion: PNTR, GOOD.

-2 Fission fragments pouring their thermodynamic energy into the fuel, for propulsion: NTR, BAD.

-3 Fission fragments used directly as fuel for propulsion: FFR, GOOD.

As soon as this was realized, NERVA could be discarded and replaced by either Pulsed Nuclear Thermal (PNTR) or Fission Fragment (FFR) rockets; both with truly astonishing performance. Not yet Star Trek Enterprise warp drive; but clearly superior to 2001 Cavradyne gas-core engines as found on Discovery-1.

Fission fragments energy is essentially emitted as heat; and heat is severely constrained by the very unforgiving laws of thermodynamics; with materials taking the brunt of the resulting losses and inefficiencies. The end result is, any atempt at using nuclear energy for rocket propulsion through fission fragments can only torture materials with insane temperatures; this, for limited performance gains.
Going from solid-core to gas-core raise temperatures from 3000 Kelvins to 20 000 Kelvins in a futile chase of better specific impulse. Needless to say, this only create brand new technical issues instead of solving the basic inefficiency problem.

The only truly efficient use of fission fragments for rocket propulsion consists of shooting them out of a nozzle, straight ahead: without any materials or... hydrogen fuel standing on the way. Fission fragments no longer heat any fuel for propulsion: they are the fuel and propulsion altogether; at no less than 5% of the speed of light. And this way, specific impulse can rise tremendously: 1 million seconds versus 2000 for gas-core and 825 for solid-core nuclear rockets.​
 
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Archibald

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(and if anybody see a major physics blunder in the above, please tell me... I'm no rocket scientist by any mean, and even less a nuclear rocket scientist.

Still, God Bless Winchell Chung and his excellent website... also Beyond NERVA, that other fantastic nuclear rocket website).
 

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Baikonur, Kazakhstan

"When I first came here, this was all swamp. Everyone said I was daft to build a castle on a swamp, but I built in all the same, just to show them. It sank into the swamp. So I built a second one. That sank into the swamp. So I built a third. That burned down, fell over, then sank into the swamp. But the fourth one stayed up."


The race to sample return was on; the clock had started ticking. From March 1969 onwards, Babakin's scoopers had one launch window per month until August: opening on March 14, April 13, May 12, June 12 and July 11: three days long each. Because of Baikonur and The Cape very different coordinates over the face of planet Earth, none of Babakin launch windows overlapped with Apollo 9, 10 and 11: March 3-13, May 18-26 and July 16-24, respectively. He felt he a decent chance to beat Apollo at the sample return game... provided of course the goddam Proton rocket did not betrayed the Soviet space program once again. Or worse: exploding on the pad or at too low altitude, N-1 style: except spraying its launch area with a thousand tonnes of toxic storable propellant compounds that would be impossible to clean up.

And so they tried.

First launch window: March 14, spacecraft 402. Proton made a correct ascent, but Block D did not started and the probe was stranded in Earth orbit and was left to decay and burn up.

Second launch window: April 13, spacecraft 401. Proton started ascending, then exploded.

Third launch window: May 12, spacecraft 403. This time the probe made it to the Moon - only to slam into a rather unexpected lunar mountain.

Fourth launch window: June 12, 1969: spacecraft 404. Fourth time... was the charm, despite a scary communication glitch at some point: the link with #404 nearly broke down.

I did it. I bet the odds... and Apollo. Babakin thought. Shame Le Bourget airshow closed a week ago... what a press conference, that would have been.

First samples from another celestial body. And the Sea of tranquility, with that: in your face, Neil Armstrong.

Although it was a pure coincidence forced on Babakin by Proton limited payload. A return midcourse correction guidance, rocket and propellant system would have made the probe too heavy, busting the 5700 kg payload to the surface. As such they had to aim at the Soviet Union right off the lunar surface. And that was only possible from a small corner of the Moon: an ellipse centered on the southern corner of Mare Tranquilitatis 500 miles south of Armstrong and Aldrin future landing spot. If the Soviets ever wanted to sample and drill any other place on the Moon – such as the Marius Hills - then Proton would have either to get more payload to the lunar surface... or go away for another booster.

And surely enough, only the month after, as they tried to beat Apollo again at the sample game, Proton returned to its all too familiar self-destructive tendencies... and this time, disaster struck at epic scale. Before that however the cosmodrome had to endure yet another disaster.​
 

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Workable - if a solid fuel booster is added, admittedly. Something akin to a Pegasus, except with a liquid fuel second stage. Would need a small pair of wings.

Why Agena alone wouldn't work, if a B-58 provided a little kick at liftoff ? bad T/W ratio ? not enough thrust ? would need small wings ?
 

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