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NASA Hercules Landing Vehicle

fredymac

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From NASA Systems Analysis And Concepts Division

https://sacd.larc.nasa.gov/vab/vab-projects/hercules/
Hercules is a transportation system capable of bringing cargo and passengers to the Moon, Mars, and more. It is built for reusability, commonality, operational flexibility, and crew safety beyond the performance and efficiency standards of other planetary lander system concepts.
So let’s see, we got:
-an escape capsule
-an escape module within the escape capsule
-a ballute decelerator
-parachutes
-deployable crush absorber
-and retro rockets

And the abandoned escape capsule also lands separately via retro rockets. The competing concept involved individual skycrane backpacks for each astronaut (a joke but not by much).

The abort scenario
https://sacd.larc.nasa.gov/files/2018/10/Hercules_2018_0426_raw.mp4

The Hercules concept
https://sacd.larc.nasa.gov/files/2018/10/HERCULES_FINAL_2017_0929.mp4
 

RanulfC

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Kind of similar to the T/Space CEV/Lander concept:

I have to ask though... Why are the solar panel storage/deployment spots on the TPS side of the vehicle? I get that they have to kind of assume the panels will be deployed when loading and unloading cargo but there's other places to put them... And why the 'secondary' engine at the base?

Randy
 

TomS

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The "secondary" motors appear to be the ascent motors for when the whole vehicle returns to orbit. Some of the renders show multiple, which may be the difference between Mars and Lunar versions.
 

RanulfC

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The "secondary" motors appear to be the ascent motors for when the whole vehicle returns to orbit. Some of the renders show multiple, which may be the difference between Mars and Lunar versions.
I re-watched the video's when I got home, seems the work computer in addition to being slow 'glitched' out the last several seconds of the video. Which included the use of the engine to take off so yes :)

Randy
 

merriman

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From NASA Systems Analysis And Concepts Division

https://sacd.larc.nasa.gov/vab/vab-projects/hercules/
Hercules is a transportation system capable of bringing cargo and passengers to the Moon, Mars, and more. It is built for reusability, commonality, operational flexibility, and crew safety beyond the performance and efficiency standards of other planetary lander system concepts.
So let’s see, we got:
-an escape capsule
-an escape module within the escape capsule
-a ballute decelerator
-parachutes
-deployable crush absorber
-and retro rockets

And the abandoned escape capsule also lands separately via retro rockets. The competing concept involved individual skycrane backpacks for each astronaut (a joke but not by much).

The abort scenario
https://sacd.larc.nasa.gov/files/2018/10/Hercules_2018_0426_raw.mp4

The Hercules concept
https://sacd.larc.nasa.gov/files/2018/10/HERCULES_FINAL_2017_0929.mp4
plug in some Barron tonalities and you have a nice tidy little piece of SF there. Complexity warship is not a virtue. But it does get a civil-servant to retirement age.
 

RanulfC

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plug in some Barron tonalities and you have a nice tidy little piece of SF there. Complexity warship is not a virtue. But it does get a civil-servant to retirement age.
Not really that complex as it is built around the concept of a fully modular system. The "escape" system doubles as a landing engine set with a lower high-veloctiy debris scattering. The escape 'capsule' doubles as the basis for a short-range hopper vehicle, or with attached Cargo Module can be used to tranport cargo or larger items around the surface as a hopper. The Cargo Module can be used as a surface shelter or garage, or with a 'plug-in' a habitat. The Propellant and Power Module can be used on the surface as a propellant storage depot. It's actually very much like the suggesed uses of the MCT (Mars Colonial Transport) concepts for a general purpose vehicle than what we see with Starship.

Randy
 

fredymac

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A landing vehicle composed of 3 elements each built to withstand the loads and heat of re-entry and containing independent rocket propulsion systems is a testament to design cost and complexity. Given the usual weight impact this entails, the overall system could easily end up with minimal useful carrying load. I seem to recall cost/weight issues for escape modules involving early design concepts for the B-1 and Shuttle.
 

RanulfC

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A landing vehicle composed of 3 elements each built to withstand the loads and heat of re-entry and containing independent rocket propulsion systems is a testament to design cost and complexity. Given the usual weight impact this entails, the overall system could easily end up with minimal useful carrying load. I seem to recall cost/weight issues for escape modules involving early design concepts for the B-1 and Shuttle.
Modular seems to be vastly more flexible than unitary vehicles like LM"s Mars lander and note it's ONLY the Mars lander that has the separate escape capsule in the abort section. The Lunar has the 'extended' cabin the hoppers have while none of the automated vehicles (obviously) don't have the abort system at all. Though to be honest I'd be surprised if it's mass was that difficult to handle. It is after all the required pressurized 'crew cabin' with an aero-shell, inflatable decelerator, parachutes and an airbag installed.

The first three B-1A prototype had escape capsules and while the weight was an annoyance that wasn't the main reason they were dropped for conventional ejection seats. The actual utility of separating the entire cabin relative to individual ejector seats was a holdover from mid-to-late 60s which despite being a 'neat' idea didn't live up to expectations in real life. Low altitude, high speed separation was a real issue and frankly the most likely place for it to be used in the mission context so it was dropped. They briefly thought of using XB-70/B-58 style escape capsules but it was unclear if they'd be any better. Someone along the way actually looked at the data for high speed ejection and figured out that standard ejection seats with some mods would work likely better than any of the capsules anyway. So that's what they were going to fit on the production models.

In the case of the Shuttle an official "escape capsule' was dropped early on due to the difficulty of finding a plausible way of separating the entire crew cabin from the stack in relation to the Orbiter design we know and love. The layout require a HUGE chunk of the fuselage to be designed to come apart which was already problematical with an over-weight airframe already. (Not to mention it was 'assumed' that it would be "as safe as an airplane" which don't have escape systems after all) During initial concept studies where it was just a "part" of the Space Transportation System and not the whole thing, (and therefore had a smaller standard 'crew' size to deal with) there were plans to install a highly modified "Gemini-like" capsule AS the cockpit area with blow-out panels and solid abort rockets. I'm not sure when it finally occurred to those designers that the PASSENGERS back in the payload bay had no way out. And in most cases as these concepts used a manned booster those ALSO didn't have escape systems :)

The idea came back in vogue after Challenger but by then it was clear that there was no way to include a viable escape capsule system in the current Orbiter design. So a complete re-design would have to be done which segued into the Shuttle II studies which actually included a more rationally designed crew cabin layout that could be better separated from the Orbiter and launch stack. Of course there was never funding to proceed with that. (My favorite was not actually an official design but still addressed the "problem" with the most straightforward answer: The entire ‘nose’’ crew compartment was a single Super-Apollo style capsule, (crew was only 4 the passenger pod in the cargo bay was already an escape capsule for 4 to 8 passengers) which came with its own attached escape rocket tower :)

In the case of Hercules the modular nature is there to allow it to be used for a vast variety of purposes with minimum changes in the overall vehicle so you get more efficient use of the system design. The Interplanetary Transports, (manned and automated) changes are all internal with no ‘separation’ systems installed. The Lunar Lander Transports use the same propulsion module as does the Mars Lander Transports. They also use the same ‘cargo’ section with the manned versions replacing some or all of the cargo capacity with the habitation section and abort segment. In both versions it would appear that a separation segment can be installed If the mission requires which can be lifted and landed by the nose motor systems. I don’t get the feeling that ALL models would include that feature, not even all cargo/crew vehicles since it’s noted that it would be used pretty much ONLY for “precise cargo positioning’ and inferred it would be used for out-sized and mass intensive cargo’s only.

And as one of the other papers notes, (see bottom of this post since I don’t see them on the website) some of the early Mars and Lunar landers use this feature to quickly build up a surface base of operations and infrastructure. More specifically the Lunar and Mars automated cargo ships detach the cargo bay section and land it away from the propulsion section. Those cargo bays have habitat modules and life support installed and can they be immediately used as surface shelters while the propulsion sections tankage is used to store propellant reserves for building up a propellant depot. (Hence the “precision payload placement” makes much more sense as a capability to have)

If you’ll note, it appears that there is some influence from early Mars Colonial Transport and infrastructure discussions involved in the concept but this goes a long way to addressing many of the concerns discussed for that idea as well as scaling it back to a more manageable size with a much higher versatility than that original concept. As I noted above standardization and modular nature are both long overdue for space flight use IMO.

Randy
Hercules HSRV Operating Base concept:
NTRS Search page: https://ntrs.nasa.gov/search.jsp?R=20170011670
2017 NIFS Fall Session paper: https://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/20170011670.pdf

Long Term Cryogenic Propellant Storage on Mars with Hercules HSRV Propellant Facility
NTRS Search page: https://ntrs.nasa.gov/search.jsp?R=20170011674
2017 paper: https://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/20170011674.pdf

Oh yes, also the report that started it all, called "NASA Langley's ISRU-to-the-Wall study ":

And a Space Review article that over-views the program concept:
 
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fredymac

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In theory this is not implausible. However, the real world impact on cost/weight/complexity manifests itself in the absence of any such architecture offered by private companies (Spacex, Lockheed). Their approach is consistent with design practice followed in the airline industry.

A belts and suspenders safety design such as seen on the Hercules crew landing vehicle becomes fundamentally impractical when scaled to passenger counts even modestly beyond 4 people. I am pretty sure the Spacex Starship isn't going to feature a detachable passenger cabin.

A 4 person landing vehicle is OK for a traditional government program sending civil servants to the moon for limited stays at enormous cost. Getting past this to a level enabling a space based economy involving hundreds and then thousands of people requires a fundamental shift in mindset. Safety as the overriding design goal ensures the next 50 years will look very much like the post Apollo history to the present.
 

RanulfC

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In theory this is not implausible. However, the real world impact on cost/weight/complexity manifests itself in the absence of any such architecture offered by private companies (Spacex, Lockheed). Their approach is consistent with design practice followed in the airline industry.
Well first let me say that as always having to defend an idea always allows a deeper dive into the concept, which is this case only shows more how awesome it is :)

Let’s start with the fact your basing your argument on incorrect assumptions so we'll need to fix those first. First of all you assuming a VAST amount of "cost/weight/complexity" is applied over the whole concept from watching a couple of video's. So in effect you'd reach the conclusion that the 747, because you saw a video where it was used as a water-bomber could "in theory this is not implausible. However, the real world..." could never carry passengers because the "cost/weight/complexity" of the water handling equipment would preclude carrying any significant cargo or passengers. You then state that the same architecture is not offered by private companies and then stated two companies that in fact DO offer those, (Orion and Dragon 1/2) as architectures. Finally you note that "their' approach is consistent with that of the airline industry but fail to see that Hercules is also very much in line with those practices.

Let me make one thing clear, aircraft are not spacecraft, spacecraft are not aircraft. While there is some overlap in construction, practices and operations they are not the same and are not treated the same for valid and clear reasons. Companies that make aircraft have PARTS of them that make spacecraft whereas spacecraft companies (like SpaceX and Blue Origin) do NOT make aircraft, also for very clear and valid reasons.

Having said that Hercules is in fact closer to an "airliner" in operation and function than any previous spacecraft. (We'll get to comparing it to "Starship" in a moment) It takes a single "airframe" design and uses that standardization to allow economic and operational savings. It also uses that basic "airframe" to do some specific tasks by modifying the interior and/or "airframe" to accomplish certain tasks allowing easier manufacture and saving costs due to using a 'existing' "airframe" as a base.

Maybe this will help you see the concept for what it is, yes I know this is a site supporting "fiction" writers but keep in mind the POINT is to keep as much "hard" science and technology as possible:
Second entry down on this page: http://www.projectrho.com/public_html/rocket/excursion.php

So in essence ALL Hercules vehicle share the outer mold-line and essential internal construction. The Crewed Lunar and Mars landers differ by providing a crew abort/escape system which does take up some mass, (see below) from the cargo versions 20 MT capacity and requires a 'separation' plane be built into the vehicle to accommodate this. Certain select Cargo landers would be modified with a similar separation plane so as to allow the Propulsion Module to be used on the surface as part of a Propellant Depot and ISRU storage facility. The modified Hercules would also allow transport of the cargo they carry to precise spots to ease transportation and construction burdens such as delivering ISRU equipment, transports, and habitats to required locations. These Hercules are named "expendable" because they will only be used once as transports but have function beyond that role. The standard Hercules will be built in several models that being the dedicated Cargo lander, and the Interplanetary Cargo and Crew versions. These will not have separation planes built into the airframe, no nose propellant or rockets and will not include abort systems. (This can be confusing as at least one report states that "all" will have them while others have wording indicating that this will not be a 'standard' feature outside the Crewed versions. Reading everything in total the one report which is on using Hercules CREW landers for building a base rapidly would support the idea only the Crew and expendable Cargo landers will include these features)

A belts and suspenders safety design such as seen on the Hercules crew landing vehicle becomes fundamentally impractical when scaled to passenger counts even modestly beyond 4 people. I am pretty sure the Spacex Starship isn't going to feature a detachable passenger cabin.
Probably closer to seven or eight in the actual 'escape' unit itself from the amount of room available. But the initial design parameters used the NASA DRM requirements which is four to six crew. And you are correct, Starship will provide no launch escape or abort capability other than the ship itself. Anything goes wrong, everyone dies just like in a standard aircraft. The design decision is SpaceX's and despite the ability TO include such they have chosen not to. This is not a non-controversial decision even within SpaceX, and it's a point of contention with the FAA and other regulatory agencies,

The lack of launch/landing escape is very much based on Elon Musk's assumptions and bias’s and the fact he wants to get to Mars in his lifetime. (I sympathize and have gotten over my disappointment since I didn’t’ have several million dollars to play with. Even so I suspect I’m more aware the actual issue is surface to orbit costs and access rather than the Earth to Mars part of the problem) Therefor he required "100 metric tons" be landed on Mars per vehicle. This was based on his interpretation of Mars Direct and the fact that that would be a "minimum" payload for an assumed one-time landing and long term, (the rest of his life) stay on Mars. Much discussion and thought was given to initially providing an abort option but in the end, (as you allude to) the mass and complexity DUE TO THE SIZE OF THE VEHICLE defeated these efforts. 100 people OR 150MT (it can't do both at the same time) of payload to the surface of Mars isn't "incremental" build up.

While the basic Hercules could likely be modified enough to carry around seven or eight crew in the cited abort/escape pod it DOES cut into the cargo capacity of the crewed vehicle. First of all let’s keep in mind that the standard cargo lander with many of the same systems as the crewed lander carries 20MT to the surface and back into orbit. The "expendable" Cargo lander carries 40 MT to the surface on a one-way trip. (Actually the Landers can carry around 30MT as "payload" in general) Meanwhile the Interplanetary Cargo vehicle carries 60MT. The abort/escape system for Luna comes in at a bit over 20MT, while that for Mars is actually lighter at a bit under that number. In addition both carry 5MT of additional "payload" in the Lunar case an installed habitat and to Mars it's cargo space. This also assumes at LEAST a 2,5MT "growth" margin in the basic design.

Once the initial base on the Moon and/or Mars is set up and the need for more passenger throughput is desired, then the internal design of the Hercules can be modified to accommodate a higher passenger count. With an abort system still included you're now delivering between 40 and 50 passengers to the surface per flight by using the “cargo bay” instead of the nose section. (Bit messier but very straight forward)
Plus 20MT to 60MT of cargo in the cargo flights.

A 4 person landing vehicle is OK for a traditional government program sending civil servants to the moon for limited stays at enormous cost. Getting past this to a level enabling a space based economy involving hundreds and then thousands of people requires a fundamental shift in mindset. Safety as the overriding design goal ensures the next 50 years will look very much like the post Apollo history to the present.
Last first but how can you try and compare space travel to air travel and then simply ignore the fact that a focus on 'safety' has been the main factor in growing the air-travel and transport over the last 70+ years? "Safety" is not an 'overriding' design goal but an inherent part of the modular system just like safety is not an 'overriding' but required goal for aircraft. Air travel, (like all travel) is dangerous, space travel by its nature and means is even more dangerous which is why safety has become more and more important as we try and increase people's ability to access it. SpaceX/Musk made a design decision based on an assumed need and that now precludes the inclusion of an abort/escape system. If they can find a way to fit it in they likely will since as I noted there Is a LOT of “official” opposition to not doing so and the only way around that is to have enough flight experience to satisfy the officials. That will take FAR more flights than can be made, even if Starship actually flies in a few months, before the first planned crewed landing.

The crew size initially is set per-NASA DRM, but the system as a whole, (which is pointed out in the studies) only STARTS with a capacity of between 4 to 6 crew and can be built up from that point. Your actual bottle-neck is the Interplanetary vehicle which can only fit up to six as designed. At the point where you are looking at landing more people you likely need a better Interplanetary Transport anyway but for the initial missions and base building the design makes a lot of sense. (Including an inflatable habitat for the outbound journey could easily allow an expanded passenger size but deflating and stowing it is an issue that needs to be addressed)

I grant that there needs to be fundamental shift in the mindset of space transportation, but coming to the conclusion that this means a 'leap' to try and match current Terrestrial cargo/passenger transportation levels when there is no infrastructure, no "destinations", no support systems or backup and most importantly nowhere near the same market or interest is just as fundamentally flawed. The general Hercules "build-up" plan I will note reads like someone payed real close attention to the NSF "MCT Speculation" forum and answered all the questions being asked on the actual "How" to build a Lunar/Mars base from scratch.

The main issue is it requires a larger booster to get into orbit. (Specifically aimed at the SLS of course, being a government study) Still by very rough BoTE calculations say it might be able to get to orbit with a New Glenn, Vulcan or Falcon Heavy launch. It's tanks would be empty but that's ok as like Starship the plan can use tankers or as actually in the Hercules plan use Propellant Depots. (NASA and SpaceX will be working on propellant transfer technology so we can hope they can overcome Congress' resistance to Propellant Depots)

Worst comes to worst and we have to use tankers Hercules would require
6 Falcon 9 flights
3 Falcon Heavy flights
4 Vulcan flights
3 New Glenn flights
(Starship needs at least 12 Tanker/Super-Heavy flights to fully tank back up)

So yes both could use Propellant Depots rather than Tankers.

Randy
 

fredymac

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Here we have a fundamental disagreement in what we are seeing when we look at airliner design. I do not see anything equivalent to a Hercules modular design with passengers contained within a separable structure. Not now or ever in the past. Moreover, had there been a requirement to use such a design, airline travel would still be the province of the rich.

Your water tanker 747 is a case in point. A 747 equipped with a fire fighting system does not constitute an analog to the Hercules design. A true analog would be a 747 organically designed with a separable module which could be equipped for passengers or a fire fighting system. It would have been a commercial failure due to the added weight/cost/complexity. Doubly so if the module were required to detach mid air and safely convey passengers to the ground.

There is a presumption of risk and the rational limits to which risk must be mitigated. Airline travel has suffered significant disasters but statistically low enough to compare favorably with any other transport system. Space travel will also have disasters in the course of transforming it into another medium for human existence but hopefully they will be far fewer thanks to the progress of modeling/simulation in engineering.

Spacex attracts opposition precisely because it contradicts conventions. These conventions on what can and should be done have forestalled any meaningful opening of space travel for decades. However, they do not arise from common sense but are the "received wisdom" of the entrenched bureaucracy and their legal/political denizens.
 

RanulfC

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Here we have a fundamental disagreement in what we are seeing when we look at airliner design. I do not see anything equivalent to a Hercules modular design with passengers contained within a separable structure. Not now or ever in the past. Moreover, had there been a requirement to use such a design, airline travel would still be the province of the rich.
No you don't "see" that in most standard civilian aircraft design, the again we should probably stop comparing Hercules (and Starship) to an airplane in the strictest operational sense. They won't every operate like an airplane and they won't be run like them either. You're also fixated on ONE modification of the basic design which is the reason I pointed out the variants of the 747 for a counter example.

Your water tanker 747 is a case in point. A 747 equipped with a fire fighting system does not constitute an analog to the Hercules design. A true analog would be a 747 organically designed with a separable module which could be equipped for passengers or a fire fighting system. It would have been a commercial failure due to the added weight/cost/complexity. Doubly so if the module were required to detach mid air and safely convey passengers to the ground.
No, and in fact that is the REASON I used the 747 water tanker AS an example. Again your fixated on one modification of the overall design. (Two if you count the "expendable" freighter which is a self-mobile base) Water tankers are modified freighter aircraft, (some have been modified from ex-passenger aircraft but freighters are easier) and the freighter's have been modified from passenger aircraft. The ability to plug a 'module' into the airframe is highly desirable and economic as it allows one airframe to perform multiple missions. In fact that's why such water tanker modules were developed and produced to allow such conversions.

The ability to safely 'save' the passengers from a malfunctioning spacecraft is a proven fact, not having those systems means a dead crew. You are correct that implementing such systems on an aircraft would have economic as well as operational consequences. This is less based on the general cost and complexity of designing is such a system but in how air travel and technology evolved over time. It is not that such systems would be an economic failure due to inherent costs of the system but in the required changes and modifications that would be required in the overall air travel infrastructure and operations systems. It is the same reason we will likely never see a BWB airliner because is has to many issues using the existing infrastructure, not because it would be uneconomical. We already USE crew escape/abort systems in spacecraft and for good reason so there is no issue with changes to the basic infrastructure and operations since those are still fully compatible. NOT having that ability is in fact a serious issue with the regulatory and certification aspects of spacecraft operation for commercial use.

You are arguing from a standpoint based on a false assumption, (not uncommon actually) of operational and regulatory comparability between aircraft and spacecraft. This is based on the idea that space transport should be comparable with its assumed 'nearest' equivalent which has been generally seen as aircraft. This is understandable in a general sense due to some construction and operational elements but assumes the spacecraft can and will be operated like aircraft within the overall operations system. This only works if the spacecraft can be integrated into the same or very similar infrastructure and operations as an aircraft which isn't the case. Granting you may have some species of "spacecraft" that is capable of being operated out of an airport and within the air traffic control system but they will be few, far between and disruptive to those systems. In the main spacecraft will operate out of "spaceports" with infrastructure and operations tailored to meet their particular demands and requirements.

Like aircraft don't operate out of the local bus station and ships don't need to get into the holding pattern of the local airport, spaceships will have their own system to support them.

There is a presumption of risk and the rational limits to which risk must be mitigated.
No one is arguing that there shouldn't be and the POINT is to mitigate those risks if you can. Not ignore them and hope they go away. There are specific reasons air transport and travel risks have evolved the way they have and that path actually doesn't apply well to spacecraft transportation. Fundamentally because the two are very different with different systems and different operational needs.

Airline travel has suffered significant disasters but statistically low enough to compare favorably with any other transport system. Space travel will also have disasters in the course of transforming it into another medium for human existence but hopefully they will be far fewer thanks to the progress of modeling/simulation in engineering.
Assuming we've "learned" how to avoid disaster is wishful thinking unfortunately :) And again a major point is that modeling/simulation and engineering all very much agree that spacecraft are not going to be aircraft, nor does it make a lot of sense to assume they will either operate or be regulated the same. Frankly the maritime transportation model is better suited to spacecraft operations than the aircraft model which is why the regulatory bodies are tending towards hybridizing the aircraft and shipping models towards space flight.

Which is why those bodies are having heart-burn with the idea of Starship being designed without any significant abort capability. It's based on an assumption that an actual orbital (at least, Starship will eventually be going beyond that with all the issues that implies) spacecraft can meet "aircraft" certification standards, (https://www.skybrary.aero/index.php/Certification_of_Aircraft,_Design_and_Production, which they can't BTW so it would have to be granted a new category or use exemptions which therefor meant it can't be certified to carry passengers...) and assumes it will be granted "aircraft" safety approval. And I fully understand why people would think this is the way to go but it's not as current regulator snags should indicate. Spacecraft are not airplanes, frankly they aren't like any transport system we've used on Earth in general operations and they need to be treated as such.

This VERY much does not mean they will never be economical or that operations and use will never be common and generally available. It simply means that spacecraft will have to be treated AS spacecraft rather than airplanes, ships or vehicles.

Spacex attracts opposition precisely because it contradicts conventions.
Actually SpaceX has received a lot LESS opposition than one would think. When they move along in an evolutionary manner with things like building rockets, launching rockets, learning to recovery rockets and then reusing them, people, industry and society sit up and take notice. While many in industry doubted SpaceX's initial industrial plans would work as well as SpaceX thought they would, (for the most part the doubters were correct) there was no fundamental issues with the plans and work themselves. It was pretty standard with modifications to allow a cheaper and less complex production set up. It was said that recovery would be more difficult that SpaceX assumed, and again they were right. Reuse, if one could recover the rocket and it was minimally damaged, wasn't seen as an issue since both industry and government had long been experimenting with the concept. So it's less 'contradicts convention' as being a new company they were able to better implement ideas and concepts that older companies didn't have the flexibility to allow them to do so. (This is still a major problem with the big aerospace companies)

BFR and Starship are a leap over and above what SpaceX has already done and many in the industry have doubts about the economic and operational viability of such a leap. That they have not been really "wrong" about the previous issues SpaceX had moving forward it worth considering.

These conventions on what can and should be done have forestalled any meaningful opening of space travel for decades. However, they do not arise from common sense but are the "received wisdom" of the entrenched bureaucracy and their legal/political denizens.
Nope, not at all and not supported by history and fact. Economics, demand and market have been the main drivers of spaceflight since pretty much the beginning of commercialization. Government and commercial demand have been stagnant and limited not due to any single factor which is why the market hasn't been 'broken open' yet. Cost-to-orbit is only one of those factors and it's not even the main one. "Convention" has always required three factors to converge to really open up space flight and those are cost, demand, and interest. The first two fluctuate and are usually seen as necessary to enable the third but "space" as a transport medium has had utility only for certain niche roles. Cost is always quoted as the 'main' reason for this and while it was true a few decades ago in fact demand and economics have both been dropping due to technology. Despite SpaceX's prices demand has not substantially increased because there isn't a huge interest in space related projects. In order to gain higher demand and/or interest there needs to be shift in public and governmental interest in space and that's not dependent on any "received wisdom" but actual public and governmental interest.

People in general are not interested in "going" into space, they are not interested in going to Mars or the Moon and they certainly don't want to live there. They need to be given a significant reason to change that opinion and that will not only take effort, (really you have to develop an economic and social reason to support such a desire in the general population and there is none at the moment and we likely won't find one until we're going into space on a regular basis) but time as well. This is how exploration, exploitation and colonization have historically worked and there is not reason to assume it wont' need to happen here as well. Going to orbit and back, safely, on a regular basis will cause a blip. Going back to the Moon and staying will cause a blip, going to Mars will cause a blip. And eventually those 'blips' will become a new 'normal' and both social and economic interest will follow.

That's how "frontiers" work and always have.

Randy
 

fredymac

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The difference between a unitary vehicle design vs a design comprised of multiple, independent structures each with its own control and even propulsion elements is not a "modification". There is a fundamental difference in "plugging a module" into a static, unitary structure versus assembling a multi-element vehicle whose segments vary in function. A 747 is a 747 whether it carries passengers, water, or anything else. This is a conceptual level distinction which can not be dismissed.

I do not accept your statement that the economic cost of a multi-structure vehicle is

...less based on the general cost and complexity of designing is such a system but in how air travel and technology evolved over time. It is not that such systems would be an economic failure due to inherent costs of the system but in the required changes and modifications that would be required in the overall air travel infrastructure and operations systems.
On the basis of the vehicle by itself (ignore "infrastructure" and any extraneous factors), the design/build/operate cost difference between the two architectures would be substantial. This applies to any vehicle in any environment.

Assuming we've "learned" how to avoid disaster is wishful thinking...
Which is why I said reduce, not eliminate. Pilot/human error is still the major factor in most transportation accidents. Space flight will probably develop predominantly as automated systems.

Detractors of re-usable rockets both technically and in its' economic impact can not now claim they never said it wouldn't work and that anyways they are still mainly right. Spacex can substantially underbid anyone and still make profit. All other launch servers will exist on institutional and subsidized markets and this will only get worse over time as Spacex builds flight experience with re-used hardware.

Cost-to-orbit is only one of those factors and it's not even the main one....
I would say the opposite. We are in a transition phase where prohibitive costs meant only governments and very large companies could reasonably think about space. Space tourism is impossible without low cost. The military bureaucracy is slow in recognizing change but even the Air Force is beginning to realize the potential for massively increased space access. A Space Force service would automatically leap into this opportunity but we will have to see if the Air Force can extend itself beyond its air centric identity.

People in general are not interested in "going" into space, they are not interested in going to Mars or the Moon and they certainly don't want to live there.
People in general aren't interested in cruise ships or foreign vacations, or fancy cars and just about anything else. Yet there are massive industries dedicated to exactly these things. The crowds reacting to Spacex rocket landings are probably too ignorant to understand how futile it all is and wouldn't be interested in a space vacation.
 

fredymac

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Some additional thoughts.

There are 4 billionaires spending a lot of private money in contradiction to your judgement on the value of their activities. Musk in particular is betting that launch cost is key to opening space and that space transport design can follow traditional architectures used for airlines. Bezos is taking a similar but slower path although he is at the lead for suborbital space tourism. Bigelow is betting there is a big future for orbital space tourism and Branson agrees but like Bezos is starting with suborbital flights.

In contrast, I don't expect any billionaire will see a compelling case to self finance the Hercules lander. That project will rely on bureaucratic impetus and taxpayer funding. As with the SLS, I would oppose it and for similar reasons.

I did not address the issue of how government has shaped (restricted) space development in my previous post. Space had been a reserve of government other than the communications business. No entrepreneur (or corporate aerospace) would step forward to provide an alternative. In this environment, bureaucracy was king and defined the limits of acceptability. 40 years of stagnation, escalating launch costs and diminished expectations have been the result. Musk et al are not doing anything startling or new. They are simply doing (at far less cost) what could have been years ago albeit in a manner no bureaucracy would tolerate.
 

RanulfC

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The difference between a unitary vehicle design vs a design comprised of multiple, independent structures each with its own control and even propulsion elements is not a "modification". There is a fundamental difference in "plugging a module" into a static, unitary structure versus assembling a multi-element vehicle whose segments vary in function. A 747 is a 747 whether it carries passengers, water, or anything else. This is a conceptual level distinction which can not be dismissed.
The point you are missing is that the only version of Hercules that is "multiple independent structures" are the two crewed landers and one (1) of the freighters which as the papers and Space Review article explain are only used to help build up a base with ISRU infratstucture as rapidly as possible. You're fixated on the specialized vehicle modifications rather than the general utility of the design.

I do not accept your statement that the economic cost of a multi-structure vehicle is

...less based on the general cost and complexity of designing is such a system but in how air travel and technology evolved over time. It is not that such systems would be an economic failure due to inherent costs of the system but in the required changes and modifications that would be required in the overall air travel infrastructure and operations systems.
On the basis of the vehicle by itself (ignore "infrastructure" and any extraneous factors), the design/build/operate cost difference between the two architectures would be substantial. This applies to any vehicle in any environment.
Again you are obsessing over 2 crew vehicles and one specially built freighter version out of six total versions of the vehicle and calling them all uneconomical because you seem to think they will all be built with that capability in them. I agree that the "expendable" freighter will cost more to deploy than the standard freighter model but keep in mind there is a purpose and rationale behind the design which it so help build up a base by utlizing the various parts of the 'expendable' freighter to implace infrstructure to support that base in a very rapid manner. By utilizing the existing parts the base infastructure is built up in a rapid suscession of (planned automated) landings with precise and direct placement of the infrastrcuture where it is needed without waiting for un-loading and transport infrastructutre (or labor) to be avialable. The rest of the build up is done with reusable freighters and crew vehicles flying regular flights to build up all aspcets of the base as quickly as possible using standardized and mass produced vehicles built essentially to the same pattern for economics.

Assuming we've "learned" how to avoid disaster is wishful thinking...
Which is why I said reduce, not eliminate. Pilot/human error is still the major factor in most transportation accidents. Space flight will probably develop predominantly as automated systems.
That's why I included the smiley face as "humnan" error is by far the most often cited cause of accidents but really it's about impossible to design a 'fool-proof' system as despite the "Darwin Awards" fool production and evlolution seems to be keeping pace with technological advancment :) On a more serious not spaceflight lends itself and is becoming more and more automated and this is part is what makes justifying humans in the loop hard.

Detractors of re-usable rockets both technically and in its' economic impact can not now claim they never said it wouldn't work and that anyways they are still mainly right. Spacex can substantially underbid anyone and still make profit. All other launch servers will exist on institutional and subsidized markets and this will only get worse over time as Spacex builds flight experience with re-used hardware.
Most of the 'detractors' of SpaceX's planning were concerned about the details not the general viability of either the technical or economic details of reusablity. That having and using reusable rockets would reduce the costs of space travel was a well known fact even before it actually began. The main questions were the "how" and "how-to-build/operate" since that wasn't clear until we began using rockets on a regular basis. Reality does not support the idea that SpaceX can substantially underbid the competition nor that the competition will only exist servicing the institutional of subsidized markets. Those markets are the ones that are mainly using SpaceX as well. The overall 'commercial' market has hit a point of low demand and most of that is going to combinations of Chinese and Russian 'subsidized' launches and Ariane. This is why I said market is so important. Currently the market is pretty flat out beyond 2022 because of the surge of commercial launches in the last decade which pretty much replaced most of the older commercial satellites. The current trend is smaller satellites which are more economic than larger ones and not because of launch costs themselves.

Cost-to-orbit is only one of those factors and it's not even the main one....
I would say the opposite. We are in a transition phase where prohibitive costs meant only governments and very large companies could reasonably think about space. Space tourism is impossible without low cost. The military bureaucracy is slow in recognizing change but even the Air Force is beginning to realize the potential for massively increased space access. A Space Force service would automatically leap into this opportunity but we will have to see if the Air Force can extend itself beyond its air centric identity.
You'd say that but you'd be wrong. Launch costs have always been a factor but they have been a lesser one for many decades as the cost of the satellite itself was a primary driver and risk. Yes it can be argued that high launch costs and low availabllity drove satellites to be bigger but realy the required redundancy and need to have larger power and maintenance systems on-board were the primary drivers and launch vehicle payload size grew in accordance. Advancing technology has reversed this in some cases so that small, micro, and cube-satellites have become more affordable and capable but launching them has always been a 'side' payload due to the size of the LV payload available. For such smaller payloads launch cost reductions are something 'nice' to have but in reality they normally 'hitch-hike' anyway so fees are nominal if not vastly below those for 'normal' satellites.

For those 'normal' commercial satellites launch cost reduction is something that they would take advantage of if available but not a high priority. The market tends to 'surge' in waves to replace aging and or malfunctioning satellites but this is planned years in advance, trending with technological and systems advancment along with projected need.

People in general are not interested in "going" into space, they are not interested in going to Mars or the Moon and they certainly don't want to live there.
People in general aren't interested in cruise ships or foreign vacations, or fancy cars and just about anything else. Yet there are massive industries dedicated to exactly these things. The crowds reacting to Spacex rocket landings are probably too ignorant to understand how futile it all is and wouldn't be interested in a space vacation.
You are conflating more than a few different levels of 'interest' and in general missing the point. No in fact most of the crowd that show up and react to SpaceX launches and landiings wouldn't be interested in a "space vacation". On average they are not interested in paying upwards of $370,000 each (Falcon 9/Dragon and that assumes someone ELSE pays for the majority of the launch costs such as a "travel agency") for a trip to orbit where they whizz around a couple of times and then come down. Most aren't willing to pay over $200,000 dollars each for a "two week" vacation at a luxery resort with one day being spent flying parabola's on White Knight Two and then getting launched into 'space' for a couple of minutes before enduring over 9G's during reentry and gliding back to the airport.

As per the usual "space fan" viewpoint you are equating excitment and interest in watching something to a desire to go along for the ride. Your primary "examples" all have something in common which you mention and then dismiss which is the massive industries, support infrastructures, and lest we forget DESTINATIONS with infrastructures to support and entertain already in place for those business. Launch cost is only ONE factor and it is not the most important one. And yes those people who take foriegn vactations, or cruise trips also have no intention of STAYING and certainly not working in those places.

Some additional thoughts.

There are 4 billionaires spending a lot of private money in contradiction to your judgement on the value of their activities. Musk in particular is betting that launch cost is key to opening space and that space transport design can follow traditional architectures used for airlines. Bezos is taking a similar but slower path although he is at the lead for suborbital space tourism. Bigelow is betting there is a big future for orbital space tourism and Branson agrees but like Bezos is starting with suborbital flights.
Musk had actually originally said that one of his goals was to reduce launch costs and he has but he's only about half currently, (F9 and FH) of other launch providers and they are all planning newer and cheaper launch vehicles for that reason. Musk's GOAL however is to get to Mars. He is not planning nor supporting Space Tourism beyond allowing some of the earlier flights of Starship to be used, (and paid) by those willing to pay for the priviliage. And keep in mind there's no indication SpaceX will every 'sell' either Starships or Falcon 9/FH's to someone who WOULD use them to start or support a space tourism business.

Bezos on the other hand has always stated his MAIN and ONLY goal is to reduce launch costs to Earth orbit to a level that the majority of people on Earth could afford to do at least once in their lifetime. Hence he's building a large payload orbital rocket aimed at reducing the cost to LEO well below what SpaceX has achieved BUT he's not worried about getting to Mars or even the Moon because he's aware we need infrastructure and regular access to LEO before we jump further. He's the only one who seems to be looking towards starting and supporting an orbital and beyond tourism business and he is using the sub-orbital tourism market to build experiance.

Branson has never had ambitions to provide anything but suborbital flights and his dabbling in launch services (Launcher One) is strictly to utilize the 'down-time' of White Knight Two for extra income. Burt Rutan initially mentioned some orbital plans just after Space Ship One won the X-Prize but Branson never did more than smile when they were mentioned and even Rutan admited his idea wasn't practical.

Bigelow has stated numerous times that he in fact does NOT believe that sub-orbital, orbital or space 'tourism' will be a viable business anytime soon. His aim is to provide 'commercial' habitatible volume on-orbit for 'soverign' (national) customers and industrial use. If someone wants to use his habitats for a "space hotel" that's all well and good but as he's stated a number of time as he has experiance with such activities and the needs they have to properly service customers AND their dependence on repeat business he will NOT be basing any work on servicing or providing for orbital tourims. People who buy a module can do what they want with it. (He's also noted that cost is a secondary factor for tourism and travel, as people will save up to pay for trip they really want to take. The MAIN factor is availabilty of transporation and a regularly scheduled and provided service)

In contrast, I don't expect any billionaire will see a compelling case to self finance the Hercules lander. That project will rely on bureaucratic impetus and taxpayer funding. As with the SLS, I would oppose it and for similar reasons.
While I grant that requireing the SLS is a downside, it IS a government sponsored study and concept so there is a practical reason for that. Also keep in mind it's NOT just a lander but a set of tranporation vehicles that can be mixed and matched for the most efficent results. I don't expect a billionaire to direclty fund and/or use the Hercules either but the overall concept is very valid and has possible utility for commercial use. After all, research and development of the Hercules airfram and aerodynamics would assist commercial devleopment of a fully reusable uppre stage for any number of current and planned launch vehicles. The freighter or crewed version would be a fine basis for such an upper stage on the larger launch vehicles allowing a reusable TSTO that could be used to service such markets as orbital and Cis-Lunar tourims and industrial development. I can easily see someone like Bezos incorperating his current biconic recoverable/reusable manned capsule design into a upper stage based on the Hercules design. As a taxpayer I would support Hercules development if for no other reason than it may actually make the SLS somewhat useful.

I did not address the issue of how government has shaped (restricted) space development in my previous post. Space had been a reserve of government other than the communications business. No entrepreneur (or corporate aerospace) would step forward to provide an alternative. In this environment, bureaucracy was king and defined the limits of acceptability. 40 years of stagnation, escalating launch costs and diminished expectations have been the result. Musk et al are not doing anything startling or new. They are simply doing (at far less cost) what could have been years ago albeit in a manner no bureaucracy would tolerate.
Actually launch costs have been dropping for the last 40 years as the main infrastructure and newer LV development costs have been paid off. Competition between launch companies has also driven costs down though nowhere near as low as they should be but that's due to lower launch demand and lower flight rate. While the government had been the main customer for most space launch from the 50s through the 70s, by the early 80s actual commercial payload demand had risen significantly as telecommunications and commercial resource satellites became a larger segment of the overall launch market.

Technically the US Shuttle program was a "good" thing here since it reduced American launch capability for a period, (where American launch companies were scaled back in anticipation of the Shuttle carrying all US space flight payloads) until Challenger happened and they began to ramp back up again. This allowed Ariane along with China and Russia to enter the commercial launch market which forced the re-emerging American launch companies to reduce costs. This also opened up the market for non-standard satellites and services which had been marginal up to that point and by the late 90s and early 2000's the launch market was again entering a surge period as legacy telecommunications satellite networks were requireing replacement.

You are wrong actuall., SpaceX et-al HAVE done something new in that by having angel investors instead of the usual venture capital investors (who have a VERY short ROI period and will pull out at any sign of trouble or not meeting every expectation) to depend on they've been able to prove out several concepts that have always been known to reduce costs even further, but which none of the other aerospace companies could 'prove' due to investor and business conservatism. You are also assuming this conservatism was driven by government bureaucracy rather than a general lack of demand and business economics which isn't how it was. In fact during the surges in space commercialism between the 70s and 90s it was government interest and funding which allowed several companies the ability to test hardware and concpets that private funding was never avaiable for.

The government isn't perfect by any means. In the early 80s they surpressed and discouraged commercial launch vehicle development and investment to try and make the Shuttle the only US launch system. As noted this had an effect that was less than desirable for US launch providers but did shake them out of their previous complacancy so that when the Shuttle failed to live up to expectations they were ready. Similarly the timing of the mid-90s EELV program caused some newer launch companies to fold due to percieved government subsidizing but in general government help in funding launch system research and testing has been more positive than negative. In fact having the government as an 'anchor' customer has been a benchmark of commercial viablity and remains so for the future which is why most of the SpaceX manifest is still going to be government flights through the mid-2020s.

Randy
 

fredymac

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Hercules has no justification as a simple cargo lander. It will not be economically competitive to privately developed landers which will provide all the functionality required by customers. In other words, an SLS program for landing vehicles. Not in terms of size but simply in execution of schedule and cost control.

Price always drives business. Chinese products are not sold due to excellence in build quality or brand reputation. An operator with a $Billion dollar satellite will still appreciate a $Million dollar savings and Spacex is offering much better than that. Saying 2+2=4 over and over isn't helping so this is the end of my inputs on this subject. It is beyond me that any of this should be difficult to grasp.

Regarding space tourism, here are some numbers:
-10 million people in surveys have said they would spend a year's savings to go to space
-most respondents in a survey said they would spend 3 months salary to go to space
-if space launch tickets drop to $10,000, 1 million people per year would want to go to space
-even at $250,000 per ticket, a fully established suborbital tourist industry can expect 15,000 passengers per year

For decades, the dream of low cost space launch has been $100/pound to orbit. This gets you close to the $10,000 ticket price. The Spacex Starship operating as a world transport hopes to eventually achieve a ticket price of $1000 per person. This would expose passengers to suborbital space travel.
As an aside, the Falcon Heavy costs $90M and puts ~70 tons into LEO. That's ~$650/pound. You can argue that in reusable mode it won't lift as much but compare that price/pound to anything else. Especially SLS (assuming launch cost is on the "low" side of $1Billion plus rather than some much higher numbers I've seen).
 
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