What’s the next step in manned spaceflight by NASA? Will they actually be able to stop debating and come to a decisive agreement?
NASA has plans which are all under the Constellation program. These plans aren’t solid and the debate at time of writing this are still going on. President Bush introduced the constellation program and Obama is thinking twice about it. By the time they have made a decision another country will have put a man or woman on the moon or perhaps even on Mars if they are not careful. It is a horrible thought but perhaps a new cold (or warm) war is needed to speed things up.
The constellation program consists of-
- The Orion crew vehicle
- Ares I
- Ares V
- The Altair lunar Lander
Orion is the crew compartment just like the Apollo command module. It consists of two parts the crew module and the cylindrical service module which contains the propulsion and consumables. It will have 6 astronauts and is usable for up to 10 flights.
The Ares I is an in-line two-stage rocket configuration which has the Orion crew vehicle on top of it. It uses elements and technology from the Apollo space programme and the space shuttle program so that it is cheap and reliable (I’ve heard that somewhere before ). This takes crew to the space station, or can park loads into orbit for other spacecraft or carry cargo and resources to the space station.
The Ares V is a two-stage reusable solid rocket and is the cargo lifter being like a heavy lifter, supertanker, heavy hauler or beast of the skies (whoops getting carried away again). The Ares V uses two five-and-a-half-segment reusable solid rocket boosters to start its flight path into orbit These are derived from the space shuttle solid rocket boosters and are similar to the single booster that serves as the first stage for the cargo vehicle’s sister craft, the Ares I crew launch vehicle. A single central booster liquid fuelled stage then takes over. The engines used in this core rocket stage are improved Delta IV engines from the improved evolved expendable launch vehicle program which has been evolved and expended by the US air force. On top of all this is the interstage cylinder which has its own rocket motors.
The Altair lunar Lander is on top of the Ares V and for a trip to the moon it will dock to the Orion crew vehicle which has already been taken up by the Ares I. The Lander will allow crews to live and work on the moon for extended periods of time.
Just in case you lost me on that, here’s a video that explains it quite nicely-
Constellation is not the only plan that could be followed and that is why NASA is currently mulling over the ideas and of course the cost. This indecisiveness can only cost time really (unless they really do pull all the stops out) and when you think it’s been 35 years since the last manned lunar landing I think it’s been an over excessive waste of time.
Project Moonlight is an alternative to NASA’s constellation plan and was proposed by an Italian bunch of scientists.
Project Moonlight will initially consist of more small movements from the Earth to orbit involving Earth-to-Moon Tugs, reusable landers, and Crew vehicles. This should significantly reduce the cost of recurring lunar operations, instead of launching an entire infrastructure for each lunar mission as NASA’s current Mission intends.
The lunar infrastructure would eventually consist of a small space station in lunar orbit, called the Lunar Orbital Operations Platform (LOOP) logistical station. The lunar station is largely built using ISS modules, such as the MPLM for a habitat, a Z1 element with gyros, a docking port node, and an ISS-style truss.
The lunar station would hold multiple docked reusable landers, fuel transported from unmanned Lunar Tanker modules, and provide a staging area for the crew vehicle.
The final phase of the proposal would use the lunar transportation architecture and the reusable modular design of the lunar lander to land crew habitation modules and other cargo and facilities, forming a permanent or semi-permanent moon base.
This sounds like a really good idea when you think about it. It is like a real space station. It would be a good staging post in the future for missions further afield. I hope the 2001 space Odyssey music is mandatory as they dock.
Commercial spaceflight could be another alternative to the constellation program. At the moment it would just be a way to get passengers, fuel and cargo into orbit. I have already covered the commercial spaceflight opportunities and they don’t quite reach into space station orbit but the way things are progressing in that area it won’t be long. It would be quite a big step down for NASA, even if they said they were temporarily relying on commercial rockets. With the cost savings and convenience it may never be possible to go back to their own rockets.
Another idea is for flying lunar vehicles on something very familiar-looking – the old space shuttle system with its gigantic orange fuel tank and twin solid-rocket boosters, minus the shuttle itself. There are two new vehicles this rocket would carry – one generic cargo container, the other an Apollo-like capsule for astronaut travel. Those new vehicles could both go to the moon or the international space station
There are many tweaks to the constellation program and other ideas that could be taken up and hopefully we will know soon which way NASA are going as they are our best bet for getting a man on the moon in the near future. Meanwhile the constellation program goes ahead with a test launch of the Ares I-X soon, or does it?
The British (I am English) have got a reusable rocket using a Reliant Robin (car) and a few other bits and pieces. Here is the video it’s well worth a watch…