Saturday, July 16, 2011

Aviation Week Answers "What's Next" Question

Frank Morring, Jr. of Aviation Week attempts to answer the "What's next" question for U.S. human space flight.

Once the smoke clears from the three-year debate over U.S. space policy ushered in by the return of a Democratic administration to the White House, NASA’s human-spaceflight activities will look a lot like those planned and started under the preceding Republican administration ...

Perhaps the biggest difference in the old approach and the new will be the time lost while the politicians and contractors sorted out the details. And only time will tell if the new approach is faster — and cheaper, as NASA’s leaders promise.

The article does contain one basic mistake. The author contends that the Obama administration "handed to the private sector the job of transporting cargo and crew to the ISS." The truth is that the Bush administration began commercial cargo in 2005. The Obama administration expanded the program to begin commercial crew development.

After a lengthy look at commercial cargo and crew, the article offers this insight into Space Launch System:

That design, selected by Bolden on June 14 and forwarded to the White House for final approval, calls for a heavy-lift rocket that uses liquid hydrogen fuel and liquid oxygen for main- and upper-stage propulsion. Early versions of the rocket would use three surplus space shuttle main engines (SSME) each to power the main stage and the J-2X upper-stage engine started under Constellation for the upper stage. For added thrust during liftoff and early ascent, the vehicle would use a variant of the solid-fuel booster rockets that performed the same task for the space shuttle.

Once the 15 SSMEs in NASA’s stockpile are expended, the plan calls for a shift to the reusable RS25E variant that Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne has proposed. To "evolve" toward the 130-metric-ton capability, and satisfy [Senator Richard] Shelby and the senators from California with some potential jobs for their constituents, the plan would hold a competition for kerosene-fueled strap-on boosters as more powerful replacements for the shuttle-derived solids.

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