Constellations, Launch, New Space and more…

Happiness in HLVille

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
April 14, 2011
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Officials in Rocket City are cheering a new budget that gives $1.8 billion for HLV development this year and an additional $1.2 billion for a crew vehicle, the Huntsville Times reports:

“The budget deal is a good one for Marshall, for NASA, and for the space community at large,” agreed former NASA administrator Michael Griffin. Griffin and others like it that the agreement specifies a rocket with “a lift capability not less than 130 tons and which shall have an upper stage and other core elements developed simultaneously.”

Now an eminent scholar at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, Griffin said wherever America goes next in space, “and in the final analysis it is not a choice that the present administration will be able to make, we will need heavy-lift launch capability. Study after study has shown that 130 metric tons is the lower useful limit for such a vehicle.”

But as details of the agreement between the White House and Congress came out this week, Huntsville space boosters stopped short of an all-out celebration.

“It remains to be seen what this administration will do with this,” Dynetics Corp. executive vice president Dave King said Wednesday. “Now that it is authorized and appropriated, we’ll see.”

As I’ve said many times here, I don’t think this approach to HLV is a very productive one. I fear that the shuttle-derived vehicle they are intent on developing will be excessively expensive to build, operate and maintain. The high operating costs will mean that launches will be infrequent and our ability to do other things in space will be limited. We’ve been through this with the space shuttle and the International Space Station.

The Administration is right to to try to break this pattern; Congress clearly doesn’t agree. As a result, the Administration’s efforts to cancel Constellation will be only partly successful. Ares I is gone, but Ares V is likely to be resurrected in a modified form. Meanwhile, Orion survives as the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle.

My guess is that some combination of a cheaper and smaller HLV, existing boosters, and fuel depots could fill NASA’s shipping needs to LEO and beyond. They would cost less to develop and free up funds to develop payloads for BEO exploration, something the current plan will severely crimp.

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