Photo Credit: NASA/John Frassanito and Associates
NASA’s current mission plan calls for the Ares V to send the new lunar lander and its payload into Earth orbit. Once there, Ares V would not only have to dock with the Orion crew vehicle (launched separately on the Ares I rocket) but also restart and provide the initial burn to send the assembled system into a trajectory toward the moon.
Boeing’s alternative would combine the Orion rendezvous with a pitstop for gas, allowing the Ares V to lift off from Earth with a much larger payload—and an empty lander. Boeing says this would allow NASA to deliver about three times as much mass to the lunar surface, and over fifteen times as much payload. What’s more, Ares V could then send the lander-Orion package all the way to lunar orbit with full tanks, rather than NASA’s current plan to use extra propellant in slowing down before soft landing.
I think that NASA as it exists today is an anachronism. When it comes to doing things fast and cheap, entrepreneurs will always beat out government bureaucracies.