Tag Archives: NASA

Boeing proposes faster, cheaper route to the moon

Photo Credit: NASA/John Frassanito and Associates

Boeing is proposing a radical redesign for NASA’s planned return to the moon. Their proposal is both faster and cheaper than the current plan of record:

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.

A dark day for the space industry

NASA hasn’t had a good year for PR so far. Following on from the embarrassing media circus over the exploits of an ex-astronaut earlier this year, now they’re having to go public with the news that not only were some astronauts drunk in charge of their launch vehicles, but that they also discovered an act of sabotage on a computer module destined for the ISS.

Even the private sector hasn’t escaped the black cloud; an explosion at the test facility of Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites, the company that is to supply Virgin Galactic with its sub-orbital vehicles, has killed three and injured as many again.

Stories like the above make me think that, as much as good as they look on paper, we probably shouldn’t be building nuclear powered rockets just yet – the cost of mistakes and mismanagement could be far higher.

Could Bigelow’s inflatables replace the International Space Station?

Bigelow Aerospace is certainly on a roll with their inflatable orbital module projects, demonstrating that you don’t need a vast Federal budget to get functional capsules into space. Colony Worlds suggests that such low-tech success stories will erode political support for the ISS, which will become increasingly hard to maintain once the Space Shuttle is retired. Will this be the tipping point for the commercial space industry?