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Smaller, Cheaper and Simpler Spacecraft

Posted by: Andy Hill - Thu Mar 17, 2005 9:59 am
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Smaller, Cheaper and Simpler Spacecraft 
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Post Smaller, Cheaper and Simpler Spacecraft   Posted on: Thu Mar 17, 2005 9:59 am
I was wondering whether it would be cost effective to build a smaller manned spacecraft for launch on something like ESA's Vega vehicle which can put a 2000kg payload into LEO.

Something like a simple single use 3 or 4 man capsule design used to ferry astronauts to and from the ISS might be a good starting point for a manned craft. It could also act as a life boat to rescue stranded astronauts.

It seems that most of the designs being considered such as Kliper or CEV are for 10,000kg+ vehicles, is this weight really necessary for a general transport craft?

Launching on a smaller booster should save on launch costs and improve turn-around times. Perhaps its time that craft started to become simpler rather than ever more complex which seems to lead to more problems getting them off the launch pad.

It seems that JAXA has decided to have a manned space program based on its H-2 rocket which would be a smaller craft so maybe this is the way to go.

http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/newse/20050317wo71.htm

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Post    Posted on: Thu Mar 17, 2005 12:07 pm
Given the crisis of the market for heavy huge satellites and the resulting crisis of the market for Ariane-size vehicles that thought may be a very good one.

Possibly Vega-like vehicles may launch much more often than Ariane-like ones in the future and the proposed capsule may increase that too. The advantages in cost efficiency may be significant.

So I agree - it's a good starting point from my point of view.



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Post    Posted on: Thu Mar 17, 2005 1:12 pm
So we're basically looking at building a second-generation Gemini. There's a lot of design data from that program, and from Apollo (which is actually somewhat more in the size range, if you leave out the MM and the LM). Also, those vehicles (especially Gemini) have excellent safety records -- the best Gemini pilots were known to bring their orbiter down within a few hundred yards of the recovery ship.

I don't care much for the water landing, but a sort of parafoil (maybe even with some kind of landing gear/skid on the orbiter) might be feasible.

The good thing about capsule-design orbiters (it's not a capsule, because it has full control -- a capsule is just dead mass with a human inside) is that they're very simple to design and are very very safe. The bad thing is that they historically don't tend to be very flexible in the type of payloads they can carry (doesn't mean we can't change that), and (I think) don't tend to be as cost-efficient as a SSTO orbiter.

Then again, at least they don't fall apart on re-entry.

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Post    Posted on: Thu Mar 17, 2005 2:08 pm
A smaller craft should be substantially cheaper to operate and a simple design would save manufacturing and processing costs. Also more launches would spread the development costs over more vehicles and make it possible to optimise a design more quickly.

The design could be made to fit a range of boosters so that it could be launched at a number of locations giving it greater flexibility.

Dependant on which booster was used it should be possible to keep costs down to less than $50m which would make it comparable to a Soyuz launch.

Such a vehicle could even be jointly developed by ESA and NASA so that there is a low cost fall back option if the shuttle fails again or for future use as a ferry vehicle to fill the gap between the shuttle retirement and the first CEV manned flights.

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Post    Posted on: Thu Mar 17, 2005 2:26 pm
I suppose political, technological and secrecy reasons will prevent joint developments by ESA and NASA - unfortunately.

It may work if private developers like Scaled or Starchaser would be included - and ESA should learn from the Aldridge report. On the other hand ESA plans to lease their ISS-territory to privates - seen under this aspect they seem to be open for the privates.

Joint development of ESA and NASA under significant participation of the privates - what about that? The privates would achieve additional increases in cost efficiency ESA and NASA never would think of.



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Post    Posted on: Thu Mar 17, 2005 2:33 pm
spacecowboy wrote:
So we're basically looking at building a second-generation Gemini.


Probably nothing so grand, a craft with the minimum flight control and reentry systems and a docking port is all that's really needed. No need to make EVAs possible (at first anyway).

If such a craft were built it could have a lot of customers, possibly Bigelow would be interested if the ASP doesnt produce an orbital vehicle in time. Using older or commercially available technology would reduce costs and probably make it more reliable and attractive to prospective customers (nobody wants to be the first to fly a complex cutting edge spacecraft).

If there was sufficient demand it might even be possible to set up a production line which would reduce costs still further.

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Post    Posted on: Thu Mar 17, 2005 2:48 pm
Ekkehard Augustin wrote:
I suppose political, technological and secrecy reasons will prevent joint developments by ESA and NASA - unfortunately.


Why would that be so? ESA and NASA have collaborated on projects in the past and are likely to do so in the future. The technology in question is not new and therefore should not be subject to secrecy. Politically it would be advantageous to both, ESA would gain a manned craft and NASA would not be forced to rely on another country to ferry its astronauts when the shuttle retires. Also the reduced costs would be beneficial to both sides.

I agree such a project should not be carried out by the large space companies but rather the privateers should be used by both sides, this again would reduce costs, expand the space engineering base and not divert attention away from the CEV. I have no idea as to how much such a project would cost but my guess would be a couple $100m (not much more than the cost of producing a telecoms satellite).

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Post    Posted on: Thu Mar 17, 2005 3:07 pm
Agreed - I have been on the way to think about ESA and NASA using identical hardware in international ownership and that's not the topic here.

Concerning development you are right - I only don't trust them regarding optimizing stuff and staff. And they are governmental financed - taxes, public debth...



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Post    Posted on: Thu Mar 17, 2005 3:22 pm
Why not let a third party manage the whole project, SpaceDev's Jim Benson might be a good choice as he is an actual space enthusiast who wants to get things moving and not maintain the status quo.

Give a set of realistic milestones that have to be met before the next portion of money is released and let the privateers get on with it. As long as they are meeting the requirements then the funding is maintained and any interference should be minimal. There shouldn't be a need to finance endless development programmes, just buy or adapt whatever is already available.

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Post    Posted on: Thu Mar 17, 2005 4:17 pm
Yes - that would be a good idea the governments and politicians perhaps would agree to. Some things in Germany like the Hartz-reforms seem to look similar a little bit - a very little bit.

It simply should be an order given by the agencies which is payed for.



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Post    Posted on: Thu Mar 17, 2005 7:01 pm
Andy Hill wrote:
Probably nothing so grand, a craft with the minimum flight control and reentry systems and a docking port is all that's really needed. No need to make EVAs possible (at first anyway).


Uh.... The method used in Gemini "to make EVAs possible", as you say, was essentially a small hole in the hull that could be opened by the crew. That kind of comes in handy anyways.

The vehicle in question would actually almost have to be an even higher-class vehicle than Gemini, with more room for passengers and cargo. Probably something about the size of the Apollo CM, with a docking mechanism on top. Hell, anybody could hammer out an idea for that!

Anybody feel like attempting the world's first "open source" space vehicle design?

[note]By the way, I really like this idea.[/note]

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Post    Posted on: Thu Mar 17, 2005 7:30 pm
spacecowboy wrote:
The vehicle in question would actually almost have to be an even higher-class vehicle than Gemini, with more room for passengers and cargo. Probably something about the size of the Apollo CM, with a docking mechanism on top. Hell, anybody could hammer out an idea for that!


Coming up with a suitable vehicle is not the problem, I'm sure there are dozens of people out there who have designed just such a craft. The hardest part would be to get NASA/ESA to fund such a project and then make them leave it alone so it could get on with the task. I wouldn't know where to begin to make that happen, where would you start:- congress? Guess its up to the US citizens to start lobbying their congress men or get a pressure group going. ESA is even worse, they dont even all speak the same language and members are more concerned about what they can get for their own country (read state for congress and NASA).

spacecowboy wrote:
[note]By the way, I really like this idea.[/note]


I thought it had promise to when I proposed it but the more I think about it the more I can see that ESA and NASA could not cope with the large mental adjustment that would be required to make it work. :(

The only way I see NASA running a project like this is if a part of it was split away into a separate agency and given the budget to do it with a tight remit.

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Post    Posted on: Thu Mar 17, 2005 11:12 pm
Andy Hill wrote:
Coming up with a suitable vehicle is not the problem, I'm sure there are dozens of people out there who have designed just such a craft.


Don't bet on that: most undergrad students go for the somewhat flashier SSTO concepts (such as my own [future] pet project, rocket-based combined-cycle vehicles).

Andy Hill wrote:
The hardest part would be to get NASA/ESA to fund such a project and then make them leave it alone so it could get on with the task. I wouldn't know where to begin to make that happen, where would you start:- congress?


I'm with you on that -- I don't even know who to ask to find out where to begin.

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Post    Posted on: Fri Mar 18, 2005 4:32 pm
Just this moment your speaking about ESA and NASA caused me the thought, the concept that might be best to make it work and to get the best cooperation between the both agencies.

The thought or concept hasn't that much to do with space projects, administration and construction - but with market economy, competition agencies and with what is called "Ordnungspolitik" in German - in English "System Policy" perhaps (cannot find a better translation).

ESA and NASA should be transformed into something like our german "Bundeskartellamt" or the american FCC perhaps - but with the difference that they should be given the competence and the authority to set positive and/or negative incentives. Such incentives don't need to be of monetary kind - they don't require financial ressources. One example is the trade of emission rights - the governmental agencies simply designed the rules and laws of the trade but nothing else.

If ESA and NASA would be made such agencies of they not only could work together easyly - they would be interested in doing so. And no politician would do them any harm. They wouldn't bar any market or any entrepreneur, they wouldn't claim extrem sized reports and so on. They simply would cause incentives to do space-oriented work that would be desired for plausible, understandable reasons noone would disgaree to. They would be working together with the competition agencies and they would try to control constructors and competitors.

And it would assist the interets of thos in Germanyy who want to see german Astronauts in space.

The agencies would require that amount of financial ressources then - these would be left to the vehicle constructors and trip suppliers.

This way it would be much easier to get a cheaper and simpler aircraft I suppose.



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Post    Posted on: Mon Mar 21, 2005 4:51 am
Here are some numbers for the Apollo CM.
Crew Size: 3. Length: 3.47 m. Basic Diameter: 3.90 m. Maximum Diameter: 3.90 m. Habitable Volume: 6.17 m3. Mass: 5,806 kg. Structure Mass: 1,567 kg. Heat Shield Mass: 848 kg. Reaction Control System: 400 kg. Recovery Equipment: 245 kg. Navigation Equipment: 505 kg. Telemetry Equipment: 200 kg. Electrical Equipment: 700 kg. Communications Systems: 100 kg. Crew Seats and Provisions: 550 kg. Crew mass: 216 kg. Miscellaneous Contingency: 200 kg. Environmental Control System: 200 kg. RCS Coarse No x Thrust: 12 x42kgf. RCS Propellants: N2O4/UDMH. RCS Isp: 290 sec. RCS Impulse: 26,178.00 kgf-sec. Main Engine Propellants: n/a. Main Engine Propellants: 75 kg. L/D Hypersonic: .3. Electrical System: Batteries. Electric System: 20.0 kWh. Battery: 1,000.0 Ah.

It certainly seems like something lighter could be made. Why hasn't it? I don't know. Even the basic structure is over 1,500 kg, NOT including the heat shield. That seems over engineered to me. Maybe they just wanted to be sure the crew were safe and made it extra strong. On the other hand I know there were numerous tests on reentry vehicles before Apollo or even Mercury flew. Maybe they found that lighter structures broke up on reentry.


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