Tuesday, July 28, 2009

NASA Might Consider Smaller Heavy-Lift Launcher

NASA probably won't be able to afford to develop the planned Ares V heavy-lift rocket with the agency's projected budget and might have to consider building a smaller vehicle, a senior NASA manager said today.

In testimony before a presidential review panel, former NASA astronaut Michael Coats -- now director of Johnson Space Center -- said a smaller vehicle could be ready to fly earlier.

"The largest vehicle you could develop would pay off in the long run. But it's very expensive up front, and that's an investment I don't think we can afford, in my personal opinion, right now," Coats told the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee.

So NASA might have to consider building a launcher that can loft 70 metric tons rather than the Saturn 5-class Ares V, which is being developed to launch 125 metric tons.

"Certainly it's an option. If you are talking about a 70-metric ton vehicle that is more affordable right now, you're going to have to launch more of them to achieve your objective," Coats said.

Appointed by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the review panel is in the midst of a sweeping examination of NASA's plans to build Ares rockets and Orion spacecraft to send American astronauts back to the moon by 2020.

NASA's human spaceflight budget through 2020, however, has been cut significantly. NASA had expected to have $108 billion to carry out its moon program. But the budget projection through 2020 now stands at $81.5 billion.

"If you have to have one million pounds in space to go to Mars for example how are you going to get it there? What's the most effective way to get it there? How do you get things to the moon to learn how explore most effectively?" Coats said.

"So what's the cheapest -- I hate to use that word -- but what's the least expensive heavy-lift vehicle that we can develop in a timely manner to get us there because we're going to have to live within a very constrained budget. There is just no alternate reality," he said. "And there is not enough money in any budget to meet all the things that you’re talking about -- operating a space station, developing a heavy-lift vehicle, developing the Orion."


Anonymous said...


How does the "70-Metric ton" launch vehicle compare to the existing Delta IV Heavy?

Rick Steele
Sarasota, Florida

Gaetano Marano said...


so, they've LOST over 3.5 years and about $9 billion to just come back and develop MY idea of a FAST-SLV "rocket-kit" that I've proposed and published in 2006 in this article:



Anonymous said...

Why don't they go with the Jupiter rockets of the DIRECT? The proposals show that they are just as capable as the Ares V for lunar and martian missions, they are designed from already proven technology, they would be ready sooner, etc...

Looking at the data it seems to be the most logical option anyway.


Todd Halvorson said...

Delta IV Heavy payload capability is 56,800 --- 28 tons.....so you are looking really at something like shuttle-C....

Conor said...

Up that to 75 tons, and two launches will carry the same payload as an Ares 1 and an Ares V.
Which makes the Ares 1 rather pointless. Its role in supporting the ISS is limited.
A Lunar mission that needs three launches doesn't seem practical to me. Especially with only two launchpads.

Conor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dave Noderer said...

This is all very frustrating. To me the question is what do you need to do to colonize the moon?

Mars is great but seems like we should have a good solid sustainable foothold on the moon where time and distances are much smaller as the vast array of problems we can hardly guess at crop up. We will be able to deploy solutions on a much quicker cycle and I suspect gain expertise much faster and cheaper (money and lives).

I feel like Mars will be touch and don't go back like we did on the moon 40 years ago.

Anonymous said...

The basic DIRECT Jupiter 130 is a 70mt launch vehicle. It is essentially the shuttle 8.4m core + 4 segment boosters, add an upper stage and you have a 110 mt class launch vehicle. The question is if NASA is considering a basic 70mt launcher could it be a version of the Jupiter 130. After all if 70mt i all you are aiming for there is no reason build a 10m core new 5 or 5.5 segment booster rockets, regenerative R-68 or anything else planned for Ares V. Simply re-utilizing the existing shuttle engines, SRBSs, tank and other components will work fine.

We'll need a little more info to really determine what NASA is thinking as a 70mt launch vehicle could describe the basic Jupiter or it could describe the side mounted NSC variant described by NASA's John Shanahan. I would personally vote for the Jupiter as it is a much more capable design that could be built for a similar price as the NSC.