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November 13, 2009

NASA and HLV alternatives

An article at Orlando Sentiel breaks the story about NASA studying alternatives to the original Ares V, made necessary by the disaster which is Ares I.

Picture taken from Orlando Sentiel; the rightmost rocket is resized to scale.

Much of the focus is on the new, exciting alternative: a fully liquid rocket with a kerolox 1st stage. It uses Atlas V CCB as strap-ons, in the same manner as Energiya used Zenit. The core is 3 stages, not 2, which should improve performance considerably. No more hassles with the solid propellant, significant reduction of operation costs. Russian engines though... Although RD-180 was supposed to be made in the U.S. and all arrangements were done (documentation translated, necessary alloys identified), the cost was prohibitive and it never happened. Even so it is cleary a winner for everyone except ATK, Doc Horovitz, and Orin Hatch.

I think it's still a mistake to do it though. Although the all-liquid rocket is cheaper to operate in the very long run, at the flight rate it goes, a HLV will never recoup development costs to get there. The idiocy of Ares I and the perfidy of people who pushed "Shuttle-Derived only not really" overshadowed the bigger problem: HLV is never affordable and not necessary. But oh well, if even Buzz wants it, we're married to the concept no matter what.

UPDATE: Rand Simberg comments too, points to blog post by Orlando Sentiel staff, with funny details such as "[all-liquid rocket] also opens up the VAB to other uses because you can have offices in the building again."

By the way, not a peep about RS-84 on the core, but 5x RD-180 instead.

UPDATE: Ed Kyle writes:

RS-84 doesn't, and never will, exist. RD-180 does. RS-84, a prospective reusable engine, was canceled five years ago. The heavy lifter contemplated here would not need a reusable engine.

Actually, RD-180 has a design lifetime that permits reuse, but anyway, sucks for RS-84.

Posted by: Pete Zaitcev at 09:37 AM | Comments (1) | Add Comment
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1 I agree, this thing will never fly.

I do agree that for LEO hydrocarbons rule, and that sidemounted liquid boosters are amenable to recovery, and can easily provide the off the pad launch assist necessary to get a hydrogen core to orbit. MSFC needs to realize if they ever want a HLV, they will have to start much smaller and evolve into it, and focus on the recovery of the kerolox boosters and attain SSTO capabilities for the hydrogen core, and then farm that technology out to the commercial guys as soon as possible.

MSFC needs to works with the commercial people, not hinder them.

Posted by: Thomas Lee Elifritz at November 13, 2009 10:23 AM (1FC+6)

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