There will be four major types of facilities in low
earth orbit (LEO) apart from various satellites and miscelaneous
trash which are also orbiting in the same region. Those will
be: (1) manned or man-capable space stations such as Mir, Salyut,
or Freedom, (2) fuel depots, (3) garbage collectors or destroyers,
and (4) the lower end of the earth-moon transportation system.
At the present time only the Mir and Salyut space stations
exist. Of the others, only the Freedom space station is more than
a glimmer in the eyes of space enthusiasts - and even for those who
are building Freedom, their dreams are fading fast.
For the most part this is due to the excessive costs of the space
shuttle and the capriciousness of American politicians.
5.1 Space stations
The primary function of the LEO space stations with respect
to subsequent exploration and development of the solar system
will be to serve as holding areas for people in transit. Since
it will be several years before significant numbers of people
are needed on the moon or for the first interplanetary voyages,
there will be sufficient time for these facilities to mature.
When the time comes, the passengers or crew will be lifted from
the ground to the space stations by one of the space planes
currently under development such as: Hotol, a joint British/Soviet
venture, or Len Cormier's space van, or some other space plane (see
section 11.3). The space shuttles, whether the US version
or the Soviet version known as Buran or a Japanese version known
as Hope or the European (ESA) version known as Hermes, are far too
expensive to simply ferry people from earth to the space stations.
The US space shuttle could be configured to carry perhaps 50 to 75
people in its payload bay in some specially designed passenger
compartment. At a current cost of $750 million to $1 billion
per launch, this would be about $10 - $20 million per person for a
one way trip. That far exceeds our budget plans.
To date (1992), all space stations have been placed in orbit
with ordinary rockets, but the Freedom space station may be placed
in orbit via the far more expensive space shuttle. This is
another example of the maximum cost approach as opposed to the
minimum cost approach. Perhaps NASA can be convinced to examine
some of the available lower cost alternatives - such as the
Soviet Energia rocket or other alternatives to be mentioned later.
5.1.1 Freedom space station
Richard Lewis devotes two full chapters to the Freedom space
station in "Space in the 21st Century" [Ref 15, p.19-73].
Part of the following is excerpted from his narrative.
In June of 1986 NASA estimated that the Freedom space station
would cost $8 billion [15, p.32]. In the fall of 1986 this
estimate was revised upward to $14.5 billion [15, p.35].
By April of 1987 the cost had risen to $17.9
billion and that was for R&D only [15, p.37]. The cost of
full deployment was now $27.5 billion [15, p.37]. By the
spring of 1991 the estimate was over $32 billion for a
fully deployed space station and that figure was openly
mocked by members of the US House appropriations subcommittee.
Charles Bowsher, the GAO's comptroller, estimated the cost of
the space station at $40 billion and its maintenance from
2000 to 2027 at an additional $78 billion for a total of
$118 billion [AW 34, p.23].
According to NASA, the US has already spent or allocated
to spend about $7.69 billion on space station Freedom. These
figures do not include $4 million spent in FY83 and $14 million
spent in FY84 on space station studies [126, p.5].
* Table 5.1.1-1 NASA expenditures on space station Freedom
Fiscal Year expenditure ($ M)
1991 $1,900.0 [AW 30, p.85]
1992 $2,028.0 [AW 30, p.85]
total = $7,689.6
Source: 1991 NASA Pocket Handbook [67, p.C-16].
Lewis says that the acting program manager of the space station
estimated that 19 space shuttle flights would be necessary to lift
and outfit the space station [15, p.36]. However, Ad Astra reported
that "the Shuttle will require 29 flights from March 1995 to August
1999 to launch and outfit Space Station Freedom" [AA 6, p.39].
That amounts to about 6 flights per year for 5 years.
It is not clear why 29 or even 19 flights are needed to
accomplish this task. The same Ad Astra article mentioned above
says that the mass of the space station is only 227 metric tons
[p.20]. That mass could be lifted in no more than 8 shuttle
flights. Even if provisioning the station doubled its mass, one
could expect to lift the entire mass in 16 flights.
18.104.22.168 Alternate space station designs
Space station Freedom has many critics both in Congress and
out. At a congressional hearing, Planetary Society leaders, Carl
Sagan and Bruce Murray, criticized it - as "not a practical stepping
stone to Mars" [AW 5, p.27]. John Lewis in "Space Resources"
tells us that the Department of Defense and the Air Force both
claim that they don't need the space station and they certainly
don't want to get hit with part of the tab [14, p.339].
Representative Dick Zimmer (R-NJ) has called the space station
an "orbiting boondoggle" [AW 34, p.23]. In the spring of 1991,
Bob Traxler (D-Mich), who chairs the House Appropriations
subcommittee with jurisdiction over NASA, offered an ammendment
which would have cut off funding for the space station. It passed
6-3 in the committee. Fortunately for space station supporters, the
full House reversed the decision (240-173) and approved funding.
Nevertheless, the House vote shows that nearly 40% of the House are
against the space station. This implies that a swing of only about
45 votes will doom the Freedom space station.
Many other space station designs have been formulated over the
years. One of the best has come from Oliver Harwood, an aerospace
design engineer, formerly with Rockwell. An article by M.A. Dornheim
in the 1/13/92 issue of Aviation Week described Harwood's design
[AW 67, p.53-4]. The entire structure would consist of seven types
of components which could be interconnected in a wide variety of
ways to produce either a two dimensional or a three dimensional
structure in space - of any size. The seven component types are:
* 1. A nodal ball which has 12 ports to which other components
can be connected.
2. A cylinder segment which connects to either another cylinder
or to an end cone.
3. An end cone which connects either to a cylinder or a nodal
4. A half strut which simply fills in the structure.
5. A tripod which connects a half strut to a nodal ball.
6. An exposed node called a "hedgehog" which accepts struts.
7. A tunnel which can connect two nodal balls [AW 67, p.53].
Of course his proposal was not popular at NASA and indeed
Rockwell even refused to mention it to NASA because "it implied that
something was wrong with NASA's approach." Harwood believes that it
is an example of the industry toadying to NASA. "Industry praises
NASA to stay in the running for contracts. NASA believes the
praise, becoming increasingly difficult to argue with" [AW 67, p.54].
He believes "the station should be canceled, then industry-wide
competition restarted for concepts free of NASA preconditions,
instead of companies competing to see how well they can grovel
before NASA" [AW 67, p.54]. Harwood's design appeared previously in
the latest Space Manufacturing, volume 8, p.413-420.
22.214.171.124 Cost of space shuttle deployment of Freedom
The following estimate is based on 29 space shuttle flights
which are assumed to include all necessary makeup flights. The
cost of each shuttle flight is estimated at $1 billion - a rather
conservative figure. (See section 11.3.11 on space shuttle costs.)
* Budget item Year Flights Cost ($ B)
Sunk funds 1985 - 1992 0 $7.69
Building on earth 1993 0 $2.0
Building on earth 1994 0 $2.0
Deployment of Freedom 1995 6 $6.0
Deployment of Freedom 1996 6 $6.0
Deployment of Freedom 1997 6 $6.0
Deployment of Freedom 1998 6 $6.0
Deployment of Freedom 1999 5 $5.0
Total 29 $40.69 B
If only 19 flights were included, the cost estimate would be
126.96.36.199 Cost of Energia/Shuttle deployment of Freedom
The total lift of 29 shuttle flights is 29 * 29.5 MT or
855.5 MT. The Energia is capable of lifting 220 MT [23, p.43] and
thus should be able to lift the same mass in 4 flights. However,
we shall assume that the Energia is launched from Tyuratam
which means that it must make an orbital plane change. This
reduces the payload capacity. We shall therefore use 150 MT as
the lift capacity and thus 6 flights will be required. It is
clear that these extra two flights could be eliminated by launching
the Energia from Cape Canaveral, but this would require the
construction of a launch pad at a cost of about $2 billion.
This would still save additional money because two space shuttle
flights would also be eliminated.
Each Energia launch would be accompanied by a shuttle launch
which would lift the assembly crew and rendezvous with the Energia
at the space station. Of course each of those shuttle flights
could lift space station components as well.
* Budget item Year Flights Cost ($ B)
Sunk funds 1985 - 1992 0 $7.69
Building on earth 1993 0 $2.0
Building on earth 1994 0 $2.0
Deployment of Freedom 1995 2/2 $1.5/2.0
Deployment of Freedom 1996 2/2 $1.5/2.0
Deployment of Freedom 1997 2/2 $1.5/2.0
Total 6/6 $22.19 B
The savings would be about $18.5 billion - not an insignificant
sum! Notice also that we would have an operational space station
two years earlier. Using 4 flights instead of 6 would save another
$1.5 billion - at least.
If the 19 shuttle scenario is used, then only 4 flights of
Energia/Shuttle would be needed at a cost of $18.69 billion, which
would give a savings of $30.69 billion - $18.69 billion = $12
An additinal benefit would be the reduced risk of losing another
space shuttle. The Office of Technology Assessment believes that
"the odds are almost 9 in 10 that an orbiter will be lost before
construction is completed" [AW 22, p.181].
5.1.2 Mir space station
The Soviet space station, Mir, or "peace", was launched from
Tyuratam cosmodrome on February 20,1986 [31, p.71]. It was placed
in a 340 kilometer high orbit with an inclination of 51.6 degrees
[31, p.109]. Its initial weight was about 20 tons.
Mir was designed for expansion. One component is a six
sided connector to which additional modules can be connected as
they are brought up from earth. Between 1986 and 1990, three
expansion modules were added. An astrophysics module called "Kvant 1"
was added in March of 1987, followed by "Kvant 2", a technology
research and airlock module in December of 1989, and finally,
"Kristall", a materials processing and shuttle docking module
[AA 6, p.18]. Two additional modules called "Priroda"
and "Spektr" were scheduled for deployment in 1991 and 1992. One
will carry astronomical instruments and the other will be used for
earth resources and global monitoring [71, p.54].
The Soviet space agency, Glavkosmos, has been offering week
long flights in the Mir space station for about $10 million
[71, p.54]. The Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS) paid upwards
of $12 million to have Toyohiro Akiyama fly on Mir. Liftoff
was Dec. 2, 1990. Two days were spent en route on Soyuz and then 6
days on Mir [AA 5, p.7]. While on board Mir, Akiyama broadcast a
daily commentary on his activities - especially on how sick the
weightlessness made him. A short article in Aviation Week [AW 34,
p.22] of 5/6/91 reported that Helen Sharman of the UK was scheduled
to spend 6 days on Mir with liftoff on 5/18/91. Germany paid Russia
about $12 million for a trip to Mir. Claus-Dietrich Flade, a German
Cosmonaut, spent a week on Mir from March 17-25,1992 in the company
of two Russian Cosmonauts. Austrian and French cosmonauts are
scheduled to fly on Mir too [71, p.56]. The Soviets have sold
a backup Mir space station to a Japanese entrepreneur who will be
using it in a futuristic theme park [71, p.59].
Mir is not currently capable of operating as a refueling
station; however, the Mir 2 which will follow sometime in the
future may have this capability.
5.2 LEO fuel depots
There will be a series of fuel depots in low earth orbit
which will provide fuel for lifting payloads to HEO, for lunar
missions, for maintaining the proper altitude of the various
LEO facilities (called station keeping), and possibly for missions
to Mars or to some of the Apollo (earth-crossing orbit) asteroids.
Fuel sent up from earth would be in the form of ice or water which
would be electrolyzed in orbit to produce both oxygen and hydrogen.
This approach has been advocated by a number of individuals
including E. Bock and J.G. Fisher  and B.A. Roth [LB2, p.207].
Each fuel capsule would carry its own homing device so that the
capsules could automatically rendezvous with the fuel facility.
Such homing devices have already been developed for 155 mm artillery
shells [117, p.161] and it wouldn't be difficult to extend the
concept to orbital rendezvous.
The question of how the fuel depots themselves get into LEO
will inevitably come up. The answer depends on the size and
complexity of the facilities. Electrolysis is perhaps the most
trivial procedure one could think of. Thus the production of
hydrogen and oxygen gases will require only small lightweight and
inexpensive equipment. Due to the fact that the temperature of
empty space is about 2.7 degrees Kelvin [LB1, p.27] or -270.5 degrees
Centigrade (which is much colder than the boiling point of liquid
oxygen or liquid hydrogen), it may not be necessary to have any
gas liquification equipment associated with these faciltiies. We
would simply pump the gas into tanks and allow the extreme cold of
space to liquify them! In that case the fuel depots would be greatly
simplified. It might be possible to shoot them into LEO with
Gerald Bull's superguns. This would require firing projectiles
loaded with disassembled parts and assembling them remotely in
orbit. But it would be very cheap!
Each projectile which arrives at the fuel depot loaded with water
will be carrying that water in a tank. Thus the upcoming projectiles
will automatically provide the tankage to contain the liquid oxygen
and liquid hydrogen. (The rocket boosters on the projectiles may
be fueled with LOX and LH2 too, thus providing additional available
tankage.) The entire operation could be very simple, elegant, and
cheap. Since the orbital period of a satellite at an altitude of
400 kilometers is about 1.5 hours, we suggest 16 fuel depots
distributed equally around the earth. In this case each depot
would pass in order over our earth launch points every 1.5 hours.
Bull's superguns cost only $10 million each, so we can afford to
have several positioned around the world.
Initially the fuel depots will be unmanned, but eventually they
should be expanded into manned facilities. This will expand the
demand for the space planes needed to lift the crews economically. We
certainly cannot afford to use the space shuttle to lift them. After
that they should be further expanded to realize Michio Shimizu's
dream of space hotels. Space hotels would be a tremendous tourist
attraction and would thus allow development of space to be
self-financing. The increased tourist traffic would finance the
building of more space planes so that eventually we would have
sufficient capacity to lift the crew of our Mars mission.
5.3 The garbage collectors/destroyers
Few people know that there are thousands of pieces of junk
floating around in LEO along with the various satellites and
space stations. They include exploded rockets and satellites,
fuel tanks, farrings, shrouds, clamps, bolts, fasteners and so on.
The US Space Command in Colorado tracks over 8,000 objects 10
centimeters or larger while a MIT group in Cambridge tracks
40,000 objects 1 centimeter or larger [71, p.66]. The total number
of objects exceeds 1,000,000 and the total mass in LEO is more
than 4,000,000 pounds [SM 38, p.212]. To date, 25
space shuttle windows have been hit by debris and 11 of them have
been replaced [AA 6, p.8]. The Japanese lost
a Ford Aerospace Superbird satellite late in 1990 due to an
unexplained fuel leak - probably a collision with space debris
[AW 65, p.71]. In September of 1991, the Discovery space shuttle
had to maneuver to avoid a collision with a 1000 kilogram upper
stage of a Soviet booster which had been launched in 1977
[AA 9, p.6]. Again in November of 1991, the Atlantis space
shuttle also had to maneuver to avoid a spent Cosmos booster
[AA 11, p.10]. As more and more satellites and space shuttles
are launched, the number of pieces of space junk will grow until
there is a major disaster such as the loss of a space shuttle. It
will then become popular to support garbage collectors in space.
An interesting article by L.P. Lehman and G.E. Canough entitled
"The Nature of Space Debris and How to Clean it up" appeared in volume
7 of Space Manufacturing [SM 39, p.259-266]. They say that the
debris hazard now exceeds the meteor hazard by 5 orders of magnitude.
"The number of objects of a particular size is in inverse proportion
to the size of the object" [SM 39, p.259]. They also say that
an 80 gram object moving at 10 km/sec has as much energy as one
kilogram of TNT. It seems that the thousands of small unseen objects
are more dangerous than the few larger ones which we can plan for
and thus avoid. "No practical scheme has been devised to clean up
the large population of small space debris objects" [SM 39, p.260].
Their suggestion is to attach "sails" to the pieces of junk which
would cause their orbits to decay much more rapidly and then they
would fall into the atomsphere and burn up harmlessly. They say that
this method would be useful up to altitudes of 500 km and would cost
about $700,000 per object retrieved based on lift costs estimated at
$3000 per pound [SM 39, p.265]. Thus to retrieve the 8000 objects
larger than 10 centimeters the cost would be about $5.6 billion.
Our suggestion is to use the beam weapons originally intended
for the Space Defence Initiative to vaporize the thousands of small
debris objects. Both the US and the CIS have invested billions of
dollars in the development of beam weapons. Let's get some practical
use out of them! The beams would be far superior to other methods
for knocking down debris because a moving beam can track a fast
moving target with very little propellant expenditure. The object
would simply be heated by focused lasers until it vaporized. The
US continues to invest billions in the SDI, so much of the needed
work is already being done.
5.4 Earth-moon transportation system
There is a critical need for a low cost earth-moon transportation
system. Many different schemes have been suggested for moving payloads
from the earth to the moon or vice versa such as the following: (1)
ordinary rockets, (2) a tether system, (3) electromagnetic projectile
launchers, (4) solar sails, (5) nuclear rockets, and (6) laser
propulsion systems. The driving factor in any earth to moon
transportation system is the cost of propellant. Many studies have
shown that 75% to 80% of the cost of any system is the cost of the
propellant. Thus its clear that systems which use little or no
propellant will be much cheaper than conventional systems, i.e.
rockets. Indeed one would expect at least a factor of four decrease
5.5 Heavy lift vehicles
Heavy lift vehicles such as Energia can lift payloads more
cheaply than ordinary rocket boosters. The reason is simple -
greater volume means greater efficiency which in turn means lower
average cost. NASA's problem (and therefore the US taxpayer's
problem) is that NASA doesn't have one.
Heavy lift vehicles are rockets which are capable of lifting
100,000 pounds or more. HLVs are viewed as necessary by nearly
everyone in the business to lift the large payloads needed to
support lunar bases and missions to Mars or the outer planets. The
US used to have a HLV called the Saturn 5, but charlatans in the
government and NASA succeeded in dumping the Saturn 5 for the space
shuttle. Now, when the US is faced with the high cost of space
station deployment, we have no HLV.
The following sections describe some of the heavy lift options
that are available.
5.5.1 Advanced launch system (ALS)
NASA and DOD have been talking about heavy lift vehicles
for years and finally in the fiscal 1992 and 1993 budget
requests actual line items appeared. The February 11,1991
issue of Aviation Week [AW 30, p.85] had the following data.
NASA funding of a new launch system was $23.9 million in fiscal
1991 and the request for fiscal 1992 was $175 million. Air
Force funding was $25 million in fiscal 1991 and the request
for fiscal 1992 was $147.7 million and for fiscal 1993 was
$251.1 million. Total funding will reach $550 million in
fiscal 1993 [AW 30, p.84].
In an article by J.R. Asker in Aviation Week [AW 32,
p.155-6] a few details began to emerge. The project is now
called the Advanced Launch Development Program (ALDP) instead
of the Advanced Launch System. It will carry payloads of up to
100,000 pounds to low earth orbit. According to NASA's
associate administrator for space flight, William B. Lenoir,
the goal is to keep operational costs below $100 million
per flight. ALDP aims for a cost of $2200 per kilogram of
payload [AW 32, p.156], but hopes it will drop to $660 per
In May of 1991, Aviation Week reported that the Office
of Technology Assessment estimated that the ALS would cost
about $9.5 billion over a period of 10 to 12 years [AW 35,
The ALS is the same program that is described in the next
section as an external tank derivative HLV.
5.5.2 External tank (ET) derivative
One of the candidates for a "new" heavy lift vehicle is
a derivative of the external tank which is used by the space
shuttle. An article by E.H. Kolcum that appeared in Aviation
Week [AW 43, p.58-60] on 8/26/91 described the proposal in
Martin Marietta Manned Space Systems believes that they
could build the National Launch System (NLS) using the ET
as its core. James McCown, VP at Martin Marrietta, said they
could deliver the first vehicle in 55 months and have an
operational system in 6 years (from go ahead).
The ET is 47 meters long and 8.5 meters in diameter. It
carries 145,138 gallons of liquid oxygen weighing about 627 metric
tons and 390,139 gallons of liquid hydrogen weighing about 104
metric tons - for a total of 731 metric tons of fuel. The original
tanks weighed 76,000 pounds but current ones weigh only 66,000
pounds. McCown says they could shave another 4,000-7,000 pounds
off by using aluminum-lithium alloys in part of the structure.
(At what exorbitant price one instantly wonders.)
A standard LOX-LH2 engine with 580,000 pounds of thrust
has been tentatively approved. A HLLV composed of four such
engines (one ET) and two solid boosters would be able to put
80,000 pounds (36,363 kg) into the space station's orbit
[AW 43, p.58].
Many people, such as Brian O'Leary have advocated using
the ET as a component of the space station. O'Leary notes
that the ET achieves 98% of orbital velocity and contains
as much as 10 tons of residual liquid oxygen and liquid
hydrogen [49, p.60-1]. Instead of throwing away the ET on
each shuttle flight, it could be boosted to the space station
and be utilized as living quarters or experimental areas. O'Leary
estimates it would require only 600 pounds of fuel per year
per ET to maintain them at the space station [49, p.61].
An update to this story appeared in the November 1991 issue
of Ad Astra (p.9-10). The new LOX-LH2 engine was then referred
to as the space transportation main engine (STME) and its thrust
had been upgraded to 275,000 kilograms. Consequently the lift
weight had also been increased to 45,000 kilograms from 36,363.
The first test firing will be the end of 1996 and the maiden
flight will be in the year 2000 [AA 8, p.10].
The estimated cost was given as $10.5 - $12 billion to be
split between NASA and DOD.
5.5.3 Saturn 5
The possibility of reviving the Saturn 5 rocket for use
as a heavy lift launch vehicle has received very little press
although it appears NASA is considering the possibility.
This is probably due to NASA's embarrassment over the colossal
blunder that they made when they abandoned the Saturn 5.
Thomas J. Freiling has made a careful analysis of the
Saturn 5 option. His analysis was detailed in an article
which appeared in Aviation Week [AW 35, p.67-8] on 5/29/91.
His basic overall scheme calls for keeping the F-1 engines
of the Saturn first stage, but replacing the J-2 engines of the
second and third stages with space shuttle main engines (SSMEs).
The following comparisons of the two engines was given:
* Feature J-2 SSME
weight(kg) 1,587 2,955
thrust(kg) 104,545 213,636
specific impulse 421 460
thrust to weight ratio 65.8 72.3
By using the SSMEs, greater lift capability could be
obtained than the Saturn 5 originally had - which was 140 tons
to LEO or 50 tons to the moon. Additional weight savings could
be made by using composite technology and/or aluminum to build
lighter weight fuel tanks.
"The second reason for reviving Saturn 5 technology is
infrastructure. Not all of the infrastructure that supported
Saturn 5 is gone and none is irretrievable" [AW 25, p.67].
"Several important elements remain including the Vehicle
Assembly Building, the crawlerways leading to the launch pads
and the transporters used to move the mobile launcher platforms."
Furthermore, blueprints still exist not only for the
Saturn 5 but also for the tooling to build the parts. Also
full scale mockups exist at KSC and JSC. Several flight
ready F-1 engines are in storage. In addition, an upgraded version
of the F-1 engine was developed which had a thrust of 1.8 million
pounds as compared to the standard verion which had a thrust of
1.5 million pounds [61, p.65].
Deputy NASA administrator J.R. Thompson has stated that
the first Saturn 5 firings could take place in 4-6 years
[AW 35, p.68]. No cost figures were given but clearly the risk is
significantly lower than many alternatives.
The Synthesis Group which was chaired by ex-astronaut Thomas
Stafford, recommended this approach also. Their recommendation
was as follows: "The Space Exploration Initiative launch
requirement is a minimum of 150 metric tons of lift, with designed
growth to 250 metric tons. Using Apollo Saturn 5 F-1s for booster
engines, coupled with liquid oxygen-hydrogen upper stage engines
(upgraded Saturn J-2s or space transportation main engines), could
result in establishing a heavy lift launch capability by 1998"
5.5.4 Energia (CIS)
On May 15, 1987 the Energia lifted off on its maiden
voyage. This massive booster has a core rocket which is
60 meters tall and 8 meters in diameter which burns LOX-LH2
[23, p.43]. This core is surrounded by up to six strap-on
boosters each 40 meters tall and 4.3 meters in diameter
which burn oxygen and kerosene [23, p.43]. The payload
which is enclosed in a 4.15 meter diameter shroud is strapped
onto the other side of the core. The entire system weighs
about 4000 MT and has a thrust of 5600 MT and is capable
of placing up to 220 MT into LEO [23, p.43].
According to a brief article in Ad Astra [AA 4, p.34],
the cost of an Energia launch is $600-$750 million. Thus the
cost per kilogram would be $2727 - $3409 which far less
than the cost of the space shuttle.
Clearly this is a viable HLV that could be available
on short notice. According to Nicholas Booth "NASA could
easily adapt its vehicle elements to be flown atop the
Soviet craft" [71, p.96].
Hidden on the last page of a congressional report called
"Exploring the Moon and Mars", the Office of Technology
Assessment had this to say, "the Soviet Union possesses the
world's only heavy-lift launch vehicle, capable of lifting
about 250,000 pounds to low-earth-orbit. It has offered to
make Energia available to the United States for launching
large payloads. .. the Soviet offer could assist in developing
US plans to launch large, heavy payloads, e.g. fuel or other
noncritical components of a Moon or Mars expedition. If these
cooperative ventures succeeded, they could be extended to
include the use of Energia to launch other payloads, perhaps
even a joint mission to the Moon or Mars" [63, p.104]. This
was written in the summer of 1991, before the demise of the
5.5.5 BDB - Big Dumb Booster
Over the years many people have advocated the "big
dumb booster" to no avail. One such advocate was Arthur
Schnitt, an engineer at The Aerospace Corp in the late 1960s.
A long article by Gregg Easterbrook in the 8/17/87 issue of
Newsweek detailed Schnitt's struggle against the NASA
establishment to sell the idea of a cheap booster [Ref 28,
Schnitt wanted to minimize costs. His basic idea was
"the lower the stage, the less the sophistication". Instead
of minimum weight, design for minimum cost. This would be
accomplished as follows:
* 1. Propellants would be storable like the ones used on
Titan or liquid oxygen and kerosene like Saturn 5
2. No turbo pumps would be used (to pump fuel)
3. No cooling system would be used, instead heat shields
would do the job
4. There would be no engine swivels on the lower stage.
5. The rocket would be built out of steel instead of
aluminum and specialty metals.
Schnitt couldn't interest NASA in his ideas. "He ran
into the inverse motivation that afflicts government agencies:
namely, they like programs to be expensive. Expensive programs
mean expanded empires and increased importance for the officials
running them" [28, p.50]. Schnitt said, "A lobbyist from
Martin Marietta told me, 'You're going to ruin the industry
if you persist in this. Think of your friends who will be out
of jobs if we cut costs.'" [28, p.50].
The lunar excursion module descent engine (LEMDE) was a
(small) dumb booster because NASA couldn't afford to have it
fail. TRW, who built LEMDE, decided to build a big one just
to see if it would work. It cost $20,000 and was built to
"shipyard production tolerances" , but it worked! They
throttled it up to 250,000 pounds of thrust [28, p.50] or
about half of the space shuttle main engine which costs
Finally the Air Force took some interest. The Air Force
Rocket Propulsion Laboratory under Donald Ross, deputy
director, developed and tested simple rockets with up to
5,000,000 pounds thrust. "We found there was really no limit
to how big you could make a rocket engine, so long as you
kept it simple", said retired Air Force Major Gen. Joseph
Bleymaier [28, p.52]. But "there was tremendous prejudice
at the Pentagon against anything that wasn't the highest
possible level of technology." The big dumb booster was
out, the space shuttle was in.
Even Boeing worked on a low cost booster with a thrust
of 2,000,000 pounds - called Project Scrimp.
The cost of orbiting a 50 ton payload with the Big
Dumb Booster was estimated to be $310 per pound or $682
per kilogram [28, p.50] in 1987 dollars.
Another heavy lift vehicle being considered by NASA is
the Shuttle-C. In an article in the July/August 1990 issue
of Ad Astra, it was estimated that development and performance
of the first flight test of the Shuttle-C would take 4 years
and cost $1.8 billion [AA 6, p.36-40].
The Shuttle-C is a cargo vehicle derived from the space
shuttle. It would use the same solid rocket boosters and
external fuel tank as does the space shuttle.
In place of the shuttle orbiter would be an unmanned cargo
pod equipped with 2 or 3 space shuttle main engines. It
could boost as much as 70 MT to the space station. Initial
development could be achieved in 4 to 4.5 years for about
$1.5 billion according to an article in Aviation Week in
December of 1990 [AW 63, p.19]. Flight testing would cost another
$600 million. The Office of Technology Assessment has estimated
that the incremental cost per launch would be $235 million
or about $3357 per kilogram of payload [AW 63, p.19].
In May of 1991 it was reported that NASA deputy administrator
J.R. Thompson said that development of the Shuttle-C would
take 6 years and cost $1.2 billion [AW 35, p.68]. At a
congressional hearing in the spring of 1990, NASA space flight
chief, William Lenoir said, "if you add up the development
costs as well as the costs of the vehicles, and modifications
to station hardware, the cost would be $3.7 billion for the
Shuttle-C" [AA 6, p.39].
5.5.7 Summary of heavy lift boosters
The preceding sections have reviewed most of the heavy
lift boosters. We can now summarize the available options.
* Booster Availability Development Lift Payload
( $ B ) (MT) $/kg
ALS(ET) 2000 12 45.45 2200?
Saturn 5 5 yrs 3-5? 150? ?
Energia 1987 0 220 2727
BDB 3 yrs? ? 50-100 700?
Shuttle-C 1998? 3.7 70 3357
Even a moron with his head bashed in could figure this
one out. Space station Freedom will take at least 19 and
perhaps as many as 29 space shuttle flights
[AA 6, p.39] to launch and outfit. The Energia could lift
everything in three or four flights costing significantly
less than the development costs of all other options!
The US could move up the deployment of space station Freedom
by two years by using the Energia and the space shuttle together.
If NASA and/or the DOD insist on development of a US heavy lift
vehicle, it will take at least 6 years and about $5 - $10 billion
in taxpayers' dollars.
LEO fuel depots could be deployed slowly, beginning when the
superguns become operational, provided the component design phase
begins at about the same time that the supergun development
begins. It will probably take two to three years to establish
The expansion of the depots into small space stations and
finally into space hotels would take several more years. Of
course, if it were taken up by some enthusiastic group like
Shimizu Corporation, it could probably be done in two or three
5.7 Political summary
1. Space stations will be the gateways through which the crews
of our future spaceships will pass. We need space stations to
serve as holding areas for people in transit and to help raise
money for future space projects. By passing thousands of tourists
through the space stations, we can raise significant funds and
expand our fleet of space planes.
2. The US should not spend the money to develop another heavy
lift vehicle. The Russians already have a heavy lift vehicle
called Energia. Let the Russians be the world leaders in heavy
lift vehicles. They have offered to make the Energia available for
3. The deployment of space station Freedom exclusively via the
space shuttle would be an extremely costly mistake. Use the
Energia to help deploy space station Freedom. US taxpayers could
save anywhere from $12 billion to $18 billion by sending up pairs
of Energias and shuttles. The Energia would lift most of the
components and the shuttle would lift the assembly crew. The space
station could be completed two years sooner with this approach.
4. Low earth orbiting fuel depots could be established with
low cost conventional powder guns such as Gerald Bull's supergun.
The fuel will be water (or ice) lifted from earth via the
superguns. These facilities could slowly be expanded (remotely)
into small space stations and eventually into space hotels - for
the tourist trade.
5. Before we suffer the loss of another space shuttle - this
time due to a collision with space debris - we must attempt to
eliminate the problem. Use the beam weapons developed for the
strategic defense initiative to destroy the space debris by simply
evaporating it. This would keep those workers in their jobs and
give them a legitimate purpose for their existence.