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The Uninspirational End of Inspiration Mars

Another attempt to escape low earth orbit reined in by an unneeded rocket.

by
Rand Simberg

Bio

November 25, 2013 - 11:51 pm
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The first person to pay his own way to space, Dennis Tito, created quite a stir last February with his proposal to send a couple to Mars and back within five years. He proposed to do it as a private philanthropical venture, estimating that it could be done for less than a billion dollars, which was within the realm of financial possibility for such a project.

Well, this month he seems to have changed his tune. In testimony before Congress, he basically tossed the project in NASA’s lap, asking for its help, with taxpayer dollars:

…Inspiration Mars rolled out an alternative plan that relies on a public-private partnership with NASA that makes use of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and a modified Orion spacecraft, as well as commercial crew transportation systems. It would also rely primarily on NASA funding to make the mission possible. This proposal would, in effect, reshape national space policy, with a very short period for Congress and the White House to endorse this approach in order to meet its launch window.

“The way that we’re proposing this is that this is a NASA mission with a philanthropic partner contributing to the mission,” said Inspiration Mars Foundation program manager Taber MacCallum in a conference call with reporters Wednesday afternoon. “This has to be, first and foremost, a NASA mission.”

SLS supporters have been struggling to find something useful and affordable for it to do. The latest attempt by NASA to justify it was to use it to bring an asteroid to cis-lunar space, a goal that has met lukewarm response in Congress. Some are viewing this new proposal as a potential life preserver to the troubled program:

Under this plan the SLS development would be accelerated and validated. Inspiration Mars officials said they have found a “huge desire” within NASA to do this mission. If approved, the Mars fly-by would certainly rejuvenate NASA and inject some urgency into its operations.

The fly in the ointment is that it would require several hundred million dollars, to accelerate the development of both the launcher and a new cryogenic upper stage with sufficient impulse to throw the crew to Mars and back. If it’s not ready by late 2017, the window of opportunity will be lost. There’s another in 2021, but it’s a longer journey (though it does have the advantage of visiting Venus as well). Even if they can get Congress to appropriate funds for such a dramatic shift in policy (Tito believes that it has to happen within a couple months to hit their deadline), the risk of schedule slips will remain high, given the way NASA has managed such programs over the past few decades. Also, NASA issued a statement afterward that seemed to splash cold water on the proposal:

The agency is willing to share technical and programmatic expertise with Inspiration Mars, but is unable to commit to sharing expenses with them. However, we remain open to further collaboration as their proposal and plans for a later mission develop.

Many (including me) think that this is essentially the death knell for the project, at least in 2018.

Comments are closed.

All Comments   (12)
All Comments   (12)
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my neighbor's sister-in-law makes $84 hourly on the computer. She has been out of work for eight months but last month her pay check was $12581 just working on the computer for a few hours. straight from the source........... http://www.Bay95.com
47 weeks ago
47 weeks ago Link To Comment
"The latest attempt by NASA to justify it was to use it to bring an asteroid to cis-lunar space"

Ummm.... no.

The asteroid redirect mission based on the Keck report proposed using SEP vehicle to bring an asteroid to cis-lunar space.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
stacytcalderon
☝ ☝ ☝ ☝ ☝ ☝☝ ☝ ☝ ☝ ☝ ☝
my buddy's step-aunt makes $82/hour on the internet. She has been fired from work for 6 months but last month her pay check was $13120 just working on the internet for a few hours. look at this web-site..... http://www.jobs37.com

۩۞۩ஜ▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬▬ஜ۩۞۩ஜ
47 weeks ago
47 weeks ago Link To Comment
"....the possibility that these items were not commercially available for this particular mission, for political reasons. Both SpaceX and ULA are politically constrained by the need to avoid upsetting the SLS applecart by demonstrating its lack of need. "

This is a very believable rationale for why Musk has kept the details of his "Big rocket" under wraps, with only the Raptor engine poking out from underneath. The Big Rocket would launch more than the SLS and it would be reusable. This means that the wraps will come off the Big Rocket as soon as the commercial crew program winner(s) are decided.

Another misconception by some is that there is no use for a big rocket on Mars expeditions. There is definitely no use for an expendable big rocket. While we do not need or want to launch Battlestar sized payloads, a wide, reusable booster is actually needed to launch bulky payloads that will enter the Mars atmosphere. We need the ferries or landers to be wide to slow down as much as possible, to save fuel during landing. Unlike a modular space station, they cannot be assembled in orbit any more than a shuttle could be assembled in orbit. Current Ferry designs are only 30 tons empty and dry, but they are almost 50 feet across at the base. We really need a 10 meter wide booster with a reverse fairing to launch such a wide payload. At least it does not need a shroud. Essentially all other needed payloads can be launched on a 27 foot diameter booster, and many can be launched on existing narrower boosters.

I agree with ""fried fish" that we need the unglamorous infrastructure, such as space logistics bases, to launch Mars expeditions, but the logistics base should be at L1, and use lunar derived fuel from polar ice. There is no point in landing Mars vehicles on the moon and then launching them again. That would waste about 5.2 kilometers per second (delta-V) of fuel use compared to starting from L1. What you do land on the moon is ice mining equipment, fuel electrolyzers and condensers, and fuel tankers. L1 is only 12 hours from any point on the moon. Once such a transportation system is created, going to Mars will be much cheaper and much safer.

I generally sympathize with these private Mars efforts, but wish that the same money could be put into real hardware development so that we never do another flags and footprints mission again, even a private one.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
I still don't see why it couldn't be done as a lottery. Hell, look at PowerBall and MegaMillions. They generate billions of dollars a year. I would probably drop a twenty on the chance to go to the red planet and I'm sure there are a hundred million or so like-minded people on the planet.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Cheap space travel requires BIG energy. And that means nuclear. We will never have practical space travel until we overcome our fear of nuclear power.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
" within a couple months" ... "purchase a couple flights"

It's "a couple of months", "a couple of flights", Mr. Simberg.


Unless, of course, you are auditioning for membership in that elite group of people known as "The Ignorati."

These are, alas, now the majority, hence our recent election results.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
I am uneasy with the continual advertising of man-to-Mars missions.

Especially when there is an absence of the needed - and unglamorous - infrastructure needed for a commercially affordable man-to-Mars missions.

First, is the Moon chopped liver? The purpose of a propulsion system is to give - for a given amount of fuel - the maximum momentum to the payload. The more momentum, the more kinetic energy. With the rocket set-up, most of the kinetic energy is allocated to the rocket exhaust. If one envisage a launching system like the ones on an aircraft carrier - a sling-type launcher - then most of the kinectic energy is allocated to the payload.

The Moon is an ideal launchpad for the man-to-Mars mission. The Moon's atmosphere is near vacuum. Yes, there are some electrostatic effects from the fine Moon powder and those associated problems are solvable. An electromagnetic rail system, going for, say, 1000 km (about 1/10 the circumference of the Moon). The construction of such a rail system - along with the array of solar panels to power them - can be robotically some of it autonomously and the rest remotely by humans.

Focus more on Moon first, then Mars.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
They're still pitching that stupid Orion system??

C'mon. Seriously? 1960's: Let's put a 3 guys in a can and put them on top of a pile of explosives and see if they come back down.

21st CENTURY BRAND NEW SUPER-COOL TECH IDEA: Let's put FOUR guys in a can and put them on top of a pile of explosives and see if they come back down! It's TOTALLY new!

Anyone remember when we were designing space ships like the X-15? The Rutans still do.

Orion
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
I don't believe an asteroid will ever be permitted anywhere near the Earth, mostly for political reasons coming from anyone not directly in control of it.

Being a danger to the Earth if a mistake is made would be another reason. Since an asteroid would make a ready source for guided kinetic missiles able to reach any spot on Earth, the language of the SALT II treaty would probably be vague enough to halt any project.

The Chinese would be extremely nervous about a devastating weapon that is non-nuclear since they would be loathe to retaliate with nukes, but still be under a mountain of kinetic rain that could take out dams, bridges and other infrastructure without threatening the survival of a nation.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
The Keck report suggested retrieving a 7 meter asteroid, small enough it would burn up harmlessly in the upper atmosphere should it be sent earthward.
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
"The Chinese would be extremely nervous about a devastating weapon that is non-nuclear since they would be loathe to retaliate with nukes,"

On the contrary, I think the Chinese are eager to use nukes on the U.S.

They are not ready yet, but when they decide they are, it will only be a matter of looking for a plausible provocation by us.

48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
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