Interesting. Go to SpaceX’s website (http://www.spacex.com/press.php?page=20120803)and look at the video of their plans for a fully-resuable Falcon launch vehicle (http://www.spacex.com/multimedia/videos.php?id=1&cat=recent). There are a couple of things to note. First of all, very little upgrade is required to make the vehicle fully reusable; it’s essentially the same Falcon with stuff added. Secondly, the Falcon is designed to be manufacturable. The engines for the upper and lower stage are basically the same, the strap-on boosters for the Falcon heavy are simply the same as the first stage, with nose cones. This means that one assembly line can produce any variant on the vehicle with no retooling.
This is what NASA should have been doing since 30 years ago: developing fully reusable launch vehicles. As G. Harry Stine pointed out in his book “Halfway to Anywhere”, a study of single-stage-to-orbit technologies and their ramifications, simply using a fully-reusable launch vehicle which can be launched and flown over and over again in a manner similar to an airliner, you can drop launch costs by better than a factor of 10, if not 100. Unfortunately, NASA has been ruled by the “ammunition paradigm” and a fear of failure since Apollo. You can’t make progress if you can’t allow for failure. (That doesn’t mean you kill people, but you can lose vehicles – see the history of the X-aircraft for how this should be done). Unfortunately, NASA has blown every opportunity to develop fully-reusable vehicles that they’ve tried. I’m particularly miffed at their treatment of the DC-X SSTO (Single-Stage-To-Orbit) concept vehicle built by McDonnell Douglas for DARPA and taken over by NASA after a very successful series of test flights. NASA destroyed it, through a mechanic’s error, and abandoned the program. The basic concept is now being pursued by Armadillo Aerospace.
Well, it took 50 years, but perhaps we’re finally on our way to a commercial utilization of space. Despite NASA.
2. We don’t need to throw NASA under the bus. They accomplished miracles. Now if you mean “despite Congress”, I’m with you. I think it was Jerry Pournelle who pointed out that one of the shuttle explosions was caused by the need to build the SRB at a certain location.
Copyright © 2005-2012 PJ Media All Rights Reserved. v1.70