Der Tag

The day has finally come I dreaded for close to a decade. The billionaire hobbyist has sent his hobby rocket into Low Earth Orbit with a pair of unfortunate humans. Congrats to Bridenstine for “the win” and I hope he stays unsullied if something goes wrong.

90 Years Ago

In 1930 “the capitalist airship” R-100 flew the Atlantic and was hailed as the triumph of free enterprise over socialism. A few months later “the socialist airship” R-101 crashed and burned and the entire Imperial Airship Scheme was canceled. The R-100 was scrapped. There were several problems with airships that would seem to have made them impractical but I have addressed these in another post and they need not have passed into history if available solutions had been adopted.

It is interesting to speculate if airships had come into use and then been used as communication relays would a kind of satellite communication network have become available in the 1930’s.  As I write this the crew dragon is firing its draco thrusters. Packing the capsule with propellants and multiple engines instead of using a service module was an incredibly bad design choice. Much like airships- which had no double hull with an inert gas in the outer envelope isolating the inner lifting hydrogen from atmospheric oxygen. Because this very basic precaution was never taken it virtually guaranteed airships would burn like torches in the event of an anomaly.


Simple yet critical design difference: The Boeing Starliner has the abort system and load of hypergolic propellants below the capsule and with the ability to jettison the system. The Dragon has the engines and propellants wrapped around the capsule and cannot jettison the integral system. While a solid fuel rocket escape tower is the best option the Starliner is second best while the Dragon comes in third. One might wonder why an escape tower was not made recoverable and reusable and made a requirement by NASA. The answer is the dual purpose of these abort systems which SpaceX and Boeing both see as “money-makers” instead of “money-wasters.” Unfortunately there is no free lunch and the price is paid in vastly diminished crew safety.

The fundamental problem is the inability of the Space X and ULA launch vehicles to lift a spacecraft capable of leaving Earth Orbit. Low Earth Orbit (LEO) is a dead end and should have been abandoned long ago. Back to airships: Besides a double envelope the second requirement for airships to succeed was a pressurized cabin so the craft could fly above the turbulence that repeatedly tore them to pieces. The analogy with Human Space Flight (HSF) is the minimum requirement of sending craft Beyond Earth Orbit (BEO) to intercept shielded Lunar Cyclers instead of inferior lift vehicles placing humans in LEO to no purpose at all. The Moon is where the factories will be built.

The Space Shuttle was one of the worst wrong turns ever made by the Space Agency while NewSpace has undoubtedly been the worst. The strip mining of Earth orbit with smallsat constellations and the continuation of inferior lift vehicles to the space-station-to-nowhere has wasted mountains of money and years that should have been focused on a lunar return. When evidence for water ice was confirmed in 2008 this should have immediately pointed the U.S. back at the Moon and ended HSF operations in LEO.

The logical path was to invest in a evolved Super Heavy Lift Vehicle (SHLV) with ever more powerful iterations. The most critical need at this point is reusable boosters for the SLS and a reusable core engine module for the SLS. The ISS and commercial crew program should be ended and the funding redirected at opening new SLS core production lines and reusability of a core engine module and new boosters.

Published by billgamesh

Revivable Cryopreservation Advocate

12 thoughts on “Der Tag

  1. Why end human operations in LEO? Why not do both that plus operations on and around the Moon? It’s not as if the US doesn’t have the money, and there’s plenty of things we could build in LEO and then either move elsewhere or use there directly – everything from space tugs, to solar sails for probes, initial solar power satellites to prove that power beaming works and is cost-effective, to spacecraft that will only operate in space, and far more. LEO isn’t a dead end – it’s a springboard.

    Reusable boosters for SLS – do you mean reusable side boosters, or making the SLS core itself reusable?


    1. LEO is a complete dead end. Factories on the Moon yes, but 40 years of LEO space stations are enough! The original space shuttle expended a tank and that is the best design compromise possible considering chemical energy and the Earth’s gravity well. Reusable side boosters and a core engine module that separates from the core tank and returns, plus a wet workshop upper stage, is how to make the SLS what the Shuttle should have been. Thanks for your comment.


  2. Yo, I really feel like you should write a post on China’s space ambitions. Like they do everything you would want them to do. A government based HSF operation. LM-9 (with it’s thick payload) to develop Luna base for mining and factories in combination with asteroid collection. Nuclear shuttlecraft by 2040. Solid motor LES. Combining reusability into their systems. (LM-8 should launch later this year, though don’t know whether it will be reusable on first launch).



  3. I don’t understand why LEO *must* be a dead end. A dead end is a place where you can’t go anywhere else – such as a tunnel with no exit, or a path where there are no further opportunities. There are still plenty of opportunities in low Earth orbit, as I mentioned. LEO, MEO, GEO, lunar orbit, and more are all places that each have their own advantages and disadvantages. None of them is a dead end. Why not enable access to all of those orbits, potentially using lunar or asteroidal resources, instead of declaring ‘enough’ and doing something else? Especially when we can do both?

    Do you have any idea the development time needed to include reusable boosters and a returning core stage? Or the cost? I’d be interested to see estimates if you have any.


    1. For years I have stated unequivocally that LEO should not even be called “space.” Out to 22,236 miles should be called “Earth Orbit.” At that distance an object in orbit at the equator will more or less hover over one spot on the Earth. It also requires a relatively small amount of energy to leave GEO and so this should be the demarcation line where “space” actually begins. In 1968 humans left Earth for the first time on Apollo 8. We never should have come back to “Earth Orbit.” It was a huge mistake in terms of Human Space Flight (HSF). And that is essentially what separates space enthusiasts into two groups. One group, my group, which I will call the HSF group, is concerned with one thing: the survival imperative. Humankind establishing independent colonies off-world as an insurance policy against extinction level events. Gerard K. O’Neill was the prophet of space colonization and his followers early on concluded no natural body other than Earth was suitable for human habitation- and so promoted artificial hollow spinning moons, miles in diameter, as the next step.

      The other group is everyone else. And you are obviously one of them. That is why I consider LEO a dead end. GEO, not so much.

      As for reusable boosters for the SLS, the best candidate is a pair of New Glenn first stages.


  4. That’s quite the polemic, but it doesn’t answer my question. I don’t know why you’re assuming I’m against building large colonies on space. Quite the contrary – I hope they are found all over the solar system one day. When spending billions (or tens of billions) of dollars, it’s important not to make decisions solely from personal pique, especially if it’s taxpayer money. Simply because the ISS has been very expensive and hasn’t provided much value does not mean a colony in LEO *must* be the same. Nor does putting colonies in LEO preclude them from being in MEO, GEO, or far beyond Earth’s gravity well.

    I don’t think it’s quite that easy. Replacing the current solid rocket boosters with a pair of liquid boosters, while also redesigning the core stage to return itself, means a huge amount of design and testing, especially if we want it done safely. Have you looked into how much this might cost, or is this more of just a ‘wish? If the latter I understand, I’m just curious.


    1. “-it doesn’t answer my question.” I cited O’Neill and his vision was artificial worlds. Very large habitats constructed from lunar material will not be found in Earth orbit. If you had bothered to google O’Neill you would have had the answer to your question- or you are just ignoring the facts. This requirement I answer your question to your satisfaction indicates to me you are just arguing- doing what I call “robo-commenting.” I will not endlessly let you take my time and if you continue I will just ban you from this forum as I have several other people. Spending billions of tax dollars based on “personal pique” is essentially what NewSpace “entrepreneurs” specialize in. As for your booster naysaying…you go ahead and research how much it will cost and let me know. Your inference I am somehow fancifully wishing for something that is not practical or desirable is insulting. You are curious enough to use that kind of language again and I will say goodbye to you.


  5. I’ve read both The High Frontier and 2081 – I don’t need to Google his works to be familiar with what he says – but he explicitly depicts habitats in LEO, in addition to being in much higher orbits, and well beyond the orbit of Pluto. If he wasn’t against colonies in low Earth orbit, why should we be?

    Sheesh. I’m not naysaying, I was asking a question. I’m not attacking you at all. It’s an interesting concept, so I was hoping you had more information on it. You don’t, that’s fine. You’re not a victim, you don’t need to immediately become defensive if someone is curious about what you’re promoting. Isn’t it worthwhile to persuade others?


    1. O’Neill entertained many concepts in passing but he was essentially and primarily about habitats so large they would not be in any Earth orbit and would be near Earth’s orbit around the sun for several reasons- mainly for solar energy. You must know this and you are, again, just arguing for the fun of it. You just love walking that narrow line where you think you can get away with insulting people. Classic internet trolling. “You are not a victim” is code for “stop acting like a victim.” It is transparent. And you think I am going to keep playing your game? Goodbye- you are banned.


  6. -or perhaps (by the 2080s) fusion reactors. It’s all about engineering tradeoffs. From my outsider’s view, it appears you hate them mainly because NASA made very little progress with theirs.


    1. Same IP address you have used as, gosh, several other people… Puh-leez. Just because you are so persistent, you can keep posting but guess what? I am going to edit out whatever I do not like in your comment. If you have nothing good to say then you will not see it on this forum- just a sentence or two and that is all, no matter how much you write.

      The only two places fusion will ever happen in a useful way is in a star or a bomb. Fusion research has always been undercover weapons research or just plain scamming research money when it is obvious you cannot put a sun in a box. There are really no “engineering tradeoffs”- that is an excuse for going cheap and producing a bad design. You “hate” the truth and cannot accept someone criticizing your ideological bias. You are brainwashed.


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