“In 1969, the Space Task Group proposed a plan for the post-Apollo future space program. One component was a space tug so crewed flight between the Earth-orbiting space station and the lunar-orbiting space station, from there to the lunar surface. For budget and other reasons, President Nixon rejected this plan, ultimately approving only the space shuttle.”
We see the results of Nixon going cheap. If liquid rocket boosters had been used instead of the SRB’s it is highly likely an iteration of the Space Transportation System would still be going strong today.
What we know now a half century later is that cosmic radiation makes long duration missions Beyond Low Earth Orbit (BLEO) in the “Cislunar Sea” problematic. Not only dosing but debilitation makes any multi-year human activities in space without a Near Sea Level Radiation 1 Gravity (NSLR1G) environment to be ruinous to health and simply unacceptable. Young females are especially vulnerable to damage and higher risks of cancer from dosing and debilitation.
We now know the best form of the space tug proposed in 1969 is the “Lunar Cycler.” A fleet of Cyclers might be the superhighway connecting a lunar industrial infrastructure with Earth. The stumbling block is exactly what doomed the Space Shuttle; going cheap. There is no cheap. The biggest obstacle to expanding humankind into space right now is “NewSpace” which only allows “entrepreneurs” and the profit motive to determine how we leave Earth. This path is even more certain to fail than the Space Shuttle which was sold on it’s relative cheapness and ability to “pay for itself.” Only massively shielded crew compartments and tether generated artificial gravity systems are going to enable humans to live in space for years at a time. These constructs will mass in the thousands of tons. Water as shielding brought up from the Moon using 20 to 25 times less energy than from Earth to double-hulled “Fat Workshops” are the most practical solution.
The new administration has the opportunity to address Climate Change by proposing Space Solar Power satellite factories on the Moon as the ultimate solution. A “Green New Space Deal.” The prerequisite is a state sponsored program of Super Heavy Lift Vehicle launches of 6 to 8 lunar missions per year- to start with. The ISS needs to end and those funds redirected, and iterations of the SLS with reusable boosters and a reusable engine module, as well as a very large diameter upper stage double hulled wet workshop, are the fundamental building blocks. The obvious source to pay for this is the DOD. A pipeline of fat workshops going to Low Lunar Orbit (we now know there are sustainable “frozen orbits”) and then utilized as Lunar Cyclers and GEO platforms can also provide, by mating nuclear propulsion modules, true spaceships.
These spaceships could carry nuclear devices to deflect impact threats and conceivably replace the present strategic deterrent of terrestrial delivery systems. An Earth free of nuclear weapons, powered from space carbon free. As envisioned by Gerard K. O’Neill, lunar resources and space solar power would be the economic engine eventually enabling the colonization of space.
“We are still on track to take the first woman to the moon by 2024 and complete a Mars landing by 2029.”
Possible to orbit the Moon by 2024 but the Mars statement is, in my opinion, totally impossible. Simply because radiation, that elephant in the room NASA does not like to talk about, is just too ruinous to health, and added to debilitation, is not going to allow humans to go anywhere without massive shielding and artificial gravity. And it might as well be added that shielding will be lunar water lifted with 20 to 25 times less energy than from Earth, and a tether generated artificial gravity system several thousand feet long. A minimum thousand tons of water and roughly equal masses spinning around each other would be a “true spaceship” and we will not be seeing that by 2029.
The SLS may get us to the Moon a half dozen times but much more powerful reusable boosters will be needed to replace the SRB’s and the engine module will need to be recoverable and reusable. This future iteration will require funding…now. And it will essentially be what the shuttle should have been; more lift than the Saturn V with a core stage tank as the necessary sacrifice to the rocket equation. The best way to begin that is to end the ISS ASAP and redirect those resources.
“You’re right: in the 1960s, NASA defined a bold goal, determined the best way to accomplish it, and told industry what to build to make it happen. Those days are over. Today industry decides what it wants to build, their senators tell NASA that it must accomplish things that way, and NASA is left to awkwardly try to explain how this fits into some kind of coherent goal. What a sad state of affairs.”
You’re wrong: in the 2020’s, NASA is still the Space Agency of the United States of America and “those days” are NOT over. Not if the New Administration tells the public those days are back.
A Super Heavy Lift Vehicle carries that refueling depot with it and goes direct to the Moon. The very raison d’etre of the Saturn V. Not only does a SHLV make depots unnecessary, but diving down through the Van Allen belts to within a few hundred miles of the Earth’s surface to a rendezvous as an everyday maneuver is….far more that just putting gas in your car. It is a mess popularized by NewSpace as the small rocket snake oil cure for all difficulties.
If “relying on smaller rockets plus propellant depots” will allow more frequent missions why does the SpaceX “Super Heavy” have over 11 million pounds of thrust? Quoting NewSpace dogma, which was useful in promoting the inferior lift Falcon 9 in years past, quickly gets SpaceX promoters into trouble.
The Super Heavy is a booster design in the right thrust range but with only one problem- the Raptor engines are about one quarter as powerful as the Saturn V F-1 and thus four times too many. The Starship is not a good design at all being simply an attempt at creating a shuttle variant that does not expend an external tank. It has no escape system for starters- a fundamental mistake of the shuttle it repeats.
Once NASA gets out the way? NASA did accomplish reusable boosters- the Shuttle SRB’s each had almost half a million pounds more thrust than the Falcon 9. The shuttle was actually a Saturn V class launch vehicle that wasted most of it’s lift on the Orbiter. The Falcon is a much less powerful vehicle which uses too many smaller engines. The Crew Dragon has a poorly designed escape system that packs over 3000 pounds of hypergolic propellants into a small capsule. The P.R. hype of their products and the endless damning of NASA by a legion of fanboys has made it obvious who the “main obstacle” is. The NewSpace ideology of “smaller-cheaper-no Moon-NASA inept” has done a great deal of unrealized and profound damage to space exploration.