Friday , August 19 2022

NASA's advertisement could signal a paradigm shift for deep space travel


NASA is now considering the idea of ​​using commercial missiles to launch a critical mission around the Moon next year instead of using a massive rocket built by the agency in the last decade. Such a drastic change would not only make up for flight plans for this particular mission, but could also have major implications for how ambitious space travel programs will be implemented in the future.

The incentive for this new commercial focus is to maintain a schedule for launching the agency. NASA's missile, the Space Launch System, or the SLS, lasts much longer than expected and is unlikely to be ready for flight to its current launch date in June 2020, while other commercial vehicles are already on the market ready to fly immediately.

Making this revision would not be a simple substitution. NASA should not have any commercial missiles than two for the mission to happen. The agency will also have to develop new technologies and invent how to compile specific vehicles in the universe to ensure that its mission can indeed make it to the moon.

It is a process that will require a lot of time and effort, and there is no guarantee that this can be done by next year. But if NASA can use this monumental change to commercial vehicles, the agency can only demonstrate a new trip method in a deep space that relies on multiple launch of smaller vehicles and does not necessarily require massive missiles for success. That could ultimately save NASA a lot of time and money by freeing up funds for more ambitious things.

Space tugs

For this upcoming mission, NASA wants to send two heavy aircraft to a three-week trip around the Moon next year: an empty crew capsule called Orion and a piece of cylindrical hardware that provides power and support to a capsule called the European Service Module. Together, two vehicles need a lot of fuel to free Earth's gravity and reach the extreme distance of the Moon. The SLS is so powerful it will be able to send the pair up to that distance in just one launch.

But if NASA decides to fly commercially, there is currently no vehicle that is powerful enough to send both Orion and its module together in the vicinity of the Moon. The two most powerful commercial missiles in the US include SpaceCs' s Falcon Heavi and Delta IV Heavi from the United Launch Alliance. While both are impressive vehicles, neither one can coincide with what the SLS will do when it's complete.

SpaceKs and ULA

That would require two missiles. One missile would launch Orion and a European service module in Earth's orbit, where they would in essence remain "parked" for a short time. The other rocket would then launch what is known as a space shuttle, which is essentially another rocket with its own fuel and engine. The tractor and Orion would merge into orbit, and the tractor's engine would light up, launching vehicles all the way to the Moon. "It's similar to a tractor tractor farm or equipment for agriculture," says Dallas Bienhoff, founder of Cislunar Space Development, which focuses on building a deep space infrastructure. The Verge. "It's a drive unit."

This concept of using space travel for deep space travel has been promoted for decades. NASA began to study the concept in the 1960s and 1970s, and a NASA official described them as necessary for "transferring speeds to other bodies in space." planned orbits. However, spacecraft can be launched alone, staying in space to fasten to other vehicles and encourage them where they need to go.

Spacecraft can change the way NASA has been doing its human mission in deep space for decades. "One of the questions that we have as a space industry, which led us to the Space Launch system, is to insist that we put all the masses on the mission for one launch," says Bienhoff, who also explored the technologies needed for space tugs at Boeing. Running the entire hardware in this way can become cumbersome. Earth's gravity attraction is quite strong, so sending heavy equipment far from our planet requires a lot of extra power, and, in turn, a lot of extra fuel. To get all this fuel into space, you need a large rocket, and the larger the rocket, the more fuel you need to raise the rocket and cargo from Earth. So, the cycle goes, with larger and larger loads that require larger missiles for deep space.

Artistic view of the future SLS.
Image: NASA

As rockets grow, they become more and more expensive to launch. And the cost has certainly become a problem for the SLS. It is estimated that NASA has spent $ 14 billion in the development of a rocket in the last decade, and the vehicle has not yet been completed. Once completed, it is expected to launch only once or twice a year for a year at around $ 1 billion. For comparison, Delta IV Heavi costs about $ 350 million per launch, while Falcon Heavi starts with just under $ 100 million. Only two launches of any of these vehicles cost well under one SLS launch.

Spacecraft could also save on costs in the future by simply staying in the universe when they finish with their jars. For example, a tractor pulling hardware to the moon could then return to low Earth orbit and wait for recharging. The other rocket could then lift the drive from Earth, land with a tractor and transfer fuel. This would allow the spacecraft to pull another object into a deep space, which is a task that can over and over again, saving on additional launches.

In the space

Of course, another skill that is needed to do all this is a way to agree with these jars. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine admitted that the Orion crew capsule, as it is now designed, has no ability to meet and land with a tractor. "From now until June 2020, we need to make this reality," he said during a Senate hearing, citing landing.

However, this type of landing is not a new practice. The Russian capsule Sojuz has long been automatically approved by the International Space Station, bringing crew to the orbit laboratory. SpaceKs's Crev Dragon has also demonstrated its ability to agree with the ISS on a recent test flight without the crew input, using a set of sensors and lasers to get closer and turns lightly on the port on the outside of the station. "The LIDAR and machine vision systems used by Crev Dragon to independently fit the station are some of the sensors you can use to produce and install in space," Andrev Rush, CEO and President Made In Space, a company that develops 3D printing and construction in space, says The Verge.

SpaceKs's Crev Dragon automatically agreed with the International Space Station on March 4th.
Photo: NASA

Attaching critical parts to space allows engineers to travel large missiles. Instead of sending everything in one piece, you can run smaller pieces, then merge the hardware together when it's in orbit. In this way, you do not need to first build a spacecraft on the ground. It was a problem for certain complex missions, such as NASA's future space observatory, James Webb Space Telescope, which does not fully fit into the rocket it launches. The spacecraft is so large and complex that it has to be launched into space, and then developed over two weeks. If this process goes wrong, the telescope may not work properly in the universe, which will end a mission worth more than $ 9.66 billion.

But with space gathering or additive space production, there is no need to first build a vehicle on Earth. "With the expansion of equipment through a few launches, and then using production and assembly in space, we can achieve this in a much more cost-effective way than launching that kind of monolithic space ship," says Rush.


However, all these changes have a price. According to Bridenstein, landing and installation in the area are considered risky maneuvers. "Anchoring a vehicle with a crew in the Earth's orbit to get the Moon adds complexity and risk that is undesirable," he wrote in a letter to NASA employees. Additionally, launching hardware in parts means that more missiles will be needed for a mission in a deep space, and this is not good for some people. Several experts and lawmakers argue that launching more launches opens up a number of risk options, as one of the initiations could ruin and jeopardize the mission. "The committee's perspective is to go, and we go hard … unlike a little bit," the tail said. Frank Lucas (R-OK) this week during a hearing on the home science committee.

The use of commercial start-up vehicles will not be easy for this mission. Currently, engineers verify Orion for the upcoming launch by running simulations based on SLS design. In order to replace them with commercial vehicles, they would have to postpone all those works and start making new simulations based on data from new vehicles. It would also completely change the flight profile, which would require additional preparation work. "If the profile of the mission changes, which seems inevitable given the less opportunities of any other vehicle compared to SLS, much of the work is no longer relevant," says Lockheed Martin, an employee at Orion, who did not want to publicly talk about a retaliation case , says The Verge. Therefore, meeting the launch date in June 2020 seems unlikely.

Then there is a political opposition that will safely prevent this change from happening. Lawmakers in the Congress, especially those from Alabama, where the SLS is building, are likely to fight to keep the Orion car on a massive NASA rocket. And since the Congress eventually approves NASA's budget and dictates how the agency can use federal funds, lawmakers could determine that Orion remains at the SLS.

By introducing this change, NASA has the opportunity to show a brand new type of approach to sending people into a deep space – one that has never been used before. While launching into pieces may be more complicated, it could save money and time, which are two things NASA does not have in abundance. Perhaps the future mission of NASA on the Moon will not rely on massive missiles, but to smaller vehicles that are more likely to launch and fulfill the same tasks.

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