Monday, July 30, 2007

ALOHA to the Moon

Jim Benson's company built the engines for Spaceship One. At the ILO conference in Silicon Valley, Benson showed us this video of a planned Moon mission. His Spacedev company has a record of delivering things on time and on cost. Rhetorically he asked, "Why not buy from Spacedev instead of re-inventing the wheel?"

Private industry has long believed they can send things into Space cheaper than NASA. Like Hubble, the International Lunar Observatory will eventually need servicing. Spacedev has conceived a mission that would service ILO and incidentally put people back on the Moon. While NASA estimates 100 billion for their Moon plan, Spacedev estimates their cost at less than 3 billion US.

Benson's plan links technology already being developed. Bigelow Spacehab modules would be prepositioned between Earth and Moon. A crew would shuttle from Earth in the orbital version of Benson's Dreamchaser. Upon reaching lunar orbit, 4 astronauts would descend to the Moon in Lunar Human Access (ALOHA) chairs. What a ride that would be! These open vehicles would be much simpler than the Lunar Surface Access Module NASA is designing. The crew would stay in Spacehab modules already landed on the Moon.

One drawback of this plan is the large number of launches. A failure or delay in just one vehicle could scrub the whole mission. For this reason Scott Horowitz and NASA prefer sending as much as possible in one big rocket. Despite this, Benson's plan is so cool that it should be developed in parallel.

As you know, advanced spacesuits are being developed for the Moon. Most Moon plans assume 150 kg for the mass of a crewmember. That assumes spacesuits weighing as much as the 83 kg Apollo suits. If your suit and backpack weigh 23 kg you have saved 1/3 of payload mass. Hire one of us 50 kg astronauts and you have saved HALF the mass per crewmember. Using lighter suits leads to enormous savings in weight, fuel and dollars.

As reported here, NASA's plan for the Moon is moving forward. In parallel, other Space programmes are working toward the same goal. Private industry is more open to innovations (like a lighter spacesuit) that can eventually be used by NASA. By using new ideas, we can all reach the Moon. Riding one of those ALOHA chairs would be worth the trip!

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sexism likely doubled the cost of our first moon mission. Had nasa chosen the logical course of sending women the payload sould have been much less. Why not 40 kilogram astronauts?

9:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting, but program cost wasn't *that* closely coupled to payload (which includes crew) weight...

11:10 AM  
Blogger L. Riofrio said...

No argument here about choosing slender women as astronauts. I don't drink before flight, either.

The weight savings won't necessarily save program cost, but would be great for supplies, fuel, etc.

12:26 PM  
Blogger Brian Dunbar said...

A failure or delay in just one vehicle could scrub the whole mission. For this reason Scott Horowitz and NASA prefer sending as much as possible in one big rocket

The Navy and Marines figured this one out a long time ago.

Assemble a task force, send them to take an island in the Pacific from Japanese. Mission planners estimate that 10% of the task force will be sunk enroute or experience delays. It would be a bummer if the transport with all of your field kitchens (or tanks or flamethrowers) were sunk on the way. You'd have to eat cold rations. Ick.

So they load up a given ship with a few kitchens, a few flamethrowers, a few tanks .. even out the load so any one ship is a loss not a tragedy.

Of course naval transports don't cost a few bazillion each.

2:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the video!

Hopefully NASA would consider this option, as SpaceDev could not only make lunar trips more affordable, but enable our species to actually build mini communities on the moon.

I can see why NASA would be hesitant to rely on NewSpace (as they don't want to put all their eggs in untested baskets) but if SpaceDev can pull this off, NASA could focus on other things--like getting us to Mars.

6:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the video. It looks like a very complex mission. Similar to NASA I have to wonder if that level of complexity is needed. It will be very interesting to see if they pull this off. I'm looking forward to watching the commercial attempts at space programs.

4:36 AM  

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