NASA Selects Companies For Heavy-Lift Launch Vehicle Studies

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Guest : NASA Selects Companies For Heavy-Lift Launch Vehicle Studies
Nov. 08, 2010

WASHINGTON -- NASA has selected 13 companies for negotiations leading to potential contract awards to conduct systems analysis and trade studies for evaluating heavy-lift launch vehicle system concepts, propulsion technologies, and affordability.

The selected companies are:

Aerojet General Corp., Rancho Cordova, Calif.
Analytical Mechanics Associates, Huntsville, Ala.
Andrews Space, Tukwila, Wash.
Alliant Techsystems, Huntsville, Ala.
The Boeing Co., Huntsville, Ala.
Lockheed Martin Corp., Huntsville, Ala.
Northrop Grumman Systems Corp., Huntsville, Ala.
Orbital Sciences Corp., Chandler, Ariz.
Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, Canoga Park, Calif.
Science Applications International Corp., Huntsville, Ala.
Space Exploration Technologies Corp., Hawthorne, Calif.
United Launch Alliance, Centennial, Colo.
United Space Alliance, Huntsville, Ala.

The awards total approximately $7.5 million with a maximum individual contract award of $625,000. Each company will provide a final report to help lay the groundwork for the transportation system that could launch humans to multiple destinations, including asteroids, Lagrange points, the moon and Mars.

"These trade studies will provide a look at innovative launch vehicle concepts, propulsion technologies, and processes that should make human exploration missions more affordable," said Doug Cooke, associate administrator of NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate at the agency's Headquarters in Washington. "If we are to travel beyond low-Earth orbit, industry's collaboration is essential to reduce the cost associated with our future exploration goals and approaches and make the heavy-lift vehicle affordable to build and fly."

The studies will include heritage systems from shuttle and Ares, as well as alternative architectures and identify propulsion technology gaps including main propulsion elements, propellant tanks and rocket health management systems. The reports will include assessments of various heavy-lift launch vehicle and in-space vehicle that use different propulsion combinations. The companies will examine how these combinations can be employed to meet multiple mission objectives.

NASA will use the recommendations to evaluate heavy-lift launch vehicle concepts and propulsion technologies for affordability that will be required to enable robust and sustainable future exploration missions.


Thanks for the linik.

Has anyone seen updates to the HEFT document?


"If we are to travel beyond low-Earth orbit, industry's collaboration is essential to reduce the cost associated with our future exploration goals and approaches and make the heavy-lift vehicle affordable to build and fly."

The first question to ask is, what is the mission and payload, who will pay for it, and what benefits will it provide that make it a worthwhile investment for a country seriously in debt? In fact, we need to make access to LEO affordable as well.

That said, reliance on heritage systems for launch vehicles is a serious mistake, resulting in acceptance of known risks and high operational costs. The heritage components arbitrarily forced into the Ares I design by Mr. Griffin, particularly the SRBs and the entire LC-39 infrastructure, supported only by the very seriously biased Launch Systems Architecture Study, resulted in a launch vehicle with at least five times the processing cost of the Delta IV and Falcon, with essentially the same performance. It would be a comparable error to require the contractor to use LC-39. It's an expensive facility and such choices should be up to the contractor. Even for liquid propulsion using heritage designs like the SSME, F-1 and J-2 makes little sense, since all use tube-wall nozzle fabrication which is no longer the state-of-the-art.

That said, the major force today pushing for using SRBs and other heritage components in a new launch vehicle seems to be Congress. Obviously SpaceX and Boeing have no such bias since they already advertise all-liquid-propulsion HLLV concepts, and from what I have read Lori Garver is similarly inclined. Should anyone try to bias the decision this time there are enough companies in the competition that those who don't win will be in a good position to raise rational objections.


If Space X can get some seed monies to start development work on the Merlin 2 as an alternative 1st stage vehicle design then even if NASA later cancels the project, at least the development work would have been started. Companies are loathed to quit on projects that can make them lots of money in the future. If the prospects of the Merlin 2 development look good, no insurmountable and costly development problems, then Space X would probably continue the development at probably a slower pace, but maybe not. Without having to do all those NASA reports they could possibly do more with a lot less costs.

It is always possible that NASA may revert to the Apollo method of doing a launch vehicle, individual contracts for individual parts or stages, with possibly Space X building the first stage and Boeing the second stage using a J-2X, instead of hiring one contractor to do a total vehicle. Shuttle and Ares were also like this, except they had a primary vehicle operator and then the secondary hardware providers. A Space X triple core Falcon X 1st stage would be recoverable, making a significant overall vehicle cost savings. Using a high performance 2nd stage increases the payload capability and destination flexibility such as TLI or Interplanetary.

But in the end this NASA contract sounds more like a fishing expedition by MSFC to find out capabilities for potential hardware and their costs, a solicitation for hardware advertisements. There are some interesting possibilities that may crop up: using a Falcon X 1st stage core as a liquid booster replacement for the solid boosters (they both have 3.6mil lbf and both are reusable) and using a Falcon X or using a Falcon 9 Heavy as a replacement for Ares 1 for lifting Orion.


You raise some interesting possibilities. SpaceX would obviously prefer something like COTS for HLLV, with virtually no NASA oversight. And having sat in interminable NASA meetings over decades, I can't blame them a bit; SpaceX completed an actual launch of Falcon while NASA was still deciding how much redundancy Ares needed. Under no circumstances would I suggest that NASA design the rocket, and the all clean-sheet, all in-house one-shop approach of SpaceX is probably optimal. Organizational interfaces are not cheap. Tax dollars are still being spent to complete interface control documents for parts of the Ares I. Just completing the documents takes years. And of course the people involved are bitter over the Obama administration's supposed lack of direction in trying to cancel the program.

But the critical question is, why are we building an HLLV? If HLLV is simply a bigger COTS, so the US can have something to compete with the Ariane or its successors in the commercial market, to launch the next generation of comsats, orbital hotels, even commercial launch of new ISS modules, then it could be a valuable national asset. If it's for another version of Constellation, sending a few astros to the Moon, Mars, or an asteroid at taxpayer expense, then I seriously doubt it will fly. Judging by the new Congress, NASA is headed for cuts, not increases as Obama requested.


Wayne Hale comments on privatization

See this from November 14 ... aceflight/

Basically, Mr Hale thinks the attitude of an entrenched middle-management at NASA will sabotage the plans of NASA's leaders to outsource boosters and spacecraft.

The result: another pile of million dollar bills burning with nothing tangible in return.


Re: Wayne Hale comments on privatization : Trying to clean up a mess
Posted on November 17, 2010 by waynehale

I have come to regret posting my essay on the coming wreck over commercial space flight. There are two reasons why.

First reason is that this has become a vehicle for all sorts of anti-NASA venom. I blame myself for not having the foresight to know that many folks would hijack my thoughts for their own purposes. To those folks who think that there is some sort of cabal at NASA trying to kill commercial space flight by over regulating it, or are trying to preserve their own civil service jobs by building in unnecessary work, I say nuts. Nothing could be further from the truth. The folks who have worked in spaceflight safety all their careers and who built the requirements document under discussion are trying their hardest to build a good system. I just think they need a course adjustment.

Secondly, it has been brought to my attention that some people in Washington are using my criticism to say that the nation should not fund commercial space flight development. Sigh. My old boss Bill Gerstenmaier always counseled me to be very careful of what I said or wrote because it could be used by political forces against us in ways that we could not imagine. I was never very good at keeping my mouth shut, and diplomacy is not my best skill, so I knew it was time to retire when the agency wanted to move me to Washington.

Neither of these are the effect I intended when sharing my thoughts with you.
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