Aviation Week & Space Technology

Podcast: The Future of Heavy-Lift Space Launchers

Jun 30, 2017

NASA’s Space Launch System is moving at a glacial pace. In the meantime, commercial space companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin are pressing ahead. Who will win the race to Mars? Listen in as our editors discuss.

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Discuss this Video 20

on Jul 1, 2017

What a horrible waste of taxpayers money when SpaceX and Blue Origin Have super heavy lifters in development that can do the job for fractions of the cost -- and are reusable; we should save the Orion Capsule design, but ditch the rest of it. SpaceX will be ready for the Mars mission far before NASA. We have already wasted $100's of billions on different Space Shuttle replacement attempts -- Scrap it or sell the stuff to a private company that can do something with it !

on Jul 3, 2017

Orion doesn't do anything that Dragon cannot do. Orion is also a waste of money.

on Jul 3, 2017

The manned Dragon does a rocket landing witch makes it better than Orion.

Go SpaceX !!!

on Jul 3, 2017

The Orion is designed for the high radiation of deep space. The manned Dragon is for protected orbital missions. Perhaps the Red Dragon will have additional shielding. For now the Orion is the only deep space vehicle anyone has.

on Jul 3, 2017

According to SpaceX material that's incorrect. Dragon 2 was designed for beyond LEO from the start. I don't work for them, or anyone with direct connection. Just going off public info.

on Jul 3, 2017

For high energy particles found in deep space, shielding will increase the exposure to astronauts due to the gammas produced when the particles are stopped in the shielding. It would take many tons of shielding to effectively reduce exposure,

on Jul 5, 2017

The answer is not tons and tons of shielding. It within the secrets of the magnetosphere. One must be artificially created around the capsule. The question is how to do it without tons and tons of equipment generators.

on Aug 8, 2017

The answer IS hundreds of tons of shielding. The premise of going to Mars is what is incorrect. Mars, like LEO, is a dead end. The Moon is the place to go first and several decades of lunar development will result in nuclear missions to the outer planets being launched from the Moon.

on Jul 3, 2017

NASA should be doing research no commercial venture is willing to risk their capital doing. Not competing with them. We need to have nuclear propulsion and supersonic/hypersonic commercial transport. They should also do the probes and space telescopes. Space lift is 60 year old technology that even a software guy can master after some trial and error.

on Jul 3, 2017

At this point in history, we're seeing heavy lift being developed by "new space" companies for a fraction of the cost of a typical NASA run program. How many billions of dollars have been spent on Ares/SLS with nothing flown? Well, except for one 4 segment space shuttle SRB with a dummy 5th segment, dummy upper stage, and a dummy capsule. That flight looked like an Ares I, but was more "dummy" than Ares.

on Jul 3, 2017

NASA has great scientists and engineers, but they are part of a giant bureaucracy whose first objective - as with all bureaucracies - is self preservation. Sadly, that is the primary goal of the SLS program. My hope is that the new National Space Council will bring a sensible decision on SLS...a program which by any metric is madness.

on Jul 3, 2017

Suggesting that Blue Origin will be first producing a heavy lifter seems improbable. If you include the Falcon Heavy as a heavy lifter, then it is scheduled to fly in the 3rd or 4th quarter of this year. No one is even suggesting that the New Glenn will fly in the next few years.

SpaceX admittedly has tendency to miss scheduled milestones, However it may be late but it has accomplished amazing things that most would have said were impossible.

The SpaceX Raptor engine seems equal or further down the developmental road than the BE-4. At least a sub scale version has been successfully tested. It is also several steps more advanced than the BE-4.

I'd put my money SpaceX to continue to lead.

The SLS as I said before is an economic improbability. The Saturn V was too expensive to sustain. The SLS even more so. The system may launch a few times before being canceled.

If you haven't read the tea leaves yet, let me tell you the future is re-usability. If your next rocket is a thrown away you are on a dead end path.

on Jul 3, 2017

The "glacial pace" of the SLS began during the past two administrations that nickel & dimed NASA, in spite of $16T of added national debt.

The Heavy lift version of the Falcon 9 hasn't flown, as reported, and SpaceX even hasn't put a human into LEO. Whereas at least NASA as at least flown a Orion demonstrator on a cis-lunar mission, and has decades of human-launch experience..

Does anyone think that SpaceX will have a easy development period with their beyond LEO plans? Until the heavy lift Falcon 9 has launched and proven its reliability any predictions on SpaceX launching something to Mars is undetermined.

Blue Origin has issues with their engines. But at least Blue Origin is being more pragmatic and sequential their plans to go to the moon vs. the SpaceX "Hail Mary" approach to Mars. And Bezos has much deeper funding pockets than Musk does, especially since SpaceX has received a lot of public funds to develop his existing program.

On top of that both the Orion and Dragon capsules are just command modules with no where near the endurance needed to go to Mars and back by themselves.

Both Boeing and LM have proposed larger and more complicated spacecraft that would be needed to go to and return from Mars. And the Orion is just a Earth re-entry vehicle for those large craft.

The SpaceX railroad to space is fine for PPT demonstrations but where is that 100 passenger Space cruiser?

Most important is that the tech (space nuclear power/radiation shielding/long-term life support) needed for humans to go to and return from Mars safely and quicker hasn't been developed yet. Space nuclear is a clear & present need for any spacecraft carrying humans. SEP propulsion doesn't cut it for human transportation as per comments from NASA propulsion experts.

Until SpaceX develops the tech needed to deliver humans to Mars alive and well they can fling humans to Mars but the risk of safe arrival and return is very low.

A lot of work and development is needed by all parties/interests before a human Mars mission is feasible unless it's a on-way trip. Developing the mentioned tech is essential and proving it in cis-lunar space and in asteroid rendezvous missions should be the main objectives for "proving" the needed tech.

And that doesn't even cover long-term human habitation developments for application on the moon before applying it to a Mars mission, plus how would anyone to get a lot of equipment and supplies through an atmospheric entry to the Mars surface to sustain a Mars base.

on Jul 4, 2017

Talyn, Orion has not been on a cis-lunar trajectory.

on Jul 11, 2017


"The Heavy lift version of the Falcon 9 hasn't flown, as reported, and SpaceX even hasn't put a human into LEO. Whereas at least NASA as at least flown a Orion demonstrator on a cis-lunar mission, and has decades of human-launch experience..."

Two of the three Falcon Heavy cores are at KSC with the third prepping to be tested before joining them. The real issue now is attaching the four additional FH hold downs to the LC-39A transporter-erectors launch mount, which is due to be done after LC-40 reopens later this summer.

As to flying humans; neither has Orion. It carrying a crew is unlikely before 2022-2024, if they're lucky.

Several Crew Dragons are being assembled in the "Dragon Hatchery" with uncrewed and crewed missions next summer. Their F9 Block 5 launcher arrives later this year, sporting a crew rating and yet another thrust boost for Merlin 1D.

on Jul 17, 2017

"Whereas at least NASA as at least flown a Orion demonstrator on a cis-lunar mission, and has decades of human-launch experience.."

Yeah, and they only incinerated 17 people in the process. NASA's current human spaceflight and aero research efforts are a joke. They should stick to unmanned space and science which are the only areas they have demonstrated competency in the past several decades.

on Jul 4, 2017

You go to Mars with a plan similar to Mars Direct. Refer to The Case for Mars by Dr. Rubin, aerospace engineer, founder of Mars Society.

Advocates using two/three level Habitat for spacecraft that lands on Mars. Using ISRU, nine tons of liquid hydrogen feed stock on a separately landed vehicle with methane/liquid oxygen ISRU plant that fuels the ERV before Habitat launch. Earth Return Vehicle to react with Martian CO2 atmosphere to produce 108 tons of methane fuel and liquid oxygen for return to earth. A 100KW nuclear reactor plant is deployed by robotic vehicle at radiation safe distance from ERV to power ISRU plant on the ERV and connected to the ERV by electric cable that can also power the Habitat after it lands also connected by cable.
Some plans advocate using solar cells for power.

Plan greatly reduces mass lifted to LEO and attendant costs for spacecraft that would use only fuel for TMI and not ship return fuel all the way to Mars as return fuel is harvested automatically by previously landed ERV from Martian atmosphere. Fuel produced by ISRU plant has ERV tanks full before Habitat launch.

Habitat uses tether to burnout upper stage to facilitate artificial gravity by rotating the connected spacecraft and burnout stage around the tether midpoint producing artificial gravity by centrifugal force. It also has heavily shielded 'storm cellar' compartment in case of solar flares or other radiation events.

Long trip times using minimum energy transfers for outgoing ERV and Habitat with long 18 month stay times with landed Hab as home for the crew and uses pressurize manned rovers fueled by ISRU produced methane fuel/liquid oxygen burned in modified diesel engines with a buffer gas gives ranges of hundreds of miles vice the tens of miles using rechargable lithium ion batteries.

Requires two 130 tons to LEO launches but, if desired, additional surface stay and exploration and scientific gear could be sent on a unmanned cargo launch for a total of three launches.

I hope the SLS can be used as launch vehicle as we could get some use out of them this way.

Official NASA Design Reference Mission Five uses Mars Semi Direct where fuel is produced only to propel a spacecraft to Mars Orbit where crew transfer to separately launched Earth Return Vehicle. NASA plan requires four SLS launches. One for Hab, one for Mars orbiter, one for Earth Return Vehicle and one for cargo launch.

on Jul 4, 2017

Note, the ERV carries nine tons of liquid hydrogen feed stock to react with Martian atmospheric CO2 to produce 108 tons of methane, oxygen and water for rover use and return to earth flight.

on Jul 17, 2017

You're digging too deep: you need to build another big studio in Hollywood for filming the expedition to Mars. Once already it was possible .... Why once again it does not turn out? A new generation of idiots has already grown up.

on Jul 17, 2017

You're digging too deep: you need to build another big studio in Hollywood for filming the expedition to Mars. Once already it was possible .... Why once again it does not turn out? A new generation of idiots has already grown up.

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