Sunday, July 25, 2010

Inspiration, child-sized, attainable, 1 each.

Apparently some of the guys riding rockets these days are worried about the future of their profession:
But with no set plans of launching astronauts into orbit from U.S. soil after the final trip to the International Space Station slated for February 2011, Ferguson and others in the space world are anxious.

In addition to fretting about funding and jobs, they wonder if the government is losing an initiative that engages the next generation of engineers and mathematicians.

"If we aren't doing things that inspire them, we'll suffer from the creative standpoint," he said.
Help us Obama-wan Kenobi! You're our only hope!

I mean, if it hadn't been for the metric tons of federal tax dollars shoveled into powered flight, not a single barnstormer would have followed in the footsteps of Wilbur and Orville. And we all know that it's the massive tax subsidies that prop up NASCAR and the guys running heads-up for $100 in the office park out at the edge of town that keep young boys drawing cars in study hall and planning for a career spinning wrenches or designing improved headlight bezels.

Why is government automatically the default answer to this question?

You want to see inspiration? Here's inspiration. And here. And here.

There are still rockets that need riding. And there are more to come.


B said...

There can (and will not be!) any innovation or inspiration without any governmnet help....Says so right here on page 96 of the socialist handbook.

Or did you not get your copy?

Anonymous said...

Virgin Galactic, huh? Didn't NM appropriate $140M for Spaceport America?

Ed Foster said...

Now if only somebody would go back to the DC-X and get serious. With aerogels and some of the newer aramids to get the weight down and strength up, it becomes completely doable with surplus shuttle engines.

Yeah, I know Blue Origin is still playing with it, but they've committed to 1985 technology and materials, and refused to look at anything newer.

Imagine going to a local airport, hopping abord, and being in Tokyo 45 minutes later, then taking the same shuttle back two days later.

How many comparatively dirt cheap trips to orbit would it take to build a French styled inflatable donut 500 feet across (the minimum needed to spin for gravity without having your head at less apparent gravity than your feet), spray it with ceramic, and have a real space station, rather than a weightless floating outhouse?

The spraying frame would even impart rotation to the donut, and could be left in place to repair meteoric damage.

The shuttle engines go on sale for scrap next year. If there are any real entrepeneurs out there, I hope they realize that one shuttle equals three Delta Clippers, and that the infrastructure to build and repair those engines exists right now in 15 or 20 little job shops here in Connecticut.

The Pratt & Whitney weenies only screwed together the parts made here. I sweated bullets on the fuel pump impellers when I was at Beacon Industries in Bloomfield. Tolerances in ten-thousanths, no rework allowed, and forgings that cost $112,000 each. I still lose my appetite thinking about it. But we did it, and they were beautiful.

A 7,000 pound engine with 490,000 pounds of thrust, mature technology, and not one of them has ever failed to function at 100%reliability and 104% of rated thrust.

Something about the baby and the bathwater.

Revolver Rob said...

I would have gotten into Aerospace engineering years ago, but I lost interest, because it wasn't really about space anymore. Aerospace focuses these days primarily on things like reducing aerodynamic drag on semi trucks to increase fuel economy. That sounds less aerospace and more aerogreen to me.

America has lost interest in space and we won't find it again, until a truly gifted enginner, or physicist, or chemist figures out a way to make us fly a lot faster than we can fly now. Because at this point, we have reached the boundaries of the final frontier for our given space apparatus.

When someone has the breakthrough that is going to let us fly to Mars in a week in a manned spacecraft, I will be there with my own money to through at building it.


Kristophr said...

If I was spending my own money on rockets, I would not allow a NASA bureaucrat within a mile of the launch pad.

NASA paid astronauts might be retrainable, decisions would have to be made on a case by case basis.

Bubblehead Les. said...

I believe that the People's Republic of China is still planning on putting people on the Moon within the next ten years or so. And when they build their Linear Accelerators/Mass Drivers (remember Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress), wonder how the Gooberment will counter it? Is there an App for stopping a Human-launched Meteorite strike? Or will we just watch the rocks fall upon us on our 3-D TeeWees?

Ed Foster said...

Bubble, they won't even have to build the accelerator. Jerry Pournelle showed that kevlar type aramids wound around a big electic motor could slingshot the rocks into an escape orbit against the moon's puny gravity (about one-sixth ours).

Will Brown said...

But Tam, all those you list are just jobs needing done, not careers! :)

Jeffro said...

NASA? Go to space? Perish the thought - they've been repurposed to make Muslims feel good about themselves. No time for squicky and dangerous stuff like putting humans in harm's way.

The Jack said...

"Why is government automatically the default answer to this question?"

Because that's the default answer to every question.

Revolver Bob: The difference between reducing drag on semis and other "green tech" is this: the former works.

A major cost for trucking fleets is their fuel, and they have a vested interest in lowering that cost, especially if they can do it by merely adding some wind shields or other do-dads. Imagine that, areo engineers working on something profitable.

But again, we can't have a business going for more fuel efficiency out of a financial interest, no the gov has to step in and mandate.

Also engineering rarely works on the "one man" "one breakthrough" model. That makes the history books easier to write, but it ain't the truth. The truth is that engineering is a slow slog of reducing drag, modeling heat growth, and testing widgets.

Standing on the sideline begging for a miracle tech to make it all better is exactly what the greens pray for.

Revolver Rob said...


By breakthrough, I am not really meaning a single individual will create warp drive. Rather, what it will take is a person who thinks outside of the box enough to break free of reducing drag, heat modeling, and the same old same old. Real innovation will come from not thinking about engineering, but from applying other concepts to the realm of engineering. Radical thinking is what brings real revolution (eww that line leaves a little Marxist taste in my mouth, but it holds true), and that's what we need, revolution not evolution. At least from the point of getting the public to really rally behind and have a love affair with space again.

I also realize there is great merit in the consistent work of engineers out there. More efficient airplanes, trains, trucks, etc. My point is that aerospace engineering is more in the realm of aero, than space these days. Hence, I personally lost interest it, after a couple of classes in heat modeling and drag reduction. Again, as long as they continue on this cycle, without outside of the box thinking, there will not be the breakthroughs necessary to do things like create interplanetary space travel.

In all honesty, that breakthrough will probably come from a group of people heavily into theoretical concepts of physics and math, than a group of aerospace engineers. Once they have it, they will turn to the guys with Ti calculators and CAD software to make it a reality. Then all that work on modeling, drag reduction, and efficiency will be really useful.


Anonymous said...

Interstellar space flight is totally possible with current technology, and was so decades ago. People can reject the potential costs and downsides to project Orion, but without even a single test of the technology anyone who discounts it is as closed minded as any governmental idiot.

Revolver Rob said...


Technically, interstellar space flight is occurring as we speak. It's just the unmanned, long range, non-returning drone type.

Manned insterstellar space flight is possible (it also occur(ed)), interplanetary space flight that requires days or weeks to reach a destination versus months, years, decades, or centuries is another thing all together.

Unless they figured out how to contort space to collapse infinitely large distances into navigable, smaller distances, capable of being reached with a craft traveling at 1/1000th-1/800th the speed of light, within a short period of time, then manned interstellar flight to anything greater than than the moon is more of a pipedream.

I also don't want to rain on your parade, but given how we still don't understand the impacts of detonating a nuclear device above the Earth's atmosphere, makes me a little hesitant to drop my hard earned tax dollars on performing tests to do that.


staghounds said...

I'd be surprised if the surplus shuttle engines aren't made permanently useless before sale, and carry with them some condition that they never be used as engines again.

Anonymous said...

Some good points, but some of that research HAS been done. Theoretically the maximum speed of an Orion type craft would be from 1/33th to 1/10th light speed. As to the possible problems from detonations above the atmosphere, well the most obvious point would be to look at the Sun, which is nothing more than a contained hydrogen bomb of staggering size. If you want more relevant research, check out this quote from the project Orion wiki page. (The launch of such an Orion nuclear bomb rocket from the ground or from low Earth orbit would generate an electromagnetic pulse that could cause significant damage to computers and satellites, as well as flooding the van Allen belts with high-energy radiation. This problem might be solved by launching from very remote areas, because the EMP footprint would be only a few hundred miles wide. The Earth is well shielded by the Van Allen belts. In addition, a few relatively small space-based electrodynamic tethers could be deployed to quickly eject the energetic particles from the capture angles of the Van Allen belts.) Also, (The danger to electronic systems on the ground (from electromagnetic pulse) is insignificant from the sub-kiloton blasts proposed.)
I would be conjecturing if I were to claim that possible problems to orbiting satellites was nonexistent, but its very interesting the way this approach is dismissed out of hand, as a pipe dream. Unfortunately, it would require a governmental push to realize since private ownership of nuclear weapons is not likely to occur. The same wiki article notes that decades ago the US wanted to pursue this, but treaties with the Russians shelved the whole thing. It would be ironic indeed if some government like the Chinese decided to do what others lacked the will to and were the first to reach another star.

Ed Foster said...

Me, I'd assemble them in orbit, then push them with lasers until they were well beyong the Van Allen belt, La Grange points, and lunar orbit. Then I'd light off the baby nukes.

MIRV technology has progressed to unbelievable lengths since the '50's and 60's, with yield efficiencies in the mid-to-upper 90percentiles.

How many people have suggested a hollow iron asteroid as the idea interstellar spaceship? I must be about the eighty seven zillionth to smile at the idea.

Smooth and hollow out a cylinder, sell everything you cut off to the moon or L5 colonies, put a spin on her, add holding tanks for water around the periphery for protection against solar flares, and head for the nearest G2V star.

It seems to me that the technical problems aren't as difficult as the personnel problems. Finding stable people of fertile age who were willing to give up all contact with the human race forever might seem a tad difficult.

Imagine a universe populated by Jonestown style cults. What kind of Star Wars type empires might evolve from a galaxy filled with whackjobs?

Anonymous said...

Where to start?

First, most of the barnstormers were ex-WWI Army Signal Corp pilots who had purchased Army surplus training Jennys or Standards which were simple enough for shade tree motorbike mechanics to work on.

Shuttle engines? Not so much. There isn't a shade tree big enough to provide enough shade for the legions required to keep those puppies from grenading in truly awe-inspiring, spectacular, and creative ways. Not enough time or space here to describe some of the truly spectacular ways which the engines found to . . . um . . . disassemble themselves into their component parts, and the impressive distances some of those parts managed to travel. By themselves.

DC-X. Is, always has been, and always will be, at best, a semi-ballistic. You can have single stage, or you can have orbit, but not both. I used to design that stuff for a living, and even with the most optimistic projections of advancements in propulsion and materials sciences, you always get negative payload. Twenty years ago, predictions we made about advancements in that stuff are still as far off now as they were then, and worse, the public motivation to seek solutions is about 1/100 of what it used to be. Soooo, not happening any time soon (in my lifetime).

And as much as I would like to see point-to-point personal transport, (and the semi-ballistic passenger transports in Heinlein's 'Friday' were pretty cool!), the twitchier fingers belonging to the nuttier despots of the world will dictate against the launching of regularly scheduled ballistic missiles that are indistinguishable from warhead-carrying ICBMs. This makes semi-ballistics too convenient an excuse to start a real shooting war.


Unknown said...

Take some kid who's gone through the USAF Academy, put him into the rocket-jockey group and then have him train for years and years: He's comfy and secure in a known world.

Very few people are eager to suddenly change the rules of the world in which they have lived for those years and years...

Ed Foster said...

I dunno Boxstock, there's an awful lot of folks who think we can do it SSTO. ANSW has been quoting the "Young Turks" at NASA who want to bring the DC-X concept back to NASA as a cost-effective unit for Mars and lunar exploration.

Fly it up to orbit empty, refuel it there, fly it to Mars where, with only one-third Terran gravity, it's load-out would be pretty impressive, then partially fuel again for landing.

The numbers must be there or these guys wouldn't be risking their jobs saying so. Pull 7,000 pounds out of the Blue Origins craft and it would do it with a 15%margin, which I suspect is quite possible using aerogels and other composites. Their fuselage is 7075-T6 fer' crissakes! Too many bureaucrats trying to salvage their reputations and win more bucks from Brazos. A mini-NASA.

As for shade tree mechanics, I've walked through the P&W West Palm Beach rebuild center for the RL-10 program, and we're talking maybe 40people actually moving and less than an acre of floorspace. You could put the entire thing in one of the abandoned hangars over in the East Hartford industrial Park, otherwise known as Pratt and Whitney Aircraft corporate headquarters, and have the critters maintained by the people who made them in the first place.

The original RL-10's ran 20 starts and 5,000 second of burn, and that was 1959. Given the greater simplicity of the SSME, I imagine 10 flights and a swap would maintain a generous safety margin. 14 engines, with 4 in the shop/storage/transship at any given time, would render 10 usable craft.

There would be more work maintaining the LOX and liquid hydrogen than the engines.

Dave R. said...

At least one person who takes inspiration as seriously as they do thinks the key to inspiration and the future of space flight lie in getting government out of the picture.

Revolver Rob said...

Dave, thanks for posting that. That was a point I was trying to make and never did before with aerogreen.

Government involvement has warped aerospace engineering to be a different field. They don't care about building space ships, because the government is focused on building better technology to improve efficiency. They focus on aerogreen, when the money you need to develop space technology comes from the group of monkeys in D.C (or at least historically it has come from there), then you tend to do what makes the monkeys in D.C. not throw poo...


Anonymous said...


There's a reason those SSMEs are described as having 101, 104, 109 and 113% ratings. They are exceeding their design capability by 1, 4, 9 and 13%. And quite frankly, we're not absolutely sure how they do it, so we don't know what we're really getting away with. In the real world, that's called trying to blow something up. At NASA, it's called "pushing the envelope". They had to push the envelope though, because the orbiters were all overweight. The only orbiter that even came close to the advertised 65,000 pound payload capacity was Atlantis, and then only if it was using the 109% engine set, and only if it was carrying a minimal (two man) crew, and only if time on orbit was limited to two and a half days maximum. All the other orbiters were far below that capacity. SSMEs are perceived to be reliable because they are examined minutely after every use, along with their associated fuel and oxidizer turbo pumps (which can also fail spectacularly! You should see what happens when one of those little puppies seizes! WOW!). Questionable parts are replaced. Maintenance is NOT trivial on SSMEs.

RL-10s - Nice motors. Not man-rated. Not putting men in space with them. Ever.

SSTO - ain't gonna happen. Payload on orbit costs, and with SSTO, the entire vehicle is payload. This means you have to have enough energy (propellant) to circularize the orbit for the entire vehicle, instead of just the little capsule that was on top of it. For every pound of vehicle you put on orbit, you lose a pound of payload.

Young Turks? NASA? Muahahahah! Sorry. Got carried away. NASA has been violently anti-manned-space since the shuttle program started. The only reason they are even talking about it is because they are are desperately grasping at straws. Their programs are all being axed, the shuttle is done, we no longer have a (nominally civilian) launch vehicle in the pipeline, and the military has it's own vehicle which they aren't even slightly interested in sharing with the pointy-headed hobbyists at NASA. This means NASA is out of the space business. They have no way to launch their little toy projects unless they go foreign, and they won't have the money to do even that shortly. They desperately need a vehicle. ANY vehicle. Enter the DC-X with it's rabid apostles selling them a bill of goods about it's potential capabilities, and they're all over it. They've got nothing else.

The DC-X type vehicle has been around in one incarnation or another since my Dad worked on the Apollo program, and the numbers have never added up. The original selling point of the predecessor to the DC-X was a vehicle that sat on the back end of an aircraft carier, with 100 fully-armed troops on board, fueled and ready to be launched to any crisis point on the globe within 45 minutes. That's still just a big ballistic missile.

The DC-X can not get to orbit, empty or otherwise. It cannot carry enough fuel to get itself there AND to circularize orbit. IF you put jettisonable boosters on the sides, and IF you limit the internal payload, and IF you refuel on orbit (a second launch), then you might be able to get it circularized on orbit. Getting it back? A third launch. But then it's not an SSTO. You might as well just be using a real spacecraft which would weigh about 1/10 as much, put it on an expendable launcher, and be done with it in one launch.

But the biggest problem with the DC-X? It's always been how to carry enough fuel to LAND IT. That fuel must be carried all the way to orbit and back. It's payload. Unusable payload. In most cases, the design can't even carry enough fuel to be used as a semi-ballistic if you have to carry enough fuel to land the vehicle using the engines to slow you down and land instead of a heat shield and parachutes, both of which weigh (comparatively) next to nothing.