Thursday, June 25, 2009

Nasa's Plan B to the Moon

Beset by a lack of funding, NASA's plans to return astronauts to the moon by 2020 may have to be downsized.

Current planning calls for the development of Ares V, a super heavyweight booster able to send a 48 metric ton lander (Altair) towards the moon. The problem is there's not enough money in the budget to build this behemoth. Besides the actual costs of developing this new booster, huge amounts would need to be spent on upgrading infrastructure.

Enter the Shuttle-Derived Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle (SDHLLV) or Sidemount for short. NASA's John Shannon, who's head of the Shuttle program, presented the concept on June 9th to the Augustine Commission, charged with looking into the future of NASA's manned space program. This concept would use the existing fuel tank, main engines, solid rocket boosters and flight software (software's evidently a very big deal) from the space shuttle, but replacing the orbiter with a cargo pod. It's not pretty but has a lot of bang for the buck. It's capable of sending a 28 ton Altair towards the moon.

While this is a considerably smaller lander than originally proposed, it's nearly twice a large as the Apollo lunar lander. NASA has been designing Altair with a capability of carrying 10 to 15 tons of cargo to the moons surface to use for building a base. Since the lunar base also faces the budget axe it appears that a smaller lander could well do the job.

Attached is a copy of Mr. Shannon's presentation.
Augustine Sidemount

You'll find a lively discussion of this and other alternatives to Constellation here.

Web references:

Photo and PDF credit: NASA