NASASpaceFlight.com has a lengthy story about the people behind DIRECT, a shuttle-derived heavy lift vehicle that they have been pushing NASA to develop:
The Direct movement â€“ a group of professionals and non-professional engineers that created an architecture alternative to Constellationâ€™s Ares vehicles â€“ are ready to transition their movement, following the redirection of NASAâ€™s future by lawmakers, which calls for a Space Launch System (SLS) based around a Shuttle Derived (SD) Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle (HLV), which they feel justifies their four years of work.
Their work in promoting this idea has been impressive, given the criticism and outright scorn they received over the years. I’ve always eyed it a bit wearily. It sounds logical enough — all the elements are there in some form or another and most have been flown. But, that was the whole point behind Ares I and V. That didn’t work out very well, largely because adapting the technology cost as much or more than building something new from scratch. The DIRECT supporters say this design is different, but I’m not entirely convinced.
My other main concern is operating costs with anything that is shuttle derived. The entire shuttle program has been a story of the cost of getting into orbit being so expensive that we’ve been limited in what we can do there. Thirty years and we’ve got one space station with six people on it. That had a lot to do with the cost of building, operating and maintaining the shuttle system, and the small army of people needed to do it. DIRECT will probably be a bit better in the sense that we’re not lugging any entire shuttle into orbit that has to be returned to Earth with the crew safely intact. But still, I wonder if this is the right way to go. And what NASA will recommend after it finishes the current study on HLV.
NASASpaceFlight.com is reporting that NASA could conduct a test flight of a heavy-lift rocket as early as late 2012:
The Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) have confirmed they have almost enough External Tank resources to allow for one ET-sized â€œIn Lineâ€ Shuttle Derived Heavy Launch Vehicle (SD HLV) test flight and up to three Block I SD HLVs. The news comes as NASA managers insist the workforce should wait for official news, and not to be distracted by reports on Aresâ€™ demise.
The SD HLV would be along the lines of the proposed Jupiter Direct, a rocket proposed by a group of dissident NASA engineers who were unhappy with the space agency’s Ares I and V programs.
…several NASA departments [are] already carrying out evaluations on one of the major elements of the likely future path for NASA â€“ moving away from Low Earth Orbit (LEO) based around the development of a Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle.
While Ares Iâ€™s role for International Space Station (ISS) missions heads to a commercial service provider, the HLV will be contracted out â€“ not unlike NASA already does to some extent with the shuttle â€“ moving to a multi-company effort led by Boeing, partnering with Alliant Techsystems, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne and United Space Alliance (USA), with heavy NASA involvement from Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC)….
Even the long-time Constellation supporter, Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) is understood to be supportive of this alternate plan, along with many of his colleagues.
Rebel Engineers Sit With NASA to Chart Future of Manned Space Popular Mechanics
When the e-mail from Doug Cooke, head of NASA’s Constellation program, blinked onto Ross Tierney’s computer screen a few weeks ago, he bolted upright. The two men sit on opposite ends of the debate over the future of NASA’s human spaceflight program, and the outreach signaled that something peculiar was happening in Washington, D.C.
Bolden Directs MSFC Special Team to evaluate HLV alternatives NASASpaceflight.com
NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden has asked for a â€œSpecial Teamâ€ at the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) to evaluate the Heavy Lift alternatives â€“ including DIRECTâ€™s Jupiter launch vehicle â€“ as a â€œtop priorityâ€. The team has been asked to create a report on their findings in time for Thanksgiving, in an apparent reaction to the final Augustine Commission report â€“ which will be published on Thursday.
Next Big Future has an interview with Ross Tierney, who heads up a group that is promoting its DIRECT launcher as an alternative to NASA’s Constellation architecture. An excerpt:
Question: If the Jupiter rocket scheme is accepted and properly funded, how will it affect space exploration during the next decade?
Answer: I see a major revolution in the space exploration industry. We could begin to explore the solar system in a serious manner. We will be able to launch massive payloads into orbit. Missions to the moon and near-earth objects will become feasible. We will also be able to lay the groundwork for missions to Phobos and Mars. It might take 20-30 years, but it will happen. This marks a radical change from the Shuttle era, when we were limited to taking extremely expensive trips to low-earth orbit. This truly represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to jump-start a new ear of exploration and eventual colonization of our solar system.
Read the full interview. http://nextbigfuture.com/2009/07/interview-with-ross-tierney-of-direct.html
Alternative moon rockets to over-budget Constellation gaining traction Orlando Sentinel
They have deemed some of these projects worthy of further study, including ideas written off by NASA engineers a few years ago as being underpowered, unsafe and unimaginative. One of them is being promoted by the head of NASA’s shuttle program. Another is the product of a group of freelance engineers â€” some of them NASA employees working on their own time â€” and rocket hobbyists calling themselves the Direct team.
The DIRECT group – which is promoting an alternative lunar architecture to NASA’s Ares program – has issued a report criticizing the space agency’s critique of its rocket design as inadequate.
DIRECT’s 115-page PowerPoint response claims that NASA’s October 2007 review of the proposed Jupiter launch system included “significant flaws in the evaluation of DIRECT that set up a scenario where DIRECT would inevitably look inferior when compared to Ares.