Russia Plays Follow the Leader on Heavy-Lift Vehicles

Buran shuttle and Energia rocket.
Buran shuttle and Energia rocket.

By Douglas Messier
Parabolic Arc Managing Editor

With America (or, at least its esteemed Congress, gentlemen engineers all) determined to build the heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS) regardless of the cost to the national treasury or the damage done to far more pressing priorities (like getting our astronauts back into orbit on U.S. vehicles), the Russians have begun dusting off old proposals for super boosters of their own.

In this case, the Russian need to emulate the Americans is somewhat less blatant than the follow-the-leader cloning process that resulted Soviet Union’s ill-fated, single flight Buran space shuttle of the 1980’s. However, it does involves much of the same launch vehicle hardware, which should set off plenty of alarm bells right there.

Yes, the Soviet Empire may have died and, with it, the mighty space program that had once sent shudders of fear through the West. But, the individual initiatives of that era continue to live on, although in somewhat altered states and, unfortunately, possessing many of the same problems.


House Bill Increases Funding for Orion and HLV, Reduces Commercial Crew

Editor’s Notes in [ ]

Notwithstanding section 1101, the level for the following accounts of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration shall be as follows:

  • Science, $5,005,600,000;
  • Exploration, $3,706,000,000;
  • Space Operations, $5,247,900,000;
  • Aeronautics, $1,138,600,000;
  • Education, $180,000,000;
  • Cross Agency Support, $3,085,700,000;
  • Construction and Environmental Compliance and Remediation, $528,700,000, of which $20,000,000 shall be derived from available un-obligated balances previously appropriated for construction of facilities; and
  • Office of Inspector General, $37,500,000:

[Editor’s Note: The overall funding is $18.91 billion, about $90 million less than $19 billion in the authorization bill passed earlier this year by Congress. The agency’s 2010 budget was $18.72 billion.]


Utah Congressional Delegation Tells Bolden, Garver: Don’t Frak Over ATK!

Nov. 18, 2010

Members of the Utah congressional delegation met today with NASA officials at Sen. Orrin Hatch’s office to press the space agency to fully implement the 2010 NASA Authorization Act.

Hatch, Sen. Bob Bennett and Reps. Rob Bishop and Jim Matheson met with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Deputy Administrator Lori Garver to ensure that they are on board with complying with the law, which outlines payload requirements for a heavy-lift space system that, experts agree, can only be realistically met by solid rocket motors like the ones ATK manufactures in northern Utah.


NASA Casts Wide Net for Heavy-Lift Concepts, Selects 13 Potential Contractors


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.


DIRECT: Mission Sort of Accomplished

Jupiter Direct Launcher Variants 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 – a group of professionals and non-professional engineers that created an architecture alternative to Constellation’s Ares vehicles – are ready to transition their movement, following the redirection of NASA’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.

Son of Shuttle’s Prospects Rising

Jupiter Direct Launcher Variants

NASA: Change of heart on new rocket that would reuse shuttle parts?
Orlando Sentinel

Dozens of Kennedy Space Center engineers and more at other NASA centers have been working quietly behind the scenes since August to design a new rocket made from parts of the space shuttle — a project similar to one that an agency official only two years ago said defied the laws of physics.


Shelby: I Can’t Quit You, Shuttle!

Sen. Richard Shelby

The Decatur Daily explains how the United Launch Alliance facility in Dacatur, Ala. got no love from Sen. Richard Shelby:

As U.S. senators carved up the leftovers of NASA’s Constellation program for their states, most of the meat went to Utah and Huntsville.

United Launch Alliance, with its assembly plant in Decatur, got the bone.

The ranking Republican member of the committee that wrote the budget authorization that would effectively exclude ULA from participating in the development of a heavy-lift rocket was Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa.