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Saturday, December 1, 2012

SpaceX Dragon spacecraft for low cost trips to the Moon, page 3: Falcon Heavy for BEO test flights.

Copyright 2012 Robert Clark

The Falcon Heavy is planned to be tested by SpaceX by 2014. By using the Early Lunar Access (ELA) architecture we could have a return to the Moon by 2019, using either the Falcon Heavy or the SLS, as described in the blog post "SLS for Return to the Moon by the 50th Anniversary of Apollo 11". Note this would also be by the 2020 timetable set by the Vision for Space Exploration(VSE).
 This ELA architecture could be implemented either using either the Dragon capsule or the NASA Space Exploration Vehicle (SEV). The SEV is intended to be used for BEO missions perhaps for mission durations up to 28 days long with two crew members. Then the first Falcon Heavy missions would provide means for testing unmanned the SEV for BEO missions to the lunar surface, the Lagrange points or to near Earth asteroids.
 SpaceX needs to perform the test flights for the Falcon Heavy so they would pay for the costs of the launch themselves. For the lunar flights as discussed in the "SpaceX Dragon spacecraft for low cost trips to the Moon" post, the two Centaur-like upper stages might require in the range of $30 million dollars each. There would be an extra cost for the SEV but for these first test missions we might only use the prototype test vehicles now undergoing field tests with NASA's Desert RATS program. These prototype vehicles only cost in the few hundred thousand dollar range. This would put the cost to NASA in the low cost Discovery-class mission range.

2011 Desert RATS Overview
 Since these are to be unmanned test flights, ideal would be to "man" them with two Robonauts. This would dovetail nicely with the Johnson Space Center's Project Morpheus plan to send Robonaut to the lunar surface.  In regards to NEO missions, this is one of the planned uses for the SEV. For the manned asteroid flights NASA was considering, the mission time ranges were above 90 days. That would be unrealistic for flights just using the SEV alone. However looking at the Near-Earth Object Human Space Flight Accessible Targets Study (NHATS) page there are NEO missions with duration times of 34 days or less at stay times of greater than 8 days that could correspond to under 28 day mission times if we limit the stay time to a day or so.


      Bob Clark

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