Saturday, May 18, 2013

On the lasting importance of the SpaceX accomplishment, Page 3: towards European human spaceflight.

Copyright 2013 Robert Clark 


European Human Spaceflight

The EU released a report critical of the ESA's policy on new launchers:

The EU Seems to Really Dislike ESA’s New Launch Vehicle Policy.
Doug Messier
on March 17, 2013, at 5:57 am

  The report is rather opaque about what changes the EU wants in space policy as opposed to what the ESA is proposing. One thing I noted is that it wants the ESA to keep up with technological advances the other space programs in the world are embarking on.

 This possibly might relate to the proposal of the Ariane 6 to use all solids on the lower stages. This is going backwards, not forwards in technology. A forwards suggestion for the Ariane 6 would have been the option that uses liquid fuel for a core stage simply by adding a second Vulcain to the Ariane 5 core stage.
 Note this would have high commonality with the current Ariane 5 which the ESA also wants to save on costs rather than having to design entire new solid lower stages. But the most important advantage of this is a key technological advance it would provide to keep up with the other space faring nations.

 Russian and China have manned orbital launchers, and the U.S. will again also in the short near term. India is even planning on manned launchers. But the ESA has no plans on producing a manned launcher. Space advocates in Europe should regard this as unacceptable. But the key point is by using the multi-Vulcain option for the Ariane 6 this would provide Europe with a manned spaceflight capability.

 Another source of friction with the EU is that ESA is constrained to apportion work according to members financial participation, while the EU is under no such constraints:

CNES Design Team Sets ‘Triple-seven’ Goal for Ariane 6.
By Peter B. de Selding | Jan. 2, 2013
(You'll need to do free registration for temporary access to read the article.)

From the article:
...after months of hard selling that saw them pitted against much of France’s industry, CNES officials last year convinced Fioraso that Ariane 6 — less expensive and less powerful than Ariane 5, and carrying just one satellite at a time to orbit — is the way of the future.
The design of the rocket — two solid-fueled lower stages and a cryogenic upper stage, plus solid-fueled strap-on boosters — was frozen Nov. 21 during a meeting of ESA government ministers.ESA Launcher Director Antonio Fabrizi said this design, and no other, is what ministers approved.
Ariane 6 has been conceived from the start as a “next-generation” rocket that in many ways looks like a throwback — more of a less-expensive Lockheed Martin Atlas 5, or a Proton launched from the equator. Ariane 5 can do more things for more customers.
But if it meets its design goal, Ariane 6 will reach a financial equilibrium that has eluded Ariane 5. CNES officials say economic criteria account for 43 percent of the design decisions made for the rocket, with technical criteria accounting for just 30 percent.
The remaining 27 percent of the design choices are being made on the basis of Europe’s existing industrial capacity.
French industry is responsible for around 50 percent of the construction of Ariane 5. Eymard said the agency assumes France will carry about the same load for Ariane 6.
Beyond the French contribution, all bets are off. CNES has penciled in Germany at 25 percent, and Italy at 10-15 percent. The Italian share should be relatively easy to secure because Italy already is heavily involved in production, with Snecma of France, of the solid-fueled strap-on boosters used on the Ariane 5 rocket. Italy is also the lead investor in the new Vega small-satellite launcher, which made its inaugural flight in early 2012.
Because of the all-but-guaranteed work share of Italian industry in the Ariane 6 solid-fueled stages, the Italian government is not likely to resist taking its 10-15 percent stake despite its public-debt crisis.
Ensuring German industry sufficient work will not be as straightforward, European government and industry officials said.
 This article shows the difficulty the ESA will have in developing innovative launch solutions. The biggest factor in deciding which launcher to develop is how much work it can provide to the ESA, member countries. This supersedes even lowered costs.

The ESA could develop a low cost launcher that would be comparable in cost to the SpaceX Falcon 9, AND moreover would give Europe an independent manned launch capability simply by adding a second Vulcain to the Ariane 5 core. Ironically though, this option is not chosen because it would be TOO low cost: it would be simple, quick - and not provide enough work to the ESA member countries.

The only way Europe is going to get low cost space access, it now appears, is if it is done under the commercial space approach. As proven by SpaceX this can cut 90% (!) off the development costs when privately financed. And in fact it should be even easier and cheaper than the SpaceX case since the components already exist in the Ariane 5 core, built in France, and Vulcain II engines, built in Germany. Even the capsule for the manned launchers is largely already designed in the Orbital Sciences, Cygnus capsule, which is actually built in Italy. You would just need to supply life support and heat shield to the capsule already designed to be pressurized.

 The only thing needed are entrepreneurs in Europe like Elon Musk in the U.S. with the insight to carry it out. In the blog posts "On the lasting importance of the SpaceX accomplishment" and "On the lasting importance of the SpaceX accomplishment, Page 2" I discussed the fact that space development costs were cut dramatically by SpaceX by private financing.

 NASA has found with its commercial crew program that it can develop manned launchers in general at lower costs by opting for a more commercial approach to their development. In fact NASA's commercial space program was presaged by the Air Force's Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program. The Air Force only had to pay $500 million out of a $3.5 billion development cost for the Delta IV and $500 million out of a $2 billion development cost for the Atlas V. For the Delta IV, that's a 86% (!) savings in development cost.

 NASA also has saved in development cost on Orbital Science's Antares launcher. It only had to pay $288 million out of a development cost of $472 million for a 5 metric ton class launcher. 

 Then the suggestion to the EU is to institute a similar program for European manned launchers. Politically the ESA appears to be set on the all-solid Ariane 6. But what the EU could do is put out a request to European industry for commercially developed man-rated launchers that would be largely privately funded aside for perhaps some seed money, a la SpaceX. To sweeten the pot, the EU could state that as part of their policy they will use these European launchers for their manned flights as long as they are comparable in price to say what they are paying the Russians for their launchers.

 The Russians are charging $63 million per seat for flights on the Soyuz, so for three crew in the range of $190 million. This is almost the cost of a full Ariane 5 launch, a vehicle capable of 20 metric tons (mT) to LEO.

 A vehicle capable of carrying a manned capsule could be done at a 5 mT payload capability, a quarter the size of the Ariane 5. SpaceX spent $300 million developing the Falcon 9, capable of 10 mT to LEO. Then a vehicle half the size, that was also largely privately funded as was the Falcon 9, might cost ca. $150 million.

 Considering the payload for our twin-Vulcain Ariane likely will be above 5 mT though, we might instead estimate the development cost as $200 million based on how much JAXA spent to add a second cryogenic engine to the H-IIA core.

 Also, I've been informed by people who aware of CNES studies on a multi-Vulcain Ariane that the estimated price for the two-Vulcain Ariane 5 core would be only 50 million euros, about $60 million(!) So for only a ca. $200 million development cost and a $60 million launch cost the ESA could have manned spaceflight ability.

 Another source of income for such a launcher with the Cygnus capsule would be deliveries to the ISS. SpaceX is charging NASA about $133 million for ca. 6,000 kg delivery of cargo using the Falcon 9. Part of this inflated cost above the $54 million cost of the Falcon 9 is the use of the expensive Dragon capsule. The Cygnus is a smaller capsule with a much smaller development cost, so would be much cheaper than the Dragon. Using a ca. 8,000 kg payload for the launcher and ca. 2,000 kg mass for the Cygnus, this launcher could match the 6,000 kg delivery capacity of the Falcon 9 at a much reduced price.

 European Moon Flights

 According to NASA administrator Charles Bolden, NASA will not be returning us to the Moon but may engage in partnerships with other space agencies or private entities who could. Then it's interesting the ESA has the required lightweight in-space stages and lightweight capsule in the Cygnus to accomplish this at low cost.

Another key fact is that NASA has shown with SpaceX and now with Orbital Sciences that development costs can be cut drastically (by 80 to 90% !) by following a commercial approach. Then this could be a project NASA could encourage, at low cost to NASA, by partnering with ESA and private entities like Golden Spike, Planetary Resources, Inc., etc, while at the same time satisfying the critics who want us to return to the Moon.

   Bob Clark


  1. "All-solid" 1st stage I'm not so sure about, but the presence of solids early in the trajectory is actually a good thing, despite the obsolescence of the technology.

    There's no reason not to use a very old technology, if it confers a benefit. To think otherwise is nothing but an age bias. That can be quite harmful, and in a variety of ways and venues, not just launch.

    Between launch and about 80 kft/M2-2.5 conditions (typical of vertical launch), Isp is relatively unimportant to launch outcome. Engineering studies have always shown this.

    Thrust per unit frontal area is very important in that flight phase, and solids have an inherent advantage over all known liquids in those terms, and for a variety of very good engineering reasons. Those same studies showed this, too.

    The only-possible superior non-nuclear, non-airbreathing, technology might be hybrids, if those can be scaled to 120+ inch sizes. No one yet has scaled them up that big, in flying form, even experimentally.

    And, all the potential airbreathers are far shorter on thrust per unit frontal area than the liquid rockets, again for a variety of good engineering reasons. This includes scramjet, ramjet, and any possible turbine-related technology.

    That does not rule out the parallel-burn rocket-airbreather, however. Not any more than it rules out the parallel-burn solid-liquid, or the parallel-burn hybrid-liquid. Those two (solids and hybrids as strap-on boosters shed early) are both good solutions to improving effective launched mass fraction per unit launch cost.

    If you want an airbreather in the no-more-than M2-ish range, I'd suggest (plain) ramjet as the one with the lightest hardware weight per unit frontal area, by far, over anything with turbines in it, no matter how "advanced".

    For max M2 only, no more than a simple pitot (normal shock) inlet is required, and you can use a convergent-only nozzle and light the thing subsonically. Isp potential is about half to two-thirds that of a "supersonic" design. Thrust at lower speeds is way far better. Such strap-ons would be easily recoverable and re-usable.

    Note that I said nothing about scramjet. Scramjet is completely inappropriate if you clear the usable atmosphere at only M2. Scramjets typically won't even work at all until you are well above M3.5 to 4.

    If you depress the trajectory to stay lower in the atmosphere in order to make the scramjet useful, you waste all your airbreather Isp advantage in the extra drag incurred at lower altitudes.

    There is no way around that, which is really why the X-30 project died. Most of us working in airbreathers knew that, long before the X-30 project ever started.

    In short, I see no niche for scramjet in space launch, only in missile propulsion for the M4 to 10 range.


  2. Thanks for the always informative response. However, I do have an over arching agenda. And that is to make a manned launcher and a reusable ("gas and go") launcher. That is not possible with solids. But that is the only way spaceflight will become routine.

    Bob Clark

  3. Hi Bob:

    I pretty much agree with, except that solids could be handled like buying a giant cheap JATO.

    You don't worry about the solid, let its maker worry about refills. You just bolt it on, and send the empties back to him.

    It's like the old glass bottle sodas. You get a rebate on the empties if you can recover them (and you can). Otherwise, they're pretty cheap even without the rebate. That's the appropriate idea.

    If thrust vector on the solid is not an issue (admittedly a big "if" unless you design specifically for that), then the solid can actually be quite cheap (as JATO was). That's how you implement the appropriate idea.

    Then it's "gas-and-bolt-on and go". Like with JATO. Could be quite routine, just like JATO once was.


  4. " Also, I've been informed by people who aware of CNES studies on a multi-Vulcain Ariane that the estimated price for the two-Vulcain Ariane 5 core would be only 50 million euros, about $60 million(!) So for only a ca. $200 million development cost and a $60 million launch cost the ESA could have manned spaceflight ability."

    You should be aware of something though; this variant, using 2x Vulcain and known as H2C, can only get a payload of 2200 kg to GTO, which translates to about 4500 kg to LEO. However, in order to reach the GTO payload of 6.5 tons that was targeted by CNES, it needed to use 4 solid strap-on boosters. The exact cost of these boosters are not known, but they are very expensive, usually about 10-20 million dollars for a booster. The 6.5 ton version of the H2C was estimated by the European Air and Space Academy to cost €98 million, which is about $138 million.

    However, the option of a 3x Vulcain core was investigated too, though never officially by ESA. Because it did not need strap-ons to reach the 6.5 ton mandate, it was a far lower cost option than the H2C design. It would still have trouble reaching the €70 million mandate, but was theoretically closer to that mandate than either H2C or Multi-P.

    The biggest problem ESA has with low-cost launchers is the geo-return principle. Every country investing in a program roughly gets the same amount of money back in contracts. That's why Ariane and Vega are such mosaics of hardware from different countries, and it's why non of the current Ariane 6 designs can reach the 70 million euro goal assuming current industry standards. However, they are looking at being less strict about it with Ariane 6, and Dordain has recently said that he is confident that the €70 million goal can be reached.

  5. Thanks for that info. When I wrote this, I was comparing to the solid rocket versions being discussed then. These ALSO used small strap ons to increase the payload to GTO. In fact the two Vulcain solution had greater payload both with and without strap ons than the solid rocket versions:

    The latest version of the solid rocket version of the Ariane 6 uses larger rocket motors, so does not need the strap ons to reach the 6.5 mT to GTO. However, the development cost of these new large solids will be very expensive. A high development cost contributes to a high flight cost because this development cost has to be paid off by the price of the launcher.
    Actually, the cost of the small solid strap ons is known and is actually comparatively small because such already exist and have been used effectively for both the Delta IV and Atlas V for years now to increase their payload to orbit. In fact the liquid fueled version of the Ariane 6 with the strap ons would be comparable in price to those of the Delta IV and Atlas V since it would be similar to them.
    However, the two Vulcain solution would have the advantage that it could also be used to give Europe its own independent manned spaceflight capability.
    I agree with what you said about the three Vulcain solution. It would be even more capable then the two Vulcain and could also give Europe a manned spaceflight capability. I was focused on the two Vulcain because it would be so low cost without the strap ons, and could be so rapidly developed to give Europe manned spaceflight.

    Bob Clark

  6. The boosters on P7C are stretched versions of the Vega first stage; they would actually be the cheapest to develop. One of the biggest arguments in favor of the P7C design is that the new solids could be used to upgrade Vega as well, and that fixed costs and development costs would be shared over two programs. Ariane 6 would also consist of only three major components, made on three production lines, one shared with Vega; the H2C design would have required five, and P1B six unique production lines with no synergies with Vega whatsoever. However, human spaceflight potential remains a strong advantage of H2C, but as sad as I find it as a European, there is very little interest in human spaceflight from European nations, in particular France.

    I will write something about Ariane 6, since I find it very interesting and I would love to expand on the "winners and losers" of the competition. However, I've been very busy over the past few weeks with other stuff on my blog, so that will take some time.

    1. I agree. The Italians the other big player in ESA also favor the solid-fueled version of the Ariane 6 because a large part of the solid-fueled Vega is built in Italy. Choosing the solid-fueled Ariane 6 helps to subsidize the Vega too.
      However, ironically if SpaceX succeeds in reusability then even also the solid-fueled Vega will become obsolete, because of the drastic drop in launch costs.
      So even this justification requires you believe SpaceX will fail in reusability.

      Bob Clark