Saturday, June 8, 2013

On the lasting importance of the SpaceX accomplishment, Page 4: how the Ariane 6 can beat both SpaceX and the Russians.

Copyright 2013 Robert Clark

Europe Urged To Halt Work on ‘Dead End' Ariane 6 Design.
By Peter B. de Selding | May. 30, 2013
The academy is urging the agencies to stop work on the Ariane 6 they approved in November with a view to beginning full development in 2014. The academy-favored rocket would use liquid propulsion instead of solid, and would face four more years of preparatory work before moving to full development in 2018.
In the meantime, the academy says, Europe should focus on an upgraded heavy-lift Ariane 5 that would fly for a decade before both it and the Europeanized version of Russia’s medium-lift Soyuz rocket are replaced by the all-liquid Ariane 6 in 2027. This rocket, called Ariane 5 ME, has been in design for several years. Continued work on it was approved, alongside Ariane 6, at the November meeting of European Space Agency (ESA) governments.
 The Academy should also emphasize another key advantage of the liquid-fueled version of the Ariane 6 that it could be used for a manned launch vehicle.
 Note that Russia is raising their prices to $73 million per seat or $220 million for three. This is greater than the launch cost of the full 20 metric ton class Ariane 5. The smaller Ariane 6 would certainly be cheaper than that. By producing this liquid fueled Ariane 6, Europe could also get their own manned space flights and more cheaply than by paying the Russians.
 Both Russia and China have their own manned spaceflight programs, as will the U.S. in the near, short time frame. And even India and Japan are planning their own manned spaceflight programs. The Japan case is quite notable in that their plan is to use twin cryogenic engines of similar characteristics to the Vulcain II.
 The European Union has been the highest economic power or a close second to the U.S. in the world over the last few years. It should be regarded as unacceptable by European space advocates, private, governmental, and industry, that there has been no plan to give Europe a manned space program as with these other space agencies.
 Such a manned-capable launcher could be done more quickly and cheaply by using a commercial space approach. The Falcon 9 and the Antares only took 4 years and a few hundred million dollars in development cost that had to be paid by NASA.
 I also estimate the cost per launch of a single stage version could be done for half the $127 million cost given by the Academy in that report for their version of the Ariane 6, vastly undercutting the Russians:

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

 Here's an argument for producing the Ariane 6 at a faster time frame than just 2027. The Ariane 6 is supposed to be one-half to one-third as expensive as the Ariane 5. The Ariane 5 is already being used to deliver cargo to the ISS but using the very expensive to develop and produce ATV. In fact ESA doesn't want to produce any more ATV's after the last one to launch in 2014.
 But if you have this less expensive launcher in the Ariane 6 then you have a much less expensive route to sending cargo to the ISS. But then you need a pressurized capsule to transport it. Why spend the expense of developing a new small pressurized capsule when you already have one in the European developed Cygnus? (By the way this raises an interesting economic question I'll discuss at the end.)
 SpaceX is charging NASA $133 million to transport a maximum of 6,000 kg to the ISS. Note this is well above the launch cost of the Falcon 9 alone. The large extra cost is due to the use of the expensive Dragon capsule. The Ariane 6 would have comparable payload capacity as the Falcon 9 but using a 2,000 kg lighter capsule in the Cygnus. Then it could be at or above the cargo capability of the Falcon 9 to the ISS. And from the estimated launch cost of the Ariane 6 and the low cost of the Cygnus compared to the Dragon their price could be at or below that of the Falcon 9/Dragon. How's that for wanting to be competitive with SpaceX?
 Now, the Academy wants ESA to make a liquid-fueled version of the Ariane 6 instead of the planned solid-fueled one. Imagine you have that and it is being used to send cargo via the Cygnus capsule to the ISS. It's not much of leap at all that if you add life support and a heat shield to the Cygnus then you would have a European vehicle capable of sending astronauts to the ISS as well. And you could do it at a price to undercut the Russians.
 I want to argue again here for the commercial space approach for accomplishing this. The 2027 time frame for such a liquid fueled Ariane 6 is following the usual glacial pace of government financed space programs. This would be near the end of the ISS (expected) extended life time. However, both SpaceX and Orbital Sciences by following the commercial space approach were able to develop their launchers in 4 years. Commercial space is both cheaper and faster than government space.
 To do the cost sharing of commercial space though the industry partners, or their investors, would have to be convinced it could be profitable. Note that SpaceX has gotten a $1.6 billion contract from NASA for delivering cargo to the ISS. The $127 million per launch cost estimated by the Academy is coming from the large, billion dollar, development costs under the usual governmental financing approach that would need to be recouped. Commercial space has proven though that both total development cost and the portion paid by the government are a fraction of those of the usual governmental financing. Then getting a similar billion dollar ISS supply contract as SpaceX and with a development cost that, literally, might only be a few hundred million dollars, would result in such a contract being highly profitable.

 About that economic question I mentioned above, Orbital Sciences paid for the development of the Cygnus to the Italian Space Agency(ISA). But certainly the ISA would not want to turn over the full rights to the Cygnus to a foreign company. It's quite likely ISA retains ownership of the Cygnus. This becomes interesting in regards to the price they would charge for the Cygnus compared to the price Orbital Sciences would charge.
 Because Orbital paid for the development of the Cygnus they would want to recoup that cost in the price they charge. But the ISA does not have to recover that cost. This means they could charge much less. But then why would anyone pay for the higher cost from Orbital when they could get it cheaper from the ISA?
 A puzzling question. It may be Orbital retains the rights to sell the Cygnus to NASA or even for all American launches.

    Bob Clark


  1. The thing about Cygnus vs Dragon is cargo needs to and from ISS. The ISS crew needs to ship two ways, just more mass up than down.

    Cygnus cannot do that without a heat shield, entry flight controls, and some sort of chute landing system, plus a recovery plan of some kind.

    Adding all of that (plus re-flight capability !!!) is already in Dragon's price, but not in the price for Cygnus. It is not a trivial exercise to add those things to Cygnus, and in fact may not be possible (or practical) at all.

    Orbital Sciences may know, but no one else does.


  2. "And from the estimated launch cost of the Ariane 6 and the low cost of the Cygnus compared to the Dragon their price could be at or below that of the Falcon 9/Dragon. How's that for wanting to be competitive with SpaceX?"

    Assuming that F9 reusability doesn't work. You're shooting at where SpaceX *is*, not where they *will be*...

    1. Actually that is another reason for favoring the liquid fueled design. SpaceX is working toward drastically cutting the cost of space access by reusability. All the other space agencies in the world with liquid fueled rockets can adapt them to be reusable. A solid fueled Ariane 6 scheduled to launch in the 2020's may become obsolete before it is fielded. Europe would have to start all over from scratch to build the liquid fueled rocket it should have built originally.
      The solid fueled Ariane 6 may result in Europe being behind by decade(s) both in manned spaceflight and in low cost reusable launchers.

      Bob Clark