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