Cislunar Space Economy - United Launch Alliance & the Evolvable Lunar Architecture
This study publied in July 13, 2015, by NexGen Space LLC (NexGen) was partly funded by a grant from NASA’s Emerging Space office in the Office of the Chief Technologist. The conclusions in this report are solely those of NexGen and the study team authors. LEARN MORE SOON
NexGen Space LLC has assembled a team of former NASA executives and engineers who assessed the economic and technical viability of an “Evolvable Lunar Architecture” (ELA) that leverages commercial capabilities and services that are existing or likely to emerge in the near-term.
The ELA concept evaluated was designed as an incremental, low-cost and low-risk method for returning humans to the Moon in a manner that directly supports NASA’s long-term plan to send humans to Mars. The ELA strategic objective is commercial mining of propellant from lunar poles where it will be transported to lunar orbit to be used by NASA to send humans to Mars. The study assumed that, the United States is willing to lead an international partnership to leverages private industry capabilities and, public-private-partnership models proven in recent years by NASA and other government agencies.
Their analysis concludes that:
Based on the experience of recent NASA program innovations, such as the COTS program, a human return to the Moon may not be as expensive as previously thought.
America could lead a return of humans to the surface within a period of 5-7 years at an estimated total cost of about $10 Billion (+/- 30%) for two independent and competing commercial service providers, or about $5 Billion for each provider, using partnership methods.
America could lead the development of a permanent industrial base of 4 private-sector astronauts in about 10-12 years after setting foot on the Moon that could provide 200 MT of propellant per year in lunar orbit for NASA for a total cost of about $40 Billion (+/- 30%).
Assuming NASA receives a flat budget, these results could potentially be achieved within NASA’s existing deep space human spaceflight budget.
A commercial lunar base providing propellant in lunar orbit might substantially reduce the cost and risk NASA of sending humans to Mars. The ELA would reduce the number of required Space Launch System (SLS) launches from as many as 12 to a total of only 3, thereby reducing SLS operational risks, and increasing its affordability.
An International Lunar Authority, modeled after CERN and traditional public infrastructure authorities, may be the most advantageous mechanism for managing the combined business and technical risks associated with affordable and sustainable lunar development and operations.
A permanent commercial lunar base might substantially pay for its operations by exporting propellant to lunar orbit for sale to NASA and others to send humans to Mars, thus enabling the economic development of the Moon at a small marginal cost.
To the extent that national decision-makers value the possibility of economical production of propellant at the lunar poles, it needs to be a priority to send robotic prospectors to the lunar poles to confirm that water (or hydrogen) is economically accessible near the surface inside the lunar craters at the poles.
An affordable commercial industrial base will provide economic growth, national security, advances in select areas of technology and innovation, inspiration, and a long-term future of democracy and free markets.
The "Evolution" of United Launch Alliance (ULA)
Atlas to Vulcan Vehicle Evolution.
Centaur Atlas Second Stage. Credit: ULA
Multiple Stages of ULA.
Tank's stocks, Alabama, USA. Credit: ULA
For now, the Russian RD-180 Engine is used on ULA's Booster
U.S. Blue Origin BE-4 Engine will probably go under Vulcan's Booster!
Aerojet Rochetdyne AR-1 engine is also considered by ULA!
ACES can accommodate one 100-150 klb, two 50-75 klb, or four 25-35 klb engines, obviously with differences in thrust structures and feed lines resulting. ULA will choose between the Aerojet Rocketdyne RL-10, a Blue Origin BE-3 derivative, and an XCOR engine.
In 2015, United Launch Alliance (ULA) announced its Sensible Modular Autonomous Return Technology (SMART) re-use plan to recover the booster module of its Vulcan. The plan employs the non-propulsive atmospheric entry, descent and landing (EDL) technologies.
ULA set out to develop an approach that can show benefit to both spacecraft operators and shareholders for the expansive's costs of launching rockets. Its Sensible Modular Autonomous Return Technology (SMART) re-use concept sought to minimize the performance penalty while maximizing the dollar value of the elements returned, the booster engines.
The Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator (HIAD) technology use a flexible thermal protection system to protects the Bue Origine BE-4 Vulcan Engines for the atmospheric re-entry. At some level, a drogue and parafoil system is deployed and the HIAD system is jettisoned. The guided parafoil allows the system to steer toward a capture zone where a helicopter has been proceeding. The two vehicles converge to perform a Mid-Air Retrieval allowing delivery to a waiting ship.
ULA has been working with NASA Langley Research Center on maturing the HIAD concept for SMART Re-use and have honed on a 12 m implementation for the system. The company had also working with NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center and Airborne Systems to refine the Mid-Air Recovery (MAR) elements.
Inflatable Heat Shields Could Drop-Ship Bigger Robots
In the Picture below, we see the installation of the Delta Cryogenic Second Stage (DCSS) inside the Delta IV Heavy Rocket. It will be used in EFT-1.
Orion EFT-1 re-entry and splash down.
ULA have BIG plans for the Moon!
Already very prolific launcher of payloads in space with its Atlas and Delta families, United Launch Alliance (ULA) wants the Moon more accessible for every one. It will be not easy, but very, very possible because its determination and skills are there.
The cis-lunar econosphere is a territory that includes trade routes of business between LEO and GEO orbits, Lunar orbit, Earth/Moon Lagrange Points, and near Earth objects (NEO). These routes permit water and raw material mining, propellant refining and storage, and in-space manufacturing.
Transfer vehicles traveling along these routes will be self-sufficient because of a near endless supply of liquid oxygen (LO2) and liquid hydrogen (LH2) propellants, mined and refined from water on the Moon and asteroids.
The Lunar Poles are the perfect locations to extract resources because the moon’s rotation axis is nearly perpendicular to the ecliptic, providing almost 100% of sunlight on some regions while others are in a permanent shadow.
Transporting goods and people from the Moon to the Geosynchronous-Earth Orbit (GEO) takes less than 10% of the propellant needed for their transport from the Earth's gravity to the Orbit.
One big advantage to extracting resources where the sunlight is always present is that it gives an unlimited solar power energy and eliminates the 14-day night of equatorial. This is very interesting because, just next to it, in the permanently shadowed regions, an estimated 10 billion tons of water-ice per polehas been confirmed.
View of aLunar Crater
How does ULA want to proceed?
To make cis-lunar economy self-sufficient, the cost of transportation needs to be reduced drastically. And, the way to lowering that cost, is through the use of space resources.
Cis-lunar econosphere. Credit: ULA
The major reason for the high cost of travelling is the large amount of fuel required to escape the Earth's gravity to reach the LEO. Once there, much less fuel is necessary to go anywhere in cis-lunar space.
Until today, the market for satellites is provided by many transportation systems using variations of multi-stage chemical rockets. All are actually expendable, although several companies are experimenting with various forms of partial or full re-usability, as SpaceX does.
Example of Energy (Propellant mass) used by each stage of an Atlas V. Credit: FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation
As we see in the diagram, once in orbit, the energy levels to be managed are much reduced and there are no aerodynamic forces to contend with. At that point, the challenges are getting the system elements into cis-lunar space, the re-usability of stage, finding fuel, the thermal environment and the time of the mission.
Water can be easily electrolyzed into hydrogen and oxygen using solar power which can then be used for rocket propellant. Hence, it makes sense to base the cis-lunar transportation system on liquid hydrogen (LH2) and liquid oxygen (LO2), the constituents of water and the highest energy chemical propellant known.
United Launch Alliance (ULA) has most of the world’s experience operating LO2/LH2 propulsion systems in space with more than 100 rockets'launches. Its second stage of Atlas V (REF 1) and Delta IV launch systems utilize LO2/LH2 as propellant. Furthermore, the functionality of these stages is largely what is needed for the cis-lunar transportation system.
The Evolution of the family
The development of the Vulcan booster, the Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage (ACES), and theSMART Re-use concept enhances the current capabilities towards a single launch system. With the next generation in avionics and the advancements in Guidance, Navigation & Control (GN&C) systems, ULA has a new and more capable concept of launch service.
ULA is presently working on the Booster Stage Vulcan that will increase its capacity in numerous space launch markets, such as National security, scientific exploration, human spaceflight, and communications. Also, with its goal to have a competitive All-American Engine, the company has tested the methane-fueled BE-4 of Blue Origin (REF 5) and, the kerosene-fueled AR-1 of Aerojet Rocketdyne (REF 6).
For now, ULA's prime candidate to replace the Russian RD-180 Engine (REF 4) is the high-performance, oxygen-rich staged combustion BE-4 engine because it can provide a combined thrust of about 5 million N (1.1 million lbf) to the booster.
Concept of Vulcan 561
ULA will add up to six Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) to the main Vulcan's booster. These SRBs, developed by Orbital ATK, will give the impulse needed for the heavy payloads, or for cis-lunar missions.
ULA has strategic partnerships with Blue Origin and Orbital ATK to improve efficiency and performance at lower costs.
Step by step
With the goal of having only one launcher by 2023, ULA is introducing its innovative technologies gradually to improve them before their finale implementation.
For now, the Vulcan will be matched to the Centaur second stage in 2019, either to the 4 or 5 m payload fairings, and launched to test its capabilities. During these tests, the total impulse of the 4 and 5 m fairings will be increased with up to four and five SRBs respectively, that will surely exceeds the power of the Atlas V's rocket.
When the main Vulcan booster is available as Provider, ULA will have a family of three launchers with its Atlas and Delta.
During the transition to eliminate Atlas, the work will continue to provide a common flight software, avionics, simulation suite, and processes.
Before the switch of the Centaur second stage with the powerful Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage (ACES) in 2023, Atlas will continue to fly until the couple Vulcan-Centaur is certified for missions to the U.S. government.
When the finale implementation will be done with the Vulcan booster and the second stage ACES, the prolific Delta IV Heavy will be retired. A this time, ULA will have a single and definitively more affordable launch system.
Credit: FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation