Author Topic: Manned Mars sortie using "cheapest" launchers available: Researching for Novella  (Read 9462 times)

Offline MATTBLAK

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Matt,

You asked for suggestions. If people give you the free advice that you asked for, you don't have to take it. At the same time, if you just rebut them flat out, people will not want to offer you ideas.
I thought I only rebutted one person, really, but your point is taken. I've been looking for specific answers to technical questions, I suppose. And as for the Saturn V idea; I was merely pointing out that it has been done, actually more than once by professional writers and I didn't necessarily want to just riff off of their stories. Besides; I have a shelved, alternate history novel that deals with Saturn V's ;)

As I'm examining the whole concept more and more - it appears to me that there are only a few ways this could all be 'cheaply' done, if it could be done at all. My story 'bible' outline has it occurring before 2030, but I will not be specifying a year (I think) and I'm going to definitely stick to a concept that's a fair bit like the Lunar 'Golden Spike' concept of a few years back; but scaled up. For alternate and better Manned Mars Mission ideas; there are plenty of threads already for those - I've taken part in them. I'm an SLS skeptic and a big SpaceX fan; but I'm a little skeptical of their plans, too.

I'm going to start writing very soon. Not all of you will agree or like it - but I'm going for bare-bones realism and some real world best-case/worst-case scenarios. In other words - I've already made my mind up what I'm going to include in the story, and what not to. But if someone came up with a 'wrinkle' or riff that I could steal - I'd give them credit. I'd love to have my billionaire protagonists be like Jeff Tracy from the old science fiction show 'Thunderbirds' and give him a convenient uber-genius and unlimited budget, creating a fantasy shopping list of super-technology. But Elon's ambitions will be sci-fi enough until he does or doesn't make it real.

I'm asking for some faith at this point; even though many of you don't know me and don't know what to expect. This novella will be the 'Training Wheels' for my first, full-length novel. I might even change the tone to make it read more like a Reginald Turnill or Kenneth Gatland account from one of their awesome books on the history of space exploration. Might be a way to shorten it a bit...
« Last Edit: 01/14/2018 09:49 AM by MATTBLAK »
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Offline MATTBLAK

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I suggest looking at the JPL design. Biprop stages, 100kw SEP, blunt-body lander. It relies on SLS' EUS for departure but I guess more biprop stages would do the job as well.

Here's the paper for the lander:

https://trs.jpl.nasa.gov/bitstream/handle/2014/45916/15-5417_A1b.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

Edit: Ah well, 25t launcher, not an option then :)
That paper is excellent, thank you!! A scaled down version of that MAV could form the basis of the story vehicle - two crew, bare-bones ascent only with their EVA suits providing much of the life support. The cost of the boosters and the MAV will be portrayed as the most expensive items in the architecture. In fact; if they did a second manned mission to ameliorate the cost of the first - a version of the MAV could be a descent-only cargo lander that could get down much more cargo mass than a 'improved' Red Dragon, which probably couldn't land a lot more than about 1.5 tons on Mars.

And the occasional 63 ton load, fully expendable Falcon Heavy will be making an appearance in the story...
« Last Edit: 11/04/2017 02:41 AM by MATTBLAK »
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Offline speedevil

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Using only the 'cheapest' classes of launchers available for the next 8-to-10 years - 15-to-25 ton class <snip>

Phase 1: Earth orbit testing of vehicles and hardware.
Phase 2: A high Lunar-orbit deep space 'shakedown'.
Phase 3: The manned Mars mission. If successful; there may be a second mission with a slightly longer surface stay next time - primarily, the second mission is just to ameliorate the expenditure and investment on the first. A third mission would likely occur as an obsolete artifact when the big SpaceX vehicles finally get going, probably a few years later than planned.

While of course it's your story, and alternate timelines can be fun, it seems you're predicating this on (taking 9 years as average purchase time of launcher)
2026: Integration and vehicle design
2027: earth orbit testing
2028-Q1 : LO
Dec 2028 - M1
Feb 2031 - M2
Apr 2033 - M3

( NASA trajectory planner )

The first Mars mission planning implies that in 2025 or so, it looks utterly implausible BFR will be flying in the near future, and that it in fact does not fly until after 2031 - a ten year slip.

I have a hard time envisioning what's gone on to make this plausible.
Perhaps FH explodes, taking out the pad, followed by two unrelated explosions and stand-down periods, leading to starlink failing and ...

But that would mean it may be very hard to buy F9s, much less to trust them.

Just curious as to why you're choosing to not use BFR as it seems at least plausible it will be available in the time period in question, and
likelyhood * cost-saving
seems to favour BFR over other launchers.


« Last Edit: 11/16/2017 03:05 PM by Lar »

Offline MATTBLAK

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I have finished the first second draft of the prologue. This is all I plan to put up for now. This thread is likely to 'go dark' for awhile; at least as far as I'm concerned. To work...
« Last Edit: 11/16/2017 05:02 AM by MATTBLAK »
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Online TomH

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I usually would not go deep into my teacher mode about a board member's style of writing, but  since you want actually to publish a book, I am going to be honest in a way that I would not otherwise be. You need an editor and a proofreader.

The syntactical flow of your prose needs an editor's polish; it is a bit stilted. The dialogue of the two characters, as well as the narration, are all too stylistically similar for a third person point of view narrative. The voice of each character, as well as that of the narrator, all need to be distinctive, yet maintain consistency throughout the story.

You also need a proofreader who is well versed in all conventions, particularly grammar. Your dashes should all be commas, while two items in series are not separated by a comma, only three or more. Only one of your numerous semi-colons is correctly used; the clauses must be related yet able to stand independently as a simple sentence. Yours do not. You have a beginning quote mark which does not belong.

A good story needs to flow easily and requires a different style than the type we all normally use on the board.

I would love to see your work succeed and hope you are able to find some people who can help you achieve that goal.
« Last Edit: 11/16/2017 03:48 AM by TomH »

Offline MATTBLAK

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EDIT:  It's now a second draft, for now - several extraneous dashes and semi-colons have been agreeably removed. But I'm not going to remove any others at this stage. You have to put in some commas to emulate the real way English-speakers put natural pauses for breathing and vocal clarity when they speak - both formally and informally. Otherwise they sound like robots or a recitation of a textbook. I've also done a fair bit of stage acting, so I know about breathing and public speaking. Semi-colons and commas can be tricky and in subsequent drafts as the story grows will be rather tightened up. I know of at least one published author whose opinion on punctuation would be about halfway between yours and mine! As for their relative dialogue and styles of talking, I'm trying to avoid a 'technobabble' and most kinds of ethnocentric patois and I don't ever go for much casual swearing. If you listen to a lot of the semi-formal interactions during NASA press conferences for instance, I'm trying to have the characters talk in their subject matter accurately, but make it much more conversational than that without resorting to 'staged banter'.

Funnily enough; the three short stories I've had published already in out-of-print anthologies certainly were proof read and edited professionally and didn't end up being a million miles away from the 9 or 10th drafts I'd submitted.
« Last Edit: 11/16/2017 04:18 AM by MATTBLAK »
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Online KelvinZero

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I read the prologue thanks. My first reaction was, "Smith and Jones"? :)

My impression from the prologue, right or wrong, was "so that's the motivation, and the story will be the implementation."

I don't think it is enough motivation. It is a huge ask even to a space enthusiast like me. IMO you have two options:

(1) Hand the reader an EPIC hypothetical motivation in the prologue just to dismiss this as an issue from any readers mind, something like
* There actually _is_ a face on mars, and it is the protagonist's. (Which prompts a great shaggy dog tale where the guy struggles all his way to just make it to the statue with his last breath, to read the plaque which says "Here lies the body of <insert his name>, first man on Mars" :) )
* The protagonist was already a huge mars proponent but discovers that they just do not have the time. Maybe a degenerative muscle disease that will actually be easier in space.
* A Nigerian prince is given a huge inheritance by a crazy uncle, but they can only collect it on Mars. That lets you play lots of "Nigerian email scam" jokes for laughs while he is trying to get anyone to take him seriously.
Anyway you get the idea.

(2) You acknowledge and actually advertise the motivation as a mystery, with an implicit promise that the answer will be gained by reading the story. It is the pay off.
For example what if the protagonist was actually a lawyer/accountant for the billionaire, and had absolutely no dream or expectation of going to Mars. They could discover the motivation as they tried to stop it (first just discovering the billionaire is still of sound mind when the billionaire runs rings around his attempts) pulling the reader along with them, and somehow end up on the trip themselves. Whatever the motivation is, which may simply involve truely understanding what drives the billionaire, now has the entire length of the story to be answered.

After writing this I realise a common thread is that there does not appear to be anyone to explain it to or convince. My impression from the prologue is that the two characters are already completely onboard and informed. That takes away a convenient tool to slip some exposition to the reader when necessary. You don't need to shout it directly at the reader if you have an unconvinced protagonist to convince.

There is also no character flaw that we expect to see resolved. The "Nigerian prince" could be a worthless layabout. The dying billionaire could be handling it very badly. The lawyer/accountant is obviously transformed. They are all going to change or die, and possibly both.




Offline MATTBLAK

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That's funny stuff, Kelvin, but I'm not writing a comedy (at least not intentionally). You just might be a fan of Harry Harrison's 'Stainless Steel Rat' by the sound of it. I chose 'Smith & Jones' almost as blank, generic avatars for the 'Flight Of The Lunar Dragon' so as to be as far away as possible from the real folk's names for the Lunar Tourist mission, if and when they are announced.

Also; the motivation is a bit 'because it's there' for Mars. Just the sort of thing a 'nutty billionaire' might do if they've developed a taste for outrageous adventure once having sampled some of it (Circumlunar Tourism). Felix Baumgartner's jump from the edge of space some years ago made no real, pragmatic sense when he did it - but he did it anyway. James Cameron dived to the bottom of the Challenger Deep - very cool but outside of enthusiasts like me; who really cared? The lunar tourist mission will scarcely teach us anything new that we didn't know 49 years ago. But someone wants to do it anyway. Elon wants to die on Mars - just not on impact. Everyone catching the drift, yet?

I've spent more than 40 years hearing how NASA or some other huge government agency is 'someday' going to go to Mars in their grandiose spaceships. I distinctly remember telling Scott Carpenter when I met him in February 1986 (a conversation over dinner) about how everyone talks about going to Mars, but no one wants to pay for it or truly face up to the difficulties. I said to him; "In the end, it'll probably just be a couple of nutjobs in a couple of tin cans who get to Mars." We both agreed that it will likely just be some billionaire adventurers.

And so at least on a light-drama fictional level, I intend to make that prophecy come true... ;)
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Offline Russel

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Umm. I'm a bit late to this party but this is a 'fun' problem in that you can pretty much treat the billionaires as potentionally expendable :)

If you cut it down to just one person landing and the other two orbiting, then you might be in the ballpark. Maybe.

Start with a Dragon2. This is the heart of your inter planetary vehicle. Attach a small utility vehicle. This is your storage, storm shelter and of course return propulsion. Finally attach a lander/ascent vehicle.

Since you want to minimise transit and supplies you'll probably aim for a reasonable excess velocity on Mars approach. This is where the Dragon's heat shield comes in handy since you've no choice but aerocapture.

From here, one person descends on the lander/ascent vehicle. We're talking a couple of tons of gear and consumables for a 2 week stay. Your lander is your habitat.

On descent you lose some drop tanks after the first phase which loses most of your delta-v. The nice bit is that the lander/ascent vehicle is light. No heat shield and low g forces. Its built with modern materials and is lighter than the gear/consumables it carries

When you're done your lander becomes your ascent vehicle. You tge return to the orbiter. The lander is now ditched.

Earth return is as you'd expect. A main burn to send you back to earth and the Dragon  separates for a direct landing.
« Last Edit: 01/08/2018 07:58 AM by Russel »

Offline MATTBLAK

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Yes; it's going to be Dragon 2 based. In fact; a dusted off 'Red Dragon' idea. No; there wont be anyone left in orbit because there will not be enough delta-v to arrive in Martian orbit first - just direct entry and landing as prescribed by Zubrin and company for 'Mars Direct'. It will be just two people, to cut down on the food and other expendables and 'excess' characters, shedding modules and propulsion stages along the way, but there will be some propellant-generating ISRU. This will be a short novella in a semi-documentary style rather similar to my earlier story 'Flight Of The Lunar Dragon' that I attached earlier in this thread. There will be little deep characterizations - the crew will be almost avatars for a near-future, highly fictionalized history book extract. Think Reginald Turnill and/or Kenneth Gatland style - terrific space journalists who wrote great space books in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They just summarized and recorded the facts. Maybe in future I will greatly flesh it out and expand it. But I'm no Andy Weir and make no pretensions to be.

Google or research Robert Zubrin's SpaceX/Mars Direct derived article from about 2011 and this will be loosely based on that. This will not be high art. But I want people to have fun. Read 'Flight of the Lunar Dragon' and you'll hopefully get the gist of what I'm doing. Also: I've been waiting impatiently for Falcon Heavy to fly so I can finalize or change my mission architecture! The Martian surface stay will be fairly short and 'guerilla style'. A bit longer than the longest Apollo lunar stay of 3 days, but I haven't nailed that right down yet.

I will have to indulge in some minor 'hand-waving'. But even Andy Weir did that, too. But he got away with it! But like I said - I'm not him... Everyone be patient and please trust me - even if you don't know me... ;)

All the above is the closest I can get to a 'spoiler trailer' for now.
« Last Edit: 01/08/2018 09:46 AM by MATTBLAK »
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Offline Russel

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Well I'd like to see the numbers because every time I look at it, the act of directly returning to Earth ftom Mars surface doubles the scale/cost relative to an indirect return with Mars aerocapture.

This is with favorable assumptions. ISRU is oxygen only. ISRU does not cost too much in terms of energy generation (it will). But the real killer is that the Earth return vehicle (based on Dragon or not) isn't going to be light and getting that off Mars surface just means everything scales against you.

Good luck :)
« Last Edit: 01/09/2018 03:38 AM by Russel »

Offline MATTBLAK

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It is not direct return from the Martian surface to Earth, no. ISRU for LOX generation yes; just going to low Martian orbit. ISRU powered by solar/RTG/Stirling engine combo system. Approximately 9 tons of LOX generated over many months by the system before crew arrival for the MAV. MAV is literally a bare-bones craft. If it malfunctions majorly before crew arrival; springs big propellant leak etc, then the outbound crew aborts past Mars and does a long trip around the Sun to return to Earth, doing some course-correction burns along the way. The Earth Return vehicle is another Dragon 2/Cygnus Enhanced waiting in Martian orbit. The Mars departure stage is hypergolic fueled and powered by Super Draco with a nozzle extension.
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Offline MATTBLAK

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...Like I said; some good luck and hand-waving needed to portray even a marginally successful mission...
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Offline Michael Bloxham

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I’d be happy to help with your mission architecture. I worked on a very “bare bones” architecture for MarsDrive a few years ago. I think you might remember... We used 2 mobile habs, with 2 crew each. The MAV was the tiniest vehicle we could imagine, with no capsule. It was just 4 guys riding a rocket in their suits. Not only that, but to save even more weight we put the return vehicle on a fly-by trajectory, so that the MAV had to catch up with it. It was a one-shot deal - no second chances. But the IMLEO was tiny compared to anything comparable...

Offline MATTBLAK

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I'm mostly all filled up for ideas, thanks! :) I know before I've barely started that my ideas will be too hand-wavingly ambitious for some people and not near enough ambitious for others. We can have wish-lists and engineering shopping lists for what we want to see, but I'm making this mission not much more than Apollo 17 on the Martian surface. No fancy rovers and complex nuclear power sources, no driving hundreds of kms across Mars, as Andy Weir did. The surface stay will be for only mere days, with the most bare-bones equipment and dust contaminated-prone spacesuits. The Transit and return vehicles will be SpaceX Dragons docked to small Hab modules - probably Cygnus Enhanced and with hypergolic propulsion modules.

The MAV idea I have is for a 2x person vehicle where the spacesuits provide the life support and the cabin is a basic, pressurized shell that is more to protect the suits from RCS contaminants than anything else. The architecture is to be as basic and technically 'risk free' as possible with not really much new tech as we'd like. Not much more than Apollo on steroids, with RTG and solar power helping out instead of the Apollo 3x day battery power source. I'm massaging the details now and may cheat in the portrayal by presenting it as a mission description from a historical spaceflight account; such as what Reginald Turnill or Kenneth Gatland used to write, only a little more detailed. It will be a 'Flags & Footprints' mission showing that such a mission is basically sheer folly and terribly risky. The billionaire protagonists will be roundly criticized for 'wasting billions' while people are starving etc. One of the crew will counter this by saying, essentially; "You're missing the point" and "No; we did not fake this in a film studio". I'm being a bit cynical in the story by pointing out that the ignorant will spin this mission as a frivolous waste of time and money and will ignore the fact that 2x humans lived an worked on another world for a week. It is possible.

In fact; I reveal here for the first time that I may be descoping the mission into a Mars orbit and Phobos visit only portrayal instead; because if Elon and company make better progress than expected, this alternate, near-history portrayal may end up being ever more irrelevant, as my 'Flight Of The Lunar Dragon' story now is because of the cancellation of the Lunar Tourist mission :( The point of the descoping could be - we made it all the way to Mars; for far less money than imagined. Now; for a little more cost and risk, all the investment could be ameliorated into an actual landing.

That way - I could write a third part of a trilogy... ;)
« Last Edit: 02/14/2018 03:19 AM by MATTBLAK »
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