Author Topic: ULA Vulcan Rocket Q&A with ULA's Dr. George Sowers - April 14, 2015  (Read 57864 times)

Online Chris Bergin

Dr. George Sowers - VP, Advanced Concepts and Technologies (new rocket development is within his department) has kindly agreed to take questions on the NGLS (Named Vulcan) that was revealed April 13.

Dr. Sowers is a great friend of the site and has provided some superb Q&As here, for which we're very grateful.

I'm opening this now, ahead of Dr. Sowers answering questions on Tuesday, April 14, MT.

One question per member to ensure Dr. Sowers isn't overloaded with questions. Ensure your question is well presented, readable and worthwhile and please read the coverage of the reveal here:
http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=37251.0 - to ensure you don't ask a question already addressed (or that you ensure it asked for clarification of an answer).

Offline TrevorMonty

All best with the Vulcan. It has turned me into a ULA fan and many others judging by forum activities and name voting.

Do ULA plan to introduce IVF on Centuar or will it wait for ACES?.
« Last Edit: 04/14/2015 03:11 AM by TrevorMonty »

Offline Malderi

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Hi Dr. Sowers,

Thanks very much for doing this with us. Can you talk about any timelines or capabilities for Vulcan human launch? That wasn't touched on at all during the press conference, but with CST-100/Atlas making a lot of news, I'm sure things like pad access etc are in the works.

Thank you.

Offline Space Ghost 1962

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Thank you Dr. Sowers for your offer of answering NGLS/Vulcan questions.

If you and your rival are equally successful at your respective first stage "reuse" strategies, how well will they compete in terms of increasing overall annual launch frequency of each vendor?

Thank you again in advance for answering my humble question.

Offline robertross

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Thank you Dr. Sowers for the opportunity.

My question is whether the vehicle (or a specific configuration) be rated for nuclear payloads (IE: science missions with Plutonium)?
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Offline Rocket Surgeon

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Hi Dr. Sower,

Thank you very much for taking the time to answer these questions.
Tory Bruno has stated that the SMART Reuse system won't be used on the Vulcan initially, but will be phased in.
How long do you think it will take for them to start using it? And do you believe it will be done gradually, alla SpaceX or will it be much more rapid, say one or two experimental launches, then going full engine reuse?

Cheers,

Offline arachnitect

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Dr. Sowers, thank you again for coming back to answer more questions about your new rocket. I can't wait to watch it come together over the next few years, and hope Blue Origin can be persuaded to release engine testing videos.

If I recall correctly, ACES was a modular family that would fly with varying numbers of engines and even varying sizes of tanks to accomodate different mission requirements. Is that still the plan for the future Vulcan upper stage?

Thank you again. Go Vulcan! Go Centaur!

Offline PahTo

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Thanks for taking the time again, Dr. Sowers (and Chris).
What is the largest PLF under consideration, even for 2023+ ACES?
(btw, a good name for said stage would be "Centaur Prime")
:)

Offline nadreck

Thanks for sharing with us Dr Sowers.

I am curious about the versatility of the ACES stage, is it foreseen to be used with any other current, planned and/or future boost stages?

« Last Edit: 04/14/2015 02:01 AM by Chris Bergin »
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Offline kevin-rf

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Dr. Sowers, welcome back and thank you for again taking the time.

I watched the presentation and one thing struck me about upper stage being proposed. Didn't the original ACES paper have them switching from the current Centaur Stainless tank to a larger Al-Li tank. Tory made it quite clear the new upper stage being proposed will use new Stainless tanking.

Care to elaborate on the ACES's switch from the new tank using Al-Li to Stainless?
Why is it superior?
Better mass fraction?
Easier to make?
Cheaper to make?
70 years of experience manufacturing balloon tanks with Stainless?

I am just curious why it is superior for the new upper stage.

Thanks.
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Offline rcoppola

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Firstly, congratulations. Exciting time ahead.

I'm curious as to what specifically was meant by "pad innovations"? What new designs and methodologies will be developed?

Thanks and the very best of luck.
« Last Edit: 04/14/2015 12:40 AM by rcoppola »
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Offline Darkseraph

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Thanks Dr.Sowers for taking the time to answer our questions. We're all very excited about the preliminary details revealed in today's announcement.

My question is: What key factors set the architecture in favor of multiple solid boosters instead of a multiple common core configuration as seen on other heavy lifters such as the Delta IV Heavy, Falcon Heavy, Angara V?
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Offline yg1968

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Dr. Sowers, very exciting presentation today. Thanks for taking our questions.

I have the following question: Isn't there a risk for ULA to team up with a competitor such as Blue Origin given that Blue's objective is to eventually make their own LV?

Thanks,

YG
« Last Edit: 04/14/2015 01:45 AM by yg1968 »

Offline test_stand

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Could you please elaborate on the distributed launch option?

I would really like to know the kind of mass you could put in GTO or GEO if the first launch is a fuel tanker. How would it compare to the Delta-IV heavy?

Thank you.

Offline M_Puckett

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Hello Dr. Sowers,

Will the design be scarred such that a tri-core vehicle is possible should future demand require one?

Offline mhlas7

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Dr. Sowers, thank you for taking the time to answer questions!

My question is, how will the vehicle be delivered and processed at the pad? First transportation; will the stages be transported by barge or by air from the factory? For launch site integration; will it be like Atlas V (vertical rocket integration and a mobile transporter to the pad), Delta IV (horizontal rocket integration, erected at the pad and vertical payload integration with a mobile service tower) or like Falcon 9 (horizontal integration and erected at the pad)?

Thanks again! I am excited to see Vulcan fly!

Offline tp1024

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Dr. Sowers,

why will Vulcan start out with an upper stage based on RL-10 instead of a BE-3?

There is certainly more experience with the BE-3 engine already, than with the BE-4 engine you plan to use in the 1st stage. BE-3 has already gone through acceptance testing while BE-4 has yet to be build, not to say test-fired. You could start developing an upper stage with a BE-3 engine right away and demonstrate it on either an Atlas or Delta rocket.

Same question in other words: If you are preprared to use an engine in development like the BE-4 in 2019, why is it important to first gather flight experience with the BE-3 before using it with the new rocket some time in 2023?
« Last Edit: 04/14/2015 05:39 PM by tp1024 »

Offline jongoff

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George,

I'm excited to see the progress on this new rocket, and glad you guys are able to talk more openly about orbital refueling and such! Hopefully I get a chance to say hi when we're down at the symposium tomorrow.

My question is sort of boring, but do you have any numbers you can publish about expected performance for Vulcan, both with various numbers of strapons and the existing Centaur stage, and then with various numbers of strapons and the new ACES stage?

~Jon

Offline Bubbinski

Thank you for offering to answer our questions, Dr. Sowers.

Are you planning to recover and reuse the solid rocket boosters, either initially or eventually?
« Last Edit: 04/14/2015 03:29 AM by Bubbinski »
I'll even excitedly look forward to "flags and footprints" and suborbital missions. Just fly...somewhere.

Offline Antares

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ULA is not its own company.  Is this development being done on ULA funds or have the parent companies okayed it?
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Offline Robotbeat

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I'd like to know more about any plans for depots and the extremely long-lived side of ACES. You mentioned months. Does this include some sort of sunshield? Can I sneak one in on second stage recovery?
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Offline davey142

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Dr Sowers,
Thank you for taking our questions. With the addition of more powerful solid rocket motors, I would like to know how the acceleration profile during flight will compare to that of the Atlas V / Delta IV now. Will the acceleration be higher? Or has this been offset by other factors?

Offline Borklund

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ULA is not its own company.  Is this development being done on ULA funds or have the parent companies okayed it?
I believe this was already answered at yesterday's webcast: "Funding for development is completely out of ULA's profits."

--

Thank you for doing this Dr. Sowers. I have a simple question: Will the stars and stripes paint scheme go on production vehicles or is it just artistic license for the renders? I think it looks gorgeous. Thanks, and I look forward to the first Vulcan launch!

Offline deltaV

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ULA's press release says "In step two, the Centaur second stage will be replaced by the more powerful, innovative Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage (ACES), making the NGLS capability that of todayís Delta IV Heavy rocket.". Qualitatively will Vulcan with ACES match or exceed DIVH to all destinations from LEO to Saturn or will it be better for some orbits but not others? Quantitatively what's Vulcan with ACES's expected payload mass to LEO, 1500 m/s GTO, TLI, Mars, and Saturn? (Or better yet a plot of mass vs C3.)
« Last Edit: 04/14/2015 05:28 AM by deltaV »

Offline Galactic Penguin SST

Dr Sowers - are there any concepts discussed on how the 1st stage engine booster inflatable heat shield will be made of and tested for use?
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Offline MATTBLAK

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Dr Sowers; thank you for all your attention and time here. Question: might any ACES derivative be put forward as a possible 'Exploration Upper Stage' for the SLS?
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Offline redliox

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Dr. Sowers,

My first question is the fuel choice for the first stage: methane.  What prompted the use of methane as opposed to the more traditional kerosene?

My second question is how much payload could the first configuration of Vulcan (with Centaur as upper stage) put into orbit or even to Mars?  The later part of the question relates to ULA's history with sending space probes out such as MAVEN and even Pluto-bound New Horizons.  The size of such spacecraft ultimately depend on the capabilities of the rockets that launch them.
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Offline ChrisWilson68

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SpaceX has said their goal is to fly first stages back to the landing site and reuse them quickly -- gas and go.  If SpaceX is successful in that, and continues an unbroken string of Falcon 9 launch successes, can Vulcan compete with that?  Or is ULA betting the company that SpaceX will fail?

Offline Steven Pietrobon

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Dear Dr. Sowers,

Is ULA considering the use of propellant densification via subcooling of the Vulcan first stage propellants as a way of increasing the performance of the vehicle?

All the best, Steven.
« Last Edit: 04/14/2015 08:08 AM by Steven Pietrobon »
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Offline dglow

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Dr. Sowers, congratulations on the Vulcan reveal!

Of the components and technologies announced and/or discussed today, which one most excites you personally, and why?
« Last Edit: 04/14/2015 10:38 AM by dglow »

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Dr Sowers, thank you for taking the time and trouble to answer questions.

How long have you been working on the Vulcan concept and what approximate stage in development have ULA reached? (eg PDR, CDR etc)

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Another vote of thanks for agreeing to take questions, Dr. Sowers!

ULA surely did trades on full first stage recovery versus engine compartment midair... why is midair recovery so compelling, compared to the path SpaceX is on, which seems to offer the promise of far greater cost reductions?
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Offline spacediver

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Dr. Sowers

AFAIK the current ULA launchers were only used to launch NASA or USAF payloads.
Does ULA plan to (re-)enter the market of commercial comsat launches with Vulcan?

Spacediver


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Dr. Sowers,

     If ULA is planning to attempt either full stage or Engine and Avionincs package recovery, whatis the particular method that you have in mind for such recovery?  Powered descent to land, Parachute to sea, or a combination of these strategies?
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Dr. Sowers' limo has been spotted in the NSF Towers car park, so he'll be answering questions shortly. :)

Let's have a freeze point for questions to allow him to catch up.

Offline georgesowers

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Dr. George Sowers - VP, Advanced Concepts and Technologies (new rocket development is within his department) has kindly agreed to take questions on the NGLS (Named Vulcan) that was revealed April 13.

Dr. Sowers is a great friend of the site and has provided some superb Q&As here, for which we're very grateful.

I'm opening this now, ahead of Dr. Sowers answering questions on Tuesday, April 14, MT.

One question per member to ensure Dr. Sowers isn't overloaded with questions. Ensure your question is well presented, readable and worthwhile and please read the coverage of the reveal here:
http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=37251.0 - to ensure you don't ask a question already addresses (or that you ensure it asked for clarification of an answer).

Before I dive into the questions, I'd like to thank Chris for giving me the opportunity to do this Q&A.  As I wrote in a recent op ed (http://dpo.st/1albze6 ) developing new rockets is a good as it gets for someone in our business.  It's clear that all of you share my enthusiasm.  And that makes answering your questions really fun.

Offline georgesowers

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All best with the Vulcan. It has turned me into a ULA fan and many others judging by forum activities and name voting.

Do ULA plan to introduce IVF on Centuar or will it wait for ACES?.

Business case to close. 
Thanks!  As Tory said in the press conference, we got well over 1.1M votes.

IVF is an integral part of the ACES design.  We would like to field it on Centaur earlier, but need to find the right opportunity to get the business case to close.  Without going into details, we are actively pursuing several possibilities.
« Last Edit: 04/14/2015 02:42 PM by Chris Bergin »

Offline georgesowers

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Hi Dr. Sowers,

Thanks very much for doing this with us. Can you talk about any timelines or capabilities for Vulcan human launch? That wasn't touched on at all during the press conference, but with CST-100/Atlas making a lot of news, I'm sure things like pad access etc are in the works.

Thank you.

It's our plan that Vulcan will be human rated.  We are incorporating human requirements from the outset and involving the commercial crew office in the development process.  For example, we have constrained the height of the vehicle to maintain the CST-100 interfaces at the launch site unchanged as well as the interfaces to the Centaur.  How and when we transition from Atlas to Vulcan will be worked in collaboration with our Boeing customer and NASA.

Offline georgesowers

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Thank you Dr. Sowers for your offer of answering NGLS/Vulcan questions.

If you and your rival are equally successful at your respective first stage "reuse" strategies, how well will they compete in terms of increasing overall annual launch frequency of each vendor?

Thank you again in advance for answering my humble question.

An excellent question.  The answer is: it remains to be seen.  Increasing launch rate means increasing launch sales which means getting new customers.  That can happen in two ways: take customers away from someone else (via lower prices) or generate new demand.  We all hope for the later.

The challenge for reuse has always been with the business case.  Can you get the cost of recovery and refurbishment low enough to truly save money?  No one has done it yet.  We believe the approach outlined yesterday gives us the best shot at it.

BTW, I have a simple parametric spreadsheet that runs through the economics as a function of number of reuses, and the various relevant cost parameters.  When I get some more time, I'll post it here and let you guys have fun.

Offline georgesowers

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Thank you Dr. Sowers for the opportunity.

My question is whether the vehicle (or a specific configuration) be rated for nuclear payloads (IE: science missions with Plutonium)?

Currently, Atlas is the only LV in the US fleet that has carried nuclear payloads (Pluto New Horizons and Curiosity).  We are quite familiar with the process and expect Vulcan will eventually carry nuclear payloads.  The process is done on a mission specific basis.  There is no blanket nuclear certification to my knowledge.

Offline georgesowers

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Hi Dr. Sower,

Thank you very much for taking the time to answer these questions.
Tory Bruno has stated that the SMART Reuse system won't be used on the Vulcan initially, but will be phased in.
How long do you think it will take for them to start using it? And do you believe it will be done gradually, alla SpaceX or will it be much more rapid, say one or two experimental launches, then going full engine reuse?

Cheers,

I expect we will phase it in gradually.  The first step is to mature the HIAD (hypersonic inflatable aerodynamic decelerator) technology.  We are working with NASA on that.

Offline georgesowers

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Dr. Sowers, thank you again for coming back to answer more questions about your new rocket. I can't wait to watch it come together over the next few years, and hope Blue Origin can be persuaded to release engine testing videos.

If I recall correctly, ACES was a modular family that would fly with varying numbers of engines and even varying sizes of tanks to accomodate different mission requirements. Is that still the plan for the future Vulcan upper stage?

Thank you again. Go Vulcan! Go Centaur!

We've been working ACES for many years.  I'm really excited that we finally have a firm plan to implement it.  The architectural details are still being worked out.  The configuration(s) will depend in part on the engine selection we'll make in the next couple of years.  The architecture based on a BE-3U will be different from that based on an RL10 or XCOR engine. But you've got the trade space right, number of engines and vehicle length.

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Thanks for taking the time again, Dr. Sowers (and Chris).
What is the largest PLF under consideration, even for 2023+ ACES?
(btw, a good name for said stage would be "Centaur Prime")
:)

Once we go to ACES, we will likely retire the 4m PLF.  Firm plans are for 5m only, but we have studied up to 8m.  Implementing something larger than 5m will be driven by customer requirements.

Offline georgesowers

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Thanks for sharing with us Dr Sowers.

I am curious about the versatility of the ACES stage, is it foreseen to be used with any other current, planned and/or future boost stages?

The plan is for ACES to replace Centaur.  In the past we had looked at ACES on DIV (ACES in DIV heavy is a great heavy lifter...).  But with our plans to retire DIV, Vulcan will be the sole user of ACES.

Offline georgesowers

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Dr. Sowers, welcome back and thank you for again taking the time.

I watched the presentation and one thing struck me about upper stage being proposed. Didn't the original ACES paper have them switching from the current Centaur Stainless tank to a larger Al-Li tank. Tory made it quite clear the new upper stage being proposed will use new Stainless tanking.

Care to elaborate on the ACES's switch from the new tank using Al-Li to Stainless?
Why is it superior?
Better mass fraction?
Easier to make?
Cheaper to make?
70 years of experience manufacturing balloon tanks with Stainless?

I am just curious why it is superior for the new upper stage.

Thanks.

We've studied different upperstage structural designs for decades and have yet to find anything better that stainless in terms of mass fraction and cost.  For example, several years ago we got some technology money from NASA to look at friction stirweld of thin walled aluminum tanks.  The technology worked, but the best we could do was match the weight at a higher cost of stainless.  For ACES, we are going to modern robotic manufacturing methods to reduce the cost further.

Offline georgesowers

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Dr. George Sowers - VP, Advanced Concepts and Technologies (new rocket development is within his department) has kindly agreed to take questions on the NGLS (Named Vulcan) that was revealed April 13.

Dr. Sowers is a great friend of the site and has provided some superb Q&As here, for which we're very grateful.

I'm opening this now, ahead of Dr. Sowers answering questions on Tuesday, April 14, MT.

One question per member to ensure Dr. Sowers isn't overloaded with questions. Ensure your question is well presented, readable and worthwhile and please read the coverage of the reveal here:
http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=37251.0 - to ensure you don't ask a question already addresses (or that you ensure it asked for clarification of an answer).

Before I dive into the questions, I'd like to thank Chris for giving me the opportunity to do this Q&A.  As I wrote in a recent op ed (http://dpo.st/1albze6 ) developing new rockets is a good as it gets for someone in our business.  It's clear that all of you share my enthusiasm.  And that makes answering your questions really fun.

OK, I have to take a break.  I'll be back later today.  Thanks for the great questions!

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Dr. Sowers -
What drove the decision to select an as-yet unbuilt and untested engine from a new player in the aerospace world (BE-4 from B.O.)? If ULA were selecting an existing engine with flight heritage (RS-68 for example) it would provide an obvious schedule acceleration benefit. But when considering a new American built engine, especially in the non traditional methalox category, for vertical integration reasons it would seem to make sense for ULA to develop its own.

Removing my second question per request from mods.
Did ULA consider using SpaceX engines on its rockets? Raptor will be methalox, and in the right thrust regime for a 2-engine Vulcan first stage. Is this even a feasible business move?
« Last Edit: 04/14/2015 05:34 PM by wsclark »

Online dkovacic

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Dr. Sowers,

I would like to ask question related to solid boosters:

Shall Vulcan be human rated in configuration with multiple solid boosters, i.e. capable of capable of launching orion?

Edit: reduced to one question.

Thank you in advance!
« Last Edit: 04/14/2015 05:40 PM by dkovacic »

Offline VulcanCafe

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Hi Dr. Sowers,

ULA has a long history of successful missions, SpaceX is an emerging business, and Blue Origin an enigma. Overall, it seems that everyone is losing the PR war with the general public -most people just don't care. A number of space enthusiasts are excited for SpaceX's entry into the market, simply because of their grander stated ambitions (realistic or not).

How can/will ULA help reinvigorate the public's appetite for spaceflight?

Thanks!
VulcanCafe
(excellent rocket name choice!)

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There was a mention of selecting the AR1 engine in 18 months if the Blue Origin engine isn't coming along as expected.  What impact would that have on first stage design?  Thanks!

Online Lar

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One question each please, in the interests of fairness. Those of you that have more than one question in your post, please revise down to just one question... thanks!
"I think it would be great to be born on Earth and to die on Mars. Just hopefully not at the point of impact." -Elon Musk
"We're a little bit like the dog who caught the bus" - Musk after CRS-8 S1 successfully landed on ASDS OCISLY

Offline Thorny

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Hello, Dr. Sowers.

Thank you for taking the time to discuss the Vulcan rocket plans with us!

I have a question regarding the use of Centaur. All things being equal, it would seem the Centaur (with its balloon tankage and common bulkhead) is a more complicated stage to build, transport and prepare for launch than, say the Delta IV's DCSS (separate tanks). Would a DCSS-derivative not offer a cheaper stage for Vulcan than Centaur?

Offline the_other_Doug

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Hi, Dr. Sowers.  To repeat everyone else, thanks for answering our questions.

Concerning the previously announced IVF technology to be used in Vulcan and specifically the ACES, how far along is ULA in developing an internal combustion engine that can run on hydrogen and oxygen and survive the implied temperatures and pressures (plus the vibration regime of a solids-assisted launch), be able to maintain lubrication over weeks and/or months spent quiescent in orbit, etc.?
-Doug  (With my shield, not yet upon it)

Offline clongton

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Dr. Sowers; In the recent past (2010) here on NSF there was a thread which discussed in depth an American equivalent to the Russian Vulcan, to be flown by Energya. http://www.k26.com/buran/info/hercules/vulkan.html. That potential LV system was called AJAX http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=22266.msg618244#msg618244 and used varying numbers of Atlas CCBís as LRBís to cover a wide range of lift requirements ranging from 70 tonnes to 280 tonnes to LEO, from 2 LRBís up to 8 LRBís. It even specifically called for the use of ULA's ACES upper stage. The 3 most difficult engineering problems were the flexible locations of the LRB interfaces, avionics with the ability to manage variable numbers of LRBís and the structural integrity of any upper stage imposing limiting factors on the usable lift capacity. None of these engineering conditions are too difficult to address so I looked at the potential of ULA's new Vulcan potentially filling that role. What was revealed yesterday was a single core with varying numbers of SRBís, but I noticed that the central core could just as easily accommodate 2, 4 or even 6 additional Vulcan cores in the role of LRBís. Such a vehicle would offer the United States, indeed the entire world, the ability to have a single LV family capable of covering Medium, Heavy and Super Heavy lift capabilities, without the expense of designing, building and flying many different vehicles, by simply varying the LRB count. So my question would be do you believe it would be a smart business move to design the Vulcan in such a way that does not preclude the on-demand ability to satisfy the less common needs of a Heavy or even a Super Heavy launch? Even though such large lift requirements would not be the norm, just knowing there was a vehicle available to handle it would likely free DoD and NASA mission planners to make use of the capacity.
Chuck - DIRECT co-founder
I started my career on the Saturn-V F-1A engine

Offline baldusi

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Dr. Sowers,
  Thank you for your invaluable insight and for giving us the opportunity to interact with the pros of the industry.
I'm wondering about the Vulcan's core tank tooling. I'm assuming you'll be re purposing the Delta IV LOX tank tooling. But I also saw that you are trying to get it to be manufacturable, and Delta IV is not exactly know for that. So, are you going to basically put two appropriately sized DIV LOX tanks on top of the other with an intertank and an external down comer, or are you going to add improvements like internal down comer, common bulkhead and improved alloys (like Al 2195 or Al 2050), etc.? Can you elaborate on some of the improvements?
« Last Edit: 04/14/2015 05:20 PM by baldusi »

Offline dror

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Dr. Sowers,

Congratulations for a new beginning! May it live long and prosper !

The timeline that was given in the presentation predicts three events for 2019 being - Vulcan flight no1, Delta IV retire, Atlas V ban validation.
It was also noted that Vulcan will only be certified ~3 years later.
That leaves 3 years in which ULA will have only one legal alternative for all USAF payloads which is DIVH.
Assuming the law won't change, I would like to know how ULA is addressing this apparent problem.

Thanks
"If we crave some cosmic purpose, then let us find ourselves a worthy goal. "
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Offline Seer

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Dr Sowers, some years ago, ULA put out a horizontal lunar lander based on a ACES tank. Is that concept still possible if the ACES has balloon tanks? Thanks.

Offline russianhalo117

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Dr Sowers, What vehicle configuration naming system are you going to employ on Vulcan since you will now need a fourth number to distinguish the change now between the Centaur US and ACES US; and would that naming system have to be altered to account for any additional stages the customer selects such as Castor 30 and/or Star-37FM??

Offline ssnitrousoxide

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Hi Dr. Sowers,

This is my first post on the forum but I suppose it's a good way to start by asking a question.

Since Vulcan is a medium-heavy class vehicle, there will be a void left by the retirement of Delta II. What is the reasoning behind not replacing Delta II?
1) ULA cedes Delta II-class payload to other launch service providers to concentrate on EELV-class payload or
2) Future payload will all exceed Delta II's capabilities or
3) Vulcan will still be used for small payload through dual/multi-launching like Ariane 5.

Thank you!

Offline QuantumG

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This is my first post on the forum but I suppose it's a good way to start by asking a question.

Welcome to the forum!
Non-commercial spaceflight and filicide  http://tylervigen.com/view_correlation?id=185

Offline georgesowers

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Firstly, congratulations. Exciting time ahead.

I'm curious as to what specifically was meant by "pad innovations"? What new designs and methodologies will be developed?

Thanks and the very best of luck.

Ok, I'm back for a few minutes.  The space symposium can be hectic.  And I'm doing a redit AMA in a few minutes.

As we're slimming down to two pads, we are incorporating the flexibility to handle any spacecraft we foresee coming along in the next decade or so.  We are also working to dramatically reduce our span times.  More to come on this topic in the coming months.

Offline georgesowers

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Thanks Dr.Sowers for taking the time to answer our questions. We're all very excited about the preliminary details revealed in today's announcement.

My question is: What key factors set the architecture in favor of multiple solid boosters instead of a multiple common core configuration as seen on other heavy lifters such as the Delta IV Heavy, Falcon Heavy, Angara V?

We haven't ruled out a triple core Vulcan, but right now we don't see a need for that level of performance.  We can satisfy the current DIV heavy mission needs with 6 SRMs plus ACES.  In general, SRM's cost much less than a liquid core and allows the customer to buy performance in small increments. 

Offline georgesowers

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Dr. Sowers, very exciting presentation today. Thanks for taking our questions.

I have the following question: Isn't there a risk for ULA to team up with a competitor such as Blue Origin given that Blue's objective is to eventually make their own LV?

Thanks,

YG

We don't view it as a risk.  Blue is a great partner.  Their orbital vehicle aspirations are more long term and focused on fully reusable human spaceflight.  And provide other partnering opportunities.

Offline georgesowers

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Could you please elaborate on the distributed launch option?

I would really like to know the kind of mass you could put in GTO or GEO if the first launch is a fuel tanker. How would it compare to the Delta-IV heavy?

Thank you.

In general, the performance using distributed launch is greater than 2X the performance of a single launch.

Offline georgesowers

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Hello Dr. Sowers,

Will the design be scarred such that a tri-core vehicle is possible should future demand require one?

We are preserving the ability to go to a 3 core Vulcan in the future should the need arise.

Offline georgesowers

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Dr. Sowers, thank you for taking the time to answer questions!

My question is, how will the vehicle be delivered and processed at the pad? First transportation; will the stages be transported by barge or by air from the factory? For launch site integration; will it be like Atlas V (vertical rocket integration and a mobile transporter to the pad), Delta IV (horizontal rocket integration, erected at the pad and vertical payload integration with a mobile service tower) or like Falcon 9 (horizontal integration and erected at the pad)?

Thanks again! I am excited to see Vulcan fly!

It will similar to Atlas, at least initially.

Offline georgesowers

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Dr. Sowers,

why will Vulcan start out with an upper stage based on RL-10 instead of a BE-3?

There is certainly more experience with the BE-3 engine already, than with the BE-4 engine you plan to use in the 1st stage. BE-3 has already gone through acceptance testing while BE-4 has yet to be build, not to say test-fired. You could start developing an upper stage with a BE-3 engine right away and demonstrate it on either an Atlas or Delta rocket.

Same question in other words: If you are preprared to use an engine in development like the BE-4 in 2019, why is it important to first gather flight experience with the BE-3 before using it with the new rocket some time in 2023?

We are very interested in the BE-3, but in keeping with the incremental development approach we are changing one piece at a time.  For obvious reasons, we are starting with the booster.

Offline georgesowers

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George,

I'm excited to see the progress on this new rocket, and glad you guys are able to talk more openly about orbital refueling and such! Hopefully I get a chance to say hi when we're down at the symposium tomorrow.

My question is sort of boring, but do you have any numbers you can publish about expected performance for Vulcan, both with various numbers of strapons and the existing Centaur stage, and then with various numbers of strapons and the new ACES stage?

~Jon

Thanks Jon.  We'll be coming out with that soon.  In general, Vulcan has more performance than Atlas.  With ACES, a lot more.

Offline georgesowers

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Thank you for offering to answer our questions, Dr. Sowers.

Are you planning to recover and reuse the solid rocket boosters, either initially or eventually?

Nope.

Got to run again, but I'm committed to answer every question.

Offline mkent

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Thank you, Dr. Sowers, for coming here to answer our questions.

I'm a little late to the party, but on the chance that you see this and wish to respond, here is my question.

Even before the Vulcan announcement, ULA was pursuing a path of product enhancements and cost improvements: GPS-based tracking, common Delta IV CBC, common upper stage engine (RL-10C), common avionics, and common upper stage.  What is the current roadmap for rolling out these enhancements (do you have specific missions identified yet)?

Thanks.

Offline russianhalo117

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Thank you for offering to answer our questions, Dr. Sowers.

Are you planning to recover and reuse the solid rocket boosters, either initially or eventually?

Nope.

Got to run again, but I'm committed to answer every question.
a somewhat related follow on to the above question: Are you also planning to offer the option to deploy suborbital payloads on Vulcan via the External Payload Carrier (XPC) as was developed and made available on Atlas V programme??
Reference: EELV Partially Reusable Booster (2010 PDF) Section IV, Pages 5-6
ULA Paper Link: http://www.ulalaunch.com/uploads/docs/Published_Papers/Evolution/EELVPartialReusable2010.pdf
« Last Edit: 04/16/2015 03:47 AM by russianhalo117 »

Offline georgesowers

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ULA is not its own company.  Is this development being done on ULA funds or have the parent companies okayed it?

As Tory mentioned in the press conference, ULA is funding the investment out of our earnings.  The parents are providing incremental approval.

Offline georgesowers

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I'd like to know more about any plans for depots and the extremely long-lived side of ACES. You mentioned months. Does this include some sort of sunshield? Can I sneak one in on second stage recovery?

We've looked at sunshields in the past.  It's certainly feasible for very extended duration.  However, our initial thinking is simply mission/performance augmentation of ACES by refueling from a disposable tanker.

Offline georgesowers

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Dr Sowers,
Thank you for taking our questions. With the addition of more powerful solid rocket motors, I would like to know how the acceleration profile during flight will compare to that of the Atlas V / Delta IV now. Will the acceleration be higher? Or has this been offset by other factors?

We plan to keep acceleration levels within our current limits.  The higher thrust of the BE-4s and SRMs is offset by more propellant mass.

Offline georgesowers

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ULA is not its own company.  Is this development being done on ULA funds or have the parent companies okayed it?
I believe this was already answered at yesterday's webcast: "Funding for development is completely out of ULA's profits."

--

Thank you for doing this Dr. Sowers. I have a simple question: Will the stars and stripes paint scheme go on production vehicles or is it just artistic license for the renders? I think it looks gorgeous. Thanks, and I look forward to the first Vulcan launch!

For now it's art.  TBD if we paint the actual rocket.

Offline georgesowers

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ULA's press release says "In step two, the Centaur second stage will be replaced by the more powerful, innovative Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage (ACES), making the NGLS capability that of todayís Delta IV Heavy rocket.". Qualitatively will Vulcan with ACES match or exceed DIVH to all destinations from LEO to Saturn or will it be better for some orbits but not others? Quantitatively what's Vulcan with ACES's expected payload mass to LEO, 1500 m/s GTO, TLI, Mars, and Saturn? (Or better yet a plot of mass vs C3.)

We're not ready to release all the performance curves.  But one of driving requirements for Vulcan/ACES is to exceed DIV heavy performance to GSO with a single core configuration.

Offline georgesowers

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Dr Sowers - are there any concepts discussed on how the 1st stage engine booster inflatable heat shield will be made of and tested for use?

Detailed plans are being developed but I expect subscale demonstrations leading to full scale flight experiments.  We are collaborating with NASA's HIAD technology program.

Offline georgesowers

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Dr Sowers; thank you for all your attention and time here. Question: might any ACES derivative be put forward as a possible 'Exploration Upper Stage' for the SLS?

We're developing ACES commercially as part of Vulcan.  EUS is a separate development by NASA & Boeing.

Offline georgesowers

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Dr. Sowers,

My first question is the fuel choice for the first stage: methane.  What prompted the use of methane as opposed to the more traditional kerosene?

My second question is how much payload could the first configuration of Vulcan (with Centaur as upper stage) put into orbit or even to Mars?  The later part of the question relates to ULA's history with sending space probes out such as MAVEN and even Pluto-bound New Horizons.  The size of such spacecraft ultimately depend on the capabilities of the rockets that launch them.

Several reasons for LNG: low cost, commercially available, more conducive for reuse.

Vulcan performance to earth escape orbit should exceed Atlas even in step one.  With ACES we get a huge increase in performance to high energy orbits, exceeding DIV H.

Offline georgesowers

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SpaceX has said their goal is to fly first stages back to the landing site and reuse them quickly -- gas and go.  If SpaceX is successful in that, and continues an unbroken string of Falcon 9 launch successes, can Vulcan compete with that?  Or is ULA betting the company that SpaceX will fail?

As we've seen, landing stages on a barge is not that easy, not to mention return to the launch site.  But even if they successfully demonstrate that technical capability, which I believe they will, I don't believe the business case closes.  In other words, I don't think the economics of launch (measured in $/kg to orbit) will be improved relative to the equivalent expendable vehicle.

Our approach to reuse does lead to improved $/kg

Offline georgesowers

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Dear Dr. Sowers,

Is ULA considering the use of propellant densification via subcooling of the Vulcan first stage propellants as a way of increasing the performance of the vehicle?

All the best, Steven.

yes

Offline georgesowers

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Dr. Sowers, congratulations on the Vulcan reveal!

Of the components and technologies announced and/or discussed today, which one most excites you personally, and why?

Tough choice, but I pick IVF.  IVF is almost magical in the utilization of what would otherwise be waste (boiloff, heat from the ICE, etc) to provide the essential functions of the stage (power, pressurization, RCS).  It is the key to long duration and reuse through refueling.

Offline georgesowers

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Dr Sowers, thank you for taking the time and trouble to answer questions.

How long have you been working on the Vulcan concept and what approximate stage in development have ULA reached? (eg PDR, CDR etc)

We've been working on many of the pieces for years.  For example, plans for ACES predate ULA.  As a system, we just completed Vulcan step 1 SRR.  PDR by year end.

Offline georgesowers

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Another vote of thanks for agreeing to take questions, Dr. Sowers!

ULA surely did trades on full first stage recovery versus engine compartment midair... why is midair recovery so compelling, compared to the path SpaceX is on, which seems to offer the promise of far greater cost reductions?

I've promised to post a simple spreadsheet that will give some insight into the economics (probably next week).  But the gist goes like this:  We are recovering >60% of the cost of the booster for 1/6th of the performance loss (5% vs 30%) in a manner that completely shields the hardware from the harsh reentry environment.

Offline georgesowers

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Dr. Sowers

AFAIK the current ULA launchers were only used to launch NASA or USAF payloads.
Does ULA plan to (re-)enter the market of commercial comsat launches with Vulcan?

Spacediver

Yes.  BTW, we never completely left the commercial market.  For example, we are launching Mexsat later this year on Atlas.

Offline georgesowers

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Dr. Sowers,

     If ULA is planning to attempt either full stage or Engine and Avionincs package recovery, whatis the particular method that you have in mind for such recovery?  Powered descent to land, Parachute to sea, or a combination of these strategies?

We plan to start with engine recovery and see where that leads. 

OK, I think I'm caught up. Thanks for the great questions.  If Chris allows, I'd be happy to take follow up questions. The space symposium is wrapping up today with a farewell snowstorm.

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Another vote of thanks for agreeing to take questions, Dr. Sowers!

ULA surely did trades on full first stage recovery versus engine compartment midair... why is midair recovery so compelling, compared to the path SpaceX is on, which seems to offer the promise of far greater cost reductions?

I've promised to post a simple spreadsheet that will give some insight into the economics (probably next week).  But the gist goes like this:  We are recovering >60% of the cost of the booster for 1/6th of the performance loss (5% vs 30%) in a manner that completely shields the hardware from the harsh reentry environment.

Dr. Sowers I would like to reiterate the thanks everyone else have given for this opportunity. I look forward to your success in a big way.

I am curious though. How the extra performance gets monetized? It seems like the 1/6th number will rarely be realized since there will always be some mismatch of payload to capability. The shielded environment does seem like a good way to make recertification cheaper though.

Offline tmoesser

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Dr. Sowers,
Thank you for taking questions on this exciting vehicle!  I hope you are able to answer mine.  My question is performance and possibly strategy related, so I understand if you can't answer it.  (It looks like three questions, but it's really one with multiple approaches.)

With Delta II soon to retire, Delta IV-M to go next, and Atlas V 401 also being phased out, how does Vulcan fit in with the Small- to Medium-class launch capability and market?  The Vulcan core booster seems oversized for those classes of missions, and oversized usually means overly expensive.  Will a Vulcan 401 be a reasonable replacement for the most frequently-flown vehicle configurations in your fleet, and if so, how or why?  Related, after the introduction of ACES in ~2023, will Centaur continue to fly to serve the Medium market?

Thank you in advance, and enjoy the heavy snow that we're sending your way (that is, drive home safely!).
« Last Edit: 04/16/2015 05:13 PM by tmoesser »

Offline DatUser14

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Dr Sowers, thanks for doing this Q&A. My question is this; during the development of Vulcan, was varying the amount of BE-4's for the first stage (more or less) considered?
Where can I apply for SpaceX fanboy?.

Offline Malderi

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Dr Sowers,

If follow-up questions are allowed (thanks for answering my first one!), can you talk about other items in the trade space that were examined but maybe rejected? I'm sure you looked at full-stage reuse, multiple engines, that sort of thing, but anything more fanciful like 4+ core vehicles, flyback/flythrough boosters, SSTO etc? Not sure how much you can talk about it, but your title *is* Chief Mad Scientist, so hopefully there's some real mad science stuff that you can talk about. I totally understand if none of that can be public until much later when a history of the development program can be written.

Thank you again!

Offline Space Ghost 1962

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Thank you for answering my earlier question Dr. Sowers.

You've talked about reusing an upper stage. After payload separation, you've got a free US - to reuse it would need to acquire orbit for new payload, prox ops, attach, execute a series of timed burns, and separate again.

ACES/Centaur don't appear to be anything more than typical, autonomous US at the moment. Even Agena, which was more of a spacecraft than just an US, didn't have all of that to do the above. Nor are payloads attached to US without significant ground prep, spin table, etc. Had not heard Astrotech making on-orbit house calls yet ;)

Where's the extra SC part coming from that can "command" / "manage" / "handle" ACES/Centaur?

Again, thank you from the NSF community here. We really appreciate it when you communicate with us like this.
« Last Edit: 04/16/2015 07:55 PM by Space Ghost 1962 »

Offline Martin FL

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I'll avoid a Reddit-style question about if you prefer cakes or pies, and ask evolvability. Just how much can you upgrade this specific system by way of upmass, and where do you think is the top line for upmass? (say versus mulitple launches) in the future customer requirement market.

Offline sanman

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Hi Dr Sowers,

Regarding aerocapture of the parachuting engine by helicopter, will it necessarily be a manned helicopter, or is there a possibility of an unmanned drone helicopter being used to reduce risk?

Thanks for your time, sir.

Offline TrevorMonty

Thanks Dr Sowers for all the great answers.

Could the SMART system be applied to upper stage? Tory hinted at using it elsewhere.

Offline MATTBLAK

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Dr Sowers; you mentioned earlier in the thread that you would not rule out a future 'triple core' heavy version of Vulcan. Has ULA also looked at versions with 8 or even 10x solid boosters on a single corestage? It appears that many boosters might fit on a 5 meter stage. It would seem to me that such a launcher with an ACES upper stage would have a lot of capability!!
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Offline gin455res

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Dr Sowers,

When eliminating turbine based units from the IVF system design, were sub-atmospheric 'inverted brayton cycles' such as outlined in the linked pdf, considered.  This is a scheme for a residential scale CHP (high enthalpy) micro-turbine system, that reverses compressor and turbine sequence to  produce very-low-power turbo-generators.

Or would continuous combustion require too high a fuel flow to keep combustion temperatures sensible, (what is the peak combustion temperature in the IC engine anyway)?

http://www.agileturbine.com/publications/Small%20Scale%20Combined%20Heat%20and%20Power.pdf 

thanks
Toby

Offline georgesowers

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Dr. Sowers -
What drove the decision to select an as-yet unbuilt and untested engine from a new player in the aerospace world (BE-4 from B.O.)? If ULA were selecting an existing engine with flight heritage (RS-68 for example) it would provide an obvious schedule acceleration benefit. But when considering a new American built engine, especially in the non traditional methalox category, for vertical integration reasons it would seem to make sense for ULA to develop its own.

Removing my second question per request from mods.
Did ULA consider using SpaceX engines on its rockets? Raptor will be methalox, and in the right thrust regime for a 2-engine Vulcan first stage. Is this even a feasible business move?

The business case was the main driver.  We looked very hard at all the options including RS-68/DIV.  Blue may not be well known, but they are credible, competent and 3 years into the development of BE-4.

Offline georgesowers

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Dr. Sowers,

I would like to ask question related to solid boosters:

Shall Vulcan be human rated in configuration with multiple solid boosters, i.e. capable of capable of launching orion?

Edit: reduced to one question.

Thank you in advance!

Vulcan will be human rated.  Once ACES comes on line, Vulcan will be more capable than DIV heavy

Offline georgesowers

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Hi Dr. Sowers,

ULA has a long history of successful missions, SpaceX is an emerging business, and Blue Origin an enigma. Overall, it seems that everyone is losing the PR war with the general public -most people just don't care. A number of space enthusiasts are excited for SpaceX's entry into the market, simply because of their grander stated ambitions (realistic or not).

How can/will ULA help reinvigorate the public's appetite for spaceflight?

Thanks!
VulcanCafe
(excellent rocket name choice!)

Wow! tough question that requires an essay, if not a dissertation to do justice.  A couple of thoughts to get you started.

Public engagement with the overall space enterprise has traditionally be the role of national space agencies or even heads of state (remember Kennedy's speech).  And that requires a vision that everyone buys into.  Sadly lacking at the moment.  Some of the planetary missions excepted.

Public engagement with private companies is generally through products and services. Unfortunately, the consumer interface with space products is pretty far removed.  GPS is an example.

Public engagement will increase when the nation gets a unified and inspirational vision for publicly funded exploration and/or when commercial space starts affecting the daily lives of consumers.

I hope ULA can play a role in both arenas by making access to space more affordable and delivering new capabilities to open up BEO.

What are your ideas?

Offline georgesowers

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There was a mention of selecting the AR1 engine in 18 months if the Blue Origin engine isn't coming along as expected.  What impact would that have on first stage design?  Thanks!

Since AR-1 uses RP fuel, the first stage design would look a lot like Atlas V.

Offline georgesowers

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Hello, Dr. Sowers.

Thank you for taking the time to discuss the Vulcan rocket plans with us!

I have a question regarding the use of Centaur. All things being equal, it would seem the Centaur (with its balloon tankage and common bulkhead) is a more complicated stage to build, transport and prepare for launch than, say the Delta IV's DCSS (separate tanks). Would a DCSS-derivative not offer a cheaper stage for Vulcan than Centaur?

Everything is not as it seems.  Centaur is lower cost  than DCSS.  And better mass fraction.

Online Kryten

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Dr. Sowers;

 Is the new upper stage planned to be referred to as ACES indefinitely, or will there be a name selection/competition as there was for Vulcan?

Offline The Amazing Catstronaut

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Dr. Sowers, reading your response on the possibility of a three core Vulcan made me think a little. For what practical purposes does the first stage of the Vulcan inherit characteristics from the Common Core Boosters/Common Booster Cores of today, given that it will use entirely new engines and propellant?

-

Also (apologies for the sneaky two part question, feel free to ignore this part at your discretion) - will the stars and stripes paint job on the first stage make its way onto the final LV?

Thank you so much for spending your time with us Doctor.  :D It's exciting work you guys n' gals are doing.
« Last Edit: 04/17/2015 07:24 PM by The Amazing Catstronaut »
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Offline georgesowers

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Hi, Dr. Sowers.  To repeat everyone else, thanks for answering our questions.

Concerning the previously announced IVF technology to be used in Vulcan and specifically the ACES, how far along is ULA in developing an internal combustion engine that can run on hydrogen and oxygen and survive the implied temperatures and pressures (plus the vibration regime of a solids-assisted launch), be able to maintain lubrication over weeks and/or months spent quiescent in orbit, etc.?

We have a prototype engine with several hundred hours of operating time.

Offline georgesowers

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Dr. Sowers; In the recent past (2010) here on NSF there was a thread which discussed in depth an American equivalent to the Russian Vulcan, to be flown by Energya. http://www.k26.com/buran/info/hercules/vulkan.html. That potential LV system was called AJAX http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=22266.msg618244#msg618244 and used varying numbers of Atlas CCBís as LRBís to cover a wide range of lift requirements ranging from 70 tonnes to 280 tonnes to LEO, from 2 LRBís up to 8 LRBís. It even specifically called for the use of ULA's ACES upper stage. The 3 most difficult engineering problems were the flexible locations of the LRB interfaces, avionics with the ability to manage variable numbers of LRBís and the structural integrity of any upper stage imposing limiting factors on the usable lift capacity. None of these engineering conditions are too difficult to address so I looked at the potential of ULA's new Vulcan potentially filling that role. What was revealed yesterday was a single core with varying numbers of SRBís, but I noticed that the central core could just as easily accommodate 2, 4 or even 6 additional Vulcan cores in the role of LRBís. Such a vehicle would offer the United States, indeed the entire world, the ability to have a single LV family capable of covering Medium, Heavy and Super Heavy lift capabilities, without the expense of designing, building and flying many different vehicles, by simply varying the LRB count. So my question would be do you believe it would be a smart business move to design the Vulcan in such a way that does not preclude the on-demand ability to satisfy the less common needs of a Heavy or even a Super Heavy launch? Even though such large lift requirements would not be the norm, just knowing there was a vehicle available to handle it would likely free DoD and NASA mission planners to make use of the capacity.

Interesting idea.  We proposed something similar using Atlas or Delta cores as part of the MSFC heavylift study back in 2010.  Prior to SLS. 

Nothing we're doing would preclude going in that direction someday in the future, though there would be significant additional investment to get there.

Offline georgesowers

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Dr. Sowers,
  Thank you for your invaluable insight and for giving us the opportunity to interact with the pros of the industry.
I'm wondering about the Vulcan's core tank tooling. I'm assuming you'll be re purposing the Delta IV LOX tank tooling. But I also saw that you are trying to get it to be manufacturable, and Delta IV is not exactly know for that. So, are you going to basically put two appropriately sized DIV LOX tanks on top of the other with an intertank and an external down comer, or are you going to add improvements like internal down comer, common bulkhead and improved alloys (like Al 2195 or Al 2050), etc.? Can you elaborate on some of the improvements?

The tanks will have the same diameter as DIV but everything else is being looked at for improvement. Focus is lower cost, higher performance.  Everything you mentioned is on the list.

Offline falconeer

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Hi Dr. Sowers,

Two quick questions if I may:

1) Will ACES upper stage cost more or less than Centaur (actual cost not performance based)?

2) What is the cost of the second stage relative to the first? I believe current ratio is ~40/60 for Atlas, will this ratio go up or down for Vulcan?

Thanks again for answering our questions!
« Last Edit: 04/17/2015 11:06 PM by falconeer »

Offline kevin-rf

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Dr. Sowers,

Thanks for answering my earlier question on why Stainless for ACES tank. May I take a follow-up one step further?

You indicated that Stainless Balloon tanks had the cost / mass fraction advantage for the upper stage. So what tips the balance towards conventional Al tanks for the first stage? Cost? Ease of handling? Tooling? or will we see a return of a Stainless Balloon tank on the first stage?

Thanks again for taking the time.

I really like the special anodize job in the Vulcan videos and images. Any chance we will see that on the real Vulcan? Or will be the same boring copper coat we see on current Atlas's?
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Offline georgesowers

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Dr. Sowers,

Congratulations for a new beginning! May it live long and prosper !

The timeline that was given in the presentation predicts three events for 2019 being - Vulcan flight no1, Delta IV retire, Atlas V ban validation.
It was also noted that Vulcan will only be certified ~3 years later.
That leaves 3 years in which ULA will have only one legal alternative for all USAF payloads which is DIVH.
Assuming the law won't change, I would like to know how ULA is addressing this apparent problem.

Thanks

Assuming the law won't change, the AF has a number of options.  Fly Falcon 9 and Heavy (assuming the latter  vehicle, which has yet to fly, becomes certified).  Process a waiver for Atlas V.  Accelerate the certification of Vulcan.  Fly DIV H.

This situation was discussed in detail in the recent house hearing.

Offline georgesowers

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Dr Sowers, some years ago, ULA put out a horizontal lunar lander based on a ACES tank. Is that concept still possible if the ACES has balloon tanks? Thanks.

I love that concept.  Called XEUS, we've looked at it for both Centaur and ACES.  Pressure stabilized tanks are no problem.  Quite strong when pressurized and the landing loads are far less than earth ascent loads.

Offline georgesowers

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Dr Sowers, What vehicle configuration naming system are you going to employ on Vulcan since you will now need a fourth number to distinguish the change now between the Centaur US and ACES US; and would that naming system have to be altered to account for any additional stages the customer selects such as Castor 30 and/or Star-37FM??

For now, we will retain the current Atlas based numbering scheme, though now up to 6 strap-ons.  TBD what happens when ACES comes on line.  Might be Vulcan II? 

We don't fly third stages enough to devote a number to them.

Offline georgesowers

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Hi Dr. Sowers,

This is my first post on the forum but I suppose it's a good way to start by asking a question.

Since Vulcan is a medium-heavy class vehicle, there will be a void left by the retirement of Delta II. What is the reasoning behind not replacing Delta II?
1) ULA cedes Delta II-class payload to other launch service providers to concentrate on EELV-class payload or
2) Future payload will all exceed Delta II's capabilities or
3) Vulcan will still be used for small payload through dual/multi-launching like Ariane 5.

Thank you!

The main reason is that there is very little market in that class.  We were never able to sell the last DII; Antares has made no sales beyond CRS.  But if something changes, we can address through dual or multi-launch or create a Vulcan small.

Offline georgesowers

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Thank you, Dr. Sowers, for coming here to answer our questions.

I'm a little late to the party, but on the chance that you see this and wish to respond, here is my question.

Even before the Vulcan announcement, ULA was pursuing a path of product enhancements and cost improvements: GPS-based tracking, common Delta IV CBC, common upper stage engine (RL-10C), common avionics, and common upper stage.  What is the current roadmap for rolling out these enhancements (do you have specific missions identified yet)?

Thanks.

We have been aggressively driving our costs down for several years now.  Those saving are financing the Vulcan development.  GPS tracking is flying now as is RL10-C.  Common Avionics is a phased implementation flying on Atlas late this year.  The common Delta core is in the next year or two.  Common upper stage has become ACES.

Offline georgesowers

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Thank you for offering to answer our questions, Dr. Sowers.

Are you planning to recover and reuse the solid rocket boosters, either initially or eventually?

Nope.

Got to run again, but I'm committed to answer every question.
a somewhat related follow on to the above question: Are you also planning to offer the option to deploy suborbital payloads on Vulcan via the External Payload Carrier (XPC) as was developed and made available on Atlas V programme??
Reference: EELV Partially Reusable Booster (2010 PDF) Section IV, Pages 5-6
ULA Paper Link: http://www.ulalaunch.com/uploads/docs/Published_Papers/Evolution/EELVPartialReusable2010.pdf

The XPC is a great concept and is compatible with Vulcan.  We have never been able to find that crucial first customer.

Offline georgesowers

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Another vote of thanks for agreeing to take questions, Dr. Sowers!

ULA surely did trades on full first stage recovery versus engine compartment midair... why is midair recovery so compelling, compared to the path SpaceX is on, which seems to offer the promise of far greater cost reductions?

I've promised to post a simple spreadsheet that will give some insight into the economics (probably next week).  But the gist goes like this:  We are recovering >60% of the cost of the booster for 1/6th of the performance loss (5% vs 30%) in a manner that completely shields the hardware from the harsh reentry environment.

Dr. Sowers I would like to reiterate the thanks everyone else have given for this opportunity. I look forward to your success in a big way.

I am curious though. How the extra performance gets monetized? It seems like the 1/6th number will rarely be realized since there will always be some mismatch of payload to capability. The shielded environment does seem like a good way to make recertification cheaper though.

Kilograms to orbit is why launch companies exist.  It's what we sell.  Therefore $/kg is the most important figure of merit for any launch system, call it E.  (Other criteria like reliability and timeliness can be easily monetized).  Minimizing E is the objective.

Monetizing performance is an important part of the business model.  It's why we have an architecture that allows us to add SRM's one at a time.  If you have only one vehicle, many customers are forced to buy more performance than they need. 

In the commercial GEOcomm market it's easy.  Almost every customer uses every gram of performance we can give them.  It's used to top off the SC fuel tanks or reduce the residual delta V to get to GEO.  AF missions also tend to use all the available performance as do NASA interplanetary missions.  We can probably tolerate a 5% performance loss to accomplish engine reuse, but 30% rarely.  Or you have to go to a larger vehicle (more SRMs).  SpX would have to jump all the way to a heavy.

To me, the CRS market is somewhat anomalous in that they routinely use only a fraction of the launcher capability.  If you calculate $/kg of delivered cargo, NASA is not getting a very good deal at all.

Secondary payloads is another way to monetize excess performance.

Offline georgesowers

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Dr. Sowers,
Thank you for taking questions on this exciting vehicle!  I hope you are able to answer mine.  My question is performance and possibly strategy related, so I understand if you can't answer it.  (It looks like three questions, but it's really one with multiple approaches.)

With Delta II soon to retire, Delta IV-M to go next, and Atlas V 401 also being phased out, how does Vulcan fit in with the Small- to Medium-class launch capability and market?  The Vulcan core booster seems oversized for those classes of missions, and oversized usually means overly expensive.  Will a Vulcan 401 be a reasonable replacement for the most frequently-flown vehicle configurations in your fleet, and if so, how or why?  Related, after the introduction of ACES in ~2023, will Centaur continue to fly to serve the Medium market?

Thank you in advance, and enjoy the heavy snow that we're sending your way (that is, drive home safely!).

The Vulcan 401 will be priced at less than $100m, a significant improvement to today's Atlas V 401 at $164M.  Vulcan's performance is a bit higher.  Once ACES comes online, we intend to retire Centaur.  We are still trading whether to have multiple length ACES configurations.

Offline Newton_V

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Dr. Sowers,
Any chance the SRB's will be called Klingons?  ;)

Offline john smith 19

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Hello Dr Sowers. My questions are about IVF.

IVF seems like such a win/win for both ULA and its customers I don't understand why it's been so difficult to find missions it can be tested on.  :(

Could it be tested in smaller parts (like thrusters, battery and engine for example) on different flights so your customers are more relaxed about having the whole package on a single flight?

Due to its size does it need a mission with a lot of excess capacity for it to be fitted in addition to the standard flight systems, just in case, or is it primarily customer nerves ?

"Solids are a branch of fireworks, not rocketry. :-) :-) ", Henry Spencer 1/28/11  Averse to bold? You must be in marketing."It's all in the sequencing" K. Mattingly.  STS-Keeping most of the stakeholders happy most of the time.

Offline ChrisWilson68

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Thank you for answering all these questions.

I'm very impressed by your showing here.  I'm impressed that you were willing to come on here and answer every single question.  I'm impressed that the answers are thoughtful and substantive and not just marketing fluff.  And this is coming from a SpaceX fan.

I hope ULA appreciates what you're doing here.  I suspect I'm not the only one whose opinion of ULA has been raised.

Offline georgesowers

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Dr Sowers, thanks for doing this Q&A. My question is this; during the development of Vulcan, was varying the amount of BE-4's for the first stage (more or less) considered?

yes

Offline georgesowers

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Dr Sowers,

If follow-up questions are allowed (thanks for answering my first one!), can you talk about other items in the trade space that were examined but maybe rejected? I'm sure you looked at full-stage reuse, multiple engines, that sort of thing, but anything more fanciful like 4+ core vehicles, flyback/flythrough boosters, SSTO etc? Not sure how much you can talk about it, but your title *is* Chief Mad Scientist, so hopefully there's some real mad science stuff that you can talk about. I totally understand if none of that can be public until much later when a history of the development program can be written.

Thank you again!

Not a lot of far out stuff was seriously looked at in the first two steps.  The prime considerations were getting off the RD-180 (step 1 and the BE-4) and replicating DIV heavy performance to GSO (ACES).  The reusable BE-4 opens up engine reuse (step 3).  We have ideas for stage reuse that are further down the road. The capabilities we introduce into ACES enable all sorts of future applications (including distributed lift, step 4) and dramatically lower the cost of BEO missions.

I'm a firm believer in the evolutionary approach to development.  The key is to look several steps ahead, each step building upon the one before and enabling the next.  The end result is revolutionary.

Offline georgesowers

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Thank you for answering my earlier question Dr. Sowers.

You've talked about reusing an upper stage. After payload separation, you've got a free US - to reuse it would need to acquire orbit for new payload, prox ops, attach, execute a series of timed burns, and separate again.

ACES/Centaur don't appear to be anything more than typical, autonomous US at the moment. Even Agena, which was more of a spacecraft than just an US, didn't have all of that to do the above. Nor are payloads attached to US without significant ground prep, spin table, etc. Had not heard Astrotech making on-orbit house calls yet ;)

Where's the extra SC part coming from that can "command" / "manage" / "handle" ACES/Centaur?

Again, thank you from the NSF community here. We really appreciate it when you communicate with us like this.

ACES will start out as a typical autonomous upper stage, but we hope to evolve it to much more.  For example, the simplest reuse is to refuel the stage in the course of executing a single mission.  This could be to deliver cargo to a station at L1.  An ACES derived tanker is launched to LEO.  The cargo module is launched to LEO using ACES.  ACES rendezvous' with the tanker.  ARPO avionics and SW is available commercially, or the cargo module is equipped with it.  ACES is refueled and burns to L1 delivering the cargo.

A more complex example is ACES equipped in XEUS mode as a lander.  Then it can cycle back and forth from an L1 station to the lunar surface, refueling at each place, delivering cargo or crew.  Or simply refuel on the lunar surface with hydrogen and oxygen mined from water in craters at the poles, as detected by LCROSS.

The long duration, unlimited burn, refueling capability built into ACES allows the high ISP and thrust of cryogenic fuels to be applied to any BEO mission. 

Offline georgesowers

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I'll avoid a Reddit-style question about if you prefer cakes or pies, and ask evolvability. Just how much can you upgrade this specific system by way of upmass, and where do you think is the top line for upmass? (say versus mulitple launches) in the future customer requirement market.

Multiple cores is the standard upgrade path to super heavy capability, but I've become convinced that distributed lift is the way to go.  It all comes back to $/kg.

Offline georgesowers

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Hi Dr Sowers,

Regarding aerocapture of the parachuting engine by helicopter, will it necessarily be a manned helicopter, or is there a possibility of an unmanned drone helicopter being used to reduce risk?

Thanks for your time, sir.

Given the mass of the engines, it needs to be a big helicopter.  Hadn't though about unmanned.  What risk are you trying to mitigate?

Offline georgesowers

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Thanks Dr Sowers for all the great answers.

Could the SMART system be applied to upper stage? Tory hinted at using it elsewhere.

I'll leave you with Tory's hints...     :)

Offline georgesowers

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Dr Sowers; you mentioned earlier in the thread that you would not rule out a future 'triple core' heavy version of Vulcan. Has ULA also looked at versions with 8 or even 10x solid boosters on a single corestage? It appears that many boosters might fit on a 5 meter stage. It would seem to me that such a launcher with an ACES upper stage would have a lot of capability!!

Yes it would.  For now, we've limited it to 6 due to the size of the opening in the flame duct. 

Offline georgesowers

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Dr Sowers,

When eliminating turbine based units from the IVF system design, were sub-atmospheric 'inverted brayton cycles' such as outlined in the linked pdf, considered.  This is a scheme for a residential scale CHP (high enthalpy) micro-turbine system, that reverses compressor and turbine sequence to  produce very-low-power turbo-generators.

Or would continuous combustion require too high a fuel flow to keep combustion temperatures sensible, (what is the peak combustion temperature in the IC engine anyway)?

http://www.agileturbine.com/publications/Small%20Scale%20Combined%20Heat%20and%20Power.pdf 

thanks
Toby

Post this question on the IVF thread.  I'll get Frank Zegler, the inventor, to answer.  (Another way of saying: I haven't the foggiest...)

Offline georgesowers

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Dr. Sowers;

 Is the new upper stage planned to be referred to as ACES indefinitely, or will there be a name selection/competition as there was for Vulcan?

TBD.  Someone one my reddit AMA last week suggested Romulan, I countered with Klingon.  My main criteria is it has to sound dramatic during terminal count when the launch control team declares "go Vulcan!, go XXX!"  Gives me chill every time.

Offline gin455res

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Cool thanks.
(it's already up, maybe i'll link to the post on this thread, as I think I was a bit too succinct in the other thread)

Offline georgesowers

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Dr. Sowers, reading your response on the possibility of a three core Vulcan made me think a little. For what practical purposes does the first stage of the Vulcan inherit characteristics from the Common Core Boosters/Common Booster Cores of today, given that it will use entirely new engines and propellant?

-

Also (apologies for the sneaky two part question, feel free to ignore this part at your discretion) - will the stars and stripes paint job on the first stage make its way onto the final LV?

Thank you so much for spending your time with us Doctor.  :D It's exciting work you guys n' gals are doing.

The design philosophy is the same.  Same hardware flies all configurations.  And built in the same factory with very similar processes.

TBD on the paint job.

Offline georgesowers

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Hi Dr. Sowers,

Two quick questions if I may:

1) Will ACES upper stage cost more or less than Centaur (actual cost not performance based)?

2) What is the cost of the second stage relative to the first? I believe current ratio is ~40/60 for Atlas, will this ratio go up or down for Vulcan?

Thanks again for answering our questions!

ACES cost will be less than Centaur for equivalent number of engines.  Cost ratio of the stages will be similar to today.

Offline Damon Hill

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Dr. Sowers:

I'm extremely fascinated and impressed with the IVF design (why wasn't this addressed decades ago?) and the very smart implementation of an internal combustion engine, counter-intuitive as it may first appear.  (And it's blowing a lot of minds in this forum, even though online documentation explains it all.)

So, a question:  How is the torque of such a rotating engine in microgravity compensated?  That's the one detail I don't recall being explained.  Two such engines, mounted in opposite directions might do it, but single-engine mode if one is shut down might require considerable thruster firing to maintain a stable vehicle attitude.  But I'd like to think a simple solution is available.

(edit: as pointed out in the specific IVF thread, there IS a simple solution, and it's just a matter of rotating the equipment PTO shaft in the opposite direction, rather than an inline coupling to the crankshaft.  I shoulda realized that.)

--Damon
« Last Edit: 04/20/2015 12:51 AM by Damon Hill »

Offline georgesowers

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Dr. Sowers,

Thanks for answering my earlier question on why Stainless for ACES tank. May I take a follow-up one step further?

You indicated that Stainless Balloon tanks had the cost / mass fraction advantage for the upper stage. So what tips the balance towards conventional Al tanks for the first stage? Cost? Ease of handling? Tooling? or will we see a return of a Stainless Balloon tank on the first stage?

Thanks again for taking the time.

I really like the special anodize job in the Vulcan videos and images. Any chance we will see that on the real Vulcan? Or will be the same boring copper coat we see on current Atlas's?

The trade of steel vs Al on the first stage was very close.  Mass fraction is not as important on the booster as it is on the upper stage.  a lot of passionate debate.  But we are staying with Al for Vulcan step 1.

Offline georgesowers

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Dr. Sowers,
Any chance the SRB's will be called Klingons?  ;)

Who knows?  But we have to be mindful of the heirs of Gene Roddenberry.  ;)

Offline georgesowers

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Hello Dr Sowers. My questions are about IVF.

IVF seems like such a win/win for both ULA and its customers I don't understand why it's been so difficult to find missions it can be tested on.  :(

Could it be tested in smaller parts (like thrusters, battery and engine for example) on different flights so your customers are more relaxed about having the whole package on a single flight?

Due to its size does it need a mission with a lot of excess capacity for it to be fitted in addition to the standard flight systems, just in case, or is it primarily customer nerves ?

All about money.  That being said, we are entering into flight qual of the thrusters and will fly them soon.  They have great utility by themselves allowing low cost upper stage disposal.  Also, we have a wide range of customers beginning to realize the benefits of IVF.  I'm optimistic we can get it deployed before ACES.

Offline georgesowers

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Thank you for answering all these questions.

I'm very impressed by your showing here.  I'm impressed that you were willing to come on here and answer every single question.  I'm impressed that the answers are thoughtful and substantive and not just marketing fluff.  And this is coming from a SpaceX fan.

I hope ULA appreciates what you're doing here.  I suspect I'm not the only one whose opinion of ULA has been raised.

Thanks!  It's great fun to talk about what I love with folks who are equally passionate. 

Offline georgesowers

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Dr. Sowers:

I'm extremely fascinated and impressed with the IVF design (why wasn't this addressed decades ago?) and the very smart implementation of an internal combustion engine, counter-intuitive as it may first appear.  (And it's blowing a lot of minds in this forum, even though online documentation explains it all.)

So, a question:  How is the torque of such a rotating engine in microgravity compensated?  That's the one detail I don't recall being explained.  Two such engines, mounted in opposite directions might do it, but single-engine mode if one is shut down might require considerable thruster firing to maintain a stable vehicle attitude.  But I'd like to think a simple solution is available.


--Damon

We haven't done a detailed analysis of disturbance forces and torques induced on the stage by the operation of IVF, but my gut is that they will be pretty small and easily compensated.  There aren't that many moving parts.

Offline georgesowers

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Ha!  I finally got ahead of you.  Helps to work on a weekend with access to beer!  OBTW, though the Dr. title is good for my ego, my name is George, or just G.

Offline jg

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George,

There is a lot of interest in the IVF work; a q/a like this one with answers from Frank Zegler would be great if it can be arranged.  Having had the chance to talk to him about it last week, I'm extremely impressed and think that it would be great if up to date information can be shared, to the extent possible.  IVF is a game changer, as reusability will be (presuming SpaceX and/or you succeed).


Offline skater

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There was a mention of selecting the AR1 engine in 18 months if the Blue Origin engine isn't coming along as expected.  What impact would that have on first stage design?  Thanks!

Since AR-1 uses RP fuel, the first stage design would look a lot like Atlas V.

Thanks, Dr. Sowers.  I expected it would have some impact on tankage (although it sounds like it's rather likely you'll end up with the BE-4 Methane/LOX engine).  Thank you for being so open to a public forum like this - it's great to have the kind of access to the decision makers in this industry.

Offline sanman

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Hi Dr Sowers,

Regarding aerocapture of the parachuting engine by helicopter, will it necessarily be a manned helicopter, or is there a possibility of an unmanned drone helicopter being used to reduce risk?

Thanks for your time, sir.

Given the mass of the engines, it needs to be a big helicopter.  Hadn't though about unmanned.  What risk are you trying to mitigate?

Hi Dr Sowers / George, it just seemed that aerocapture of a multi-ton engine pod -- or multiple such engine pods, if you fly multicore -- would be very challenging, and potentially risky to the pilot(s). Have you considered using a ballute as your hypercone, and allowing it to serve as a flotation cushion after splashdown, to keep your engine from getting soggy?



« Last Edit: 04/20/2015 06:43 AM by sanman »

Offline georgesowers

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George,

There is a lot of interest in the IVF work; a q/a like this one with answers from Frank Zegler would be great if it can be arranged.  Having had the chance to talk to him about it last week, I'm extremely impressed and think that it would be great if up to date information can be shared, to the extent possible.  IVF is a game changer, as reusability will be (presuming SpaceX and/or you succeed).

I've asked him to field a few questions on the IVF thread.  He's much more verbose than I am, so go easy.  I need to get work out of him too.  :)

Offline georgesowers

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Hi Dr Sowers,

Regarding aerocapture of the parachuting engine by helicopter, will it necessarily be a manned helicopter, or is there a possibility of an unmanned drone helicopter being used to reduce risk?

Thanks for your time, sir.

Given the mass of the engines, it needs to be a big helicopter.  Hadn't though about unmanned.  What risk are you trying to mitigate?

Hi Dr Sowers / George, it just seemed that aerocapture of a multi-ton engine pod -- or multiple such engine pods, if you fly multicore -- would be very challenging, and potentially risky to the pilot(s). Have you considered using a ballute as your hypercone, and allowing it to serve as a flotation cushion after splashdown, to keep your engine from getting soggy?



By the time the helicopter gets there, it should be descending slowly under a para-foil and quite safe.

Offline Remes

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(Not sure, if this is thread is still active, but I try.)

George, what is the expected effort/strategy to refurbish Blue Origin's BE-4? Is it a complete dismantling like with the space shuttle? Or are other techniques on the horizon, which allow fore more self diagnosis/health monitoring/in situ/etc with minimal dismantling?

Thanks!

Online Chris Bergin

Feature article by Chris Gebhardt - mainly covering SpaceX, but also the competition of ULA - with comments from Dr. Sowers in this Q&A - along with Airbus.
 http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2015/06/world-launch-markets-rocket-reusability/

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