Author Topic: Manned Mars sortie using "cheapest" launchers available: Researching for Novella  (Read 9256 times)

Offline MATTBLAK

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Using only the 'cheapest' classes of launchers available for the next 8-to-10 years - 15-to-25 ton class - I'm researching (freshly) for a novella about a 2x person crewed Sortie mission to Mars. I've re-read some of the previous threads around here and noted some of the better ideas from folks and also re-read some of my own posts on similar ideas. The pitch for the story would be:

A trio of wealthy investors (1x American, 1x UAE Prince and 1x other foreign billionaire) want to mount a 2x person mission to Mars, using off-the-shelf and modified space launchers and hardware. The idea is that the crew performs a 'Apollo Sortie-on-steroids' mission to stay for a couple of weeks on Mars and then return them safely to Earth. The transit times would be as short a chemically-propelled trip as possible to and from Mars and the minimum stay time. I'm thinking of adding sample return probes into the mix as an add-on from ESA and NASA that the crew could pick up in Martian orbit and bring back to Earth with them, for added science value. I'm thinking 4x probes but one or more of them fails. There would be three phases to the plan:

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.

As I said - a work of fiction: 'Flags & Footprints' and all... Those of you who have read my 'Flight Of The Lunar Dragon' story here on Nasaspaceflight.com know that I can pull this off. I'm picking that the entry, landing and descent vehicles would be a 'Red Dragon' derivative, as would be the surface Hab craft and ascent vehicles - but I'm open to some truly fictional and notional designs. I'm thinking of the details now and I'm trying to restrict the launchers to Falcon 9 (full thrust), Atlas V and the occasional Falcon Heavy. And there would be partial ISRU for Mars ascent propellant creation and some Earth orbital propellant transfer. I need to work out what year and month they would depart and what trajectory-class of flight they'd be on - shortest duration Opposition Class for example.

https://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/20150001240.pdf

https://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/planetary/mars/marsprof.html
« Last Edit: 10/28/2017 02:53 AM by MATTBLAK »
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Offline Saage

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Offline MATTBLAK

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Anyone know what the best case scenario for cargo down mass would have been for the Red Dragon? I've done a bit of a Google but haven't found much consensus.
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Offline TomH

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FH with Red Dragon and modified methalox US integrated with Red Dragon to be an ultra-mini BFS. It refuels from pre-filled tankers in LEO, again at L2, escorted by an extra tanker and a fully stocked Bigelow hab to Mars. A prototype lands and begins ISRU prop production, this provides enough prop for manned ship to get back to LMO where the hab and other tanker are waiting for another repropping prior to TEI for the UM-BFS and hab. RD/UM-BFS always dormant during transit. On Earth EDL, RD separates from the rest of ultra-mini BFS and lands by parachute.

I know there are a million reasons it wouldn't actually work, but this is for a work of fiction, right?
« Last Edit: 11/01/2017 08:55 AM by TomH »

Offline MATTBLAK

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I'm going for a more bare bones appoach for the mission, where a few key things are new build items but many components are a mixture of off the shelf vehicles and launchers and modified ones.
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Offline TomH

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I just don't think they exist.

Offline Hotblack Desiato

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If you want to go really cheap and bare bone, you'll have to stick with ion engines for cargo flights.

Have a lander tin can that can be outfitted with various different types of equipment, lander mass 25t and launch that with a FH in reusable mode to LEO. Two landers equipped with ISRU for fuel production, two landers equipped with home and laboratory. This way, you have a lot of redundancy. And two landers with food and supplies. Then, add 2 return ships, 2 stages, dragon 2 capsules on top. Essentially a F9 upper stage with landing gears and a lander stage to get that stuff down to the surface.
This makes eight launches. But your payload is now sitting in LEO (good for testing, not so good for Mars), dock them together to form two crafts with one module of each kind. And launch 2 ion drive stages which do the transfer. Expect it to take 2-3 years to get everything to Mars, depending on the trajectory, since the ion engines can't directly insert into a hohmann transfer (but: the ion drive stages can return to LEO).

So, 10 launches, depending on the prize of a regularly used FH-R, that costs $ 6-80M per launch, you need just 2 types of landers (the return vehicle and the standard lander that remains there). Should be doable for $ 2B or less, including the launches.

And then, for the launch of the astronauts themselves, one FH with a dragon capsule + one beam-like expandable module. Land on Mars at the spot, where the other modules are already waiting.

Launch prize for that: something around $200M

Maybe it's cheaper to reduce testing (also good for dramaturgy) but send a third set of all systems (if a launch costs 20M, such a set would cost 100M, and 100M production (not development)).

And give them some sort of transportation, a small vehicle would be good enough.

Offline MATTBLAK

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I think large scale SEP technology can and should be a feature of future Mars architectures. However, for a lowest budget mission that would just barely be possible, here's the pitch: A trio of (fictional) multi-billionaires want to mount one or two 'Sortie' manned missions to Mars for a minimum of 2x crew. In the story, Elon Musk's BFR exploration/colonization vehicles are taking longer and costing more to develop than envisaged. And NASA's Mars prospects have all but collapsed under poor budgets and leadership. The billionaires cut a deal with SpaceX to 'Bulk Buy' sets of Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets, plus several 'Red Dragon' spacecraft based on Musk's shelved ideas. The most expensive items in the architecture are the Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV) and some multi-purpose hypergolic propulsion stages. Several 'Expanded Cygnus' spacecraft are also bought and modified. The craft and stages have to fit within the capability of the Falcon 9 and Heavies available after 2020.

Martian EVA suits are also contracted for. And for Mars surface operations; there is an unpressurised Rover not unlike the Apollo vehicle - but with longer range and the ability to recharge. Mars surface power systems will be a mixture of solar and Radioisotopic Thermoelectric Generators (RTGs). I'm basing the mission loosely on all-chemical propulsion with a bit of ISRU for Mars ascent. The inspiration is Robert Zubrins' 2011 article where he uses all SpaceX rockets and hardware and sends a mere 2x crew to Mars. But I'm trying to plug the 'gaps' in his architecture. I'm also realizing that a long 500 plus day surface stay may not be possible the first time round with a 'bare bones' approach.

I'm all for more grandiose plans and hardware, but I want to keep the story within a reasonable length and plausibility. Though here's the rub - even with 99.9% percent system reliability and a lot of luck, the chances of such a mission coming off successfully are very slim. I just wanted to warn people that I have planned this fairly carefully and have my mind made up about the main aspects. It is science fiction, yes - but I'm not going to slip in anything as advanced as Elon Musk's coming plans and architecture. That whole process and history will work out in it's own unique way. I'm indulging in some 'alternate history' about a type of mission that very likely will not happen, but could similarly happen, if adventurers and altruists like my fictional billionaire characters took a very big chance...
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Offline Arch Admiral

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Some people here seem not to be aware that Red Dragon has been cancelled because it was designed for Earth reentry and didn't have enough drag to cope with the much thinner atmosphere of Mars. All possible reentry corridors at Mars ended up with a very high terminal velocity, and the rocket fuel needed to make the terminal burn took up too much of the internal volume. Of course real space engineers could have told them this right at the start, but Saint Elon never listens to them.

This decision by Musk got virtually no coverage on space news sites, so I'm not surprised that many SpaceX fans don't know about it. NewSpace seems to follow an inverse Gresham's Law: Good news drives bad news out of circulation.

Offline QuantumG

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... and where did you get that from?

Jeff Bezos has billions to spend on rockets and can go at whatever pace he likes! Wow! What pace is he going at? Well... have you heard of Zeno's paradox?

Offline MATTBLAK

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Probably not enough delta v for a direct entry and soft touchdown was what I was once thinking - though SpaceX did say it could, so who was I to judge? I have no access to full specs or blueprints. Some handwaving is required in fiction - but not too much, or it becomes 'science fantasy' and I might as well put anti-gravity equipment on it! The Mars rover entry aeroshells were relatively wide; a combo of heatshield, large parachute and strong retro propulsion should theoretically get the Dragon down. Some 'slow down' burn while still some distance from Mars might be required. How that might foul up the accuracy of the terminal descent trajectory I cannot say at this point.
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Offline saliva_sweet

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Some people here seem not to be aware that Red Dragon has been cancelled because it was designed for Earth reentry and didn't have enough drag to cope with the much thinner atmosphere of Mars.

I suspect most, if not all are unaware of this. It may true though. When Tom Mueller said that there were cases when Musk setting outrageous requirements backfired totally I always thought he was talking about Dragon2 and the SuperDraco.

Offline TomH

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Maybe your rich guys buy the remaining Saturn V at KSC (the government is broke, due to tax cuts, and is selling off national parks, everything in the Smithsonian, etc., for a song) and have it refurbished and lengthened. They buy the handful of F-1A engines that are packed away in AJ-R warehouses. They lengthen the S-II and S-IVB, putting J-2X engines on them. They then use FH to reprop the S-IVB at LEO and again at L2. They put an aeroshell on a LM (LM pulled from a museum) to protect it during initial Mars EDL, jettisoning it briefly before firing up descent engine. IDK how you get enough prop to get off Mars, maybe aerobraking enabled only partial use of descent stage prop, so you launch with descent stage until running out of prop, then fire up the ascent engine on ascent stage. Maybe old brittle wiring, radiation, inferior computers are dealt with somehow, but there are still infinite reasons all of this would never work (where does CSM get enough prop for MOI and TEI, fuel cell prop, food, breathable O2, how do you reprop an S-IVB? etc., et al). Nevertheless, book writers and Hollywood producers take great liberties.
« Last Edit: 11/03/2017 07:52 PM by TomH »

Offline MATTBLAK

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Stephen Baxter pretty much did a very similar storyline back in 1997 with his dystopic novel 'Titan'. I don't think restored Saturn Vs and F-1s are in anyone's future! :(

And 'stretching' the Saturn V stages amounts to completely rebuilding them - better off to buy a load of RD-180 engines from Russia and build the Atlas V Phase II with 5 meter tooling bought from a 'failing ULA'. Or buy a clutch of Falcon 9s from SpaceX and Vulcan/Centaurs from ULA and get all the launch capability you'd need.
« Last Edit: 11/03/2017 08:12 PM by MATTBLAK »
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Offline meberbs

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Some people here seem not to be aware that Red Dragon has been cancelled because it was designed for Earth reentry and didn't have enough drag to cope with the much thinner atmosphere of Mars. All possible reentry corridors at Mars ended up with a very high terminal velocity, and the rocket fuel needed to make the terminal burn took up too much of the internal volume. Of course real space engineers could have told them this right at the start, but Saint Elon never listens to them.

This decision by Musk got virtually no coverage on space news sites, so I'm not surprised that many SpaceX fans don't know about it. NewSpace seems to follow an inverse Gresham's Law: Good news drives bad news out of circulation.
Contrary to your claim, NASA analyzed the Red Dragon and found it to be doable:
https://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/20170008725.pdf

Quote
NASA’s EDL systems analysis tools were employed to assess the feasibility of landing a largely unmodified Dragon2 capsule on Mars, ... demonstrating that propulsive landing approach initiated in supersonic conditions is possible, albeit not mass optimal.

The actual reasons for Red Dragon cancellation are related to it being better just to skip straight to BFR, in particular as the paper I quoted mentions in its conclusions, the specifics of supersonic retropropulsion at this point depend heavily on the details of the architecture, so Red Dragon would not have done much to inform BFR design.

Offline QuantumG

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The actual reasons for Red Dragon cancellation are related to it being better just to skip straight to BFR, in particular as the paper I quoted mentions in its conclusions, the specifics of supersonic retropropulsion at this point depend heavily on the details of the architecture, so Red Dragon would not have done much to inform BFR design.

Well, that and propulsive landing required them to cut holes in the heat shield for the legs and NASA didn't like that idea.
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Offline MATTBLAK

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Would I be correct in saying that NASA was more concerned about the legs-through-shield idea when it pertained to the Earth landings? Greater and longer thermal loads etc.
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Offline QuantumG

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Would I be correct in saying that NASA was more concerned about the legs-through-shield idea when it pertained to the Earth landings? Greater and longer thermal loads etc.

Yes. SpaceX wanted to make the Dragon 2 propulsive landing part of the baseline (apparently it *was* baselined) and, in much the same way Falcon 9 landings were paid for by launches, get NASA to pay for the experimentation needed to prove it works over water before trying it on land. NASA was agreeable at first, but once the holes in the heatshield came in the risk was considered unacceptable for the return.
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Offline TomH

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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.

Offline Oli

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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 :)
« Last Edit: 11/04/2017 02:05 AM by Oli »

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