VSE – the other alternatives

by Chris Bergin

From Lockheed Martin to the Congressional Budget Office, it seems like everyone has a proposal for how to change the VSE (Vision for Space Exploration).

In the final part of this series, we will examine four more recently proposed alternatives to NASA’s VSE program, ranging from industry professionals to international concepts.
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Huge amounts of VSE releated insider news and presentations are available for download on L2. See list at the end of this article.


**ARES V / Mars Transport Vehicle (MTV) LIVE UPDATE PAGES**


Project Moonlight is a modular lunar mission profile proposed to NASA by an Italian team consisting of engineers and scientists from the Italian firms of Alcatel Alenia Space, CIRA, and the Microgravity Advanced Research and Support (MARS) Center in Naples.

Project Moonlight proposes a modular lunar exploration architecture that uses many smaller launch vehicles and does not require a heavy lift launcher such as the NASA VSE Ares V CaLV. The proposal relies on on-orbit cryogenic propellant transfer and component dockings in both LEO and Lunar Orbit.

While the Moonlight architecture requires more initial launches of smaller components, it aims to provide a reusable lunar transportation infrastructure consisting of Earth-to-Moon Tugs, reusable landers, and Crew vehicles. This should significantly reduce the cost of recurring lunar operations, instead of launching an entire infrastructure for each lunar mission as NASA’s VSE intends.

The lunar infrastructure eventually consists of a small space station in lunar orbit, called the Lunar Orbital Operations Platform (LOOP) logistical station. The lunar station is largely built using existing ISS modules, such as the MPLM for a habitat, a Z1 element with gyros, a docking port node, and an ISS-style truss.

The lunar station would hold multiple docked reusable landers, fuel transported from unmanned Lunar Tanker modules, and provide a staging area for the crew vehicle.

The final phase of the proposal would use the lunar transportation architecture and the reusable modular design of the lunar lander to land crew habitation modules and other cargo and facilities, forming a permanent or semi-permanent moon base.

The Moonlight proposal was formally submitted under NASA’s Request for Information invitation for contractors to submit lunar lander concepts for consideration by the Constellation Project Office.


Another alternative vision for space exploration comes from none other than Lockheed Martin, which continues to propose an expanded role for the EELV and commercial launchers.

At the AIAA Space 2006 conference last month, Lockheed Martin published several papers outlining EELV and other commercial launchers as viable alternatives to development of NASA’s Ares I and Ares V for lunar exploration and ISS servicing needs. One paper entitled ‘Commercial Launch Services: an Enabler for Launch Vehicle Evolution and Cost Reduction’ was presented by Lockheed’s Bernard F. Kutter. Another paper was entitled ‘An Alternate Approach to Lunar Missions – Human Sorties at Half the Price’.

Lockheed’s argument in the Commercial Launch Services paper can be summed up as follows: A stagnant and limited launch market is keeping launch prices high. NASA’s VSE plans would effectively quadruple the mass launched to orbit by US launchers every year. If this VSE mass can be launched by commercial launchers, instead of NASA’s planned Ares launchers, it would effect a dramatic decrease in costs for all US space launches.

The Lockheed paper envisions a VSE without NASA’s planned Ares V heavy launch vehicle. Instead a larger number of smaller commercial launch vehicles, such as Lockheed’s own Atlas V, transport propellant and architecture components to LEO, where they are assembled and joined by a crewed CEV.

One enabling technology required by the paper for this architecture would be on-orbit cryogenic propellant transfer, which would effectively allow Lunar-bound vehicles to be launched empty, and be refueled on orbit by multiple launches. Lockheed backed up this proposal with another AIAA by Kutter and others entitled ‘Settled Cryogenic Propellant Transfer’.

The second enabling technology cited by the paper is a US Automated Rendezvous and Docking (AD&R) system, like the Russian system used with Progress.

Again, Lockheed Martin answered their own question with yet another Space 2006 conference paper entitled ‘In-Space Assembly of the Exploration Architecture’ which focuses on the specifics of AD&R system development.

The final piece of the Lockheed alternative vision would include the use of a Human Rated Atlas 5 for ISS crew rotation and potentially as a replacement of the Ares I ‘Stick’ CEV launcher. Lockheed and Bigelow aerospace announced their intention to study a man-rated Atlas V at Space 2006, and again backed the plan with several more papers published at the conference.


The highest authority which could force a change to NASA’s VSE plans is, of course, the US Congress. In October, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) published a study entitled ‘Alternatives for U.S. Future Space Launch Capabilities’ which examined six alternatives to the NASA VSE roadmap.

The CBO study concluded that a ‘closely-derived’ Atlas V VSE program, similar to that proposed by Lockheed at the Space 2006 conference, would save approximately $5 billion through 2017 compared to NASA’s VSE. This was the cheapest option the CBO considered. The CBO estimated a closely-derived Atlas V lunar program to cost approximately $26 billion through 2017, compared to $31 billion for NASA’s VSE.


Perhaps the most unconventional method to design a space architecture comes from a small company named TeamVision Corporation, using the company’s decision optimization software partially funded through a NASA SBIR grant.

TeamVision attempted to build a computer model of all possible space architecture and program elements from ISS resupply through to Mars exploration. The company then used computer optimization methods to find an ideal solution to meet budgetary and exploration goals.

The resulting detailed VSE architecture was presented in a 61 page paper at Space2006. The architecture would use existing EELV launch vehicles for ISS resupply and crew launch instead of the planned Ares I ‘stick’. However, unlike the Moonlight or Lockheed proposals, NASA would still develop a Heavy Launch Vehicle derived from both EELV and Shuttle systems for a number of both manned and robotic lunar return missions.

A number of detailed recommendations are made along the way, including:

-A communications satellite in a halo orbit about the L2 Earth-Moon Lagrange point, to provide full communications coverage of the Lunar vicinity, including
the far side.

-A very directly Shuttle derived heavy lift vehicle family, initially using 4-segment SRB’s and two RS-68 engines. The initial vehicle is reminiscent to
the ‘Stumpy’ proposal from NASA several months ago, and to the DIRECT plan described earlier.

-Strategic use of robotic lunar lander pre-cursor missions to test equipment and survey potential landing sites.

-Direct Ascent/Direct Return lunar lander architecture, in which the entire lunar vehicle, including re-entry capsule, lands on the Moon – eliminating any lunar orbit rendezvous.

-Development of in-situ resource utilization, such a lunar LOX production

-Eventual establishment of a space station and fueling depot around the Earth-Moon L1 Lagrange point. That station would act as a staging area for lunar excursions, and as a storage location for ISRU fuel produced from the moon. Eventually, this station would be the launching point for Mars missions.

Other L2 Resources For Ares I, V and Constellation: Ares I-1 Test Flight Plan (full outline) Presentation. ARES I Reference Trajectory. Boeing’s STS to Ares – Lessons Learned Presentation. Latest Ares I and Ares V baseline Configuration image and data. CLV DAC-1C (Changes to CLV Upper Stage).

Ares I-1: Four Seg+Dummy ‘Tuna Can’ stage. Ascent Developmental Flight Test Presentation. CLV Pad 39B Handover Info and Latest. New images of CLV on top of new MLP and LUT. Lockheed Martin CEV/Orion Updates. Constellation news updates. ATK figures on the 5-Seg Booster weight for CLV. 90 Minute Video of Constellation all hands meeting. CLV TIM Meeting Information. CLV/CaLV Infrastructure, Timelines and Information.

CEV-CLV Design Analysis Cycle Review (DAC-2) Presentation. Constellation SRR updates. CLV Stick – Troubleshooting/Alternatives/Updates. New CEV Images (include abort mode). Flight Design and Dynamics Division CEV update. CLV Mono-propellant RCS system. CEV pressurisation system review. CLV/CEV Configuration Images. The 2×3 Seg SRB Crew Launch Vehicle Option Presentation…plus more.

**NASASpaceflight.com Job Opportunities** 

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