A small band of rogue rocketeers takes on the NASA establishment.
- By Michael Klesius
- AirSpaceMag.com, September 29, 2008
Artwork by Philip Metschan | Copyright 2008 Directlauncher
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Metschan says the plan won’t work, and that the agency is clinging stubbornly to its Ares design without giving other ideas a chance. “In any normal organization, this would have been put in the dust bin of history,” he says.
He and two colleagues—Ross Tierney, who owns a model rocket business in Florida, and Chuck Longton, who used to work for NASA on liquid-fueled engines—are the public faces of Direct Launcher. All three claim that the real problem at NASA is close-mindedness, particularly on the part of Administrator Mike Griffin. To Metschan, it seemed that Griffin came to NASA in 2005 having already decided that Ares I and V were the only options. Direct Launcher, they say, never got a fair hearing.
“If your plan didn’t include Ares I,” says Metschan, “then your case was dead on arrival.”
NASA shrugs at such accusations.
“NASA has assessed over 1,700 launch vehicle options since the conclusion of ESAS [the Exploration Systems Architecture Study] in the summer of 2005,” says Steve Cook, NASA’s Ares I program manager. “The primary issue with all of the ‘Direct’ options, including the most recent variation released in late June, 2008, is that they fall short of our performance requirements. If a system can’t pass this primary gate, we do not perform more detailed analyses.”
Cook says the Direct proponents offer no methodology or data to support their claims of cost savings on their design for the central fuel tank; and that developing Jupiter’s core system, even with the fuel tank derived from the shuttle’s tank, would be far more expensive than the Direct proponents promise.
Furthermore, he says, Ares I and V are well under way, with Ares I having just concluded its Preliminary Design Review. The thrust oscillation problems, Cook admits, still need to be addressed in a follow-on review next summer, “to mature the design solution.” But he warns that restarting the program now would waste billions of dollars spent developing the integrated Ares I stack, including redoing 6,000 hours of wind tunnel tests.
In Government Accountability Office noted the technical risks facing the Ares program, but was not as pessimistic as Metschan about the chances of solving them: “We do not know yet whether the architecture and design solutions selected by NASA will work as intended,” concluded the authors.