NASA Says Falcon Heavy+Orion Best Option For Humans on the Moon by 2024

NASA concluded that a mission profile in which Falcon Heavy places Orion, a service module, and an ICPS upper stage in orbit in a single launch may be the only option for a near-term commercial alternative for Orion’s first operational test flight.

Above is rendering from Brickmat of a SpaceX Falcon Heavy with the Orion and ICPS upper stage.

NASA Administrator Bridenstein said “It would require time, it would require cost, and there is risk involved, but guess what? If we’re gonna land boots on the Moon in 2024, we have time, and we have the ability to accept some risk and make some modifications. All of that is on the table. There is nothing sacred here that is off the table, and [FH+ICPS+Orion/ESM] is a potential capability that could help us land on the Moon in 2024.”

The Orion spacecraft, its ESM, and a fueled ICPS boost stage would weigh 56,000 kg (~123,000 lb) at launch. An expendable Falcon Heavy can place 64,000 kg (140,000 lb) into Low Earth Orbit (LEO).

SOURCES- Twitter, NASA, Ars Technica

Written By Brian Wang

42 thoughts on “NASA Says Falcon Heavy+Orion Best Option For Humans on the Moon by 2024”

  1. Orion is somewhat radiation proof, whereas Dragon isn’t. While Dragon can operate in LEO, you’d be risking high exposure to radiation in Dragon from the Van Allen Belts, Cosmic radiation, and Solar events like solar flares or CME’s.

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  2. The ironic thing is that a lot of the LOP-G hate went away now that segments might be paying customers on commercial rockets.

    It isn’t Congress that told folks how to build rockets. (Zubrin and Griffin pushed for shuttle derived HLLVs before Congress listened)

    Pence is the one telling NASA what to do. He goes after the Block 1B budget which is what you need to get to the surface–then tells NASA to go to the Moon. Pence is doing to MSFC what Putin has done–treat space professionals like dirt.

    Block 1B and Block 2 are what I wanted to see–LH2 fat craft the perfect size to warrant NTRs

    Pence is getting in the way of that.

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  3. I think NASA should focus on making a much larger, much better space station.
    Space-X does not have the money to do it. So the Government should step in to make a large rotating (artificial gravity) space station.
    Thats what govemnet programs are supposed to do. Fund and push though things the private sector can’t do….
    Leave all the launching of rockets space to private firms.
    Thr Space station would support space tourism; mining; science and launching of craft to the moon, mars and beyond…..

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  4. NOPE! You forgot the entire paraphrase:

    The SLS is dead. Long live the SLS!

    SLS will live for as long as Congress keeps paying for it. Which will be a long time. Oh, they might re-name it and such. It’s ‘goals’ and project particulars might change. Remember the Constellation program? But regardless, the SLS pork shall flow! That is ALL Congress wants from NASA, period.

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  5. New Glenn doesn’t move the needle, because it doesn’t have the throw weight. And NASA (quite rightly) won’t plan Starship into the architecture until the mission profile is proved out–which is going to take a lot longer than just getting it up and running for orbital cargo missions.

    If this whole push for 2024 thing collapses, then I’d tend to agree with you. But if they can get the Orion-on-FH thing working (a decent-sized “if”), then the simple fact is that SpaceX can launch Orions as fast as they can be manufactured, for about a tenth the cost of a Block 1. Saving an extra $1.5B per launch will buy an awful lot of lander development.

    I’ve been getting a little obsessive poring over Bridenstine’s all-hands talk. He clearly got a little more extemporaneous than he intended to, and there are some spots where the story doesn’t hang together unless there were other options that he didn’t mention. My conclusion is that they’re deadly serious about a commercial alternative, even for crewed missions, but they don’t have all their ducks in a row yet.

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  6. NASA didn’t even want the SLS in the first place. Congress wrote it into the budget legislation, so they were stuck with it. So long as Congress keeps funding it, it won’t die.

    Personally, I expect the final nail in the SLS coffin will be when both New Glenn and SpaceX’s big rocket are flying. The only thing SLS can claim for now is a big payload capacity. Once those two are flying, it is no longer true, and both of them will be *way* cheaper per flight.

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  7. Kennedy had the Apollo program. Nixon had the Space Shuttle. Reagan had the Space Station. Trump has a wall. He wants something better to go in the history books.

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  8. Assuming Starlink works as advertised, he won’t need a kickstarter. Assume 10 million customers worldwide for his gigabit internet service @ $60/month. That’s $7.2 billion a year, or about 6 times SpaceX’s current spend rate. He can afford to do whatever he wants in that case.

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  9. Very good. That’s a helluva lot of launches and landings, and the real mission would look something similar (if politics abides).

    The ideas Kerbal fans come with never cease to amaze.

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  10. Wherever they put the pad, they’re gonna need a bigger flame trench. That’s a fairly long-lead-time item.

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  11. An update: There’s a blurb on NASASpaceFlight ( https://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2019/04/starhopper-first-flight-starship-superheavy-updates/ ):

    As part of the Twitter update extravaganza, Mr. Musk also confirmed to NASASpaceflight’s Michael Baylor that SpaceX is working on regulatory approval to fly orbital missions of Starship from both Boca Chica, Texas, and “Cape Kennedy, Florida.”

    He also confirmed that the company would build Starship and Super Heavy simultaneously in both locations, thus eliminating the need for lengthy transport of the huge vehicles from California.

    This is potentially huge. If they’re going to build an SH/SS pad in Florida, it could be done fairly quickly, and I’d think that fitting it out to handle FH would be feasible. And then double FH launches would be on the table.

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  12. Somebody on another forum commented that they didn’t really care whether Shelby’s departure was horizontally or vertically integrated.

    It pretty much won the interwebs for today.

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  13. why the hell does NASA needs to compete with SpaceX or Blue Origin??

    NASA should focus on what does not interests private companies. Pay private companies to launch payloads, focus on building stuff in space to explore other worlds, and test new techs. Like… instead of having invested all the money on SLS, they could have invested in deep space nuclear propulsion systems. Launch them to orbit with SpaceX, and go land or Mars, or even explore Jupiter moons.

    Build a base on the Moon. Screw the Lunar Gateway. It’s proved the Lunar Gateway actually INCREASES the delta-v needed to get to the Moon.

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  14. Sadly, I think that’s probably true; Trump might want to get us back on the Moon before his second term is up, but he needs Congress’s buy in to actually do it, and even when the Republicans had both chambers, they weren’t even giving him things THEY had run on doing.

    They’re certainly not going to approve something they didn’t run on, just because he wants it. The fact that HE wants it is enough reason for basically all Democrats, and a significant number of Republicans in Congress to oppose something, even if they’d favor it coming from somebody else.

    The establishment of both parties hate his guts, the difference is that the Democrats can get away with admitting it.

    The only bright light in this is that what the government is interested in accomplishing in space matters less and less every year.

    Seriously, Musk should consider a kickstarter for a Moon base. I would not be totally shocked if he could raise the money to do it.

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  15. All of this is just talk unless you can get Congress to approve a budget to do it. Given that the same people who wrote the SLS design into budget legislation are still there, I doubt this will happen….Hopefully Senator Shelby will be dead or retired by then, since he’s the main roadblock.

    Yup. But Shelby doesn’t look old. Remember Robert Byrd? Byrd was in there for a long, long time.

    The other thing Bridenstine is doing is responding to his boss’ pressure (Trump) to do something before he leaves office, assuming he gets re-elected. Pence is just Trump’s lackey in overseeing the National Space Council. So Bridenstine can say the right words and wave his arms to keep his job, but not expect anything to happen because Congress won’t fund it.

    That is probably the most accurate analysis I’ve heard about this so far.

    But wait! Watch the NBF Fantasists insist that you are being too cynical and insist that this will really happen. People on here can not handle the harsh truth about how the world really works (at least when it involves D.C.).

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  16. I don’t think he believes that SLS is gonna get it done. I think he’s working pretty hard on the commercial options, but still has to say nice things about SLS in public.

    The net result of this week, while is seems like a win for SLS in the short term, is that another major pillar of institutional support has been kicked out from under SLS. It started with the lander and LOP-G systems being re-architected to be OK if they only had commercial launchers, and this week has put SLS on notice that they no longer have a favored place in the architecture unless they can add real value, on time, to the lunar effort. Since they can do neither, my guess is that SLS is now DLW (Dead Launcher Walking).

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  17. All of this is just talk unless you can get Congress to approve a budget to do it. Given that the same people who wrote the SLS design into budget legislation are still there, I doubt this will happen.

    Bridenstine is a former congressman himself. I think he know this. I think what is really going on is “opening the conversation” about making the SLS unnecessary. Once both the SpaceX big rocket and New Glenn are flying, they can have all the studies in hand to make the argument for killing it. Hopefully Senator Shelby will be dead or retired by then, since he’s the main roadblock.

    The other thing Bridenstine is doing is responding to his boss’ pressure (Trump) to do something before he leaves office, assuming he gets re-elected. Pence is just Trump’s lackey in overseeing the National Space Council. So Bridenstine can say the right words and wave his arms to keep his job, but not expect anything to happen because Congress won’t fund it.

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  18. They abandoned the idea when they decided to do a bigger rocket instead.

    Falcon Heavy surely gave them a lot of problems to be ready for launch, more than what merely strapping three F9 together would suppose.

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  19. E-sails?
    That sounds worth working on for interplanetary travel, but IIRC they need to get out of the magnetosphere before they can work.

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  20. NASA needs stop and get out of the way already. Private industry is always 10 times better in every metric than any super top heavy .GOV Department.

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  21. That’s pretty disturbing, does he seriously think the SLS is actually going to be flying, let alone man rated, in time for a 2024 mission?

    And having multiple options in this kind of time frame doesn’t mean squat if you don’t pursue them all in parallel.

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  22. You can get to TLI with an Orion on one 3-stick-reusable FH, and a no-payload expendable FH, using its S2 as the TLI stage. But you’ll have to figure out some way to launch the second FH from the same pad as the first one, quickly enough that the Orion (which has to be launched first, because it has storable prop and the FH S2 doesn’t), has enough life left to perform the mission.

    Orion has a 3-4 week active mission life. I’d be surprised if you could turn the pad over in less than a week. Chewing up 25%-33% of your mission life doesn’t sound great.

    Just to be clear: if you can actually pull off this ICPS+Orion+LAS as payload on an FH (which makes it more than 20 meters taller than the existing FH), you can do the whole thing in one launch. But yeah, if you can’t crew rate it (and I don’t even think you can launch rate it), then you’d need a separate D2/F9 or CST-100/Atlas N22 to ferry the crew up.

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  23. Two things:

    1) “NASA concluded that a mission profile in which Falcon Heavy places Orion, a service module, and an ICPS upper stage in orbit in a single launch may be the only option for a near-term commercial alternative for Orion’s first operational test flight.”

    This is wildly misleading at best. Here’s what Bridenstine actually said:
    https://youtu.be/o2gz2E-Wrws?t=2157

    There is nothing sacred here that is off the table. That is a potential capability that could help us land boots on the Moon in 2024. I don’t want to take away for one second [that] the best option to get us to lunar orbit as soon as possible is SLS and an Orion with the European Service Module. There is nothing that beats that capability and right now we’re doing everything possible to accelerate that capability…

    2) That picture above is of an Orion on an FH, not an ICPS+Orion, which is what Bridenstine talked about as a viable option. Here’s what that would look like:
    https://arstechnica.com/science/2019/04/nasa-chief-says-a-falcon-heavy-rocket-could-fly-humans-to-the-moon/?comments=1&post=37119981

    But here’s the thing: The nose of the fairing of the current FH comes up even to the Orion Stage Adapter at the top of the ICPS. In other words, this stack is 20.8 meters taller than anything that’s ever flown on either an F9 or an FH. F9/FH already has a very large fineness ratio; preventing the Orion from snapping the S2 like a twig isn’t necessarily impossible, but it’s a big fat hairy deal.

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  24. orion is bigger. has long term life support systems. but in terms of boots on moon its not required. you could create a tiny 1 man moon lander for a suited astronaut. to land and return to orbit. bucket seat moon lander. need to start landing other stuff like habs and vehicles soon.

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  25. Why wouldn’t a lunar mission use Dragon, with the yet undesigned lunar lander, and a big upper stage? What can Orion do that Dragon can’t?

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  26. Of course the whole idea of landing a man on the moon in 5 years is a costly aberration. NASA needs to focus on building better launch systems just like SpaceX does and then decide where it wants to go with it. That does not mean that the Lunar Outpost and the SLS are good ideas. NASA should focus on practical systems that can be built quickly but still supplement and surpass what spaceX is intending to achieve. One such technology  will be shuttles of giant counter rotating E-sails with tiny rods hundred of miles long. The energy to have them create an electromagnetic field can also be harvested from the Solar wind. They will be specially launched, deployed and maybe assembled in space , will never land on earth or any other celestial body but will tow space crafts going between Earth LEO and even lower energy trajectory to that of other destinations in the solar system and maybe a bit beyond. This alone will allow for a relatively very easy access for deep space exploration allowing for example to land and return from objects in the solar system a bit bigger than Mars the SpaceX spacecraft under development without having to go through the trouble of fueling on it.

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  27. AFAIK, Falcon Heavy prolly could do the mission with 2 launches in expendable mode, via orbital docking of the Orion capsule and an as-of-yet-non-existing lander.

    I assume they are planning to launch the crew in another rocket (in a Dragon 2 or using Boeing’s capsule), docking with the complete lunar ship in orbit. The return to Earth would be in the Orion capsule.

    I assume that because the risk of falling into a bureaucratic rathole while crew-rating the Falcon Heavy seems very high.

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