International Repercussions [Part 2] The Power Vacuum

Future participants in the cislunar co-prosperity sphere

Future participants in the cislunar co-prosperity sphere

In my last post, I explored issues related to American abrogation of responsibility in the arena of international space cooperation, primarily as they pertain to the removal of the Moon from the “critical path” in the Global Exploration Roadmap and the subsequent confusion and dismay this decision has caused our international space partners. Having looked at how poorly considered, unilateral policy decisions affect our friends, one also must look at how it could affect a possible adversary. Although we have no declared space enemies, volatile political circumstances on Earth always contain the implicit threat of escalation and expansion into the realm of space. With the increasing reliance and dependence of modern technical civilization on satellite assets, such a threat will be greater in the future than has previously been the case.

Recent world events have documented our vulnerability in regards to both foreign partners and competitors. The strong disagreement between Russia and the United States over the political status of parts of the Ukraine is currently bleeding over into the realm of space cooperation. Although our principal joint space project (operation of the International Space Station) remains on track, bureaucratic directives have interfered with and stopped Russian-American cooperation on a variety of scientific efforts. One example is an international scientific workshop on the exploration of Venus (scheduled next month in Houston), which has been thrown into disarray due to escalating Russian-American tension.

Despite this tension, our space relationship with the Russians appears, for now, secure. However, current access for American crews to the ISS is dependent entirely on the Russian Soyuz, not to mention our use of Russian-built RD-180 engines in the United Launch Alliance Atlas launch vehicle family. If diplomatic relations continue to deteriorate and turn cold (or hot), we will be in the difficult and very publicly diminished position of losing all of these space capabilities at once. Russia’s military buildup and aggression toward its neighbors, coupled with their denial (or hiked price) of resources is instructive on what their posture in space will be. China, another space power, has also become increasingly assertive toward its neighbors in Asia. In both instances, Russia and China are filling the power vacuum that has been opened up by America’s retreat from influence on the world stage (which includes space).

Looking beyond the immediate near-term, what would poor relations with Russia mean for future space operations beyond low Earth orbit (LEO)? The Russians have outlined their plans for future trans-LEO spaceflight in several venues. Remarkably and unsurprisingly, they intend to focus considerable effort on the Moon, beginning with a series of lander and rover spacecraft designed to examine and characterize the volatile deposits of the lunar poles. Initial efforts are entirely focused on robotic spacecraft, but there is nothing to stop the Russians from following these missions with human visits sometime after 2020. Indeed, recent remarks by Russia’s Deputy Premier Dmitri Rogozin have specifically outlined a vision of permanent Russian presence on the Moon within the next decade or so (the timescale is of less significance than their intent to accomplish it).

What are we to make of these claims? Who cares if Russia and China decide to do “what we did” over 40 years ago? The key difference is that they are not “doing what we did” nor are they emphasizing a lunar “touch-and-go” and an “exit strategy” so as to get on to Mars (NASA’s truncated version of a devolved Vision for Space Exploration, now totally abandoned). By focusing on polar exploration and resource characterization, Russia and China intend to go the Moon to stay. In the coming decades, such knowledge and capability will become increasingly vital and valuable, as the freedom of movement throughout cislunar space holds significant national security and economic ramifications.

I’ve outlined elsewhere the importance of cislunar space – the area between the Earth and the Moon, where most of our critical satellite assets reside. The power to freely come and go throughout this volume of space permits the holder to both protect their own space assets and to deny adversaries the use of their own. This development need not involve the weaponization of space or the deployment of offensive capabilities. Satellites are delicate physically and can be disabled through very simple expedients, such as snapping off an antenna or severing a cable. To realize this scenario, necessary capabilities are cislunar presence, the ability to maneuver throughout space (orbital changes, rendezvous and loiter), station-keeping with proximity operations and long-dwell times (preferably in high orbits well beyond LEO to mask both the presence and purpose of spacecraft). China has recently sent a variety of space probes to the Moon and beyond and has successfully demonstrated a mastery of these space skills and capabilities.

The Chinese Chang’E-2 mission, launched in 2010, was sent to the Moon to orbit it for a year and map the surface in greater detail than its predecessor Chang’E-1. After mapping the Moon, the spacecraft was sent to Sun-Earth L-2, the libration point 1.5 million kilometers from Earth. It spent the next eight months at this L-2 point, loitering but available to depart and re-position on command. After this period, the probe was sent into orbit around the Sun, including maneuvering into a fly-by of the near-Earth asteroid Toutatis. Other Chinese satellite missions have experimented with orbital maneuvering and rendezvous; one satellite possessed a robotic arm and engaged in proximity operations with its sister craft. All of these new capabilities post-date the infamous 2007 Chinese interceptor mission that destroyed an obsolete satellite and left a cloud of orbital debris to interfere with future missions (and for which China endured justifiable international criticism). Chang’E-3 soft-landed and deployed a rover on the Moon last December; Chang’E-4, 5 and 6 are being built or designed for upcoming missions to the Moon.

The extensive and permanent presence of Russia and China in the frontier of space beyond LEO would not be such a concern if we were certain that other space powers would also be present there. Although the Europeans have outlined plans (as of yet, indefinite) for lunar missions in the coming years, as in most space activities they take primary cues from the United States (which has indicated that it does not intend to conduct lunar missions). However, U.S. human missions to cislunar space may occur, in particular, as part of the testing program for the SLS-Orion spacecraft. This includes the so-called Asteroid Retrieval Mission (ARM), a concept being studied wherein a rock will be hauled to lunar orbit to allow astronauts to encounter it.

Can it thus be said that America will be on the cislunar frontier as well as these other nations?  Key considerations are the intent and outcome of these two different approaches. With the ARM, the United States has proposed conducting a one-off, “make work” mission solely for the purpose of being able to check off the box of doing something new by “visiting” an asteroid (a plan that has been met with derision by many in the space community). Unlike the Russian and Chinese plans, there is no effort to assay, develop and use the material and energy resources of the Moon to create cislunar permanence and new space faring capabilities. In short, the Russians and Chinese are making plans to be permanently present in cislunar space and on the Moon, while our present leadership is adamant that since “we’ve been there,” they have no interest in going back. As such, our options to participate or even have a voice in how the new cislunar frontier develops (or command the use of space assets that control and safeguard so much of our existence here on Earth) will be severely limited, if not completely curtailed.

Some may not worry about this development, as it will take at least a decade (perhaps more, perhaps less) until the importance of others’ presence (and our absence) becomes evident. However, decisions made now hold ominous scenarios from many perspectives. Those present on the frontier will make the rules of the road. If America is not there, our rights of passage, access and use of space and its resources are not guaranteed. In international relations, a power vacuum occurs when there is an absence of strong leadership and no regional presence (or plans for any) to secure and defend our national interests. Such a vacuum is always filled (often with malign powers and circumstances not to our benefit or advantage). Recent events have shown that relying upon foreign space powers may save small amounts of money in the near-term, but can cost us dearly in the long run.

We are not at war with either Russia or China but it is dangerous for U.S. leadership to allow the country to assume a vulnerable posture, as events outside of our control can quickly change. Weakness is an invitation for aggression; we are either space powerful or space vulnerable. There is no doubt that our satellite infrastructure represents a critical national asset and that its health and proper functionality are vital to the economy and security of the United States.

Abandoning our presence on the frontier of cislunar space and the lunar surface is not an option – at least not a rational, intelligent one. Our civil space program would serve vital national interests if it were re-vectored through cislunar space to take advantage of the natural logistics depot (in specific and limited locales) available on our Moon. In time, with our presence there, this new realm in space could be developed for commercial and economic expansion. But for now, we’re slipping further and further behind the eight ball, committed to performing space public relations stunts that give no lasting value for money spent and, as current events portend, leaves us exposed amid growing national security concerns.

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55 Responses to International Repercussions [Part 2] The Power Vacuum

  1. DougSpace says:

    I find convincing the argument that those countries that settle the lunar Peaks of Eternal Light and who develop lunar polar ice resource could easily stake out an exclusive claim to those locations.  I once calculated how long it would take to drive (at Apollo rover speeds) around the lunar south pole regions of 70% light.  It was less than 24 hours (i.e. a single manned mission).  Likewise, the first permanent off-Earth base will likely have the language and be reflective of the governance structure of the founding country.  Also easy to imagine is that the status and international collaboration resulting in lunar development would negatively affect the degree to which other countries such as India align itself with our interests.

    Harder for me to understand is how moving through cis-lunar space requires our developing the Moon nor how that would actually protect our cis-lunar assets.  It seems to me that our LEO assets are hopelessly vulnerable to relatively cheaper suborbital interceptors.  Orbital interceptors launched from Earth could also jeopardize our MEO and GEO assets.  Radio jamming or lasers might also put our assets in jeopardy.  But even this is speculative.  Non-friendly nations are becoming increasingly dependent upon their space assets as well.  They share a similar vulnerability if they initiate conflict in cis-lunar space.  Also, attacking one’s space assets is a cause for a terrestrial response.  Rather, I think that the positive benefits of cis-lunar development (e.g. an ISS-sized GEO communications complex) is a more convincing argument.

    • Paul Spudis says:

      Harder for me to understand is how moving through cis-lunar space requires our developing the Moon nor how that would actually protect our cis-lunar assets. It seems to me that our LEO assets are hopelessly vulnerable to relatively cheaper suborbital interceptors. Orbital interceptors launched from Earth could also jeopardize our MEO and GEO assets.

      Most vulnerable assets are in orbits above LEO and interceptors launched from Earth would take time and be continuously visible to tracking networks. In contrast, spacecraft permanently stationed in cislunar space could depart on missions more stealthily and would approach satellites from directions not usually monitored.

      The relevance of lunar development to all this is that making propellant on the Moon from polar ice could fuel a permanent space faring infrastructure, one with permanent assets in cislunar available on demand. Of course a terrestrial conflict could stimulate space attack and retaliation. This issue is, what is going to be your response and how quickly can you respond? With space-based assets, response is fairly quick.

    • Dougspace, there are no lunar “Peaks of Eternal Light”. I never cease to be annoyed by this term. Thanks to the wonderful data collected by LRO and Kaguya, it has been proven there is no spot on the Moon to be in the Sun 100% of the time all year in the Sun. Perhaps on tall towers, it may be possible to avoid terrain shadowing, but even then the eclipse of the region by an Earth-cast shadow (eclipse) is not avoided.

      Can you drive to avoid terrain shadowing all year round? No. Not how the terrain shadows are cast. The LRO data is best to show this.

      • Paul Spudis says:

        There are spots that are illuminated for extended periods. One near the rim of Shackleton is lit 86% of the lunar year; it is within 10 km of another locality that, taken together with the first point, are collectively illuminated for 94% of the lunar year.

        The “Peak of Eternal Light” was coined by Camille Flammarion in the 19th century.

        • Yes, there ARE “extended” illumination spots, no denying that.

          You say: “The “Peak of Eternal Light” was coined by Camille Flammarion in the 19th century.”

          Ah, yes, Good Ole’ Camille did come up with the term…42 years AFTER Beer and Madler did.

          Too bad how these erroneous bits of information (Peaks of Eternal Light and Camille inventing the term) seem to linger in the world.

          Also, in reference to your current Air and Space magazine article (, you state
          “We have completely mapped the Moon at medium resolution” with LRO. Does it count to have “mapped” something if it is a Permanently Shadowed Region which we have a number of on the Moon? I would say no, unless you are using radar instead of the WAC cameras. By the way, I am all for LRO being funded indefinitely…it is terrific!

        • Joe says:

          That is interesting. It means (depending on whether or not you have solar arrays at one or both locations) that a lunar facility would be without direct solar power somewhere between 21 and 52 days a year.

          Would these days be contiguous?

          • Paul Spudis says:

            No, but they tend to be grouped together, with periods of eclipse that last hours to a day or two. During summer months, in some places, they do not occur at all.

          • gbaikie says:

            “No, but they tend to be grouped together, with periods of eclipse that last hours to a day or two. During summer months, in some places, they do not occur at all.”

            That reminds me, is this including times Earth is blocking the Sun [lunar eclipses]?

            Also wondering about 4 degree latitude either side of pole, in terms of km.
            So do you take circumference of moon and divided by 360?
            “Polar radius (km) 1736.0 ” Being 10907.6 km circumference. And each degree latitude is about 30.3 km. Or 4 degrees: About 121 km radius from pole? And entire total area of 46144 square km.
            Or is some other number for km distance of degree
            of latitude?

          • Paul Spudis says:

            this including times Earth is blocking the Sun [lunar eclipses]?

            No. But eclipses of the Sun by the Earth only occur at most 3-4 times per year and are never longer than a few hours duration. At the poles, we must design power systems to stand 20-60 hours of eclipse.

            One degree of latitude on the Moon is about 30 km, so your calculations are correct.

          • gbaikie says:

            “At the poles, we must design power systems to stand 20-60 hours of eclipse.

            One degree of latitude on the Moon is about 30 km, so your calculations are correct.”

            Yikes, 60 hours? Not as bad as at equator- about a 1/5th, but that’s pretty big chunk of time.

            I was wondering about the line of line of sight on the Moon from peak to peak.
            Generally I would assume it’s less less distance than as compared on Earth. But then again not sure when it comes looking over horizon from a high point to another high point.
            In terms of earth mountain to mountain 200 miles seems about the farthest and not sure but bending effect of atmosphere. But anyhow, picture from mountain to mountain

            With Earth according to wiki it’s:
            “Ignoring the effect of atmospheric refraction, distance to the horizon from an observer close to the Earth’s surface is about”
            Distance = approx 3.57 times square root of height
            “where d is in kilometres and h is height above ground level in metres.”

            “For an observer atop Mount Everest (8,848 metres (29,029 ft) altitude), the horizon is at a distance of 336 kilometres (209 mi).”

            So seems mountain to “about sea level” rather than mountain to mountain.
            Or if could have two Mt Everest I one could see each other at twice distance. Or 400 miles [650 km] apart [assuming there was no higher elevation or mountains between them. Though if there was a large depression at mid point on could see further].
            Now could be that moon smaller sphere it has more curve per km distance so Moon’s 30 km, and earth’s
            111 km or Earth’s 3.7 times longer. Or Everest to Everest on Moon is 650 divide by 3.7. Or 175 km,

            But also seems due to moon’s smaller gravity well, that a level ruler is flatter/straighter on Moon than on Earth- but then again, maybe… that makes it worse:)
            Or already “account for”.
            So I assume it’s 175 km for two everests
            Or nice round number of 2 at 6000 meters elevation:
            149.5 km
            Or for something a bit different: Moon’s highest point:
            “Arrow shows highest point on the Moon, 10,786 meters (35,387 feet) above the mean radius”

            So just this a one point, we have sq root of 10,786
            times 3.57 and divided by 3.7, giving 100 km.
            So roughly can see at least 100 km distance from this point. And also from above:
            “The lunar high point is very ancient, and was possibly formed as ejecta from the enormous South Pole Aitken basin piled up during this cataclysmic event, in a matter of minutes, more than 4 billion years ago. Another key difference between the two highest points is slope. The flanks of Mt Everest are very steep, while on the Moon the approach to the summit has slopes of only about 3°, assuming you skirt around impact craters. “

  2. Lunar water is going to be the key commodity that will decide which nation, or nations, strategically and economically dominates cis-lunar space and the rest of the solar system in the 21st century.

    Water provides not only sustenance for the human body but can also be used to grow food in extraterrestrial environments and can be used to produce air for astronauts. Water can also be used to manufacture rocket fuel for lunar shuttles, interplanetary vehicles, and space tugs. And water can provide radiation shielding for space stations and interplanetary vehicles. So water is obviously– an extremely valuable commodity– in extraterrestrial environments.

    The Earth has plenty of water but this water exist within an enormous gravity well that would require a delta-v of more than 9.3 km/s just to place it into Earth orbit. The Moon’s low gravity well, however, could allow a lunar outpost to distribute this precious commodity anywhere within cis-lunar space with a delta-v requirement of less than 4 km/s.

    Reusable LOX/LH2 tugs provided with fuel derived from lunar water could be used to quickly replace satellites at GEO damaged during a military conflict with back up satellites remotely stored at EML4 or EML5. The delta-v from L4 or L5 to GEO, for instance, is only 1.71 km/s.


  3. Joe says:

    It is interesting that between now and 2050 there may be new Moon Race, this time to establish a permanent human presence and begin mining the Moon’s resources.

    Unfortunately, as of now, that race is likely to be between Russia and China; with America as a bystander.

    • Chris Castro says:

      Joe; indeed it will be a sad, lamentable thing to witness America chugging right along with mere LEO activity, for the next 15 years, while another country such as China actually pursues a manned lunar course, in this century! Keep in mind that in all likelihood a full half-a-century gap in manned deep space-flight will be upon us, by then. I fully expect that the 50th anniversaries of Apollo 11 and later Apollo 17, will’ve happened, while American astronauts continue doing petty life-science experiments on board the ISS, with newts or fish or mice or worms.

  4. billgamesh says:

    “Although we have no declared space enemies-“

    “-reliance and dependence of modern technical civilization on satellite assets,-“

    “We are not at war with either Russia or China but it is dangerous for U.S. leadership to allow the country to assume a vulnerable posture, as events outside of our control can quickly change.”

    “-we are either space powerful or space vulnerable.”

    This modern period of history dates from 1453 with the end of the last vestige of Rome. Two centuries previous to the fall of Constantinople both Russia and China suffered Mongol conquest. Forty years after the Turks ended the Holy Roman Empire the Americas were discovered in 1492 and the end the Mayan and Aztec empires followed. Fossil fuels and the industrial revolution increased the number of human beings several times over. With the beginning of the atomic age in 1945 came a short space age derived from nuclear weapon delivery technology that ended in 1972. The threads of empire and conflict have woven complete over the last five centuries and in this 2nd decade of the 21st century there is no more world to conquer. It appears that technology has finally calmed the struggle of nations and what we are seeing now is ethnic and religious fights that can no longer be used as excuses for conquest. What remains of warfare is minor compared to the previous oceanic blood lettings. In the cases of states possessing important resources this can lead to short battles and for those few states with nuclear weapons that are in danger of attack or collapse there is real risk of limited exchanges. But the possibility of another world war is almost zero. There is far more possibility of civilization being destroyed by threats other than nuclear war. The possibility of a global pandemic that could destabilize civilization by decimation to the point where war does breaks out is one danger. The worst case scenario is the escape of an engineered pathogen that leaves no survivors. The remaining clear and present danger is a comet or asteroid impact. This impact need not be a dinosaur killer to wreck our world and wipe out most of the human race. An impact sufficient to block sunlight for a few years would result in most of the planet starving to death. All this history I have just touched on could be rendered meaningless and almost all the people alive right now could be doomed in the blink of any eye. The U.S. space program is the best hope the world has of averting such a disaster.

    We should have a declared space enemy but we are foolishly ignoring it.
    We are reliant and dependant on what civilization always has been completely dependent;
    growing food.
    We are not at war with Russia or China but we are at war with nature as we always have been.
    We are at this moment “space vulnerable.”

    • Paul Spudis says:

      But the possibility of another world war is almost zero.

      Europe was of the same opinion in 1913.

      I outlined a scenario in which tensions on Earth escalate to the disabling and attack of satellites in space, assets upon which we are critically and singularly dependent. I will not bury my head in the sand with platitudes about nation inequality and the danger (vastly over-stated, in my opinion) of asteroid impact. It is much more likely that a cascade of unfortunate events will ignite a global conflagration.

  5. Michael Wright says:

    I cannot help but think we are at a point where England, Spain, Portugal, France, Holland were at 500 years ago. I wonder if there was chatter like these blogs but in other forms (arguments at the pubs). There is another space power, USAF Space Command, and what of their plans and programs and how will these play a role in the future? But I also wonder about the people that make space policy decisions (and their plans that specifically not include the moon), what are they really thinking? Rest of us on the outside come up with all kinds of theories (some interesting insight, others lunatic).

  6. Pingback: Space-for-All at HobbySpace » Space policy roundup – April.23.14

  7. JohnG says:

    NASA is not totally ignoring the lunar polar volatiles, but they do come close. The Resource Prospector payload is being worked on by NASA for use in a lunar polar region, and is also described in the international Global Exploration Roadmap (GER). The problem with this payload is just that, it is only a payload looking for a ride to the Moon and a lunar lander. But that’s the totality of NASA’s current lunar efforts. LCROSS, while only occurring a few years ago, was a product of the Bush Administration and the Vision for Space Exploration (VSE), and can’t be included as NASA’s current way of thinking (as were GRAIL and LADEE). The Resource Prospector payload-looking-for-a-mission is another example of ‘half-baked’ ideas that are rampant throughout NASA (i.e. the asteroid redirect mission, aka ARM). Oh, where art thou Wernher! But then, I’m guessing even a Wernher von Braun of our day wouldn’t last long with the Obama Administration calling the shots. He/she would be fired on the spot for not ‘towing the line’ and saying only what the ‘party’ allows you to say, comrade. It will be most interesting to see how our space partners in Europe react to the Ukraine situation. ESA has been developing closer and closer ties with Russia, as America let them down (i.e. ExoMars mission). Only time will tell. Finally, as the previous comment mentioned, the Air Force is doing plenty in space (the X-37B space plane for example), and let’s hope there is more of that happening that we don’t know about. But then, is HOPE a real space strategy? I think the last five years have answered that. Russia and China are closely watching every political move we make or don’t make in space and on the earth. I just wonder if they are laughing, clapping their hands, cheering, or doing all three?

  8. billgamesh says:

    “I’m guessing even a Wernher von Braun of our day wouldn’t last long with the Obama Administration calling the shots.”

    From what I have read of Mr. Brown, he was a realist above all else. And that does not seem to fit the profile of a space enthusiast. He was conservative and this can be seen in his dislike of the Atlas balloon tank and his resistance to using hydrogen. But while conservative he still could change his mind if presented with numbers that did not lie. Perhaps that was his secret. He also endorsed Houbolt’s LOR when few others would after reviewing the data (Houbolt passed away recently without much notice). My favorite story about him was his skepticism concerning nuclear pulse propulsion. After looking at data presented to him by Freeman Dyson and watching a film of a scale model flying through the air propelled by explosive charges he endorsed the concept. If asked to endorse a mission like ARM he would probably try and turn it into a lunar landing instead.

    • Joe says:

      For anybody interested in viewing the test flight video referenced:

        • Joe says:


          On my screen (with in your website) there is a big color still with an arrow in the middle, when you click on the arrow it runs the video.

          If that is not coming through to anybody else, let me know and I will try again.

          • Paul Spudis says:

            Yes, it’s here. It just does not show up on my comment approval page. Thanks.

          • Joe says:


            A neat video if you are an engineering geek. I remember in college (when I first heard of the nuclear pulse propulsion concept) thinking that the basic physics might work, but the particle implementation of the bomb dispenser/pusher plate combination probably would not.

            Then I got to watch the flight test video.

          • billgamesh says:

            I did not write very well at all, I apologize. It sounds like Houbolt was the one endorsing Pulse Propulsion; it was Von Braun. The BBC documentary about the project is really good. Of course, I am a true believer so you will have to judge for yourself.

  9. Chris Castro says:

    I knew not of John C. Houbolt’s dying, recently. I looked it up: it was just this very month. Indeed his passing away went without much notice. (I’ll have to make a mention of it, on my social network web-page, shortly.) Mr. Houbolt would have much of the historical credit, for the 1960’s NASA acceptance of Lunar Orbit Rendezvous as a viable flight pattern to follow, in conducting a Moon expedition. He stands out as the major proponent in the convincing crusade to get this mission mode adopted, by the Kennedy space program leadership.
    It is fully conceivable, that had Apollo been flown via a different mode, then America would almost certainly not have acheived the premiere mission before the decade’s end. So this was one of those highly important historical turning point decisions. Indeed a hypothetical Apollo 13-type of deep space catastrophe would never have been survivable, by the spacemen, without the joint flight of two distinct spacecrafts. So this method of carrying out the mission, had farther-reaching effects. I still concur the future use of the LOR mode, as the best way to conduct the next round of manned Lunar missions, as Project Constellation had as planned.

    • billgamesh says:

      It is interesting that Max Faget, the guy who invented the space capsule, said of Houbolt and LOR: “His figures lie, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

      And the other wiki entry on LOR states that Kennedy’s science advisor remained opposed to it to the end.

      My favorite story about the Lunar Lander was that Armstrong wanted a manual lever to start and stop the engine, bypassing any electrical system. But it was decided this was just not appropriate. The three different hypergolic pressure fed engines that placed the command module and lander into lunar orbit, landed and took off the lander and then sent the crew back to Earth were all made as simple as possible and if I remember correctly because of the corrosive propellents there was no test firing any of the engines. Very simple rocket engines with no regenerative cooling or turbopumps. KISS.

      • Michael Wright says:

        Yes, that ascent engine simply ***had*** to work. I also heard engines were never test fired and were fixed (no gimbal). What was going through those people’s minds who built it when it came time to lift off the moon.

  10. Chris Castro says:

    Indeed, keeping each of those very crucial engines as simple as possible & feasible, was a wise engineering choice. True, considering that there were no test firings to those rocket engines, in the lead-up-to-flight process, you just have to marvel about how picture-perfect the Lunar Module was able to operate during the unexpected, contingency firings that were needed in the Apollo 13 crisis. On that particular ill-fated flight, the redundancy of carrying along a distinct, other spacecraft during the trans-lunar phase of the journey, stands out as a rewarding method of mode.
    If Apollo 13 had had a crew fatality, then it’s quite possible then, that out of a panicked reaction, the next four flights would’ve been cancelled. Then the more advanced J missions wouldn’t have taken place, no extended science work would’ve happened, and no Lunar Rover car would’ve ever made it to the Moon. Plus we all know just too keenly, the gigantic half-a-century rift that seemed pre-destined to occur, following whichever deep space expedition that was the last! A rift of nothingness & stagnation, with regard to any further human deep space travel. So, it was extremely valuable to the long-run of human spaceflight history, that the Apollo Moon-flight phase lasted at least as long as it did! All of those great Lunar trips, from 1968 to 1972, would prove to be the absolute pinnacle, of just what a single, high-technology nation could do, when commiting to the manned exploration of another world.

  11. Marek says:

    After watching the failure of the US human space flight program over the last 10 years beginning even before Columbia, and knowing and having worked directly with some of the principals, I would say to expect no significant changes until this Administration has come to a close. The best we can hope for is that Commercial Crew suppliers Space-X, Boeing and SNC continue towards flight testing their respective systems. The most exciting news is the progress being made towards launch vehicle reusability by Space-X. This could be a game changer.

    In the meantime supporters really need to focus on defining a supportable, affordable and meaningful development program that places affordability as the key to establishing new infrastructure in LEO and cis-lunar space. If the capability can also be placed on the moon to prove infrastructure development, then perhaps the moon will come back into the plan. If infrastructure cannot be affordably deployed then no one will go anywhere.

    A truly integrated program plan that shows how the new capabilities play together with jobs and future development, most importantly, economic development, needs to be clearly laid out. No arm waving is permitted. Once these things are in hand, then they need to be used as the basis for educating the American public and the government which includes NASA. This will take some organization and leadership, probably not depending upon NASA for either as NASA seems to have their hands tied trying to meet a variety of masters’ demands.

    • Paul Spudis says:

      supporters really need to focus on defining a supportable, affordable and meaningful development program that places affordability as the key to establishing new infrastructure in LEO and cis-lunar space.

      Some of us have been advocating exactly that for some time now. As for “not depending on NASA”, I intend to continue to depend upon them to the extent that it is an agency that receives over $16 billion taxpayer dollars per year. If they are well and truly worthless (as some in the New Space community believe), then abolish it. Then New Space can pay for its own vehicle development with privately raised capital.

    • Joe says:


      Since you have “worked directly with some of the principals” and believe that the “most exciting news is the progress being made towards launch vehicle reusability by Space-X”, maybe you can answer a question.

      How will the Falcon 9 be able to maintain a positive payload margin (be able to put any payload into orbit) in its reusable configuration, when it will have to (by SpaceX plans) perform a retrograde maneuver (negate its down range velocity and impart a new velocity back toward the Florida launch site)?

      I have also worked in the industry and the orbital mechanics Subject Matter Experts (SME’s) with whom I am familiar are (to put it politely) perplexed by this.


      • billgamesh says:

        Even if they soft land the stage downrange on a ship, the entire argument that it will dramatically lower costs through reuse is based on myths opposite the reality of the rocket equation; the fuel and landing gear used to land just as dramatically lower payload and the time and money spent on transporting, inspecting, refurbishing, testing, and relaunching the first stage a few times will cost more than dropping it in the ocean. This is basic physics; thermodynamics and material science have been applied to this problem since the late 1940’s. No unobtainium or wishalloy have materialized that will allow Musk to make it practical. It is a P.R. ploy to suck up more tax dollars for the several more years he can drag this out acting like it will work. It’s a scam. Really the same basic appeal to greed by promising cheap that allowed the glaring holes in the Space Shuttle business plan to pay for itself to be overlooked.

  12. billgamesh says:

    As Dr. Spudis summarizes in Chapter 12, Toward a Theory of Spacepower: to “Arrive, Survive, and Thrive” in space requires long term systems capable of extended and repeated use. The Moon was the only place to go in the 60’s and a half century later nothing has changed except our complete failure to continue the journey. Low Earth Orbit was the worst possible choice to focus our efforts on.

    In hindsight it may be the absence of even water to drink and the expense of dropping giant 7 million pound thrust boosters in the ocean after a few minutes of operation made the idea of staying on the Moon too much for a nation with it’s plate already full. We were dealing with global cold war, proxy war in Vietnam, and culture war at home and conquering space may have been one too many battles to fight. America proved it could beat the Soviet Union at it’s own game by using a gigantic state run effort to accomplish a chosen goal. But trying to win the game of doing it on the cheap was to see our triumph turned into tragedy. There is no cheap.

    It is the sad truth that the Saturn V with it’s ten amazing first and second stage engines should have been replaced by a pair of reusable monolithic SRB’s and a single expendable core stage hydrogen engine. Studies in the 50’s had pointed to this in a straight line. Even better was the wet workshop concept that would allow the expendable 2 million pound thrust hydrogen engine of the core stage to be jettisoned and the empty stage carried into cislunar space and used as a spaceship compartment. This was the logical progression but the promised profits of an airliner to space was too strong a lure and the mistake was made. It is the classic confidence trick of the ages to use greed to cloud judgement and abuse trust.

    The configuration of twin monolithic solid rocket boosters and single expendable super engine (the M-1 ) were not chosen as the building blocks of a new space age. There are different reasons given for this; one being that the military wanted rail transport and this meant the far less powerful segmented SRB’s were mandated. Another reason on offer inferred political deals and accused that company in Utah. The result of this misstep onto the original “flexible path” stranded mankind in the dead end of Low Earth Orbit. Despite the lessons we have learned and the discovery of critical water resources on the Moon we have yet to find our way back onto the road to the stars.

    • Marek says:

      its hard to know whether you mean what you [try to] say or if you are trying to be facetious.

      I’m not sure how Elon Musk is sucking up tax dollars by virtue of trying to show that first stage reusability is possible. The money he has gotten to date is based on milestones being met, and the US government has gotten a bargain at the price he has charged.

      Not only a bargain, right now Elon’s Dragon is likely the next US manned spacecraft and it was not paid for mainly by the US taxpayer.

      Remember, Orion has been ongoing longer than Dragon and Falcon; Orion has cost the US taxpayer something like $12-16 billion so far; Dragon and Falcon, which have successfully flown 3 vehicles very nearly capable of carrying people; they are certified for people in orbit; has so far cost the US taxpayer less than $1 billion. The money being charged by the mainline US government contractors doing business on a cost plus basis is the scam. It has been for many years and it has brought the US civilian space program to its knees.

      “the Saturn V with it’s ten amazing first and second stage engines should have been replaced by a pair of reusable monolithic SRB’s…”

      Not sure what you are talking about here-the M1 was a liquid fueled booster; the solid fueled boosters were in development until von Braun showed the ability to build the S-1C and Saturn V.

      “Even better was the wet workshop concept”

      The wet workshop concept was in vogue on and off throughout the 1960s with various boosters including Atlas and Saturn. Logistically it does not make much sense. You have to clean out the stage which takes considerable manpower and consumables. Then you need to launch all the stuff to fill the stage up and make it a livable environment with all of the outfitting. That is more mass than if you just launched it all ready to be used in the first place. It never happened because it never made much sense.

      “on offer inferred political deals and accused that company in Utah”

      I am not sure what this even means (I don’t think its English).

      The SRBs for Shuttle were scaled up based on the ones already in use for Titan III. A flyback booster with nine engines or more was never going to happen. It was difficult enough to get a good light on three SSMEs on the Orbiter as it was. The mistake of the National Space Transportation System, As Dr. Spudis points out, once it started flying the NASA leadership lost its way.

      I am convinced that there was adequate money to continue development of the system. Instead the operations organization kept getting larger and took over. They even hired the entire USA company to take over operation of Shuttle from NASA, and then decided not to shrink the already existing NASA operations organization. Operations costs never got cheaper.

      • billgamesh says:

        Since Dr. Spudis allowed your comment I guess I have to do my part and respond. It may be hard for you to know what I mean but anyone with other than cursory knowledge of the history of spaceflight would not have a problem.
        The Dragon and Falcon are only able to reach Low Earth Orbit.
        LEO is a dead end. So much SpaceX.

        “Not sure what you are talking about here-the M1 was a liquid fueled booster; the solid fueled boosters were in development until von Braun showed the ability to build the S-1C and Saturn V.”

        The Air Force Space Launch System studies of the 1950’s identified the most efficient launch vehicle configuration as using a combination of twin solid fuel boosters and a liquid hydrogen core stage. Those numbers have not changed and the Titan, Space Shuttle, Ariane, and now the new SLS use this arrangement. Solid fuel boosters were always “in development” so your “until Von Braun” is nonsensical.

        “Logistically it does not make much sense. You have to clean out the stage-”

        It might not make sense to you but it did to Von Braun since he originated the concept and implemented it in the dry workshop form with Skylab. And you only have to clean out a kerosene stage (like SpaceX uses). So “It never happened because it never made much sense” is wrong. And it was actually hauling compartments up by Space Shuttle that was a waste logistically. One empty external tank had more interior volume than the entire ISS. So your “That is more mass-” is the opposite of reality.

        “I am not sure what this even means (I don’t think its English).”

        My brevity relies on the reader understanding basic space history. You obviously don’t qualify or you would know what the sentence means. Try Google.

        The monolithic SRB’s I was referring to were developed by Aerojet and the first ground firing of the half size prototype was the most powerful rocket engine ever tested at 3.5 million pounds of thrust. Twin full size boosters and the fully developed M-1 engine would have resulted in a 15 million pound thrust launch vehicle as the successor to the Saturn V.

  13. Marek says:

    As far as the ability to soft land a first stage, remember that the 1st stage Shuttle SRBs were brought back almost every mission and they were quite massive owing to their heavy metal outer casings. Liquid fuel boosters are much lighter by comparison. Obviously Mr. Musk has done the analysis and feels it is worth the investment and he has a good track record. I said it COULD be a game changer. Lets wish Mr. Musk best of luck instead of saying it cannot be done.

    I know that Paul Spudis has professed cis-lunar first for several years. More of us need to get behind and support him and lay out the education of the NASA hierarchy and the Congressional wonks.

    • Joe says:

      The attempted comparison between recovery of the SRB’s (down range and with the landing done by parachutes) and supposed recovery of a Falcon 9 first stage (using not only a rocket powered landing, but the retrograde maneuver to get the stage back to Florida) is in no way valid.

      Interestingly, SpaceX originally intended to recover the F9 first stage down range using parachutes (as was done with the SRBs), but decided the parachutes were too heavy to make it practical. As noted a number experts (outside of SpaceX) have reached the conclusion that the total added mass for the fly back recovery (including additional fuel for the retrograde maneuver) exceeds the mass of the parachutes.

      Other than your confidence that “Mr. Musk has done the analysis” you offer no corroborative evidence that the scheme can be made to work and your confusion between Shuttle SRB recovery and the SpaceX plan is instructive as to your level of expertise.

      Sorry to have bothered you.

      • Marek says:

        The report from the last Dragon launch was that the first stage did land softly using a retrofire burn. And yet a loaded Dragon capsule was placed into orbit. So you seem to be saying that physics will not allow Musk to do what he has already done. Personally I am happy he is working on it and seems to be successful.

        I remember the last NASA Shuttle Program Manager saying he did not think that reusability was cost effective. Lets see, marginal cost of a Shuttle launch was somewhere between $400 million and a bit over a $ billion or building a new Orbiter was around $5 billion plus the cost of a launch. Each Orion/SLS, which will have neither the capacity nor capabilities of a Shuttle Orbiter will be something like $2-3 billion and we’ve been told not to expect more than one Orion to come off the assembly line every year. Of course Space-X seems to be able to launch a Dragon (about the same capacity and capabilities as an Orion) to ISS for something under $250 million.

        I would love to see a cost/benefit analysis that covers SHuttle, Orion, SLS, and the commercial launch companies.

        • Joe says:

          “So you seem to be saying that physics will not allow Musk to do what he has already done.”

          Even if accept Musk’s word that the soft landing was successful (and that the stage was destroyed by rough seas) that is still incorrect.

          The stage came down (however it landed) unspecified miles from its intended landing site and down range, not back in Florida.

          – No retrograde maneuver was even attempted.
          – Neither was there an attempt to bring it down on target.

          All of that (if they ever try to do it) will be at a considerable weight penalty to the Falcon 9. That seem not understand that (again) is educational as to your understanding of the real issues involved.

      • Marek says:

        “Other than your confidence that “Mr. Musk has done the analysis” you offer no corroborative evidence”

        Fortunately since Mr. Musk is doing this at his expense and not mine or other taxpayers’, I feel no need to offer corroborative evidence. I am just happy he is working on it.

        • Joe says:

          “Fortunately since Mr. Musk is doing this at his expense and not mine or other taxpayers’,”

          “Mr. Musk” has and is receiving Hundreds of Millions of taxpayers’ dollars to develop a commercial crew vehicle. Money is fungible. Without all that government money Musk would be doing much less.

          “I feel no need to offer corroborative evidence.”

          That at least is true. Like I said, sorry for wasting your time.

  14. billgamesh says:

    The explosion of the Challenger gave solid rocket booster technology a bad reputation that has been exploited by critics ever since. In fact it was the segmented design that caused the first shuttle loss and 200 successive firings proved the problem was resolved. Sadly, the diameter of those segments was limited due to the rail transport requirement and this placed a limit on how much thrust the boosters could produce. This indirectly led to a lack of an abort system on the Shuttle. In hindsight it seems inexcusable the crew did not even have parachutes. The alternative to the segmented SRB’s were monolithic; little different in construction than a submarine hull and it was proposed to build them in shipyards and transport them by sea. As I commented earlier the Aerojet 260 inch SRB would have facilitated a launch vehicle with about twice the thrust of the Saturn V. If such a vehicle had entered service in the 70’s we would probably be seeing it’s successor in service by now. The next progressive increase in performance would have been the 15.5 million pound thrust 325 inch SRB. A pair of these and a commiserate core stage of hydrogen engines would have made for a 35 million pound thrust launch vehicle. These numbers may seem fantastic but they are no different than comparing a DC-2 with it’s pair of 700 hp radial prop engines and a 747 over the same length of time.

    We have fallen far behind where we could and should be right now.

    Nothing is stopping the right decisions from being made except the present leadership (who I voted for). The next election cycle is the opportunity to change direction. I will not say who my choice would be to approach about this but a plan to restart our space program should be presented beforehand as a campaign tool. The last such plan (the “flexible path”) was and is a disaster and the damage MUST be repaired.

    • billgamesh says:

      I would add to this proposal of presenting a plan for a new space age as a campaign tool that there are few better candidates than a lunar geologist. Maybe George Clooney, but failing his participation someone with appropriate credentials might work.
      The missing piece of the puzzle was water; the ice resources at the lunar poles seem to be the detail this administration missed and once committed to their flexible path they exercised no flexibility with the “been there” statement and made a profound error.
      We have the means in the SLS to arrive, we have the resource in the form of ice to survive, and we have the lunar regolith as radiation shielding to allow humans to thrive. The remaining questions concern a lander and the increasing the budget. These challenges can be met by providing long term permanent solutions to the other problems faced by not just the United States but by mankind. This opens the door to international cooperation. The solution to global warming is space solar energy. The solution to nuclear proliferation and planetary protection concerns are moving the arsenal into deep space. The solution to cheap lift into space and interplanetary travel come by way of beam propulsion and space solar and nuclear pulse propulsion and the nuclear deterrent. The interim benefit is the replacement of the geosynchronous satellite system with manned platforms and the cleaning up of orbital debris by way of lunar resources. This plan is a logical base upon which to kickstart a new space age and replace the current political policy.

  15. guest says:

    Mr. Musk received millions of dollars for carying a payload to the ISS. His test of the soft landing system was at his expense. You seem to be confusing how a company like Lockheed works on an Orion, in which they charge costs plus fees (profit) for tests NASA wants to run, with the Space X commercial process in which Space X receives their fee for delivering a payload to the ISS. NASA approved the soft landing test as long as it did not effect the payload delivery. NASA was not billed for the test.

    • Paul Spudis says:

      His test of the soft landing system was at his expense

      “His expense” on this test is buttressed by over a decade of government grants to SpaceX for vehicle development, to the tune of over $800 million from DoD and NASA. So peddle the “private sector space” line elsewhere.

      • Marek says:

        Dr. Spudis;

        I would be interested in seeing some references that detail the “grants” that you say Space X received.

        I am aware of contracts which required that Space X demonstrate the delivery of vehicles with cargo and in the future with crew; I am aware of down payments made to Space X for future services to reserve launch vehicles, and I am aware of milestone payments which was money paid to Space X after contract requirements were completed. Those are contracts for services.

        None of these are grants; you are no doubt familiar with grants which is money, usually given by the government, for some kind of activity but which do not necessarily result in the completion of any specified service (how much of space science operates). Maybe I am wrong but I thought Space X has only been given money (other than down payments) once they have completed services for the government.

        Please show us where there was a grant program financed by the government to demonstrate soft landing of a first stage or other development efforts.

        $800 million sounds like a bargain for a series of new engines, new rockets and new unmanned and manned spacecraft which have now flown multiple operational missions; especially since so much is produced domestically.

        By comparison Constellation, Orion and SLS have so far consumed something like $16 billion over the last 10 years by my reckoning, For that the government has an incomplete barely functioning command module (not an entire spacecraft), concepts for a Shuttle derived SLS (no hardware), and an Ares 1X which was a modified Shuttle SRB that had limited suborbital capacity.

        • Joe says:

          (1) “I am aware of contracts which required that Space X demonstrate the delivery of vehicles with cargo and in the future with crew”
          (2) “I am aware of down payments made to Space X for future services to reserve launch vehicles”
          (3) “I am aware of milestone payments which was money paid to Space X after contract requirements were completed”
          (4) “Those are contracts for services”

          This goes past the point of being ridiculous. 1 to 3 above are payments to develop capabilities that might be used in the future, exactly what Dr. Spudis described as “grants” (I would call them subsidies). They have nothing to do with your number 4.

          This constant attempt to play word games to obscure the truth is both embarrassing and boring.

        • Just because you get money from the NASA for Commercial Crew development doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get the commercial crew contract. So the money given to Space X for commercial crew development– is not for services rendered. Plus there’s not even enough annual traffic to the ISS to support more than one human spaceflight company.

          Of course, that doesn’t mean that Elon won’t sue NASA if the ULA (Atlas V), Boeing (CST-100), and Sierra Nevada (Dream Chaser) get an exclusive manned spaceflight contract from NASA:-)


        • billgamesh says:

          “$800 million sounds like a bargain for a series of new engines, new rockets and new unmanned and manned spacecraft which have now flown-”

          It sounds like it but the Falcon is by space travel standards an inferior lift vehicle using an obsolete propellent. The Dragon has an abort system-that-is-not-an-abort-system and the pair can only make it to Low Earth Orbit. That destination was reached in 1957.

          The goal is to leave Earth and that was accomplished using a 7.5 million pound thrust Heavy lift Vehicle. SpaceX is going nowhere. The Shuttle derived SLS is the only ticket to ride.

          • Marek says:

            Of course you are right.

            Of course Space-X and OSC’s Cygnus are actually delivering cargo and Space-X is returning it too. Definitely inferior using inferior and obsolete rockets and fuel-but of course they are actually doing the job whereas others are planning it some time in the indefinite future.

            Falcon is scale-able to much larger capacities and much higher orbits and dragon was designed from the outset for planetary missions and planetary missions returns (unlike Orion which was designed for lunar missions and there is even doubt it can do an asteroid mission as currently designed).

            You need to stop spreading biased misinformation.

            I’d like to see Dr. Spudis answer the questions about grants being given to Space-X.

            I believe it is more misinformation. Space-X has been delivering on its contracts and to my knowledge has not defaulted on any down payments.

          • Paul Spudis says:

            I’d like to see Dr. Spudis answer the questions about grants being given to Space-X.

            I misspoke — I meant government subsidy. It was money given to SpaceX by DoD and NASA (to the tune of $800 million) to develop Merlin, Falcon 1 and Falcon 9. Most “private sector” companies capitalize their own R&D efforts. I discuss the story of the Falcon 1 here.

            Now that you’ve had your say and defended SpaceX, begone.

      • Joe says:

        Apparently SpaceX subsidies may not be limited the DoD and NASA:

        “Elon Musk’s rocket company gets subsidies from U.S. and France”

        “Private Sector Space”?

  16. billgamesh says:

    Being a gear geek I am not politically savvy but it occurs to me since according to wiki the OSTP was founded due to the space race that maybe they should mention something about space on their website. The only thing I could find was a mention of exoplanets and Kepler.

    Does Dr. Spudis have the credentials to replace Holdren in the next administration? I know I don’t.

    There really is no hope without raising spaceflight budget or creating a new department of space security or something with a catchy acronym. I know this is possible because I was there at the beginning of the Department of Homeland Security. Maybe something with “interplanetary” or “Deep Space” or a “Space Defense Force.” Or a “Department of Space Energy” to end global warming. Or a “Department of Lunar Resources.” The Chinese are talking about a Moon base and that might be used to advantage. Whatever will get us on the Moon.

    I am just thinking that NOW is the time to do something and take advantage of the next opportunity. I would have to go back in the archives but I recall several years ago on several occasions commenting that it would be good to be prepared to take advantage of the next impact and make the most of the opportunity to establish some defensive measures. Well…..Chelyabinsk came and went and nothing happened. The next election is going to decide whether we have a space program or not.

    One example is the F-22. Running close to a quarter billion dollars each it was targeted by both candidates in their campaigns and promises were made. No more F-22’s. The trick is get some promises made about getting the U.S. back in space and back on the Moon.

  17. billgamesh says:

    If the Navy can prove they can beam down energy with some kind of demonstration then space solar could become the next big thing by saving the planet from global warming. Of course it is not practical to lift a couple million tons of solar power space station out of Earth’s gravity well.

    But manufacturing them on the Moon and placing them in geosynchronous orbit IS practical.

    How do you build a factory on the Moon? First I would suggest excavating several sports arena sized caverns underground with H-Bombs. We have a couple hundred tons of plutonium on this planet we cannot get rid of. It takes around 11 pounds of plutonium to make a hydrogen bomb (this amount does not get much larger no matter how large the bomb). Do the math.
    A bunker buster weighs a couple thousand pounds. When I was in elementary school there was a book in the library by Dandridge Cole called “Beyond Tomorrow, the next 50 years in space.” In that book (on page 76- I checked it out from the public library) is an illustration of creating artificial lunar caves with nuclear devices. It has been exactly 50 years since this book was published.

    Times up.

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