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Is it possible that Orion rides Sokol with heavy to the moon?



Things do not look good for NASA (SLS). It is sometimes called the "Senate Launch System," or even less politely, "The Rocket to Nowhere," the super heavy-duty amplifier has long been one of the arguments for those in the industry. Designed as an evolution of the core space shuttle technology, SLS promised to use existing infrastructure to deliver higher payload capacity and lower operating costs than its infamous predecessor. But in the conditions of increased competition from commercial startup providers and proposed budget cuts aimed at future enhancements and extensions of the main amplifier, the significantly higher budget and behind schedule is in a very precarious position.

Which does not mean SLS does not look impressive, at least on paper. In its original configuration, it will easily take the title as the world's most powerful rocket capable of lifting nearly 105 tons in low Earth orbit (LEO), compared to 70 tons for SpaceX's Falcon Heavy. It will still not reach the 155th ton of the powerful Saturn V to LEO, but the proposed improvements to Block 2 will increase SLS's payload capacity to reach the apron to the Apollo emblem of 145 tons. Since NASA's shutdown in 2011, NASA is clear that the SLS's power is the only way the agency can achieve larger and more ambitious missions on the Moon, Mars, and beyond. On March 13, NASA Administrator Jim Bridentinna testifies to Congress that in an attempt to avoid further delays, the agency is exploring the possibility of sending its Orion spacecraft to the Moon with a commercial starter. The statement came as a shock to many in the aerospace community as it seems to question the future of the entire SLS program. If commercial missiles can do the job of SLS, at least in some cases, why does the agency need it?

NASA is currently preparing a report examining what physical and logistic modifications will have to be made for missions initially required to fly on SLS; a document that will surely be seen by SLS supporters and critics. Until the report is published, we can speculate how this hypothetical flight to the moon might look like.

The Captain of Replacement

Administrator Bridental did not specifically mention which commercial car he had seen during his testimony in Congress, but since Falcon Heavy has the highest payload capacity on any currently operating platform for marketing , will almost certainly be the focus of the NASA report. It may seem that the significantly lower capacity of Falcon Heavy would be a problem, but in reality the Orion test proposed to the Moon would never fully utilize SLS's ability to start. During mission study 1, SLS is solely responsible for the transformation of Orion, its service module and the ICPS into orbit around the Earth; is actually separated from the spacecraft at a height of only 157 kilometers. From that point on, Orion operates on its own, and MOSU is what drives the moon to the moon.

57,000 lbs, and the CCI itself is handling the scale of about 66,000 lbs. So at least in theory, any booster that can raise about 125,000 pounds in orbit should be able to stand for the SLA on this first mission. This is within the reach of Falcon Heavy, even if we accept a few thousand pounds of auxiliary hardware and any adapters needed to get together. A new rack will have to be designed and built to encapsulate such a great payload, but if everything is taken into account, it looks like this will be a pretty straightforward process.

Interestingly, some quick twists of the math of the envelope seem to indicate that there is another option on the table. Assuming that NASA is ready to make some significant deviations from the mission's original parameters, it seems that Falcon Heavy himself potentially can pass most of Orion's path to the moon itself without ever using the ICPS. This would not only facilitate the integration of Orion's hardware at Falcon Heavy, but would also save the untapped SDP for a future mission. According to SpaceX, Falcon Heavy can lift a little more than 58,000 lbs in geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO). As you can remember our last lesson in the beginner's orbital mechanics, GTO's orbit is the first half of orbital low Earth orbit transfer to geostationary equatorial orbit (GEO) at an altitude of 35,786 kilometers. Once the spacecraft is placed in the GTO from the Falcon's upper stage, the on-board propulsion will raise its perigee to round the orbit and complete the transfer.

This means that Falcon Heavy should only be able to put Orion and his service module in GTO. Of course it will not take you to the moon, but it's not that far. To reach the GTO from the Earth's orbit, a spacecraft needs to increase its speed by about 2.5 kilometers per second. For comparison, it is necessary to accelerate for the injection of the moon by about 3,2 km / s. How to get the last 700 meters per second acceleration? From Orion itself.

According to the design specifications, the Orion Servicing Module is capable of delivering 1.8 km / s delta-v. In theory, he should be able to complete the transfusion injection maneuver with enough propellant in reserve to make the necessary course adjustments. In this theoretical scenario, there may not be enough propellant to delay the action and enter the lunar orbit as originally planned. In this case, Orion can just make a line around the far side of the Moon and then return to Earth. This "free return" flight path was previously used as an unforeseen situation for Apollo's early missions; if the spacecraft were not able to perform a maneuver to bring in the moon's orbit, it would allow the crew to "carry" home.

NASA makes it safe

These are interesting thought experiments, but unfortunately the reality is likely to be less exciting. Some believe that the statements made to Congress are essentially a threat to Boeing, the Space Launch System's main contractor. Not so fine signal that the agency gets tired of delays and cost overruns. Indeed, just two days after his testimony, the Bridentalist's administrator wrote that the Boeing teams were working to speed up the SLS schedule.


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