Thursday, May 20, 2010

Boeing's New HLV Concept could be the DC-3 of Manned Rocket Boosters

by Marcel F. Williams

On December 17th 1935, the Douglas Aircraft Company introduced an new airplane that revolutionized commercial air travel in America and around the world, the DC-3. Before the introduction of the DC-3, transcontinental flights entailed short range flights in smaller aircraft during the day combined with rail travel during the night. The DC-3, on the other hand, was able to cross the American continent completely by air with just three fueling stops and could take passengers from one coastline to the other in less than 18 hours. More than 16,000 DC-3s were built during its history. And 400 DC-3s are still in operation today!

Boeing Phantom Works has introduced a new shuttle derived heavy lift concept that is very similar to the DIRECT concept. An inline 8.4 meter in diameter core vehicle is used with either SSME (space shuttle main engines) or RS-68 engines. But instead of using the existing 4-segment SRBs (solid rocket boosters), there vehicle would use the 5-segment SRBs that are currently being developed for the Ares I rocket, a program that President Obama intends to terminate. However, unlike the DIRECT concept, Boeing has also proposed utilizing the inline booster without the SRBs as a crew only vehicle. Coupled with a manned space capsule and a stretched SM (service module), there would be no upper stage. And this would require the service module to perform the 2nd stage burn in order to achieve orbit.

NASA has recently (May 3rd) issued a request for information regarding potential heavy lift architectures that could be utilized by both NASA and commercial industries. Boeing's new heavy lift concept would seem to meet that criteria. With the SRBs and an upper stage, the core stage could be used by NASA or the DOD to lift up to 113 tons into low Earth orbit or send up to 45 tons to TLI (translunar injection). A dual launch scenario could transport up to 87 tons to TLI, a substantial increase over the 65 tons sent to TLI using the Ares I/V architecture.

But, additionally, without the SRBs and the upper stage, the LOX/LH2 core booster could be used by NASA, the military, or a private commercial company to transport up to 20 metric tons into orbit when utilizing a stretched SM (service module) to perform the second stage burn to achieve orbit. Such a hydrogen-oxygen fueled single stage booster could provide NASA and private industry with the simplest, safest, and most environmentally benign manned space rocket ever invented. And such a vehicle could usher in a new wave of space tourism!

There are polls that suggest that there may be thousands of wealthy individuals that would be willing to pay $20 million or more to fly into space to a space station. If such polls are even close to being accurate then manned launches for space tourism could greatly exceed government commissioned manned spaceflights to orbit with possible annual demands for space launches in the hundreds.

Such a high level of traffic into space would require the manufacturing of several hundred rocket engines every year. And such a high demand for rocket engines could introduce the serial mass production of rocket engines into US industries. Economies of mass production could substantially reduce the cost of rocket engines in the US. And polls have shown that lowering the cost of space travel would increase the demand for space tourism even higher!

A NASA heavy lift vehicle based on the same core vehicle would of course greatly benefit from the lower cost due to the high demand for the core booster by private industry. Eventually, the low cost of the core vehicle might become so attractive that NASA might contemplate replacing the SRBs with two additional core vehicles for heavy lift launches in a configuration similar to what is seen with the Delta IV heavy. This would be similar to one of the National Launch System (NLS) proposals of the 1990s.

It is also interesting that Boeing Phantom Works also produces the unmanned reusable X-37 experimental spaceplane for the US military which is currently in orbit after being launched into orbit by the ULA on top of an Atlas V rocket. Although the X-37 weighs about 5 metric tons, it has the basic Space Shuttle configuration. It uses a Rocketdyne AR-2/3 rocket engine, fuelled by JP-8 jet fuel and hydrogen peroxide. If Boeing decided to build a larger-- man rated-- version of the X-37, it could be the perfect compliment for the shuttle derived core vehicle also proposed by Boeing.

So America might retire one winged space vehicle, the space shuttle, while introducing a new winged manned space vehicle that can be used by NASA, the military, and private commercial industry. And a new era of manned space travel for government and private industry will have begun!

References and Links

1. Heavy Lift Launch Vehicles with Existing Propulsion Systems (Boeing Phantom Works)

2. Ambitious Ares Test Flight Proposed for HLV Demostration

3. NASA Heavy Lift and Propulsion Trade Study

4. X-37 Orbital Test Vehicle

5. Boeing X-37

6. Space Commercialization and the Lunar Lotto

7. National Launch System



drdave said...


The DIRECT folks have addressed the use of the External Tank (ET) core without the two Solid Rocket Motors (SRM). Since the SRMs hold up the entire shuttle stack on the launch pad, the ET will have to undergo a complete redesign and re-qualification for flight. This is an expensive proposition.

That being said, I suspect that our best bet for acquiring heavy lift prior to 2015 (when the Obama administration says it will make a decision about what to do for heavy lift) is to support the Boeing proposal.


Marcel F. Williams said...

The Boeing concept is a stretched core, so it would have to be modified from the basic ET anyway even with the SRBs. I think its interesting that the NASA study wants to use 5 SSME while Boeing suggested only 4.

But this concept would solve several problems. With the SRBs it can be used as a heavy lift vehicle for manned and unmanned launches. And without the SRBs, it can be used to transport people into orbit and could possible replace the Delta IV heavy as a satellite launcher and space station component launcher which should be attractive to private manned space flight companies including Boeing itself.

Since I believe that the commercial use of such a core vehicle for space tourism would be substantially higher than its use by the government, this might also significantly lower the cost for heavy lift launches for NASA missions since they would be using the same core vehicle.

Since the May 20 NASA HLV study suggest that its going to take at least 7 or 8 years to develop an HLV, I don't think Congress will look too kindly on delaying that decision until 2015. And there's no logical reason to do so, IMO.

Norman Copeland said...

I think that the country of the Congo could be a useful player for world heavy lift, it seems to me that America will continue to be stimulated by space tourism as it's main source for the development of a space infrastucture, I beleive that it would be hugely significant for a democratic economy such as America's to put tourists in space as opposed to continuing military occupation.

A heavy lift launching facilty from the Congo would be a hugely stimulating significance for the continent of Africa and certainly balance world space infrastructure,
I think that a shape for service and operation would yeild a development path for the world to conform to.

The practice of external tank atmospheric thrust delivery for first and possibly second stage expolsion would be a significant factor for it's equatorial stance to low planet orbit and above.

The encouragement for oil companies to view the connotations of using external tanks into deep space for reusing on loading on Europa would see the space between south America and Africa be utilised for an Internationally funded ship fleet for external tank collection while on operations to develop its use to upper regions of the atmosphere.

Similarly speaking, piracy in the region would be significantly stemmed.

Europa awaits.

Marcel F. Williams said...

If anyone would like a pdf copy of the NASA Heavy lift trade study which evaluates the cost and development time lines of various heavy lift architectures, they can email me to get a copy at:

Anonymous said...

No, it wouldn't.
Here are the fallacies in your assertion. These are facts on why it will not be true.
1. How many times do you have to be told that launch vehicles are not sold to operators. Boeing would be the only operator of this vehicle. It is a private company. It will operate it own vehicle. It will launch spacecraft for any one who wants a ride. But Boeing will be in charge.
2. The DOD does not need another launch vehicle in the EELV class nor does it need HLV's
3. Boeing can not develop, operate nor sell a launch vehicle/launch services (besides Sealaunch) in the EELV class to commercial customers per ULA agreement
4. The core only vehicle propose would cost more than existing vehicles (EELV's)
5. The core only vehicle is not usable for commercial because it does not have an upperstage.
a. it can not put standard spacecraft into LEO, much less GTO
b. only Orion, with its tanks sized for TEI from the moon, has enough propellant to use as a second stage
c. Other capsules like Dragon, Boeing's CST-100, Dream Chaser, etc are unable to use this vehicle.

So, Williams, use a little common sense and do some research before making false assertions (which you always do)

Marcel F. Williams said...

1. A SD core vehicle would be much simpler and safer than the Delta IV heavy which requires at least 3 core vehicles vs. only one for the Boeing's concept.

2. The Delta IV also hasn't been man-rated for a lower acceleration for human launches which would reduce its performance.

3. The orbital stage for the Boeing rocket could use a hypergolic service module or an ACES LOX/LH2 type of service module or an RP/LOX booster for a Boeing space plane. So it could be used with practically any type of space capsule.

4. A single core stage booster would be much more compatible with the Sea Launch type of configuration than the three core Delta IV heavy.

5.Both the shuttle derived single core vehicle and HLV will have an advantage over an EELV in being able to carry much larger diameter payloads into orbit.

Please don't be afraid to put your name on your post next time you have any serious arguments!

Logan Knox said...

I really don't get why people get excited about the delta wing stuff. If we make it reusable it will increase our maintenance costs, no way to get around it. This "reusable" word really irks me.

Marcel F. Williams said...

The SSME should definitely be referred to as refurbishable and not reusable. Expendable SRBs might also be less expensive and less dangerous if they were also expendable.

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