September 21, 2006
Well...That Was Unexpected...

Three weeks ago Lockheed Martin was being slagged as a poor choice for Orion, incompetent, a dinosaur, the enemy of, etc. And now? LM is, itself:

Initially, and due to the huge amount of money involved, the companies will announce they are to focus on exploring the technical requirements for the human-rated launch services needed to transport commercial crew and cargo to expandable orbital space complexes. Bigelow and Lockheed Martin will examine the production and supply of Atlas rockets and comprehensive data describing flight safety and performance. Potential business models and business plans will also be discussed.

The companies expect an Atlas V 401 single-core configuration to be the most likely launch vehicle. Lockheed Martin literature and graphics, obtained by, portray a wide, 8-person capsule atop a combined abort and orbital maneuvering system in an Atlas V 401 stack. The passenger vehicle itself could change to a different design.

Up to 16 manned Atlas V 401s per year are anticipated. Current Atlas V family launch rates are closer to two to four launches per year. If realized, this increased launch volume could drastically decrease the Atlas V per-launch costs, and significantly change the US launch market.

Wow. How sweet is that?
The reason for the NASA ESAS man-rating concerns was due to the 25mT CEV mass requirement, which ESAS maintained could not safely even be met by the massive Atlas V Heavy variant. According to a Lockheed Martin paper unveiled this week at the Space 2006 conference, the basic Atlas V 401 can meet FAA and NASA man-rating requirements with little modification with a much smaller capsule mass of 20,000 lbs.
Considering what we had to do to fit six people in a CEV capsule roughly more than twice as heavy, I can only imagine that this 8-person capsule would be significantly simpler, less capable, shorter duration, and, ahh, cozier than what NASA wanted for CEV. Which is not really surprising, considering CEV is intended for lunar flights as well as LEO...if you don't need a toilet or a galley on board and don't have to carry consumables for more than a couple of days (among other possible differences) it could lighten things up a bit.

But 20,000lbs? The Apollo CSM weighed in at around 66,000lbs. On the other hand, Gemini weighed around 8500lbs, and had a mission more analogous to this Bigelow taxi spacecraft. It's a sporty goal, but not out of the realm of the possible...especially if the crew size turns out to be less than 8.

ADDENDUM: Rand Simberg liveblogged the announcement from the AIAA Space 2006 conference.

Posted by T.L. James on September 21, 2006 09:57 PM | TrackBack


The Apollo CSM massed 66,000 pounds because it had 40,000 pounds of UDMH and NTO cislunar propellant. The CM massed around 13,000 pounds and the empty SM massed about the same. Ten tons seems about right for a five meter capsule if one assumes a water landing, composite materials, advanced life support and electronics.

Posted by: Rodney at September 22, 2006 12:44 PM

No toilet for two days?

Eight people like sardines in a capsule and you goota go in a plastic bag?

Sounds like the Army's idea of a fun field problem.

Might coule make some money offering colonics to the would be travleers the morning of launch.

Posted by: Mie Puckett at September 23, 2006 10:08 AM

It's all part of being a pioneer. You don't think they had five-piece garden bathrooms in those old Conestoga wagons, do you?

Besides, if memory serves, that problem is one reason for the traditional steak-and-eggs breakfast before launch -- it's not just a celebratory send-off, but a "low residue meal".

Posted by: T.L. James at September 23, 2006 02:08 PM