Garver Doesn’t Know Rockets

NASA Deputy Lori Garver

According to coverage in Garver on commercial spaceflight and the agency’s ultimate goal, while sitting in for NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden at the FAA’s Commercial Space Transportation Conference in Crystal City, Virginia, early in NASA Deputy Administrator Garver’s speech, she got in a minor jab at those who criticize NASA for dumping Constellation in favor of untried commercial systems. She congratulated the agency for the successful launch that morning of the Solar Dynamics Observatory on an Atlas 5—the same vehicle some companies have proposed for use to launch human spacecraft. So much for those unproven rockets, she quipped.

So much indeed!

Because the non-human-rated Atlas V that launched NASA’s SDO couldn’t launch an 1960’s Apollo spacecraft, which held 3 astronauts, and certainly not the current Orion spacecraft that will hold between 4-6 astronauts.

The Atlas V-401 can launch 12,500 kg at its best. That is less than half the capability than needed to launch the Orion spacecraft into orbit. Even Boeing’s proposed 7-person spacecraft wouldn’t reach orbit with the Atlas V-401. A Russian Soyuz would. But is NASA’s own Deputy Administrator proposing that the U.S. launch Soyuz spacecraft as part of our human space flight program?

It is worrisome, at the very least, that the NASA Deputy Administrator Garver has, in her effort to zing those opposing her policies, demonstrated on a basic level that she does not know what she is talking about. And she’s the number 2 at NASA, the agency tasked with managing our nation’s human space flight program and building the rockets to get our astronauts in orbit. Maybe that’s why NASA wants to get out of the rocket business….anyway, this should be as scary as one of the commissioners at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission stating that he or she did not understand nuclear reactors. And the deeper question is not the why, but how, someone who does not understand rockets got to be number 2 at NASA? Is this the way the Obama Administration runs the show?

(Via SpacePolitics.com.)

Update: In order to clarify why the Atlas V 401/402 variant, whether human-rated or not, is not an appropriate launcher for human missions to ISS, below are the  mass numbers of the Apollo stack and dry Orion CSM stack using both metric and standard mass numbers: (Note: Numbers are rounded-up/down)

As is clear, the Atlas V 401/402 has an ISS mission payload deficit of 19,200 kg (42,200 lbs) for lofting an Apoll CSM to orbit and a deficit of 10,320 kg (22,750 lbs) for lofting an Orion CSM to orbit.

Now, it is debatable whether we should have include the LAS in the mass numbers. As the mass numbers for the Apollo and Orion LAS are 4,158 kg (9,200 lbs) and 6,838 kg (15,000 lbs) respectively, the only thing adding the LAS numbers does is make the Atlas V 401/402 even less optimal.

Also, just to note again, we used the dry mass numbers for the Orion CSM stack. The estimated propellant mass for the Orion SM is 9,750 kg (21,500 lbs) of N2O4/MMH.

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4 comments to Garver Doesn’t Know Rockets

  • Brian

    Of course she doesn’t know rockets. She has an undergrad degree in political science and economics, and a master’s degree in science, technology and public policy. that’s a master’s degree in public policy relating to science and technology. political science, policy…..her education is in how to be a politician. She simply should not be trusted with scientific or engineering decisions. That’s probably why she threw in with the global warming crowd (ie. Holdren).

  • This comment was edited out due to vulgar language. AmericaSpace policy is that neither vulgarity nor unprofessional language will be tolerated.

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  • Vladislaw

    You should have actually read comments from where you took article, you would realize it was total bs about the atlas v capabilities.

    From space politics:

    ” Major Tom wrote @ February 12th, 2010 at 2:38 pm
    “The Atlas V that launched the SDO couldn’t get an Apollo much less an Orion, capsule into LEO.”

    Of course not. The Atlas that launched SDO was programmed to go to GTO, not LEO. SDO is in a geosynchronous orbit, no LEO.

    Duh…

    “why the ideal rocket equation dictates that Lori Garver, NASA Deputy Administrator, was factually and figuratively wrong in her statement?”

    Garver is right. There are multiple industry papers showing that the Atlas 401 (which SDO launched on) or 402 can put human capsules weighing up to 27,500 lbs. into orbit. For example:

    http://www.ulalaunch.com/docs/publications/HumanRatingAtlasVandDeltaIV.pdf

    “OMG! Is the Deputy Administrator of NASA really that challenged in her knowledge of launchers?”

    Not nearly as challenged as you are.

    “And is the press covering the FAA event equally illiterate?

    Not nearly as illiterate as you are. Reread the first paragraph of your post.”

  • Vladislaw sent an interesting comment, so we followed-up by not only re-examining the comments NASA Deputy Administrator Garver made at the above mentioned FAA Conference, but we also checked-out his reference at

    http://www.ulalaunch.com/docs/publications/HumanRatingAtlasVandDeltaIV.pdf

    that he stipulated shows that an Atlas V 401 variant could be used to launch a manned spacecraft and that the blackout zones that were of concern for human missions can be ameliorated without too much of a performance hit. Cool! All of us can be glad that, in fact, the Atlas V 401/402 and we’re sure the Delta IV Heavy variants, can be man-rated. But then, we knew that. The issue isn’t whether the EELV’s can be man-rated, rather how long will such rating take and what performance hits will be experienced.

    Not to venture too far from the topic at hand, but we are honestly not sure the point that was trying to be made by noting the comment by the Major at SpacePolitics.com. Looking at the Atlas Launch Planner’s Guide would show that, yes the Atlas V 401/402 can fly both LEO and GTO missions. We knew that already.

    As to Vladislaw’s comments about the study showing that the Atlas V 401/402 variant would be appropriate human-rated missions, it appears that the problem is that Vladislaw didn’t keep his units straight, a mistake that bites every engineer occasionally.

    First, a little context. The Atlas V 401 is variant of the Atlas V that launched NASA’s SDO mission and the rocket that NASA Deputy Administrator Garver refered to when she tried to zing her critics by noted that the Atlas V 401 is the same vehicle some companies have proposed for use to launch human spacecraft, to which she quipped, so much for those unproven rockets. We commented above that, no, the Atlas V 401 was not the same rocket being proposed to launch human missions unless she were talking about an unfueled Dragon (8,000 kg or 17,640 lbs) or a Russian Soyuz. We haven’t heard that SpaceX was proposing to use an Atlas V for its human missions.

    If Vladislaw would read the whole document, specifically if he and the Major down to page 8 and checked out the Section VI Human Rating, he would find that the Atlas V 402, while human-ratable (that is, it can perform without blackout zones), could at its max performance loft into LEO 27,500 lbs, or 12,473 kg. An impressive number, to be sure, until one recalls that the Apollo CSM + LAS weighed-in at 34,515 kg and the Orion CSM + LAS is expected to be in the neighborhood of 28,800 kg. If Vladislaw would additionally look at Table 4 on page 8, he would see that the performance of the Atlas V 402 is 11,180 kg for an ISS mission.

    So, to summarize here and using both metric and standard mass numbers: (Note: Numbers are rounded)

  • Atlas V 402/401 ISS Payload capability: 11,180 kg (24,650 lbs)
  • Apollo CSM 30,357 kg (66,900 lbs)
  • Orion CSM 21,500 kg (47,300 lbs)
  • As is clear, the Atlas V 401/402 has an ISS payload net deficit of 19,200 kg (42,200 lbs) for lofting an Apoll CSM to orbit and 10,320 kg (22,750 lbs) for lofting an Orion CSM to orbit.

    Now, it is debatable whether we should have include the LAS in the mass numbers. As the mass numbers for the Apollo and Orion LAS are 4,158 kg (9,200 lbs) and 6,838 kg (15,000 lbs) respectively, the only thing adding the LAS numbers does is make the Atlas V 401/402 even less optimal as a human booster.

    The AmericaSpace Team