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?
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)
- Atlas V 401/402 ISS Payload capability: 11,180 kg (24,650 lbs)
- Apollo CSM 30,357 kg (66,900 lbs) — Based on Apollo 17 mass
- Orion CSM 21,500 kg (47,300 lbs) — Last numbers we have from Constellation office
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.Missions » Apollo »