Deep Space Whine

Deep-Space Vehicle concept. Credit: NASA

This Aviation Week story describes a “Deep Space Habitat” engineering mock-up built from old Space Station components before it meanders off into another eye-glazing discussion of Space Launch System, J2X engines, advanced solid boosters, and other pieces of flight hardware that will likely never make it to the launch pad. Oh, and unicorns. With rainbows.

Yes, I’m venting. This concept (the vehicle, not the venting) isn’t entirely new, so at least NASA gets credit for putting some hardware together to actively study the concept instead of consigning it to PowerPoint Purgatory. And the flight-ready items already exist as ISS modules that never made it to their intended destination. Far as I know, they’re still taking up space in Houston.

Sounds great. But having said that, what’s the likelihood of DSH becoming a reality? Because in all honesty I’d love to see it. This is exactly the kind of stuff NASA should be doing: pushing boundaries, exploration…and all the R & D work that goes along with it. But why oh why do we insist on them building another Big Dumb Booster to get the crap up there? Why do we insist on throwing that money down a hole instead of using it to build something really useful like DSH? Or for that matter, developing a couple of different propulsion options to push the thing around?

If you wanted to build a new boat, would you also feel the need to design a new flatbed truck from scratch just to get said boat to water? Because that’s pretty close to what we’re talking about here.

Couldn’t these modules be lofted into orbit by a Delta IV or Falcon 9 heavy? Couldn’t Orion, for that matter, if it’s being flight tested on a Delta IV-Heavy anyway?

Perhaps there’s a good reason they can’t but it’s hard to think of. Then again, why not just buy space on a manned Dragon once they’re available?

And while I’m aware it sounds like I’m all rah-rah fanboy over SpaceX, in truth they’re just at the leading edge of a new industry about which I am very enthusiastic. By all means cheer them on, as more are sure to follow (Blue Origin looks particularly interesting).

Maybe these frustrations will solve themselves as the “old model” of space exploration plods along. It’ll inevitably be leapfrogged by the private sector, at which point there will be no choice but to recognize the paradigm has already shifted.

In the meantime, something like this deep-space hab concept will be featured prominently in the sequel to Perigee, wherein stuff’s about to get real