How America was returning to the moon
Forty-five years ago, on December 19, 1972, the descent module of the American Apollo 17 spacecraft returned to Earth. So ended the lunar program, which NASA has been developing since 1969. Since then, man’s foot has not stepped onto the surface of Earth’s satellite, but a week ago, US President Donald Trump signed directive number 1, which sets NASA and its partners an ambitious goal - to return to the moon. Roscosmos has already announced that it is ready to join the project.
In 1969, earthlings reached the moon, and in 1972 left it and have not returned since. This does not mean that they did not try, but so far no country has been able to send a person back to the gray airless plains. In the 60s, the lunar race took place between the USA and the USSR, America won, and it also retained the greatest potential and greatest ambitions to continue the exploration of the natural satellite of the Earth.
Shuttles and ISS
After the Apollo program was closed in the 70s, the US space agency NASA concentrated its efforts on the Space Shuttle near-earth program of space shuttles.Huge rocket-planes weighing 110 tons, putting 27 tons of cargo into orbit, were perceived as the main direction of the development of astronautics, which will reduce the cost of cargo delivery, arrange maintenance of spacecraft directly in orbit, take out dozens of people.
In practice, everything turned out to be not so rosy: the cost of inter-flight service ate up all the benefits of reusability, and the American shuttles turned out to be the most expensive ships in the entire history of astronautics. The absence of an emergency rescue system at the start and during landing resulted in numerous casualties as a result of two accidents in 1986 and 2003. Requirements for the delivery of goods into space were several times lower than expected.
Nevertheless, the Space Shuttle served a great deal to space and science: they put the Hubble and Chandra space telescopes into orbit, carried out repairs and repeatedly serviced Hubble. They allowed to fly 135 manned flights and launch 350 people into space, many of them several times. We conducted a huge number of technical solutions, biological and physical experiments and much more. However, by the 90s, NASA leaders realizedthat the American space program is seriously lagging behind the Soviet one in terms of experience and the development of technologies for a man’s long stay in space. In 1996, when the Russian cosmonaut spent 437 days in space at the Mir station, the American record set by the 4th SkyLab crew in 1973 was 84 days and nights. The record of the duration of stay in space Space Shuttle at that time was equal to 16 days.
By the end of the 80s, NASA chose a new development path towards the large multi-module Freedom space station. After the inclusion of Japan, Canada, the European Union and Russia into the project, a project of the International Space Station was formed, the assembly of which began in 1998. Having managed to rely on Russia's experience in the development of long-term orbital stations, NASA has made serious progress in this direction. The station was successfully built by common forces, and by the mid-2000s, it became clear to the US space agency that a new ambitious goal was needed. That is how the Constellation program was born, supported by the administration of President George W. Bush.
Mastering the experience of a man’s long stay in space and the technology of super-heavy rocket carriers unequivocally indicated where to go further - to the Moon and to Mars.
"Constellation" of the Moon and Mars
The Constellation program envisaged the creation of a transport infrastructure capable of providing man access to the moon and open the way to further march to Mars. To prepare the landing of astronauts on the moon, the Americans began to build the Orion interplanetary manned spacecraft, the new Ares 1 and Ares 5 rockets, the Altair lunar landing module. In addition, the creation of new lunar transport systems, spacesuits, and modular residential compartments began. This time America was going to the moon for a long time.
To reach Mars, it would still be necessary to create a migratory residential module, a heavy Martian accelerating unit based on a chemical oxygen-hydrogen or nuclear rocket engine, as well as a Martian landing module that is seriously different from the lunar one.
When developing space technology as part of Constellation, they decided to rely on the experience of the Apollo program and the developed industrial potential of the Space Shuttle. The command module of the ship Orion is a one and a half times larger and modernized analogue of Apollo. Its principal difference is that it must fly offline around the moon orbit, while the whole crew of four will be in Altair on the Moon.An important difference between an interplanetary ship and a near-Earth one is in the ability for a long autonomous existence and for returning to Earth from the second cosmic velocity. Due to the fact that the speed of a ship’s meeting with the atmosphere can reach 11 kilometers per second, it can be used both for a flight to the Moon, and to Mars or to a near-Earth asteroid. Only to Mars will have to fly as part of the migration module, and the ship will only be used to start from Earth and return there.
The technology of landing on the moon was based on the experience of the Apollo Lunar Module. Altair was developed as a two-stage ship, which, when launched from the moon, leaves the first step on the surface and uses it as a launching pad for the second step. However, in the 2000s, the depth of the design of the ship remained at an early stage, it was supposed to take up more detail after 2011.
The Ares 1 rocket was built on the basis of a single solid-fuel accelerator SRB, which was used on the shuttles. The second stage is oxygen-hydrogen, with a J-2X engine, which is evolutionarily derived from the Saturn second-stage engine.
Ares 5 assumed two solid fuel boosters and an oxygen-hydrogen first stage with several engines from the Space Shuttle - RS-25.The second stage of the Ares 5 was also assumed to be oxygen-hydrogen with J-2X engines. Even the numbering of the missiles in the name Ares 1 and Ares 5 came from the 60s, in memory of Saturn 1 and Saturn 5. Therefore, the allegations that the Saturn 5 drawings were lost, and the legacy is not used, are erroneous. F1 engines did not resurrect because they were inferior in solid fuel SRB boosters and payloads, and the engine industry of America had long since switched to oxygen-hydrogen fuel vapor. Today, oxygen-kerosene missiles of the United States fly only on Russian RD-180 and RD-181 engines, as well as on a Merlin engine, developed by SpaceX in the 2000s.
Unlike Apollo, the Constellation assumed a two-launch scheme with a Orion manned spacecraft launching on Ares 1, and an unmanned Ares 5 carrier on which the Altair flight module and landing module would rise to low near-earth orbit. Thanks to this, four astronauts could be landed on the moon, take more cargo and leave the lower stage of Altair as an element of the future lunar base.
All these plans violated the global financial crisis of 2008. The new President Barack Obama came to power under the slogans of overcoming the crisis and reducing public debt.These promises did not fit the required 150 billion dollars to fly to the moon and beyond. In 2010, Constellation was excluded from the NASA budget. However, the task of finding an ambitious goal for the future remained, all the more so since in 2011, the Space Shuttle program was also closed.
In the same year, it was decided to continue the development of the Orion spacecraft. Of the Ares rockets, it was suggested to leave only a large one, which in the slightly reduced version was called the Space Launch System (SLS), otherwise everything remained unchanged: elongated solid fuel boosters, oxygen-hydrogen central unit. American engineers added only a few modifications of different capacity, changing the second stage.
By that time, NASA had relied on commercial companies and international partners in ensuring the supply of the ISS. From the end of 2011 to the present, astronauts have reached the International Space Station on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft, and cargo is delivered by both Russian Progress and Japanese HTV, as well as US private Dragon and Cygnus spacecraft. But America would not be America if it did not set big goals. The Obama administration supported the new interplanetary project Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM).
As part of the ARM, it was intended to create and launch an automated high-power interplanetary station capable of capturing and towing a small asteroid to the Moon, where astronauts brought by the Orion ship launched on SLS could visit it. Despite the novelty of such an operation, it was widely criticized because of its low relevance to science and technology. The only weighty argument in its favor was the lower cost compared to the Constellation, but this was questioned because of the high cost of the SLS and Orion. By the end of development, both projects required $ 10 billion each, and spending such money on one or two flights is too much even for the NASA budget. For comparison, the two near-Earth spacecraft, manufactured by SpaceX and Boeing, demanded about $ 5 billion for two, and SpaceX claims that its spacecraft is also capable of interplanetary flights. For SLS, they didn’t come up with meaningful tasks, except for Orion’s first test flight to the Moon in unmanned mode and launching an automatic interplanetary station to search for life on Jupiter’s satellite Europe.
Gateway to deep space
It took a change of power in Washington to forget how a terrible dream to fly on an asteroid and return to lunar targets.President Donald Trump, who was elected at the end of 2016, immediately identified his cosmic interests by proposing to send astronauts to the Moon during the first test flight of the SLS and Orion. NASA thought, but refused, but began to develop the near-moon visited station Deep Space Gateway. In previous plans, nothing like this was envisaged, and the construction of such a station contradicts the goals of landing on the moon and building a base on its surface. But the Trump administration did not promise to raise funding for lunar programs, and even talked about further cuts.
Therefore, we can assume that the project of the near-moon station is a forced measure in a situation where there is no money for new developments, but you need to come up with something ambitious that can load a new expensive rocket and a ship a decade in advance. We learned to build station modules on the ISS, it's time to start dragging them to the Moon. Moreover, the previous international partners, including Roskosmos, liked this idea, that is, the program will be even more economical than the sole exploration of the Moon.
Directive number 1, which Trump signed on December 12, 2017, on the 45th anniversary of the landing of Apollo 17 on the surface of the Earth satellite, proclaims that NASA is to bring the Americans back to the moon.For the US space agency, this means an increase in funding for the lunar program. Most likely, the creation of the station Deep Space Gateway will remain in the priority objectives of the United States, but another landing module will be added to it. Whether it will be Altair or a new modification, while it is difficult to say. Perhaps the American engineers will develop a new version, providing for a permanent near-moon station as an intermediate base.
Roscosmos has already signed an agreement with NASA to jointly develop Deep Space Gateway. Now it is possible to jointly visit the Moon and build a permanent research station there. One can only hope that the experience of partnership in space exploration will be perceived on Earth, where politicians find it increasingly difficult to find a common language.
Prepared for the popular science portal N + 1.
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