Chair Force Engineer

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Return of Saturn

According to a recent piece in Flight International magazine, NASA has not only committed to the RS-68 for its Cargo Launch Vehicle (CaLV,) but it has solved the problem of maintaining the same throw weight in spite of reductions in specific impulse. Specifically, the CaLV has grown in girth from 8.38 meters (diameter of the shuttle external tank,) to 10 meters (diameter of the Saturn V.)

For years, the public has been told that the tooling to build the Saturn V had been scrapped. Many also believed that the plans for building the Saturn V were toast. Dwayne Day delved into this urban legend to a degree with his excellent article "Thunder in a Bottle." However, the recent statements by Michael Hecker (outgoing director of the Constellation systems division) would seem to indicate that at least some of the Saturn V tooling (like the 10 meter jigs) is in storage at the Michoud plant where the first two stages of the mighty moon rocket were built.

The CaLV will be 10 meters in diameter, with five liquid-fueled engines on stage 1 and J-2 engines on stage 2. Sounds a lot like a Saturn V, doesn't it? Von Braun would be proud.

While duplicating the triumphs of the past is a nostaligic and maudlin throwback, it isn't necessarily progress. In many ways, we will be doomed to repeating the mistakes of the past. For near-term lunar missions, the CaLV will not be able to achieve any kind of economy of scale. The situation will only change when there is a need to build up and support a permanently-manned moon base.