The misadventures of Commander Merlin and the crew of RV-103
Tuesday December 3rd 2013

Comparing Apples and Oranges and Space Plans


With all the other news going on lately, many people are not aware that there are now four plans being pushed to replace the Space Shuttle Program.  There are of course Constellation, which was first proposed by President Bush seven years ago, and Obama’s plan proposed April 15th of this year that killed Constellation and replaced it with nothing and effectively killing America’s Human Space Flight Program completely.

But Congress has now joined the fray by putting forth two plans, one from the  House and one from the Senate.  I thought I would try to do a comparison of all four plans so you can decide which one you think fits best for these United States of America.  I have left the budget numbers out because I want you to see the overall picture/goals of each plan as it concerns Human Space Flight.  I have included a file at the end that has all the budget numbers if you want to see them that was done by the Space Foundation.

First, I have to do a few definitions for you.

Near Earth-Low Earth orbit (LEO) out to geo-synchronous orbit (customarily 22,500 miles above the Earth).

Cis-lunar-Region of space from the geo-synchronous orbit of the Earth out to and including the region around the surface of the Moon.

Deep Space-Region of space beyond cis-lunar.

ISS – International Space Station

Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle, or HLLV, is a launch vehicle capable of lifting more mass into Low Earth Orbit (LEO) than Medium Lift Launch Vehicles. While there is no universally accepted capability requirement, current and past rockets like the Saturn V,Titan IV, Ariane 5, Proton, and Delta IV-Heavy are generally considered “Heavy Lift” launch vehicles.

So what does that mean in layman’s terms?  Imagine you are standing in a room with a ceiling 10 feet above you.  On a table before you are two balls, a baseball and a bowling ball.  You are the launch vehicle and the balls are the payloads.  You know you can pick up the baseball and throw it and hit the ceiling with ease.  That is your “medium” payload.  Now try to pick up your “heavy” payload, the bowling ball, and throw it straight up and hit the ceiling.  Can’t do it can you?  That’s because you and most of us are not capable of “launching” such a heavy payload.  You would have to find someone that is much stronger and can do the “heavy lifting” to get that bowling ball to hit the ceiling.

Current USA Heavy Lift Vehicles Tonnage to LEO

Space Shuttle                                                          115.5 tons

Atlas V                                                                      32.36 tons

Delta IV                                                                    25.25 tons

Falcon 9 (Space X)                                                  35.2 tons (note: SpaceX says 35.2 tons is it’s capability of the their rocket, but actual launch performance which is listed at the bottom of their page is 23,050 lbs or only 11.5 tons!)

Past USA Heavy Lift Vehicles Tonnage to LEO

Saturn V Moon Rocket                                            129.8 tons

Heavy Lift rocket required by:                                                Tonnage


Ares I (Crewed vehicle)                                           28.16 tons and with one successful test launch (Ares I-X October 2009)

Ares V                                                                        206.8 tons and several years of design work put into it.

Heavy lift in Obama’s Plan                                     Unspecified and un-designed

Heavy Lift in Senate Plan                                       70-100 tons initially (eventually evolving to 150 tons) and un-designed

Heavy lift in House Plan                                         Unspecified and un-designed

Sources for Heavy Lift Stats are here and here.

Below is a little table I whipped up comparing the four plans.

Plan Destination Goals Current Status Comments

(It appears that NASA has scrubbed Constellation from their main website, but Wikipedia still has info)

  • ISS
  • Moon
  • Asteroid
  • Mars
  • Develop a Space craft, crew launcher, heavy launcher, lunar lander and launch system to last the next 30-40 years.
  • Provide reliable crew and supply transport to the ISS eventually ceding that role to commercial companies.  First trip to ISS is scheduled for 2015.
  • Learn to live and work on the Moon, a 3 day trip away, before attempting to live on Mars by developing new technologies and capabilities.  First two week “sortie” to the Moon is scheduled for 2018.
  • .Establish a base/colony on the Moon for long term missions
  • A possible flight and landing on an asteroid in preparation to a Mars mission.
  • Mars sometime after 2030.
Though Obama and Charlie Bolden are trying to cancel the program (see Civil War in Space), it still exists and work still continues.  In the last week of August of 2010, Morton Thiokol and NASA successfully test fired the first 5 segment solid rocket booster.

7 years and $9 Billion dollars spent so far and thousands of contractors working on the program at various NASA centers throughout the nation.

It is the only plan that has years of work and money invested.

It is the only plan that actually has mission goals, deadlines, and hardware designed.

It is the only plan that has actual hardware built including ground support equipment such as the $300 million dollar launch tower at KSC.

It is the only plan that has had a successful launch of the first Ares rocket, Ares I-X in October of 2009 with a second test launch scheduled in late 2010 or early 2011.

Obama’s Plan

Credit Florida Today
Two “maybe” destinations, but no specified ones.
  • Design an unspecified heavy lift rocket
  • “Might” make a one-time visit to an asteroid around 2025
  • “Might” orbit Mars with a crew around 2035
Being considered by Congress but unlikely to pass intact. All my comment and analysis on Obama’s plan can be found here.
House Plan


No destinations listed in House Plan that I have posted here.
  • Make use of previous Constellation work
  • System shall be “evolvable.”
  • Design heavy lifter.
  • Make use of Commercial Companies such as SpaceX provided that they “have demonstrated the capability to meet NASA specified…requirements; the provider has completed, and NASA has certified, crewed flight demonstrations or operational flights…the per-seat cost to the US is less…”
  • Require NASA “to develop a loan and loan guarantee program to commercial entities for the costs of development of orbital human space transportation systems.”
  • NASA must have an American crew transportation (government or commercial) ready to transport crews to the ISS by 2015.
House is planning to vote on this measure within the next few days.  Much opposition from commercial companies (see comments section as to why). The best part of this plan is the fact the commercial companies must “prove” themselves before getting any contracts to transport our astronauts.  These companies must also pay for the development themselves through loans from NASA instead  of receiving “free taxpayer money” in the form of grants.
Senate Plan

NASA Senate Authorization Bill FY 2011

  • ISS
  • Cis-lunar
  • Moon
  • Asteroid
  • International mission to Mars
  • Space Shuttle Program must be in a position to be restarted if required by Congress
  • Develop a undesigned heavy lifter capable of lifting 70-100 tons and eventually 150 tons by 2016.
  • Develop a multi-purpose crew vehicle
  • Provide backup to supply and crewed missions to the ISS
  • Provide grants to commercial companies to develop ground support equipment and spacecraft and pay for the test flights.
Has been passed by the Senate, but not by the House. The Senate plan is probably the most detailed plan of the three being considered right now, but is quite vague on when and what we will be doing at these various destinations listed.
Plan Destination Goals Current Status Comments

The Space Foundation has also done a fine comparison of all three proposed plans including budget comparisons.

07-21-10 NASA Budget Authorization Comparison Final2

Of the four total plans, only one plan Constellation, is actually already partially built and has a seven year head start.  Though Constellation is not perfect (what plan is?), it is the most viable one with concrete goals and destinations.  The other three plans are just proposals or PowerPoint’s at this time.  Obama’s goal appears to be to kill our Human Space Flight Program and though his plan is probably not going to pass muster in Congress, by throwing everything up into the air and having NASA working furiously to dismantle Constellation before a plan is agreed upon Obama is still achieving his goal.

Call your Congressman and Senator and let them know which plan you prefer, but please work to ensure that our Human Space Program doesn’t die. The way things are at this time, when the last Space Shuttle launches early next year, it will be the last time we see an American astronaut fly on an American ship.

Senator Bill Nelson has a "Charlie Crist" moment at Kennedy Space Center
Congresswoman Kosmas enjoyed her flight on Air Force One with Obama
Constellation's Rockets: Ares I and Ares V

As for me, I still believe that Constellation still stands as our best option.

Previous Topic: Start of Discovery’s Final Voyage
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