Broadcast 1586 (Special Edition)

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Guest: Grant Bonin. Topic: Using Smaller & Existing Launch Vehicles rather than building a new heavy lift rocket. You are invited to comment, ask questions, and discuss the Space Show program/guest(s) on the Space Show blog, Comments, questions, and any discussion must be relevant and applicable to Space Show programming. Transcripts of Space Show programs are not permitted without prior written consent from The Space Show (even if for personal use) & are a violation of the Space Show copyright. We welcomed Grant Bonin to the program to discuss his ideas on using smaller launch vehicles for lunar and Mars missions rather than developing a new heavy lift launcher. Read his recent article on this subject in The Space Review (TSR), Grant opened with the launch/LEO bottleneck which is cost to orbit. He talked about the conventional wisdom as well as his earlier aerospace training suggesting that for human space exploration to the Moon, Mars, and even beyond, we need a heavy lift rocket. He mentioned the Aries V program which he said was for the most part reconstituted as the Space Launch System (SLS) and then he asked if heavy lift and SLS were the right answer to the bottleneck problem. He said he had changed and evolved over the past decade and that is what his TSR article was about and his thesis for this discussion. In defining the problem, he said one of the major issues includes the up front costs and higher fixed costs as there will not be a high flight rate for the rocket. He mentioned the private companies did not want to do this because of the absence of a market but when we talked about the Falcon Heavy and needing to fly only four times/year to be cost effective, he said Space X operates under a different analysis, manufacturing routines, and even paradigms from NASA and its traditional contractors. In this segment, Grant talked about the costs issues in building a new heavy lift rocket & told us how these missions could be done using existing EELVs, the Falcon 9 and depots. Charles called & both talked about the need to diversify suppliers to LEO rather than putting all eggs in one basket regardless of it being a government or a private sector basket. Grant said heavy lift could not be competitive because of all the startup and development costs & what he said earlier. Using existing vehicles avoided this cost burden. Later in the discussion, he mentioned the NASA anchor tenant concept. In the second segment, caller John Hunt suggested his 50+mt 2 stage heavy lift concept. Grant said it was not necessary & the R&D costs could be avoided by using existing rockets. John questioned the capability of existing rockets to do manned missions to the Moon and Mars. Later, Grant affirmed the flexible path as a good direction as well as his support for the COTS and CCDEV programs. Throughout the discussion both Grant and I talked about the likelihood of government programs being cancelled, even after spending billions of taxpayer dollars on them, including the new SLS Congress has mandated to NASA. Grant also mentioned that he thought Congress mandating what rocket to build to NASA was absurd. We talked about NASA dragging its feet on the project & possible senate action to compel NASA to do what is in the authorization law. I then read some quotes confirming NASA's position to move forward on SLS as recently reported in the Washington Post. Our discussion then switched to the goals of our space program which Grant said was settlement. We talked about this during the program but he returned to the subject as our discussion was ending. He said settlement had to be the long term goal of the program & at times during our discussion, he took issue with destination goals such as going to Mars. If you have questions or comments for Grant Bonin, post them on the blog URL above. Grant can be reached by email at



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03 Jul 2011 Grant Bonin
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