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Guest: Jeff Smith; Topics: Building a better booster per Jeff's two part series in The Space Review from Feb. 2019. We also talked rocket and booster history, returning to the Moon and more.
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We welcomed Jeff Smith back to the show to discuss rocket boosters per his two part series from Feb. 2019 in The Space Review. The series, Part 1 and Part 2 titled "Building a Better Booster can be found here: www.thespacereview.com/article/3658/1 and www.thespacereview.com/article/3660/1. I urge you to download and read both articles as they will provide important background and supplemental information for today's discussion.
Jeff started us off with an introduction to the booster topic and why he became interested in the topic. From an early age he was asking questions like why did it cost so much to build and launch a rocket and why did it always take so longer in the process. Leaning on his expertise in booster and rocketry history, Jeff took us way back to pre-company merger history to talk about ATK, Orbital Sciences, EELVs and more. Follow along with Jeff as cited relevant case studies and talked about the ever changing market conditions for rockets and launches. Jeff quickly jumped in to talking about the GEM 63 experience, ULA, the Atlas 5, the upcoming Vulcan rocket and the newly formed from multiple merges, Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems (NGIS) along with the US Air Force. Walking down history lane with Jeff on these and related sub-histories of the rocket, booster, and corporate history that has taken us to where are today was not just interesting but historical.
As we moved through the first part of the show, we talked about many of the corporate mergers, price competition, quality control and engineering issues, booster technology and costs. Jeff mentioned three engineering tests for rockets which he described in some detail for us. Make sure you listen to what Jeff had to say. You may even want to jot down the three tests for future reference.
Our first caller was Marshall. He wanted to talk about computer aided design software and interfacing with hardware. This was a comprehensive and at times complex discussion with both Marshall and Jeff so don't miss it. Jeff and Marshall talked about the need to be competitive but listen to what Jeff had to say about competition as it might mean more than you think.
In the second segment, Jeff wanted to talk about the Titan IV A and IV B which were on the front page of his Part 2 paper. Jeff started talking about the tried and true and new without experience two companies making boosters for the Titan IV and what happened. This was a most interesting story highlighting the experienced booster company CSD versus the new comer Hercules Motors. Make sure you listen to this story as it was and is full of lessons learned. Listen to what he said was the size of the Hercules boosters. I recall my multiple visits to ATK (prior to the mergers) to see the shuttle boosters, then the five segment rocket booster to be used for the cancelled Ares rocket. To say the boosters were huge or very big would be an understatement. I also saw the boosters being made by Aerojet Rocketdyne in Rancho Cordova. They too were huge items.
Listener Barbara from Dallas asked Jeff to go forward and apply what we had been talking about on the program to today with the new commercial launch companies such as Blue, SpaceX and what is going on with ULA. Jeff talked price competition but also the companies working together and selling their products to one another. These types of relationships were complex, new and anything but traditional. We talked EELV competition, contracting with each other and more. Don't miss it.
As we were nearing the end of our discussion, Jeff talked about upcoming demo flights for the new EELVs in 2021, new designs for mega by NGIS and the work being done by SpaceX, Blue and ULA. Jeff brought us current with SLS and showed how it entered this discussion. He compared much of what was going on today to the early days of needing the F1 engine re the Air Force and NASA. Please don't miss this comparison. We also talked going back to the Moon by 2024. Jeff thought that NASA Administrator Bridenstine was working hard to make it happen and would assemble and effective coalition to make the lunar return program happen. He said the problems in going back to the Moon were political, not technical and not financial. I agreed with him.
Please post your comments/questions on TSS blog for this program. Jeff Smith can be reached through me or the email address he provided at the conclusion of each of his Space Review articles.