The “Other” Moon Rocket Some NASA Engineers Believe is Better Than Ares

There’s a group of NASA engineers who believe NASA is making a mistake with its new Constellation program to replace the shuttle, which will use the new Ares rockets for launches starting in 2014. Constellation is an all new program which requires everything to be built from the ground up. The group of engineers asks, why not use the systems we already have that work reliably? The engineers, who are working clandestinely after hours on their plans have been joined by business people and space enthusiasts, and they call the plan Direct 2.0. They believe this approach could be flying sooner than Ares, reducing the gap in the US’s access to space, and providing a smoother transition for the workforce. Additionally it is more powerful than Ares, has lower risks for the astronauts, adds additional servicing missions to the Hubble Space Telescope, and reduces the cost to orbit by half.

Proponents say the Direct 2.0 approach is more capable than Orion, can lift more mass into Earth orbit and boost more mass out of Earth orbit on to other destinations. The concept is simple: use the same orange external tank and booster rockets as the shuttle, but don’t use the orbiter. Put additional engines on the bottom of the tank, and the cone-shaped Orion capsule on the nose. They call the rocket system Jupiter, and not only would Jupiter have less cost per launch, but it would cost less per kilogram to put things in orbit. They also say the crew abort limits are safer than Ares 1, and would require only minor modifications to the current mobile launch platform.

Instead of having the separate Ares-I Crew Launch Vehicle (CLV) and Ares-V Cargo Launch Vehicle (CaLV) they use just one single Jupiter launcher, capable of performing both roles.

On their website, Directlauncher.com, they say “This change to NASA’s architecture completely removes the costs & risks associated with developing and operating a second launcher system, saving NASA $19 Billion in development costs, and a further $16 Billion in operational costs over the next 20 years.”

But recent articles by the Associated Press and the Orlando Sentinel say that NASA is not interested in this concept, and that its nothing more than a concept on the back of a napkin. Additionally, Ares is so far along, with test flights scheduled for next year, that there’s no turning back now.

But the Orlando Sentinel article says that NASA ended a study last fall which showed Direct 2.0 would outperform Ares. The initial results showed Direct 2.0 was superior in cost, overall performance and work-force retention, which is a big issue for Florida.

The engineers who work at NASA say they can’t speak out directly for fear of being fired, but an outside group who supports their efforts are trying to get the word out about the plan.

Check out their website includes a discussion forum, a presentation on their concept and much more. Here’s a video that explains the concept:

In short, they say the Direct 2.0 approach introduces many advantages over the current Ares Launch Vehicles, such as:

Shorter “gap” after the Shuttle retires (3 years vs. 5)
Earlier return to the Moon (2017 vs. 2019)
Deletes all risks and costs associated with a second new launch vehicle
Optimum use of the existing NASA & contractor experience

Original News Sources: AP, Orlando Sentinel, ABC’s Science and Society Blog, Directlauncher.com

25 Replies to “The “Other” Moon Rocket Some NASA Engineers Believe is Better Than Ares”

  1. Wouldn’t it be great if these guys could get private investors to back this? How much money can be made from going to the Moon?

  2. I cannot believe a solution like this hasn’t already been thought through by NASA. Yes, the Constellation program is highly political, but when compared with Direct 2.0 it is also very risky. The reward for a fully functioning Ares/Orion system is a revolution in space technology, whereas the Jupiter concept will be “going with what you know is going to work”.

    If this was a purely political move, I’d bet NASA would have opted to re-use as much tried and tested technology to get back to the Moon. Constellation on the other hand will have a lot of issues to iron out before a successful return mission is possible. Now China is looking like they have the tech to land a man on the Moon first, surely the fastest NASA route to the Moon would be a prime candidate?

    Let’s just hope Constellation isn’t delayed… that would be costly politically and financially…

  3. NASA?? Political?!? NO!

    Okay, undeserved sarcasm there. I think its safe to say that it is.

    So the thing to do is get political right back: if you want to see something done, send a nice letter to your congressman, and even better, send some to the House Science Committe. It is an election year, and the economy is pretty crappy. They might do something about it..

    Of course, the Ares lobbyists might have already convinced them that spending more money on a less capable vehicle is the way to go. 🙂

  4. Its possible the above commenters are correct, but I also think its possible that NASA considered this and decided against it for good reasons.

    The people who sound most interested in pushing the ‘Direct 2.0’ plan are those that would stand to make a lot of money from it, so they’re not exactly unbiased sources.

  5. While Congress takes note of NASA’s budget, and certainly cannot hurt to contact them. Congressmen can certainly raise questions.
    The primary focus point should be the White House. Typically, NASA ‘brass’ reports/answers to the Executive Branch through the Vice President.

    If you are motivated to write and express your opinion one way or the other. Ensure you include the house with the huge lawn on Pennsylvania Ave as well as your local representative or senator.

  6. Until we find some really good reason to send men into space (other than to maintain the HST), I don’t see why we’re wasting money on launch vehicles. We should be sending evermore sophisticated rovers to worlds-of-interest and then, when we’ve found something really worthwhile to investigate, develop the means to get people there. It’s perfectly fine to develop concepts but spending money on this kind of hardware is squandering limited resources.

  7. I thought NASA was already considering using the Ares IV (similar to the Ares V) instead of the Ares I?

  8. Constellation isn’t going to be delayed …. its done. The cost overruns, engineering problems, and schedule delays are coming pretty fast and furious right now. Constellation will soon join the long list of failed NASA programs like OSP and X-33. The incoming administration will have to choose a new replacement. The choices will be to either switch to Direct, or downsize NASA, cancel the return to the moon, and launch Orion to the International Space Station on existing Atlas or Delta rockets.

  9. From Spain, I would like the USA project works as better as possible. In this thing we are all the humanity together. If it is good for you is good for us.

    I’m one of those who thought than the Constellation was a Space Shuttle without Shuttle and wanted a “new X-33” or a “Rotary Rocket concept”. I thought, again as with the origin of Shuttle… lots of Billions to get less than before because the Lobbies live of the overcosts… until I read the documentation of this project.

    Ok, we have Internet, Laptops and Mobile Phones, but we have worse rockets than in the 60’s and no intention of this to change. So, as we have to work with the parts of the Shuttle, at least make it smart. And what I have read seems more smart and more versatile than ARES.

    The Ares-I is “structuraly” dangerous, and with a little of wind the crew will be in danger. And the Ares-V is a Shuttle rocket with the changes needed to make if far expensive. In this thing I agree with the document.

    All the money is for change the look of the Shuttle rocket, the less is for developing new and interesting technologies.

    And I like to see in this project some theories being thinked in the development of the european and russian projects to go to the moon: “Reuse what you send to the space”

    Friends from USA, makes all us a favour, don’t take whatever NASA give you.

    Make them to work smart. Or all the humanity will get another loss of 40 years in Space Exploration as with the Shuttle.

  10. I find the release timing of this news rather odd. Is there something going on at NASA or in the presidential campaigns that is making Direct 2.0 newsworthy or did it take this clandestine group this long to come up with this while slaving away on Ares? If it is the same people it could explain why Ares is running over budget: they used Ares money to fund Direct 2.0 research! 😉

  11. It’s interesting that no real specifics are given about the differences between the Ares V and the Jupiter 232. In fact, they both use the same Space Shuttle Main Tank derived core for the 1st Stage. They both use RS-68 main engines. They both use Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Boosters. They both use J-2X engines for the 2nd Stage.

    If folks are pointing out that NASA’s enhancements to those off-the-shelf components are costing more money – well no kidding! The Ares V will clearly outperform the Jupiter 232 in terms of Earth-to-LEO and Earth-to-Moon payload. In fact, the Ares V will have more takeoff thrust than the might Saturn V did. And we’re going to need it to get the right equipment to the Moon if we are going to make a permanent presence there.

    If I didn’t know any better, I’d say this is someone’s ploy to take advantage of folks who don’t know any better and try to divert funds from current projects to theirs just to make money.

  12. While I enjoyed looking at the Direct 2.0 rocket, I would go with Ares V as they (at least to me) have two different purposes.

    Direct purpose is to limit the gap and costs. Ares is to get us to the Moon.

    We’ve flown enough times around Earth. Its time to move towards another world.

  13. Politicians want space travel, not necessarily space ships. Thats the problem for nasa in that they cannot maintain both on their current budget.

    What a visionary leader would do in this predicament is to maintain Nasa’s expanding mission envelope while providing for them an allowance to spend on future space ship designs.

    Constellation is the best of what we can make with what we know now, and returning to the moon is important.
    …But We also have to be sure some money is spent on developing new ships for the future.

  14. This is EXACTLY the ‘Bootstrap’ scenario utilised in Stephen Baxter’s SF series ‘Manifold’ (‘Time’, ‘Space’, ‘Origin’, ‘Phase Space’). It makes absolute sense.
    Reid Malenfant lives!

  15. We need a more specific purpose/target. WHY go back to the moon — in specific terms? Going there in the 60’s made sense, but why go back? A “jumping off point” to Mars is too vague, I’d like to see a plan that justifies this.

    The Space Shuttle has been a valuable tool, losing it is a mistake.

  16. Helium-3, used for cold fusion research, is in plentiful supply on the Moon. It is less so on Earth.

    The prospect of limitless, cheap & safe energy is the main reason for going back to the Moon in practical terms.

    Of course, other things like moon bases, launch points, telescopes on the far side etc. are all just extras that can happen to help sell it politically.

    But it’s all about power in the end.

  17. WJI
    Helium-3 is a fuel then? Isn’t it a noble gas? Are you suggesting that cold fusion works on the Moon? I’ve never heard this argument, which federal resource did you get that info from?
    I thought it was a political thing to affirm supremacy over the solar system and maintain the look of tech superiority.

  18. What in gawd’s name is all this NASA Direct 2.0 nonsense getting us? Building something from the ground up in view of an existing proven system is dangerous for astronauts and makes no economic sense for the taxpayer. The 19 billion in development and 16 billion of operational cost savings NASA claims over the next two decades is a joke in smoke and mirrors. Let’s hope the next administration has more brains and cancels this certifiable dumb Direct 2.0 project. What are these NASA geniuses thinking?

  19. They fight between the Ares supports and the DIRECT supports can be seen by looking at where each group is coming from. The Ares supporters are mainly people who are the higher ups in NASA; these people have no fear of losing their jobs with the end of the shuttle program. The group that supports DIRECT are made up of many of the contractors who do stand to lose there jobs with the end of the shuttle program.

    The DIRECT concept itself has been around for about 20 years. It came up originally in the 80s after the Challenger disaster prompted NASA to look into if there are safer alternatives then the shuttle. When NASA decided that the shuttle was safe and to continue with the shuttle program, the DIRECT plan was shelved, that is, until recently when it was examined again as DIRECT 2.0.

    I can understand NASA’s desire to create a shiny new rocket but the costs in money, time, performance and jobs is too much for me to look over. I think the pros and cons of both programs need to be seriously compared with the outcome of finding out which can get us back to manned space flight faster, cheaper and safer.

    There is a huge discussion about DIRECT on NASASpaceFlight.com:

    http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=12379.0

  20. BTW – I’m glad to see more and more people like Nancy and outlets like Universe Today bringing this up. Good job UT!

  21. “Until we find some really good reason to send men into space (other than to maintain the HST), I don’t see why we’re wasting money on launch vehicles. We should be sending evermore sophisticated rovers to worlds-of-interest and then, when we’ve found something really worthwhile to investigate, develop the means to get people there.”

    So, robots don’t need launch vehicles too?

    Indeed, some want to launch Orion on proven satellite launchers like Atlas V and Delta 4. The distinction between ‘man-rated’ and rockets ‘only’ for satellites isn’t as great as you might think. When YOU have a $100 million communications satellite aboard, you want it to have as much chance of reaching orbit as if there were someone aboard. (And remember, ‘cargo’ flies on ‘man-rated’ commercial aircraft every day…)

    That ‘really worthwhile’ location may be in the outer solar system (Titan?). Do you want to have no more manned capability than now exists, then try to jump suddenly to a deep space manned mission?

    Do you believe robots don’t need launchers as big as manned ones? See above. And, that’s also because of overall launch costs for *any* payload. Trust me, if inexpensive heavy-lift were available, you WOULD see unmanned probes worthy of them. What if you want another Hubble-sized observatory, after the shuttle? What if you want a decent Pluto orbiter, not the screamin’ flyby that New Horizons will be? You assemble in orbit from multiple small launches (and that DOES need humans) or you launch in one big piece. Rockets don’t care if their payloads have a heartbeat or not.

    Meanwhile, some want to make a satellite launcher variation of the Ares-1 booster, but commercial interest in this supposedly ‘man-rated’ launcher for their cargoes seems to be underwhelming…

    http://www.transterrestrial.com/archives/2008/04/what_fresh_hell.html

    http://www.hobbyspace.com/nucleus/index.php?itemid=6025

    And for those who wonder why go back to the Moon…because we’re not finished with it. Will we be saying in 30 years “Why go back to Mars? What about the Moons of Jupiter?” Exploration is NOT a leapfrog series of ‘Flags and Footprints’ missions to the next planet. It’s just like unmanned probes in that you continue to learn more (and utilize/colonize where practical) about where you’ve been, AS you go on to learn more.

    When the first starship heads out to Alpha Centauri, we may STILL be learning something new about the Moon…or, for that matter, the Earth.

  22. Jeff, You are correct. It appears the only exercise I’m getting these days is jumping to erroneous conclusions. I had to reread the story line twice for it to sink in. Thanks.

  23. Chuck, NASA is not building Direct, they are building the Ares I and Ares V rockets as part of the Constellation project.

    Direct 2.0 is from the anonymous engineers within NASA. They are the ones saying billions of dollars and years of time can be saved with their design.

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