Monday, December 8, 2014

Revenge of the Stick

Ares I 'The Stick'
Could solid fuel be the cure to SpaceX competitors?  ATK seems to think so.  Look what they are touting.

Nasaspaceflight.com article titled 'ATK expand on its domestic alternative to Atlas V’s RD-180' said that ATK is bidding for a solid state first stage for the Atlas V.  Has the much hailed hero rocket by ULA plummeted this far from the heavens?  According to the article, plans to make the politically maligned RD-180 engine in the US fell through.  Now, they are hoping for the BE-4 from Blue Origin to save the rocket.  But wait!  Here comes ATK with an alternative solution, solid fuel first stage for the Atlas V.  What?!

Yes, solid fuel first stages.  Ahhhh!  Those where the days.  Oh the thrust, the power, the long slender look.  Doesn't just give you goosebumps?  I'm referring to the 'Stick.'  No, not some sleazy battery operated toy, but the rocket that was supposed to put astronauts back into space after the Shuttle was decommissioned as part of the ill fated Constellation Program.

Ares I was to be powered by a large solid rocket booster based on the Shuttle SRB.  It was aptly and despisingly nicknamed 'the Stick.'  The only launch, or proto-launch of such a configuration was in 2008 with the Ares 1-X.

Also according to the article, ATK is also petitioning Orbital Sciences and offering a solid rocket booster as a first stage to Antares.  This would make Antares an all solid fuel rocket, perhaps the biggest in operation.  It's not the best of options that could exist for them, but I suspect it would be a quick fix for the troubled rocket.

Now, this is all fine and dandy for ATK.  They are making smart moves for their business.  I don't blame them for offering solid rocket boosters as first stages for troubled Atlas V and Antares.  However, if ULA or Orbital Sciences have any delusions of competing with SpaceX on the basis on solid fuel, they better think again.  SpaceX prices are already so low the launch market members are tossing up their lobster dinners and scrambling for ideas to compete.  SpaceX is still on the move.  They are learning how to catch a flying Falcon 9 in the ocean, and then fly it again.  This is sure to bring their prices down even further, causing more tossing of lobsters.  Hmmm...maybe SpaceX will get an award for saving lobster populations on the planet.