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Why the 5-segments SRB is a NONSENSE
December 29, 2007

1.5 YEARS ago I've explained Why the 5-segments SRB can't work and TWO months ago why The Ares-1 can't fly then, now I want to better explain, point by point, why it really is a BAD CHOICE and a TOTAL NONSENSE.

1. The most important reason why the 5-segments SRB is a very bad choice regards its availability that is expected to be between 2009 (optimistic) and 2011 (realistic) both date should be "in time" for the 2012 (early planned but now slipped to 2016) first Orion launch (delayed due to funds problems and a very long J-2X R&D timeline) but, WHY lose so much time (to be used for better jobs) to just add a 5th segment to the man-rated, cheap, reliable, safe, tested and READY AVAILABLE standard 4-segments SRBs???

2. The first point (alone) already is a very good reason to adopt ONLY the standard SRB in ALL shuttle-derived rockets, but there is a WORSE REASON why the 5-segments SRB is a very bad choice: its stellar R&D costs that will reach OVER $3 BILLION (+ costs' overruns) 60% of that already assigned to ATK, compared with the, already amortized 20+ years ago, then, now, ZERO R&D costs of the standard 4-segments SRB!!! Since, nearly every month, we read news about NASA that "has not enough funds", "must do science cuts", "ask politics to have extra-money", etc. the question is: "if they have NOT enough funds... WHY did they BURN over three billion$$$ to just add a segment to a booster they ALREADY have and works well?". Clearly, if that big funds are used to faster the J-2X and Orion development, the entire project could have a big boost and, maybe, the Orion could fly two-three years BEFORE the (latest scheduled) 2016, filling part of the GAP between the Shuttle retirement in 2010 and the next manned launch.

3. Of course, the new SRB will cost more than a standard SRB that's priced at $40M in the reusable version or around $45M for an expendable one. The "crude hardware price" of a 5-segments SRB "should" be only 25% higher than a standard SRB, if we calculate only the added segment (then, around $50M the reusable SRB or $55M the expendable one) but the new SRB will have a new nozzle, a new propellent's grain, etc., so, its final price could be at least $60M each or more (maybe, also $80 to $100 millions per unit) however, 16 months ago (in my old ghostNASA blog's article) I've already suggested to Use ONLY expendable SRBs to save the ($500M) very high annual SRB retrieving costs then (without any retrieval systems) have a 10-12 mT ligher SRB, so, the upperstages' mass could be increased of the same weight.

4. Also, since the new SRB will cost over $3+ billion for R&D (while, the standard SRB is available NOW at ZERO R&D costs) whe must add the shared R&D costs (again, ZERO dollars for a the standard SRB) to the price of each SRB used in the next 20 years (the first phase of the VSE) so, if the new SRB will be used 50 times in the next 20 years (for three test flights, 12 orbital/ISS missions and 12 lunar missions) the shared R&D cost per SRB will be, at least, $60M, so, the final price of each SRB will be between $120M and $160M or (simply) the price of THREE to FOUR standard SRBs!!!

5. As consequence of this and other bad choices the ESAS plan will NEED MORE TIME to start and will COST MORE MONEY, then, with the given funds, NASA will accomplish LESS MISSIONS (maybe, 12 orbital/ISS and 12 lunar missions in the next 20 years) and very much LATER (every month much later...) now scheduled around 2016 for the first orbital launch and 2022 for the first ESAS lunar landing. Clearly, adopting more rational, faster and inexpensive choices (both) orbital and lunar missions could be 50% to 100% more than planned and may start SOONER.

6. Last, that new SRB could have serious SAFETY and RELIABILITY problems (then, be very dangerous for the astronauts) since this motor will be completely new in several parts and, if the +25% thrust goal will be reached, will have a very much higher internal pressure WITHOUT have new and more resistant rings and junctions (while, if the new SRBs will NEVER reach the +25% thrust goal, the Ares-1 can't fly). That (clearly) is the "mother of all incredible and absurd choices" since, after the Challenger and Columbia accidents, the astronauts' SAFETY should be (and MUST be!) the #1 GOAL of ALL new space hardware! Well, they have NOW a SAFE and RELIABLE booster that (so far) has accomplished 240 (two per launch) manned missions in 120 Shuttle launches (over 130 until 2010) with over 800 astronauts carried to LEO and just ONE "RING'S LEAK" (that was NOT a total failure since, if the leak had happened away from the ET side, probably the Challenger would have reached its orbit safely) then, they decide (without any good and rational reason) to SCRAP the, well known, ready available, cheap, man-rated (and "800+ men-launched") 239 times successful 4-segments SRB (on which they've nearly 30 years of experience) to adopt a new and very expensive booster with an unknown safety and reliability that, also, needs to be man-rated (since it's NOT the SAME of the old motor) but, since the Ares-1 will perform just TWO test launches with a dummy Orion and ONE orbital launch with a complete but uncrewed Orion, the new rocket will be NOT (really) "human-rated" but RATED ON HUMANS!!!

Now that you've read this long, clear, detailed, documented, logic, harrowing and (I feel) not definitive, list of problems that may/will happen with the new 5-segments SRB, you'll (probably) want to know "what is the final prize" for such large and incredible waste of time and money, launch delays and further (big) risks for the astronauts...

A "big prize" they can win assuming the Ares-1 will work... that's absolutely NOT sure...

Well, the ONLY "prize" of the 5-segments Ares-1 vs. the 4-segments CLV, is 1.3 mT of extra-payload... YES, the Ares-1 can lift only 1.3 mT more payload than a CLV!!!!!

Infact (as already explained in my Ares-1 can't fly article) the 5-segments SRB Ares-1 is able to lift just 10 mT more than a 4-segments CLV (192 mT vs. 182 mT) of which only 1.3 mT is extra payload mass, so, it could be sufficient to slightly slim or resize the Orion, to quickly AVOID all the problems, risks, delays and extra-costs listed here!!!

Please say me if, all that, is not a giant, absurd, ridiculous and incredible NONSENSE!!!

Reading many articles, forums and blogs, I'm aware of the fact that the ESAS is not only a "space plan" but also (or mainly) a "job plan" born to keep NASA and the aerospace industry alive with their workforce still employed (at least) in the next 20+ years.

But, if NASA scraps the 5-segments SRB to adopt the standard SRB in all new rockets, it doesn't change NOTHING in the "jobs side" of the ESAS plan, since, they always use a motor made in USA and manufactured by ATK, just converting the ATK contract, from a "new SRBs' research" contract, to a "standard SRBs' production" contract with the SAME total amount of money.

In other words, if ATK should receive (e.g.) $6 billion in the next 20 years (half for the R&D costs of the 5-segments SRB and half to produce 50+ new SRBs) NASA could give them the SAME amount of money to produce 150+ reusable (or 135+ expendable) SRBs with just a few changes over the standard model, so, ATK will keep its workforce FULLY employed THREE TIMES than planned now and SOONER (from 2012 rather than 2016).

Also, with THREE TIMES AS MORE boosters, NASA can launch MORE Ares-1 and Ares-5 per year (not three times more, since the SRBs are only part of that rockets, but around 30-50% more) and SOONER (again, from 2012, rather than 2016) so, the entire ESAS plan will be FASTER, SAFER, MORE RELIABLE and with an higher missions QUALITY!!!

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