Analysis: Lockheed Martin finally gets onto a genuine runner in commercial space transport race

by | Jan 31, 2013 | Commercial human spaceflight, commercial launch services, Personal spaceflight | 4 comments

The news that Lockheed Martin has finally got back into commercial manned spaceflight transportation by joining the Sierra Nevada led team building the second Dreamchaser spaceplane will probably be a relief to its board.  For while Lockheed Martin beat its main rival Boeing to the glory of building the Orion space capule for NASA’s long range manned exploration extravaganzas (to borrow from Neil Armstrong’s quip: Orion was the one part of Project Constellation that could not be “executed”) in truth, this victory was a slightly hollow one.

For as Boeing licked its Orion wounds, it translated its non-selected design into a smaller capsule called CST-100; one that was less capable, but one would be perfect for launching humans to and from low Earth orbit several times a year.  This flight rate compared to the one or two missions per year (at best) that the Orion space capsule might fly.

Boeing’s “Orion loser” CST-100 design thus became one of the likely winners of NASA contracts for regular crew transportation, along with the SpaceX Dragon and the Sierra Nevada Dreamchaser.  As such, Lockheed Martin found itself iced-out of this potentially more lucrative business, albeit that it had a launch vehicle interest via its man-rated Atlas V expendable rocket which will probably be used by the CST-100 and by the Dreamchaser.

Having realised that it was in danger of missing much of this “commercial transportation boat”, Lockheed Martin initially allied itself with ATK’s Liberty capsule/launch vehicle contender – a design that was so far behind the others that it was never seriously going to gain NASA funding.

Subsequently, in NASA’s most recent commercial crew development move, a two and a half award style Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) contract was awarded to Boeing, SpaceX and Sierra Nevada respetively, albeit the latter got substantially less funding that the other two.   The decision to give it lower funding, officially due to Dreamchaser’s higher technical risk. may have been good news for Lochkheed Martin asitd may have been the spur for Sierra Nevada to get Lockheed Martin’s involvment.

So Lockheed Martin finally finds itself riding on a realistic runner in the commercial transportation race, and on one that might even win most of the business.  For while winged/lifting body vehicles such as the NASA HL-20-derived Dreamchaser do have more technical risk, they have considerable advantages over capsule designs.  For example, they offer a much more benign “lower-g” re-entries and have better cross range capabilities. Dreamchaser, as a sort of “son of the Space Shuttle” will be returned to a launch site in a Shuttle style gentle touch down, will not have to make higher risk parachute descents or rocket powered touchdowns or ocean spashdowns as it returns to Earth.

Blunt body capsules come into their own when used on lunar and interplanetary flights as they are better able to stand up to the aerothermodynamics of re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere at superorbital speeds. Hence this is the reason that Orion and its Apollo space capsule forerunner have large radius blunt rear ends.

About Seradata

Seradata produce the renowned SpaceTrak Launch & Satellite Database. Trusted by 100 of the world’s leading Space organisations, SpaceTrak is a fully queryable database used for market analysis, failure/risk assessment, spectrum analysis and space situational awareness (SSA).

For more information go to www.seradata.com/spacetrak

Related Articles

Nanoracks-Lockheed Martin team plots Starlab space station…then Blue Origin-Boeing-Sierra Space team announces Orbital Reef design

Nanoracks, in collaboration with Voyager Space and Lockheed Martin, has formed a team to develop the first free-flying commercial space Read more

Atlas V launches Trojan asteroid surveyor Lucy on mission for NASA…then has trouble locking out one of her solar arrays

An Atlas V rocket from ULA (United Launch Alliance) has launched a Lockheed Martin-built, NASA Discovery-class spacecraft into orbit. Lift-off Read more

ABL receives contract to launch Lockheed Martin developed NASA cryo-tech demo mission

ABL Space Systems, a prospective American launch provider, is set to launch a NASA science mission in 2023. The company Read more

NASA has selected two new Discovery-class missions both to study Venus

NASA selected two new missions to form part of its Discovery programme on 2 June. These missions lie on the smaller end Read more

Coup for ABL as it announces Lockheed Martin order for 58 of its launches

Lockheed Martin’s primary interest in large rocket launches is via its half share (with Boeing) in the United Launch Alliance Read more

Lockheed Martin given a US$4.9 billion go ahead for next-gen OPIR sats

On 4 January American aerospace/defence manufacturer Lockheed Martin received a US$4.9 billion contract from the US Space Force. This follows Read more

Lockheed Martin announces intention to acquire Aerojet Rocketdyne for US$4.4 billion

One of the giant American aerospace companies, Lockheed Martin, has announced its intention to buy US rocket engine manufacturer Aerojet Read more

Lockheed Martin receives official order for second pair of GPS 3F sats

In a award which was received in October but only made public on 10 December, Lockheed Martin gets the go Read more

Categories

Archives

Tags