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Space Shuttle moon orbit

  1. Jan 8, 2005 #1
    I was thinking about why the shuttle can only orbit earth. Why can't it go to the moon once in awhile and orbit that? How much more extra fuel would it really take to get there?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 8, 2005 #2


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    Why it is not possible?.

    Maybe NASA engineers should do a bit of calculus, but I think shuttle (except limitation by fuel capacity or oxygen) should be able to orbit around the moon.
  4. Jan 9, 2005 #3


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    It takes a huge expenditure of fuel to get anything from Earth orbit to Lunar orbit.

    I'm shooting from the hip here, but if the shuttle's cargo bay was completely filled with fuel it _might_ be able to make it there, but I don't think it would be able to make it back.
  5. Jan 9, 2005 #4
    The Apollo program's http://www.apollosaturn.com/frame-sv.htm [Broken] 165,000 pounds empty.
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  6. Jan 9, 2005 #5


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    I just did the calculation, and even if the Shuttle's full payload capacity was extra fuel, it would still come up short of the Delta V needed even to achieve the transfer orbit to the Moon.
  7. Jan 9, 2005 #6


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    I addition to more fuel, it would probably need another type of rocket motor. I think that even on SSME would be oversized, but I could be wrong. The SSMEs are currently only used from surface to orbit, and the other motors are simple low-thrust reaction motors for maneuvering.

    Let's see what the CEV does.
  8. Jan 29, 2005 #7
    So if money were not the issue

    I'm an electrical engineer doing some research for a book, which is how I found myself here, (like it so much I just might stay) and you guys are looking at just the question I am asking.
    So, if money were not an issue and we HAD to go to the moon, matter of life and death, just like in the movies, and we had 3 years to jury rig 2 ships.....what could we do that would be half believably plausible??
    Strap it to a Saturn V??? Could we get enough thrust to achieve transfer??
    Forget human risk, the President has just chosen several fine men for the task, survival is optional.
    Alternate power plants??? what could we use?? Save the SSMEs just for the trip home. Let's brainstorm into the realms of vague possibility.
    What about interfacing with a smaller rocket already positioned in low earth orbit to provide additional power. We know we do linkups very well, experience dating back to early Apollo. And for that matter, why not have one also in lunar orbit to supply juice for the trip home??.
    Any absurd thoughts will be well received.
    (PS) There will be cargo to be returned to terra firma if the good guys win, weight not yet calculated.
    Ward :smile:
    Last edited: Jan 30, 2005
  9. Feb 2, 2005 #8
    Well... if money weren't an option, you could put a '72 Pinto Hatchback into orbit, to the moon, or to the stars...

    If you're asking what the LEAST expensive way to do it would be, then I'd have to say Launch-to-LEO-to-LLO-to-Land with hook-up and staging. That way existing launch vehicles could be exploited, drastically reducing the cost. As for what would get you there... the best thing to use would probably be a Soyuz. As for what you would land in... sadly, we don't have anything right now that can do that.

  10. Feb 2, 2005 #9
    Sounds a lot like Moonseed, by Stephen Baxter. His novel has a desperate trip to the Moon in only a matter of weeks, using current-market rockets and equipment. I'd suggest giving it a read.

    I would also recommend looking into nuclear pulsed propulsion. There is a book by George Dyson (son of Freeman Dyson), Project Orion: The True Story of the Atomic Spaceship. As said before, read.

    Have fun.
  11. Feb 3, 2005 #10
    Thanks Lord Flasheart, or should I say "your majesty". :rofl:

    Thanks for the tips, I had a look at the synopsis for Moonseed and thankfully my book is nothing like it. The other book may be of more use.
    What I hope to write will not be Sci-fi and will be set in the very very near future. More a thriller like Ludlum for instance. And hopefully, all but the diehard geeks will see it as at least plausible. Believability is important for me. I mean, lets be honest, a few weeks to prepare for a trip to the moon, gimme a break. I'd gladly accept a seat on the next shuttle, but with only weeks to prepare, no way Jose or Hose B.

    Much though I love Sci-fi, after Azimov what is there.
    Mission to Mars for instance, fantastic, as many of the concepts were real and based on current research (except for the EVA and linkup with the supply vessel). Most people still don't know that the part at the end with immersion in liquid 02 (H2O2 I think it was) is possible, already been done with a rat.

    thanks again
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2005
  12. Feb 3, 2005 #11


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    The shuttle is a pretty silly craft to send to the Moon. A large portion of its mass and functionality are devoted to achieving Earth orbit and re-orbit. Why ship all that mass to the Moon? You need a life-support system and fuel and that's pretty much it. Anything else is a waste.

    Wouldn't it be intriguing to have a story where they put a shuttle into orbit and then took a cutting torch to it? Any mass they could cut away would give them more delta-v per unit of fuel they had. Bye wings! Bye cargo bay! Bye heat shield!

    P.S. Mention me in the credits!
  13. Feb 3, 2005 #12
    Oh, PLEASE tell me you're joking! That movie ranks right up there with 'The Core' and 'Ghosts of Mars' as the movies that break the most laws of physics.

    Seriously, a group of friends and I made up a 'Mission to Mars' drinking game. Whenever they do anything that involves unsound engineering or breaking the laws of physics, you take a drink. Generally, a fully grown man will be drunk 15 minutes into 'MtM'. These rules have also been applied to the aforemention 'The Core' and "Ghosts of Mars' as well as 'Red Planet' and a few, choice others.

    You pointed out the EVA to the supply module as unrealistic; let me expand on just that ONE scene. First of all, if it's a supply module, it doesn't have any launch/landing couches for the crew. Second, a supply module would have no heat shielding for atmospheric entry and no means of landing in an other-than-horrible-crash manner. Third, did you see the length of the gouge it dug on the surface in the next scene when it landed? Nothing would have been walking out of that, but a warm puddle of liquefied human may have oozed out.

    If you're trying to write a book to the the level of realism used in that movie, I think you should try and publish it under 'humor'. Please, use the real physics. Much more stressful situations arose in real life due to real physics during the Apollo program than anything Hollywood has come up with. If you do use real physics, I really look forward to reading the book.

  14. Feb 3, 2005 #13
    Well guys, at least I got a response and that is what these forums are for, good healthy debate without getting too personal :-)

    I agree with much of what you both said Lunchbox and Dave with many numbers after.
    You're right "why send a shuttle to the moon, you would never do it...unless you are writing a book. Could it be done, is it plausible....that's debatable. However look at any of this genre of authors, Ludlum, Cussler, Clancy. Many of the things they propose could never happen. But that doesn't mean you enjoy the book or movie any less. Let the mind explore a little.
    Lunchbox, o ye of little faith, I said that the geeks would not be fooled and that was never my intention. It WILL NOT be humor. I agree with you fully re your statements about Apollo. I don't know how old you are but I remember exactly where I was when Neil stepped onto the lunar surface, I remember exactly what I was thinking at that time. I was 8 !! where were you?
    I am as fanatical about the Apollo program now as I was then, I remember studying valve theory for god's sake and can still name all the high tension valves in a b&w tv. So yes I agree with you about Apollo. It was nothing short of engineering and design magic.
    What NASA does not have today is that incredible enthusiasm that the Mercury/Gemini/Apollo program had, it seems to have lost it's way (no hate mail from NASA please). I've read the report into the Columbia tragedy, NASA have become a little complacent. This is no secret. Columbia should never have been permitted to launch, the tile problems were well known, that baaaad engineering.
    However, they do work very well under pressure with a concrete goal to reach. When JFK made that great speech, he was firing people up. The geeks did not decide to go to the moon, the cold war made that decision for them. Would they have gone if the Russians had not wanted to go first, Perhaps not. At least not at that time anyway.
    Why? because the technology had not been invented. How does it get invented?, necessity. Do you think the geeks said, "I'm sorry Mr. Prez we can't do that". No, they said ok "how do we go about doing that".
    And do you know what, if they had not gone to the moon and someone had written a book at that time about going to the moon with the technology that was available at that time.....you, if you had lived at that time would have been be the first critic...see what I'm getting at..? Do you really think it's technology that is stopping us from going to mars now? No way, political will and $$$, that's all.
    So as I said in my first posting, if we HAD to do it in 3 years, could we??, would we rise to the occasion??, could we find that spirit that the early programs had???
    I wonder................................
    I think they would say "ok how do we do it, what do we have, what do we have to invent".
    Anything can be done with enough fine brains and $$$ being thrown at it.
    So what do we got, 3 shuttles (don't get too serious guys, it's a book :-)
    So if we accept that premise, where do we go from here?
    (1) Is the airframe capable, I believe so; space is space, floating 250 clicks above us or floating above the moon?
    (2) Life support, how long is a shuttle self sufficient for, 30 days at least. **** it's only 4 to get to the moon.
    (3) zoom juice?? Delta V, big problems, not nearly enough fire in the candles to get there or back, but could it be done, who knows, thank heavens it's only a book.

    But tell me, is there one of you geek/boffin/scientist/engineer or general rocket heads that if NASA said to YOU tomorrow "ok guy here is the challenge, back to the moon in three years (time dictating that we would have to use at least some of what we already have), would you like to be part of the team"??????

    TELL ME WHO AMONG YOU FINE MEN AND WOMEN WOULD SAY "No thanks Mr NASA , I don't think it can be done"

    One of the problems of being an engineer is that it ruins our ability to think with the other side of the brain.
    So now that we hopefully have stimulated the synapses again (what is the plural), feel free to comment more……. if constructive, as no-one has even yet theorized on the insane possibility of linking up to a loaded candle already placed in orbit above terra firma. Could we do it? who knows, would we do it IF we could? Not unless we HAD to.

    Hell, if we can link up to Hubble for repair missions, then why not.
    Go outside the box..really outside the box.

    And Lunchbox, you are right, when I spoke of the EVA scene, I naturally meant it and ALL that followed, I mean hell it did not even have chairs, well within the category of Bruce Willis landing on a freaking asteroid :-

    So, hope I have not bored you too much,
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2005
  15. Feb 11, 2005 #14
    I was thinking about why the shuttle can only orbit earth. Why can't it go to the moon once in awhile and orbit that? How much more extra fuel would it really take to get there?

    Basically the shuttle doesn't carry enough fuel. I'm not sure if it also has to do with the main engines thrust also???

    The shuttle was designed to get stuff up to earth orbit and land back like a glider (reusable) and that's about it. I think the original idea was you'd have a fleet of shuttles for ferrying from earth to Earth ordit and dedicated ships that only work from earth orbit to the moon and other planets. Some of these ideas harken back to the 50's including the reusable "space plane" idea.
  16. Feb 11, 2005 #15
    if constructive, as no-one has even yet theorized on the insane possibility of linking up to a loaded candle already placed in orbit above terra firma. Could we do it? who knows, would we do it IF we could? Not unless we HAD to.

    I don't see why it couldn't be done. It'd be kind of wasteful using fuel to put fuel into orbit but I suppose in an act of desperation it could be done. I also don't see why in an act of desperation our space program wouldn't try and knock the dust of of some of the Apollo program equipment they still have around? just to get a "few more well deserving men" away from whatever hazzard your plot has. Of course I hope these good folks in your plot can handle 3+ g's of accelleration :biggrin:
  17. Feb 11, 2005 #16


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    It's already been done on a small scale. during the Gemini program they launched a separate propusion system, with which the Gemini Capsule docked. This propulsion system was then used to lift the capsule into a higher orbit.
  18. Feb 11, 2005 #17


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    If you wanted to use the shuttle, I'd think you'd use it as something of a way station. You'd use conventional rockets to ship several higher stage rockets into space, which the shuttle crew (or international space station crew, or both) could assemble in orbit, and then the resulting rocket would make the rest of the trip from Earth orbit to the Moon and back to Earth orbit. The Moon mission astronauts could then take the shuttle rather than the moon capsule back down to Earth.

    By using large commerical off the shelf rockets, instead of a really huge custom designed rocket, to get the higher stage rockets into space, you might save some time and $$.
  19. Feb 12, 2005 #18
    The problem there is as I said in my first post, there will be "cargo" that will have to be brought back, so using the shuttle would be the only way to go given the fact that my plot says we only have 2-3 years to achieve this. So I am now convinced that a earth orbit linkup would be the only "feasable" way to get there.
  20. Feb 14, 2005 #19
    It's already been done on a small scale. during the Gemini program they launched a separate propusion system, with which the Gemini Capsule docked. This propulsion system was then used to lift the capsule into a higher orbit.

    OH yea! That's right, theY were nicknamed "kicker modules"?
  21. Aug 7, 2005 #20
    Why couldn't you strip down the shuttle to get the least amount of weight in it? Tie it up to one of the Saturn V rockets and send it on it's marry way? It may not be grace full, but think of this. Why would the shuttle need any recovery gear? Such as landing gear, parachute. For that matter, would they need the robotic arm that is in the bay? IF the only thing they are doing is going to the moon, why would they need any of the avionics, IE flaps, alerons things that are required for atmospheric flight? Think of all the weight that would be saved if all we needed were a few thrusters to do small adjustments.
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