Deep Space Launches….great stuff

How we should be doing space exploration…IMHO

The proposed NASA Space Launch System (SLS) is estimated to cost close to $2 billion per launch. (If it ever is completed.) It is expected to have approx. twice the payload of SpaceX’s “Falcon Heavy” – 150 vs 70 tons to low-Earth orbit (LEO) and 32 vs 16 tons to trans-Mars injection (TMI). Compare that to the $90 million for a Falcon Heavy launch. For $50 million, the “Falcon 9” can deliver a 25-ton payload to LEO.

The next derivation of Falcon rockets should focus on trans-Solar System orbital launches. Doing so by extending re-usability beyond returning rockets to Earth, and focusing on assembly and re-utilization of rockets in space.

Launch four Falcon Heavies, each containing a payload of fuel containers and Merlin engines. A fifth Falcon Heavy would launch an assembly control unit, while a sixth would deliver a payload module and guidance control system. The latter not being launched until the assembly control unit had essentially docked with and attached to each of the prior launch payloads. Essentially, assembling in orbit a unit akin to a tertiary stage. In fact, these could be pre-assembled in orbit and await pending payloads.

Having already transited out of the heaviest of Earth’s atmosphere results in a reduction of force needed to propel the rocket. Structural integrity is still a concern; however, the intense friction and pressures of a terrestrial-based launch are not. How do we ensure a necessary level of structure integrity is achieved in order to handle the forces and torque applied during acceleration?

***

Here is where I have an idea. This is some “Great Stuff”…hear me out. “Great Stuff”, ever use it? You can buy a can at Home Depot. It is an expanding polyurethane foam. It is used to insulate, fill in cracks during construction, pack objects in form fitted storage, and much more. In fact, contractors have learned that the expanding foam can even be used to lift heavy structures. Drill a whole, insert tube, and the expanding foam can exert enough pressure to lift a load.

Now, I am dubious in regards to the effectiveness of polyurethane foam expansion in space. However, I have to think that a compound with similar properties that would be viable in the vacuum of space could be found. A vacuum would entail even greater expansion. Temperature would seem to be the largest concern. Both in regards to survivability and in regards to the foaming function. My understanding is that an astronaut on a spacewalk can experience a temperature range of between a scorching 250°F to a frigid -250°F. So perhaps a more significant factor would be the timing of the release. Great Stuff’s off-the-shelf fire block foam has a thermal resistance up to 240°F. Not quite enough for our space needs, but I have to imagine with some chemical engineering we could derive a similar compound which could endure a bit more thermal intensity. Such foam could be released to expand around the assembled units, significantly increasing the structural integrity once it had expanded and hardened.

We would now have a delivery platform to launch toward the outer planets, likely far faster than even the SLS propel them, and at about a 1/3 to 1/2 of the cost.

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