Delta Sprint Library Report
6 Program Considerations

All elements of this report are tentative and may be subject to change

Home | Mass Breakdown

6. Spacecraft Program Considerations


The Sprint Program is built on the premise that the Shuttle is unsafe to fly with a crew on board as a result of either technical, organizational, cost related, or spiritual (cultural by the CAIB) problems.  After Columbia is expecting opposition from Shuttle advocates and advanced technology research groups.  We also believe that a craft like Delta Sprint is absolutely required to continue piloted space travel for the immediate future.


6.1 Positive Program Interactions (updated 4 October 2004)


6.1.1 America's Space Prize


America's Space Prize is anticipated from Bigelow Aerospace in the near future in the amount of $50 million US for a 5-7 place orbital spacecraft.  No criteria for reusability duration or docking target is currently available, but because Bigelow Aerospace is a space station company, I'd imagine that the inherent abilities required to dock are needed (orbital and fine translation maneuvers, stabilization and pointing, radar and visual reference.)


Delta Sprint II 6 place low energy configuration is capable of meeting the known requirements.  New Chapter 6.1.1 is subject to change as those requirements become known.


6.1.2 United Space Development Team


After Columbia's Terry Wilson is in contact with the mailing list and a represnetative of United Space Development Team.  We don't know exactly what's going to happen, but this is much more contact then we have had with any of the "old" programs in the non-italicized paragraphs.


As near as can be ascertained from publicly available materials, the technical specifics of USDT are not well defined, but the general goal is to advance the human reach into space.  After Columbia may be able to help guide the trajectory of this goal in terms of free concept generation and feasibility studies.


6.1.3 Mars Exploration


Again, we've had no contact with NASA on Mars Exploration (we have not even attempted to contact NASA with regards to Mars Exploration and the applicability of Delta Sprint.)  Because of the internet and because of Martin Scwieger's Orbiter similator and the community that has developed around it over the Internet, we as amateurs now have access to the knowledge and tools to be able to influence government and private organizations (the Mars Society, British Interplanetary Society, etc.) and perhaps to aid them by taking on volunteer freelance research and analysis.


After Columbia is working with the Mars Direct Orbiter Project at with the Earth Return Vehicle.  Because of the (still being defined) modularity of Delta Sprint and Delta Sprint II, it will almost certainly be possible to provide the Descent Module of the Earth Return Vehicle.


6.1.4 Sprint Program & International Space Station


Delta Sprint is the most essential part of the Sprint Program to service the International Space Station.  It is also the craft with the least flexible requirements (crew transfer.)  It also provides a bailout/lifeboat function to the International Space Station.


No contact with ISS Program despite a message sent to the actual deputy administrator responsible for the Space Station Program at NASA; After Columbia assumes that Delta Sprint will need to be developed privately or wait until the next Shuttle disaster.


6.1.5 Boeing & United Space Alliance


Delta Sprint's structural fabrication is closest to that developed for the Thor by the McDonnell Douglas Company (now Boeing) and is still being used by Boeing in the production of Delta II & IV launch vehicles and some types of fairings.  As the spacecraft operates from the Boeing Delta II, it may be possible for Boeing to market Delta Sprint to NASA via either Crew Exploration Vehicle concept or an unsolicited proposal.  Boeing's Delta Launch Services division so far has not answered any of After Columbias inquiries, even for general information regarding the Delta launch vehicles.


USA has not been contacted, but Boeing has, several times.  No reply, not even to general inquiriies about the Delta launch vehicles.


6.1.6 Starsem & ArianeSpace


Starsem manufactures the Fregat upper stage and obviously would have some input into Delta Sprint if an applicable option is selected.  ArianeSpace and Starsem operate in an alliance to provide a variety of ascent tickets including the little Vega, standard Soyuz, and medium lift Ariane 5G.  The Ariane 4 was also marketed by ArianeSpace.


ArianeSpace has not been contacted yet, but Starsem did not answer an email inquiring about Fregat; the possibility of the Fregat not being available as separate from Soyuz launch services needs to be taken into account.


6.1.7 Jet Propulsion Laboratory


Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has several qualifications that make it well suited as the center of choice to run Delta Sprint from within NASA:


a) Very little interaction with Shuttle and Station programs currently in existence.  Jet Propulsion Laboratory, therefore has little chance of inheriting the spiritual/cultural problems associated with the STS-107 tragedy.


b) Proven reliability/safety record.  JPL has not had a spacecraft failure since the Mars Polar Lander and Mars Climate Orbiter in 1999.  Mars Polar Lander had a failure during a pyrovalve firing sequence (the failure occured out of signal, so its cause is not known.)  Mars Climate Orbiter had a guidance error during its aerocapture maneuver resulting from a computer bug (in a nutshell, someone forgot to convert metres to feet in a guidance algorithm.)  Delta Sprint is protected by layers of backup against both sorts of failures, and will undergo guidance operation simulation on during its tests on earth.  Jules Verne ATV was completing these tests as this report was being written in early 2004.  Delta Sprint's mission is similar in profile to the Pathfinder, Spirit, and Opportunity missions in that it ascends on a similar launch vehicle with an identical first stage, spends a considerable amount of time in a space environment, and then lands.  JPL has also, through Mariner 9, Voyagers 1 & 2, Mars Global Surveyor, Spirit & Opportunity, demonstrated safety factors at the spacecraft level by having their spacecraft last far longer than they were (ostensibly) designed to.  This sort of attitude is welcome in piloted spacecraft.


c) Contract operations.  JPL operates on a different operational model than other NASA centers, affording it a greater degree of operational freedom.  Through the Spaceflight Operations Contract (SFOC) and United Space Alliance, the piloted spaceflight programs were already headed in that direction.


d) Experience with the Delta II launch vehicle.  In fact, JPL now uses the Delta 7920 family of launch vehicles nearly exclusively.


Emails to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory have gone unanswered; again we must assume that Delta Sprint will need to be privately developed.


6.2 Negative Program Interactions


6.2.1 The Space Shuttle


Obviously, the intent of Delta Sprint is to provide an immediate replacement for the Shuttle in the role of crew transfer in the wake of STS-107 and the resulting penultimate revelation that the culture of the Shuttle program is not well suited to piloted spaceflight.  Im not expecting Shuttle workers would be particularly enamored with a program marketed on this premise and am expecting a great deal of opposition to Delta Sprint from them.  In the Sprint Program, Shuttle personnel would be preoccupied with the following:


a) Shuttle X: The hardware application program which allows the International Space Station to be completed using the existing Shuttle ascent hardware.  The most likely form of Shuttle X is an automated form of the existing Shuttle.  Shuttle X, under After Columbias program structure, also includes the Ares launch vehicle intended to support Mars Direct.


b) Mars Exploration: The primary concept is Mars Direct, although NASA is working from a slightly more ambitious Design Reference Mission.  These studies are currently concentrated around Johnson Space Center.


It is becoming a familiar refrain, While After Columbia has not tried to contact the Space Shuttle Program specifically, no entity in NASA that has been contacted has responded


6.2.2 Launch Facilities


Delta Sprint requires a great deal of modification to one of the two Delta II compatible SLC-17 launch pads (probably SLC-17B) or the addition of a third.  This, in addition to the Delta Sprint launches themselves, have the potential of disrupting commercial and planetary launch schedules for Boeing and JPL.  After Columbia currently has no ability to quantify what these impacts might be.


6.2.3 Soyuz


Delta Sprint is in the same bailout role as the veteran Soyuz spacecraft, flying since 1967.  Delta Sprint however, is not intended as a replacement for Soyuz, but a complement to it.  Soyuz and Delta Sprint are designed for different docking ports, and the use of both will increase the bailout capacity of the International Space Station.  Soyuz and Delta Sprint together will also provide a redundancy in that if one fails, the other may still be used.  Soyuz 32 demonstrated this when its main engine failed in 1976.  The Salyut 6 crew had the same type of spacecraft as their lifeboat (Soyuz 33) and now had doubts of its reliability.  Delta Sprint or a successor may eventually replace Soyuz.  (Ironically, Soyuz was originally designed for the role of Delta Sprint Planetary in the form of the 7K-LOK, which translates Lunar Orbital Cabin.  Its operation in the lunar mission was nearly identical to that proposed for Delta Sprint Planetary and Mars Direct.)


This offers a reasonable explaination as to why Starsem has not replied to inquiries about hte Fregat; it is more profitable for them to sell the entire launch vehicle and Soyuz spacecraft than just the Fregat upper stage to a craft that competes with their own.


6.2.4 Geir Lanesskog Aquilla


The Aquila Spaceplane is a high energy crew transfer craft intended for service to the L1 libration point with the Moon, a good spot for a PERMANENT base ( ) to utilize lunar resources for construction in space.


As the Lanesskog Aquila is not even as far along as Delta Sprint in terms of technical study, a note that Aquila and Delta Sprint compete for the same crew transfer role is here merely for completeness.  Aquila is part of the Universal Expeditions Project at ; details of the Aquila Spaceplane specifically are availalbe here:  To adapt the Aquila to LEO crew transfer is a simple matter of launching it on a smaller vehicle (i.e. Delta IV-M+4.2 instead of Delta IV-H) instead of to L1, and then it has a lot of overkill in its propellants that can be used for payload.


While the Aquila Spaceplane and Delta Sprint do compete for the crew transfer roll, After Columbia does not see Geir Lanesskog or UXP as competition, but as a colleague amateur.  After Columbia is actually willing to support Aquila with volunteer analysis.


6.2.5 A Final Note


The primary problem with the Shuttle design isn't really that it is not safe, it is that it is too expensive to operate safely.  The Space Transportation System was built on an incorrect programmatic premise (putting all piloted spaceflight eggs into this one basket) which lead to incorrect techical implementations (ambitious payload capabilities, partially reusable, few abort options, cargo and crew in the same vehicle, ascent engines in the same airframe as the crew, thermal protection system vulterable to debris hazards, etc.)  The reasons why the Shuttle should not fly again with a crew on board are spiritual in nature, not technical. Research by Greg Klerkx into high level decisions provided by his title "Lost in Space: The Fall of NASA and the Dream of A New Space Race" (Pantheon 2004) and by Diane Vaughan by her 1996 title "The Challenger Launch Decision: Risky Technology, Culture, and Deviance at NASA" (University of Chicago) into the inner workings of NASA's engineering groups when taken together paint a very ugly picture of a passively abusive organization whose organizational politics have stifled (respectively) its growth and operations to such an extent that it can no longer function well in either role.  Because of the work group culture problems, another Shuttle disaster is inevitable.  Because of the growth problems and lack of any thought to a Shuttle-independent program of piloted exploration or operations, the next Shuttle disaster will almost certainly mean the disbanding of NASA.  Books by many other authors support this perspective.


6.3 New Technology Requirements


The intent of Delta Sprint is to use existing, off the shelf components and technologies wherever possible, including and existing, proven reliable launch vehicle.  Not all systems used for Delta Sprint need to be flight proven in space in order for this to take place.  Existing avionics hardware should be adaptable.  Life Support components may be available from mine collapse survival shelters.  The recovery mode has been proven in flight by X-38 to be feasible in a vehicle larger than Delta Sprint.


It could be argued that when the same approach was taken with the Saturn launch vehicles for the Apollo Program in the 1960s, that very little off-the-shelf hardware was actually used and a great deal of new technology needed to be developed for the mission.  Two facts need to be considered with this argument:


a) No one had ever been to the Moon, built a space station, or even docked anything in space.  NASA had about half an hour of piloted spaceflight time in their logbook at the time Saturn V was started.  The state-of-the-art simply wasnt there.  Delta Sprint has the experience of an international program with years in its logbooks.  The experience of 8 piloted spaceflight programs, with 10 different types of spacecraft are behind Delta Sprint.  Lessons learned from 8 major in-flight emergencies (5 of which resulted in the death of the crew.) an additional 20 or more major glitches, and 3 pre-launch disasters are being used in the design of Delta Sprint.  The state-of-the-art has been here for over thirty years.


b) Delta Sprint embarks on a much more conservative mission.  Delta Sprint might be the most conservative piloted spacecraft in history.  Its diminutive size and singular purpose of crew safety makes it ideal as a return vehicle for planetary crews to the Moon, asteroids, Mars and beyond.  Like Skylab, it might not be the first at this mission (Apollo actually being used in this role, Soyuz being built for it but never actually used this way, and Gemini being considered for it in studies) but it or its progeny most certainly will be the best.


Serious arguments against Delta Sprint will not be based on what it does but by what it does not do and will probably be most loudly voiced by those who ask for too much in one ship.


Because of the unresponsiveness of Boeing and NASA, the availability of Delta II and Delta IV for the commercial development of Delta Sprint are in doubt.  This is a major problem as After Columbia has not yet considered any other vehicles for Delta Sprint's initial operations.


6.3.1 Payload Escape Stage


Payload Escape Stages (PES) were first considered for Shuttle in 1971.  In fact, the PES for Shuttle persisted until very late in design studies.  At the time it was cancelled, it was in the form of two 1.52 (60 inch) diameter boosters mounted above the wings and below the OMS pods of the Shuttle we have today.  It was intended that these solid motors be fired normally and jettisoned sometime after the big SRBs were jettisoned, thus assisting in the ascent.  They were cancelled primarily because it was deemed unnecessary; that the Shuttle would be safe enough without them.


If Delta Sprint is built, it will have the first ever PES in operation (remember PES being defined by firing during a normal ascent.)  This is Delta Sprints single biggest technical challenge.  Escape motors are short burn, high thrust, and in this case, absolutely have to separate reliably.  There are no large enough motors of this type currently in production (that we know of) that would be compatible with Delta Sprints arrangement.  It is likely that the PES will need to be designed and built from scratch.  The ability of the PES to operate also increases the design mechanical and aerodynamic load requirements of Delta Sprint, which are already fairly high due to the choice of launch vehicle.


6.3.2 Rapid Egress Tower


The Rapid Egress Tower is an addition to the launch pad facilities that allows the crew to get into and out of the spacecraft on a timely basis.  As an alternative, it may be possible to modify the existing facilities so that the existing Mobile Service Tower can be used.  Currently the Mobile Service Tower retracts two and half hours before launch, too early for piloted operations.  If this is done, potentially, egress from the spacecraft would not be rapid, a small price given that the Payload Escape Stage can be used in an emergency.  The impact of this during non emergencies would be a shorter launch window when the launch window is constrained by the crew on backs limitation (which was the case for STS-107.)  Most Delta Sprint missions will be rendezvous with windows in the area of 20 minutes, so this is not a big deal either.  We do have viable alternatives to the Rapid Egress Tower in the event that it is not feasible.


6.4 The End of Delta Sprint


The end is not quite in sight yet for Delta Sprint, but as a ballistic spacecraft, it will begin to evolve towards obsolescence rapidly.


Delta Sprint has future potential as a lifeboat and as a planetary mission return vehicle far into the future by bringing it up as cargo on the Standard Lift ISTS (Standard here meaning 8,000kg to LEO.)  The Descent Module is rated for two years in space with the Service Module rated for 6 months.  In this mode the Service Module can be replaced on-orbit.


6.4.1 The Shuttle Returns to Flight


In this case, which currently appears to be the most likely, NASA decides to return the Shuttle to flight and someday will lose OV-104 Atlantis, probably, although not certainly, to an in flight disaster.  Delta Sprint in this scenario becomes a massive contingency plan, one which would probably become more difficult to implement then than it is now.  After Columbia hopes that Delta Sprint does not evolve in this direction.


6.4.2 Delta Sprint Ascends on Delta II


This is the normal operation of Delta Sprint in service to the International Space Station as described thorughout this document.  It is estimated to last from 2006 to about 2014-2020, when ISTS comes into operation.


6.4.3 Delta Sprint Planetary


Delta Sprint ascends on Delta II to dock with and transfer crews to interplanetary spacecraft on low energy orbit.  The Delta Sprint then may provide a return vehicle for the interplanetary spacecraft.  Delta Sprint may be usable on Mars Direct, one of its derivatives, or as a return vehicle for the proposed Crew Exploration Vehicle (George W. Bush administration 2004.)  Mars Direct currently is not on a timetable, but if implimented, could be flown as early as 2015 (2017 would be the first piloted mission.)


6.4.4 Delta Sprint II


Currently being studied alongside Delta Sprint by After Columbia as either an alternative or a follow-on to ascend from Delta IV.  Its role would be very similar to Delta Sprint, except that it would carry more people.


6.4.5 Delta Sprint and ISTS


Delta Sprint would ascend as ISTS cargo and be installed as a lifeboat on space stations or as a return vehicle on assembled interplanetary missions.  Delta Sprint could continue in this role for a long time; its eventual demise being over the horizon at this time.


6.4.6 Privately Developed Delta Sprint


The latest option now under consideration by After Columbia is to find a party interested in developing Delta Sprint for commercial purposes.  An orbital crewed vehicle is a logical first step to a private space program; and currently private space development has evolved in the direction of space stations (SpaceHAB and Bigelow Aerospace) and suborbital (X Prize and its contenders) but as yet does not include a LEO crew transfer vehicle.


The private option for Delta Sprint has the potential of completely overturning the current baseline, especially in regards to ascent.

2004 After Columbia