PDA

View Full Version : Mass Produced Spacecraft??



David Hall
2002-Jan-02, 04:03 PM
This is a topic I brought up once before on the old board, but I've been thinking about since the discussion on Pluto missions began, and I wish to field it again.

I'm wondering this: Why is it that every space probe is still being designed from scratch? NASA has done a pretty good job so far with the better-faster-cheaper idea, but, to my mind at least, they are still missing out on 2 lessons industry learned long ago: mass production and interchangable parts.

My idea is this. Instead of deciding on a mission first and then sitting down to design a new probe from the first nut upwards, why not design and build a series of standardized space probe bodies and then customizing them from there? You could save a lot of time and money if you already had half of the job done.

I think NASA should design 3 or 4 standard probe chassies. Say a small one for quick and close fly-bys, a larger one for long-term orbiting and mapping missions, and one or two for outer planet missions like going to Pluto. Each of these would have standardized mountings on which a variety of mass-produced propulsion units and instrumentation could be attached, which could be mixed and matched as needed, or even custom-designed to match the needs of an individual mission. Parts could be redesigned easily as technology advances, and flexibility is assured.

Run off a bunch of the basic parts, and then just grab them off the shelf and assemble them as needed. Yes, I know it's not that simple in reality, but that's the basic idea anyway. Much easier, faster, and cheaper than custom-designing everything.

I think this would be a great idea. If we had something like this, we might not have had so much trouble setting up a Pluto fly-by. Most of the delay involved there was in cost-overruns in the feasabilty and design areas. If we had had a chassis and some instrumentation all ready to go, as time and money ran out, we could have at least slapped something together and been ready to launch. Better something than nothing.

Here's another scenario. Imagine we discover an interesting comet approaching us in a convenient orbit, but we only have a couple of months in which to send something up. Well, just grab the smallest frame, put on a few instruments we think would work best and a standardized engine, all of them just sitting there ready to go, and launch it with an inexpensive booster. Quick and cost-effective. And if it doesn't work we aren't out too much.

Larger and more carefully-designed missions could be designed around them as well, but I think my idea would work best as a kind of fast-and-dirty mission design. Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Send up one mission after another on the cheap. Make probes almost disposable and then maybe there wouldn't be so much egg on NASA's face when one fails. Just whip up another one to replace it.

Any comments? Want to defend the current practice of individual designs? See any flaws in my thinking? Have a better idea? Let's hear them!

ToSeek
2002-Jan-02, 04:33 PM
NASA has sometimes tried to save money by producing pairs of missions on similar chassis as well as ground systems. I've worked on pairs like these, including WIND and POLAR, and XTE and TRMM. On the other hand, one of the reasons the Pluto mission got so expensive was that it was paired with the Europa mission, which had very stringent radiation-hardening requirements that had no application to a Pluto mission.

I also remember the concept of the "Explorer platform," with the idea being that the shuttle would come up and replace instruments on the platform with different instruments. This was used with EUVE but never followed up on - perhaps further analysis showed that this was less economical than orginally anticipated.

Still, I think it's a fair question as to why there isn't more standardization.

Russ
2002-Jan-02, 04:49 PM
You have a good idea and one that has been acted upon to a certain extent. The Delta, Atlas, Arian and other boosters are now produced on assembly lines consistant with modern industrial practices. The shuttle external fuel tanks and SRB's also are assembly line products.

The problem you get into with the robotic probes is that there are so few of them it is not cost effective to mass produce them. I haven't done the cost analysis on it but suspect that you'd have to put up 4 or more per year to make assembly line production practical. Further, the instrumentation must be customized to the object being targeted and given the variety of the planets, asteroids, etc. doing an assembly line for the instrumentation would not be cost effective.

All this goes on top of the fact that technology for the instrumentation is improving at an increadible pace, so building them in quantity would mean you're sending up obsolete instrumentation.

You have a good idea but we'd really have to ramp up our exploration program to make it cost effective.

ToSeek
2002-Jan-02, 05:06 PM
On 2002-01-02 11:49, Russ wrote:
You have a good idea but we'd really have to ramp up our exploration program to make it cost effective.


Certainly not something those on this board would object to. /phpBB/images/smiles/icon_wink.gif

<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: ToSeek on 2002-01-02 12:06 ]</font>

John Kierein
2002-Jan-02, 06:14 PM
NASA's Goddard has spacecraft in a catalog that can be selected from. It includes small, medium and larger s/c from people like Ball, Spectrum Astro and Orbital. It turns out that only a certain amount of standardization is possible when the cost per pound is so high for getting payloads to orbit. It's actually generally cheaper to make 'em customized to save launch costs and be effective in meeting mission requirements. There are some cases of mass production. I worked on Iridium and we built about a hundred identical s/c and launched nearly all of 'em. Many communications satellites are standardized. But the technology grows so fast that standardized computers are out of date before we can build 'em. If we used standard computers like 286s or 386s we couldn't get 'em for today's use. And then there's problems of getting cheap space qualified hardware; radiation hardened, etc.

jkmccrann
2005-Oct-30, 12:57 PM
You have a good idea and one that has been acted upon to a certain extent. The Delta, Atlas, Arian and other boosters are now produced on assembly lines consistant with modern industrial practices. The shuttle external fuel tanks and SRB's also are assembly line products.

The problem you get into with the robotic probes is that there are so few of them it is not cost effective to mass produce them. I haven't done the cost analysis on it but suspect that you'd have to put up 4 or more per year to make assembly line production practical. Further, the instrumentation must be customized to the object being targeted and given the variety of the planets, asteroids, etc. doing an assembly line for the instrumentation would not be cost effective.

All this goes on top of the fact that technology for the instrumentation is improving at an increadible pace, so building them in quantity would mean you're sending up obsolete instrumentation.

You have a good idea but we'd really have to ramp up our exploration program to make it cost effective.

A very good idea if the money was there to support a more expensive and expansive exploration program. Which leads me to an idea, if property ownership were extended in some way into Space, perhaps into the asteroid belt, such that landing on certain asteroids gained one a 99 year lease, or a 199 year lease for development, wouldn't that then encourage private enterprise to perhaps investigate mass production of techniques of space probes in order to gain a foothold in Space?

And thus ownership of some of those chunks of rocks floating around out there? The Outer Space Treaty as it currently stands is really standing in the way of that type of gambit is it not?

Dragon Star
2005-Oct-30, 02:41 PM
Hi everyone, I am new!


I like the idea of mass production, but the truth is we are coming up with technology so fast, that the parts would need replacing constantly, and that would cost way too much money. Again, like the idea, but I think that we are not ready for it yet, when we are more stable in the invention of technology, I think it will be a very good thing to do.:whistle:

DS.

publiusr
2005-Nov-02, 09:16 PM
R-7/Soyuz are truly the only craft to be considered mass-produced.