What would the next moon rocket look like?

Well, the Saturn V worked. But where would we get the myriad parts that haven’t been manufactured for decades? Let’s say we build a new moon rocket. Given that the form would necessarily follow function, how different would it look from the Saturn V? Would it still be a long cylinder with a capsule on top? Or would it have strap-on boosters? Would the CM be like Apollo? (There’s a new design based on Apollo, but I don’t remember what it’s called.) Or would it be bigger, like the Big Gemini concept? (Incidentally, Apollo was actually started before Project Gemini, so Gemini benefitted from lessons learned during the early stages of Apollo.)

It would most likely look two rockets, something like this.

So, fins are pretty much gone now? I’ve noticed that on quite a few new rockets and missiles. Thrust vectoring (and other things I don’t know about) must be the bettr way, huh?

Thrust vectoring, vernier engine controls, and high-temperature nozzle materials have come a long way since the Apollo days. Since fins only let you steer for the first 40km of ascent or so (and give a varying amount of control as you ascend) thrust vectoring is preferred.

For a big payload like a moon lander, you’d almost certainly use a stack like the Shuttle, with a central hydrogen/oxygen engine (very efficient) and strap-on solids (inefficient but much higher thrust). You use the solids at low altitudes to get up to speed and out of the thick part of the atmosphere, and then use the H+O to get the rest of your velocity at very high altitudes and efficiencies.

Er, here is what the next (US) moon rocket is going to look like, at least, if Lockheed-Martin can get their act together and actually catch up to schedule. The Ares I is a stretched Shuttle Solid Rocket Booster (5 segment instead of 4, slightly different nozzle design) with what is essentially an improved Saturn S-IVB second stage. It carries no third stage because it is designed to do an Earth Orbit Rendevous with the Earth Departure Stage and Lunar Surface Access Module carried by an Ares V rocket.

This whole scheme has been called “Apollo on steroids”, which is a bit silly because it’s really barely more capable than Apollo for considerably more complexity. It’s also been derided by some as being a step backwards from the Shuttle, which is a bit unfair, methinks; disposable launchers and a conical blunt-body reentry vehicle with an ablative heat shield has been highly successfully not only for NASA but also for the USSR, whereas spaceplanes have been problematical, maintenance intensive, and hazardous. I think something like the Chrysler SERV proposal for the STS would be an interesting combination of the familiar with the innovative, but given the conservative nature of aerospace development today and NASA’s risk adverse attitude, the Constellation concept is probably the best reasonable approach to effective manned spaceflight. I question the value of going back to the Moon in a scientific, technical, or economic sense, but that’s the mandate they’ve been given from on-high.


Post Apollo, they were planning to strip the fins off of the Saturn V and Saturn IB anyway as weight reduction. They were there to provide flight stability rather than steering, which was done by with gymbolled nozzle mounts on some of the motors. You still see fins used as flight surfaces on low altitude missiles, but they’ve disappeared from modern ballistic rockets.

Saturn V was amazingly capable, and at the time production was scrammed (and tooling destroyed) it was undergoing a redesign that would have simplified manufacture and uprated the F-1 and J-2 motors, giving it about significantly more payload-to-orbit capacity (estimates range from 20% to 40%) and a lower production cost, on top of economies of scale of a continuous production line. It was deliberately cancelled and killed in order that adverse comparisons with the less capable (but estimamtedly more cost effective) STS/Shuttle not be made. It’s a pity; the Saturn was the first non-military heavy lift booster and if it had at least been mothballed we wouldn’t have been without heavy lift capability (and suffering through the dubious EELV development) after the Challenger pyrotechnics.


Ah, the Orion spacecraft! :smack: Don’t know why I didn’t remember it. Lack of coffee, maybe.

Thanks, Santos for the link. And Stranger, always a pleasure reading your posts on space.

I remember gathering bits and pieces of that argument way back when I was in junior high school (mid 1970s). The debate on throw away Saturns vs reusable space planes ended with the Shuttle being more of less of a compromise, if I understood correctly at that time. Comments/corrections?

Missed the window.

ETA: I grew up with Apollo and worked (in a very minor way) with Shuttle flights. Since I’ve been away from flight test for more than 20 years, I’ve missed out on the newer developments. I’ve really got to start following this more closely.

There was Dyna-Soar from 1957-1963.

Yes, I remember that.

But didn’t that require a booster rocket to get to orbit so that those Marooned astronauts could get rescued?

Yeap. Titan.

That’s essentially correct, plus the Shuttle created about 50,000 new jobs, many of them in the aerospace-industry heavy Texas and California which were critical to Nixon’s re-election campaign. It’s somewhat cynical to suggest that part of the reason for cancelling Saturn was to “redistribute the wealth” more evenly among contituancies, but with the oil crisis, rising inflation, and the anti-climatic end of the Moonshot program, there just wasn’t any way to fund both Apollo and the Shuttle that (at the time) everyone felt would be much cheaper and pave the way toward a permanent space station. Plus, the Shuttle was supposed to be a commercial endeavor, lifting and recovering satellites, as well as a space exploration and military one. (It became important for Reagan’s SDI inititive, but at the time it was conceived space-based defense had pretty much been backshelved; the Air Force wanted it more for servicing surveillence satellites, but by the time it was ready to rock and roll the technology had gone from CORONA and GAMBIT-type film cameras to CCD surveillence birds that could beam images back to ground from onboard tape or even real-time.)

Rather than ramble on endlessly about the development of the STS, I’m just going to recommend checking out Space Shuttle: The History of the National Space Transportation System The First 100 Missions, 3rd Edition, which is a fantastically comprehensive and candid book on the development of the Shuttle from conception to flight.

Yeah, but the Dyna-Soar (what a ridiculous name) never made it past the concept stage, and would have required technologies–particularly active cooling–that probably would have made it nonviable. McNamara killed it in a spree of reducing military spending on pie-in-the-sky programs, which was probably a good call on his part. The Blue Gemini supported Manned Orbiting Laboratory was to have replaced it, but after lavishing a few hundred million on Space Launch Complex 6 (SLC-6 or “Slick-Six”) at Vandenberg AFB as a polar orbit launch site, it too was cancelled as not being worth the cost. SLC-6 later went on to be the boondoggle for the Air Force STS launch site, and ended up costing about US$6B and never used. It’s now used as a gold-plated launch facility for the Boeing Delta-IV rocket. Your tax dollars at work.


Order placed.

Some of you may also be interested in this free literature courtesy of NASA:


Very interesting read if you are interested in computers and space.

Ask Burt Rutan.

I heard there was talk of doing a giant upscaling of this puppy.

Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites (now completely owned by Northrop Grumman) has yet to put a single vehicle in orbit, much less travel to the Moon. Scaled Composites doesn’t build rockets or rocket motors, anyway; they build airframes and some avionics. The hybrid rocket motor used in SpaceShipOne was build by SpaceDev.

The hero worship for Rutan from some quarters of the aerospace enthusiasts is a bit misplaced; SpaceShipOne was an impressive achievement (though it clearly didn’t come in at less than the $10M prize amount, so not a fiscal success) but it doesn’t begin to compare in difficulty to orbital flight and return, much less a transLunar vessel.


True, but Rutan’s shown plans for an orbiting space station, worked on DCX, is rumored to be the secret team developing the next LEM, and is working with NASA on orbital vehicles, so I’d say it’s not outside the realm of possibility that he could/will do it. (He’s also participating in the Orbital X-prize contest.)

You have to admit that he’s had a remarkable career. His Vari Viggen was an interesting design that made about 140 knots on a 150 hp engine compared to a Cessna 172, which while admitting it has two more seats than the Vari Viggen, is about 20 kts slower on the same engine. The Vari Eze (pronounced ‘very easy’, not ‘very ease’) made 160 kts on a hundred horses and about 800 of them were built. The evolutionary Long EZ (which, incidentally, first flew on my birthday) was similarly successful. Rutan demonstrated that we needn’t rely on ‘SPAM cans’, and that pilots could have a higher performing aircraft that was less expensive than prebuilt aircraft that were easy to build, cheaper to operate, and stall resistant. People have used his canard designs to build their own kits such as the Berkut and the Cozy.

He designed the Quickie, which led to the Q2 and the Q200 – IMO some of the sexiest airplanes ever built. 200 mph on a hundred horses! (Unfortunately Quickie Aircraft’s Tom Jewett was killed in a crash in 1982, and IIRC lawsuits brought after other crashes forced the company to close. Unlike the Quickie, the Q2 and Q200 needed factory-made parts. However the Slipstream Dragonfly may still be available.) There was Voyager, which was the first aircraft to circumnavigate the globe unrefuelled. And Beechcraft put the Starship into production. (It turned out that its performance was not significantly better – and in some cases worse – than other production turboprops, and its price was near that of business jets.) And there were several proof-of-concept designs that were very interesting (Grizzly, Boomerang, AD-1 Oblique Wing, to name a few).

So I think Rutan deserves his accolades. He’s an inspired designer, and he is doing his bit in the progression of aerospace. He may not get us to the moon, but he’s certainly earned his place in aerospace history.