Big Dumb Booster: a simple but complex rocket for NASA


Schematic of the NESUX launch vehicle from General Dynamics. To the left for comparison - a real Atlas rocket


In the early years of the American space program, the main task was to improve the characteristics of rocket and space systems. It quickly became clear that the increase in technical parameters was associated with significant difficulties and should lead to an increase in the cost of launches. An interesting solution to this problem was proposed as a Big Dumb Booster concept.

"Big stupid rocket"


Projects of space rocket systems of that time were of high technical complexity. To obtain better characteristics, new materials were developed and introduced, promising models of equipment of all classes were created, engines were developed, etc. All this led to an increase in the cost of the development and production of missiles.

Calculations showed that, while maintaining such approaches, the cost of cargo withdrawal will remain at least at the same level or even begin to grow. To maintain or improve economic performance, radically new solutions were required at the concept level. The first studies in this direction began in the very late fifties and soon yielded real results.

NASA, in collaboration with a number of private aerospace companies, has been developing several new concepts for promising systems. One of them was called Big Dumb Booster - "Big stupid (or primitive) booster."


A "simple" launch complex for a "cheap" NEXUS rocket

The essence of this concept was to simplify the design of the launch vehicle and its individual components. For this, only well-developed materials and technologies should be used, abandoning the development of new ones. It was also required to simplify the design of the rocket itself and its components. At the same time, it was necessary to increase the carrier, increasing its payload.

According to the first estimates, this approach to design and production allowed BDB to provide a sharp reduction in the cost of launches. Compared with existing and promising launch vehicles of the “traditional” look, the new models were much more economical. An increase in production rates was also expected.

In this way, the BDB booster could be quickly built and prepared for launch, and then send a larger load into orbit. Preparation and launch would be of reasonable cost. All this could be a good incentive for the further development of astronautics, however, at first it was necessary to develop and implement fundamentally new projects.

Principal decisions


In the development of the BDB concept, several organizations involved in the development of rocket and space technology participated. They proposed and brought to varying degrees of readiness a number of launch vehicle projects. The proposed samples significantly differed from each other in their appearance or characteristics, but at the same time had a number of common features.

To simplify and reduce the cost of the rocket, it was proposed to build not from light alloys, but from accessible and well-developed steels. First of all, high-strength and viscous grades from the category of maraging steels were considered. Such materials made it possible to build larger missiles with the required strength parameters and reasonable cost. In addition, steel structures could be ordered to a wide range of enterprises, including from different industries - from aviation to shipbuilding.


Aerojet Sea Dragon rocket diagram

A large missile with a heavy load needed a powerful propulsion system, but such a product in itself was extremely expensive and complex. It was proposed to solve this problem due to the most efficient types of fuel, as well as by changing the design of the engine. One of the main ideas in this area was the rejection of turbopump units - one of the most complex components of rocket engines. It was planned to supply fuel and an oxidizing agent due to the increased pressure in the tanks. This solution alone provided a noticeable reduction in cost.

The proposed materials and alloys ensured the construction of large structures with corresponding potential. The payload of a Big Dumb Booster missile could be brought to a level of 400-500 tons or more. With the increase in the size of the rocket, the proportion of dry weight in the starting weight decreased, which promised new successes and additional savings.

In the future, missiles or their elements could be made reusable, which was facilitated by the use of durable steels. Due to this, it was planned to obtain an additional reduction in the cost of launch.

However, to obtain real results, it was necessary to complete research work, and then launch experimental design work. With all the apparent simplicity, these stages could stretch for many years and require substantial funding. Nevertheless, space industry enterprises took this risk and began designing promising “primitive” launch vehicles.

Bold projects


The first projects of a new kind appeared in 1962 and were evaluated by NASA experts. These BDB variants were based on common ideas, but used them differently. In particular, there were differences even in the starting method.


Sea Dragon rocket layout

A real record holder could be the NEXUS rocket developed by General Dynamics. It was a single-stage launch vehicle with a height of 122 m and a maximum diameter of 45,7 m with stabilizers of a range of 50 m. The estimated launch weight reached 21,8 thousand tons, the payload to reach low Earth orbit - up to 900 tons. For other orbits, the carrying capacity was half as much.

The NEXUS rocket was supposed to put the load into orbit, and then land in the oceans using parachutes and solid-propellant landing engines. After service, such a BDB could perform a new flight.

In the same year, the Sea Dragon project from Aerojet appeared. He offered a super-heavy launch vehicle for a sea launch, and she did not need any separate launch facilities. In addition, it was planned to involve shipbuilding enterprises in the production of such missiles that possess the necessary - not the most complicated - technologies for assembling metal structures.

The Sea Dragon was built on a two-stage scheme with simplified liquid propellant rocket engines on both. The length of the rocket reached 150 m, diameter - 23 m. Mass - approx. 10 thousand tons, payload - 550 tons for DOE. At the first stage, a kerosene-oxygen engine with a thrust of 36 million kgf was provided. Instead of a ground-based launch complex, a more compact system was proposed. It was made in the form of a large-sized ballast tank with the necessary devices attached to the bottom of the first stage.


The pre-launch process for the Sea Dragon type of BDB

As conceived by the designers, the Sea Dragon rocket was to be made by a shipyard from the usual "ship" materials. Then, using a tugboat, the product in a horizontal position should be towed to the launch site. The launch system provided the rocket from horizontal to vertical with a draft of about half the body. Then the “Dragon” could start the engines and take off. The return of the steps was carried out using parachutes with landing on water.

Cheap but expensive


Projects of superheavy launch vehicles Big Dumb Booster were of great interest in the context of the further development of space exploration. However, their implementation was associated with a number of characteristic difficulties, without overcoming of which it was impossible to obtain the desired results. A sober assessment of technical proposals and projects led to the closure of the entire direction.

Further elaboration of the proposed projects from Aeroget, General Dynamics and other companies was a very difficult task. To create a "cheap" rocket required a lot of money to develop projects and adapt existing technologies for space applications. At the same time, the resulting missiles in the foreseeable future were not of any interest: there was simply no payload of hundreds of tons and was not expected in the coming years.

NASA considered it inappropriate to spend time, money and effort on projects without real benefit. By the mid-sixties, all work on the topic of BDB had ceased. Some of the participants in these works tried to remake projects for other tasks, but even in this case they did not receive a continuation. To the delight of taxpayers, work on the BDB ceased in the early stages, and did not spend a lot of money on the dubious program.

As the further development of the American space program showed, heavy and superheavy launch vehicles did find application, but systems with a carrying capacity of hundreds of tons were redundant, as well as overly complex and expensive, despite the initial plans. The development of astronautics continued without the "Big primitive rocket" - and showed the desired results.
Author:
Photos used:
NASA, Wikimedia Commons
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  1. andrewkor 12 January 2020 07: 13 New
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    In the Technique for the Youth, I don’t remember how many years ago (40-50), there was an article about Nazi Germany ballistic missiles. Among other things, the draft of the A-4 sea launch on targets in the USA was considered. The submarine towed a container with a missile, then he drowned upright and start!
    1. Vladimir_2U 13 January 2020 04: 48 New
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      A similar rocket was mentioned in Rozov’s magnificent futurological Meganesia cycle. A lot there about the asymmetric war.
  2. Thrifty 12 January 2020 07: 15 New
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    Cyril, in the title itself you have a contradiction, a simple rocket is the powder rockets that the Indians fired at enemies several centuries ago! For a rocket of such mass and such dimensions, the term "unified" or "maximally simplified", but certainly not "simple", is suitable!
  3. Aviator_ 12 January 2020 08: 55 New
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    The first version of the Sea Launch, and even a superheavy rocket. Adventure. It is clear that no savings would have been achieved, to bring to mind it would have been necessary to first make reduced options, and only then switch to the declared load of hundreds of tons. Closed projects in time, saved money.
    1. agond 12 January 2020 09: 52 New
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      But today, the launch from a floating container is for the military and civilians, neither mines nor cosmodromes need to be built, civilians will be able to choose a launch site, and then a rocket explosion in a container at sea will be much safer than at a launch on land.
      1. Aviator_ 12 January 2020 18: 21 New
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        That is the “Sea Launch” in no way can resume launches of even light carriers for many years, and the followers of this launch scheme are not visible.
  4. Hakka 12 January 2020 11: 37 New
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    This is all nonsense, compared to nuclear explosions. Here they have a huge thrust and specific impulse.
    1. Svarog51 12 January 2020 12: 31 New
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      Well, at least one flew into the constellation Cassiopeia. It was called ZARYA. wink
      1. Hakka 12 January 2020 12: 41 New
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        No it won't blow
        1. Svarog51 12 January 2020 12: 43 New
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          This is steeper - Starship Annihilation Relativistic Nuclear, if sclerosis fails. yes
          1. Hakka 13 January 2020 14: 20 New
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            Nuclear explosions were actually worked out in the USA in the 60s, even experiments were carried out, and this dawn is a fiction of a writer.
  5. Operator 12 January 2020 13: 10 New
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    Missiles with a propellant supply of fuel to the liquid propellant rocket engine have an insoluble problem - a multiple lower pressure in the combustion chamber of the engine (compared to the delivery feed) due to the need to provide an acceptable mass of fuel tanks under pressure.

    In this connection, the specific impulse of the engine and, consequently, the fraction of the payload in the launch mass of the rocket is correspondingly less.

    The only way out of the situation is to use a hydrogen + carbon pair (for which a pressure of 50 atmospheres is sufficient), modern structural materials for fuel tanks (such as organoplastics and carbon plastics) and increase the density of this fuel pair. The first solution was adopted at the end of the 1960s, the second - at the end of the 1980s, the third - has not yet been found.
  6. Saxahorse 12 January 2020 20: 08 New
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    Wonderful article! Thanks to the author definitely!

    They reminded me of a curious, albeit unclaimed, direction. It’s called something like - "and let's face it." Only one take-off weight of 21 thousand tons is impressive. The fact that they spat and refused is correct, but there is some rational core in these plans.
  7. destiny20 12 January 2020 21: 48 New
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    The article, although a review, would have been more of such. After all, VO keeps it
  8. Bratkov Oleg 12 January 2020 22: 47 New
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    Why show the fantasies of Americans? They not only went to the moon, they generally didn’t fly into space another 15 years after Gagarin’s flight, but those who believe in the infallibility of the United States so easily ate their false propaganda about flying to the moon, apparently genetically cannot help but believe in the American lie ...
    Are there really no engineers left? How can you not see that the American space program is pure crap? It was only with the help of the USSR that they began to launch astronauts into space, the shuttle engines were used to burn generator gas, and this technology, even decades later, after the sale of a license to them, they can not repeat. Soviet engines were on the shuttles, and secrecy in the USSR made it possible to deliver anything to anyone. And when the Soviet Union collapsed, and the United States ran out of Soviet engines, the shuttle program had to be covered. Because there would be direct questions, if the motors themselves could not do for them, then did Saturn really fly?
    And Amstrong’s one statement was enough for me that the stars are not visible in space. Well, in fact, he only saw space from photographs from satellites, but try to photograph the stars on the camera ... And the fact that the Central Committee of the CPSU sold us all, and they themselves became capitalists, is already our own fault.
    1. destiny20 12 January 2020 23: 27 New
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      I met a lot of "conspiracy theories", but about the so-called shuttle engines ... bravo! nobody had thought of this before!
      PS
      But how do you prove that Gagarin flew? :)
      1. The comment was deleted.
  9. acetophenon 13 January 2020 05: 43 New
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    The project is definitely beautiful. And maybe straining the whole ass, executable.
    However! What task? The current tasks (taking the Martian expedition out of the picture) are many small cheap starts.
  10. Mikhail3 13 January 2020 09: 41 New
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    Very interesting. The first for many years REALLY interesting article on the space theme.