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posted by cmn32480 on Sunday January 24 2016, @12:24PM   Printer-friendly
from the time-to-invent-the-Botany-Bay dept.

The recent demonstrations of successful rocket recovery by Blue Origin and SpaceX herald a new era of space exploration and development. We can expect, as rocket stages routinely return for reuse from the fringes of space, that the cost of space travel will fall dramatically.

Some in the astronautics community would like to settle the Moon; others have their eyes set on Mars. Many would rather commit to the construction of solar power satellites, efforts to mine and/or divert Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs), or construct enormous cities in space such as the O'Neill Lagrange Point colonies.

But before we can begin any or all of these endeavors, we need to answer some fundamental questions regarding human life beyond the confines of our home planet. Will humans thrive under lunar or martian gravity? Can children be conceived in extraterrestrial environments? What is the safe threshold for human exposure to high-Z galactic cosmic rays (GCRs)?

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Russia Assembles Engineering Group for Lunar Activities and the Deep Space Gateway 8 comments

Deep Space Gateway (DSG) is a planned space station in lunar orbit. The U.S. and Russia signed an agreement last year to work on the station's development. Now Russia has created an engineering department inside the RKK Energia space corporation in order to plan the nation's lunar exploration, including a possible manned landing:

Officially, Moscow has been on a path to put a human on the Moon since 2013, when President Putin approved a general direction for human space flight in the coming decade. The program had been stalling for several years due to falling prices for oil, the main source of revenue for the Russian budget. Last year, however, the Russian lunar exploration effort was given a new impetus when the Kremlin made a strategic decision to cooperate with NASA on the construction of a habitable outpost in the orbit around the Moon, known as Deep Space Gateway, DSG.

Although the US saw the primary goal of the DSG as a springboard for missions to Mars, NASA's international partners, including Russia, have been pushing the idea of exploring the Moon first. On the Russian side, RKK Energia led key engineering studies into the design of the DSG and participated in negotiations with NASA on sharing responsibilities for the project.

To coordinate various technical aspects of lunar exploration, the head of RKK Energia Vladimir Solntsev signed an order late last year to form Center No. 23Ts, which would report directly to him. According to a document seen by Ars Technica, the group will be responsible for developing long-term plans for human missions to the vicinity of the Moon and to its surface, as well as for implementing proposals for international cooperation in lunar missions. This is a clear signal that NASA might soon have a new liaison in Russia for all things related to the DSG. The same group will also take care of all the relevant domestic interactions between RKK Energia and its subcontractors.

Unlike the ISS, the DSG should not require any orbital boost burns and could reach any altitude above the Moon using ion thrusters.

Here are two op-eds from last year about the Deep Space Gateway:

Terry Virts: The Deep Space Gateway would shackle human exploration, not enable it

John Thornton: The Deep Space Gateway as a cislunar port

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  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by Runaway1956 on Sunday January 24 2016, @12:52PM

    by Runaway1956 (2926) Subscriber Badge on Sunday January 24 2016, @12:52PM (#293916) Journal

    Space habitats will only be a step to the planets and moons in the outer system. And, we will crawl at that - few are jumping on the bandwagon. Only when some mega-corporations have been shown that there is money to be made on Mars, the Asteroids, and further out, will we stand up like men, and walk out there.

    Only when we've developed something that will pass as a "star drive" will we take a step toward the stars.

    But, it's good that we are looking at habitats at all. We certanly won't build a stellar civilization until we've done that! Just put your hopes for an interstellar civilation on a back burner. We aren't going out there soon.

    • (Score: 4, Interesting) by mhajicek on Sunday January 24 2016, @05:25PM

      by mhajicek (51) on Sunday January 24 2016, @05:25PM (#293996)

      I see a fab station on Luna as the most useful next step. Luna has water and aluminum, which can be made into fuel, tanks, and structural components. That way only the smaller, lighter, higher tech components of a vessel need be lifted from Earth.

      The spacelike surfaces of time foliations can have a cusp at the surface of discontinuity. - P. Hajicek
      • (Score: 2) by Runaway1956 on Sunday January 24 2016, @05:46PM

        by Runaway1956 (2926) Subscriber Badge on Sunday January 24 2016, @05:46PM (#294010) Journal

        IMO, factories on the moon, and habitats in space will necessarily grow together. The moon has resources that we can reach far more economically than any other place in the system, so yes we definitely need to put people and automated factories there. But, a moon colony can never be seen as an end in itself, or we'll be sidetracked for decades or longer.

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 25 2016, @09:12AM

          by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 25 2016, @09:12AM (#294254)

          Obvious application for dark side of moon is early warning system for asteroids and other radiotelecope stuff.

      • (Score: 2) by Absolutely.Geek on Sunday January 24 2016, @09:51PM

        by Absolutely.Geek (5328) on Sunday January 24 2016, @09:51PM (#294087)

        One of the big stumbling blocks with automated factories on the moon is going to be maintenance; I work in factories with varied levels of automation (control systems engineer); but no matter how well automated a factory is, stuff breaks / wears out. Planned maintenance is great but it is unplanned maintenance that is going to be a real killer for a moon base; it will be far too expensive to have shift sparkies / fitters just in case something breaks. There will be a bunch of new challenges that come up; it will be an exciting time.

        Maybe the gear that eventually gets put on the moon will be an order of magnitude more reliable then the stuff we use here on earth; or maybe everything will be changed out at 50% of design life rather then 95%; or maybe everything will have sensors monitoring every possible parameter measurable to see failures coming early.

        Maybe there will be maintenance crews living on the moon covering large numbers of automated facilities, but getting that spare you don't have sent up from earth will be a real bitch though. I can just imagine the conversations "Production Manager: why is the factory down?"; "Maintenance Manager: sorry, we don't have a spare for that valve"; "PM: well how long till we get running again?"; "MM: well delivery for that valve is 4 weeks express from Earth"; "PM: 4 WEEKS WTF!!!!, why don't we have a spare?" "MM: we used the last one 3 months back and the order for another set of spares is still with accounting"..........

        Don't trust the police or the government - Shihad: My mind's sedate.
        • (Score: 1) by khallow on Monday January 25 2016, @02:20AM

          by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Monday January 25 2016, @02:20AM (#294179) Journal
          I think the approach here will be that the factory can make everything it needs, aside perhaps from some low mass, high complexity stuff like CPU chips which can be stockpiled. Then not only do you avoid a lot of expensive shipping, you also can make more factories on the Moon rather than importing them from Earth. It allows you to scale up industry on the Moon without requiring a lot of expensive inputs from Earth.
          • (Score: 2) by GreatAuntAnesthesia on Monday January 25 2016, @11:17AM

            by GreatAuntAnesthesia (3275) on Monday January 25 2016, @11:17AM (#294284) Journal

            Yup. Also, I have a strong feeling that such efforts will go hand in hand with developments in 3D printing tech. It will be a hell of a lot easier to keep complex machines running when you can just drop a broken part into the recycling bin and have a brand new replacement fabbed (mostly) out of the old materials.

            Many people laugh at 3D printing and say that not everything will be 3D-printable, but I suspect that 20 years from now a hell of a lot of very complex and durable stuff will be. I'm not saying 3D printing will completely replace traditional manufacturing, but it will find its niches (space will be one such niche) and it will be highly disruptive. You'll probably end up with 2 tiers of production facilities:
            - Traditional ones on which are more efficient and can produce higher quality stuff at a low cost, but which are high maintenance (ie require the kind of high-precision parts & tools that can't be 3D printed.) These facilities will be found exclusively on Earth, at least to begin with.

            - Basic 3D printing-based facilities geared more towards easy maintenance. Both the machines it uses and the products it makes are more rough and ready than the high-spec stuff, but more readily replaced. This is the kind of thing you'll find in space.

            Therefore you will have two tiers of products:
            - High-precision, high-spec gear that relies on the top manufacturing tier. Better performance, but replacement parts have to come from traditional factories (ie Earth). Maintenance will require specialist skills and tools.
            - Lower tech products designed around 3D printing. Lower performance, less efficient, but far easier to maintain with easily-swappable parts.

            Oblig car metaphor: Modern cars require diagnostic software to plug into the ECU, specialist tools, precision-engineered parts, specific high-performance oils and all the rest of it. However a car designed 50 years ago is not as fast or efficient as a new one, but you can maintain it yourself with a set of spanners and a bucket of chip fat, and maybe even improvise spares from junk you find lying around in your garage. Which one would you want to be driving if you only had limited and expensive access to the supply chain that produces all the high-tech parts, tools, oils and whatnot?

            Therefore, to get from Earth to orbit you'll use the kind of ultra-efficient, super-shiny, high-precision, high-tech stuff we currently imagine for the future. Once you're up there though, you'll be immediately surrounded by cruder-looking gear that is more about ease of maintenance / replacement and redundancy.

            Maybe if you have a lot of resources (*cough*military*cough*) you'll be able to take the really expensive high-performance Earth-built stuff beyond LEO and keep it running there, but doing so will require a very expensive and potentially fragile chain of logistics stretching all the way back to the homeworld.

            BTW anyone else watching "The Expanse"? Just started it, loving it.

            • (Score: 1) by khallow on Monday January 25 2016, @11:21PM

              by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Monday January 25 2016, @11:21PM (#294662) Journal

              BTW anyone else watching "The Expanse"?

              No, but it sounds like a fascinating premise. One of the problems with science fiction has been either that the science fiction is commonly about dystopian or apocalyptic futures or rather unrealistic star trek futures. The Expanse seems to cover what would be an interesting time for us though it does appear to introduce alien tech as a deux ex machina.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 24 2016, @02:19PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 24 2016, @02:19PM (#293938)

    I assume there will have to be a globally negotiated upon standard for stuff like wall alloys, meter or inches, foot-pound or newton, diameter and layout off mating docks, left or right hand driving and the such before something serious can happen.
    i'm not sure the planet has the resources for every nationalistic pride state to do its own thing.
    maybe we can agree on the world wide lego standard? then again the chinese are already doing cheap knock offs of that.
    who knows, maybe the outerspace/interstellar standard will have to be "negogiated" through some warfar?
    i do hope outerspace pipes wont be inches, duh.

    seems like 250kg water per square meter (yah for metrics) is like 25 cm deep water. x12 would be 3 meter deep?

  • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Sunday January 24 2016, @03:24PM

    by JoeMerchant (3937) on Sunday January 24 2016, @03:24PM (#293956)

    >We can expect, as rocket stages routinely return for reuse from the fringes of space, that the cost of space travel will fall dramatically.

    Been doing this for 35 years... what's new here?

    🌻🌻 []
    • (Score: -1, Flamebait) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 24 2016, @03:48PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 24 2016, @03:48PM (#293963)

      It wasn't even usable, let alone reusable. 14 good people died because of fundamental design flaws in the space shuttle.

      • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Runaway1956 on Sunday January 24 2016, @05:51PM

        by Runaway1956 (2926) Subscriber Badge on Sunday January 24 2016, @05:51PM (#294012) Journal

        That is pretty silly, really. The shuttles completed quite a number of missions before suffering a loss, and a number more missions after. Now, I'm not going to waste time defending the space shuttle program, because I disapproved of it from the minute I heard of it. The whole idea of a space jeep replacing deeper space missions was repulsive to me. The shuttles were overhyped, overly expensive, and ultimately proven to be not as reliable as hoped. Despite all of that, they added value to the space program.

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 25 2016, @02:49AM

          by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 25 2016, @02:49AM (#294189)

          OK, I'll rephrase: The space shuttle was not usable without unacceptable loss of life. Therefore it was retired. Reusability doesn't factor into that statement.

          Call me flamebait, but it's true.

        • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Monday January 25 2016, @02:49PM

          by JoeMerchant (3937) on Monday January 25 2016, @02:49PM (#294345)

          The only thing I "hate" the shuttle for is sucking up the entire US manned space program for 30 years. It was a good ship, yes with problems - and perhaps the Russians have done it (space taxi) better with the Souyz, though I remember more than one "hard landing" for those - at least the crews survived those mishaps.

          Being the single manned program, every time people got into panic mode it put major shocks through the East Coast Florida economy. I'm glad we're moving on, but wish we could have seen fit to develop and deploy the "next big thing" before retiring the shuttle.

          Precision powered landing recovery is a nice step forward, something the 1950s sci-fi flicks all assumed we would be doing, it's a good path to pursue, but I'm not sure it will be the single best path for lowest cost of operations. For that, we really should be looking toward the space elevator, but again, not abandoning all other programs in the meantime while we work out the presently impossible aspects of that scheme.

          🌻🌻 []
          • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 26 2016, @08:04AM

            by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 26 2016, @08:04AM (#294835)

            Buran didn't need a crew. Still, the soviets only saw fit to fly it once.

    • (Score: 1, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 24 2016, @04:37PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 24 2016, @04:37PM (#293981)

      The majority of the launch thrust for the space shuttle came in the form of two giant solid state rockets. Solid state rockets are basically like giant firecrackers. You set them off and a reaction of the 'solid state' matter inside begins resulting in an uncontrollable detonation. Even if these things had been recovered in tip top shape it would take enormous refurbishing to get them back into launch condition. And NASA was getting them back in anything but tip top shape. What NASA was getting back from the ocean was basically two giant steel tubes that'd been bashed on impact and then had the salt water have its way with them. NASA has never publicly elaborated on their reuse procedures for the RS-25s that were mostly responsible for orbital maneuvers, but suffice to say they weren't being put back up anytime soon after use.

      Comparing the space shuttle to what we're doing today is inappropriate.

    • (Score: 2) by Gravis on Sunday January 24 2016, @11:14PM

      by Gravis (4596) on Sunday January 24 2016, @11:14PM (#294119)

      A multistage (or multi-stage) rocket is a rocket that uses two or more stages, each of which contains its own engines and propellant. - wikipedia []

      the shuttle used an external tank and boosters that were expended with every launch. the shuttle is not a rocket stage.

    • (Score: 2) by novak on Monday January 25 2016, @06:32AM

      by novak (4683) on Monday January 25 2016, @06:32AM (#294221) Homepage

      No, not really. When the space shuttle landed, it was entirely gutted, and the engines were overhauled in a process that was ultimately more expensive (in terms of dollars per pounds to orbit) than just building a new vehicle. The reason for this was two fold:

      First, the shuttle as a vehicle was never really that efficient. The insane weight of something the size and shape of the shuttle made it handy for really heavy payloads but poor for just taking up a few crew and some supplies for experiments.
      Second, the engine actually flew to space and back. That's a lot of stress, on reentry. The amount of parts that have to be replaced as a result really hurt the cost because a lot of stuff actually has failed.

      The SRBs were recovered too but what does that really save? A solid fuel booster is very inefficient anyhow in terms of ISP (thrust per weight flow rate of propellant).

      As far as "falling dramatically," you may be right that falling dramatically is an overstatement. I don't think the fall in price will be "dramatic" (at least for those not in the industry) until we either:
      1) focus on much cheaper fuels like in some hybrid rockets (which will need to be developed to get sufficient mass flux to matter for real launch vehicles)
      2) we develop a moderately high speed SCRAM first stage which saves a massive amount of oxidizer and fuel.

      Simpler engine systems such as pressure fed systems do make a difference though.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 25 2016, @04:17AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 25 2016, @04:17AM (#294202)

    How far away are remote miner/constructor robots which could be flown to the moon and work mostly autonomously mining and fabricating structures using local materials? I think that's the future, because sending people and equipment is very expensive.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 25 2016, @05:31AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 25 2016, @05:31AM (#294209)

    While in the real world we can't even go to our moon...

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 25 2016, @11:43AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 25 2016, @11:43AM (#294292)

      Yeah, but why ruin everyone's fantasy? People can't handle the truth.