Dubbed the "Cislunar 1,000 Vision," an initiative outlined by American launch provider ULA (United Launch Alliance) foresees a self-sustaining economy that supports 1,000 people living and working in Earth-moon space roughly 30 years from now. The basic outline is to develop re-fueling capability in Earth-moon space, perhaps by propellant made using water extracted from the moon or asteroids. This, in turn, will make it more economically feasible to get to destinations more distant. From the Space.com article:
For example, a rocket could carry just enough fuel to get to low Earth orbit and then refuel its upper stage in space to get a payload to the much more distant geosynchronous transfer orbit.
"I can potentially do that whole mission cheaper if I can get propellant cheap enough in low Earth orbit," Sowers said. George Sowers is vice president of advanced programs for Colorado-based ULA.
The concept stems from an analysis and ongoing technical work by ULA involving a souped-up Centaur rocket stage called ACES (Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage), a tanker called XEUS, and a "kit" that augments an ACES stage, allowing the vehicle to land horizontally on the lunar surface and to be stocked with moon-mined fuel for transport.
ULA will solicit proposals for ACES' upper-stage engines, tapping the technologies of aerospace companies such as Aerojet Rocketdyne, XCOR Aerospace and Blue Origin. And the U.S. Air Force is supporting some ACES work under rocket propulsion system contracts, Sowers said.
"There's a lot of activity ongoing," he said, "and we're designing a Vulcan booster to accommodate the ACES upper stage."
Vulcan is ULA's next-generation launch system. [Vulcan Rocket: ULA Unveils New Modular Launch System (Video)]
"Once we have ACES flying, sometime in the early to mid-2020s, we would be in a position to utilize space-provided propellant," Sowers said.
[...] "For the most part, the only potential customers for space-based fuel have been space agencies. But their timelines keep shifting, their budgets keep getting reappropriated and the political will to enable this kind of activity 'gets bogged down in bureaucratic zombie zones,' [mining technologies and robotics provider Dale] Boucher said. [,,,] "the ULA plan enables commercialization in deeper space and provides risk reductions for space-agency-sponsored missions."
Let's just throw this old thing at the Moon and call it a day:
A cargo container that was built to fly on NASA's space shuttles is being repurposed as a prototype for a deep space habitat.
Lockheed Martin announced it will refurbish the Donatello multi-purpose logistics module (MLPM), transforming from it from its original, unrealized role as a supply conveyor for the International Space Station to a test and training model of a living area for astronauts working beyond Earth orbit. The work is being done under a public-private partnership between the aerospace corporation and NASA.
"We are excited to work with NASA to repurpose a historic piece of flight hardware," said Bill Pratt, Lockheed Martin's program manager for the deep space habitat contract, in a statement.
Donatello was one of three MPLMs that was designed to fly in the space shuttle payload bay to transfer cargo to the station. Built by the Italian Space Agency under a contract with NASA, two modules, Leonardo and Raffaello, flew on 12 shuttle missions between 2001 and 2011.
Also at Popular Mechanics.
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