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posted by Fnord666 on Wednesday March 04 2020, @02:10PM   Printer-friendly
from the what-goes-up-must-go-down dept.

Expanding, And Eventually Replacing, The International Space Station:

Aboard the International Space Station (ISS), humanity has managed to maintain an uninterrupted foothold in low Earth orbit for just shy of 20 years. There are people reading these words who have had the ISS orbiting overhead for their entire lives, the first generation born into a truly spacefaring civilization.

But as the saying goes, what goes up must eventually come down. The ISS is at too low of an altitude to remain in orbit indefinitely, and core modules of the structure are already operating years beyond their original design lifetimes. As difficult a decision as it might be for the countries involved, in the not too distant future the $150 billion orbiting outpost will have to be abandoned.

Naturally there's some debate as to how far off that day is. NASA officially plans to support the Station until at least 2024, and an extension to 2028 or 2030 is considered very likely. Political tensions have made it difficult to get a similar commitment out of the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, but its expected they'll continue crewing and maintaining their segment as long as NASA does the same. Afterwards, it's possible Roscosmos will attempt to salvage some of their modules from the ISS so they can be used on a future station.


Original Submission

Related Stories

Nevada-Based Bigelow Aerospace Lays Off Entire Workforce 8 comments

Bigelow Aerospace lays off entire workforce

Bigelow Aerospace, the company founded more than two decades ago to develop commercial space habitats, laid off all its employees March 23 in a move caused at least in part by the coronavirus pandemic.

According to sources familiar with the company's activities, Bigelow Aerospace's 68 employees were informed that they were being laid off, effective immediately. An additional 20 employees were laid off the previous week.

Those sources said that the company, based in North Las Vegas, Nevada, was halting operations because of what one person described as a "perfect storm of problems" that included the coronavirus pandemic. On March 20, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak signed an emergency directive ordering all "nonessential" businesses to close.

[...] Robert Bigelow said in a Jan. 28 interview that his company declined to submit a proposal [for an ISS commercial module] to NASA because of financing concerns. NASA, at the time of the competition, said it projected providing up to $561 million to support both a commercial ISS module as well as a separate solicitation for a free-flying facility. "That was asking just too much" of the company, Bigelow said. "So we told NASA we had to bow out."

Previously:
Bigelow Expandable Activity Module to Continue Stay at the International Space Station
Bigelow and ULA to Put Inflatable Module in Orbit Around the Moon by 2022
Bigelow Aerospace Forms New Company to Manage Space Stations, Announces Gigantic Inflatable Module
Bigelow Aerospace Unveils B330 Inflatable Module Mock-Up

Related:
Sierra Nevada Corporation Shows Off an Inflatable Habitat
Expanding, And Eventually Replacing, The International Space Station


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  • (Score: 2) by takyon on Wednesday March 04 2020, @02:48PM (7 children)

    by takyon (881) <takyonNO@SPAMsoylentnews.org> on Wednesday March 04 2020, @02:48PM (#966472) Journal

    There's a lot of ideas, but no strong plans. The Nautilus-X demonstrator [wikipedia.org] didn't get any funding, what makes them think Axiom will? Oh, they are Boeing-backed.

    Modules should be carried back to the Smithsonian instead of deorbited/burned. Future stations should be launched with reusable rockets.

    --
    [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 [soylentnews.org]
    • (Score: 2) by cmdrklarg on Wednesday March 04 2020, @07:11PM (5 children)

      by cmdrklarg (5048) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday March 04 2020, @07:11PM (#966636)

      I'd like to see them carried back, unfortunately we don' t have anything capable of doing the job.

      --
      Answer now is don't give in; aim for a new tomorrow.
      • (Score: 2) by takyon on Wednesday March 04 2020, @07:30PM (4 children)

        by takyon (881) <takyonNO@SPAMsoylentnews.org> on Wednesday March 04 2020, @07:30PM (#966647) Journal

        Starship will be capable of doing it, especially if ISS is hanging around up there until 2028-2032.

        --
        [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 [soylentnews.org]
        • (Score: 1) by nitehawk214 on Wednesday March 04 2020, @09:09PM (3 children)

          by nitehawk214 (1304) on Wednesday March 04 2020, @09:09PM (#966693)

          Starship can land, but can it do it with a large payload?

          And, anyhow, it would take dozens of launches to get all the big modules back. It would cost billions and billions of dollars to do it, and no scientific benefit.

          --
          "Don't you ever miss the days when you used to be nostalgic?" -Loiosh
          • (Score: 1) by Ethanol-fueled on Wednesday March 04 2020, @10:07PM (1 child)

            by Ethanol-fueled (2792) on Wednesday March 04 2020, @10:07PM (#966718) Homepage

            We should ignite it on fire with Oxygen and then fire its thrusters to move it out of orbit, viking funeral style.

            • (Score: 1) by nitehawk214 on Thursday March 05 2020, @03:47PM

              by nitehawk214 (1304) on Thursday March 05 2020, @03:47PM (#966960)

              That is the best way to make sure it ends up in the Spacecraft Cemetery [wikipedia.org].

              Maybe set explosives on it to make sure it breaks up into lots of pieces, making it both look more spectacular, and making sure more of it burns up on the way down.

              --
              "Don't you ever miss the days when you used to be nostalgic?" -Loiosh
          • (Score: 2) by takyon on Wednesday March 04 2020, @10:24PM

            by takyon (881) <takyonNO@SPAMsoylentnews.org> on Wednesday March 04 2020, @10:24PM (#966723) Journal

            The plan is for Starship to land with up to 50 tons. Launch cost of a Starship could be as low as $2 million. Not all of the modules would need to come back, since the Russians wanted to start a new station with theirs, for example. Total cost would be well under $1 billion.

            --
            [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 [soylentnews.org]
    • (Score: 2) by driverless on Thursday March 05 2020, @10:44AM

      by driverless (4770) on Thursday March 05 2020, @10:44AM (#966912)

      It's fine, it's embrace, extend, and extinguish, if they set up Microsoft as the prime contractor it'll be done in no time.

  • (Score: 2) by Phoenix666 on Wednesday March 04 2020, @03:08PM (10 children)

    by Phoenix666 (552) on Wednesday March 04 2020, @03:08PM (#966480) Journal

    Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets [imdb.com] provides one road map. It's easier to keep an existing space station in orbit than to send another up. So why not invite an international effort to keep it up and expand it?

    If we want to settle the rest of the solar system and eventually go on to explore other star systems, we need to maintain our stepping stone in LEO. If we hope to find life on Europa, Enceladus, and Titan, we need to maintain our stepping stone in LEO. If we want to mine the asteroid belt or do anything else beyond Earth, we need to maintain our stepping stone in LEO. So, let's maintain it.

    Some day I hope to view the beauty of a sunrise over the Valles Marineris. That can't happen without an international space station at which to assemble such a mission.

    --
    Washington DC delenda est.
    • (Score: 2) by PiMuNu on Wednesday March 04 2020, @03:47PM (3 children)

      by PiMuNu (3823) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday March 04 2020, @03:47PM (#966499)

      > It's easier to keep an existing space station in orbit than to send another up.

      That is a bold statement. What is the cost of maintenance of such a thing, compared to the cost of building new?

      E.g. dumb example - what happens if you need to replace the seals around a window (remember, it's in space)?

      • (Score: 2) by Phoenix666 on Wednesday March 04 2020, @04:00PM (2 children)

        by Phoenix666 (552) on Wednesday March 04 2020, @04:00PM (#966508) Journal

        That is a bold statement. What is the cost of maintenance of such a thing, compared to the cost of building new?

        That is my stock in trade. But caulking around an existing window when bringing up new material from planetside costs $10,000/lb makes a compelling argument.

        The Soviet Union maintained a continuous presence in orbit for a fraction of what it cost the Americans, because they went with what works instead of what consultants dictated. A similar approach to parsimony would seem to tell in a world in which efficiency rules.

        --
        Washington DC delenda est.
        • (Score: 2) by PiMuNu on Wednesday March 04 2020, @04:13PM

          by PiMuNu (3823) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday March 04 2020, @04:13PM (#966516)

          I can only speak from experience - once vacuum seals have been "caulked" a few times, one gets to a system that is more sealant than metal... at some point it is expedient to build new.

          My experience comes from vacuum seals in particle accelerators, so different regime...

        • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Wednesday March 04 2020, @05:34PM

          by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday March 04 2020, @05:34PM (#966554) Journal

          Your last paragraph almost sounds like you might be thinking of SpaceX.

          --
          I get constant rejection even though the compiler is supposed to accept constants.
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 04 2020, @04:00PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 04 2020, @04:00PM (#966507)

      "Stepping stones" are really "stumbling blocks." This is best illustrated by the Shuttle missions to the Hubble after the Columbia accident. NASA had to keep a rescue mission on standby because the Shuttle couldn't go to the ISS in case of emergency - even though the ISS is in a lower orbit than Hubble and is conceptually "on the way."

      The thing that people constantly seem to misunderstand about space travel is that there is no such thing as "on the way" in space. Of course this does not stop people from pretending there is. Even if you are literally flying right past something, it is still not on the way for any purpose other than maybe taking a quick picture as you go by.

    • (Score: 5, Insightful) by takyon on Wednesday March 04 2020, @04:18PM (3 children)

      by takyon (881) <takyonNO@SPAMsoylentnews.org> on Wednesday March 04 2020, @04:18PM (#966518) Journal

      The ISS is from the previous era. Reusable rockets change everything. NASA will be able to launch a station with 10x the volume at 1/10th the cost. They can take into account decades of new technologies and lessons learned from operating the ISS. If the ISS's components are actually past their prime, there's no problem with launching another station. Possibly one with modules built to last longer and with enough redundancy so that they can be swapped out indefinitely when required.

      It is not clear that the ISS is needed to do all of those cool things. The stepping stone is a rocket that can be refueled in-orbit. You don't need to stop at the ISS to go to Ceres, Enceladus, Titan, etc.

      --
      [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 [soylentnews.org]
      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 04 2020, @09:24PM (2 children)

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 04 2020, @09:24PM (#966703)

        > NASA will be able to launch a station with 10x the volume at 1/10th the cost.

        That is what they said for the shuttles too ;-)

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 04 2020, @10:56PM (1 child)

          by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 04 2020, @10:56PM (#966735)

          Only 5 astronauts traing for years and a complete rebuild of 1970s tech every launch. Sure costs sure were way down on that. Thanks Al Gore.

          • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 05 2020, @12:07AM

            by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 05 2020, @12:07AM (#966759)

            Al Gore? He was in college when the Shuttle was designed. If you want to pin responsibility for ending Apollo and the focus on the Shuttle on one person, Richard Nixon is the guy you are 6.

    • (Score: 2) by ElizabethGreene on Wednesday March 04 2020, @06:20PM

      by ElizabethGreene (6748) on Wednesday March 04 2020, @06:20PM (#966594)

      Our little stepping stone in LEO is at an inconvenient orbital inclination for missions to Europa, Enceladus, and Titan so we certainly won't be launching missions from it. It's also at too low of an orbit for me to be comfortable using it as a biocontainment facility for looking at possible life samples from other worlds.

      It should exist as long as the science it produces justifies its cost. Beyond that, IMHO, it's time for commercial stations to fill the gap.

      If it's unclear why, keep in mind that it's been hanging there continuously occupied for 20 years, astronauts work out for more than an hour a day, and it doesn't have a shower.

  • (Score: 2) by aiwarrior on Wednesday March 04 2020, @03:24PM (8 children)

    by aiwarrior (1812) on Wednesday March 04 2020, @03:24PM (#966487) Journal

    What is the DeltaV of air friction and what is the issue in just pushing it to a higher orbit? Is it damaged or something? Cannot stand stresses required for a orbit change?

    • (Score: 3, Informative) by DannyB on Wednesday March 04 2020, @03:46PM (1 child)

      by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday March 04 2020, @03:46PM (#966498) Journal

      What about on board bacteria that grow?

      MIR [wikipedia.org] was de-orbited, in the very same month, March 2001, that Douglas Crockford first specified and popularized the JSON [wikipedia.org] format. Coincidence? There must be a cause and effect at work here!

      From the Mir wikipedia article (linked earlier), "On a 1998 visit to Mir, bacteria and larger organisms were found to have proliferated in water globules formed from moisture that had condensed behind service panels".

      If Vodka wouldn't kill it, then why would the ISS [wikipedia.org] be immune to the same thing?

      From wikipedia ISS article:

      Hazardous moulds which can foul air and water filters may develop aboard space stations. They can produce acids which degrade metal, glass, and rubber. They can also be harmful for the crew's health. Microbiological hazards have led to a development of the LOCAD-PTS [wikipedia.org] that can identify common bacteria and moulds faster than standard methods of culturing [wikipedia.org], which may require a sample to be sent back to Earth.[329] [wikipedia.org] As of 2012, 76 types of unregulated micro-organisms have been detected on the ISS.[330] [wikipedia.org] Researchers in 2018 reported, after detecting the presence of five Enterobacter bugandensis [wikipedia.org] bacterial strains on the ISS, none pathogenic [wikipedia.org] to humans, that microorganisms [wikipedia.org] on ISS should be carefully monitored to continue assuring a medically healthy environment for astronauts [wikipedia.org].[331] [wikipedia.org][332] [wikipedia.org]

      --
      I get constant rejection even though the compiler is supposed to accept constants.
      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 05 2020, @07:15AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 05 2020, @07:15AM (#966881)

        If the station is infested, maybe we should nuke it from orbit.

        It's the only way to be... oh wait...

    • (Score: 2) by Immerman on Wednesday March 04 2020, @05:10PM (2 children)

      by Immerman (3985) on Wednesday March 04 2020, @05:10PM (#966545)

      Air friction doesn't really have a delta-V, though I suppose you could calculate the delta-V loss per hour or year for a given orbit.

      And really, there shouldn't be any technical issue with pushing the ISS to a higher orbit - other than that it makes it more expensive to get things too and from the station (basically, less payload per launch), and you'd probably want a weak rocket with a huge fuel tank slowly making the transition without risking over-stressing the sprawling space station that was never designed to take high thrust. That's a terribly fuel-inefficient prospect for a chemical rocket, but doable, especially with periodic refueling (which is a major unproven capability). It could be used as a reason to push development of a modust-thrust orbital "tug boat" designed to operate exclusively in orbit. (Perhaps built around a cluster of NASA NEXT ion thrusters powered by a NASA Kilopower reactors?)

      The big question is, is it worth the effort? The ISS is basically a proof-of-concept station that's gradually grown over the last 20 years, with the primary mission really being to study the mental and physical health of the inhabitants. Technology has advanced a lot since it started, in a whole lot of different directions, and we're about ready to start building space stations that do something a lot more useful. If the ISS can't be readily upgraded in that direction, then it probably makes a lot more sense to scavenge the useful modules for a new space station, and dispose of the rest. Especially given that a lot of the core modules have now been operating considerably longer than they were originally designed for.

      Not to mention the fact that our launch potential is poised to shortly return to payload capacities that we haven't had since the Saturn V last flew in 1973, long before anything on the ISS was launched. Basically, we're about to be able to launch much larger space station modules into orbit than anything on the ISS, far more cheaply than ever before (assuming the SpaceX Starship eventually succeeds). The ongoing value of the ISS itself is very much in doubt. I mean - consider that the passenger Starship is intended to have a greater pressurized volume in the cabin than the entire ISS combined, while likely having the payload capacity to launch the concept design Bigelow B2100 inflatable space station that provides twice that pressurized volume within a thick shell that provides ballistic and radiation defense designed to be superior to the walls of the ISS.

      • (Score: 2) by DannyB on Wednesday March 04 2020, @05:40PM (1 child)

        by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday March 04 2020, @05:40PM (#966560) Journal

        I had gotten the idea in the 90s that the main purpose of ISS (unofficially) was to have a place for the Shuttle to go. Instead of doing endless circles around the earth.

        And the purpose of continuing the expensive (reusable but at what cost) Shuttle was to service the ISS.

        Nice, neat circular thinking. Managers like it and refer to it as: no loose ends.

        Contractors like it because about four shuttle launches (I think) is roughly enough to buy another shuttle. [In Regan era, replacement shuttle $3 billion, cost of shuttle launch near program end approaching $1 billion; but I could be wrong esp. about the 2nd number]

        --
        I get constant rejection even though the compiler is supposed to accept constants.
        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 05 2020, @12:21AM

          by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 05 2020, @12:21AM (#966763)

          You're pretty close to correct. Endeavour cost $2.2 billion, but that was mostly assembly, they already had most of the parts. It would probably have been somewhere in the $5-$10 billion range for a new orbiter from scratch, but they didn't need a huge fleet of shuttles, so the per unit cost isn't very important.

          As for launch costs, that's about right. It cost about the same, inflation adjusted, to launch a Shuttle as it did to launch Apollo, even though it was much less capable and turned out to be not very reliable either.

    • (Score: 2) by tangomargarine on Wednesday March 04 2020, @06:03PM (2 children)

      by tangomargarine (667) on Wednesday March 04 2020, @06:03PM (#966582)

      I'd have to look this up, but maybe they don't want to boost it to a higher orbit because where it is now gives the occupants some shielding from cosmic rays because it's not fully out of the atmosphere or something? It's not like the walls of the thing are very thick.

      --
      "Is that really true?" "I just spent the last hour telling you to think for yourself! Didn't you hear anything I said?"
      • (Score: 2) by ElizabethGreene on Wednesday March 04 2020, @10:52PM (1 child)

        by ElizabethGreene (6748) on Wednesday March 04 2020, @10:52PM (#966733)

        There are a laundry list of reasons that you can't push ISS into a much higher orbit. The hard problems to solve would be significantly increased radiation exposure, comm system link margin, and the power+cooling systems are designed for a ~90 minute day/night cycle.

        None of the issues are such that they couldn't be overcome, but it's a lot of work for a station designed when AOL was still on floppies. There would need to be a very compelling reason to do it.

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 05 2020, @02:38PM

          by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 05 2020, @02:38PM (#966941)

          So the question is which is more expensive: Retrofit or replacement?

          With the newer inflatable hab designs, it is a fair question. Price per cubic foot for those are much lower. As far as utility systems retrofits, I imagine these were all designed to be modular. A few have already been replaced once. And as far as radiation go, Couldn't you just add reflective blankets to the outside of the station?

          So first you have to figure out where you want to lift it to, and then do a retrofit feasability study, then do a cost comparison between that and a new station. The retrofit is doable now, the replacement with futuretech that is at least 4 years off. It doesn't matter what the schedule is for SpaceX or Boeing is. Nobody is going to contract the payload builds until they know the price point to fly them, and it takes a long time to build and test a hab. So the lack of parallelism there creates a bump in the schedule.

          If you consider the time-cost of money, then retrofit is the way to go. There is interest bearing on the delay. And you can fly most of the retrofit on Falcon 9, which is a known quantity.

  • (Score: 5, Funny) by NotSanguine on Wednesday March 04 2020, @07:10PM

    There are people reading these words who have had the ISS orbiting overhead for their entire lives,

    Not on this site there aren't.

    the first generation born into a stuck in low-earth orbit civilization.

    There. FTFY.

    In fact, the ISS isn't even serving the purpose of helping us create and refine in-space or low/micro-gravity engineering.

    If we wish to be a "space-faring" civilization, we have to, well, go to space. We haven't done that with humans (and that only a "small step") in nearly 50 years.

    Let's not get delusions of grandeur here. Our manned space efforts/capabilities have almost completely disappeared, and we just starting to rebuild them.

    In that respect, we've wasted most of my life. Let's get on the stick.

    --
    No, no, you're not thinking; you're just being logical. --Niels Bohr
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