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posted by martyb on Saturday March 25 2017, @01:11PM   Printer-friendly
from the status-is-up-in-the-[extremely-rarified]-air dept.

NASA will operate aboard the International Space Station (ISS) until 2024, but there is no consensus on what do after that year. There is some talk of commercializing the station (and a Bigelow Expandable Activity Module is already attached to the ISS):

The United States' ability to send astronauts to Mars in the mid-2030s depends in part on cutting back or ending government funding for the International Space Station (ISS) after 2024, the head of a congressional subcommittee that oversees NASA said Wednesday (March 22). "We ought to be aware that remaining on the ISS [after 2024] will come at a cost," U.S. Rep. Brian Babin, a Texas Republican who chairs the House Science and Technology's Subcommittee on Space, said during a hearing about options and impacts for station operations beyond 2024. "Tax dollars spent on the ISS will not be spent on destinations beyond low Earth orbit, including the moon and Mars," Babin said. "What opportunities will we miss if we maintain the status quo?"

[...] [NASA Associate Administrator Bill] Gerstenmaier, who oversees NASA's human exploration programs, urged Congress to plan a smooth transition from the station to beyond-low-Earth-orbit initiatives, with an eye on preserving U.S. leadership in space, especially with China planning to launch a new space station in 2023. [...] Mary Lynne Dittmar, executive director of the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration advocacy group, warned that ending the U.S.' efforts at the station too early could nix budding commercial space companies, some of which might eventually support the station's continued operation as a commercial outpost. "Applications with strong market potential are emerging," Dittmar said. "Abandoning the ISS too soon will most certainly guarantee failure."

[...] While Congress ponders the station's future, NASA should expand its partnerships with private companies, urged Eric Stallmer, president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, a Washington, D.C.-based industry association. "The NASA investment[s] in these partnerships are already paying huge dividends," Stallmer said. For example, by partnering with private companies, NASA has been able to cut its costs to fly cargo — and, soon, crew — to the station, compared with what it spent to operate its own fleet of space shuttles, which cost about $500 million per mission to fly.

Also at The Verge.

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  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by VLM on Saturday March 25 2017, @02:20PM (5 children)

    by VLM (445) on Saturday March 25 2017, @02:20PM (#484106)

    Its kinda worth pointing out that no matter how cool a Spacex Dragon is, its only 3300 kilos of cargo on the CRS contract for 12 flights for $1.6B vs a space shuttle at 16000 kilos per supposed fake $500M. The $500M is frankly a made up number. The actual program cost for the shuttle was $196B in 2011 dollars which is vaguely contemporary to the CRS contract so "close enough". There were 135 shuttle missions not all entirely successful then again not all spacex flights have been successful either.

    So lets run the math

    First the Dragon under the CRS bulk purchase contract costs $133M per flight in early 2010s dollars, whereas the shuttle cost $1451M per flight in early 2010s dollars. So yes each dragon flight is less than a tenth the cost of each shuttle flight.

    However, per kilo... $1451M / 16000 kilos is $91K/kilo on the shuttle, vs $40K/kilo on a dragon. Its only like half price.

    If you use the fake $500M spec for shuttle flights, the cost per kilo is only $30K/kilo which is cheaper than the Dragon...

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  • (Score: 2) by fishybell on Saturday March 25 2017, @05:52PM

    by fishybell (3156) on Saturday March 25 2017, @05:52PM (#484139)

    There were 135 shuttle missions not all entirely successful...

    Understatement of the century.

  • (Score: 2) by fishybell on Saturday March 25 2017, @05:55PM (1 child)

    by fishybell (3156) on Saturday March 25 2017, @05:55PM (#484141)

    The biggest problem with a new or upgraded space station isn't price-per-kilo, but the total amount of kilos that can be moved at once.

    There really isn't anything that will put a large new module into orbit and attach it the the ISS the way the shuttle could.

    • (Score: 2, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 25 2017, @09:44PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 25 2017, @09:44PM (#484200)

      Yes, but it's not 2024 yet, either; one needs a singularly pessimistic view to think Falcon Heavy won't be flying by then, with nearly double the space shuttle's capacity to LEO (54.4 t vs. 27.5 t, per wikipedia); as for attaching it to ISS, the station has its own Canadarm, so you don't need that capability on your launch vehicle. (And if you're launching new space stations instead of upgrading/expanding ISS, well, include the Canadarm or equivalent with either the first or second module launched.)

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 25 2017, @06:26PM (1 child)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 25 2017, @06:26PM (#484151)

    How the fuck do they expect to assemble the vessel we'd be sending to Mars?

    I'm not sure if the ISS is in the best orbit for this or not, but since it is already 'sunk costs' for getting something into orbit, wouldn't it be best to either make use of the ISS as an assembly point for any future moon/mars manned base/lander projects and/or use tugs to reorient it in orbit if the ideal orbit is somewhere else, rather than spending another 5-10 years building, launching and reassembling new modules to put up another assembly station somewhere else in earth orbit? We're talking tens to hundreds of thousands of kilos of material, plus accompanying fuel storage/supplies that will need to be brought into orbit, secured, assembled, then launched. If we're not doing it from the ISS, where do they THINK we'll be doing it from?

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 25 2017, @09:55PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 25 2017, @09:55PM (#484204)

      No, the ISS is in a terrible orbit, and on top of that is designed as a science station, not a shipyard. Moving it to a sane orbit will not be cheap, even if you somehow got Russia to agree, and it stilli wouldn't be a shipyard.

      So you can spend your "5-10 years" upgrade ISS with propellant storage, extra/mobile canadarms, and who knows what else -- or you can just put up a new space station, designed for the purpose, in a low inclination orbit, high enough to require less boosting (a better use of the delta-v every non-Russian ISS mission currently wastes on plane changes), and be happy.