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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: 2) by VLM on Sunday March 26 2017, @12:37PM (3 children)

    by VLM (445) on Sunday March 26 2017, @12:37PM (#484344)

    It would "work" but its high maintenance so what gets there won't work, and the thermal design is for one hemisphere of toasty earth and one hemisphere of cold space so tossing it into space is unlikely to work well while its in space and orbiting cold dark mars will be cold (although probably workable) and dark means less solar.

    I think you might be unhappily surprised by the boost engine performance where the boost engine is known not to blow the solar panels off the station so its "safe" to operate. Because the total amount of boost depends on lots of handwaving, you won't see anything more precise than "several meters/sec per month" required. If I did the math right low earth orbit to low mars orbit is 6100+ m/s for an ideal Hohmann orbit, which this won't be, so if we figure 100 m/s per month is reasonable given continuous resupply rockets and spare parts and maintenance and do it all by robots because there's no radiation protection and the thermal system is going to be all messed up, that's like 60 months minimum of roughly monthly supply ships to keep the engine tanks full (maybe less).

    I know a low thrust transfer would take more total delta-v than a hohmann. Earth orbit speed is 30 km/s and mars is 24 km/s so superficially that looks lower however you need the additional equivalent of escape to low orbit at both ends, insert massive handwaving its about 3 to 4 km/s on each side so a low thrust would be 13000 or so m/s total delta v as a massive handwaving exercise, I'd be surprised if thats more than 2 km/s off from the actual value. So "eh 130 months"

    A problem with the low rate boost system will really mess up the mission because mars won't be there when the station gets there. So you can't budget running the engine 24x7 aside from lack of propellant if there's the slightest hiccup you got problems. So thats why I'm wimping out and designing in only 100 m/s per month of boost.

    At any rate somewhere between 5 and 15 years as extreme guesses is too long. What arrives won't work even if carefully packed.

    I think conceptually the ISS isn't built for mars anyway. Too much stuff on the design criteria of "well, too bad about the station, everyone in the lifeboat capsules and we'll be on a random earth location in less than 2 hours or back home is less than a day or so if we can wait in the capsule". If you want a million pounds of spare parts, a million pounds of actual custom designed designated spare parts in a high thrust fast transfer orbit would be infinitely more useful.

    The way to avoid radiation exposure to humans is either to move an entire freaking asteroid with 50 feet of solid rock protecting the biologicals, which is going to be low thrust generational type ship, but very comfortable, or closest approach is under 80 million KM which sounds rough but lets say you got 120 KM/sec of nuclear delta V in your star trek shuttle which is 60 KM/sec on each side, at 60 KM/sec thats two weeks to mars. Now put solar observatory thingies around the sun which we already partially have, and do some careful scheduling, its quite survivable... most if the time. The best way is the crazy string of pearls design inspired by the Silk Road on earth where you have stations every days worth of march or so, in other words you're never more than a days travel from a known shelter. This works interplanetary also. Anyway there are interesting ideal solutions to explore almost none of which involve shipping the ISS out to mars.

    If we're going to do a heroic in orbit burn I'd like to see the ISS inclination dropped to zero, which could be useful for other tasks and is so difficult and expensive that it'll cure any desire to try something of even higher deltaV like going to mars or whatever.

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  • (Score: 2) by bob_super on Monday March 27 2017, @06:06PM (2 children)

    by bob_super (1357) on Monday March 27 2017, @06:06PM (#484751)

    We should at least boost the ISS so high that it stays up there until someone in a few decades decides they can find some use for it. We can attach a few external instruments to it, and come service them, even if humans don't live inside permanently.
    That'd be smarter than just letting it fall down.

    I've already said that slow-boating it via ion drive to a moon orbit might turn out useful down the road.
    Sure, it's not designed for it and may just fail, but if it was built with just enough overkill, spending a bit of cash to try to reuse even part of it, is better than watching >$100000000000 fireworks then restarting from scratch. Some of the modules are pretty new.

    • (Score: 2) by VLM on Monday March 27 2017, @07:09PM (1 child)

      by VLM (445) on Monday March 27 2017, @07:09PM (#484791)

      Some of the modules are pretty new.

      One very stereotypically NASA problem is the latency to spin up a program is longer than the lifespan of a lot of hardware in space, which is crazy but true. So if it were boosted into higher orbit unfortunately by the time we get around to using it, that stuff is going to be really old.

      • (Score: 2) by bob_super on Tuesday March 28 2017, @12:32AM

        by bob_super (1357) on Tuesday March 28 2017, @12:32AM (#484956)

        I'll still take one huge old chunk of metal potentially tumbling erratically in high orbit, over a cute splash in the ocean.
        I don't own satellites, obviously.