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posted by CoolHand on Monday April 17 2017, @04:17PM   Printer-friendly
from the future-vision dept.

It looks like NASA's stepping-stone to Mars will be a miniature space station in lunar orbit rather than a chunk of captured asteroid.

The agency plans to build an astronaut-tended "deep space gateway" in orbit around the moon during the first few missions of the Space Launch System (SLS) megarocket and Orion crew capsule, which are scheduled to fly together for the first time in late 2018, NASA officials said.

"I envision different partners, both international and commercial, contributing to the gateway and using it in a variety of ways with a system that can move to different orbits to enable a variety of missions," William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C, said in a statement. [Red Planet or Bust: 5 Crewed Mars Mission Ideas]

"The gateway could move to support robotic or partner missions to the surface of the moon, or to a high lunar orbit to support missions departing from the gateway to other destinations in the solar system," Gerstenmaier added.

One of those "other destinations" is Mars. NASA is working to get astronauts to the vicinity of the Red Planet sometime in the 2030s, as directed by former President Barack Obama in 2010. For the last few years, the agency's envisioned "Journey to Mars" campaign has included the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), an effort to pluck a boulder from a near-Earth asteroid and drag the rock to lunar orbit, where it could be visited by astronauts aboard Orion.

But ARM's future looks bleak; President Donald Trump provided no money for the mission in his proposed 2018 federal budget, which the White House released earlier this month.

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  • (Score: 2) by MrGuy on Monday April 17 2017, @05:23PM (6 children)

    by MrGuy (1007) on Monday April 17 2017, @05:23PM (#495360)

    If you're going to do this, it would potentially make sense to put the station in lunarstationary orbit and build a space elevator down to the lunar surface. Space elevator in lunar gravity should be possible with materials we have (unlike an earth-based elevator, which would require several generations of materials science tech to be feasible). This would make mining resources from the moon considerably cheaper, and potentially make it viable to produce fuel at the station, which would be a boost to potential Mars-bound travel.

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  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by VLM on Monday April 17 2017, @05:36PM (2 children)

    by VLM (445) on Monday April 17 2017, @05:36PM (#495369)

    Space elevator in lunar gravity should be possible with materials we have

    Even better using COTS stuff we could get away with zero taper pulley type designs.

    Lunar elevators can never be human rated partially because they're so slow but mostly because if you fall off you die, whereas all you need on earth is a cheap heat shield and a parachute on the moon you would need a whole lunar lander to survive.

    The best part about a pulley design is I forget the exact details but something WRT payloads falling off the elevator it doesn't take much work to ensure the payload doesn't land on the ground station. Something like if you make two ground stations a mile apart in diameter ground zero will land in the middle and since the ground path is a semicircle all you have to worry about is dust and fragments.

    I remember something about taking a lunar elevator to the surface at a modest speed that would be very durable and controllable for the tether would take over a month.

    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by DannyB on Monday April 17 2017, @06:09PM (1 child)

      by DannyB (5839) Subscriber Badge on Monday April 17 2017, @06:09PM (#495396) Journal

      If you fall off an earth based space elevator wouldn't a parachute be enough? Don't you only need a heat shield if you have the hypersonic velocity of being in orbit? A space elevator is just a very tall tower. You fall straight down.

      If you fall off a lunar elevator, I wonder how practical it would be to have a small landing jet since the lunar gravity is only 1/6 the Earth's?

      Trump is a poor man's idea of a rich man, a weak man's idea of a strong man, and a stupid man's idea of a smart man.
      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 17 2017, @06:51PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 17 2017, @06:51PM (#495422)

        No, on a space elevator you have a lateral velocity varying linearly with altitude, from 0.5km/s at the surface (0 relative to the surface) to 3.1 km/s at GEO (2.6 km/s relative to the surface). Of course, if you "fall off" from a point near GEO, you'll enter an elliptical orbit with a perigee well clear of Earth, so the worst case (wikipedia says around 23000km) is when the resulting orbit just grazes Earth at perigee; the velocity at perigee would be about 10km/s.

  • (Score: 1) by anotherblackhat on Monday April 17 2017, @05:46PM (1 child)

    by anotherblackhat (4722) on Monday April 17 2017, @05:46PM (#495376)

    A lunar elevator to luna-synchronous orbit is possible, but cost prohibitive.
    Much cheaper would be a mass driver, but it's still probably more than they're willing to budget for.

    Thing is, the cost of shipping something to the moon that can ship something from the moon only makes sense if there's a lot of something on the moon you want to ship somewhere.

    • (Score: 2) by kaszz on Monday April 17 2017, @09:31PM

      by kaszz (4211) on Monday April 17 2017, @09:31PM (#495520) Journal

      Processed titanium?
      Processed aluminum? (no need for expensive refining using coal plants etc)

  • (Score: 2, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 17 2017, @06:22PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 17 2017, @06:22PM (#495405)

    There is no "lunarstationary orbit", because by the time you get that far from the Moon, Earth's gravity is far too significant to neglect; you have to treat it as a 3-body problem.

    The L1 and L2 points are what you're looking for -- because Luna is tidally locked, they are effectively stationary with respect to the lunar surface. (L4 and L5, and for that matter L3 on the far side of Earth, share this characteristic, but are too far to be practical.) Because L1 and L2 are unstable, satellites orbiting them will need some stationkeeping -- it's not clear to me whether that applies to a space elevator passing through the vicinity of L1 to a counterweight just Earthwards of L1, but either way, it's the best you're gonna get.