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posted by mrpg on Friday January 12, @05:45AM   Printer-friendly
from the backups-in-space dept.

Although Russia has plans to detach some of its modules from the International Space Station (ISS) in order to form the basis of a new space station, the majority of the ISS may be deorbited as soon as 2024 or 2028:

Over the course of six missions, the British-born Nasa astronaut has spent more than a year in space. Foale has flown in the Space Shuttle and the Russian Soyuz, lived on the Mir space station and commanded the International Space Station (ISS). He’s carried out four space walks, totalling almost 23 hours outside in both Russian and American spacesuits. These included an epic eight-hour spacewalk to upgrade the computer on the Hubble Space Telescope.

[...] A joint enterprise between the US, Russia, the European Space Agency (Esa), Japan and Canada, the ISS has now been continuously occupied since 2000. And, over that time, has increasingly come to justify its $100bn (£75bn) cost. [...] But the station's days are numbered. Funding by the various space agencies involved is only agreed until 2024. This means in just six years' time, the most expensive structure ever built will be pushed out of orbit by a Progress spacecraft to disintegrate over the Pacific. And the countdown clock is ticking. "Year by year, Russia is launching the fuel to fill up the tanks of the ISS service module to enable the space station to be deorbited," says Foale. "That's the current plan – I think it's a bad plan, a massive waste of a fantastic resource."

[...] Since leaving Nasa, Foale has been working in the private sector on new aviation technologies and believes commercial operators could step-in to secure the future of the ISS. "I'm hoping that commercial space can come up with a business plan that allows part of the ISS to be maintained in space, without sinking it into the Pacific Ocean," he says. "You have to come up with innovative ways of keeping it in space." The ISS already supports some commercial operations. A private company, NanoRacks, operates experiments in equipment racks on the station for private clients. The station is increasingly also being used to launch small satellites into orbit, carried up in commercial spacecraft such as SpaceX's Dragon robotic supply ship. The Russian space agency takes tourists to the station and has even suggested it might build a hotel module.

[...] In the meantime, Foale is formulating his campaign to save the ISS and says he plans to launch websites to gather support to help save the space station. He says he intends to keep pressure on the space agencies to continue to fund the programme. "Every engineer, manager, astronaut or cosmonaut who's worked on the ISS, we all think the space station is such an achievement on behalf of humanity that it should continue," he says. "I'm still giving Nasa a chance to tell me how they're going to do it."

But, unless the private sector steps in, Foale fears that in 2024 the space agencies – and the politicians that fund them – will end up destroying one of the world's greatest engineering accomplishments, not to mention a massive economic investment by millions of taxpayers around the world.

Save it, send it to the Moon, or burn it?

Original Submission


Reply to: Re:at the very least ...

    (Score: 4, Interesting) by Immerman on Friday January 12, @05:29PM

    by Immerman (3985) on Friday January 12, @05:29PM (#621456)

    2001? You mean the *double*-torus from the movie? Yeah - the cost of the ISS is going to be a rounding error compared to that for the forseeable future.

    Firstly, it's HUGE - 300m diameter, meaning 942m around. Times two, since there's two tori, so about 1900m of linear space station. In comparison, the ISS would be maybe 150m long if the modules were all aligned end-to-end (not counting solar panels).

    Secondly, if you're not making something out of interlocking modules, then you need to build it in orbit. Which means you need orbital construction infrastructure - assembly and vacuum-tight welding of Earth-made components at the very least. Which means either extremely dextrous robots (probably remote operated via VR would be the most effective method at this point), or humans being paid well enough to do work that's strenuous and moderately dangerous on Earth in an environment that makes it far more strenuous and dangerous.

    Then there's the finishing work - which is actually probably the majority of the construction. After all, you wouldn't want to live in a office building that was only the structural girders and weather-tight shell. That part is really only a minor portion of the overall construction effort - floors, walls, plumbing, electrical,etc,etc,etc - all that needs to be done too, and while it's a lot safer now that you have an airtight shell around you, it's no less strenuous.

    Basically, modularity means you can build the components here on Earth, where things are simple, safe, and we have a huge existing infrastructure, and then just plug them in in orbit. And now the BEAM inflatable modules have been proven spaceworthy, and we'll hopefully soon have the BFR that can handle really huge payloads for the first time since the Saturn V was launched in 1973, so that much larger modules can be launched. Basically life is looking good for modularity.

    Honestly, I don't really understand your objection - even Earthside construction is moving more and more towards modularity. It makes construction considerably faster and cheaper when you can just do minimal assembly of standardized factory-produced components. Lego was on to something.

    As for tori -a torus absolutely makes sense if you're looking to live in orbit, rather than have a useful microgravity lab that you happen to live in. Right now there's not a lot of call for that - I mean, what would be the point? You spend an outlandish amount getting to orbit, and then have accelerations and Coriolis effects interfering with everything you went to orbit to achieve. But hey, you get that sweet view and radiation bombardment while you're there!

    When we are ready though - then I expect to see tori become quite popular. But I wouldn't be at all surprised to see them still being made modularly for quite some time. Picture a bunch of Bigelow inflatable modules, as large as you like, daisy-chained into a ring with angled connectors, with a carbon fiber net around the outside to supply the necessary tension to keep it from ripping itself apart as you spun it up to speed. The advantage being that you can build such a station practically overnight in any size that you like, using standardized modules into which standardized interiors can be installed to suit your specific needs. And if any module fails beyond the value of repairing it, well you just hop down to the store and buy a replacement, and transfer over all the sub-modules that are still in good working order.

    Actually constructing a space station in place is one of those things I doubt will become appealing until we've got asteroid mining and manufacturing facilities working smoothly - at which point it starts making sense to use the available materials right where they are. Giant cast-iron pressure vessels or what have you. Even then though, I suspect compatibility with standard modular components would be a high priority, because why would you want to cut yourself off from all those readily available components for future expansion on down the road?

    As an analogy, integrated proprietary smart phones have become quite popular for convenience, but modular PCs aren't going anywhere for serious workhorse applications. And even the mobile devices are chock full of standardized modular components, even if they are all soldered into a proprietary skeleton and skin that prevents you from being able to upgrade them or replace failed components. And while you van get away with that for a $300 phone, or even a $1000 one with enough marketing, it starts looking like a much worse deal for a piece of multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure that you hope will last for at least at east a few decades, and maybe even centuries or more.

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