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posted by mrpg on Friday January 12 2018, @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?


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  • (Score: 4, Interesting) by hemocyanin on Friday January 12 2018, @06:57AM (22 children)

    by hemocyanin (186) Subscriber Badge on Friday January 12 2018, @06:57AM (#621292)

    Why intentionally destroy it? Is there a cost involved in letting it stay aloft -- does it need propellant to maintain orbit? If there is no cost to leaving it there, why not just abandon it so that others could use it?

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  • (Score: 1, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 12 2018, @07:08AM (12 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 12 2018, @07:08AM (#621293)

    does it need propellant to maintain orbit?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Space_Station#Orbit [wikipedia.org]

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 12 2018, @07:32AM (5 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 12 2018, @07:32AM (#621297)

      If it won't be occupied, use the extra power to drive an ion engine.

      • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 12 2018, @08:13AM (4 children)

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 12 2018, @08:13AM (#621300)

        They can solve this by putting it at the moon where they want a station anyway and there is no station-keeping needed.

        • (Score: 1) by nitehawk214 on Friday January 12 2018, @06:18PM (3 children)

          by nitehawk214 (1304) on Friday January 12 2018, @06:18PM (#621473)

          I don't think you realize just how low of an orbit ISS occupies. Getting the whole thing to the moon would take dozens of launches for just the propellant.

          --
          "Don't you ever miss the days when you used to be nostalgic?" -Loiosh
          • (Score: 3, Interesting) by bob_super on Friday January 12 2018, @07:36PM

            by bob_super (1357) on Friday January 12 2018, @07:36PM (#621505)

            But raising it a few hundred km would reduce the orbital decay to the point where an ion-engine fed by plasma made from non-recyclable stuff would keep it up forever (ish).

            It's too low because of the Space Shuttle, and it's on a weird orbit because of Baikonour. One is gone, the other should not be a requirement by 2028.

            "Just" push it up continuously.

          • (Score: 2) by takyon on Sunday January 14 2018, @01:15AM (1 child)

            by takyon (881) Subscriber Badge <{takyon} {at} {soylentnews.org}> on Sunday January 14 2018, @01:15AM (#622032) Journal

            This is where something like the BFR would come in handy. Greater payload than SLS Block 2 or Saturn V even in fully reusable mode, designed for in-orbit refueling and complete reusability. Expected to be cheaper than a Falcon 9 launch (every Falcon 9 chucks the second stage into the ocean).

            BFR might fly by 2024, certainly by 2028.

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            • (Score: 1) by nitehawk214 on Thursday January 18 2018, @09:27PM

              by nitehawk214 (1304) on Thursday January 18 2018, @09:27PM (#624410)

              Then we wouldn't need to save the ISS. We could simply launch a new (bigger) space station with a single BFR.

              --
              "Don't you ever miss the days when you used to be nostalgic?" -Loiosh
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 12 2018, @08:47AM (5 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 12 2018, @08:47AM (#621309)

      Wouldn't it be better to put it in a Lagrangian point? That way it would be easier salvageable in the future.

      • (Score: 2) by takyon on Friday January 12 2018, @08:56AM (1 child)

        by takyon (881) Subscriber Badge <{takyon} {at} {soylentnews.org}> on Friday January 12 2018, @08:56AM (#621310) Journal

        If we want humans in it, it should probably be sent to the Moon which is closer than any of the Lagrangian points. Humans could evacuate the station back to Earth or to a habitat/shelter on the lunar surface. We are already planning to put a space station in lunar orbit. Even if the entire thing can't be reused in the Deep Space Gateway, newer modules like BEAM could be easily reused.

        The Moon has "frozen orbits" [wikipedia.org] that could allow objects to orbit "indefinitely".

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        • (Score: 4, Touché) by maxwell demon on Friday January 12 2018, @06:03PM

          by maxwell demon (1608) Subscriber Badge on Friday January 12 2018, @06:03PM (#621466) Journal

          If we want humans in it, it should probably be sent to the Moon which is closer than any of the Lagrangian points.

          There is a Lagrangian point between Earth and Moon. Granted, it is unstable, but it is certainly closer to Earth than the Moon.

          --
          The Tao of math: The numbers you can count are not the real numbers.
      • (Score: 3, Informative) by c0lo on Friday January 12 2018, @08:57AM (1 child)

        by c0lo (156) on Friday January 12 2018, @08:57AM (#621311)

        Not enough power to put it on a higher (low drag) orbit and you want it on a lagrangean.

        • (Score: 2) by bob_super on Friday January 12 2018, @07:51PM

          by bob_super (1357) on Friday January 12 2018, @07:51PM (#621514)

          Doesn't Superman owe the US a few billions after flattening half of the city?

      • (Score: 3, Interesting) by takyon on Friday January 12 2018, @09:01AM

        by takyon (881) Subscriber Badge <{takyon} {at} {soylentnews.org}> on Friday January 12 2018, @09:01AM (#621313) Journal

        Ok, there is this proposal:

        The Exploration Gateway Platform [wikipedia.org], a discussion by NASA and Boeing at the end of 2011, suggested using leftover USOS hardware and 'Zvezda 2' [sic] as a refuelling depot and service station located at one of the Earth-Moon Lagrange points, L1 or L2.

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  • (Score: 5, Informative) by frojack on Friday January 12 2018, @07:24AM (3 children)

    by frojack (1554) Subscriber Badge on Friday January 12 2018, @07:24AM (#621294) Journal

    Some 200 million dollars worth of fuel per year.
    ISS actually orbits in the far upper reaches of the atmosphere, because resupply missions would be much more expensive if it was much higher.

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    • (Score: 4, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 12 2018, @08:15AM (1 child)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 12 2018, @08:15AM (#621301)

      Some 200 million dollars worth of fuel per year.

      Because it it costs $10/kg to sent it up there. In 10 years, maybe it will cost $10m for fuel... but in reality, it's not the fuel that is causing all the problem. It is the deterioration of the outer shell due to micrometeorites and general aluminum fatigue. So yes, ISS will have to burn just like MIR did not so long ago. But maybe not, we'll see.... it's really thanks to SpaceX reusable rockets that we can even think of alternate scenarios than no space program at all.

      • (Score: 3, Interesting) by frojack on Friday January 12 2018, @08:28PM

        by frojack (1554) Subscriber Badge on Friday January 12 2018, @08:28PM (#621541) Journal

        It is the deterioration of the outer shell due to micrometeorites and general aluminum fatigue.

        You say this as if it was common knowledge. Yet there have been no such claims in the press.

        And Beam Modules [nasa.gov] made of multiple layers of flexible Kevlar-like materials have been holding up far better than expected.

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    • (Score: 2) by Grishnakh on Friday January 12 2018, @06:24PM

      by Grishnakh (2831) on Friday January 12 2018, @06:24PM (#621474)

      ISS actually orbits in the far upper reaches of the atmosphere, because resupply missions would be much more expensive if it was much higher.

      I wonder if fewer resupply missions would be needed if it was much higher, because of less drag. Of course, they probably already did the analysis of that and found its current position to be optimal in terms of cost, leading them to choose the current LEO altitude.

      It's too bad they can't just build some nuclear rockets and use those for station-keeping; then they wouldn't need resupply missions for fuel. (They'd still need them for other supplies though, and crew changes.)

  • (Score: 2) by All Your Lawn Are Belong To Us on Friday January 12 2018, @03:56PM (3 children)

    by All Your Lawn Are Belong To Us (6553) on Friday January 12 2018, @03:56PM (#621409)

    Last I knew, it's still impossible to keep something absolutely and perfectly on station though one can get hyper-close. Everything from solar weather to the Earth's magnetospheric activity can affect it a little bit. (I'm happy to be told I'm wrong about that... but I don't think I am).

    The thing that nobody wants to happen is someday it becomes a problem that must be addressed because it's no longer maneuverable and its orbit decays; with an object of that mass I'd think there'd be some risk for uncontrolled deorbiting of it. Not if it can be safely deorbited under control and end of mission life.

    Then you have the "Gravity" problem [soylentnews.org] - the movie seemed unrealistic but the object would sit there just waiting for something else to slam into it and cause a greater debris field. We already have enough Space Junk in orbit. And components do age and expire - even physical structures.

    None of which isn't to say that if elements can be reasonably recycled (the Russians seem to have plans along that line) it shouldn't be left there. It's not a bad idea - William Gibson had a short story in Burning Chrome about people living in orbit on derelicts... But unless some definable purpose exists for it I'd think it is best it is brought down safely.

    • (Score: 2) by All Your Lawn Are Belong To Us on Friday January 12 2018, @03:59PM

      by All Your Lawn Are Belong To Us (6553) on Friday January 12 2018, @03:59PM (#621411)

      Crap... links got blown all to hell. "Gravity" problem was supposed to reroute to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kessler_syndrome [wikipedia.org] and Space Junk was supposed to go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_debris [wikipedia.org] - sorry!

    • (Score: 2) by frojack on Friday January 12 2018, @08:37PM (1 child)

      by frojack (1554) Subscriber Badge on Friday January 12 2018, @08:37PM (#621545) Journal

      The thing that nobody wants to happen is someday it becomes a problem that must be addressed because it's no longer maneuverable and its orbit decays; with an object of that mass I'd think there'd be some risk for uncontrolled deorbiting of it. Not if it can be safely deorbited under control and end of mission life.

      I don't think that's the problem mos people are worried about.

      There are many docking locations on ISS and, and even un-manned modules are able to dock, latch and boost the station.

      Further, its orbit is so low that without constant boosting, high atmospheric drag will bring it (or the remaining pieces) down eventually. I suspect, you could disassemble it where is it is, deorbit the bigger chunks into the oceans, and let gravity take its course.

      What people worry about is an orderly station abandonment in an emergency. Having life boat capsules available won't help in the case of structural failure and collapse.

      --
      No, you are mistaken. I've always had this sig.
  • (Score: 2) by VLM on Friday January 12 2018, @08:35PM

    by VLM (445) Subscriber Badge on Friday January 12 2018, @08:35PM (#621544)

    Here is the legal problem with keeping it up there until it randomly impacts somewheres:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Liability_Convention [wikipedia.org]

    Can't imagine the legal shitstorm if its abandoned, and impacts Iceland or someplace and somehow the USA, Russians, god only knows who else is joint and several liability for damages.

    Imagine if JEM aka Kibo, the Japanese built module, landed on some 3rd party city, this would be like an Apollo or Manhattan scale of project, but for lawyers and paralegals and courtroom reporters. I mean, the Japanese built it, but the USA launched it and didn't deorbit it safely, or are the Japanese to blame for not designing it to deorbit itself or ... ... ...

    Interestingly under the SLC once there's no humans on board any launch nation could use it for ASAT target practice under the doctrine of trying to reduce their liability, even if all the other launch nations want to keep it in orbit. So if the Russians or the USA want to blast something, there's not much everyone else can do about it legally.