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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, Insightful) by GreatAuntAnesthesia on Friday January 12 2018, @10:18AM (11 children)

    by GreatAuntAnesthesia (3275) on Friday January 12 2018, @10:18AM (#621325) Journal

    Crash it into the moon. The resulting scrap / slag on the surface might be very useful to a future moonbase: Many elements are scarce up there, having a known source of them might be handy.

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  • (Score: 4, Interesting) by takyon on Friday January 12 2018, @10:29AM (10 children)

    by takyon (881) Subscriber Badge <{takyon} {at} {soylentnews.org}> on Friday January 12 2018, @10:29AM (#621329) Journal

    Having an intact pressurized module would also be handy. Why not just land it on the Moon's surface? It would also keep scarce elements - such as oxygen - from escaping.

    How to Get Back to the Moon in 4 Years--This Time to Stay [scientificamerican.com]

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    • (Score: 4, Informative) by isostatic on Friday January 12 2018, @11:19AM (8 children)

      by isostatic (365) on Friday January 12 2018, @11:19AM (#621336) Journal

      From LEO, Delta V to the moon is about 6km/s - I think that would be a soft landing. Delta V to LLO which I'd assume could be a lunar impact is about 4km/s. Delta V to land on earth is about 0.1km/s.

      So you'd need 40 times the delta-V to crash the ISS into the moon, and 60 times to land it.

      • (Score: 1, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 12 2018, @03:17PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 12 2018, @03:17PM (#621397)

        Youve been playing too much kerbels :D

      • (Score: 4, Insightful) by GreatAuntAnesthesia on Friday January 12 2018, @03:35PM (6 children)

        by GreatAuntAnesthesia (3275) on Friday January 12 2018, @03:35PM (#621402) Journal

        If your idea of a "soft landing" for a house-sized object not designed to land on anything, ever touching down on a rocky, hostile surface is 100 metres per second then remind me never to fly with you. Or drive. Hell, I'm not sure I'd trust you with a skateboard.

        More seriously, I had assumed that landing it would be prohibitively difficult. I guess you might be able to remove the modules and ferry them down one by one aboard some specially designed lunar shuttle. Seems like inflatable habitats would be a far better RoI though.

        • (Score: 2) by Grishnakh on Friday January 12 2018, @06:26PM (4 children)

          by Grishnakh (2831) on Friday January 12 2018, @06:26PM (#621475)

          We need to just build a Space Elevator on the moon. On Earth, it isn't really feasible at this time because of the tensile strength needed, plus some other factors (atmospheric problems, etc.). But on the Moon, it's totally feasible; the gravity is far less so the material strength is easily achievable, and there's no atmosphere to get in the way.

          • (Score: 2) by dry on Friday January 12 2018, @11:11PM (3 children)

            by dry (223) on Friday January 12 2018, @11:11PM (#621599) Journal

            How long would a lunar space elevator have to be? Geostationary or rather Selenastationary orbit is 250,000 odd miles (the Earth is stationary).
            Perhaps a Lagrange point? 56000 km to L1 and 67000 to L2, or about double with no counter weight. According to wiki, a 1000kg counterweight means an extra 26000km for L1, so about 82000km. L2 is worse, 120000km total with a 1000kg counterweight.
            It does seem possible with current commercial materials but still a cable as long as 3+ times around the Earth, climbers to traverse it, etc sounds like a huge engineering job.
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lunar_space_elevator [wikipedia.org]

            • (Score: 2) by Grishnakh on Saturday January 13 2018, @12:15AM (1 child)

              by Grishnakh (2831) on Saturday January 13 2018, @12:15AM (#621624)

              It's not a trivial project, obviously, but it's probably the easiest space elevator we could build in a place where we have an interest. Mars has twice the gravity, Earth is out for now because the gravity is so high (and other problems), etc. The only place easier would be something like Ceres, but that's even farther away than Mars so there's logistical problems with that. The Moon is right next door, we have a lot of interest in doing things there, and the gravity is lower than all the other planets in the inner system, so it's the obvious first step for building a space elevator.

              • (Score: 2) by dry on Saturday January 13 2018, @03:00AM

                by dry (223) on Saturday January 13 2018, @03:00AM (#621660) Journal

                Still be easier to use a linear accelerator on the Moon. I guess for practice it would work, build the linear accelerator to put your building materials in the L1 spot and start building. Any which way, it is going to take quite a bit of lunar industry to do.

            • (Score: 2) by isostatic on Saturday January 13 2018, @08:24PM

              by isostatic (365) on Saturday January 13 2018, @08:24PM (#621921) Journal

              It would necessarily help get an object in LEO to land on the moon. Delta V from LEO to Lagrange 2 is still 330m/s, 3 or 4 times more than de-orbiting it. If we had 330m/s of delta V then why not park the station at EML2?

        • (Score: 2, Insightful) by nitehawk214 on Friday January 12 2018, @06:54PM

          by nitehawk214 (1304) on Friday January 12 2018, @06:54PM (#621489)

          The real problem is the "60 times" delta-V. That is a hell of a lot of fuel and expense. The reason they want to de-orbit the thing is that it is too expensive to maintain.

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    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 12 2018, @09:02PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 12 2018, @09:02PM (#621560)

      Oxygen is the most common element on the moon.

      Of course that is because the surface is mostly SiO2.