Beyond ISS – Part Two

Last time we talked about using the Bigelow modules for our international space station replacement.

Bigelow Expandable Activity Module
Bigelow Expandable Activity Module

Today we are going to take a detailed look at the Bigelow modules specifically the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) which is scheduled to fly to the International Space Station (ISS) later this year with the SpaceX CRS-8 Dragon launch.  Once it arrives at the station it will be removed from the trunk and attached to the station where it will be inflated to its operational size.

At present all the modules on the ISS are based on a fixed structure, on the US side of the station these were all launched in the cargo bay of the Space Shuttle and attached using a combination of the station and shuttles robot arms.  As the name implies the new module is expandable, from it launch size of 5.7 feet long and diameter of 7.75 feet it will be filled with air and grow to 12 feet long with a diameter of 10.5 feet.

It is scheduled to spend two years attached to the station during which time tests will be performed to determine how it stands up to the rigors of space.  Most of the time the hatch to the module will be closed, however the crew will access the module to perform additional tests.  At the end of the two years the module will be detached and ejected into space where it will burn up in the atmosphere.  Personally we would like it to stay on the station or be replaced by a bigger version at the end of the two years.

So why use an expandable module?  The biggest advantage of an expandable module is the reduced size during launch, while launch vehicles are getting more powerful it still costs a lot of money to get vehicles into space, by reducing the size the costs go down too.

Why hasn’t this been done before?  NASA originally planned to have an expandable habitat module, called TransHab, attached to the ISS. This was abandoned after congress banned NASA from continuing development due to raising costs.  The technology was then purchased by Bigelow who have launched two independent un-crewed vehicles based on the design.

How does it work?  Once the module is in space air will be used to inflate it to its full size, to allow this the outside of the module is made of a flexible material.  The core systemsnneeded for the module are located in the middle with the rest of the expanded space available for the crew to work in.

But what about space debris and micro meteors?  This is one of the biggest challenges faced by anything in space, to ensure the safety of the module and the crew inside the flexible material used for the outside of the module is made up of multiple layers.  For the TransHab module the protection was designed with successive layers of Nextel, a material commonly used as insulation under the hoods of many cars, spaced between several-inches-thick layers of open cell foam, similar to foam used for chair cushions on Earth. The Nextel and foam layers cause a particle to shatter as it hits, losing more and more of its energy as it penetrates deeper.  Many layers deep in the shell was a layer of super strong woven Kevlar to hold the module’s shape. The air was held inside by three bladders of Combitherm, a material commonly used in the food-packing industry. The innermost layer, forming the inside wall of the module, was Nomex cloth, a fireproof material that also protected the bladder from scuffs and scratches.

While we were not able to get too many details on the design on the Bigelow module we are assuming that most of these details are still accurate.

What next?  While the BEAM module is only planned to be attached to the ISS for two years that isn’t the end of the story.  Bigelow are already planning to launch there own modules some time after 2017 and we foresee this technology being used for more than just orbital stations.  As we reach out further into the Solar System we are going to need vehicles that can provide adequate space for the crew to live as they travel.

These module are not just limited to space application either, there is no reason why it couldn’t be adapted for applications on the Moon, Mars and other destinations.  The design would need to be slightly different as the fixed part of the structure would be placed on the ground and expanded above that.   In addition as materials get stronger and stronger the structure of the modules will also get stronger and provide better protection to the crews as they travel.

 

 

Beyond ISS – Part One

Introduction

In six or maybe ten years the International Space Station (ISS) will come to the end of its operational life.  To ensure that we can continue the permanent occupation of space that has been going on since 31 October 2000 we need to define what happens beyond ISS.

Given how long it takes to plan, fund and build a project the size of ISS, we believe it’s time to start the process to define a replacement now.

It’s our hope that this post can start a discussion in the community on the future after ISS and we would value any constructive feedback both positive and negative to this plan.

Planning for the future

The first thing we need to do as we look to the future is determine what are the goals for a replacement?  Should it just provide the same facilities as we have today or should we look beyond that?

We believe we should look beyond just a direct replacement and consider the benefits that could be gained by having a multi-station architecture.  With this in mind we are proposing that at least three stations be build.  Two of these would be smaller single module stations, one placed at Lagrange Point 2 and the other placed in orbit around the moon.  The three stations would provide different working environments.

In order to provide for each of these different stations we would need to work closely with one or more of the companies that are currently planning to mine asteroids, water would be the primary resource that would need to be supplied, other resources would be provided based on need.

This approach would also require that crew providers have the ability to send people beyond LEO and return them at the end of the mission.

Primary LEO Station

For the direct replacement we have opted to utilize commercial platforms (planned or existing) rather than spend money developing our own system.  Where a commercial option isn’t currently available we will discuss plans for these and seeing if a commercial option could be adapted to meet the needs.  This would be the first station that is built so that we can continue our permanent occupation of space.

Requirements

  • Standard crew size of 6-12 people.
  • Temporary crew size up to 18 people.
  • Minimum of three crew vehicles at same time.
  • Minimum of two cargo vehicles as same time.
  • Airlock to allow Spacewalks
  • Pressurized and Unpressurized experiments
  • Standard docking interfaces
  • Robot Arm that can reach any part of the station
ba330-first
Bigelow Aerospace BA-330

The only commercial option currently available to meet these needs are the Bigelow Aerospace modules currently under development.  Bigelow are planning to launch at least one of their BA-330 modules in the 2017 time frame assuming that there is at least one Commercial Crew provider available to launch crew to the station.  Each BA-330 module provides 330m3/11,654ft3 of space. In order to connect these module and provide access points for Cargo and Crew vehicles we will be using inter-connecting modules, these would provide the visiting vehicle docking locations, as well as providing at least one airlock.  Each BA-330 module is self contained providing it’s own power needs, life support and hygiene facilities.

Based on this we are opting to use three BA-330 modules, this will provide more space than is currently available on the International Space Station, additional space will be available inside the connecting modules.

At least one of the interconnecting modules will be used to supplement the power generation facilities provided by the BA-330 modules.  Additional life support systems will also be available as a backup to those provided by the BA-330.

Beyond LEO

Initially the stations that are placed beyond LEO would be single BA-330 modules and would support a crew of four.  Due to the distance to the station additional storage would be needed to ensure the crew had an adequate supply of food, etc.  The stations would be upgraded over time based on demand including the additional of more BA-330 modules or large depending what is available.

These platforms would only be viable if at least one Commercial Crew and Cargo provider could demonstrate the ability to delivery to these remote destinations.

Summary

As the ISS gets older it will require more significant maintenance to keep it in orbit, in addition Russia are now taking about detaching there modules from the station in 2024, if NASA were to keep the station in orbit after this they would need to replace at least the Zvezda module as this provides the propulsion needed to move the station if needed to avoid space debris.  With this in mind we believe it makes more sense to fund the development of new commercial stations rather than creating modules for the ISS and have to deal with older components failing and having to be replaced too.

The views expressed in this article are my own, if you would like to join the discussion on this please comments below.

My Views on Commercial Space

Today during a twitter conversation about the new SpaceX Texas Spaceport one of the people in the discussion send the following tweet.

This got me thinking as personally I fully believe in Commercial Space as being the key to the future of human access to space. The reason I am writing this post is to share my perspective Commercial Space.

Yes during the twitter conversation it could be viewed that I was downplaying Commercial Space, however that really wasn’t the case, I was basing the information on what I had learned this week from Garrett Reisman of SpaceX who during a Q&A session after his presentation at the NASA FISO forum stated that the SpaceX Texas Spaceport would not be used for crewed missions. This was because at present the only customer for Commercial Crew is NASA and to get to the space station from Texas would have required flying over populate land which is not allowed under FAA rules.

Commercial Crew

It is my hope that at least two companies are selected under the up coming CCtCap awards which are due to be announced any time now.  Yes I would love SpaceX to be one of those awarded not only because I am a fan of SpaceX but also because currently Boeing and Sierra Nevada plan to use the Atlas 5 launcher which uses the RD-180 Russian engine, although both have said that they could fly on Falcon 9 too.

In an ideal scenario all three companies would be funded to give the US a huge advantage over the rest of the world when it comes to launching crew to orbit, longer term it is my hope that future missions for NASA would use commercial crew for missions especially to LEO and even as far as the moon.  Eventually there would be no need for NASA to have there own launcher and instead could focus there money on science and exploration.

Commercial Stations

In an article that I plan to publish next month I talk a lot more about this, personally I believe that any successor to the International Space Station (ISS) should be derived from commercially available platforms like the Bigelow inflatable modules or others yet to come.  Smaller versions of these inflatable modules could be used to provide crew quarters for longer distance missions.

Bigelow are currently planning to launch at least one of their BA-330 module in 2017 presumably once there is at least one Commercial Crew provider available.  Once there modules are in space and depending on their orbit it could well be that crew could be launched from Texas or even from California.

Space Resource provisioning

For us to be successful in space we need to establish a reliable way of supplying missions from space itself, this would reduce the amount of cargo/fuel that needs to be launched allowing larger payloads, pair that with inflatable spacecraft then longer distance missions could be launched where only the supplies that cannot be sourced in space need to be included.

So why am I playing down the potential

That was never my intention, however I can certainly see from what was said recently that it could be viewed that way, and will certainly be more careful how I say things in future.

I fully believe that the only viable solution to human’s permanent presence in space is through commercial companies.  I closely follow the Commercial Crew programs from Boeing, Sierra Nevada and SpaceX, as well as what is happening with Bigelow and any other companies that are trying to future the use of space.

Weekly Space Blog 5/16

Soyuz TMA-11M crew lands safely

The three crew members of TMA-11M landed safely after spending 188 days in space, See full article here

Russia fires back over US Sanctions

This week Russia fire back against US sanctions in two key areas, the first was to spurn NASA’s proposal to extend the life of the ISS through 2024.  The second by announcing plans to block the export of Russia engines for U.S. Military launches.

Given the continued aggression in Ukraine is doesn’t seem likely that these issues will be resolved quickly.  The impact of the station extension won’t be felt for a number of years yet and could well change before then anyway.  The impact on launches could hit home much sooner depending on how many engines ULA have already available.  Although there could be an alternate solution very soon as SpaceX are close to finalizing the EELV certification process which would enable them to compete for military launches.

Bigelow Aerospace BA-330As for the Space Station it looks like it might be time to start looking for a long term alternative and Bigelow Aerospace’s BA-330 solution could be a good option.  If planning started soon there is no reason why a fully operational station couldn’t be in orbit and have crew members living on board well before the ISS concludes it’s operations in orbit.

While Russia hasn’t impacted the crewed launches to ISS yet, if the sanctions continue it could result in the US not being able to access the station, while some believe this is unlikely because NASA are paying for the seats to orbit it isn’t beyond believe that it could happen.

SpaceX Dragon returns this weekend

Image of SpaceX Dragon at the station taken by Astronaut Rick Mastracchio during spacewalk.
Image of SpaceX Dragon at the station taken by Astronaut Rick Mastracchio during spacewalk.

The Dragon spacecraft currently docked to ISS is expected to depart on Sunday to being it’s return to earth.  Assuming all goes to plan Dragon will be unberthed from the station on Sunday at approximately 9:30am EDT and is expected to splash down in the Pacific Ocean about 6 hours later.

Dragon is the only cargo vehicle currently that has the ability to return to earth allowing critical experiments to be returned for scientists around the world to continue there investigations.  All the other cargo vehicles that visit the station burn up in the atmosphere at the end of there mission.

Shuttle Engines selected for first SLS Launch

This week NASA announced the selection of four veteran Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSME) known as the RS-25’s to be used on the first launch of the Space Launch System (SLS) in 2017.

The SSME’s had been used throughout the 30 year history of the Shuttle Program and with the exception of one flight where a safe Abort to Orbit was needed performed flawlessly during that time.

Unlike the Space Shuttle the engine’s will not be returned after the launch and will be destroyed during re-entry of the first core SLS stage.

For further information check out the article here.

SpaceIL launch Indiegogo campaign for Moon Rover

SpaceIL one of the competitors in the Google Lunar XPRIZE have launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise $240,000 towards the cost of landing on the moon.  The $1 = 1 mile campaign runs until June 17th and as of today has raised 20% of it’s target.

Exkpress AM-4R satellite launch failure

On Thursday a Proton rocket lifted off at 5:21 pm EDT, however 540 seconds into the flight the third stage engine’s terminated resulting in the lose of the rocket and satellite.  The Exkpress AM-4R communication satellite was a replacement for one that failed to reach it’s intended orbit in 2011.

All future Proton-M launches are on hold pending a launch failure investigation.

New GPS satellite to launched today

Originally scheduled to launch yesterday but delayed by uncooperative weather the launch of a ULA Delta 4 from Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral carrying a new Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite is now scheduled for 8:08 pm tonight.

Expedition 40 Crew head to Baikonur for launch

This week the crew of the TMA-13M due to lift off on May 28 left Star City, Russia for Baikonur Cosmodrome to being final preparations for the launch.

Cosmonaut Maxim Suraev, Soyuz Commander and Flight Engineers Reid Wiseman of NASA and Alexander Gerst of ESA will join the current Expedition 40 crew onboard the ISS later this month.

Astronomers find Sun’s first sibling

Astronomers announced this week they had detected what they believe to be the first sibling of the Sun.  This star HD 162826 is believed to have been created from the same gas cloud that the Sun is believed to have been created from.  The star is 100 light-years away in the constellation Hercules and isn’t visible to the naked eye, the star is approximately 15% more massive than our Sun.  They have been observing the star for 15 years and have yet to detect any planets orbiting it.

To detect the sibling the Astronomers looked for two identifying features, the first a simliar chemical composition to our Solar System and secondly similar orbit’s around the cetner of the Milky Way galaxy.

For more information check out the article here.

Astronomers find odd gas giant Exoplanet

Astronomers have detected an exoplanet that is roughly 2,000 times the Earth-Sun distance from it’s star.  Based on the distance from the star it would take approximately 80,000 earth years to complete a single orbit.  The planet located around GU Psc, located in the constellation Pisces has been observed directly by combining observations for various telescopes.

For more information check out the article here.

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot shrinking

One of the most prominent features of Jupiter is slowly shrinking, the Great Red Spot – a swirling storm bigger than earth – is now smaller than ever measured before.  Observations going back to the 1800s estimated the spot to be 25,500 miles on it’s long axis.  When NASA’s Voyager 1 and 2 flew by in 1979 they measured it to be 14,500.  In 2009 Hubble measured it at 11,130 and since 2012 amateur observations have noticed it shrinking by as much as 580 miles per year.

Check out the full article here.

Weekly Space Blog 5/2

We are back with our weekly blog, and what an interesting week it has been.

SpaceX announce suit against ULA Block Buy

On Friday 4/25, SpaceX’s CEO Elon Musk announced that SpaceX had filed a suit protesting the bulk buy of Rocket Core’s from ULA.  SpaceX made several arguments against the block buy, including the fact that each launch was four times more expensive than then equivalent SpaceX rocket, the fact that ULA’s main engine’s were sourced from Russia.

“In light of international events, this seems like the wrong time to send hundreds of millions of dollars to the Kremlin,” said Elon Musk. “Yet, this is what the Air Force’s arrangement with ULA does, despite the fact that there are domestic alternatives available that do not rely on components from countries that pose a national security risk.”

Elon stated also that they just want the chance to compete in a fair competition, at the end of the day if they compete and lose then they would except this decision.

Here is the full article regarding the suit.

On Thursday 5/1 SpaceX won a preliminary injunction prohibiting any purchases of Russian rockets engines by the US Air Force.

The full text of the preliminary injunction can be found here.

SpaceX confirm successful soft landing of CRS-3 first Stage

During the above Press Conference Elon Musk also announced that they had confirmed successful soft landing of the first stage from the CRS-3 launch.  However due to the rough seas in the area the rocket didn’t survive long in the water.

On Tuesday this week 4/29 SpaceX posted video from the first stage, unfortunately it is badly damaged and they are asking for assistance in cleaning it up further.  Several images have been posted that show the stage as it approaches the water.

The video can be seen here.

CRS Stage1 - 1 CRS Stage1 - 2

This week SpaceX also completed another test of there F9R test rocket to 1000m, these tests bring closer the day when re-usable rockets will be viable.

ATK & Orbital announce merger

This week Orbital Sciences Corporation and ATK announced that they were merging to form Orbital ATK Inc.  As part of the process ATK will split off the Outdoor Sports business into a separate entity and the Aerospace & Defense business will be merged with Orbital.

Classed as a merger of equal’s the new company valued at approximately $5 billion will be lead by current Orbital President and CEO Mr. David W. Thompson, with ATK’s President Mr. Blake E. Larson will become COO.

The transaction is expected to be completed by the end of this year.

Full details of the merger can be found here.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister suggests US Astronauts use Trampoline to get to ISS

Due to the sanctions that been placed on several key members of the Russian government following the events in the Ukraine, Russian Deputy Prime Minister proposed an alternate solution to America’s dependency on Soyuz to get to ISS.

“I propose that the United States delivers its astronauts to the ISS with the help of a trampoline,” he said.

In response to this SpaceX’s Elon Musk tweeted the following

ElonMuskTweet3

Unfortunately he then followed up with another tweet.

ElonMuskTweet4

So we will have to wait until the end of this month to see the Crewed version of Dragon.

Length of ExoPlanet Day measured for the first time

Astronmers using the ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) have determined the rotation rate of an exoplanet.  Beta Pictoris b has been found to have a day that lasts only eight hours, much faster than any planet in our solar system.  The equator is travelling at almost 100,000 kph.

The full release can be found here.

Morpheus Lander completes another Free Flight Test

This week the Morpheus Lander completed it’s 12th free flight test as KSC, for the first time the test vehicle used the Autonomous Landing and Hazard Avoidance Technology (ALHAT) to divert to a safe landing spot instead of the previously programmed landing spot..

Video of the test can be found here.

High Definition Earth Viewing (HDEV) experiment attached to ISS

Once of the science experiments that was transported in the trunk of the Dragon last week was removed on Wednesday and attached to the space station.  The HDEV experiment will beam back live pictures from the station, and contains four HD camera’s which are housed in a enclosed, pressurized, temperate controlled housing.  While on station the effect of the space environment on these camera’s will be monitored.

2014-05-01_091727
Image from HDEV
2014-05-01_091751
Image from HDEV

The Live Stream from the Camera can be found here.

Boeing Showcases CST-100 Interior

This week Boeing released several new images showcasing the interior of there CST-100 Commercial Crew vehicle.  The CST-100 is competing with Dragon, and DreamChaser to become the vehicle of choice for crewed missions to the ISS.

Bigelow Aerospace reveals full scale model of BA330

As part of the CST-100 unveil Bigelow Aerospace also unveiled a full scale model of their BA-330 inflatable module which they aim to launch by 2016.  Because the module is inflatable four of these modules would provide more space than currently available on the International Space Station and would require significantly less launches to complete.

NASA Deputy Administrator Tours Bigelow Aerospace

NASA Selects new Flight Directors

This week NASA announced the selection of three new Flight Directors to lead Mission Control.  The directors will manage the International Space Station (ISS) operations and are Amit Kshatriya, Jeffery Radigan and Zebulon Scoville.

The full article and bio’s on each can be found here.

British Astronaut Tim Peake launches meal competition

British Astronaut Tim Peake who will be launching to the International Space Station next year has launched a competition in the UK for school children to create a meal that will fly with him to the station.

The winner will work with Celebrity Chef Heston Blumenthal to develop the idea further.

Full details of the competition can be found here

Images used in this post are copyright of their owners.