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
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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.

Weekly Space Blog 6/13

Orbital ISS Launched Delayed again

The ORB-2 Cygnus cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS) has been delayed again due to the on-going investigation into an AJ26 engine failure last month during testing.  The Antares rocket which launches the Cygnus spacecraft uses two of the AJ26 engines on the first stage to orbit.

The new No Earlier Than (NET) date is July 1st, we will prove additional news when available on the launch date/time.

SLS design change could delay first crewed mission

NASA has decided to change the version of the second stage that will be used on the EM-2 crewed mission.  Originally slated to be the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) stage that will be used on EM-1 they have now elected to use the Exploration Upper Stage (EUS) stage that was originally scheduled to debut on EM-3.  Due to this and the NASA Safety Office and Astronaut Office’s requirement that the upper stage complete at least one mission before any crew and be carried on it could mean that EM-3 becomes the first crewed mission for SLS in 2023.

An alternate option may be to add an additional flight between EM-1 and EM-2 which would be used to prove the EUS therefore allowing EM-2 to be the first crewed flight, however additional funding would be needed to achieve that.  At present there are no future details as to the overall impact of the SLS schedule with primary focus on the EM-1 flight in 2017.

Progress M-21M undocks

This week the Progress M-21M spacecraft completed it’s mission to the ISS with a successful undocking and later burn up in the atmosphere.  The cargo vehicle spent 144 days at the station having delivered almost 2,400 pounds of supplies it was then loaded with trash that was no longer needed.  European Astronaut Alexander Gerst tweeted the picture below of the Progress burning up in the atmosphere to conclude it’s orbital mission.

ProgressM21M

Rosetta Update

The ESA Rosetta spacecraft completed two big burns this week as it entered the final phase of its approach to the Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko after almost a decade journey.  Unlike when it a spacecraft approaches a planet Rosetta will not be able to use the gravity of the comet to get into orbit but instead will need to execute a series of burns to precisely match the orbit.

It is currently approaching at a speed of 17,000 kpd (kilometers per day) and is currently less than 300,000 kilometers away. Over the next month and half it will continue to refine the orbit.

For more information in the Rosetta mission check out the page here.

Two new exo-planets found around Kapteyn

A team of Astronomers have discovered two new planets around a nearby red dwarf star Kapteyn, which is about 13 light years away in the southern constellation of Pictor.  One of the planets Kapteyn c is considered to be too cold for life because of it’s distance from the star.  However Kapteyn b is within the habitable zone and therefore could have liquid water on the surface.  The planet is estimated to be 5 times the mass of earth, and has an orbital period of 48 days.

Boeing CST-100 News

This week Boeing showcased their CST-100 spacecraft which is one of the spacecraft that is competing for the Commercial Crew contract to deliver astronauts to the ISS.

The spacecraft will be launched by an Atlas 5 rocket and once in orbit will dock to the space station to deliver up to seven people to the station.  During the return the spacecraft will utilize airbags when it lands.

Boeing also indicated that further progress on the CST-100 would depend on them getting a contract from NASA in the CCtCap process which is currently on-going.

AAA Needed on Mars for Curiosity Rover

Rover Wheel DamageThe Mars Curiosity Rover which has been roaming around on Mars for almost a year is starting show ware and tare from the journey so far.

Originally expected to take a year to get to the base of Mt. Sharp the rover is currently half way there and clearly showing signs of damage from the un-yielding rocks as it moves over the surface.

Hmm wonder what the call out charge would be for AAA to replace the wheel, sign me up for that trip.

Russia plans Biggest Rocket since 1960s

The chief of the Federal Space Agency in Russia, Oleg Ostapenko said this week, while visiting Crimea, that they would need to build a super-heavy rocket capable of lifting between 80 to 85 tons to earth orbit in order to realize it’s lunar ambitions.

100 Million Planets may Harbor Complex Life in Milky Way

Scientists from the University of Texas have released findings based on the “first plausible assessment of complex life in the universe using empirical data.”  The findings estimate that there could be as many as 100 million planets in our galaxy that may harbor some form of complex alien life.  The article also says that our galaxy is one of approximately 500 billion in the universe.

The full article can be found here.

Author Note: The estimate of galaxies in this article seems to be very high a factor of 2.5-5 times higher than most other articles or current estimates.

Trillion Dollar Market

This week Planetary Resources released a video, explaining why they believe fuel from asteroids will create a Trillion Dollar market in the future.  Currently satellite operators have to pay for total weight of the spacecraft, including any fuel needed for the life of vehicle.

Check out the video here.

Smoke detected on ISS Tuesday, crew were not in danger

This week smoke was detected on the ISS, in the Zvezda Service Module, requiring flight controllers to initiate emergency procedures to isolate the modules ventilation system while the source of the some was identified.   The crew were never in any danger and the problem was quickly determined to be a heater that was used for water reclamation.  The heater was deactivated, a fan and filter was then setup to clear the smoke.

Kepler Candidate List updated

The NASA Kepler project updated the number of Kepler candidates and confirmed planets from 3,845 to 4,254. There are now up to one hundred potentially habitable worlds in the Kepler candidates, 30 matching the conservative definition of a potentially habitable.

HEC_All_Distance

Pluto and Charon news

Pluto has often been considered a binary planet with its largest moon Charon, it now seems that they may both also share a thin atmosphere.  While it is impossible to detect the atmosphere using ground based technology the New Horizon’s spacecraft that is current racing towards Pluto will have the ability to detect it.

We will know more in 2015 after the flyby has been completed and the data is back on earth.

Check out the fall article here.

In a separate article researchers suggest that if cracks are found in the surface of Pluto that could indicate that the interior was once warm enough to sustain an underground ocean.

Check out the full article here.

Dream Chaser News

Sierra Nevada Corporation who are building the Dream Chaser spacecraft that is competing for the contract to fly astronauts to the ISS this week announced a new partnership with Craig Technologies, a Cape Canaveral based company.  The company will be responsible for the design engineering and manufacture of Dream Chaser.

The full press release can be found here.

3D Printer heading to ISS on next SpaceX mission

The 3D Printer developed by Made In Space has passed the final certification by NASA and will now be launched to the ISS on the next SpaceX mission in August.  The printer was originally planned to launch on the SpaceX 5 mission but having completed all the milestones needed ahead of schedule they will now only need to wait until then to see the printer in action.

Once on the station a series of tests will be run to verify the ability to created printed parts in a micro-gravity environment.

The full press release can be found here.

Rumor: Google and Virgin Galactic in talks

England’s Sky News has reported that Google and Virgin Galactic have been in talks for months regarding a potential investment by Google.  While no deal has been finalized it is believe to be a part of Google plans to launch a fleet of satellites to provide Internet access to the whole planet.

The full article can be found here.

SpaceX’s Orbcomm Launch delayed again

The launch of six Orbcomm satellites on a Falcon 9 has been delayed again, originally scheduled for Thursday this week after previous delays the date was changed to Sunday after a problem was found with one of the satellites.

While the problem with the satellite appears to have been resolved Orbcomm have decided to perform additional testing to verify the issue has been fully addressed.  In order to complete the analysis the June 15 launch date is no longer achievable and they are working with SpaceX to identify a new launch date.

NASA’s Maven spacecraft is 100 days away from Mars

The NASA Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft which launched last November is now 100 days away from arriving at Mars.

Check out the mission 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.

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Image from HDEV
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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

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