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Space Technology

European Space Agency Launches New Orbital Supply Ship 129

Posted by Soulskill
from the neither-rain-nor-sleet-nor-gloomy-vacuum dept.
erik.martino brings us a story about the European Space Agency's successful launch of a new type of cargo ship to resupply the ISS. The first Automated Transport Vehicle (ATV), named after Jules Verne, is the "very first spacecraft in the world designed to conduct automated docking in full compliance with the very tight safety constraints imposed by human spaceflight operations." Among other things, it carries water, oxygen, and propellant to help boost the ISS to a higher orbit. We recently discussed NASA's need for a new cargo transport system. Quoting: "Beyond Jules Verne, ESA has already contracted industry to produce four more ATVs to be flown through to 2015. With both ESA's ATV and Russia's Progress, the ISS will be able to rely on two independent servicing systems to ensure its operations after the retirement of the US space shuttle in 2010. It incorporates a 45-m3 pressurised module, derived from the Columbus pressure shell, and a Russian-built docking system, similar to those used on Soyuz manned ferries and on the Progress re-supply ship. About three times larger than its Russian counterpart, it can also deliver about three times more cargo."
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European Space Agency Launches New Orbital Supply Ship

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  • Automated? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Jerry Smith (806480) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @09:36AM (#22692088) Homepage Journal
    Fully automated docking... hmm.. somehow I think the results of the autonomous docking will be significant for other fields. Imagine fully automated units on Mars, to be sent in advance? Fully automated mining on the moon?
    I think this is a pretty big step forward.
    • by WindBourne (631190) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @09:58AM (#22692176) Journal
      The automated docking is Russian. They have been using it since the 60's. I wish America had elected to do this, but we did not. Our approach will be to bring crafts up close, then allow an arm to hook up and pull the craft in.
      • by icepick72 (834363)
        "an arm to hook up and pull the craft in" ... Does America get all its ideas from cartoon factories featuring funny robotic assembly lines?
        • Does America get all its ideas from cartoon factories featuring funny robotic assembly lines?

          No, we also draw strategic foreign policy ideas from the "Kill da wabbit!" cartoon.

      • Grapple arm? (Score:4, Informative)

        by amightywind (691887) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @10:30AM (#22692296) Journal

        You don't know what you are talking about. A grapple arm has never been used to dock a craft to ISS and never will. You may complain that the shuttle uses a human in the loop to dock with the ISS. I think the caution is warranted considering the orbiter weighs 285000 lbs and carries 7 crew. Orion will have a standard docking adapter and can fly unmanned. So will SpaceX and Taurus II.

        • Re:Grapple arm? (Score:4, Informative)

          by pe1rxq (141710) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @11:25AM (#22692548) Homepage Journal
          I think you might need to read up on the SpaceX Dragon capsule....
          It won't be able to dock without help from the station's arm.
        • by Keebler71 (520908)
          The COTS participants, SpaceX and until recently RpK were going to perform autonomous rendezvous, stop short of docking and then would be berthed by the station's arm.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Somegeek (624100)
          "and never will." seems a bit strong. Here's a link to a video clip on SpaceX's website showing a simulation of their Dragon capsule approaching ISS, being captured and then docked by the station's arm.

          http://www.spacex.com/00Graphics/Videos/Dragon_ISS_Rendezvous.mpg [spacex.com]

          Granted, it hasn't happened yet, but it sure is in the planning stages.
        • The shuttle does fly in on manual. But ALL of the new crafts will be using canada arm (which is the reason why I said Our approach will be to bring crafts up close,). Dragon, Japan's cargo, Orbital's newest one, and several others who are shooting for cargo missions in the future will ALL use the same approach. The idea is to pull along the ISS, and then the ISS will run the arm to snag the craft and then move it to its port. This is well documented all over the place. You can google for it. You can wiki fo
        • by Criton (605617)
          Orion might not be able to but it's not big loss as it will not have much cargo capacity anyway and would be way too expensive to use in this manner even the ESA ATV would be far less costly but the spacex dragon sure will be able to perform automated docking but in automated mode they choose to use the station RMS so they can use the CBM to transfer large cargo that can't fit though the docking ports just like the Japanese H2 vehicle.. The Taurus II Cygnus vehicle also will be able to but it's launch vehi
          • The Taurus II Cygnus vehicle also will be able to but it's launch vehicle doesn't exist yet though I think Griffin screwed up again can this guy get anything right as the SS/L 1300 series bus based tug or the spacedev arctus would have been a far lower risk choice. Actually, I would rather have seen spacedev's dreamchaser. It is based on the H20, uses an atlas V, uses the same propulsion from the X prize, and nearly all has been tested. This would allow for ppl as well as cargo. We have cargo via the ATV (
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by moosesocks (264553)
        Yes, but it took them quite a while to get it right, and Russian spacecraft throughout the 60s and 70s were plagued with docking failures.

        These days, they've gotten it to the point where it works quite well, although this certainly wasn't always the case.
        • Remember when they crashed a cargo ship into the side of Mir?

          That ship wasn't carrying the automatic docking system; they'd left it off to save money, and had asked one of the cosmonauts on board to steer it in manually.

          So, for the record: Russian automatic docking systems were already better than human cosmonauts ten years ago.

          • by cmat (152027)
            Hmm, I don't think so. Certainly, since the Russians we're not able to get the same amount of practice (due to the automated docking system) they were possibly less proficient at docking than their American counterparts. That particular case you mention though is quite different from a normal docking operation by the shuttle. The "pilot" in the case of the Mir collision was on the station and not in the Progress craft, and was attempting to dock the craft using a system that had flaws in it.
      • by Cochonou (576531) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @11:55AM (#22692708) Homepage
        There is a significant difference between the respective docking systems of the Progress docks and the ATV.
        The Progress uses a multi-antenna radar system named KURS [wikipedia.org].
        The ATV uses a specifically made video meter [sodern.fr] (PDF).
        • For some odd reason, I was thinking that they were the same,but at the same time, I knew that they were based on different tech. Guess I was not thinking.
      • by FleaPlus (6935)
        Is there any actual disadvantage to making use of the arm on the space station? I suspect that it isn't too much harder to do it without the arm, but it should make the safety approval process much easier/cheaper.
        • that is why they are going to use the arm. It is easy to guarantee that the craft does not cause an issue via some failure. But I still like the automated approach. It has the advantage that automated systems can be join together easier. In the end, it would be nice to see ESA's system adopted for more automated systems.
      • by malsdavis (542216)

        The automated docking is Russian. They have been using it since the 60's


        Although the Russians have indeed used automated docking systems since the 60's, I don't really think you can say the ATV's system is anything but loosely based on the Russian system. The ATV uses GPS and laser guidance (in a pretty different way to the Russian designs).
    • by smallfries (601545) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @10:52AM (#22692414) Homepage
      Nah, the docking computer is for girls. It takes up a ton of space that is essential for loading up with consumer goods for the Sol to Barnard's Star cargo run. Definitely not worth it until you get a much bigger ship...
    • Re:Automated? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by kamapuaa (555446) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @11:15AM (#22692506) Homepage
      Really there's very little relation between automated docking and automated mining of the moon. My telling machine is also automated, but that's not a step towards mining space rocks.
  • See? (Score:2, Insightful)

    See what you can achieve if you don't go around wasting your budget on invasions to satisfy someones cracked idea of a new American century?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Honestly? Every post, slashdot?

      I don't like the war either. I think its a huge waste of money and an important issue. But this post is about the new orbital supply ship from Europe. The only thing this post has to do with the war is, and even the user agrees, the fact it says "European" and not "American". If that. I too wish we could divert all funds from our bloated and un-needed war machine and redirect it to space exploration so we can get off this rock and try out again somewhere else...especiall
      • by VanessaE (970834)
        I don't know how I feel one way or another about all those other articles, but an argument can be made for the GP that, war-related or not, American-related or not, this project shows what can be done if you don't waste precious tax dollars on bullshit such as war or what have you, regardless of what country is involved.
  • The real test (Score:4, Insightful)

    by WindBourne (631190) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @10:03AM (#22692190) Journal
    is yet to come. This ship has to hook up without causing damage. One of the differences from the progress is that those in space can take control iff they do not like what they see. OTH, the ATV will simply back-off if IT decides that IT is not correct. I would prefer it it left itself available to manually doc with an arm once the auto doc failed.
    • by johannesg (664142)
      That's not true. The astronauts tell ATV to come closer, hold position, or back away. They can also ask for a Collision Avoidance Maneuvre, but if it comes to that, it would be better not to be on the space station to begin with...

      But apart from those four basic functions, ATV does the rest of the docking by itself.
    • OTH, the ATV will simply back-off if IT decides that IT is not correct.
      Not quite true. The Cosmo/Astro/Spationuts have a BIG RED SWITCH that they can push if they feel their job security is threatened by the onrush of the modern glories of automated computer control.
  • Not trivial (Score:4, Informative)

    by sammyo (166904) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @10:05AM (#22692196) Journal
    This should be making big news, but I expect they are keeping it low key. The Mir was almost destroyed http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/1087974.stm [bbc.co.uk] during an automated docking trial.
    • Re:Not trivial (Score:5, Insightful)

      by backwardMechanic (959818) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @10:35AM (#22692320) Homepage
      Isn't the key word there 'trial'? According to the fine article, it happened back in '97, i.e. a decade ago. The article is interesting. It leaves me really impressed that Mir had all those troubles, but survived in orbit without killing anyone. This is meant to be cutting edge science and engineering. Things will go wrong. Yes, Mir wore out in the end, but after years of fine service.
      • actually Mir never wore out, it had a few broken bits, but it could have kept on going just fine. The only reason it was destroyed was because it was replaced by the ISS, Russia agreed to ditch Mir to focus on the ISS.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Dun Malg (230075)

          actually Mir never wore out, it had a few broken bits, but it could have kept on going just fine. The only reason it was destroyed was because it was replaced by the ISS, Russia agreed to ditch Mir to focus on the ISS.

          The trouble with Mir was that it was a serious accident waiting to happen. Mir was built on the classic Soviet engineering model of "expediency rather than telling your boss it can't be done without (X) and getting sent to the gulag*".

          * OK, engineers weren't sent to the gulag for that, but it was not unheard of to suddenly be reassigned as Third Assistant Headlight Bezel Engineer at the GAZ Truck Factory for "not being a team player".

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by emilper (826945)
            If my (slightly unhappy) experience with former SU consumer goods is any help, the SU products were overengineered for robustness while consuming a lot of electricity and looking kind of ugly. Could you give me some reference to stories of SU engineers sent to unpleasant jobs because they said "it can't be done on these therms" ?
            • Re:Not trivial (Score:4, Insightful)

              by Dun Malg (230075) on Monday March 10, 2008 @01:59AM (#22697564) Homepage

              If my (slightly unhappy) experience with former SU consumer goods is any help, the SU products were overengineered for robustness while consuming a lot of electricity and looking kind of ugly. Could you give me some reference to stories of SU engineers sent to unpleasant jobs because they said "it can't be done on these therms" ?
              No, because as you can imagine, this was something simply not talked about. Generally, the unspoken threat of reassignment to an unpleasant job from a very prestigious one would be enough. The number of close calls and near disasters aboard Mir illustrate quite well that the Soviet design philosophy tends to put functionality over safety. Perhaps the most concrete example of the "do it or else" Soviet management system is, well, concrete. All over the former USSR you can see hundreds of concrete buildings that are crumbling. Corners are craking, flaking off, and/or held in place with chain link fence material. The problem comes from lack of cement due to over-optimistic production forecasts. A Soviet construction manager would say "we need 15 more cubic meters of concrete to finish this project", and his boss, usually a party idiot, would say "there is not enough cement--- you can have 11 meters, now get it done". So what does the manager do? He gets it done the only way he can. He orders the crew to add sand and aggregate to the concrete they do get to "stretch" it to 15 meters. It will eventually crumble, but it will last long enough for the manager to be dissociated with the project enough to not have to worry about being reassigned for "failure to perform". The post-Stalin Soviet Union had a serious problem in that regard. Granted, those working in the Soviet space program had more room to demand better resources, but the mindset was still there.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Anspen (673098)
            Strangly this didn't stop the Mir from beging the record holder for space station duration.
    • Re:Not trivial (Score:5, Interesting)

      by JohnyDog (129809) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @11:35AM (#22692618)
      You do realize that crash happened during manual docking trial ? i.e. that Progress dockings were always automatic, but they wanted to train emergency manual docking procedure and failure was indeed human factor ? (Murphy's laws in action i'd say).

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shuttle-Mir_Program#Priroda.2C_fire_and_collision_.281996.E2.80.931997.29 [wikipedia.org]

      Foale's Increment proceeded fairly normally until June 25, when during the second test of the Progress manual docking system, TORU, the resupply ship collided with solar arrays on the Spektr module and crashed into the module's outer shell, holing the module and causing a depressurisation of the station, the first ever on-orbit depressurisation in the history of spaceflight. Only quick actions on the part of the crew, cutting cables leading to the module and closing Spektr's hatch, prevented the crew abandoning the station in their Soyuz lifeboat.
  • by l2718 (514756) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @10:11AM (#22692216)
    Isn't it sad that 50 years into the space program our resupply plan for the ISS is based on single-use ships?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by amightywind (691887)

      Perhaps is says something about the ultimate utility of single use ships as opposed to reusable.

    • by ghoul (157158) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @10:50AM (#22692402)
      Sometimes single use just makes sense. The dockyards and land ports of the world are full of containers which were used one wy and abandoned as it does not make sense to ship them back empty and this is on earth, the costs for space travel are an order of magnitude higher. For manned vessels we should be trying for reusable vehicles but for Cargo? I think not.
    • by Lumpy (12016) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @11:10AM (#22692486) Homepage
      And the fact that the Russians with their low tech systems can do it far more reliably than the United states and our "superior" technology and space program.

      The russian space program has been way ahead of us in orbital operations for decades. That stupid shuttle set up back 20 years.
      • And the fact that the Russians with their low tech systems can do it far more reliably than the United states and our "superior" technology and space program.

        That's what many people believe. In reality, no rocket has really flown enough to build a valid experience base - and within the limits of currently available data the difference in reliability and safety between the US and Russia is essentially statistically insensible. (IIRC somewhere around 98.3% of the US and 98.5% for the Russians.)

        • by quanticle (843097) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @06:09PM (#22694860) Homepage

          Right, but the Russians are paying significantly less, both in upfront and per-mission costs for their Soyuz and Progress launches than we are for our shuttle launches. Essentially we're getting the same reliability as the Russians, but paying a lot more for it.

          • Right, but the Russians are paying significantly less, both in upfront and per-mission costs for their Soyuz and Progress launches than we are for our shuttle launches.

            Well, that's not surprising since the Soyuz and Progress are significantly less capable. Buying something less capable is usually cheaper after all.
    • by Daneboy (315359) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @11:31AM (#22692578) Journal
      Yes, it's tragicomically wasteful. I don't understand why they can't design a cargo/supply ship that STAYS IN ORBIT. I mean, sure, let's go ahead and de-orbit the ISS trash in some kind of disposable carrying module -- but leave the ship itself in orbit, and design it so it can potentially be refueled from the station later. Then just "park" it in orbit a few miles from the Station, and leave it there. At some point in time, we could probably think of something useful to do in space with a handful of these -- and we would finally have the "pickup truck in space" that NASA wanted a few years ago. The whole concept of multi-million-dollar disposable rockets is just ludicrous!
      • by jschen (1249578)

        I don't understand why they can't design a cargo/supply ship that STAYS IN ORBIT.
        That could be interesting. After all, they could always be deorbited later if they're not of use. We probably shouldn't keep all of them around... that's way too much space junk near the station. But having a few around (probably the most recent few) might eventually prove useful.
      • by demachina (71715) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @01:08PM (#22693124)
        You can't just "park" a ship a few miles from the ISS. The ISS orbit is constantly decaying and being boosted. You would have to exactly match its orbit to the ISS to keep anything "parked" anywhere near it. If its not doing anything useful there is no point burning the propellant.

        You could maybe make a case for attaching all these ships to the ISS and growing its storage, lab or habitation space, but there are no docking ports designed for this, they would grow the mass of the ISS requiring more propellant to maintain orbit. They would also just complicate power, pressurization, etc so if they aren't doing anything useful they probably aren't really worth it. To make them useful on orbit would substantially increase the expense to build them and reduce their cargo capacity.

        Otherwise this is awesome news and cheers for ESA. It is about time the NASA/Russia stanglehold on the ISS was broken. NASA and the U.S. in particular just haven't been sane managers of the ISS or just about anything else about the manned space program since Apollo ended. Its especially sad all the money that is being poured in to the cosmic ray detector that would actually do valuable research on ISS for a change, but NASA probably wont launch it.

        It remains to be seen if ESA and Japan can make the ISS useful and worth the expense but they sure can't do any worse than NASA in this regard.
        • You most definitely can park a spacecraft in the same orbit as ISS. Where did you learn your orbotal mechanics, on a CrackerJack box? That craft and ISS will undergo similar nongravitational forces. Some station keeping is always necessary. This is what the ATV will be doing for the next month.

          NASA was sane enough to allow Russia and Europe to participate. NASA was also sane enough to launch over 90% of the station mass. Part of the cost overrun problem was coordinating so many more participants than were

          • by pe1rxq (141710)
            I think you have no idea how much 'station keeping' the ISS is doing...
            Its orbit needs very regular boosts. Any discarded spacecraft would need to be capable to boost itself the same amount to stay in the same orbit as ISS.
            In other words you would need to launch these crafts with a shitload of fuel just to keep them up. And only because some random slashdot reader thought it might be a good idea to keep old junk up there...

            It is simply cheaper to launch without all that extra fuel and let it burn once it is
            • by Criton (605617)
              Seems you are wrong on a lot of counts ISS only needs to occasionally reboost also said tug can just remain docked to the station while it waits for a cargo/fuel container to be launched. One of the COTS competitors SS/L had a tug based on the 1300 series satellite bus this tug would have had a service life of 15 years. Though nasa in their presently misguided management choose a vastly inferior vehicle by Orbital which is to launch on a rocket that does not even exist yet which I believe was a very bad ch
              • by pe1rxq (141710)
                Over 4 times a year is quite a lot especially if you have lots of dead weigth attached to it 'just in case'
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        The ISS is in low-earth orbit. So low that it requires propulsion to stay in orbit due to atmospheric drag. If you put more stuff up there you need more fuel to keep this in orbit so it is not for free to "park it close by". It is not going to stay there unless it is receiving a frequent boost from the friendly ATV, Progress or Shuttle.

        • by Teancum (67324)
          Sort of. Yes, it does need occasional boosts of energy to push it to a higher orbit due to atmospheric drag, but extra mass (particularly compact mass) would mean that it could plow through that atmosphere longer, so it wouldn't require the boosts so often.

          The ISS is hardly aerodynamic in terms of its profile.

          The real question in term of the ISS is what to do with the thing once it starts to outlive its useful life, due to general aging of the systems. It is designed to be refurbished in orbit, but at wha
      • by Dun Malg (230075) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @01:42PM (#22693368) Homepage

        Yes, it's tragicomically wasteful. I don't understand why they can't design a cargo/supply ship that STAYS IN ORBIT. I mean, sure, let's go ahead and de-orbit the ISS trash in some kind of disposable carrying module
        They could, but in doing so they'd have to redesign it from its current philosophy of disposable carrying module to that of reusable spacecraft. Then they'd have to design a new disposable carrying module to hold all the garbage, which people like you would again decry as "wasteful" and demand it be refueled and parked up on blocks in the ISS front yard "jest in case we needs a 'nuther pickup truck someday".

        The whole concept of multi-million-dollar disposable rockets is just ludicrous!
        The rockets are all disposable. The spacecraft you want to "save for later" is just the small bit at the end of the rocket.

        Look, this is stupid. Space travel is inherently costly in terms of resources. You just can't look at it the same as (say) driving a semi from Los Angeles to Phoenix. So much has been expended in getting that tiny cargo there that arguing over throwing out the box it came in is just ridiculous.
        • They could, but in doing so they'd have to redesign it from its current philosophy of disposable carrying module to that of reusable spacecraft.

          Actually, the ATV is designed to remain attached to ISS for months on end, with hatch open, basically acting as a big walk-in wardrobe. It's effectively another module while attached. Then you ditch it and it and all the accumulated rubbish in it burn up, and then you hook up a new one.

        • by tsotha (720379)
          Not necessarily true. There's no real reason the rocket can't be reused - SSTO is probably the only way we can do practical things in space instead of the vanity projects we have today. You wouldn't throw away the 747 you fly from the US to Europe - why do you think it's necessary to throw away the rocket that takes you to orbit?
      • by bit01 (644603)

        Yes, it's tragicomically wasteful. I don't understand why they can't design a cargo/supply ship that STAYS IN ORBIT. I mean, sure, let's go ahead and de-orbit the ISS trash in some kind of disposable carrying module -- but leave the ship itself in orbit, and design it so it can potentially be refueled from the station later. Then just "park" it in orbit a few miles from the Station, and leave it there. At some point in time, we could probably think of something useful to do in space with a handful of these

      • by Criton (605617)
        Th Russians are doing this with a craft called Parom and another vehicle called Kliper that will replace Soyuz and Progress.
    • Re-usable makes sense only if it is cheaper and uses fewer resources than disposable. I have yet to hear the case for re-usable toilet paper. Why should re-usable space-ships make sense?

      • At my supermarket I see toilet paper marked "100% recycled". Sometimes I think about buying it, but then, nah, I think not.
    • by Dun Malg (230075)

      Isn't it sad that 50 years into the space program our resupply plan for the ISS is based on single-use ships?
      No, it's no sadder than the fact that 100 years into the carbonated soft drink program our containment strategy has gone from nothing but reusable glass bottles to largely PET and aluminum containers of a disposable nature. Designing an item for reuse is not always better.
    • by Jartan (219704)
      What's sad is that 50 years into the space program we still spend however many thousand dollars to get a pound of metal into orbit then for some mind boggling reason we decide it needs to come back down again just so we can say we have a real deal "spaceship".
  • Containers? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ghoul (157158) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @10:47AM (#22692382)
    When will we shift to containerization of space cargo. Containers have already changed the game in air, sea and land cargo transport. Why not Space? If we could develop a standard cargo space container which could be handled by the soyuz rocket , the Ariane rocket, the space shuttle, the Japanese HTV, the Chinese Long March or the Indian GSLV we would have come a long way in moving towards commercialization of space. Yes we need multiple suppliers of cargo vessels to avoid single point failures but why do they all have to be different designs?
    • If we could develop a standard cargo space container which could be handled by the soyuz rocket , the Ariane rocket, the space shuttle, the Japanese HTV, the Chinese Long March or the Indian GSLV we would have come a long way in moving towards commercialization of space.

      You apparently don't appreciate the payload differences.

      Soyuz = VW Beetle
      Shuttle = tractor trailer

      They are all different designs, because they were designed at different times, by different people/countries. We are still in the infancy o
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by (H)elix1 (231155) *
        You apparently don't appreciate the payload differences.

        Soyuz = VW Beetle
        Shuttle = tractor trailer


        Perhaps a better comparison would be the Proton heavy [globalsecurity.org], which can push 44,100 lb to LEO, 12,100 lb to GTO, 4,850 lb to GEO. The Soyuz [globalsecurity.org] is 15,400 lb to LEO. Not all cargo needs to go up on a heavy, however, as the (relatively) cheap Soyuz do the job.

        The shuttle, payload to 53,700 lb to LEO, 8,390 lb to GTO. It also goes EOL in two years, with optimistic hopes that the US heavy will actually fly in 2014.
    • Re:Containers? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by DerekLyons (302214) <`fairwater' `at' `gmail.com'> on Sunday March 09, 2008 @01:37PM (#22693342) Homepage
      You want to know what happens when you standardize too soon? You end up with lock in, which leads to problems down the road when you learn what you really need. (See "IBM PC, History Of" and "HTML Standards, history of".)
       
      The other problem is that vehicles you list have a wide variety of performance characteristics. A single standard 'container' (vehicle) that fit them all would end up being limited to the least common denominator.
       
      And lastly - competition is good. Competition breeds innovation.
      • Not every ship carrying containers is the same size either. They just carry more of them if they are larger and less if they are smaller. We could have a container carried by teh PSLV and maybe ten of the same carried by the Ariane. Frankly the shuttle would be the wrong vehicle to carry cargo as it needs to be man rated and a cargo vehicle doesnt need to be.
        • Not every ship carrying containers is the same size either. They just carry more of them if they are larger and less if they are smaller. We could have a container carried by teh PSLV and maybe ten of the same carried by the Ariane.

          Size does matter - because for any given cargo flight there is only one docking port available. They can't simply 'carry more of them'. I imagine you could come up with some silly stacking and interconnecting scheme for the containers, but at a great cost in weight and volume.

    • so many people think they can build a better mousetrap, while overlooking the benefits of using a universal standard (like the decimal system, or the dewey decimel system, or screws that tighten when you turn them right)
    • by Criton (605617)
      I'd go with the MPLM as a start for a standardized container and make them in 9,000kg, 18,000kg, and 27,000kg sizes.
      For smaller vehicles maybe have spacex or orbital design something.
  • by hattig (47930) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @11:17AM (#22692516) Journal
    The module is pressurised, so it can be used to carry people. I guess that means that ESA now has gained human launch capability. I don't know if the module can safely carry people back to Earth though, in an emergency situation, like Soyuz.
    • by Woek (161635)
      No, it burns up during re-entry, has no shielding whatsoever. Perhaps you could theoretically use it to bring people up, but it would get rather crowded up there if you can't take them back ;-)
    • by pe1rxq (141710)
      It has no heat shield... It will burn up on reentry.
      • by Daneboy (315359)
        But why not just leave it in orbit? Wouldn't it potentially be useful if we had a few crafts in orbit that could be used by the ISS crew (or the crew from other, future stations) to move around up there?
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by KDR_11k (778916)
          Move where? There's not exactly many interesting places up there. These things would most likely just get in the way, especially since they won't remain up at the altitude the ISS is at (the ISS needs fuel to prevent deorbiting after all).
          • by Daneboy (315359) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @12:06PM (#22692768) Journal
            I agree there aren't many reasons to move around up there today -- but there may be in the future. I'm just thinking that, given the presence of maneuverable ships in orbit, keeping at least one or two of them up there would give us a capability we would not otherwise have.

            Maybe they could be dire-emergency lifeboats, giving the ISS crew an in-orbit shelter where they could wait for a rescue shuttle? Maybe they could take astronauts out on satellite repair missions? Maybe they could be used to to move cargo orbiting structures we haven't even thought of yet?

            Again, I'm not so much thinking of what we'd do with them now -- but it costs a lot money to get 'em into orbit, and keeping them there would most likely be less expensive than launching something else if/when we need an orbital taxi for something.
            • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

              by ColdWetDog (752185)

              but it costs a lot money to get 'em into orbit, and keeping them there would most likely be less expensive than launching something else if/when we need an orbital taxi for something.

              I'll bet your the kind of guy who has every last bit of computer junk you've ever bought stuffed in closets somewhere because you might need it "for something". Then you find out that nobody uses parallel ports anymore ...

              The flaw in your argument is that you think that leaving orbiting stuff up there is "just" simple. And

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by Dun Malg (230075)

              ...it costs a lot money to get 'em into orbit, and keeping them there would most likely be less expensive than launching something else if/when we need an orbital taxi for something.

              See, right there is the trouble with your entire line of reasoning. It's not less expensive to keep a fairly heavy empty box in LEO on the off chance you might find a use for it later. They have to send the resupply ships all the time just to keep the ISS running. You sound like my mother. Stop cluttering up the garage with empty boxes! If you need a box for something, you can just buy one, and then you'll get the right size box to begin with. With the enormous costs associated with the delivery of space

              • by kramulous (977841) *
                Yes, but boxes do come in handy from time to time. When you move, do you not try and sniff out where the boxes are (IP to Seinfeld)? It can be useful to have a couple on hand. That is the reason why 'yo mutha' keeps them around.
              • by Daneboy (315359)

                It's not less expensive to keep a fairly heavy empty box in LEO on the off chance you might find a use for it later.

                Is that something you actually know, or just something that you think sounds reasonable? Having just launched one, we ought to have a pretty good idea now of what it would cost to build-and-launch one of these. Has there been any analysis done of what it would cost to keep one operational in-orbit?

                You sound very sure of yourself, saying that you know the former to cost less than the latt

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by TheGavster (774657)
          I wonder this about all of our "used up" space modules. It's a fairly common near-future sci-fi theme to have fuel tanks and payload vehicles strapped together up in space as the nucleus of space stations; I wonder what the real-world problems are that keeps us from actually doing it.
        • by Zoxed (676559)
          > But why not just leave it in orbit?

          First guess: because it would add to the atmospheric drag that lowers the ISS and/or more fuel would be required for the regular need to push the ISS back up to it's nominal orbit. And it would block a docking port.

    • The module is pressurised, so it can be used to carry people.

      No it can't - because it has no life support capability.

      I guess that means that ESA now has gained human launch capability.

      Not even close.

      . I don't know if the module can safely carry people back to Earth though, in an emergency situation, like Soyuz.

      ATV not only can't carry people to orbit, it can't carry people back to Earth - it can't even get people off the pad. (It lacks an escape system.)

    • by hcdejong (561314)
      The module is not designed to survive re-entry. ESA is studying a modified version [esa.int] that allows re-entry with a crew on board.

      'Human launch capability' also depends on the launch rocket. I suspect the Ariane V isn't man-rated. That may be a matter of certification, or the G-loading may be too high for humans.
  • by RKBA (622932) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @01:22PM (#22693230)
    The statement from Nasa chief Mike Griffin is a good example of what's wrong with NASA: "...it's only a step from there to an independent, European manned-spaceflight capability; and I for one would like to see it." [bbc.co.uk]

    Nasa chief Griffin wants Europe to waste hundreds of millions of dollars like the USA has wasted putting people in space and keeping them there, instead of using the money for legitimate scientific research with unmanned spacecraft!? The future of space belongs to robots. People have no place in space. Perhaps someday robots will be intelligent enough to prepare habitats on the moon or even Mars for human beings, but involving humans in the process is tremendously costly because of the need to insulate humans from the harsh environment - whereas properly designed automated machines work quite nicely even in the hard vacuum and temperature extremes of space. This is the lesson the Europeans are teaching NASA with their highly Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV). The ATV and its descendents will prove the superiority and cost effectiveness of robots in space over humans.

    If the Europeans are smart, they will strap a couple of rockets onto the International Space Station (ISS) and develop a control system smart enough to slowly tug the ISS out of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and into Low Moon Orbit (LMO) autonomously. It could then be used as a way station in the journey from the Earth to the Moon, or even crashed on the Moon with the intent of salvaging it for scrap and building materials later. It takes roughly the same amount of energy to move a mass from the earth's surface into LEO as it does to move that same mass from LEO outwards fast enough to reach escape velocity from the Earth altogether. Even nicer, the trip to the Moon could be slow and leisurely because the impatient and gluttonous humans wouldn't be along. We machines might even be able to make do with Ion engines for the cruise phase from the Earth to the Moon.
    • but involving humans in the process is tremendously costly because of the need to insulate humans from the harsh environment - whereas properly designed automated machines work quite nicely even in the hard vacuum and temperature extremes of space.

      Of course there is more to the issue that you fail to mention. Humans are extremely flexible and robots... aren't. Humans can make repairs on station... robots can't. Etc... Etc...
       
      Then there is the issue of working speed - what it has taken three years for Spirit to accomplish would have taken a human geologist a mere three days.
       
       

      If the Europeans are smart, they will strap a couple of rockets onto the International Space Station (ISS) and develop a control system smart enough to slowly tug the ISS out of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and into Low Moon Orbit (LMO) autonomously.

      Lets hope they are also smart enough to build an entire new electronics system for the Station as the passage through the Van Allen belts will fry it all. Lets also hope they come up with some new radiation shielding, as the station will be uninhabitable due to the increased radiation on the other side of the belt.
       
       

      Even nicer, the trip to the Moon could be slow and leisurely because the impatient and gluttonous humans wouldn't be along. We machines might even be able to make do with Ion engines for the cruise phase from the Earth to the Moon.

      If having humans onboard was the reason why the trip was made so fast, you'd have a point.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        Then there is the issue of working speed - what it has taken three years for Spirit to accomplish would have taken a human geologist a mere three days.

        Let's assume that sending humans to Mars, and sustaining them on the surface, would require a certain "budget" in terms of energy availability and potential payload lift from Earth to Mars.

        The current Mars rovers are indeed slow. One reason why they're slow is that their energy budgets are tiny. Speed machines they are not! And their comms links back to E

        • However, if you already have the capability to send the mass & energy required for humans to Mars... why not use that *immense* mass and energy budget for hugely superior robot explorers?

          Because the 'hugely superior' robot explorers simply don't exist - and won't for the foreseeable future. No matter how much 'budget' you throw at them, they are simply not as fast or flexible or as capable of improvisation as humans.
    • Robots are capable of posting on Slashdot 24 hours a day.. they don't need sleep, and most of what they say is more insightful than the average Slashdot user.
    • > The statement from Nasa chief Mike Griffin is a good example of what's wrong with NASA: "...it's only a step from there to an independent, European manned-spaceflight capability; and I for one would like to see it." [bbc.co.uk]

      would it be possible for a human to stow away on the Jules Vernes to hitch a ride to the ISS? I imagine the cargo hold isn't pressurized and are the G forces for an unmanned craft much higher? I guess the extra 80kgs would also have to be taken account of.
  • by peter303 (12292)
    The organizations with more space capabilities, the better. Private ones too.
  • by heroine (1220) on Sunday March 09, 2008 @05:14PM (#22694548) Homepage
    There may B 2 servicing methods, but when NASA is still set to run out of space station money in 2015, they're still set to deorbit it.

    Also, NASA still doesn't seem to have a plan for replacing space shuttle capacity before 2015 besides throwing peanuts at a bunch of startups & hoping for the best, one of which took the money & ran.

Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurence of the improbable. - H. L. Mencken

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