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NASA Space Science

Send the ISS To the Moon 387

Posted by kdawson
from the one-of-these-days-alice dept.
jmichaelg writes "Michael Benson is proposing that NASA send the ISS to the moon instead of leaving it in low earth orbit. (While we're at it, we should re-brand it as the 'International Space Ship.') He points out that it's already designed to be moved periodically to higher orbits so instead of just boosting it a few miles, strap on some ion engines and put it in orbit around the moon instead of the earth. That would provide an initial base for the astronauts going to the moon and give the ISS a purpose other than performing yet more studies on the effect of micro gravity on humans. Benson concludes: 'Let's begin the process of turning the ISS from an Earth-orbiting caterpillar into an interplanetary butterfly.'"
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Send the ISS To the Moon

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  • Re:Problems... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Smidge207 (1278042) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @02:53PM (#24201945) Journal

    Until we tera-form Mars there will be no populating the solar system. Think of it like living in Las Vegas: everything has to be trucked in or the whole thing dies.

    That to me doesn't sound like populating the solar system as much as staking an extended out-post dependent on cheeseburgers trucked in from the home-world.

  • Cosmic Ray problem (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ogre7299 (229737) <[ude.hcimu] [ta] [nibotjj]> on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @02:58PM (#24202035)

    One major problem that the author ignores is cosmic rays. In Low Earth Orbit, the ISS is protected from cosmic rays and the solar wind by the Van Allen belts. If you move it out to the moon it won't have this protection any more and the occupants would be exposed to high energy particls much more so than in low earth orbit. I'm not sure of the level of shielding on the ISS but it's probably insufficient to protect the crew.

  • Re:Problems... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Timothy Brownawell (627747) <tbrownaw@prjek.net> on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @03:04PM (#24202165) Homepage Journal

    Instead of putting it in to standard orbit around ether the Earth or the moon can we put it into a orbit where it orbits both? That way it could be used as a spaceship traveling between the earth and the moon. It could be refueled and resupplied as it pass around earth. It could then carry passengers to a moonbase or whatever is up there.

    Try standing on the side of the highway and handing a hamburger to someone who's driving past at 70 miles per hour.

    If the ISS was orbiting the moon+earth, it would always be going fast enough to get all the way to the moon. Any resupply ship would have to be going the same speed to make contact, which would mean that the resupply ship would also have to be capable of making it all the way to the moon. Which means that things wouldn't be any cheaper.

  • Re:Problems... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by joggle (594025) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @03:06PM (#24202203) Homepage Journal

    That would be bad for several reasons. One, the astronauts would repeatedly go through the Van Allen Belt getting exposed to higher radiation. Two, it doesn't help reduce the energy requirements to get to the space station. Just because it's closer doesn't mean it takes less energy -- it would simply be in an elliptical orbit and travel at a higher velocity at the closest approach. You would still need to get an object to a matching orbit in order to dock with it. The only thing it would gain you is it would take less travel time to get to/from the station when it passes the earth.

    One huge deal-breaker problem with sending the ISS to the moon is that the escape vehicle isn't designed to support 3 people in it for the several days it would take to get back from the moon. In addition to not having adequate life support facilities, it probably doesn't have enough fuel capacity to do the two burns needed to make the orbit change (one to head to the Earth and another to re-enter the atmosphere when it gets closer). They absolutely will not consider sending the ISS to a location where immediate evacuation is not possible.

  • Re:Problems... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jandrese (485) <kensama@vt.edu> on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @03:10PM (#24202263) Homepage Journal
    Really, a vehicle designed to orbit the moon needs a lot of things the current ISS is not designed to provide, like cosmic ray protection (no Van Allen belts on the moon!), greatly improved recycling facilites, and in general would have to be a lot more autonomous than the ISS currently is. Trying to rebuild the ISS to be all of that is almost certainly more work than building a whole new vehicle from scratch, if only because you'd have to do all of the work on the ISS while keeping it habitable by people.

    Frankly, any way you attempt this it is going to be astronomically expensive and of limited scientific use (the ISS already suffers from this problem). A more reasonable solution in my opinion is an actual moon base on the surface of the moon. At least there you can do a bunch of geological studies and could theoretically build underground to get around the cosmic ray problem. Also, you might even be able to find some usable water and minerals. The scientific utility is still pretty limited though, especially for the cost such an endeavor would require.
  • Re:Not feasible (Score:4, Insightful)

    by LWATCDR (28044) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @03:15PM (#24202379) Homepage Journal

    The other problem is that the ISS isn't designed to handle radiation that far out. If I remember correctly the moon is outside the Van Allen belts. Radiation from Solar Flares would be much higher. I am not sure that the electronics are shielded enough to handle it. Even if they where you would have too add an improved storm shelter for the crew.
    Other than that it is an interesting idea.
    Boosting it wouldn't be that bad. No need to beef it up if you used ION engines. A nuclear powered Ion engine or one with a lot of extra solar cells would be needed to do it in a reasonable amount of time.
    I am not fond of the Aries vehicles. I would rather see a next generation Saturn.
    An Improved Saturn 1b that using the F-1A (test fired back in the late 60s) and an AL/LI first stage and an AL/LI second stage using the J2S would seem like a good plan.
    An improved Saturn V again with F-1As would be make a good heavy lifter. If you want more lift strap on some SRBs and get a really big lift.

    Building a Saturn V today would be stupid. But a next gen Saturn V and Ib could be done and probably done pretty quickly. We have the plans we would just have to build the tooling for the motors, The tanks could be based on the Shuttle ET and the electronics are now easy.
    Retrofitting the VAB and the pads would probably be the hard part.

  • Re:Problems... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jerf (17166) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @03:37PM (#24202753) Journal

    Just curious, wouldn't it only need to be able to go as fast as the ISS for a much shorter period of time?

    Remember inertia. The cheapest thing you can do is simply move inertially. Moving to high speeds, then slowing back down, is twice as hard as moving to high speeds and staying there. There's absolutely no equivalent of "speed bursts" in space. (Heck, it's not even a very good intuition for things moving around on Earth, either.)

    Orbital mechanics can absolutely not be approached intuitively, until you've completely retrained your intuition. It's right up there with QM, in that regard, though IMHO easier to learn the basics of.

  • Re:Problems... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tetsujin (103070) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @03:39PM (#24202775) Homepage Journal

    If the ISS was orbiting the moon+earth, it would always be going fast enough to get all the way to the moon. Any resupply ship would have to be going the same speed to make contact, which would mean that the resupply ship would also have to be capable of making it all the way to the moon. Which means that things wouldn't be any cheaper.

    Just curious, wouldn't it only need to be able to go as fast as the ISS for a much shorter period of time? It seems like that would be cheaper than a vehicle that needed to go that fast all the way to the moon.

    Are you joking? Am I gonna get a well-deserved "whoosh" for this reply?

    If you're going the same direction and the same speed as something that's orbiting in such a way that it'll get to the moon, then you could climb inside and ride with it to the moon - or you could just chill out and get there on your own. Your speed would continue to match that of the orbiting station, because you would, in fact, be in the same orbit...

  • Re:Problems... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ElizabethGreene (1185405) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @03:43PM (#24202847)

    Oooh, what a great use for MIR, or SpaceLab. Oh wait, WE THREW THEM AWAY.

    Eventually someone is going to say.. Hey, this stuff costs a bajazillion dollars to build and $14,000 an ounce to get into orbit, maybe we should keep it in orbit and see if it can be reused?*

    -ellie

  • Sure (Score:2, Insightful)

    by dddno (743682) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @03:47PM (#24202929)

    Michael Benson is proposing that NASA send the ISS to the moon instead of leaving it low earth orbit

    Apart from being ridiculous nonsense by all practial standards, this preposterous suggestion conveniently ignores the fact that the ISS isn't just NASA's property, toy and command target. The other participants of the international space station would hopefully refuse to tolerate such follies.

  • Re:Problems... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by janeuner (815461) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @03:55PM (#24203077)
    Allow me to extrapolate costs for a moment. The technical specifications of the Ares V are on the same magnitude as the Saturn V. Over the life of the Saturn V, the amoritized cost of each launch was about $3 billion in 2008 dollars. By comparison, Soyuz launches cost around $50 million. I'd like to think that Ares will cost less than Saturn. I'd also like 72 virgins and a flying car.
  • Other way 'round (Score:3, Insightful)

    by localroger (258128) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @03:56PM (#24203107) Homepage
    Currently the ISS spends about half its time in the Earth's shadow. The Moon is only in the Earth's shadow during lunar eclipses.
  • Lagrange Points? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Acer500 (846698) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @03:57PM (#24203109) Journal
    Why not take a page from all those sci-fi books and put it in a Lagrange Point?

    (according to Wikipedia, several missions are planned there already)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lagrangian_point [wikipedia.org]
  • Re:Problems... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Fusen (841730) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @04:11PM (#24203325)
    I'm not too knowledgeable about this sort of stuff but wouldn't the reaction of the new container being tugged cause the ISS to change it's direction? unless that is only the effect on earth due to friction
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @04:44PM (#24203907)

    There is a reason why the ISS has his I in front. Whicht stands for INTERNATIONAL. Meaning, countries around the world are paying for it. Space Agencies around the world are owning this piece of science together. Why propose NASA to do something with this?!
    Who gave NASA sole leadership to this?! This kind of ignorace makes me really angry.

  • by jfengel (409917) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @05:03PM (#24204183) Homepage Journal

    It is disappointing that the Washington Post would run something like this without running it past at least one person with an engineering degree.

  • Re:Problems... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Graff (532189) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @05:43PM (#24204793)

    We threw them away because they weren't worth what it would take to use them in any sort of meaningful way.

    Objects in space are under a lot of abuse. Wild swings in temperature, a nearly-perfect vaccum all around, bombardment by energetic radiation, micro-meteors and sometimes not-so-micro meteors. Anything we launch into earth orbit has to be constantly maintained or it will degrade into uselessness. Add to that the fact that there really is no such thing as a stable orbit, just one that takes a certain amount of time to degrade before the satellite will fall back to earth.

    Keeping satellites operational and useful takes a lot of time, effort, and cash. You need to maintain the structure of the satellite, keep any equipment up to date, and periodically boost it back into it's proper orbit. If you don't do these things then you'll have a huge hazard (or worse a million little hazards) in orbit for a while. Then when the satellite's orbit begins to decay you'll have a rain of parts across the Earth, possibly in highly populated areas.

    I'm all for reusing items we have already put into space but we have to be realistic about it. MIR and Skylab did their jobs and they had to be de-orbited for cost and safety reasons.

  • Re:Problems... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by 4D6963 (933028) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @05:55PM (#24205009)

    Well, that's great in theory. But part of the reason for getting rid of what junk we have up there is that space (in orbit) is a lot smaller than it seems. Having something the size of a penny smash into your craft while orbiting can really ruin your day, let alone what might happen if creamed by something the size of MIR.

    More like the orbit of MIR quickly decays if you don't give it the fuel to occasionally thrust a bit to make up for the atmospheric drag. Yes, atmospheric drag, low-earth orbit satellites suffer from atmospheric drag, which makes them get lower and lower until they eventually get so low they burn. Which is why you either keep them fueled or they're goners anyways. "Getting hit by MIR" wouldn't have been a risk for very long I believe.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @06:02PM (#24205133)

    It sure would be nice to reuse those big solar arrays if nothing else.

    The point that escapes you that parent response makes is that salvage and reuse simply is not feasible or economic in outer space. The physics and engineering are a vast magnitude more demanding than what you would conceptualize here on Earth.

    The point is, it's far more economic to simply send up new solar panels rather than try to reuse the old ones for another mission. It's too hard to send a man in a harsh space environment that requires a cumbersome space suit with extremely limited mobility to dink around with old solar panels that probably have decreased output anyway from the cosmic radiation.

    The fact is, all your proposals have a cost factor of 1000X over sending new mission specific equipment (outside the fact that it wouldn't work, would be dangerous, or just a bad idea). That is the point that eluded the original writer of the Washington Post article also.

  • by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater@gmFREEBSDail.com minus bsd> on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @06:57PM (#24205837) Homepage

    Because it would require a fuel tank (roughly) 125% of the size of the current Shuttle External Tank in a addition to the one it already has - just to fly past the moon. It will take yet more fuel to enter orbit, and more still to return... Not to mention the SSMEs can't be restarted in flight, the Shuttle isn't designed for the thermal or radiation environment of translunar and lunar orbits, etc... etc...

  • Re:Problems... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by AeroIllini (726211) <aeroillini@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @07:04PM (#24205911)

    Eventually someone is going to say.. Hey, this stuff costs a bajazillion dollars to build and $14,000 an ounce to get into orbit, maybe we should keep it in orbit and see if it can be reused?*

    Not really, considering that it would cost 4 bajazillion dollars to get all the equipment needed to repurpose it designed, tested, built, and launched (at $14,000 an ounce), and then another 6 bajazillion dollars to make the modifications in space. It's always cheaper to design, build and launch purpose-built hardware than it is to bastardize some other purpose built hardware to do something outside the scope of its original purpose.

    "Space" is not a single environment. There are very few requirements that are common across all hardware--things like max gee loading, radiation hardening, useful life, propellant types, servicability, and power requirements are all different for different orbits and missions. It is as diverse as the environments on Earth (if not moreso) and since getting heavy stuff up there is really hard we tend to design things to do one thing, and do that one thing well. As a consequence, they don't do anything else very well, if at all.

    You might as well say you could repurpose your Prius to enter the Indy 500. After all, the only things required would be a new engine, chassis, body, electronics package, drivetrain, and driver, and the shipping costs for getting the new parts are $10,000 a pound. Oh, and you're paying the mechanics $1000 an hour because they have to do the modification in a desert in August at noon in a sandstorm with oven mitts on. But hey, that's gotta be cheaper than buying a whole Indycar, right?

  • Re:Problems... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by fyngyrz (762201) * on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @07:50PM (#24206341) Homepage Journal

    A base with some sort of nontrivial manufacturing ability. You've glossed over where you're going to get those raw materials as well,

    I suggested that they would come from the moon via mass driver in this part of the thread [slashdot.org]. The energy for the mass driver can be solar, nuclear, or both. The materials are there, barring refined fissionables, but those are compact and not heavy for what needs to be done. One earth to moon shot could bring more than enough.

    if you're doing it from an asteroid you capture then you have to have a refining capacity on the station as well

    You'd want refining to be done on the moon, regardless of where the raw materials were obtained from. Once refined, again, up by mass driver. Refining is messy, power hungry, and space-consuming, but essentially simple, such that it doesn't require a lot of sophisticated support. Just large structures and large material moving machines. What you want on the space station is manufacturing, not refining.

    a telescope probe alone would require the ability to manufacture high precision lenses, propellants, batteries, computer parts, not to mention the frame itself). Chances are you wouldn't be able to do all of that realistically and you'd have to ship most of the raw materials up from Earth, but if you're doing that you might as well just manufacture the thing on Earth and launch it from there.

    I don't think batteries in the classic sense have much of a future. You're looking at little fission reactors, solar accumulators, ultracaps, that sort of thing. No reason to think this stuff can't be manufactured in a hollow shell. There are *many* reasons to do this, not the least of which is the elimination of the gravity wells, but others include ease of handling large components in a low-G environment, unlimited storage space, zero environmental concerns, unlimited energy supplies, zero weather concerns, ease of shielding in a hollow rock, the ability to have loose and flowing water, agriculture, trivial flying machines... it's really quite a list. Also, making lenses in space has many advantages, likewise in lower gravity. Also (sorry), in space, one can take advantage of many (relatively) small lens designs which have huge advantages over single large lenses. Same thing for radio telescopes. There's a lot to be said for a design that can take advantage of dispersion over a few million square miles without getting in anyone's way.

    Maybe if you had some sort of big mass driver to reduce the amount of propellant needed to get the satellites started on their journey, but you could put that in Earth orbit

    Well, mass drivers need something to push against. You put one in orbit, it sends a payload one way, it'll go the other way; you'd have to shoot in alternate directions or you'd be in deep trouble pretty fast. You also need a *huge* power supply, something much easier to put together on the lunar surface where the raw materials abound.

  • by fyngyrz (762201) * on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @08:37PM (#24206903) Homepage Journal

    What kind of expense is that to life on Earth?

    I think you're looking at it backwards. When (not if... it'll definitely be when) an asteroid or comet hits us, presuming we don't get into an all-out nuclear conflict beforehand, if we've not colonized mars, etc., or at least gotten into space so well that we can be absolutely certain we can deflect anything, anywhere, that might hit the planet, then we're done. I don't think that's in our best interests, nor those of our various co-species here. We need to do this. That old saw about having all your eggs in one basket? The basket is the earth; we're the eggs.

  • by MadnessASAP (1052274) <madnessasap@gmail.com> on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @09:03PM (#24207175)

    Becuase boosting the ISS to L1 require only slightly less energy then boosting it to the moon, and then on top of that you have to keep on making small adjustments to hold it there since only L4 and L5 actually attract objects into them. And finally for the aforementioned reason you're still going to have a bitch of a time getting supplies to the station.

  • by KingKiki217 (979050) on Tuesday July 15, 2008 @09:19PM (#24207353)
    "Engineering is the art of compromise."

    Your sig is oddly relevant to your comment.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 16, 2008 @03:18AM (#24209557)

    to just write the idea off just because there are a couple daunting problems

    No.There are a dozen daunting ideas that would in itself cost 100 billion dollars to do in order to save old technology that has had it's problems and is quickly wearing down in the environs of space.

    It's not a question of "can't do." It's a question of economic practical feasibility. Part of being an engineer is realizing that old technology needs replacing, esp. when human life depends on it. You take the lessons you have learned and move on. It's the same reason Skylab wasn't saved. Something better (the ISS) was built which was far superior to Skylab. Or would you prefer to be still back in the Skylab days tech wise? Realize that you are being sentimental about equipment, not practical.

    Even here on earth we have junk yards with car crushers where there comes a point where the car is not economically feasible to fix and it makes more sense to melt it down for the metal.

    At $15,000 USD per pound to get something to orbit, it doesn't make sense to even to send a rocket to retrieve the ISS for scrap. Esp. using the shuttle which itself is old (and dangerous), and impractical technology.

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