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Moon Space Science

Countries Considering Circumlunar Flight From ISS 170

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the because-they-can dept.
FleaPlus writes "The BBC reports that the space agencies of Europe, Russia, and the US are in (very) preliminary discussions about a potential collaborative mission where astronauts would assemble a small spacecraft at the ISS, then fly it around the Moon and back. This is somewhat similar to previously-proposed commercial missions, with many elements adapted from spacecraft systems already in existence. This would also be a testbed for eventual asteroid and Mars missions, which would likely require modules to be launched on multiple rockets and assembled in space."
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Countries Considering Circumlunar Flight From ISS

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  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @04:54PM (#33876002)
    I think they should make it look like an awesome motorcycle, with flames painted on it and a kick-ass logo with a skull, spinners, and a lot of chrome--I mean a LOT of fucking chrome! And that shit should have hydraulics too, just a crazy lift kit...an INSANE lift kit!
  • Wow! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MozeeToby (1163751) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @04:57PM (#33876048)

    Am I the only one who thinks that this could have been done 30 years ago with multiple shuttle launches. I know, I know, the shuttle engines are designed to perform multiple long burns without being inspected and rebuilt but come on, orbital refueling just seems like the kind of thing we should have been doing for decades now. I guess we haven't done much for manned (and therefor time critical) long range missions since Apollo but still, this seems like it's some pretty low hanging fruit as far as space exploration technology is concerned.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sznupi (719324)

      We routinely do refueling on orbit "for decades now" - ISS, earlier Mir and Salyut stations, all refueled by visiting Progress spacecraft (which have provisions for fuel transfer in their docking collar)

      (but Shuttle would be really a bad choice for such mission - around 70 tons of dead weight, thermal shielding probably ill-suited for a possibility of direct reentry on return)

    • Re:Wow! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Facegarden (967477) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @05:15PM (#33876260)

      Am I the only one who thinks that this could have been done 30 years ago with multiple shuttle launches. I know, I know, the shuttle engines are designed to perform multiple long burns without being inspected and rebuilt but come on, orbital refueling just seems like the kind of thing we should have been doing for decades now. I guess we haven't done much for manned (and therefor time critical) long range missions since Apollo but still, this seems like it's some pretty low hanging fruit as far as space exploration technology is concerned.

      I know you're just highlighting the point, but you really shouldn't act so surprised. Sadly, everything we do in space is low-hanging fruit. We've done some amazing stuff with telescopes and things launched out into space, but as far as human exploration... not much has been done in the last 40 years. We could have easily had a manned outpost on Mars already, but it would have taken a lot of money, a lot of risk (with likely some tragic deaths along the way - more so than what we've had) and least likely of all, the cooperation from one political administration to the next.

      That's the biggest problem at NASA - one president says "The last president had no vision - lets go to mars!" and then the next president says "The last president was spending like crazy. We can't afford to go to mars!" and then it repeats every 8 years or so.

      If we had had a concerted and continuous effort to explore space, we could have filled out the inner solar system by now.

      But would have taken trillions of dollars, and a level of agreement that we've simply never had.

      Thats why I'm so excited about privatization of space exploration - a corporation has a real vested interest in getting something done. Unlike politicians.

      Hopefully the billionaires of the world will take us places no government has. THAT is what I'm looking forward to.

      Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, has said he'd like to retire on mars. That's likely a little far-fetched, but he's more likely to make that happen than NASA. (well, technically his fortune is pretty small in comparison to some other people, but lets say Tesla does really well...)
      -Taylor

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Darkness404 (1287218)
        Exactly, the problem is though, we need agreements that governments won't interfere with private spaceflights which is what will probably happen. Already billions of dollars have been spent on spacecraft, R&D and research that is locked up in government hands and even though we, the taxpayers have paid for it, we can't access it.

        If the government would simply let citizens use what they have paid for, I think we'd see private spaceflight soar to new levels.

        But until we have a sane foreign policy
        • If the government would simply let citizens use what they have paid for, I think we'd see private spaceflight soar to new levels.

          Ok, sure. Here's the keys to the space shuttle, go for it buddy.

          Oh wait, you want the facilities too? ok sure. But you're going to have to pony up for the fuel.

          What's that? Private satellites have been going to space for years on the back of NASA and private rockets? Well whoopdeefreakin'do, ain't that some news.

          The simple fact is that the publicly visible space program has been seen as government-based because it is based around scientific research, which is paid for by the government. That hasn't prevente

      • Re:Wow! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Planesdragon (210349) <slashdot.castlesteelstone@us> on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @05:38PM (#33876536) Homepage Journal

        We could have easily had a manned outpost on Mars already, but ...

        But there's ZERO profit in it. Go on and name a period of human exploration of Earth, and all of them have one thing in common: profit.

        • Go on and name a period of human exploration of Earth

          No profit:

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bathyscaphe_Trieste [wikipedia.org]

          • by corbettw (214229)

            So your rebuttal that profit is not, in fact, the prime motivator for periods of exploration is a stunt that only happened once and still hasn't been repeated? Interesting....

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          Despite what you and some others want everyone to believe, there are quite a few people in this world that do stuff for things other than profit. One of the (maybe) advantages of the increasing poverty-wealth gap is that some individuals who are able to accumulate an enormous amount of money (think Musk, Branson) are able to do things for reasons other than profit. These things may include (if all goes according to Musk's plan) space exploration. It wouldn't surprise me, in the least that some Billionaires
          • Slightly OT (Score:2, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward

            increasing poverty-wealth gap

            I keep hearing this... but it think it's safe to say that we've come a long way since the feudal system of serfs, lords, kings, etc.

            You stand a far better chance now of switching from poor to rich than someone did even ~100 years ago.

            Plus, the "super rich" of today are nothing compared to the likes of Rockefeller or Vanderbilt.

          • Re:Wow! (Score:5, Funny)

            by Chris Burke (6130) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @07:46PM (#33877804) Homepage

            *Sitting in my lavish study with the window overlooking the hedge maze, idly browsing Slashdot while sipping expensive brandy*

            The extraordinarily rich dumped their life savings into what was, essentially, a giant penis waving contest.

            *Monocle pops out of eye*

            Great Scott! That's it!

            *Picks up the phone and hits speed dial #1*

            Benson! Be a good chap and cancel the space exploration initiative. I know, it was very exciting, but it won't be necessary anymore. I've found a much more direct way to accomplish the same thing! Instead, I want you to redirect all the funding to constructing a tremendous waving phallus! I mean tremendous like the Burj Khalif, only thicker! No, not a merely phallic tower, I mean as close to an actual phallus as possible. And it has to wave back and forth while still remaining proudly erect in testament to my manhood. You see now? Good. Yes, of course it needs testicles! You're not much of a man with one but not the other, right? What's that, Benson? Ah, I'm not sure. Let's let the architect decide if that would make it look too Jewish. Good. Then get to it, and do keep it quiet as much as possible. You know as soon as my peers hear of this idea, they'll start making plans for even bigger ones, so mine must at least be the first to be finished and waving in their faces! Thank you, Benson.

            *Hangs up the phone*

            Ah, thank you Slashdot. To think I was going to waste all that money on a moon base! How silly that would have been!

      • For the life of me it ASTOUNDS ME how big an issue this is for The United States of America.

        Maybe y'all need to go back and HIT YOUR HISTORY BOOKS a little more.

        If it were not for amazingly brave/fearless/reckless adventurers who KNEW BEYOND ANY SHADOW OF A DOUBT that risking their life (and the lives of their crew) was worth it, to make such an amazing new discovery YOUR NATION WOULD NOT EXIST TODAY.
        • "If it were not for amazingly brave/fearless/reckless adventurers who KNEW BEYOND ANY SHADOW OF A DOUBT that risking their life (and the lives of their crew) was worth it, to make such an amazing new discovery YOUR NATION WOULD NOT EXIST TODAY."

          Yeah, sure. The problem is that what's worth is based on expected profit. Which in turn is based on the difference between percieved cost and expected gains.

          What I mean is that you tend to have more people risking their lives when they percieve that their life suck

      • Thats why I'm so excited about privatization of space exploration - a corporation has a real vested interest in getting something done. Unlike politicians.

        Corporations have a vested interest in getting some profits, and they're usually answerable to shareholders looking for a return within a few quarters, maybe a couple of years at the most. Corporatism isn't usually applicable to capital-heavy risky-return enterprises.

        Politicians have an interest in getting stuff done - so long as it happens within 4 years and manages to enhance their image in, and provides benefits for, their particular electorate. The President is the only one with a country-wide electorat

      • by J05H (5625)

        Elon is under 40, has a fortune in the low billions and several successful businesses under his belt. If anyone has a shot at getting to Mars, it is he.

        • Elon is under 40, has a fortune in the low billions and several successful businesses under his belt. If anyone has a shot at getting to Mars, it is he.

          Hmm. I guess he's got a lot of stock options and whatnot, but he ran out of cash recently. I know that for a guy like him, he'll have lots of other assets besides cash, but I got the sense his fortune wasn't that big. Maybe its just all tied up.
          http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/06/22/elon-musk-says-hes-broke_n_620612.html [huffingtonpost.com]

          He does own one of the two companies that has a good shot at jump starting commercial spaceflight though.

    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      Or one real rocket launch.

      I want to meet the man that decided to put the crew vehicle on the side of the stack and ask him two things.
      1. Did you ever see a rocket launch before making that decision?
      2. WTF were you thinking?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by vlm (69642)

        2. WTF were you thinking?

        Probably, "I can't believe they're making us risk all these lives so that we can haul the shuttle engines back to earth and reuse them" Followed closely by "the damn SSMEs are going to be such maintenance hogs we'd be better off ditching them in the ocean anyway".

    • Apollo 11 was run from this perspective. Multiple launches (Apollo + Agena) docked in orbit to become the composite lunar spacecraft.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Apollo 11 was run from this perspective. Multiple launches (Apollo + Agena) docked in orbit to become the composite lunar spacecraft.

        This is incorrect. Each manned Apollo mission used a single Saturn V. (Except for the Apollo 7 test flight, which used a Saturn IB.) Orbital docking occurred between the command/service module and lunar module launched on the same rocket.

        Agena boosters were modified to practice docking during the Gemini program, but had no direct involvement in Apollo.

        • by sconeu (64226)

          Just being nitpicky. Are you counting Skylab and ASTP as Apollo missions? Those used a Saturn 1B as well.

          • by Chris Burke (6130)

            Just being nitpicky. Are you counting Skylab and ASTP as Apollo missions? Those used a Saturn 1B as well.

            Why would you infer that, since they never said only Apollo missions used Saturn 1B rockets?

    • by tibit (1762298)

      The shuttle engines turned out to be brittle things, and the initial overhaul/life design goals were missed by a lot. They are removed for inspection (partial disassembly!) after each mission. I don't know about other parts, but I know that the block II (redesigned) turbopumps had a 10 mission design overhaul period, I don't know how it turned out in practice.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by vlm (69642)

        The shuttle engines turned out to be brittle things, and the initial overhaul/life design goals were missed by a lot.

        Early on they fixed the size / mounting / weight. But the shuttle continually got in danger of cancellation, so they added more and more promises, until it attempted to do everything for everyone. Which made it fat. Only way to get more thrust is crazy chamber pressure, approaching 3000 psi. Which requires crazy injection pressure to keep the injectors stable. Which results in turbopumps that only last "about one mission, plus or minus one".

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by Lord Ender (156273)

      No, you can't just refuel a shuttle in orbit. I don't know if you've noticed, but the shuttle's tanks drop off the thing on its way up.

      And even if it kept its tanks on it, it's not a station wagon. You don't just refuel it and turn the key. It is designed for one launch, from a big complicated tower, and then must be overhauled before launching again.

      • by vlm (69642)

        The OMS engines optimistically have a total delta-V, stock, of about 1/3 of a KM/s if their tanks are full (which they aren't, after circularizing orbit). You probably could top them off at great effort.

        Unfortunately it takes about four times that delta V to get from low earth orbit to low lunar orbit. So you'd be better off shoving tanks into the cargo bay.

        Big problem is absolutely everything else from navigation sensors, non-rad hard computers, cooling system, communication system, all of it would have

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by rijrunner (263757)

      Umm. Not with the Shuttle. The engines are badly designed for zero-G. They have never been fired in orbit for a reason. (Also, the Shuttle could not have survived re-entry from a lunar return. It gets real ugly trying to cut the velocity from a vehicle returning from that far out.)

      But, you could have done with with some basic assembly. The technology has been there for years. The last real innovation was the TransHab module.

      There are some real technical issues to deal with when discussing ISS though. It is

    • There is 100% no use for a refuelling station in space unless we are landing (and leaving) in other gravity wells similar to our own or deeper.

      In space fuel and engines used are completely different things from the ones we use leaving a gravity well.

      If we are always going to space from earth then there is no need to carry around the giant ass in-atmosphere engines. It is simply a waste of effort. Going to space from here we won't need to keep the engines because we can always attach fresh engines here on
  • BREAKING NEWS (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Crypto Gnome (651401) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @04:57PM (#33876054) Homepage Journal
    Real World aspirations approaching within 50 years of Science Fiction dreams.

    You Have Been Warned!

    Also: "WHAT THE HELL TOOK YOU SO LONG"?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Darkness404 (1287218)

      Also: "what the hell took you so long"?

      Government.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Government.

        Given that governments are, to date, the only entities that have done so much as put human beings in LEO -- to say nothing of sending them to the Moon -- you're going to have do some fancy dancing to make the case that government is what's stopping us from achieving science fiction dreams.

        • Re:BREAKING NEWS (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Crypto Gnome (651401) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @07:16PM (#33877534) Homepage Journal

          Government.

          Given that governments are, to date, the only entities that have done so much as put human beings in LEO -- to say nothing of sending them to the Moon -- you're going to have do some fancy dancing to make the case that government is what's stopping us from achieving science fiction dreams.

          Ok then, specifically: Government

          • Inertia
          • excessive beurocracy
          • incompetence
          • lack of foresight
          • ADHD
          • Piss Poor Planning

          <cue fancy-dancing> Compare how long (and how much money) it took "the government" to be waving men-in-space vs insert-random-commercial-entity in the recent x-prize race(s).

          Yeah Yeah Yeah you can rabbit on about "standing on the shoulders of giants" but today the biggest current roadblock to the successful leveraging of "outerspace" for the betterment of humankind is "The Government".

          The *amazing achievements* in reaching the moon were *personally instigated by some dude who has been dead for many years now*. ONE (count'em folks, ONE) president made a significant committment to OuterSpace.

          everything done since then is a pale shadow of a once bright future.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Darkness404 (1287218)
          Ok, lets see here NASA has a yearly operating budget of US$17.6 billion, to compare that, Sir Richard Branson has a net worth of about 4.6 billion USD. So, lets see here: $17.6 billion a year with:

          A) Billions of dollars in taxpayer funded R&D that are inaccessible to private companies because they are classified.

          B) Several spacecraft

          C) The ability to use a lot of military technology

          D) A guaranteed revenue source from US taxpayers

          E) NASA had almost unlimited funding during the height
    • by corbettw (214229)

      People got distracted with developing the flying car. Now that that's done, it's on to Mars!

  • Well, I guess it's not exactly the same. Given the collaborative international nature of the effort, I can guarantee that it'll take five times as long to get going as Apollo, cost ten times as much (mostly in pork), and it'll be nobody's fault when it fails. Except maybe the French.

    • by ByOhTek (1181381) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @05:02PM (#33876108) Journal

      [...] and it'll be nobody's fault when it fails. Except maybe the French.

      But people will blame the USA no matter what.

    • by gmuslera (3436)
      Launching from space is different from doing from here. The people still must get up there, but once there, they could eventually do several trips, apart from the automated ones, and good part of the complexity/cost of getting to the moon/asteroids is mostly getting in orbit. And things could get interesting if asteroids can be mined to build new ships from materials from up there.
      • by jgtg32a (1173373)
        Once you are in orbit you are half way to anywhere
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by h4rr4r (612664)

          Not if you have to change inclination like anything coming from the ISS would have to do.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by FleaPlus (6935)

            Not if you have to change inclination like anything coming from the ISS would have to do.

            It depends. For example, I believe if you want to go into a lunar polar orbit, departing from the ISS's 51.6 degree inclination actually requires less propellant than if you were to depart from an equatorial orbit. If you want to go somewhere else that the ISS inclination is suboptimal for, all that means is that you need to carry up a little more propellant.

    • by BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @06:28PM (#33877034) Homepage Journal
      One other big difference in this case is that they are talking about using an on-orbit space station as a staging ground for a mission. That is a huge step in terms of mission cycle and design. There is a very large difference between using big rockets to get from Earth to a destination, and using smaller rockets to get from Earth, to an intermittent way point, to your final destination. If a mission like this was executed well, and yielded good, reliable, cheap results, there could be a movement to develop on-orbit assembly infrastructure and on-orbit mission staging resources to a large degree. Such a paradigm shift in mission architecture would definitely represent a historic landmark in mankind's endeavors into space.
  • Have $100 million? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sznupi (719324) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @05:02PM (#33876116) Homepage

    Here, get yourself a ride [spaceadventures.com] (those are people cooperating on almost all private spaceflights so far); also in Soyuz, it would seem - only apt, considering how it was the first spacecraft to carry macroscopic life (turtles) beyond LEO (around the Moon) and return it safely, on a Zond 5 mission.

    Funny how, out of both sides involved in Lunar Race, it is Russia who now has few decades of experience with a spacecraft essentially capable of beyond-LEO operation.

    • Well of course it is Russia. Unlike the US who seems to think that we're not subject to the laws of economics and can spend all we want in dead end projects thinking that deathtraps like the Shuttle can last for 30 some years, Russia doesn't have the cash to go out and design an all new untested spacecraft and has to make do with what they have.

      Apollo was a technological dead-end. The Shuttle was a technological dead end. On the other hand Soyuz did what it needed to do and had a design that could be ad
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by sznupi (719324)

        Heck, it is launched by a rocket from R-7 lineage. A family which carried all Soviet and Russian manned missions to date, starting with Yuri Gagarin. Which launched Sputnik. And was the first operational ICBM (not very practical in its first role; but...sort of competing space agency says it is "The most reliable ... the most frequently used launch vehicle in the world" [esa.int])

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Apollo was a technological dead-end. The Shuttle was a technological dead end. On the other hand Soyuz did what it needed to do and had a design that could be adapted effectively while cutting costs.

        Apollo also did what it needed to do, and while it cost more than contemporary Soyuz designs, it also had to do a hell of a lot more than Soyuz or any other spacecraft has ever done. The reason it was a dead end was political, not technological. The Shuttle, I'll grant you, although I'll note that the early designs for a reusable people-launcher made a lot of sense; it was when they tried to combine it with a heavy-lift system that things went to hell.

        We could have kept turning out Saturn V's assembly-lin

  • by mdm-adph (1030332) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (hpdamdm)> on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @05:05PM (#33876140) Homepage

    ...we should've been doing YEARS AGO.

    Thank you and have a nice day.

    • Well at least they are talking about it now, rather than proselytizing about some super-heavy-mega-lifter rocket like Congress has been for the last decade or so. It may have taken 30 years too long to get here, but at least it got here (or, it might, based on the article). I, for one, was (and still am, to some degree) afraid that mankind's crowning space achievement would be walking on his own moon and ending it at that. Developing the infrastructure for, and demonstrating the ability to use, on-orbit res
    • we should've been doing YEARS AGO.

      ... what exactly would be different, now?

      This self-assembly spacecraft wouldn't actually go to the moon, it would go around it and come back. No landings, no exploration, no payload return mission. In fact all you'd get are a few more photos just like they took 40 years ago with Apollo 8.

      The craft wouldn't even complete the trip - it would be going too fast on the return path from the moon to slow down and dock back with the ISS, so it would just perform a "normal" atmospheric re-entry at 25,000 MPH just

  • shuttlecraft (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Oceanplexian (807998) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @05:06PM (#33876162) Homepage
    I wonder why they went with the plan to have the craft return to earth? It makes more sense to me to have a reusable "shuttlecraft" that ferried
    astronauts from the ISS to lunar orbit and back.
    • They probably want to have engineers tear it apart to see what kind of stresses it took and how well it holds up (both to space and to entering the atmosphere). Think of it as a prototype that they'll try to work the kinks out of.
    • by vlm (69642)

      I wonder why they went with the plan to have the craft return to earth? It makes more sense to me to have a reusable "shuttlecraft" that ferried astronauts from the ISS to lunar orbit and back.

      Maybe version 2, if there is one.

      They're almost certainly going for a free return trajectory

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_return_trajectory [wikipedia.org]

      Some of the Russian gear is so freaking tough, that they don't need to eject the service module or point the right way... So with a free return trajectory, after your initial orbit injection burn, you can, if necessary, completely power down the craft and you'll still end up back on earth. So if you're a bit nervous about your thruster rockets or inertial nav or wh

      • by sznupi (719324)

        Don't exaggerate - while Soyuz is certainly tough (was meant for Moon return reentry after all), the two or so failures to detach service module were still close calls - and from more forgiving LEO, not from higher speeds of Lunar return.

        Anyway, they will probably try to perform skip reentry to limit G forces - that's what Soyuz already did on at least some Zond missions.

    • by sznupi (719324)

      To save fuel on the return leg, one would need to do quite a bit of aerobraking either way; much harder if the aim is not to reenter, but end up in an orbit which can take you back to ISS. With the stress of braking, it'll be probably much better for some time to take it all the way down at that point.

    • by 0123456 (636235)

      I wonder why they went with the plan to have the craft return to earth? It makes more sense to me to have a reusable "shuttlecraft" that ferried astronauts from the ISS to lunar orbit and back.

      You know that big rocket stage that sent Apollo to the Moon from Earth orbit? You'd need something about a quarter as large as that to brake an Apollo CSM-sized vehicle into orbit to dock with ISS, and then you'd need to launch that all the way to the Moon as well, meaning you'd need a much larger rocket stage to get you there. Or you'd need to aerobrake and hope your computer didn't screw up and send you into completely the wrong orbit.

      To go from ISS to the Moon and back you'd need a far more efficient eng

    • I wonder why they went with the plan to have the craft return to earth? It makes more sense to me to have a reusable "shuttlecraft" that ferried astronauts from the ISS to lunar orbit and back.

      Because it takes an enormous amount of fuel to slow down into orbit. It also heavily constrains landing sites (already badly constrained or having high fuel requirements because of the idiotic choice of launch location) and heavily constrains return trajectories.

      Launching to the moon from the ISS is already s

    • One major reason that I can guess is detla-V requirements. Getting into a lunar orbit requires one helluva hard burn for your spacecraft. As you are returning from lunar orbit, you would have to repeat the same hard burn to drop from lunar transfer orbit back into LEO to rendezvous a second time with the ISS. These fuel costs could be constraining. If, instead, you decide to plunge back into the Earth atmosphere directly, you can just slap a much heavier-duty heat shield on your spacecraft and allow the atm
  • by Ryanrule (1657199) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @05:11PM (#33876210)
    using a space station as a station...in space!
  • by cheetah (9485) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @05:13PM (#33876236)

    The big problem with using the ISS to do this type of mission is that the ISS is in the wrong orbital plane to easily launch flights to the moon. While it's not impossible to fly from the ISS it will be far more costly(in terms of fuel) to do so. Basically as long assembling the mission at the ISS is less costly than a single launch into the correct orbital plane this might be feasible.

    • by profplump (309017) <zach-slashjunk@kotlarek.com> on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @05:23PM (#33876352)

      It's in the wrong orbit to do anything other than be reachable by launches from mainland Russia. It's not like no one ever thought of using the space station as a jumping-off point before, it's just that such ideas were made more or less impractical as soon as we decided to put the space station in this silly orbit.

      • by butalearner (1235200) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @06:15PM (#33876906)

        It's in the wrong orbit to do anything other than be reachable by launches from mainland Russia. It's not like no one ever thought of using the space station as a jumping-off point before, it's just that such ideas were made more or less impractical as soon as we decided to put the space station in this silly orbit.

        Of course, the fact that the goal was to be reachable by launches from Baikonur means it's not a silly orbit, considering inclination changes are the most expensive in terms of delta-v (and money, as a result).

    • by sznupi (719324)

      Orbit of ISS makes much less of a difference if you launch from Baikonur... launching from there would be less costly in any case.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      Then we should sue the other one. wait, there isn't another one? well then maybe we should use the one we have to do this experiment.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by FleaPlus (6935)

      The big problem with using the ISS to do this type of mission is that the ISS is in the wrong orbital plane to easily launch flights to the moon. While it's not impossible to fly from the ISS it will be far more costly(in terms of fuel) to do so.

      I've been looking all over, but can't find a good figure of just how much more costly (in terms of fuel) it would be to get from the ISS's orbit to do a lunar flyby. Are we talking about a few percent more delta-v required, an order of magnitude, or somewhere in-between?

      All I've been able to find is that it's apparently "cheaper" to get to lunar polar orbit from the ISS's inclination.

  • by ddrueding80 (1091191) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @05:15PM (#33876250)
    Just send the whole ISS. Most of their experiments don't care where the station is, so long as it is space, and plenty of instruments are already onboard.
    • by vlm (69642)

      Just send the whole ISS. Most of their experiments don't care where the station is, so long as it is space, and plenty of instruments are already onboard.

      However, the thermal/cooling system is designed around the idea of having half a hemisphere at roughly room/earth temperature... It'll get mighty cold up there rather quickly outside of low earth orbit. I wonder if the refrigerant system can survive a liquid slug, if it gets too cold. Knowing NASA, probably.

    • by sznupi (719324) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @05:31PM (#33876454) Homepage

      It's designed for quite safe LEO radiation environment, deep inside the magnetosphere of Earth.

    • Just send the whole ISS. Most of their experiments don't care where the station is, so long as it is space, and plenty of instruments are already onboard.

      But the ISS itself cares where it is... ISS isn't shielded to transit the Van Allen belts, and its thermal control isn't designed for lunar orbit. Nor is it structurally strong enough to take sufficient thrust to actually get it there in any reasonable time frame.

    • I don't think the ISS was designed to protect against the radiation levels in the Van Allen belts. The Soyuz capsule, on the other hand, was designed for keeping things alive to and from the moon. Also, the ISS is a very heavy piece of equipment and the amount of fuel necessary to boost it into a trans-lunar orbit would be restrictive, to say the least.
    • Send the entire moon! I'll bet we could have done it with 1999 technology!
  • It costs a lot of fuel. About 4km/s of velocity change to match orbits with the ISS when you return from the moon, but if you can't do that burn then you have return to Earth so you need a heat shield anyway.

    So yeah, maybe the ISS is a good place to integrate a vehicle like this but the best way seems to fly it around the moon then straight to Earth.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by 0123456 (636235)

      So yeah, maybe the ISS is a good place to integrate a vehicle like this but the best way seems to fly it around the moon then straight to Earth.

      No, the inclination makes it a lousy place to go to the Moon from too. But using it is probably cheaper than building a construction shack in a sensible orbit if you're not planning to be going to the Moon on a regular basis.

    • ...the best way seems to fly it around the moon then straight to Earth.

      That's what they are talking about doing. The slashdot summary is glib, and thus, unclear. FTFA:

      This vehicle would then likely return straight to Earth, rather than returning to the ISS.

  • Orbitally Dumb (Score:3, Informative)

    by simonbp (412489) on Tuesday October 12, 2010 @06:05PM (#33876816) Homepage

    The ISS is in a 51 deg orbit (so the Russians can reach it from Kazakhstan), which is one the worst possible places to depart for the Moon from. Optimally, you want a transfer orbit coplanar with the Moon's orbit, which varies from 18-28 deg (depending of the time of year). This is because trajectory errors in coplanar orbits tend to cancel out, increasing safety, as well as reducing the mass of fuel required launch to the transfer orbit. So, either the ISS-launched mission does a very-expensive plane-change maneuver, or weighs more and is more unsafe than a conventionally launched mission. Either way, launching to the Moon (or any Lagrange Points) from the ISS is orbitally dumb.

    BTW, the latitude of Kennedy Space Center is 28 deg, the furthest north it can be to optimally launch a mission to the Moon...

    • by 0123456 (636235)

      Either way, launching to the Moon (or any Lagrange Points) from the ISS is orbitally dumb.

      But if you have a choice between:

      1. Spend $50,000,000,000 on building a new NASA heavy lifter and $2,000,000,000 per launch.
      2. Spend $100,000,000 per launch sending each of a dozen components to ISS on existing smaller launchers, assemble them and then send the assembled spacecraft to the Moon.

      Then ISS makes sense. Obviously launching those components to a new space station in a low inclination orbit would save money in the long term, but would add billions more up front.

      • by simonbp (412489)

        No, that's not the choice. The Congress has just (with a supermajority from both parties) approved a new NASA that funds the Big New Rocket, partly because of jobs. So, if NASA is already building a rocket that can go to the Moon with two low-inclination launches, being redundant and going to ISS is both dumb and pointless. If you really want station-based exploration, it's probably cheaper to just build a new station at 23 deg...

        Plus, I think you're vastly underestimating the cost to approve a new Visiting

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by 0123456 (636235)

          So, if NASA is already building a rocket that can go to the Moon with two low-inclination launches, being redundant and going to ISS is both dumb and pointless.

          Not if you want to get there before 2050.

    • by FleaPlus (6935)

      The ISS is in a 51 deg orbit (so the Russians can reach it from Kazakhstan), which is one the worst possible places to depart for the Moon from. Optimally, you want a transfer orbit coplanar with the Moon's orbit, which varies from 18-28 deg (depending of the time of year).

      I've asked this question a couple other places but haven't gotten an answer yet: When you suboptimal, are we talking about a few percent, or more than that? If it's the former, while this is contrary to much of the way performance-obsessed agencies like NASA operate, suboptimal might still be good enough and simply a matter of launch more propellant.

  • Someone who knows more about orbital mechanics and the economics of launches, please correct me here:

    The main issue with getting into space is the high cost in energy (and thus money) of getting out of the Earth's gravity well. The heavier the load, the more fuel is required; more fuel increases the weight, which requires more fuel still... eventually you hit a kind of maximum whereby you can't add enough energy in the form of fuel to overcome the weight of the total package.

    Wouldn't it then be economicall

    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      That would cost even more probably. The reality is the fuel is not that expensive, maybe $20 worth of fuel for every lb of mass to LEO. The Rocket is the expensive part. So making more rockets makes this a more expensive plan.

      • by jjohnson (62583)

        Okay. Is there an economy of scale to building more smaller and simpler rockets instead of larger rockets? Overall, is it more economical to launch 10 packages of 100kg, or one of 100kg? The Russians seem to have figured out how to do it with the Progress Supply Vehicle.

  • Orbital Moon Base (Score:2, Interesting)

    by vvomero (1846562)
    Instead of decomissioning the ISS they should just put it into orbit around the moon. It can be used as a base of some kind, store supplies, etc. at a later date.

"Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there." -- Will Rogers

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