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NASA Space Science

Private Space Shuttle Flights 244

Posted by Soulskill
from the discovering-a-challenging-endeavour-for-enterprise dept.
An anonymous reader writes "It has recently been suggested that when the Space Shuttles are retired after their final flights this year, they may continue operations under the funding of private enterprise. United Space Alliance is considering a $1.5 billion per year proposal to take the fleet private. The aging spacecraft have been flying for close to 30 years, and NASA is retiring them for good reason. Is it safe to continue flights in private hands?"
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Private Space Shuttle Flights

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  • Safe? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by XanC (644172)

    Was it all that safe in government hands?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Mikkeles (698461)

      You payz yer money; you takez yer chances.

      • More like the investors take ter chances, investing in this enterprise (no pun intended).
      • by sootman (158191)

        Full disclosure for those who are getting ready to part with their money: Current odds of catastrophic vehicle loss are roughly 1 in 66. [wikipedia.org]

    • Is space flight at the present development of the state of the art ever safe? There has to be some risk, if really high tech stuff is to be developed. I'd trust private industry over the government any day of the week.
      • by sznupi (719324)
        I'd trust "the most reliable means of space travel ... the most frequently used launch vehicle in the world" [esa.int] (but hey, you're free to trust private enterprises, they don't ever cut corners after all, no sir)

        BTW, the final mission to Mir of the above spacecraft was privately funded IIRC, so that's not a new approach...
        • by QuantumG (50515) *

          Umm.. are you deliberately trying to be ironic?

          You *are* aware that the Soyuz is operated by a "private enterprise" right?

          They even have a website. [energia.ru]

          • by sznupi (719324)
            In post-Soviet Russia, "private industry / enterprise" has a bit different meaning to you... (not only because they are a very direct descendants of... / supply only some parts of the puzzle / the whole party is by Roskosmos)
            • by QuantumG (50515) *

              Huh? We're talking about giving USA the keys to the Shuttle - you know, the people currently operate the Shuttle. It's exactly the same arrangement Energia got from Roskosmos.. instead of just being paid to operate, they get to build, own and operate. Partial commercialization to full commercialization. The only difference, of course, is that NASA would no doubt gift USA the Shuttles, the tooling, the factories, the workers, and provide them with free operating advice in perpetuity, whereas Roskosmos wa

      • I believe the standard reply to your post is "why trust a corporation with a profit margin to protect when you can trust a government that's unafraid of wasteful spending?" The number of lives lost in the US space program is paltry compared to certain attempts to get into space on a cost-cutting budget [youtube.com]. If there's a place in the universe where wasteful government spending is preferable to a "get it done" mentality, surely it's when so many lives are at stake if a rocket fails to launch correctly.

        That bei
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Un pobre guey (593801)
        Ah yes, the "private enterprise does things better than the government" meme. It is unfounded, of course, but sounds really good. This time, it's being applied to 30 year old space vehicles built for the government then operated and maintained by them (two of which suffered catastrophic failure, BTW). By some magical force (the Invisible Hand, perhaps), private enterprise will not only make them work better than ever before with a truly spartan budget, but with wealthy civilian passengers onboard!

        1) Prop
        • Both catastrophic failures were due to the launch method rather than vehicle maintenance. Side mount for the lose!
    • by hellfire (86129) <(deviladv) (at) (gmail.com)> on Monday February 07, 2011 @05:39PM (#35131228) Homepage

      Space travel is dangerous in general. Until private space travel takes off (no pun intended) we won't have a good set of figures to find out which is relatively safer, private space travel or public, and even then, private travel will have made it's way on the shoulders of publicly funded research into what was basically unknown until people were willing to take a chance.

      I'm sure we can create a relatively useful and beneficial private space industry going with open minded entrepreneurs willing to cooperate with straightforward and intelligent government oversight. I hope that doesn't get in the way of summary's anti-business rail and the parent comment's anti-government hard-on rage he was going for.

      • by 0123456 (636235)

        Until private space travel takes off (no pun intended) we won't have a good set of figures to find out which is relatively safer, private space travel or public

        No legal business could survive for long if it killed one customer in fifty with their first purchase.

        • by timeOday (582209)
          The risk of death for open heart surgery [syracuse.com] is approximately 1/50. And you don't even get a refund!
          • by 0123456 (636235)

            The risk of death for open heart surgery [syracuse.com] is approximately 1/50. And you don't even get a refund!

            Perhaps, but they're presumably going to die without it so they're better off with a 2% chance of death. I doubt anyone is going to die any time soon because they couldn't go on a space tourism trip (absent aliens promising to cure cancer or whatever).

            • by timeOday (582209)
              On top of the safety issues, I can't imagine anybody operating the Shuttle at a justifiable cost for space tourism. That would be like trying to operate a taxi service based on the M1 battle tank. If the shuttle is financially viable for anything (which I doubt), it would only be for when you need a manned heavy-lift capability.
              • True. I would assume that continuing to launch payload into orbit would be part of the business plan- there's still a lot of demand for that, it pays well, and it's no harder than launching the shuttle in the first place. Otherwise they had better extend life support to the payload bay and fly tourists in bulk.

    • Space is deadly dangerous in all but the hands of God and perhaps Hollywood, so of course not.
  • Convert them to unmanned drones. Save money by removing the life support systems.

    • by RockoTDF (1042780)
      I like this....would make a nice reusable transport system for carrying up big stuff.
    • Ahh! You mean like the Boeing X-37B:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_X-37 [wikipedia.org]

      Hell of a craft. All the pros of the shuttle, with none of the cons.

      • Re:Big RC tugs (Score:4, Informative)

        by sznupi (719324) on Monday February 07, 2011 @05:44PM (#35131282) Homepage
        ...and boosted to orbit as a payload of expendable launcher (with Russian main engine, to boot)
        • by icebike (68054)

          How does a Delta II or Atlas V qualify as a Russian Main Engine?

          • by sznupi (719324)
            Fine: Soviet, basically - better? (really, next time, before replying, check what one of the rockets that you mentioned (and the only which lifted X-37 so far) uses as its main engine...)
          • Atlas V uses a Russian RD-180 LOX/Kerosene motor in it's first stage. It's derived from the RD-170 used in the Energia booster, except it runs two combustion chambers (instead of four) off a single turbo pump.

    • by LWATCDR (28044)

      I doubt you would save much by removing Life support. You may gain a bit of payload.
      Making it a UAV would be pretty easy. It is already FBW so adding the control system would be pretty easy.
      Boeing has a bunch of cost saving improvements that where never funded that they could probably apply if they didn't have to make it man rated. Things like removing the APUs and replacing them with electrical systems.

      • It's not the life support hardware in of itself that would save money in payload space. It's not having to spend that time testing and verifying *safe* functionality of said life support hardware. That's where the real money will be saved.

        • by LWATCDR (28044)

          Some but over all I am not sure how much that savings would be. The ability to upgrade things like the APUs while not worrying as much about man rating those changes I see as a big savings but every bit would count.

    • by sznupi (719324)
      If only the life support system was the reason for the expense of the Shuttle, it not delivering on any of main points as advertised, and large expense per launch...
  • I'm sure that with that kind of budget something better than the shuttle could be developed, at least for the uses they mentioned in TFA

    • by mschaffer (97223)

      Just imagine what Scaled Composites would be able to do with $1.5 billion!

    • by cheetah (9485)

      Last I had heard the estimated cost per shuttle flight was over $1 Billion. Due to the way NASA does accounting they don't put out an official cost per flight. When the program started they wanted to be flying the shuttle every 2 weeks. The program was always going to be costly year over year but the idea was that with many flights we would be getting a great value. As the program has flown less flights per year the costs have gone WAY up.

      So when I heard that they wanted to do this for $1.5 billion per

      • Presumably by paying their workers crap wages, just like any red-blooded large American private company trims costs.

        They could probably also offset the costs by offering very expensive rides into space. You don't need all 7 seats to be filled with crew if you're just bringing up a satellite or delivering food to the ISS. A commander, pilot, and payload specialist would do it. Then sell the other 4 seats at $125million a pop and you've just absorbed half a billion worth of launch costs.

        Plus, it's not at all

  • Is it safe to continue flights in private hands?

    Probably not while maintaining the current track record, no. But I can guarantee that many, many astronauts and potential astronauts would find the risk entirely acceptable.

  • by k6mfw (1182893) on Monday February 07, 2011 @05:29PM (#35131122)

    If I can wave the magic wand, I would have NASA build a new Space Shuttle by learning to do it better the second time around. Of course there's arguments winged vehicles are limited and retro spam cans are safer (though water landings are dangerous, almost lost Grissom), however, there are limits to parachute size.

    OK so the Shuttle has its flaws but so did the Tri-Motor. But that didn't stop engineers from building a better airplane, they nailed a useful design with the DC-3 and some of them are still in service! In the late 70s and in 80s, it was said if NASA spent more on development, the operational costs would have been lower (and perhaps could have eliminated some inherent dangers of non-stoppable boosters, foam shedding, and other scary stuff).

    • Re:New Shuttle! (Score:4, Insightful)

      by publiclurker (952615) on Monday February 07, 2011 @05:34PM (#35131172)
      The big problem with the shuttle is that they had to give it a huge payload in order to get the military to sign on and get the necessary funding. If they were to start again using modern technologies, they should be able to create something smaller for human launches that is both safer and cheaper.
      • by peragrin (659227)

        that's just it the shuttle has never done one the of the key features it was designed for. bring back to earth the really big satellites.

        Personally I say NASA keeps one shuttle, one tank, one pair of SRB's, etc ready to go, and in 5 years when it is time to retire the hubble for the last time. go retrieve it.

        Every Astronaut, scientist, and engineer will gladly come back to NASA for a short time to make it happen.

        • Re:New Shuttle! (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Miamicanes (730264) on Monday February 07, 2011 @06:34PM (#35131840)

          Why? Retrieving Hubble would make no sense at all.

          99.9% of its cost was just getting it into orbit to begin with. If anything, it would make MORE sense to give it one last hard shove AWAY from the Earth once it's about to become uncontrollable, so that N years from now, somebody can go salvage, refurbish, and put it back into service. Maybe tow it to the moon, Mars, or somewhere else. Or turn it into an orbiting shrine or tourist attraction someday.

          Then again, I was rather relieved when NASA got the loony idea of asking the Russians to sign off on its plans to deorbit the ISS after its official service life is over in 2014, and the Russians politely (but firmly) made it known that they intend to keep it in orbit (with duct tape & WD-40, if necessary) until the day they literally can't stop it from falling into the Pacific. We might be insane enough to buy into the accounting profession's madness that an asset whose full lifecycle cost has officially been zeroed-out is now without value and must be disposed of immediately, but the Russians still recognize that they have a really, really expensive asset in a valuable location that cost an unholy amount of money to get there, and they're going to wring every last ${currency-unit} they can out of it before writing it off and abandoning it.

          • by sznupi (719324)
            They might not abandon it for quite some time (at least in the style of Ship of Theseus...) - gradually morphing their segment into "new" station [wikipedia.org] (an official spacedock this time, apparently)... which seems only like a good approach.
        • by sznupi (719324)
          Launch two or three new Hubbles (just on expendable boosters this time) for the same cost, please?

          (maybe the ability to bring back space weathered junk was not such a great thing after all...)
        • Yes, the shuttle has brought satellites back down to Earth.

          http://www.sattel.com/life_of_palapa_b2.htm [sattel.com]

      • The big problem with the shuttle is that they had to give it a huge payload in order to get the military to sign on and get the necessary funding.

        They'd have ended up with a huge cargo capacity anyhow - as the original plan with the Shuttle as the people carrier and a separate heavy lift booster as the cargo carrier never came to fruition. NASA was already moving in that direction when the DoD came onboard.

        If they were to start again using modern technologies, they should be able to create something smalle

    • by sznupi (719324)
      Most "retro spam cans" landings were on the ground (yes, there are limits to parachute sizes - but far after sensible limits of crew and hence capsule size; plus there are other landing systems possible...)

      Why "retro", anyway? Have we forgotten that spaceplanes were the mode of space travel in scifi of 30s, 40s or 50s? (no doubt influenced by rapid advances in airplane technology) How the blunt ballistic shape came out as a bit of a surprise, after long domination of dreams with spaceplanes? (on which ma
  • nothing else flies except Soyuz. and won't for several years (unless you're a spook working off-budget and have a friend at Vandenberg AFB.) it's a slickly clever plan to push the danger and the responsiblity out to a contractor. it will, by necessity of course, succeed.

    • by Alereon (660683) on Monday February 07, 2011 @06:05PM (#35131476)
      The SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon spacecraft have already conducted successful orbital and reentry operations and will be performing resupply missions to the ISS this year. As you mentioned, there's also the Soyuz for crew exchange missions until the Dragon is man-rated, and both the European Space Agency and Japanese Space Agency will be operating unmanned resupply operations, in addition to the Russian Prospekt missions. The reality is that we're not suffering from any gap between our space transport needs and available capabilities, attempts to convince the American public otherwise are simply transparent cash-grabs by the military industrial complex (Boeing, Lockmart, and the other contractors that make most of their money building things that go boom), supported by Republican congressmen in love with pork.
    • nothing else flies except Soyuz.

      Want to fly to space? Learn Russian.

      and won't for several years (unless you're a spook working off-budget and have a friend at Vandenberg AFB.)

      Not Vandenberg, but maybe the Secret Squirrels at Groom Lake (aka, Area 51) have something up their sleeves. But I wouldn't bet on it. A hobby pilot in Texas told me about "scramjet" sitings around the area, all rumors of course, but who knows. Probably the Kremlin is better informed than the American public about this. The Russians are very smart. Their spy motto is, "Why pay for an expensive spy satellite, when we can bribe a disgruntled scientist for a fraction o

  • What is the purpose of re-using them? Is it purely as a space tug, or a space cargo shuttle that has self-guided re-entry, or is it something else? It seems to me that a lot of the stuff we do in orbit doesn't have to be staffed with humans for everything,....I mean, why else keep making software do new stuff?

    (Yes, I want space tourism. But I kinda doubt it'll happen in my lifetime; the logistics and geopolitical issues conspire to make it bloody unlikely that governments will allow civilian space touris

    • (Yes, I want space tourism. But I kinda doubt it'll happen in my lifetime; the logistics and geopolitical issues conspire to make it bloody unlikely that governments will allow civilian space tourism....)

      Er, what [wikipedia.org]?

    • What is the purpose of re-using them?

      To keep the ATK money train rolling.

  • Private enterprises would never ever sacrifice security to cut costs

    • by anom (809433)

      Just like the government never would (has) either!

    • by Kjella (173770)

      Which is why every private transport company has been a security disaster. Wait, nope it hasn't. Being unreliable and lethal tends to be bad for business and as the industry matures it's sure to be updated with security regulations.

      If you want safe then strapping yourself on top of tons of rocket fuel to be shot up into space probably isn't the best idea anyway, the margins before something goes catastrophically wrong are slim no matter who runs it.

      That said, I think the Shuttle is a rather poor business ca

    • by ScentCone (795499)

      Private enterprises would never ever sacrifice security to cut costs

      Private enterprises make a lot of cars I would never drive on roads that are used by other people or crossed by large animals ... and they also make some incredibly safe, well-engineered vehicles. Those two products serve different markets and budgets. The private space flight market isn't aimed at the people who buy subcompact death mobiles, right?

    • by siddesu (698447)

      It isn't like all of the NASA vehicles were built in a government-own factory, you know. The whole space shuttle program was built by private corporations too. Uncle Sam only provided the investment, so to speak.

  • by HotNeedleOfInquiry (598897) on Monday February 07, 2011 @05:38PM (#35131218)
    To determine the airworthiness of the shuttles. Then the real question would be whether or not the FAA could possibly gather the balls to issue airworthiness and pilot certificates. It's a very interesting question. If it could be done, it might greatly speed the privatization of space.
    • To determine the airworthiness of the shuttles. Then the real question would be whether or not the FAA could possibly gather the balls to issue airworthiness and pilot certificates.

      Probably what would happen is NASA would take the ball away from the FAA by declaring the private Shuttle to be a Public Aircraft - and thus not under the FAA's jurisdiction. (NASA has done this before, with the Guppy family of aircraft for example.)

    • True only if it is wearing an "N" on it's tail. I'll bet United Space Alliance could buy a an "X3" number pretty cheap.

  • by Animats (122034) on Monday February 07, 2011 @05:46PM (#35131300) Homepage

    Won't work. The Shuttle required a huge infrastructure, employing about 15,000 people as late as 2009. Layoffs have been underway for years. Manufacturing and repair facilities have been closed down. The parts stock has been depleted. It's over.

    • by KugelKurt (908765)

      No problem. Private investors would outsource the service work to India and/or China anyway.

  • I have often wondered how much it would cost to build new shuttles? The technology is better now, cheaper, and there are plans obviously. No expert here, just a question.
    • The problem NASA has is that the guy that holds its purse strings is owned by ATK, the people who make the big, heavy, expensive, solid rocket boosters. No SRBs no money.
    • The problem is that you wouldn't just have to pay for the parts... you'd have to pay companies to resurrect parts based on components that haven't commercially existed in 25-30 years. Endeavour wasn't built from scratch -- it was built from spare parts intended for use with the other shuttles. Frankly, I'm surprised NASA hasn't had to cannibalize any of the shuttles (including the two destroyed ones) for spare parts to keep the others going. Just to give an example, if a window on Endeavour doesn't pass a p

  • 30 years? (Score:4, Informative)

    by H0p313ss (811249) on Monday February 07, 2011 @05:52PM (#35131374)

    The aging spacecraft have been flying for close to 30 years

    That's a little disingenuous, while Discovery and Atlantis are from the original fleet are 27 and 26 years old respectively, Endeavour was a replacement first used in 1992 and therefore only 19 years old. Note that ALL of the current fleet have gone through significant refits. If I recall there were two refits for Discovery and Altantis and one for Endeavour.

    and NASA is retiring them for good reason.

    True. Nobody expected the program to go this long without a replacement. Up until the 80s and the Shuttle NASA had been fairly aggressive with new R&D. It's really easy to point fingers and assign blame, but quite frankly the hope and dream of the 60s has long been buried in bureaucratic mismanagement and budget cuts. There are a lot of people at NASA who, if given a budget and a free rein, could inspire us again.

    I really feel sorry for the under 30 crowd who never got to see the Apollo missions. Personally the only one I remember is the Apollo/Soyez linkup but being a kid in the 70s you had the impression that things were happening and that the future was in spaceflight...

    • What NASA really needed was a good PR firm. Show the astronauts working, and doing the dangerous stuff, rather than zero G antics.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by k6mfw (1182893)

      30 years ago I remember getting up really early (very am) to watch STS-1 on April 10, but flight was delayed because onboard computers would not sync with ground-based computers at T-20 min. Launch team recycled the countdown and tried numerous times but no go (and couldn't understand how this happened in spite of numerous launch simulations). So there we were of about 30 of us in a math class at Cal Poly trying our best to stay awake because we all got up early to watch the Shuttle.

      STS-1 was rescheduled

  • With the estate tax (aka "death tax") in place, this could be a fantastic source of funding for the gov't. Every time there's an accident and one of the billionaires on board dies, half their estate will go to the gov't and half to their heirs. NASA could use these funds to pay for the shuttle replacement program.

  • While I doubt USA (the company not the country) has a lot of options, this reeks of desperation. The Shuttle has huge flaws and liabilities that don't go away merely because you transition its operation to private hands.

    1) There are only three Shuttles (one which has been mothballed). Lose one and it's the end of the program. Who would develop a $1 billion probe that could only be launched on the Shuttle, knowing that there's a double digit chance that the Shuttle ends through accident by the time the pr
    • The shuttle also acts to periodically boost the ISS into higher orbit. The drag on the ISS from the thin whisps of atmosphere is decaying its orbit. Without occasional boosts, it will come down.
  • Only a couple of shuttles blew up due to poor maintenance while they were publicly run; how much worse can it be when the maintenance budget is managed by someone trying to actually make a profit?

  • by steveha (103154) on Monday February 07, 2011 @06:17PM (#35131604) Homepage

    There is no way a private company could keep the shuttles flying and make any sort of profit.

    Even when they were brand-new, the shuttles needed an insane amount of work to service them after each flight. According to Henry Spencer, in postings on sci.space, it took a "standing army" of NASA employees months of work to prep a shuttle for the next launch. The main engines need to be pulled and overhauled, tiles need to be inspected and damaged tiles replaced, and I don't even remember all the details.

    I remember he said it takes a million signatures to launch a shuttle. As in: work gets done, someone runs down a checklist and makes sure everything is good, and someone signs off that the work is complete. That, times a million.

    As others have noted here, the payload capacity of the shuttle is rather large, which isn't actually that useful most of the time. On the other hand, the shuttle can only reach a low orbit, which is also not ideal. So basically a shuttle flight can lift a stupidly large payload to low orbit, then it needs man-centuries of maintenance before it can do it again.

    Adding spice and excitement is the chance the shuttle will be destroyed during the mission. (The people on board might or might not die: historically each shuttle lost has killed everyone, but one of the exciting failure modes would be for the landing gear to fail and the shuttle skid to a stop, never to fly again.) Henry Spencer estimated that the shuttle is only 99% likely to avoid being destroyed, which is terrible odds. (I believe he made that estimate after Challenger and before Columbia.) The shuttle has had 132 missions and two catastrophes; I have no reason to think it has gotten safer since then. (Yes, lessons have been learned and applied, so I shouldn't expect the exact same catastrophes again. But what other catastrophes might happen with an aging space shuttle?) Also according to Henry Spencer, if two tires on any single landing gear arm blow out during landing, that would total the shuttle (probably without hurting any astronauts). That has never happened, but one tire blowing out has, more than once.

    As many have said for many years, what we really need is a "space pickup truck". There are times you want a giant moving van, but much of the time you are better off with the smaller capacity pickup truck.

    What we really need is a launch vehicle that can take a small payload (one single ton would be plenty for many useful purposes) into orbit, then land, be minimally serviced, and then do it again tomorrow. You could ferry people and supplies up and down quickly and easily. You could have one or even several on stand-by to launch in case of some sort of emergency. You could send large things up in modules, and connect the modules once in orbit.

    The ideal reusable vehicle would be a "single stage to orbit" (SSTO) design. You want your space pickup truck to have as low a total cost of operations as possible, so having pieces fall off it during launch is a complication you want to avoid.

    If you must, do a two-stage to orbit. Some serious proposals have called for two manned vehicles, docked, with one lifting the other part-way up and then a pilot flying it back down while the other vehicle goes the rest of the way to orbit.

    I believe that, when we get our "space pickup truck", it will have been developed by private industry. Armadillo Aerospace, SpaceX, XCOR, and various others are trying various things, and after enough generations of prototypes, somebody will get an affordable system for moving things and people in and out of space.

    Many things become possible once you have cheap and reliable access to space. For example, if you want to send people to Mars, you would do well to ship fuel, oxygen, and other supplies up in a bunch of little cheap flights, rather than trying to do the Apollo thing of having a complete and self-contained system launch from Earth.

    steveha

  • Keep one in space (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tekrat (242117) on Monday February 07, 2011 @06:18PM (#35131614) Homepage Journal

    Every illustration, poster, image, of a "space station" produced from 1975 to 2007 showed a docked shuttle. Usually it was some "expanded" version of the ISS, and there was always a shuttle in those images, docked.

    I propose we keep one in space. Send it up unmanned, remotely piloted (or send up a single pilot, who's return flight will be provided by the Russians), and keep it docked to the ISS.

    This way, the ISS has an "emergency boat" or escape craft if something goes extremely wrong. Furthermore, as Apollo 13 showed us, it's good to have an extra "lifeboat" that the crew could evacuate to if there's a problem aboard the ISS that can't easily be fixed.

    It could be both an escape pod and an extra shelter. We know that seven people can fit on the shuttle's living quarters and you can bet the folks up there would appreciate the extra space.

    Plus is has it's own O2 scrubbers, fuel cells, and could even be used as a tug to boost the ISS into a better orbit someday. Why throw it away? That makes no sense if we've already got people up there.

    • Re:Keep one in space (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Rorschach1 (174480) on Monday February 07, 2011 @06:56PM (#35132072) Homepage

      I'm no expert here, but it's my understanding that the shuttles really aren't intended for such long-duration use. Even the Soyuz capsules have a limited shelf-life. You've got cryogenic liquids powering the fuel cells, corrosive propellants in the thrusters, and who knows what else that won't keep. And I'd assume that you have to keep the temperature inside regulated to some degree, which might take a significant amount of power.

      In short, that's a whole lot of complex hardware to maintain for a task that could be accomplished by something much simpler - like the existing Soyuz capsules.

    • I propose we keep one in space. Send it up unmanned, remotely piloted (or send up a single pilot, who's return flight will be provided by the Russians), and keep it docked to the ISS.

      This way, the ISS has an "emergency boat" or escape craft if something goes extremely wrong.

      There are two huge problems here:

      • The ISS isn't designed to stay in the attitude required to keep the Shuttle shielded from orbital debris and excessive solar heating for any length of time.
      • Which attitude also interferes with the ability
    • by david.given (6740) <dg@cRASPowlark.com minus berry> on Monday February 07, 2011 @07:08PM (#35132208) Homepage Journal

      This way, the ISS has an "emergency boat" or escape craft if something goes extremely wrong.

      No, it wouldn't. The shuttle's strictly designed for short-term stays in space. Keep it there for more than about ten days and its cryogenics will boil, its fuel cells will run dry, its carbon dioxide scrubbers will saturate, and it'll generally start decaying. Hell, I don't even think it's completely airtight.

      It is possible for the shuttle to use the ISS' power bus to reduce the load on the shuttle's own fuel cells. This can extend a shuttle mission up to fourteen days, although it does need to be docked to make it work. NASA was working on a system called the Extended Duration Orbiter for free flying missions. With this, a shuttle could stay in orbit for sixteen days; they built one, and flew it twice. The second time was on Columbia, and it didn't come down.

      One of the great things about the Soyuz capsules is that they're designed for long-duration stays in space; they can last for months docked to the space station. That's why they're the preferred option for the ISS lifeboats; they try to keep one docked at all times. NASA was working on its own lifeboat, the X38 lifting body vehicle... it got cancelled, of course. Right now it looks like the next candidate will be the manned Dragon.

      Personally, I think they should do an unmanned launch of the last shuttle with the cargo hold crammed full of the dangerous fuel tanks they wouldn't let the shuttle lift after Challenger. This can boost it up into a high orbit --- GEO's probably not possible, but that would be nice --- and there they just let it shut down and rot as an orbiting museum piece. Everyone will be able to see it, on the longest shuttle mission ever. And one day it'll form the core of a real museum of spacecraft, in orbit where they belong.

  • by pz (113803)

    The aging spacecraft have been flying for close to 30 years, and NASA is retiring them for good reason.

    What would that good reason be? Just because they share the same name and basic design as something that started flying 30 years ago? The design *has* evolved, you realize, right? There *have* been updates.

    The Russians are still flying Soyuz. It is a design that's closing in on 50 years old. Should they stop flying it just because it's an old design, despite the fact that it is the most reliable manned space system?

    The Boeing 747 was designed in the 1960 and first flew in 1970. A standard 747 airframe

  • Say before ten flights, then the government will panic and shut private spaceflight down for good. If is after several dozen flights, then they'll be a temporary suspension, study, and re-engineering.
  • "The aging spacecraft have been flying for close to 30 years, and NASA is retiring them for good reason..."

    NASA is retiring them for no reason other than a lack of money.

    They were designed to fly 100 missions each, I'm not sure if they've even passed 25 each yet.

  • is going to pay $750 million PER FLIGHT for a private shuttle launch (and it will never be that cheap), when they can wait a few more years and pay maybe $100 million to SpaceX or Boeing or even United Space Alliance for a rocket launch in a new, much safer capsule.

    This is all about cost. An analogy would be continuing to use a mainframe with a $1M/year support contract to do your accounting, when a $5k off the shelf server could do it just as well.

    Necron69

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