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Sci-Fi Space Science

Nautilus-X: the Space Station With Rockets 121

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the out-for-a-cruise dept.
astroengine writes "So we have a space station, now what? We've heard some rather outlandish ideas, but this is one concept a research group in NASA is taking seriously. By retrofitting the ISS with rockets, Nautilus-X will act as an interplanetary space station of sorts, including room for 6 astronauts, an artificial gravity ring, inflatable habitats and docking for exploration spaceships. When can we take a luxury cruise to Mars? 2020 by the project's estimate. It all sounds very 2001, but the projected costs of retrofitting the space station seem a little on the low side."
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Nautilus-X: the Space Station With Rockets

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  • by MightyMartian (840721) on Tuesday February 22, 2011 @04:26PM (#35283266) Journal

    It's a damned cool idea. Probably won't happen, but still, an awesome second life for the ISS, and one that has an actual point to it.

    • Re:Neat (Score:5, Informative)

      by Mr.Intel (165870) <mrintel173NO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Tuesday February 22, 2011 @04:31PM (#35283332) Homepage Journal

      It's a damned cool idea. Probably won't happen, but still, an awesome second life for the ISS, and one that has an actual point to it.

      Yes, a very cool idea. The only catch? Increased costs for resupplying the thing. Even at Earth-Moon L1, it's out much further than GEOsats, which are orders of magnitude further out than the ISS is currently at LEO. Funding the retrofit is one thing, funding resupply and ferrying in/out inhabitants is quite another. Besides, that thing would have to live outside the earth's magnetic field. Water shield or not, I'd hate to be out there during a CME or X-class flare.

      • Yeah, if only we could create some sort of surface-point electromagnetic shield generator to protect the ship. Something with sensors that detect feedback when charged particles interact with the field, increasing the impedance of specific generators, and shift more power to them to increase the shielding to that area. That way they could always run low power until detecting radioactive particles, immediately responding by increasing power flow to the affected area. That would be an awesome idea, but not
        • A magnetic shield is, in princible, doable. In practicality it'd take a ridiculously huge coil and vast amount of power. It's not going to work. Plus you'd still need two huge lumps of shielding, unless you want an aurora inside your station.
          • Rare earth magnets... Why would you spend electrical power to generate a DC magnetic field?
            Permanent magnets are always on and draw no power.

      • Re:Neat (Score:4, Insightful)

        by 680x0 (467210) <vicky AT steeds DOT com> on Tuesday February 22, 2011 @05:25PM (#35283876) Journal

        You do realize that despite the resemblance, this thing is not actually a Space Station. It's a space vehicle designed for interplanetary travel.

        • by plut4rch (1553209)

          You do realize that despite the resemblance, this thing is not actually a Space Station.

          Is it a moon?

          • by 680x0 (467210)

            I suppose given some windows and some pantless astronauts it could be. :-)

      • Two words: Space elevator.
        • by MrKaos (858439)

          Two words: Space elevator.

          Indeed. Focusing our effort on the last part of creating a space elevator, the long strand carbon nanotubes, would be a key part of a presence in space because it will also allow us to build larger and more massive structures in space. I'm sure there are plenty of innovative ways to build in space with our existing materials but as there is no magical shield technology, ice or regolith is more likely.

          Having a building material with strength in the gigapascal range would certainly be a great starting point.

          • We have materials with tensile strength in the GPa range. Some very high strength steels even have that (~2GPa) and glass fiber does as well. Some carbon fiber is up in the 3-5GPa region. However a space elevator needs strength to weight *ratio* (steel is poor while carbon fiber is the best so far). Almost the whole structure is supporting itself.
            • by MrKaos (858439)

              We have materials with tensile strength in the GPa range. Some very high strength steels even have that (~2GPa) and glass fiber does as well. Some carbon fiber is up in the 3-5GPa region. However a space elevator needs strength to weight *ratio* (steel is poor while carbon fiber is the best so far). Almost the whole structure is supporting itself.

              I should have been more specific. According to Bradley C. Edwards, Ph.D the author of "The Space Elevator, NIAC Phase II Final Report" a S.E needs material with 100 GPa strength. He also reports that early testing of CNT have tensile strengths of 63 GPa and a theoretical strength of 300 GPa in the 10s of grams range.

              • 60 is enough for carbon since the density is about 2000-3000kg m^-3. However its not a given that bulk cable will have even close to that strength. All materials have a bulk strength much lower than the "theoretical bond strength". Basically you are fighting entropy. A few mm of fiber without defects is easy. A few meters is harder, 50,000km.... good luck. There is already one paper that suggested that bulk CNT will not do the job since defects can "slip" just like in metals (more complex in CNT however).
                • by MrKaos (858439)

                  Thank you for such a thoughtful post.

                  60 is enough for carbon since the density is about 2000-3000kg m^-3. However its not a given that bulk cable will have even close to that strength. All materials have a bulk strength much lower than the "theoretical bond strength". Basically you are fighting entropy. A few mm of fiber without defects is easy. A few meters is harder, 50,000km.... good luck. There is already one paper that suggested that bulk CNT will not do the job since defects can "slip" just like in

                  • The problem with predictions on costs, its that you have no idea how much the cable will cost, and hence estimated costs are literally just made up. There is simple no way to know what the cable will cost.

                    As for disruptive technology. Not really. Not nearly as disruptive as CNT bulk materials with +60GPa strength with a density at ~3000 kg/m3. This is so much better than what we have today that is like jumping from the copper age to the post industrial age in one go, with respect to materials anyway. Let
                    • by MrKaos (858439)

                      The problem with predictions on costs, its that you have no idea how much the cable will cost, and hence estimated costs are literally just made up. There is simple no way to know what the cable will cost.

                      Well I think that you have to start somewhere and an estimate that is a ballpark figure is as good a place to start as anywhere. Hey by the time a S.E is implemented it may even be cheaper.

                      As for disruptive technology. Not really.Not nearly as disruptive as CNT... It would/will be a big deal.

                      Absolutely, CNT will certainly enable many things like multi kilometre high sky scrapers, super sonic railways under the ocean, lightweight passenger vehicles, breeder reactors that work, the list goes on and are not limited to just an S.E.

                      However such a material is so useful in so many different ways, that we don't need a space elevator as a reason to research it. This is how i see it happening. First we finally get bulk CNT with +60GPa strength, but they are expensive(try buying 1kg of SWCNT today). ...Note that there was little disruption in this case due to the high initial cost of the fibers.

                      Agree, I just wonder what the first industry to use it will be and how we can force

                    • Unfortunately orbital mechanics precludes just "unhooking" from the cable in LEO or other orbits without a really big rocket. For LEO its needs to be about the same size as one from the ground. LEO and indeed other orbits are a issue of speed, not height. Its unintuitive, but true.
        • There is no material in existence that's strong enough for a space elevator. Sure there are some *theoretical* possibilities, but that's all they are, *theory*.

          And even if we do eventually make a material with that kind of strength to weight ratio (ie more that 10x current best). It will be easy to make uber performance rockets.

          A space elevator is like a bridge across the ocean. Even if you could build it. Its still cheaper to have a runway at each end and fly, than to build the bridge.
      • As far as I am aware there are two main types of radiation. An electromagentic shield wouldn't be really needed, since whatever it stops could be stopped by your skin anyway. The other type you'd need a foot of lead or lots of water. I'm open to correction here but that's my understanding.

        • This is not correct. Cosmic rays have high energy and are not stopped so easily. Indeed they have so much energy that they produce massive secondary showers of high energy particles.

          How long you are in space depends what you need to worry about. Long duration, cosmic rays becomes the lions share of the dose. Shorter missions the solar wind is more of a issue (IIRC). In both cases CME are a real problem--without a "bunker" shelter, your dead. The shielding requirements means that you just can't do small w
      • by Hylandr (813770)

        Was I the only one that read "GEOsats" as "Goatsex"?

        Seems just as likely to catch politicians banging a goat than exploring the universe I guess.

        - Dan.

    • Re:Neat (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) on Tuesday February 22, 2011 @04:32PM (#35283342)

      Hrm. Took me aback as well, that might just work with some serious modifications. Of course I don't see much point in going to Mars right away, we'd be better off concentrating on the mineral wealth floating around near to earth and using that to build orbital manufactories and further survey ships. Once we have a significant orbital infrastructure we can populate that level and look at going much further out, in style.

      I mean I get the whole wonder of the mission and so on, but there's a reason man didn't go back to the moon. We need real economic incentives to build onwards and upwards, realistically. Once we're up there in force it's a whole lot easier to go anywhere else.

      • by StikyPad (445176)

        I mean I get the whole wonder of the mission and so on, but there's a reason man didn't go back to the moon.

        Taking a cue from Greenland, they obviously should've referred to the moon as Cheeseland.

        • by kwbauer (1677400)
          Except Greenland did have a whole lot of pastureland back in the day (before the multi-century cold snap we've been in and that seems to be ending now). It is only revisionist history by the AGW crowd that claims the Greenland name was a ruse to mislead people. Kind of interesting really. Tell a lie about how others told lies to hide the fact that you are being less than honest about some aspects of your story.
          • by dryeo (100693)

            And of course Iceland had no pasture back then, just ice due to how cold it was back then before the multi-century warm spell most of the world (excepting the far north Atlantic) experienced.

      • by bigpat (158134)

        I agree. It could work and it might be nice to do. But what is the objective? To do it just because we can?

        Effectively and efficiently harnessing and utilizing energy and raw materials in space and on other planets is key to further space exploration. Focusing on robotic exploration and automated mining and manufacturing would give us the type of infrastructure we need in space to build the ships and space stations that people might actually be able to live in self sustainably. And by the time that infr

        • by Unkyjar (1148699)

          I don't disagree, you're right. However, I think point behind it is that if we're going to do manned exploration (regardless of whether it is smart to choose it), this would be the least expensive first step.

    • by Aighearach (97333)

      It's a damned cool idea.

      It's about the stupidest thing I've heard on slashdot in hours.

      It's a research station. Using it as an docking station would ruin one or the other task.

      And a docking station is probably better run as a business. A combined government project would be more expensive, because they'd assume the business side would be a cash cow that could subsidize the research and reduce expenditures. Then it would be too expensive to use, and it would lose the maximum possible amount of money when it sits manned and idle.

    • Well, the "attach rockets to the space station" part has been around for a long time. I worked on a proposal for a boost module that, sufficiently extended, would have served the purpose here. That was even one of the parts of the study.

      That a long-duration space station would make an ideal platform for a long-duration trip to mars, etc, is also hardly new - it goes back to at least the 50's. All the same problems have to be solved for low earth orbit (for a long time) and and years-long plan

      • by vlm (69642)

        One thing that is not the same is resupply, and that (not surprisingly) is the sticking point with all these sorts of schemes.

        Also massive thermal problems. Everything on the station was designed with one hemisphere experiencing vaguely constant room temperature radiation from the surface and the other half oscillates from deep space to direct solar every 90 minutes or so.

        Deep space operations will have some pretty weird thermal effects. I suppose if you spin it fast enough...

        • by strack (1051390)
          skylab solved that shit with a bit of foil out a port when the main shade failed to deploy. in a few days. so i dont think its gonna be as much of a problem as you think. its all radiative heat.
        • It's not much of a problem, and it's certainly a well-understood problem.

      • One thing that is not the same is resupply, and that (not surprisingly) is the sticking point with all these sorts of schemes.

             

        Couldn't you just fire a continuous stream of supply pods after it? You could even use them to help build up velocity if you wanted. It doesn't matter how long your supply chain is, once it is unbroken. You could even fire a cluster of them intended to end up around Mars in orbit.

        • by JustNilt (984644)

          I'm sure that'd be doable if we had infinite resources with which to do it. Of course, this is kind of the same issue with basic resupply: COST.

          • Energy is basically free, you have the sun right there. The main cost after building it is getting the stuff from the earth to the launcher, I'm envisioning some sort of two stage railgun apparatus here.

  • Waste not, want not.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I wonder what the fuel budget for moving from Earth orbit to Mars orbit is, compared to moving from the surface of Earth to the Surface of Mars is? I'd imagine it's a small fraction.

  • "Given the choice between accomplishing something and just lying around, I'd rather lie around. No contest." -- Eric Clapton
  • With government shutdowns impending and with budget shrinking, not growing, over the next several years - I doubt we can afford this, and I doubt if anyone will consider it seriously.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 22, 2011 @04:36PM (#35283362)

    Actually, the Nautilus -X plan doesn't propose fitting "the" space station rockets and sending it to other planets (which would require making a goddamn huge rocket!), it proposes building "a" space station with rockets and sending it to other planets. The idea is to use a modular system that's actually built in space like the ISS to go to other worlds. Pay attention.

    • by AmiMoJo (196126)

      Indeed, the ISS could not take the acceleration required to move it anywhere significant. A rotating section for artificial gravity was looked into but rejected because of the vibration it would cause on the rest of the structure. The ISS is fairly fragile by space standards, after all it was assembled in zero G and only ever gets a little bit of thrust to make up for the altitude it loses day to day.

  • by mozumder (178398) on Tuesday February 22, 2011 @04:36PM (#35283364)

    for long distance human travel is if we already had massive space stations at destination orbits.

    You would only need to move human transport shuttles between stations, instead of transporting entire launch-shuttle-landing systems.

  • seriously, it would be great, but it's not going to happen at that cost, in that time frame.

    at best, Ad Astra will be allowed to put a VASIMR on it and boost it to a geosync orbit.

    • not reusing the ISS (Score:4, Informative)

      by buback (144189) on Tuesday February 22, 2011 @04:53PM (#35283546)

      they aren't going to actually reuse the ISS, btw. They just put that in the article for people with no imagination, for which every modular spacecraft looks like the ISS.
      A truss, with a VASIMR and a bunch of Bigalow inflatable modules attached is what they are proposing, as a lunar transfer ferry.

      That might (probably will) happen SOME day, but i doubt by 2020.

  • Back-ronym (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Ruke (857276) on Tuesday February 22, 2011 @04:46PM (#35283474)
    The summary leaves out the most important part of the story: Nautilus-X is an acronym for "Non-Atmospheric Universal Transport Intended for Lengthy United States eXploration".
    • That's just a standard acronym, not a backronym. Backronyms use the acronym as a word in the full phrase. For example: WINE: WINE Is Not an Emulator.
      • Re:Back-ronym (Score:4, Informative)

        by LateArthurDent (1403947) on Tuesday February 22, 2011 @06:06PM (#35284500)

        That's just a standard acronym, not a backronym. Backronyms use the acronym as a word in the full phrase. For example: WINE: WINE Is Not an Emulator.

        No. Backronyms are acronyms where the phrase was created such that it fits whatever the acronym they desired happened to be, instead of actually appropriately naming something and then figuring out what the acronym is.

        What you're thinking of is a recursive acronym. You can also have recursive backronyms.

        • by MrKaos (858439)

          Backronyms are acronyms where the phrase was created such that it fits whatever the acronym they desired happened to be, instead of actually appropriately naming something and then figuring out what the acronym is.

          What you're thinking of is a recursive acronym. You can also have recursive backronyms.

          But can you have precursive backronyms?

  • Is... is that a cow?
  • by cratermoon (765155) on Tuesday February 22, 2011 @04:56PM (#35283592) Homepage

    Bad summary of what Nautilus-X is about, but the article itself fails in the opening paragraphs as well.

    A better summary of the idea from physorg of the Multi-Mission Space Exploration Vehicle [physorg.com].

    The idea is NOT about taking the existing ISS and strapping rockets to it. Nautilus-X IS about building something that would ride permanently in space out of technologies similar to what was used in ISS, along with inflatable modules such as Bigelow Aerospace's expandable space habitats. Separate crew modules would provide the ability to land and lift off from planets.

    About the only part ISS itself would play is hosting a demonstration version of the ring centrifuge.

    Pretty much the "real" interplanetary spacecraft as it has been discussed for decades, but Nautilus-X would be built with mostly known technologies.

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      the catch with the bad summary is that the bad summary is a lot more interesting since it involves a platform already lifted quite high.

      because otherwise it's just "hey let's build a modular space ship with 200 million!" which is a neat idea.. but an idea that gets thrown pretty often and lacks the key question of how to get the stuff to space for that cheap.

      • Excellent point about the lifting stuff out of this rock's gravity well. It's unfortunate that for the past couple of decades NASA heavy lift capabilities seem to have become more and more constrained and dictated by political concerns involved in maintaining certain contractors' business models than actually getting anything into space cheaply. I don't really mourn the passing of Orion & Ares, for that reason.

        I related news, the Air Force has encouraged Space X to focus on the Falcon 9 heavy and the co

  • About time (Score:4, Insightful)

    by oic0 (1864384) on Tuesday February 22, 2011 @04:56PM (#35283594)
    I keep waiting for us to do something halfway exciting in space. Instead we blow our money on being world police. Screw all that. Cut the military budget in half and we could have a colony on mars.
    • by vlm (69642)

      I keep waiting for us to do something halfway exciting in space. Instead we blow our money on being world police. Screw all that. Cut the military budget in half and we could have a colony on mars.

      How would a mars base support using fear to control the populace? The ole Australia gambit, be good or we ship you far away?

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Well, it would make mutually assured destruction slightly harder to maintain, if one side had a colony that was out of ICBM range.

      • by jklovanc (1603149)

        How about using the money saved to do other things than create a cool colony that will not significantly impact life on earth. How about we use it to do other things like solve the energy crisis, solve the food problem, solve the growing water problem.

        The comments for a Mars colony are very slim.

        Life boat;
        Tiny population + radiation and other harsh conditions = inbreeding and mutation = non-human life if they survived at all. A tiny colony will not save the human race.

        Minerals.
        Considering the billions of do

    • by istartedi (132515)

      Yes! Use the resources of the empire to establish colonies. No more war--wait... ummm... we might have a problem here...

    • by Wyatt Earp (1029)

      A manned mission to Mars in 1989 was estimated to cost 500 billion dollars. An inflation calculator brings that up to 854.14 billion in 2009.

      The cost estimates of ISS range between 35 billion to 160 billion dollars in 2005 dollars.

      The total DoD budget for 2011 is 721.3 billion dollars

    • "Cut the military budget in half and we could have a colony on mars." I'm with you all the way *after* America switches over to non-oil transport. Then you'll be far less likely to get into REAL wars over the remaining black stuff after we hit peak oil! So, roll out the fast-rail, electric cars, and GenIV nukes. Start eating up some of that nuclear 'waste' (which is actually fuel that could run the world for 500 years).

      Once you are off the oil you'll save yourselves $600 billion a year in imported oil. I
  • The only difference between a space station and a space exploration spacecraft is which body it is orbiting.
  • We go to the airport in a car, then get on the plane. This sort of craft should be dedicated to the bulk travel, and not stop at either end. A smaller resupply shuttle to transit on & off would save all sorts of energy, rather than stopping & starting this huge system twice for every round trip.

    • Agreed, but until we get a build system at the destination, we don't have a place to transit to. Much like the early European sailing explorers, we need to take our whole big ship full of stuff with us at first, then begin to build infrastructure at the destination. One aspect of Nautilus-X that makes sense compared to say Orion is that the long-distance craft is a ferry for a smaller landing craft. Instead of beaching a whole ship on the shore and then dragging it off when it's time to do, anchor out in t
  • Comments on TFA (Score:4, Interesting)

    by BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) on Tuesday February 22, 2011 @06:15PM (#35284620) Homepage Journal
    So, the author of TFA has some interesting thoughts, but I doubt he's researched them very thoroughly.

    He says:

    The Nautilus has a huge deep-space antenna where laser transmission may make more sense. It also has a shuttle-derived remote manipulator arm which also seems like excess weight.

    ...which sounds good from a layman's standpoint, but isn't necessarily true. Laser communications cost a lot in terms of power budget. If you are going to be strapping multiple laser communication systems (for redundancy) onto a deep space mission, you are going to need to scale up the size of the solar arrays quite a bit. It is very likely that the extra mass needed for extra solar arrays is greater than that needed for a high power radio antenna. The folks at NASA get paid to crunch numbers for trade studies like this, and I would wager they took that into account.

    As for the manipulator arm, yes, it is excess weight. Excess weight isn't necessarily a bad thing if you are already going to be lifting a lot of mass to orbit. If, say, one launch for constructing this vehicle required a Dragon, HTV, Progress, or some other supply vehicle to be lifted (for the purposes of a lifeboat, or some such thing), one could piggy back the manipulator arm on as an extra payload and outfit it to the new spacecraft. If the arm would require an extra launch then, yes, it is an expensive addition. However, in the event that this spacecraft would be landing a crew and then picking them back up again, the manipulator arm would not be unnecessary mass, but, in that case, a critical system for redocking surface-to-orbit ferries.

    The oddest thing about that assessment by the author is when he says this previously in the article:

    To significantly lower mass and therefore reduce transit time, why not simply send unmanned landers ahead and put them into a parking orbit to wait until the crew arrives.

    If the spacecraft is supposed to be linking up with landers in a parking orbit at the destination, you can bet your sweet ass that a manipulator arm will be necessary to capture the landers. Of course, alternatively, the crew could also take a ferry to the on-orbit lander modules instead, but then you'd be carrying around the crew ferries rather than the landers and/or the arm, which means, again, a trade study should be conducted and the folks at NASA have probably already done so.

    One other thing to consider is that while a higher mass requires a higher delta-v to hop from orbit to orbit, if the excess mass is a small enough fraction, it may not make a practical difference. Rocket engines that are in production produce a certain amount of thrust. If that thrust can boost "up to X many kg of mass to this delta-v" then reducing your mass below X is somewhat unnecessary, unless you need or want a higher delta-v margin.


    It's important to remember that the first European colonists to North America didn't land on the East Coast and then drag race to the Pacific. Rather, they established a colonial foothold in the East first (like we should in LEO) and then, after developing their on-continent infrastructure some, they set off to explore further. Baby-steps lead towards progress. One off, epic publicity stunts lead to debt.

    • by Unkyjar (1148699)

      Here's the physorg article. Much better imo.

      http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-02-nasa-nautilus-x-reusable-deep-spacecraft.html [physorg.com]

    • One other thing to consider is that while a higher mass requires a higher delta-v to hop from orbit to orbit,

      Umm, no.

      While a higher mass might require more fuel to hop from orbit to orbit, the deltaV requirements are pretty much defined by the starting orbit and ending orbit, without consideration of the mass involved.

      • Meh, same meaning, sloppy vocabulary on my part. Your change in velocity comes from decreasing the mass of the spacecraft while simultaneously increasing the thrust. Yes, the delta-v from one orbit to another is what it is, but achieving that delta-v is more or less expensive based on how much mass you are trucking around with you. So a more massive spacecraft doesn't require a higher delta-v, but, rather, a higher impulse etc. etc. So while you are correct for pedantry, the general concept/meaning of my st
  • by benjfowler (239527)

    Can't work, won't work -- and there's no money in any case.

    Some basement dweller needs to get a girlfriend. And a smack around the head for wasting everyone's time for even suggesting it.

    There are some excellent reasons why this stupid idea (literally) won't fly:

    The station is designed to have a very limited lifetime of 20 years.
    It's designed to be serviced, refueled and resupplied by LEO spacecraft (Shuttle, Soyuz, visiting vehicles). Without regular resupply, it's useless
    Shielding. Move it too far, and s

  • Or put rockets on an orbiting shuttle and send it interplanetary. Add some tundra tires and land it on Mars!
  • Raccoon [theonion.com]
  • The cost of adding rockets wont be that much, seeing as it is not really that expensive, they do not need to be huge like those to get out into orbit, they can be as small as canisters of hairpsray, the many of them there could be, would all add propulsion and also would need some stabilizers in opposite directions...a full 360 is the most advantageous, but also almost impossible, unless you use dyson vacuum principles

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