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Space Science

Space Station To Be Deorbited After 2020 572

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the that'll-be-a-sad-day dept.
astroengine writes "Russia and its partners plan to plunge the International Space Station (ISS) into the ocean at the end of its life cycle after 2020 so as not to leave space junk, the space agency said on Wednesday. 'After it completes its existence, we will be forced to sink the ISS. It cannot be left in orbit, it's too complex, too heavy an object, it can leave behind lots of rubbish,' said deputy head of Roskosmos space agency Vitaly Davydov."
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Space Station To Be Deorbited After 2020

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  • Why? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by symes (835608) on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @10:30AM (#36894928) Journal

    Why couldn't they nudge it out of orbit instead? Send it off to roam deep space? That would make a far more romantic end, rather than being designated space junk and dumped into the ocean.

    • Re:Why? (Score:5, Informative)

      by doconnor (134648) on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @10:35AM (#36895036) Homepage

      It would take a large amount of energy for it to reach escape velocity.

      • Re:Why? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by mcelrath (8027) on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @03:47PM (#36900308) Homepage

        Then there's VASIMR [wikipedia.org], which is an electromagnetic engine more powerful than ion engines. A test unit will be flown to the ISS in 2014. According to this Wikipedia article, fuel for station keeping will be cut by a factor of 20, if this works. That, plus possible improvements in the VASIMR design that may come with space testing, could make boosting it to another orbit viable. So, in principle you take up the VASIMR engine, and a couple resupply vessels containing only fuel...this engine is re-usable. So, we've got between 2014 and 2020 to test, propose, and implement this. It only took us 8 years to go to the moon, we can do this, right?

    • by LWATCDR (28044)

      Physics + economics.

    • Re:Why? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by MBGMorden (803437) on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @10:52AM (#36895362)

      ISS doesn't deserve a romantic end. Bring it back down so that we can piss on it. It was a money sink that did very little of anything valuable, and robbed funds from other far more deserving projects. I'm not even one of those "We shouldn't have manned exploration!" people, but seeing this thing still receive funding while the James Webb Telescope is about to have funding dropped just makes me want to puke.

      If we really had wanted to move forward, we should have set-out to create a permanent presence on the moon, not in LEO.

      • Re:Why? (Score:4, Informative)

        by captainpanic (1173915) on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @11:03AM (#36895578)

        If we really had wanted to move forward, we should have set-out to create a permanent presence on the moon, not in LEO.

        I disagree.
        The ISS is intended to do zero gravity research. The moon doesn't have zero G, and is completely unsuitable for the job the ISS is built for.

        You're just dreaming about traveling to the stars. The ISS however is conducting ordinary research. Some of that research can later be used if we travel to the stars, btw.

        • by cosm (1072588)
          Um, the Earth doesn't have zero gravity either, but an object in unassisted orbit will relatively experience weightlessness as it circles whatever mass is in the middle. Same principle that applies on the Earth applies on the Moon, although the orbital periods and distances could vary. Both situations involve an inertial reference frame in which the forward motions of the space station relative to the curvature of the earth 'matches' the rate of free-fall of the station, keeping it in orbit, but experiencin
        • by vlm (69642)

          The ISS is intended to do zero gravity research.

          Naah they cut all that to save money, but didn't have the guts to cut the whole thing. International contractual obligations and all that. So they orbited something pretty much useless. Oh well.

      • by couchslug (175151)

        If we really had wanted to move forward, we wouldn't obsess on locally-manned systems when we must have superb robots to interact with the utterly hostile off-Earth environment. That environment will NEVER be friendly, which makes humans essentially tourists and remote manipulatos.

        The idea that we should ignore remote-manned systems and robotics because we "NEED HYOOMANS in SPACE NAO!" is shortsighted.

        • Re:Why? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by rk (6314) on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @01:57PM (#36898772) Journal

          Speaking as someone who both is and works with people doing robotic exploration of the solar system, most of us did NOT get into this because it was our dream to keep making better robots to put into space forever and ever. And I can also assure you it isn't for the rock star salaries, either. Without something to inspire the kids of today, it's going to be harder to find people tomorrow to build and pilot rovers, orbiters, and landers. Yes, I just said it. A good chunk of the purpose of manned spaceflight is PR. That shouldn't come as a shock to anyone who's been paying attention, though.

          I agree that we shouldn't ignore remote and robotic systems. They are extraordinarily useful. But they are very limited. My boss is a planetary geologist and a member of the Mars Exploration Rover team, and when the nominal 90 day mission ended, I asked him how long the work we did with each rover would take a competent human geologist to do. He replied, "a hard afternoon's worth of effort."

          We shouldn't send people up just for the sake of sending people up; I agree with that too. There needs to be a plan, but I think even more importantly, there needs to be a vision. In the long run, though, we will need both manned and unmanned missions to really improve our understanding.

    • Re:Why? (Score:5, Informative)

      by vinlud (230623) on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @11:02AM (#36895552)

      The Space Station is in a Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and will fall to the Earth without its regular altitude boosts

      Getting the Space Station in a Geo synchronous orbit, let alone deep space (that means outside of the solar system), is a totally different league in terms of needed energy to overcome the gravity well called Earth and mainly the Sun. I can't be bothered to do the calculations but the amount of energy needed for a massive object as the ISS will be staggering.

      Also question is for what? Most of the ISS is build for local gravity experiments maintained by manned personel. It has communications optimized for a LEO, etcetera. It won't be able to do much which can't be done by much cheaper ways with a new space probe.

      It's like saying you can reach your local California supermarket with your bike, so hey you should be able to go to Hawaii with it as well!

      • The idea is that eventaully we will want a station in Geo synchronous orbit and that its cheaper to move this station from LEO to GSO than luanching parts up from earth. Not sure if this is true though. You would still have to launch the fuel up from Earth. Then you would have to use energy to match the fuel vehicles orbit with the station. Doing this would kill momentum. Then there is the risk energy will be cheaper when we eventually want the GSO station.
        • by Svartalf (2997)

          In truth, you will want to try to establish resources on and under the surface of the Moon over time. Cheaper than either in terms of the energy budget needed to do what needs to be done. In many cases, the crucial resources past a critical point are on the Moon itself and the ISS isn't really a good Geosync base of operations. You need something quite a bit bigger there in one of the Lagrange points for it to be useful for what you're talking to.

          They're not kidding about energy budgets. It's going to "

        • Re:Why? (Score:5, Informative)

          by vlm (69642) on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @11:38AM (#36896242)

          The idea is that eventaully we will want a station in Geo synchronous orbit and that its cheaper to move this station from LEO to GSO than luanching parts up from earth. Not sure if this is true though. You would still have to launch the fuel up from Earth.

          You'd also have to launch up a full machine shop and foundry, as none of the parts will work at geo. Not the comm systems, not the non-existent radiation shielding, not the cooling system, not... uh... pretty much everything but the cheap light empty shell, where nothing new will fit anyway.

          Oh and the solar panels are probably only radiation rated for LEO not GEO which is a bit harsher; or maybe they are hardened to GEO levels.

          Its kind of like taking the wright flyer and turning it into a B-17 by replacing all the parts one at a time.. it would be a heck of a lot easier and cheaper just to build the B-17 outright. Even the times in my example are about right, a bit more than 30 years separates each design.

      • by buback (144189)

        Put it into a lunar transfer orbit and use it as a "shuttle" to the moon. you'd just need to send a small capsule (like a dragon) to dock with it and hitch a ride.

        I know, i know, ISS isn't in the right plane, and plane changes are expensive (fuel-wise), not to mention the energy needed to boost to a transfer orbit.

        But it is a good reason why we shouldn't deorbit it. it's probably cheaper to send up the fuel to do this than it is to send up a dedicated lunar tranfer shuttle the size of the ISS

    • So you want a large complex machine just floating out near the earth so that it can be hit by micro asteroids all day until it finally breaks. It could only result in Kessler Syndrome [wikipedia.org].
    • Why couldn't they nudge it out of orbit instead? Send it off to roam deep space? That would make a far more romantic end, rather than being designated space junk and dumped into the ocean.

      Because they think for the future. Even a iron-screw-sized debris, if plunged against your craft at hundreds of meters per second, can leave a hole bigger than your fist, side-to-side. Depressurization of the environment is one of the possible issues that might happen because of it.

      You really, really, really want to limit the amount of debris you leave in space, or you're gambling with Lady Luck. There's a big enough mess with all the satellites we put up there. A salvage operation would cost an awful sum o

    • by nedlohs (1335013)

      You have a strange definition of "nudge", that usually implies something small not probably the largest space venture ever attempted.

    • Aside from the physics behind such an idea amounting to substantially more than a nudge there are plenty of other things to consider. The primary one being that it will be old. Both in the sense of being outmoded as well as in the sense of its systems wearing out. There's a reason most people aren't driving around in their grandparent's 1940s car. In the case of the ISS, one of its primary missions was to develop and prove technologies and methods for future ventures in space. Both in terms of hardware
    • by couchslug (175151)

      "Romance" is for housewives. We won't move forward if we are distracted by nonsense like "romance".

      Space exploration is at the most primitive stage. We should get the habit early on of expecting rapid system life cycles, shitcanning legacy systems, and not getting sentimental about dead metal.

  • Where to deorbit (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mfh (56) on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @10:31AM (#36894942) Journal

    Does anyone have a suggestion as to where we could land this thing? It's kinda heavy and sure to crush anything in its path. I mean we COULD land it in the ocean but wouldn't it be better to land it on someone's house that we don't like?

    • by Baloroth (2370816)
      In Soviet Russia, Space Station lives on you!
    • by elrous0 (869638) *

      I got a pretty big field out in back of my house. Y'all can use that if you want.

    • by tnk1 (899206) on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @10:55AM (#36895424)

      Michael Bay's house perhaps? He could have his very own simulated cometary impact. I'm sure he'd approve of the pyrotechnics and flying dirt and debris when he is crushed. We wouldn't even have to move the thing, just leave the twisted metal and smoking craters as a monument to bad movies and their inevitable consequences.

  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @10:31AM (#36894950)

    It was my understanding that the ISS *can't* maintain its orbit without periodic boosts (I could be mistaken there). So since when it leaving it as "space junk" even an option? If you stop maintaining it, it's going to deorbit one way or another. It's really only a question of whether or not it's a *controlled* deorbit.

    • by mapkinase (958129) on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @10:44AM (#36895198) Homepage Journal

      It's really only a question of whether or not it's a *controlled* deorbit.

      exactly. uncontrolled deorbit leads to debris.

      • It's really only a question of whether or not it's a *controlled* deorbit.

        exactly. uncontrolled deorbit leads to debris.

        To be fair, a controlled de-orbit leads to debris as well. It's just a matter of controlling where that debris winds up: mid-Pacific vs New York, for example.

        Personally, I'd like to see them bring it down on land somewhere. It would make a great experiment. Also, any toxic material would be retrievable for proper disposal rather than polluting the ocean. The problem is that there probably isn't an empty enough piece of real estate to serve the purpose... well, the Sahara would work, but politically it'

    • by cptdondo (59460)

      I'd guess that it would start tumbling first and fling off a whole bunch of debris before plunging into the atmosphere.

      You want to bring it down in one piece. It's the debris that's worrisome. The big pieces they can track. It's the nuts, wrenches, and other bits that give the controllers fits. A nut travelling at 3 km/s is a pretty deadly proijectile (even if your speed is pretty close to that....) A .22 rifle bullet travels at what, 300 m/s, weighs a lot less than a nut, and will kill you. A delta o

    • The ISS is in a sufficiently low orbit that it experiences substantial decay(it is 'in space' but only barely, enough that the photovoltaic arrays are re-positioned to reduce drag when not generating power).
  • Now that the Space Shuttle has been retired, is this just a political maneuver to get more funding by making a "modest proposal" of what will happen if they don't? Considering the extended time and money it took to assemble, it seems like a huge waste to deorbit it in just 9 years.
    • by Aerorae (1941752)
      Exactly!! They just FINISHED the damn thing! What a waste!
    • It's skylab all over again.
      "oops, we don't have the launch capability to boost the station before it falls flaming from the sky"
    • by maxume (22995) on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @10:36AM (#36895048)

      It is in a harsh environment. It was not built to last forever. It needs periodic boosting to stay in orbit.

      • "As of February 2010, a 2011/2012 launch of an Ad Astra VF-200 200 kW VASIMR electromagnetic thruster is planned for placement and testing on the International Space Station. The VF-200 is a flight version of the VX-200.[33] though it may be later.[34][35] Since the available power from the ISS is less than 200 kW, the ISS VASIMR will include a trickle-charged battery system allowing for 15 min pulses of thrust. Testing of the engine on ISS is valuable because ISS orbits at a relatively low altitude and exp

    • by k6mfw (1182893)

      > it seems like a huge waste to deorbit it in just 9 years.

      A lot can happen in nine years, another war(s) can happen in nine years. We could also acquire new partners and ideas, however. But it seems ridiculous to de-orbit the station with nine years of use even though it took 25 to build it. But maybe that's why: Companies are not going to make more money because there is nothing more on ISS to build (there is but ain't got nothin' to carry more modules to it).

  • But it still makes me sad.
  • by Ceriel Nosforit (682174) on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @10:35AM (#36895038)

    Seriously, what the hell? Does the ISS really have no use beyond 2020, who are these unnamed 'partners', and do they really think they have the final say as to what happens to the billions worth of international moneys that have been invested in the ISS?

    • The little Mars rovers have something to say about space junk exceeding planned mission timeframes.
    • by gad_zuki! (70830)

      The ISS is a partnership between a few nations. They collective decide its fate. Considering its of questionable utility in the first place and an incredible drain of funds, I wouldn't mind seeing it die earlier. That money could be spent on a whole bunch of space missions or pay for a Mars or asteroid mission.

      Most likely a lot of the design and maintenance had a end date. The engineers built it to last x amount of years. Going beyond 2020 might make it more economically unfeasible than it already it. Not

      • The ISS was conceived as a symbol for international cooperation in space. With war being what has tightened the budget so, I hate to think what smothering this baby in its crib means for mankind.

    • Re:Yeah right (Score:4, Interesting)

      by GameboyRMH (1153867) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [hmryobemag]> on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @10:56AM (#36895442) Journal

      Maybe they could auction it off to one of the billionaire's space adventure companies. If they get any money for it and it keeps the station in orbit, that's a win/win!

    • Hell, the ISS doesn't have a purpose now. It's sole purpose was justification for the shuttle program.
      Honestly, we could have spent the money on actual science. Makes one wonder if the teabaggers don't have a point about useless gubbamint waste.
      • by 0123456 (636235)

        Hell, the ISS doesn't have a purpose now. It's sole purpose was justification for the shuttle program.

        Not really true. ISS would have been cancelled before it even flew, but it was pushed as a means of funnelling money to Russian rocket scientists so that they wouldn't go to work for Saddam Hussein or some other wacko dictator. Hence why it's in an orbit that makes it difficult to reach from America and is pretty much useless for anything.

        ISS was basically a US-funded Russian jobs program, so it's probably fitting that the only way for US astronauts to reach it now is on Russian rockets.

  • I cannot believe the idoiocrity - why not sell the International Space Station to the highest bidder!

    It would make for a hell of an orbiting hotel - and I can count half dozen emerging space companies who'd bid on it.

  • Don't we put enough crap into the world's oceans? I mean we literally have an island of garbage [wikipedia.org] floating around, why add to the pollution? Why can't we, as another poster said, thrust it off into space, or, thrust it toward the sun and let the sun's gravity suck it in and destroy it?
    • by dkf (304284)

      Don't we put enough crap into the world's oceans? I mean we literally have an island of garbage [wikipedia.org] floating around, why add to the pollution? Why can't we, as another poster said, thrust it off into space, or, thrust it toward the sun and let the sun's gravity suck it in and destroy it?

      Do you really want to pay all those extra taxes just to push all that mass into a much higher orbit? You have to push it a long way up the gravity well for it to be in an orbit that doesn't meaningfully decay, and a lot more than that to get to Earth's escape velocity. Dropping it back to Earth is much simpler and cheaper, and the Pacific's a better target than the vast majority of the land surface. (Of course, a lot will burn up on reentry anyway.)

    • by NevarMore (248971)

      What if we land the ISS on the island of garbage?

      Then we'd have a habitable island of garbage!

  • Oh man, I sure hope Taco Bell runs that promotion again - I can taste that meat-flavored filler now!
  • It seems to me that we humans should be trying to design something that can recycle and use all those valuable raw materials for other orbital projects. After all, doesn't it cost huge amounts of money for every kilogram lifted to even low orbit? Might it not be more cost effective to create an orbital forge (for lack of a better term) to convert all that into parts for the next station? And if it needs to go to a parking orbit, it still seems cheaper to send up some orbital maneuvering engines for it th
  • Many voters think NASA is an extravagance compared to other problems the government must solve. Although NASA is only 1-2% of the federal budget, it has been perceived as the most expensive federal program opinion polls [wikipedia.org] up to a quarter of the budget! Although Bush and Obama have already done substantial cutting by eliminating the US manned space program for all practical purposes, the deficit hawks want to eliminate most of the rest of NASA. The hundred billion dollar space station for just two US astro
  • Substation? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by LordStormes (1749242) on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @10:55AM (#36895440) Homepage Journal

    We've always said we wanted to go eventually do a permanent structure on the moon - why not the next best thing? Hook a Dragon up to it, turn on the thrusters, and aim for Luna. Let's put the ISS in orbit around the moon when its lifespan here is up, and voila, we have a permanent structure to study the moon, serve as a waystation / bathroom break rest stop for future interstellar travelers, and it doesn't cost us anything but the fuel of an unmanned rocket. Seems like a no-brainer.

    Getting the amount of propellant necessary into space isn't a challenge. We did it in 1969. Yes, we're moving something a little bigger. Fortunately, nice, low gravity and no air resistance means you can move the ISS, very, very slowly, with almost no propellant needed for anything other than getting momentum started, and course corrections. If it takes a month to get there, unmanned, who cares? It took longer to build it than we're letting it run for - why destroy it now?

    • Moving the ISS to the moon would be much harder than you'd think. Not only do you have to accelerate the structure out of the Earth's gravity well, but you also have to decelerate it to get it into orbit around the Moon. Not only that, but is it even possible to orbit the Moon, which has a very low gravity? I don't know if there's even a point to have something orbiting the Moon as opposed to just directly landing on the Moon because the gravity well and lack of atmosphere makes it very easy to leave the Mo

      • Yes it would take a lot of energy to get to the moon's orbit and yes you'd need to expend some more to put it into orbit AROUND the moon. If you made judicious use of the "interplanetary expressway" (I think that's what it's called), you could use the chaotic nature of orbits to trade time for energy but you're still going to need a good deal of delta-V.

        So why not hook up an ion engine?

        Nobody will be living on the thing (it has to go through the Van Allen radiation belts) so all the power for life support

    • Re:Substation? (Score:5, Informative)

      by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @11:59AM (#36896744) Homepage

      We've always said we wanted to go eventually do a permanent structure on the moon - why not the next best thing? Hook a Dragon up to it, turn on the thrusters, and aim for Luna.

      *A* Dragon? More like several thousand Dragons. The ISS is big and heavy and will take an enormous amount of energy both to put into a translunar trajectory and then to brake in into lunar orbit.

      Fortunately, nice, low gravity and no air resistance means you can move the ISS, very, very slowly, with almost no propellant needed for anything other than getting momentum started, and course corrections.

      Um, no. While an object in motion tends to stay in motion - it only does so until subjected to an opposing force. In this case, that opposing force is Earth's gravity, and all a "little propellant" buys you is a slightly higher orbit.

      If it takes a month to get there, unmanned, who cares? It took longer to build it than we're letting it run for - why destroy it now?

      But obtaining the required energy to put it on a translunar trajectory is just the beginning of your problems. Once it gets high enough, it'll encounter the high radiation of the Van Allen belts - and since it's electronics are not shielded against that radiation (being built for the far lower levels of LEO), they'll be fried if they spend more than a few hours there.
       
      Oh, and did I mention that the ISS isn't structurally strong enough to take the thrust needed to ensure a quick passage of the Belt?
       
      Nor does the fun stop there! The ISS' thermal control systems are based around having a nice warm Earth filling almost half it's "sky". They won't be able to handle the load of being in a translunar trajectory or in lunar orbit.
       
      Not to mention stopping in Lunar orbit on your way to or from other destinations is like driving from Atlanta to LA via Seattle. Sure, you can do it if you want to... But it eats a lot of fuel getting into and out of Lunar orbit for no particular gain. On top of that, ensuring the Moon is in the right position for arrival or departure places huge constraints on when you can do so. I haven't worked it out, but I wouldn't be surprised if an Earth/Moon/Mars trajectory window only opened every ten or twelve years - as opposed to the every nineteen months or so for Earth/Mars trajectories.

  • by nitehawk214 (222219) on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @11:38AM (#36896250)

    The title and subject could be spun to state. "ISS to remain in orbit until at least 2020". When we reach 2020 we can decide what to do with it. At that point we can either keep sending people to it and ships to boost it, or bring it down, replace it, or whatever. The US has already committed to keeping it up until 2020, so with both major partners it will go for that long. (Of course the US changes its policy completely every 4 years, so who knows?)

  • by GPS Pilot (3683) on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @02:05PM (#36898878)

    Someday we will have manufacturing capabilities in orbit -- the ability to melt down metals and forge them into new structural components for vehicles, habitats, etc. But where will the raw materials come from?

    Solution: at the end of its useful life, boost the ISS into a low-maintenence parking orbit. When the manufacturing capability finally arrives -- whether that is 15, 50, or 150 years from now -- we'll have 920,000 pounds of aerospace-grade titanium, aluminum, and steel to work with.

    Remember, it costs $10,000 per pound to put "stuff" in orbit. (Hopefully the cost will decrease in the future, but it will never be cheap.) At that rate, think about how unbelievably wasteful it would be to spash all of that highly-refined metal into the drink.

    I made the same argument before Mir was deorbited. Alas, nobody listened. Deorbiting ISS, 3.2 times more massive than Mir was, would be 3.2 times more of a cryin' shame!

  • by npendleton (255215) on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @02:10PM (#36898944)
    Liquefied Lunar Oxygen (LOX) could be collected by machine. Most of the theory, and many details, were worked out the during Apollo era. This would allow cheaper per tonne of fuel to Low Earth Orbit (LEO), than from the earth's surface. The International Space Station could be even moved to lunar orbit, at great expense, but less expensive and sooner than building a lunar orbital station any other way. It could act as a filling station for lunar fuel in orbit for future command capsules, like that of Apollo, and a place to meet with vehicles stationed on the moon to ascend to/descend from orbit, like the Lunar Module of Apollo, both of which reduce the size and price of rockets to the moon. Mounting a radio telescope array on the ISS Lunar orbiter could give us the best radio telescope yet, and the ability relay that information back to earth on a predictable schedule. Landing much of the ISS piece by piece onto the moon would create considerable value in building a habitable ground station, faster and cheaper than any other route to the moon.
  • by tekrat (242117) on Wednesday July 27, 2011 @03:30PM (#36900080) Homepage Journal

    SKYLAB de-orbited while we had no manned space program, we were between Apollo and the Shuttle when Skylab fell to Earth.

    Now we have the ISS, and guess what? We now have no manned space program, because the Shuttle has been retired.

    My guess is that we still won't have any manned space flights by 2020 (ONLY 9 years from now), so they will let it fall to Earth again.

    Then, some years later (maybe 2025), they will want a space station again, and we'll have some manned flights, and then they will convince taxpayers to spend a few trillion on some other station, only to deorbit that too, after a decade or so.

    We are we so foolish as to allow this over and over again?

    I swear, I get more life out a car that costs $4,000 than NASA does out of a space system that costs $100 Billion. (I have a 1979 Diesel Rabbit that took to the roads before the Shuttle ever flew, and will probably *still* be on the road after Dragon/Orion has been retired).

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