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ESA Wants ISS Extended To 2020 88

Hugh Pickens writes "BBC reports that the European Space Agency's (ESA) Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain says that uncertainty is undermining the best use of the ISS and that only guaranteeing the ISS's longevity would cause more scientists to come forward to run experiments on the orbiting laboratory. 'I am convinced that stopping the station in 2015 would be a mistake because we cannot attract the best scientists if we are telling them today "you are welcome on the space station but you'd better be quick because in 2015 we close the shop,'' says Dordain. One of the biggest issues holding up an agreement on station-life extension is the human spaceflight review ordered by US President Barack Obama and the future of US participation in the ISS is intimately tied to the outcome of that review. Dordain says that no one partner in the ISS project could unilaterally call an end to the platform and that a meeting would be held in Japan later in the year where he hoped the partners could get some clarity going forward."
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ESA Wants ISS Extended To 2020

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  • why bother (Score:2, Interesting)

    by spike hay ( 534165 ) <.blu_ice. .at.> on Friday January 15, 2010 @07:29PM (#30785646) Homepage

    The reason why more scientists arent interested in performing experiments on the ISS is because we know about everything useful there is to know about zero g vacuum a short distance above Earths surface.

    Put more money into unmanned probes, where the real science is getting done. Keep in mind they cancelled the Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter to pump more money into this piece of crap. That probe would have unbelievably expanded our knowledge of the Jovian system. I know sending humans into LEO is super neat and all, but weve been doing it for nearly 50 years.- Theres more useful things that can be done with NASAs very limited budget.

  • by sznupi ( 719324 ) on Friday January 15, 2010 @07:32PM (#30785666) Homepage

    With the station complete, needing only resupply that will be provided by Russian, European or US commercial launches (I'm hearing NASA wants to mostly buy the flights from them, as far as resupply goes), perhaps even Japanese cargo launcher, where's the really big problem in extending ISS life?

    The worse thing for NASA then would be facing responsibility for the final fate of their modules - but I'm sure a deal "you can use them as long as you will properly deorbit them" (ESA and Roskosmos are certainly capable of this) isn't a problem?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 15, 2010 @07:33PM (#30785682)

    Hey, if the ESA is willing to pay for the maintenance, then I say keep it up there.

    Why is the US government in the science business? We give zillions of dollars in funding to all sorts of labs and universities, and when they finally discover something, it gets patented and sold back to us for more zillions of dollars. [cough-cough] pharmaceuticals [/cough-cough]

  • by wizardforce ( 1005805 ) on Friday January 15, 2010 @07:42PM (#30785764) Journal

    Most of the funding that allows the ISS to continue comes from the US. What concerns me is whether or not the other space agencies have the funding to pick up where NASA left off and continue the research there. In any case, the station is far too yound to just be abandoned and it would be a shame if that were to come to pass because of the US's decision to withdraw support from the station in 2015.

  • by t0qer ( 230538 ) on Friday January 15, 2010 @07:58PM (#30785900) Homepage Journal
    I've heard this suggested somewhere before that ISS would make an awesome vehicle for getting to mars.
  • Re:why bother (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Friday January 15, 2010 @08:26PM (#30786128) Homepage
    Exactly. We can't even get the urine recycler working yet []. There is an enormous amount of engineering that needs to be improved upon before we can consider ourselves facile in outer space. While the ISS may not be the perfect platform for this research, it has the considerable advantage of existing.

    We should definitely keep it running for a while, if for no other reason to keep a fire lit under NASA's butt to get our heavy lift capabilities back to where they were in 1969.
  • I'm sort of puzzled: What sort of costs are associated with continued operations on the ISS?

    Building the thing in the first place was certainly incredibly expensive, and things like the electrical generation capacity of that vehicle is amazing for doing all sorts of test... space solar power tests just to give an example. It certainly is the equivalent of a small municipal power generation facility in terms of the watts generated. How much has been suggested to be spent on just that one idea alone, that is already in operation and in space?

    The only real expenses that I see are maneuvering thruster fuel, food and other general consumables, and of course the ground support stations and centers. The ESA has even addressed this particular issue, and questioned some of the incredibly wasteful spending just to accomplish this task alone that could be done at a much cheaper price.

    It is sad that NASA won't even consider other alternatives for access to the ISS or that there may be legitimate solutions to keep it going for at least another decade if not longer. Then again, it was NASA that forced MIR to crash into the Pacific by playing political games. It wasn't costs that were so great that MIR couldn't have stayed aloft, nor congressional budget considerations either. Russia wanted to keep MIR going, but NASA threatened to kick them out of the ISS if MIR wasn't deorbited.

  • by icebike ( 68054 ) on Friday January 15, 2010 @09:21PM (#30786608)

    True the US pays the lion share of the bill, and the Russians control Access. Gaak! how did that happen?

    Governments have to be in the science business, if for no other reason than some projects require commitments larger than corporations can make, and time spans greater than the lives of individuals. These are planetary scale projects, tasks undertaken by/for the entire planet. I'm not aware of any organization other than Governments available to the task.

    But nasa has been very good at sharing their inventions and discoveries.

  • by 4181 ( 551316 ) on Friday January 15, 2010 @09:49PM (#30786836)

    How much of a blow to low-g biological research was the cancellation of the Centrifuge Accommodations Module []? It seems that a good amount micro-g biological research has been done (and hopefully will continue to be done during the next ten years), but very little is known about low-g effects. I would think that multiple generation vertebrate (lab rat) study of the effects of prolonged 1/3 and 1/6 g exposure would be critical to understanding the issues of a mars mission or a lunar base.

    We have one spare shuttle external tank beyond the current manifest, so even if the shuttle is retired, the program could be extended for one more flight. (Early Augustine Commission discussions suggested this as a good idea for a number of reasons.) Could CAM construction be restarted and rushed to completion in time for a launch 18 months of so from now?

    Imagine an ambitious mars program that spent the next decade with humans not traveling beyond LEO, but doing the serious research needed. After five years or so of low-g biological research on the ISS, long term human exposure tests could be done in a spinning "habitat on a cable attached to a counterweight". That way, after ten years of accelerated rover exploration and materials and technology development, we would have the knowledge to plan a serious mars mission, quite possible involving one-way trips and permanent stays.

  • Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying this is all Obama and I am an American but... to think that just because one nation wants to let their science programs slip even more doesn't mean that anyone should pull the plug on anything.

    After the ISS is completed, the annual cost of maintaining it will be $4.5 billion a year. By comparison, the total budget of the ESA for 2010 is $5.4 billion (3.74 billion Euros). Keep in mind that's what the ESA spends for all of its projects -- the portion for human spaceflight and exploration is half a billion dollars [].

    You say it is $4.5 billion per year? I would love to see a private contractor be simply offered the opportunity to:

    1. Build a heavy launcher capable of sending large payloads into orbit
    2. Put up a privately-built spacestation with interior volume at least equal or greater than the current internal volume of the ISS
    3. Have power generation capabilities of at least double the current power levels, including at least double the current energy storage in terms of batteries.
    4. Includes facilities, life support, and other ammenities to support a crew of at least 8 astronauts
    5. Includes multiple docking berths for both Russian Soyuz and American space craft docking standards
    6. Be capable of operating this space station, once built, for at least 5 years including ground support and consumable supplies

    I argue that if you offered a space prize equal to $4.5 billion for the first company to put up a space station with a guaranteed lease agreement for $500 million per year after that for an additional 5 years, you would have companies tripping over themselves just to get such a vehicle built. I'm not talking $4.5 billion for the whole thing, but just for competing for an X-Prize type contest to get this as a one time deal.

    Instead of one, I bet there would be two or three of these things built as well.

    Too bad NASA would never consider doing that. For me, if they could simply de-orbit the ISS today, shut down the Shuttles completely and vacate KSC, and then offer for private contractors to get launch pads at KSC for their own heavy lift vehicles, no only could this happen and be affordable, but I think you would find that such a space station would be built well before 2020.

    Heck, Robert Bigelow at Bigelow Aerospace [] has already offered to send up a space station module with the same volume as the ISS for about $1 billion (give or take some). It is even already designed, and all he is waiting on now is a customer to fly it. BTW, he does have experience operating space stations too, as he has two of them in orbit right now.

    I'm not questioning the amount of money you have quoted here, as the number feels correct too. It just seems like NASA is incredibly wasteful of the money they have, and that it practically is the very definition of how to spend money in the most foolhardy method possible. Yes, I do know why it cost so much more to run it as a government operation, which is seriously getting off topic to go further.

  • by couchslug ( 175151 ) on Friday January 15, 2010 @11:29PM (#30787398)

    "Imagine an ambitious mars program that spent the next decade with humans not traveling beyond LEO, but doing the serious research needed."

    Imagine a decades long program of remote-manned Mars missions instead, which would vastly enhance the scope of what we could do on Mars and elsewhere before we send the meat tourists.

    The idea that people should do things directly despite the extreme burden posed by supporting them on-site is terribly counterproductive because is diverts attention from robotic efforts we will require anyway.

  • by khallow ( 566160 ) on Friday January 15, 2010 @11:42PM (#30787482)

    How much of a blow to low-g biological research was the cancellation of the Centrifuge Accommodations Module?

    I think it was a very serious blow to the value of the ISS, but that is IMHO. It's worth noting that the European modules have some centrifuges as well, so we may still get some low gravity research. I don't know the capabilities of these other centrifuges though.

    Imagine an ambitious mars program that spent the next decade with humans not traveling beyond LEO, but doing the serious research needed. After five years or so of low-g biological research on the ISS, long term human exposure tests could be done in a spinning "habitat on a cable attached to a counterweight". That way, after ten years of accelerated rover exploration and materials and technology development, we would have the knowledge to plan a serious mars mission, quite possible involving one-way trips and permanent stays.

    A common problem with our history of space development is simply that we haven't done the research to determine how to do a number of our goals in space or what the problems associated with doing that sort of thing in space. Low gravity research should be an obvious focus of biological science in space because there are long term plans for humans and other biological lifeforms to live in these environments. There are many other things that also haven't been done, but would be a lot less risky, if they were tried, even once. This process is called "retirement" of risk and occurs any time you figure out a risk, problem, or new technology for the first time.

    Anyway, in addition to the effects of low gravity research, we also need to develop at some point technologies like more sophisticated orbital assembly techniques, propellant depots, high launch frequency rockets, aerocapture, nuclear propulsion (in space), etc. I think it's shameful that so much, that we know we'll need for the space program, both manned and unmanned, isn't worked out even with decades of opportunity to do so.

    One key effect of risk retirement, which I particularly like, is that it reduces the barrier to entry for commercial activity in space. For example, suppose I wanted to make a business out of sending colonists to Mars (they pay me to go to Mars). I pick this example precisely because it is currently wholly unrealistic. One of the bigger reasons it is unrealistic is that I have no clue about many huge risks of moving people in space and colonization. In addition to the completely unknown effects of Mars level gravity (which is a third that of Earth), I have no idea how to bring people there in a cost effective and reliable manner, how to land them on Mars, where they will live, nor what they will do. This is before you even consider the cost of doing these activities (which probably will remain epically expensive for decades to come). Even a dozen competing groups would all have to deal with this problem. Without any sort of coordination, they'll all have to pay to solve the same tremendous problems. Some sort of communal problem solving makes sense.

    Most of these risks are solvable (or at least, we'd be able to accept and plan for the consequences of them, once we know what those consequences are), but you can't even been to discuss a business plan with the paltry knowledge and technology we currently have. It just doesn't make a bit of sense.

  • I have long argued that the purpose of the ISS was to transfer spaceflight operations knowledge and orbital construction techniques from the Soviet (yes, I'm using that term correctly here) space program to NASA. It could be argued that such a technology transfer didn't require $100 billion that it cost to put the ISS up into space, but that was one of the major accomplishments that happened.

    Also, it put well over half it not nearly the entire NASA astronaut corps into Star City in Russia, where the cosmonauts do their training and research. In some ways, it has sort of merged together the two manned spaceflight programs in a way that would have been flat out unthinkable in the 1960's. Of course that also has Russian cosmonauts running around Johnson Spaceflight Center doing essentially the same thing.

    [The ISS] is a fragile structure in an dangerous environment. One collapsed strut and the thing could be a tangled mess.

    Not quite. Yes, a damaged strut could cause problems, but so could damaged struts or other integral structural supports for any kind of building or vehicle. A couple of loose lug nuts on your car could cause problems too.

    As for a dangerous environment, for those citing that spaceflight is so dangerous, how is this any different than trans-oceanic sea travel or trans-continental international air travel? Both are incredibly dangerous, where thousands of people have died in the past even attempting to figure out how to do both of those human activities. While I've never crossed an ocean on a ship personally, I have crossed an ocean on an airline, as have millions of other people. The world we live in today would not exist if that kind of activity didn't happen. And people even today still die from incidents resulting from the dangers that people are exposed to while making these major crossings across our planet, in spite of supposedly sound vehicles and technologies and safety protocols to ensure that permit this to happen on a large scale.

    As for what science is left to be done on board the ISS, one right off the top of my head is solar power satellite technologies, where there is currently in orbit the equivalent of a smaller municipal power generation plant (capable of powering a whole housing subdivision) that gets no realistic review by the dreamers who keep proposing these things. This is real science here for an aspect of the ISS that by itself could have a profound impact on humanity.

    What are the long term maintenance needs for operating a massive solar power array? What kinds of problems happen when you start to deal with substantial amounts of energy that is concentrated in one place on a space vehicle? How do you cope with the environment of space on mechanical systems used for tracking the Sun when they fail? What even happens when you have a mechanical gear box exposed to the environment of space to move these panels?

    All of these questions and many more can be answered by reviewing literature about the ISS, and some of these are long-term studies that would provide some incredibly useful scientific data simply by keeping the ISS in orbit for as long as reasonably possible. Certainly this is only scratching the surface and other significant issues regarding materials research on the components of the ISS would also provide incredibly valuable data as well. Of any vehicle that has been put into space, the ISS also has the most complete recycling system for life support. It isn't quite a closed loop and does require some consumables, but it is also testing technologies that would be important to future spaceship (this is a SHIP rather than a mere craft) construction in the future.

    I promise that information gleaned from operating the ISS will be used for many centuries into the future, and future engineers and researchers will rue the day that the ISS is abandoned.

    The only thing that might be arguable is if it might be better to deorbit the ISS and use the money that is currently bei

  • by Teancum ( 67324 ) <robert_horning AT netzero DOT net> on Saturday January 16, 2010 @10:14AM (#30790060) Homepage Journal

    Something I don't get, and is unanswered in general. When the ISS was first assembled back in 1998, it was asserted at the time that this was going to be the first permanent outpost of humanity in space. One of the reasons for making that statement, besides the fact that the ISS was designed to be modular so sections could be replaced if they started to fail, was that it was so incredibly huge that it simply couldn't be safely deorbited. The first ISS crew (aka Expedition 1) was asserted to be the first people in a future succession of a permanent occupation of space. At the time (I swear it was on /. as well, but I could be mistaken.... it would take digging into the archives to find this) it was suggested that eventually the ISS would have to be moved to one of the Lagrangian points. It was a NASA spokesman at the time that asserted it was going to be permanent, and most of the popular press at the time.

    It may be true that NASA never really intended this to be kept up, but it does seem like something that shouldn't be shut down a couple of years after construction is completed as well. It just seems so incongruous the current attitude about how the ISS is going to be used now compared to when it was first launched.

    Perhaps I'm getting senile in my old age and not remembering things very clearly.

    BTW, in regards to liability, the U.S. Federal Government directly takes liability on the impact of anything sent up by the USA. By international law and treaty, this is also true of all space faring nations. If somebody's house is damaged in say, Australia, they can make a claim for it in their own court system and by treaty the U.S. government has to pay up. For a private individual to go into space, they are required by the FAA-AST [] (the U.S. agency that governs private space flight) to have these liability policies in place just to get approval for launch. BTW, Skylab did fall uncontrollably from the sky, and it is even possible that some unlucky freighter could be in the middle of the Pacific Ocean when something falls in there as well, even if it is a target zone. It is international waters, which implies that anybody has access to it. The government will issue a "notice to mariners" warning about possible dangers, and it is up to a ship captain to decide if they will be there or not. Yeah, I get the idea of the policy you mention, but it is already covered by the law and treaty regardless.

"The pathology is to want control, not that you ever get it, because of course you never do." -- Gregory Bateson