3 thoughts on “LEO Commercialization”

  1. I think a serious proposal from Bezos would be a rotating dumbbell station, basically spokes, launched as a very tall, pre-built core (up to 300 ft+) in between two New Glenns acting as boosters (Two Glenns?). The upper stage engines could be canted outward a bit to avoid cooking the long spoke that would end up hanging underneath them. An alternative would use the two boosters surrounding a central upper stage booster that’s underneath the spoke. SpaceX has similar available avenues to launching really long rotating habitats, but would likely need to build a larger diameter core because 12 feet across makes a pretty cramped room, whereas New Glenn is 23 feet in diameter.

    The point is to get a station with at least some level of artificial gravity in LEO, otherwise they’d just be putzing around with the same basic limitation of the ISS. Note that the ISS isn’t really used for anything like satellite repair, maintenance, or other activities that would be purely commercial. It’s not even a really great tourist destination. The proposals NASA lists are just ISS upgrades or variants.

    Rotation would allow numerous benefits over zero-G designs.

    * Easy, long term habitability, with normal sleep, normal cooking, normal eating, normal showers, and normal bathrooms.
    * Human problems adapting to weightlessness would be eliminated or severely reduced, and the effects of long term weightlessness would be entirely avoided. This would be a huge benefit to both contractors and tourists, perhaps making people far more willing to stay in orbit for long periods, which helps pay back their launch costs.
    * It would allow conventional machining, fabrication, or repair operations using standard tools and techniques. Any satellite maintenance operation done on Earth could be done the same way in orbit, once the satellite was moved into the lower parts of a spinning station. (Moving a satellite down, perhaps with an elevator, is a compelling argument for a large diameter).
    * It would enable us to fill in all the data points on gravity’s effect on plants and animals at all levels between 0 and 1 G. NASA and ESA would easily spend a lot to get that information.
    * It would allow us to gather data on rotation rates, G, and dizziness, and thus provide data for designing long-term deep-space vehicles capable of comfortably transporting humans, plants, and animals to other destinations. I’m sure NASA and the ESA would also make a lot of funding available for that.

    But none of the proposals even hint at such a direction. Blue Origin’s proposal somewhat surprised me, because Jeff Bezos is well aware that space stations will need to rotate and New Glenn is big enough to enable such a platform.

    1. All great points but x is where we are and y is what you propose.


      A variable gravity station is one of the things NASA needs but there is an almost endless list of things NASA needs.

      IMO, the immediate need for NASA in LEO is to have a replacement for the activities that take place in the ISS prior getting rid of the ISS. Preferably, there would be more than one station and they would all be commercially operated. As activity increases and new vehicles come on line, there will be more money, capability, and support for expanding into something like what you talk about.

      One benefit of Gateway and NASA’s lunar desires is that it could throw some business to companies that would also be trying to get their LEO stations going. It doesn’t look like that will happen now but there still is the chance that these LEO operators will be better positioned to participate in lunar activities as New Glenn and Starship become operational.

  2. I’m wondering if Y should have come before X. Y is easy, because it’s got gravity. X is extremely hard because it’s such an alien engineering environment where things don’t act right, from water and air flow to condensation and cracker crumbs.

    I’m not sure cheaper commercial launchers will fix the cost problem. Given the base cost of the ISS (I’ll ignore all the Shuttle flights and go with $100 billion) and its mass, it works out to $237,000 a pound. The current cost per lb to LEO for the various vehicles in the ISS era run from run from $4,300 for the Proton M to $6,100 for the Soyuz-2. The Shuttle was perhaps $25,000 or so (there is a whole lot of accounting wiggle there), but I’m not even counting that toward the station’s costs (knocking off about $50 billion), as if the Shuttle flew for free. So on a weight basis, the launch costs are only about 2% of the ISS cost.

    Unless the causes of that staggering price discrepancy are found and resolved, it might not matter if commercial launches were free.

    Certainly zero-G is driving some of those extreme costs. NASA paid the Russians $19 million for the toilet on the ISS, arguing that they couldn’t build an American space toilet that cheaply. With artificial gravity, you could use a spiffy RV toilet that Walmart sells for $115 dollars, or go with a commercial airliner or business jet toilet system. Heck, you can buy the whole business jet for less than a zero-G toilet. That kind of thing adds up quickly.

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