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A Space Race To Worry About

Unlike the Chinese slow-motion space program, if the Russians are serious about this, it would put them well ahead of us in spacefaring capability, and in a much better position to do missions not just to the moon, but out into the solar system.

According to Perminova, Roskosmos proposed the establishment of a manned assembly complex in Earth orbit. The government Security Council on April 11, supported the idea. The complex can be built ships too heavy to take off from the ground.

What a concept.

But we won't have to worry about NASA getting involved in such a race as long as Mike Griffin and the giant-rocket fetishists are in charge.

[Update about 9:30 AM EDT]

This isn't directly related, but what are the Russians talking about here?

Perminov said Friday that Russia may stop selling seats on its spacecraft to "tourists" starting in 2010 because of the planned expansion of the international space station's crew.

He said the station's permanent crew is expected to grow from the current three to six or even nine in 2010. That will mean that Russia will have fewer extra seats available for tourists on its Soyuz spacecraft, which are used to ferry crews to the station and back to Earth.

This is the first I've heard of such an "expectation." While I have no doubt that a fully-constructed station could support that level of crew, what do they do about lifeboats? My understanding has always been that the limiting factor on how many crew the station can handle at once is a function of the ability to return them to earth in an emergency. I've never agreed with that philosophy, and always thought that a backup coorbiting facility was a much better solution than evacuating the entire crew back to earth, but what I thought has never mattered. Are they proposing to leave crew without a way home, or adding docking modules for additional Soyuz (you'd need three to evacuate nine)? It has to be one or the other, at least until we get Dragon, or Orion or other alternatives flying, and certainly the latter is unlikely by 2010.


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Big D wrote:

I've never heard of 9, but 6 was supposed to be the full crew size way back when, and we even had a 6-man lifeboat under design for a while there. I believe that I've also read a few pieces claiming that the current crew size barely leaves any capacity for getting science done, because of the "fixed costs" in time of keeping the station running.

As far as the orbital assembly station goes, it sounds like any one of a number of breathless press releases they've put out over the last 20 years. That said, they're more likely to try it than we are right now, but I just don't see it being enough of a priority for them to commit real money. I maintain that the best opportunity is international/private development co-orbiting with Bigelow. Ditto for the first fuel depot--given the number of expected flights, there's bound to be some opportunity in the mass budgets to absorb some extra fuel/cargo.

Will McLean wrote:

Adding a docking module for additional Soyuz spacecraft doesn't seem like that big a deal

Rand Simberg wrote:

Nothing "seems" like that big a deal on ISS, but it often turns out to be. For one thing, you have to worry about clearances for docking and solar panel rotation.

Sam Dinkin wrote:

My guess out of the blue is that there is or will be an option by NASA and ESA to buy out the flights in the unlikely event the ISS ever gets commissioned to hold 6 at all. The bluster by Russia is a way to get NASA to pay more for the privilege and to drum up interest in flights by tourists before it all "goes away"--not that it will.

My prediction is that it will stay 3 and there will be some lip service paid to "automating" the research, "teleoperating" the research, conducting the research on crew changes, and "streamlining" other operations to facilitate more research.

Presumably the transfer chamber can handle two Soyuzes now so it's mostly about doubling the cost of having people on station, doubling the number of Soyuz flights, raising the stationkeeping costs and upgrading the facilities, and raising the expectation of actual "science" commensurate with the expense, and any minor changes needed to accommodate docking a progress or atv while there are two soyuzes docked.

My sense is that even the extra $100 million a year in Soyuz flights doesn't pass a business case or political muster (there not being any Soyuz factories on US soil) so we won't see them despite the billions in sunk costs to facilitate a tripling or more of the science output if the crew is expanded.

Pete Zaitcev wrote:

As far as I understand, current plans call for MLM (another Zvezda, basically) to be docked to the nadir port of Zarya directly, without the UDM. This puts the 3 potential ports on the Transfer Compartment of MLM well clear of the station's old main axis. The graphic on Wikipedia has the side ports on MLM oriented along the main axis ("fore" and "rear"), and the forward port covered with a cap. Obviously it cannot be used... HOWEVER, the "rear" one might be useful for a Soyuz. Voila, 3-rd Soyuz!

Another thing, Wikipedia says that Zvezda has an empty zenith port. Not a word is said about it, but I presume it was off-limits due to P6 radiators, which are now gone. Might as well dock something useful there, like 4th Soyuz.

All of the above presumes the rear port of Zvezda reserved for ATV.

nacnud wrote:

The zenith port on Zevzda, like the nadir port is a hybrid port, you would need another module like Pirs in order to use it with Soyuz. The good news is that one of these is planned for the zenith port and the MLM will 'convert' the nadir port.

Now that Node 3 is to be located on the left port of unity the nadir port of Zarya is no longer blocked when Node 3 arrives.

So then you end up with a Russian section with four Soyuz type ports.

ken anthony wrote:

The complex can [build] ships too heavy to take off from the ground.

Makes sense to me. Real spaceships should have landing craft and never themselves go down a gravity well (because their engines would tend to burn holes through a planet with atomic torch ships. That was good SF when I was a kid.)

... NASA ... and the giant-rocket fetishists...

Understanding the issue of flight rates, would not bigger rockets allow for bigger modules? Isn't that the idea of the FALCON 9 heavy? Imagine if we'd had the will to build infrastructure (fuel depots and construction ports) using Saturn Vs instead of stopping as we did in the 70s?

Having said that, I'm encouraged that private business finally seems to be getting there. I'd like to see the next 50 years.

Karl Hallowell wrote:

Any idea how big this assembly complex will be? I wonder how big (how much volume, dimensions, mass, etc) an object can be worked on by this station?

publiusr wrote:

I resent his lame "giant rocket fetishists" remark.

We didn't go to the moon atop dozens of Delta IIs after all. I seem to remember how space libertarians railed against ISS. And that was assembled through multiple launches.

A few Ares Vs--and it would have been done--with most of its useful life spent doing actual research--as opposed to having the traffic cones up.

Rand Simberg wrote:

We didn't go to the moon atop dozens of Delta IIs after all.

There was a reason for that. Money was no object, and we were in a hurry. Had we wanted to do it more sustainably, and cost effectively, we might have (though Titans would have been a better bet). The new initiative was supposed to be affordable and sustainable, yet NASA has chosen a costly and unsustainable route by replicating Apollo.

I seem to remember how space libertarians railed against ISS. And that was assembled through multiple launches.

Is there supposed to be some kind of logical relationship between these two sentences? I don't see one.

Yes, station was assembled through multiple launches. If we had cheaper, more frequent launch capability, it could have been assembled even faster. I'm not sure how your arguments supports the need for a very expensive new heavy lifter that will fly very rarely (thus making it even more expensive).

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This page contains a single entry by Rand Simberg published on April 14, 2008 5:52 AM.

More Obamanalysis (Or, "It's Not The 'Bitter,' Stupid") was the previous entry in this blog.

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