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ESA Wants ISS Extended To 2020

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 4 years ago | from the buy-two-at-twice-the-price dept.

Space 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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88 comments

FROSTY PISS! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30785530)

What do you call a nigger priest? HOLY SHIT!

Frosty Piss, it's water from your dick!

Where's the big science I heard about? (3, Insightful)

mmcxii (1707574) | more than 4 years ago | (#30785544)

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.

I fully support the efforts of any nation to keep the science going.

Re:Where's the big science I heard about? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#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]

Re:Where's the big science I heard about? (2, Interesting)

icebike (68054) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:Where's the big science I heard about? (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 4 years ago | (#30789482)

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

NASA had to give up something when they forced MIR to be deorbited. Giving the Russians the ability to control access to and from the station was one of the things they gave up in the glorious compromise that is the ISS.

As far as how effective NASA is at dealing with these major large scale projects, I have my doubts about the effectiveness of NASA. They do a good job at very basic R&D, including pure science for the sake of science and the quest for knowledge in general. When it comes to rehashing solved engineering problems like figuring out how to put an astronaut into orbit around the Earth, they tend to do a lousy job of things.

Considering that in two years NASA won't have any way of getting an astronaut into orbit on American vehicles, eggs is certainly on their face and should be highlighted for the series of projects in the graveyard of ideas that any one of which should have been permitted to get to completion. Most of them were better ideas than the current Constellation architecture.

Re:Where's the big science I heard about? (1)

mdwh2 (535323) | more than 4 years ago | (#30790194)

Do you have an example of a Government funded project that was privately patented? (Usually it's private companies we hear about.)

Re:Where's the big science I heard about? (3, Interesting)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 4 years ago | (#30785764)

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.

Re:Where's the big science I heard about? (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#30785832)

Though if ESA members want the extension to happen, they should be fully prepared for associated costs (perhaps Russia too - it pushes away the need for their next, already planned, space station; conserving funds)

Renting one module for reality show might help... ;)

Re:Where's the big science I heard about? (5, Funny)

naz404 (1282810) | more than 4 years ago | (#30786082)

Well, all I can say is that 10 years from now, we'll be looking at this with 2020 hindsight.

*ducks*

Re:Where's the big science I heard about? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30788294)

Though if ESA members want the extension to happen, they should be fully prepared for associated costs (perhaps Russia too

Well, fuck, if we don't have the capability to launch humans into space (and our track record over the past 10 years indicates we won't), why not? Abandon ISS, and let the first nation with manned orbital spaceflight capabilities claim it as salvage.

Renting one module for reality show might help... ;)

Not as crazy as it sounds. If it's abandoned, why restrict the game to nations? Let the first corporation with manned orbital spaceflight capability claim salvage rights and turn it into a hotel. There might even be grounds in international law for that.

And if we can establish that as a precedent, we're one closer to Mars, bitches! [capmag.com]. First guy to land there owns the whole. fucking. planet. :)

Just because the States has abandoned the race for technological supremacy in favor of Jesus-freakery doesn't mean some other bunch of humans can't try to claim the high ground. I love the States. I came here because my country had given up on technology. (OK, so you can laugh at my fuckup. Too late for me to do anything but laugh at it either...)

Bottom line is I don't care who does it, but somebody's gotta get us offa this rock, and I've swallowed my pride and stopped caring what kind of cloth patch is on their uniforms.

Re:Where's the big science I heard about? (4, Interesting)

Teancum (67324) | more than 4 years ago | (#30786478)

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.

Russia can steal it hahaa (1)

cheekyboy (598084) | more than 4 years ago | (#30787736)

If nasa leaves it, the second its empty, russia will launch a fleet of ships to dock and steal it, then usa cannot even do anything about it.

If they deorbit the ISS, then its a subtle sign that usa it self has the same firey fate of de unification.

Wheres my free taco? (1)

sponga (739683) | more than 4 years ago | (#30787802)

Hopefully the odds are a little better this time around, NASA disappointed so many hungry people last time.

Re:Russia can steal it hahaa (1)

twosat (1414337) | more than 4 years ago | (#30797072)

Don't laugh, but there are rumours that the Russians are planning to disconnect their section from the rest of the ISS if it is abandoned, leaving them with their own mini space-station. They have the control rocket jets on their portion and some small folded-up solar panels; the Americans have the big solar panels on theirs. Even if the massive American solar panels are not free to rotate to follow the sun and the gyroscopes are not turning to keep the ISS oriented in the same position, I think that it would still be habitable at a much-reduced functionality.

Re:Where's the big science I heard about? (1)

icebike (68054) | more than 4 years ago | (#30786654)

But what do we need to do in that environment any more?

Marshall McLuhan wrote a book titled "The Medium is the Message", and as far as the ISS is concerned, "Building it taught us what we wanted to know."

It wasn't about how peas grow in zero G, or manufacturing taking place in zero G. It was about how can we build something really big and complex in zero G.

Having done so, I wonder if there is any science left to do that is capable of being done there, given the size constraints.

Its a fragile structure in an dangerous environment. One collapsed strut and the thing could be a tangled mess.

Re:Where's the big science I heard about? (2, Interesting)

Teancum (67324) | more than 4 years ago | (#30789706)

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 being used for its operations to be better spent building a replacement space station with superior technologies and capabilities that would be more useful for scientific endeavors. I argue that the existing station has use now that it is built, and that it can be used and serviced for a price considerably cheaper than NASA is currently spending on its operations. Still, it is a defensible position to suggest that most of the scientific research that is being suggested to be done on the ISS could be done more effectively in other ways and for a considerably smaller budget.

Re:Where's the big science I heard about? (1)

twosat (1414337) | more than 4 years ago | (#30797096)

How the hell can we expect to send people on a multi-year round trip to Mars if we struggle to keep people alive and equipment functioning on a space station that's only about 200 miles away? If the ISS is disposed off prematurely we will lose a great opportunity to prepare for very-long duration space voyages.

Re:Where's the big science I heard about? (1)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 4 years ago | (#30785996)

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 [esa.int].

Re:Where's the big science I heard about? (3, Interesting)

Teancum (67324) | more than 4 years ago | (#30787030)

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 [esa.int].

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 [bigelowaerospace.com] 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.

Re:Where's the big science I heard about? (3, Informative)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 4 years ago | (#30787810)

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.

Ack, this is really embarrassing on my part, but it looks like the "$4.5 billion a year" figure is inaccurate. I had it from this source [csis.org], which was one of the first items to pop up in my Google search: "In the years after the Shuttle retires, the annual operation costs of the ISS will be $4.5 billion per year.1"

The footnote says that the figure came from one of these two GAO sources:

* NASA: Challenges in Completing and Sustaining the International Space Station [gao.gov]

* Space Station: Actions Under Way to Manage Cost, but Significant Challenges Remain [gao.gov]

However, after reading your comment I've searched through the text of both GAO sources and I can't find anything to support the first source's claim. I did find the following through from the first GAO report: "NASA estimates that assembly and operating costs of the ISS will be between $2.1 billion to $2.4 billion annually for FY2009-FY2012. The ISS as of February 19, 2008, is approximately 65 percent complete."

I ended up looking through the final report of the White House/NASA Augustine Commission [nasa.gov] (published late 2009) and found this in section 6.4.2:

The choice of ending U.S. participation in the ISS in 2015 really provides only one benefit, that of freeing up the roughly $2.5 to $3 billion per year needed to
run the ISS,
which can then be invested in the more rapid development of the exploration systems. The Committee's Integrated Option analyses show that if coupled to the choice of commercial crew launch system to low-Earth orbit and the Ares V Lite heavy lift choice, this expenditure on the ISS would delay the exploration of the Moon until the mid-2020s, only a few years after the most aggressive, unconstrained profile would accomplish it.

In any case, $2.5-$3 billion a year is still a huge chunk of change. I totally agree with your original sentiment.

Re:Where's the big science I heard about? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30788988)

Bigelow Aerospace, what a joke, their inflatable 'stations' have nothing of value... "Genesis II contains numerous systems not flown on its predecessor such as additional cameras, sensors, a Biobox, a reaction wheel and the interactive Space Bingo game."

They don't have any life support nor are inhabitable in any way. But fortunately the have Space Bingo and 'Fly Your Stuff', it smells like a ridiculous sham to me.

Re:Where's the big science I heard about? (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 4 years ago | (#30789420)

Bigelow Aerospace, what a joke, their inflatable 'stations' have nothing of value... "Genesis II contains numerous systems not flown on its predecessor such as additional cameras, sensors, a Biobox, a reaction wheel and the interactive Space Bingo game."

They don't have any life support nor are inhabitable in any way. But fortunately the have Space Bingo and 'Fly Your Stuff', it smells like a ridiculous sham to me.

I know this is responding to an anonymous coward post that really doesn't know his stuff, but I'll continue on some more in spite of that. This is sheer ignorance on the part of this poster and simply must be responded to.

Yes, it has life support and even docking mechanisms. The "biobox" even mentioned by this poster is some actual living creatures that were on board that vehcile. I think they were cockroaches or other insects, together with some plants to verify the life support systems operations. The Genesis II and the earlier Genesis I modules were intended to be demonstrator projects that could verify both the equipment operations, including explicitly life support, and ground control operations including setting up the equivalent of NASA's mission control and several tracking stations to maintain communications with the vehicle.

The games and stuff mentioned here were included explicitly as a part of the public relations effort, and didn't really cost anything extra in terms of putting them on the vehicle. As for cameras and sensors.... what do you think is on the ISS?

I should note that the Bigelow vehicles are based upon and actually an upgrade of an earlier technology and concept that was supposed to be already on the ISS. It was called the TransHab [wikipedia.org]. The really sad part of this is that the module was actually built and made 100% functional, waiting deployment to the ISS. Budget cuts alone and somebody lacking vision on how to deal with the ISS are responsible for this not being a current module on the ISS. It isn't the only completed module that will never get into space either, and even more surprising is that the docking points to extend the ISS are still available in theory to put up these modules. Unfortunately, these modules on the ground that aren't slated to go up aren't even being maintained, so it would a while to send these up even if the desire was there to do that.

If you want to say that the ISS is a joke of a station and has nothing of value, I suppose that might be true. Otherwise, study what is there and don't be ignorant.

Re:Where's the big science I heard about? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30789510)

Here is quick overview of the ESA budget for 2010, released together with the full Audio of the ESA DG Press Meet.

ESA 2010 Budget: http://esamultimedia.esa.int/multimedia/DG/ESA_2010_Budget.pdf [esa.int] (pdf)
ESA DG Speech Audio: http://esamultimedia.esa.int/multimedia/DG/DG_press_breakfast_EN.mp3 [esa.int] (mp3)

Additionally, while in the US, the ISS is seen as more american than anything else, be aware that more than 50% of the currently pressurized space on the ISS, comes from European modules in the spacestation.

And one quick word about the budget. The UK is not part of the ESA Human Spaceflight programme, and their part of the ESA budget is not paying for anything on the ISS.

I don't understand (5, Informative)

ctachme (1625925) | more than 4 years ago | (#30785552)

It isn't clear to me what the rationale for getting rid of the Space Station would be. As far as I can tell, if you didn't want to pay for shipping people up and down, you could still use it as a platform for scientific instruments. In that case, you would just have to occasionally use orbital corrections to compensate for atmospheric drag. So why deorbit it, ever? Is the cost of a few kilo's of propellant really that high? If you're talking about removing the crew that's one thing, but that's an incredible resource that you'd just be wasting.

Re:I don't understand (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30786134)

I think I remember reading that the Russians are keeping their modules to the ISS, maybe to form a Mir II?

Re:I don't understand (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30786142)

In that case, you would just have to occasionally use orbital corrections to compensate for atmospheric drag. So why deorbit it, ever? Is the cost of a few kilo's of propellant really that high?

Yes, the cost is that high. The ISS isn't just a tiny little tin can space station, it's a huge, 300,000+ kg space laboratory that was designed for human habitation. Just 'leaving it up there' would be an enormous waste of resources just to boost it back up in orbit (a great deal of which would just be dead mass, since if there are no humans aboard, there's no need for life support systems, toilets, observation decks, etc.) Couple that with no permanent American launch vehicle available to even service the station for many of the last few years of its operation, without which you will get very little or no American support for the station, and it's a really, really hard sell. But that doesn't mean we should give up hope.

If we were to keep it longer, and I strongly hope and believe that we will end up keeping it in space, we should keep it doing what it was intended to do in the first place. It should be the premiere space research facility, and it should be manned by willing scientists and, hopefully, more wealthy tourists willing to risk their lives and a huge chunk of their fortunes to spend a couple weeks floating around and not touching anything. We should start thinking about deorbiting it whenever chunks start coming off of it, or like with Mir, fires start cropping up and the place becomes uninhabitable.

Re:I don't understand (2, Informative)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#30786384)

The basic problem is that the ISS isn't designed to operate unattended and requires a small support army on the ground to monitor it's system, orbit, attitude, etc... (And no, it's not going to be neither cheap nor trivial to change either.)

Re:I don't understand (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30787338)

(And no, it's not going to be neither cheap nor trivial to change either.)

And i suppose that it will be SO MUCH cheaper to just trash it and build another like we always do with everything in human history?
The costs aren't even going to be a fraction of a percent compared.

Automate the damned station for crying out loud, the materials are up there, no point bringing it back to Earth when we wasted so much damn time putting the crap up there.
Maybe one day when the space agencies aren't such wasteful fucks (actual FACT), they'll learn to re-use the "junk" sitting up there. Every gram is useful in space, every single bit of it.
They all sicken me, which is the worst part of all considering they are supposedly "the smart ones".

Re:I don't understand (1)

Seth Kriticos (1227934) | more than 4 years ago | (#30788644)

I thought space exploration was about overcoming new challenges. Maybe it would not be cheep or trivial, but it would yield very valuable space automation engineering / research experience. It would also keep one of the big space land marks in place for some more time.

Isn't de-orbiting the ISS culturally somewhat equivalent to tearing down the statue of freedom because it's too much hassle to paint it?

2500 AD on education space voyage: Here you can see the 3rd ever build space station, a landmark of great importance. The first two would obviously much more interesting, but they were trashed..

Re:I don't understand (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#30800066)

Yes, space exploration is about overcoming new challenges. But modifying the ISS to operate unmanned is 'challenge' equivalent to dropping a hundred pound concrete block on one's hand. You know it's going to hurt, and you know it's going to cost great deal of time, money, and effort to restore a fraction of the functionality it used to have. There's just no point in taking up the challenge.

Even so, you're never going to get rid of the ground based standing army. Operating a facility like ISS is a complex job, and automation doesn't replace analysis.

And given that ISS is more like the tenth or twelfth station (estimated, as I don't have time to count up all the Salyut and Almaz stations), I don't see what your point is. Even if it were the third, demolishing it is no different than tearing down any other building that is no longer needed.

Re:I don't understand (1)

Trapezium Artist (919330) | more than 4 years ago | (#30789354)

Because atmospheric drag will slowly bring the ISS lower in altitude until it re-enters. If you just let it do it on its own timescale, the decay will be unpredictable and there's always a chance it'll come down somewhere unpalatable, such as Miami. (I mean that it'd be unpalatable for it to fall on Miami, not that Miami is unpalatable. Or do I?)

After all, some large chunks of the ISS will survive re-entry more or less whole. The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer is due to be attached later this year and its main magnetic torus is a pretty solid thing with a mass of over two tonnes. Ouch.

So, rather than have it come down somewhere unpredictable, NASA and its partners are committed to a controlled de-orbiting over a pretty empty ocean, presumably the Pacific. Yes, you could keep revisiting it with unmanned tankers to reboost the orbit, but it kind of misses the point if you're trying to close it down and save money. (I agree, it'd be very little money compared to the amount spent so far and yes, I think it'd be the right thing to do, keep it up there for future use. But that's not how bureaucrats think, I'm afraid).

Same goes for the Hubble Space Telescope: it'll come down in time as well. Unfortunately, it's too heavy and/or no longer properly man-rated (since it has been substantially modified since launch) to allow it to be brought back in a shuttle, which'd be nice. So, it either needs to be de-orbited in a controlled manner or (my choice) boosted to a much higher "museum orbit", where it could be retrieved much (much) later when we have the appropriate hardware.

Of course, rather than invest hundreds of millions in developing a robotic de-orbiting solution for HST (the shuttle won't revisit it again), NASA could take out tens of millions in insurance policies against the very remote chance that it landed on anyone. I half imagine you'd have some terminally-ill folk people trying to work out where HST might indeed come down and try to get themselves under it, just for the glory (and a big pile of cash for their heirs). But the US government doesn't think that way, for a number of understandable reasons.

Re:I don't understand (2, Interesting)

Teancum (67324) | more than 4 years ago | (#30790060)

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 [faa.gov] (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.

Re:I don't understand (1)

earlymon (1116185) | more than 4 years ago | (#30792936)

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.

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

YOU are doing just fine, my friend. Those were my first thoughts reading the TFS. Your post really sparked the old gray cells and I thank you for that. That said, google is my friend, and the fossil record indeed supports the idea that we were promised and sold as taxpayers the idea that this would be a permanent station - I simply googled "iss permanent outpost" and got some interesting stuff right off the bat:

http://www.space.com/common/media/show/player.php?show_id=26&ep=4 [space.com]

http://science.howstuffworks.com/space-station.htm [howstuffworks.com]

However, note that in 2000, there came the obscure quote from a NASA mgr - "This is the beginning of what we hope is at least 15 years of continuous human presence in space, and personally, I hope its much, much longer than that that once we get this crew on orbit, well have spacecraft flying with people on board for centuries to come." Source -

http://www.space.com/missionlaunches/missions/exp_one_iss_001030.html [space.com]

Nonetheless, the "permanent outpost" meme was alive and well in 2007 -

http://eu.spaceref.com/news/viewpr.html?pid=24180 [spaceref.com]

And what's NASA's real plan? Get a load of the roadmap on slide 2 - and the clever glyph at the right end of the ISS bar, showing neither certainty nor commitment -

http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/203075main_ECLSS%20Technology%20Exchange%20Conference%20briefing.pdf [nasa.gov]

why bother (2, Interesting)

spike hay (534165) | more than 4 years ago | (#30785646)

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.

Re:why bother (3, Insightful)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 4 years ago | (#30785820)

is because we know about everything useful there is to know about zero g vacuum a short distance above Earths surface.

I disagree. The long term effects of weightlessness on the human body require more study. Especially in terms of ways to mitigate muscular and skeletal degeneration. It's hard to do that kind of work without sending people up there for significant amounts of time.

Re:why bother (1)

couchslug (175151) | more than 4 years ago | (#30787348)

"I disagree. The long term effects of weightlessness on the human body require more study. Especially in terms of ways to mitigate muscular and skeletal degeneration. It's hard to do that kind of work without sending people up there for significant amounts of time."

That is hardly urgent work. We could wait hundreds of years without manned space flight, but robotic systems are valuable now and will absolutely be required to exploit the universe. We should perfect sending robots to work in space to the point that nothing is required of human passengers.

We could drop manned missions of the government-sponsored variety while letting for-profit corporations provide a romantic space ride for those willing to pay.

Re:why bother (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30788356)

The long term effects of weightlessness on the human body require more study.

Then fucking do it while you're sending humans somewhere other than going around in circles for years.

If all you want is a guinea pig, put me on the next ship to Mars. Get all the data you want on the 6-12 month tirp out there, and I'll give you that data without even asking for a soft landing in return. (Hell, if it's a one-way trip and we're skipping the soft landing, to hell with Mars, send me to Europa. If you're worried about planetary biosphere protection, I'll settle for Io. If it's too hot around Jupiter, how about Titan? Even the antenna-impaired Galileo imagery, or the time-limited Huygens imagery is enough to convince me the last 15 minutes of either trip will be worth the wait.)

Robots may be better at deep-space science missions than humans, but if the last transmission is along the lines of "Holy living fuck, you have got to see this!", it'll do more to boost future exploration budgets than anything the robots sent back.

Yup. And that's about it. (1)

Nicolas MONNET (4727) | more than 4 years ago | (#30788940)

You've cited the one and only one thing that needs to be done up there.

Everything else is pointless.

Re:why bother (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#30785898)

Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter would have a hard time anyway, with its usage of nuclear reactor...

As for ISS - remember toilet breakage? Problems with old treadmill necessitating designing and sending Colbert? Such simple stuff..and yet we are far from getting things really right when it comes to space travel - better try in LEO. Deep space differs mostly in radiation and engine parts, and we can model those easily.

Re:why bother (2, Interesting)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 4 years ago | (#30786128)

Exactly. We can't even get the urine recycler working yet [xinhuanet.com]. 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.

Re:why bother (1)

ortholattice (175065) | more than 4 years ago | (#30787036)

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.

You mean like they wanted to shut down the patent office because there was nothing left to be patented? "Everything that can be invented has been invented." Charles H. Duell, U.S. Commissioner of Patents (1899) (Actually, this is a myth, but it seemed amusingly appropriate here...)

Re:why bother (0, Troll)

cpscotti (1032676) | more than 4 years ago | (#30787106)

everything useful there is to know about [constant free fall] vacuum a short distance above Earths surface.

Fixed your typo

Where's the big problem? (2, Interesting)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#30785666)

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?

Re:Where's the big problem? (1)

Idiomatick (976696) | more than 4 years ago | (#30788870)

NASA is also looking to Space X for resupplying. (Much more exciting company than the Russians). On that note, their first launch of the falcon 9 rocket is scheduled for February 2nd. :D

Re:Where's the big problem? (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 4 years ago | (#30790132)

Correction: SpaceX has come forward and is building the capability for resupplying the ISS. NASA didn't want to use SpaceX, and the Washington D.C. office for NASA has some egg on its face for even considering the idea. In the time that it has taken NASA to launch a dummy rocket that has almost no relationship with the final vehicle that will actually fly, and with a projected cost exceeding $100 billion, SpaceX has designed from scratch an entirely different launch capability and has done that for less than $1 billion. Yes, I know SpaceX has a contract for more than a billion dollars, but the R&D to build the rocket cost less than that. The price tag for delivery of the supplies is cash on the barrel head for actually getting those supplies delivered.

NASA is using SpaceX as a customer, not using SpaceX as a sub-contractor who happens to be building a component for a NASA spacecraft. That is a huge difference.

NASA's plan was to be using Progress and Soyuz vehicles for resupplying the ISS. That went over real well with the American Congress and is to me incredibly embarrassing. That is still the current plan, and the SpaceX deal is sort of a back-up plan "just in case".

Also don't forget that Orbital Science Corporation is also providing the same service.... and for more money and fewer flights and tons of delivered goods than SpaceX. Go figure that one out. SpaceX is simply grateful they have a contract in hand at all, and look like they may be the first to reach the ISS.

ESA Wants ISS Extended To 2020 (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30785670)

In response NASA stuck out it's hat.

what the ISS needs (1, Troll)

kaplong! (688851) | more than 4 years ago | (#30785722)

..is a good dunk in the Pacific. Flying people around in low earth orbit is neither science nor particularly inspirational as human spaceflight, and uses up billions that could fund real space science missions.

Re:what the ISS needs (1)

couchslug (175151) | more than 4 years ago | (#30787362)

Interesting that attacks on manned platforms are so often modded Troll.

How about some valid counterarguments instead of hiding behind moderation like a little bitch?

Re:what the ISS needs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30788530)

How about some valid counterarguments instead of hiding behind moderation like a little bitch?

Don't feed the trolls.

Re:what the ISS needs (1)

Idiomatick (976696) | more than 4 years ago | (#30788888)

People don't care about science its not exciting it isn't on the minds of the people. This results in a collapse in funding. Inspiration directly effects funding, funding directly effects science done.

Not that complicated... Really we should be sending people to mars purely for the drama and interest in space it'd cause.

Robots crawling on every hard surface is exciting (1)

Nicolas MONNET (4727) | more than 4 years ago | (#30788966)

First person video of remote controlled devices is every bit as exciting as when there's someone holding the camera.

Finding life around other stars is even more exciting; and we could do that with the money spent on manned spaceflight, if instead we built big ass telescopes (in space or not). For example, with a 100m-wide telescope we know we have enough resolution to get a spectrum of the atmosphere of an earth-like planet around a nearby star. Dioxygen in the spectrum? I'm sorry that's 1000 times more exciting than chumps clogging their toilet in orbit.

Re:Robots crawling on every hard surface is exciti (1)

Idiomatick (976696) | more than 4 years ago | (#30789258)

I agree completely... but I'm a /.er, Joe thinks that dioxygen is for nerds and makes them want to punch things or push people into lockers.

Re:what the ISS needs (1)

anyGould (1295481) | more than 4 years ago | (#30790968)

How about some valid counterarguments instead of hiding behind moderation like a little bitch?

Sure, I'll bite.

Not being a rocket surgeon, I can't speak to whether "useful" Science is being done up there or not (or at least Science that couldn't be done by our future robotic overlords).

What I see going on at the ISS is basic research into keeping people alive. Because while it was fun to day-trip out to the Moon, in the long term we need to be able to get there and set up shop. Which means we need both halves of the space program (actually thirds, when you figure it's smarter to send the robots first to find landing zones, etc).

Space exploration is the answer to the ennui that is "oh, we've discovered everything". In the grand scheme of things, we know squat - the rest of the universe is out there. Do we want to be the finders or the found? (Keep in mind local history - the folks who "discovered" the new lands tended to fare better.)

Yeah, it costs an arseload of money. I figure, the world governments just need to bomb a few less people, and ta-da, there's your extra budget.

Location, Location, Location (1)

DynaSoar (714234) | more than 4 years ago | (#30785734)

If NASA doesn't want it, they should sell it, or at least their share in it. Of course they can't because that's be slapping their own face. Kind of a handicap, being able to build something but nit maintain it.

Just look at whose paying (2, Insightful)

phantomcircuit (938963) | more than 4 years ago | (#30785870)

Obviously they want the ISS to continue to be operational. They get to use it and the US tax payer gets to pay for it.

Yes I am aware that they pay for part of it, but it is a fraction of what NASA pays.

Re:Just look at whose paying (1)

IrquiM (471313) | more than 4 years ago | (#30788882)

Compared to Iraq and Afghanistan, the cost of keeping ISS operational is also a fraction. An even smaller fraction!

Re:Just look at whose paying (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30792438)

Yes, but what if Saddam and al-Qaeda got together and bombed NASA?

Didn't think of that, did you?

Who else will maintain it? (1)

Lonewolf666 (259450) | more than 4 years ago | (#30785876)

If NASA does not want to pay for supply and maintenance, will the other participating nations step up and pay for the flights?
If yes, an extension should be easy to negotiate. After all, de-orbiting the ISS won't bring any NASA Money back.
If no, you might as well de-orbit the station.

Re:Who else will maintain it? (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#30786116)

Slow down a bit with the last part, Russians would like to use their modules, after detaching them, as a starting point for "Mir 3" (3 because Russian part of the ISS is composed of what was supposed to become Mir 2, essentially). Or so they say lately...

I wonder what else can be salvaged ;)

What about using it as a Mars spaceship? (2, Interesting)

t0qer (230538) | more than 4 years ago | (#30785900)

I've heard this suggested somewhere before that ISS would make an awesome vehicle for getting to mars.

Re:What about using it as a Mars spaceship? (1)

BitHive (578094) | more than 4 years ago | (#30785932)

Was that the same person that suggested using the Kursk as a deep sea habitat?

Re:What about using it as a Mars spaceship? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30786112)

Mod parent up. The idea is well-known and is utter B.S.

Re:What about using it as a Mars spaceship? (1)

BiggerIsBetter (682164) | more than 4 years ago | (#30785938)

I've heard this suggested somewhere before that ISS would make an awesome vehicle for getting to mars.

+1 Interesting. That sir, is the coolest idea I've heard this week

Re:What about using it as a Mars spaceship? (2, Insightful)

Zocalo (252965) | more than 4 years ago | (#30785978)

I don't think that would work. You'd need quite a bit of thrust to push the ISS (plus the fuel and drive to do the pushing) out of Earth's orbit and I doubt very much that the entire structure would have been designed to take the strain. It's not going to do you much good if as soon as you fire the engines the solar panels snap off and the lights go out...

You might be able to do something using a low thrust Ion drive, but you'd still need to spend an awfully long time going round and round in ever increasing circles while you build up enough momentum to break orbit. In short, and if you'll excuse the pun, it's nice idea, but I just don't think it's going to fly.

Re:What about using it as a Mars spaceship? (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 4 years ago | (#30786080)

While ISS would perhaps have problems with some of the more powerful rocket engines available, it certainly doesn't require thrust characteristic of ion drive to maintain structural integrity.

After all, it was boosted by Progress, ATV or Shuttle many times. While they were attached only by the airlock. With the vector of force not positioned optimally too, probably. ...which doesn't of course change the fact that using ISS outside of the protective magnetosphere, far from Earth, is not a good idea.

Re:What about using it as a Mars spaceship? (2, Insightful)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 4 years ago | (#30786520)

I've heard this suggested somewhere before that ISS would make an awesome vehicle for getting to mars.

If by 'awesome' you actually mean 'utterly and completely unsuitable', sure. Otherwise no.
 
It's structure isn't designed to take the stresses that pushing out of Earth orbit will entail. (And no, ion engines aren't the answer. They aren't up to the job.) Even if it were designed to take those stresses, passing through the Van Allen belts will fry it's unshielded electronics and crew. Their corpses will then be nicely frozen when the environmental control systems, designed for the relatively toasty environment of LEO, fails in the freezing environment of interplanetary space. Anything left alive/functioning after being blasted with radiation and being deep frozen will die as the ISS loses electric power as the intensity of sunlight hitting it's solar panel decreases as it moves away from the sun.

Who can still fly up there? (1)

janwedekind (778872) | more than 4 years ago | (#30786132)

I thought the Space Shuttle is going to be retired. So only the Russian Soyuz can make manned flights to the ISS. It's a bit strange though to imagine that in five years there might not be any more manned space flights.

Re:Who can still fly up there? (1)

Nethemas the Great (909900) | more than 4 years ago | (#30786264)

SpaceX is being positioned to replace NASA-ISS resupply. SpaceX is also working towards manned flight capabilities. I wouldn't doubt that the slack in NASA's manned capabilities will be temporarily if not permanently replaced by them--we'll see how Ares goes...

Re:Who can still fly up there? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30786296)

Actually, SpaceX is set to start supply flights to the ISS by 2012, with a human rated lift vehicle capable of astronaut launches by 2015. Check out SpaceX.com.

The Space program is a mess... (1)

Time_Warped (1266658) | more than 4 years ago | (#30786338)

Neither party in the US take space exploration at all seriously, because there is no short term quick money to be made. So we are spending roughly 1/3 of the budget that we really need to "do space right". We need to adopt a more "Japanese " style long term approach to research and profit making. But this requires the American people to rethink their mindset, which shows no probability of occurring. Having said that, it is idiotic to throw away a station we spent so many years building away. We have it, and it is much cheaper to maintain it than to build another one later. For that matter I have yet to see a valid reason given to retire the shuttle. Now there may be safety reasons for doing so, but I've never seen them in print, most of what I've seen is that "the shuttle is old, we need new and shiny", at they very least it should be used until new technology has been fully tested. We have too many "pointy haired bosses of BOTH parties" running the country.

Re:The Space program is a mess... (2, Insightful)

R3d M3rcury (871886) | more than 4 years ago | (#30786648)

The main reason to retire the Shuttle, in my opinion, is that it costs too much to run for the "simple" task of delivering people to ISS. It's sort of like using an SUV to drive to the corner store to pick up a soda. Sure it will work, but it's kind of a pricey (and wasteful) way of doing it. And while I have no problem spending money on human space travel, I do have a problem wasting money on human space travel.

I don't believe in the whole "private industry exploring space." That said, if Space-X can launch two or three scientists to ISS cheaper than the shuttle and bring the same number back, I'm all for it. It provides the same capability and it's cheaper.

Let NASA work on lunar infrastructure--getting people to-and-from the Moon safely, getting equipment to the Moon, building useful things on the Moon, etc.

Centrifuge Accommodations Module (4, Interesting)

4181 (551316) | more than 4 years ago | (#30786836)

How much of a blow to low-g biological research was the cancellation of the Centrifuge Accommodations Module [wikipedia.org]? 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.

Re:Centrifuge Accommodations Module (2, Interesting)

couchslug (175151) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:Centrifuge Accommodations Module (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 4 years ago | (#30788290)

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.

I might add, any serious proposal for exploring Mars, has a large unmanned segment. It doesn't need to be decades long (delay of that length is in fact probably fatal to any manned plan), but you'll need to send a lot of metal before people walk on Mars.

Re:Centrifuge Accommodations Module (4, Interesting)

khallow (566160) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:Centrifuge Accommodations Module (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 4 years ago | (#30790312)

What is keeping people from going to Mars on their own dime is not really so much a factor that there are a whole bunch of unknowns about getting there (which is a problem, but not insurmountable), but rather a government willing to even let people do it in the first place.

The regulatory steps that a company must go through in order to get into space is huge, and it becomes a business nightmare to consider that even if you have some of the best and brightest engineers on the Earth that are helping to design a system for going into space, and even if you build the vehicle, that there is a high likelihood that the license to fly the thing won't ever happen. On top of that, the regulator uncertainty is there where you can be performing tests on components one day, and the next day some bureaucrat randomly interprets the flight rules and decides that the test can no longer be performed in that fashion.

This is the issue facing private spaceflight today. The bureaucracy governing spaceflight is oppressive and draconian, and counter productive in terms of encouraging the development of space. If it doesn't belong to NASA, in the past it simply wouldn't fly at all. It took a special act of Congress to be able to let AT&T spend their own money to fly the Telstar satellite, and they paid a double premium over what it cost NASA to fly other similar projects. That was just the first of a great many attempts to have private commercial spaceflight in any degree. Read up on the Constoga I rocket for a real eye opener, or how NASA effectively killed off Mircorp just when they were starting to make a profit.

For a very interesting and recent presentation that discusses the problems that a businessman who has dealt with getting stuff into orbit and doing stuff in space. Rather than merely talk about it... he even hired astronauts (actually cosmonauts) to go up into space for the company he ran (they actually got up there, not merely were hired to talk about it) and has done other stuff in space that is amazing from a commercial perspective:

http://www.spacevidcast.com/2010/01/14/jeffrey-manber-presents-can-capitalism-survive-in-space/ [spacevidcast.com]

The problems facing businesses working in space are daunting, and most of that is political instead of technical. I swear that there are huge factions of the U.S. government that are determined to kill off the entire U.S. spaceflight industry and are making a deliberate policy decision to see to it that Americans never leave this planet again. Not that it is merely a waste of taxpayer money, but that nobody should be allowed to spend money in that fashion in any circumstance. Going into space is hard enough but with the bureaucratic overload, it seems legitimate almost impossible. It certainly takes tilting at windmills to get anything done, together with greasing the skids by having almost as large of a lobbying presence in Washington D.C. as you have engineers actually building the thing in the first place.

Re:Centrifuge Accommodations Module (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 4 years ago | (#30815926)

I can come with a few examples myself. E-Prime Aerospace tried to fly refurbished Peacekeeper missiles, but they were blocked by Congress from using those rockets for commercial purposes. Orbital Sciences uses the Peacekeepers now, but I think they can only use them for military payloads. Supposedly six "welterweight" launch companies (very small payloads to orbit, around 1 kg) died when NASA started its own competitor and killed whatever existed for the market. So regulation and incompetent/malicious government interference can indeed kill commercial efforts.

But my view is that the regulation and bureaucracy, while burdensome, is not greater than the economic obstacles to space activities (though obviously they do aggravate the problem significantly). A team with patience, a lot of lawyers, and a few forklifts can get around the regulation. They can't so easily get around the problem that the expected revenue for the business plan is one or more orders of magnitude smaller than the costs.

Re:Centrifuge Accommodations Module (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 4 years ago | (#30817948)

I stand by my assertion that you need more lawyers and lobbyists in Washington D.C. than engineers. A team with patience, an abundant cash reserve, good connections with P.R. firms, and participation with the campaigns of several key congressmen (with of course the appropriate campaign contributions) are the best way to get into space.

That takes significant overhead. What is sort of funny is that in spite of having that sort of ratio of lawyers to engineers, they can still build vehicles that are cheaper than can be constructed by a government agency. That such vehicles are being made by companies like Bigelow, SpaceX, and Orbital Science should be remarkable enough.

Anyway, thanks for the feedback. Over time these political problems will be fixed, and somebody somewhere will wake up to what is happening. The FAA-AST was a brilliant move, as it introduced a bureaucracy that was dedicated to explicitly commercial spaceflight and has some folks who by law simply must appear before congress to testify about commercial spaceflight. This is an agency which is not NASA, which helps all that much more. How profound of a change that has been can be seen simply by the fact that there now is an independent space sector to the U.S. Economy that isn't 100% dominated by government interests.

Re:Centrifuge Accommodations Module (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 4 years ago | (#30823898)

I think you exaggerate the bureaucratic burden a little, not a lot a little. I think a small, dedicated team can handle the paperwork. A similar team can do the necessary wheeling and dealing in Washington DC and any involved state governments (who often will eagerly assist the space business with its case).

The worst problem as I see it is the dirty pool that the big aerospace government contractors play both on aerospace newcomers (who might not be in the contracting industry at all) and each other. You have to factor in delays from insincere protests by competitors with your other problems. For example, I know of a non-profit that used to launch balloon-based rockets. For a while, every single rocket launch required a huge pile of paperwork (they claimed a pallet load) something like 45-90 days before the launch. Two or so people filled it out. And each of those launches was protested by at least one large prime contractor. It didn't slow down the launch since the protest and subsequent delays were factored in to the schedule.

But there have been cases where firms have had serious delays due to connived protests. For example, I believe two Falcon I launches were delayed weeks or months by being bumped by a DoD prime contractor deliberately getting in the way. Boeing's last Atlas II was, as I hear it, delayed several months by a spurious last minute protest over the safety of the launch (they apparently had a complaint about something termed a "battery issue", I have no knowledge of what it could be past that).

It's a rough business to be in. The newcomer generally has to learn how to build and use their own infrastructure rather than the federal government's in order to reduce the ability of competitors to screw with the business.

Sure almost everyone would agree, (1)

physburn (1095481) | more than 4 years ago | (#30789988)

that ending a project that took over 15 years and over a hundred shuttle launches, less than 5 years after we finished building it, would be a stupid waste of money. Now the ISS is up there and complete, (couple more launches to go), we should milk it for every use we can get out of it, it cost enough, its unique, and new space station isn't going to happen soon.

---

Space Craft [feeddistiller.com] Feed @ Feed Distiller [feeddistiller.com]

Subsidized space programs (1)

amightywind (691887) | more than 4 years ago | (#30790350)

Of course they do! Russia and Europe love having their meager space programs subsidized by US tax payers, and want it to continue. ISS access gives them prestige they do not merit. Throw the foreigners off of the Space Station Freedom!

Mindless Business Babble Cliche (Re: TFS) (1)

uassholes (1179143) | more than 4 years ago | (#30792458)

Here are two sentences:
  • "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."
  • "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."

Is there a difference in meaning?

ESA and the other partners (1)

mhenriday (1003052) | more than 4 years ago | (#30793162)

are going to have to force the United States to realise that the policy of denying the Chinese access to the global effort known as the International Space Station is bankrupt. Like it or not, the Chinese possess both the scientific and the economic muscle to play an important role in humanity's attempt to jump out of our gravity well, coupled with a burning desire to do so, and we can no longer allow the vagaries of US foreign policy to hinder them from contributing to this task.... Henri
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