Beta

Slashdot: News for Nerds

×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

NASA Looking To Build 'Gas' Stations In Space

CmdrTaco posted more than 3 years ago | from the hope-they-have-pay-at-pump dept.

NASA 201

coondoggie writes "Fuel is a major issue when it comes to long-duration spaceflights — its weight is a problem for launch and once a spacecraft runs out of fuel there's no place to get more. That's where in-space 'gas' stations located at strategic spots along a route would be a boon to spaceflight. Which is exactly what NASA is looking to do by beginning to solicit proposals for what it calls an In-Space Cryogenic Propellant Storage and Transfer Demonstration that will lay the groundwork for humans to safely reach multiple destinations, including the Moon, asteroids, Lagrange points and Mars."

cancel ×

201 comments

bathrooms in spppaaaaacccceeeee.... (2, Funny)

splatter (39844) | more than 3 years ago | (#35942998)

Aww man I'd hate to smell the mens room in that place.

Re:bathrooms in spppaaaaacccceeeee.... (0)

somersault (912633) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943060)

I hear that space is a pretty freaky place.

Re:bathrooms in spppaaaaacccceeeee.... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35943210)

Aww man I'd hate to smell the mens room in that place.

the floors are very sticky. i wonder why?

Re:bathrooms in spppaaaaacccceeeee.... (0)

MachDelta (704883) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943388)

In space, the floors, walls, and ceiling would ALL be sticky.
Gross.

Re:bathrooms in spppaaaaacccceeeee.... (0)

hellkyng (1920978) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943624)

In space... no one can hear you poo

Space dock (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35943032)

One way to solve the launch weight problem is to not launch them. Build spaceships in space and you can build ships that aren't possible if you have to launch them from the Earth.

Re:Space dock (0)

oodaloop (1229816) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943086)

That's fucking genius. We'll just live in space and build the ships from vacuum and satellite debris! That'll be much easier than using metal, ceramic, and glass from earth-bound sources.

Re:Space dock (1)

AchilleTalon (540925) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943174)

This idea comes from 2001: A Space Odyssey. However, don't underestimate the effort to collect enough debris to build something useful. And you still have a high energy requirement here to transform these debris into something else.

Re:Space dock (4, Insightful)

Nethemas the Great (909900) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943504)

The raw materials available for building components in space via NEOs (near Earth objects) are orders of magnitude greater than they are on earth. The problems lie more in the host of technologies that do not yet exist for harvesting, transforming, and manufacturing in space. There are further logistical issues regarding getting to the materials. Flying out to an asteroid isn't cheap, neither is returning with the goods.

All that said, the rewards for conquering these technological hurdles is mind boggling. To date we've only been getting our toes wet with respect to researching technology leading to the industrialization of space. Because of which much of this seems more sci-fi than anything. The short-term thinking majority can't conceive of any kind of substantial future in space. But they are the same kind of visionless people that wouldn't have bothered trying to industrialize Earth because it was too hard with solutions difficult to imagine. Explaining our vision for humanity in space to such people is like trying to explain your vision for creating what we know today as a smartphone to a pre-industrialization era person. All you'd get is mockery and ridicule about your pie in the sky, day dreaming flights of fancy.

Re:Space dock (1)

gmuslera (3436) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943380)

Could be interesting if eventually you could build spaceships taking materials from i.e asteroids. With a bit of care one could be turned into another (far smaller) moon and use it as source for raw materials, if of the right kind. Not sure if the fuel itself could be acquired in a similar way eventually.

Re:Space dock (1)

realityimpaired (1668397) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943472)

Whoring for Karma? why not....

We'd need one of these [wikipedia.org] before we can start building ships in space in sufficient numbers to be worth it. There's already numerous groups around the world looking in to the technology and feasibility of doing it, and several proposed sites around the world. Alternately, we could also try a launch loop [wikipedia.org] , but either way, our engineering is simply not capable of building something like that yet. "Yet" being the operative word.

As for why we don't build ships at a space station? The logistics of keeping a staff in orbit, and blasting parts into orbit so they can be assembled by staff in orbit, then blasting fuel into orbit so the ship can be fuelled, then blasting a crew and food supplies into orbit so that the ship can actually be launched are far more expensive than simply building craft on terra firma and blasting the whole kit and kaboodle into space. Until we're ready to start manned missions to deep space, it's simply not worth it, economically.

Re:Space dock (1)

VanGarrett (1269030) | more than 3 years ago | (#35944304)

As for why we don't build ships at a space station? The logistics of keeping a staff in orbit, and blasting parts into orbit so they can be assembled by staff in orbit, then blasting fuel into orbit so the ship can be fuelled, then blasting a crew and food supplies into orbit so that the ship can actually be launched are far more expensive than simply building craft on terra firma and blasting the whole kit and kaboodle into space. Until we're ready to start manned missions to deep space, it's simply not worth it, economically.

The logistics do seem quite daunting, but at the same time, removing launch and atmospheric capabilities from the ship's requirements may lend itself to new designs that handle space travel much more effectively, thereby making deep space missions much more practical. As well, the technology that goes into creating the space shipyard will contribute to the colonization of the moon, Mars, and many other worlds; not to mention that the facilities may well serve to produce much of the equipment necessary for said colonization. Also consider that once the facilities are there, the logistics of getting raw materials to it are likely to improve-- the benefactors will be keen on investing in infrastructure for getting the materials into orbit, first of all, but more significantly, the station itself will have the ability to build the vessels and equipment needed to mine the materials from space-borne objects.

There are indeed some technological hurdles to be leaped, but that's really what this whole thing is about, isn't it?

Time? (1)

pablo_max (626328) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943034)

How much time would that actually add to a trip to say Mars?
As I understood it, you would spend more or less half the trip speeding up and at the 50% mark flip the ship and slow down. That makes it seem like slowing down takes a really long time. I assume since there is either A, very low G forces and thus it takes for ever, or B, the power needs to kept down since puny humans cannot take high G situations very long.
Either way, making a complete stop 1/2 way would make you need to flip the ship at the 25% mark, this making your average speed slow as hell no?
Of course, this is just the way I think it works, which may be bunk. If not, better to only have filling stations on the destinations.

Re:Time? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35943194)

Well the way Orbital mechanics works is that you don't have to expend energy to slow down at the destination. When you add velocity to an orbiting object, where it starts traveling faster, it will move away from the object it is orbiting (in the case of earth to mars, the body that the spacecraft is orbiting is the Sun). Once it gets to that "higher" or further out orbit, the object will stay there. So the trick to going from Earth to Mars is to 1) add enough acceleration (delta-v) so that it settles into the same Solar orbit as Mars, and 2) do it at a time so that it reaches the same position in the orbit that Mars occupies at that time so that it gets "captured" into Mars orbit. Now going the other way is the same thing, but you are pointing the rocket at the opposite direction of Mars' orbit.

Re:Time? (1)

Sprouticus (1503545) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943220)

First, you are assuming the mission is manned, and thus the maxG=1 or close to it. If you take that assumption away you can have a much smaller mass and this acceleration can be increased.

A bigger problem for outside of lunar orbit is the fact that you would limit yourself to very specific trajectories. That would mean you either have a very small window or a much longer flight. Both of which are problematic for the purpose of decreasing flight time and increasing flexibility.

Parking the stations in orbit around moons or planets might be a good idea for machine which need to return to earth, as any vehicle would not need to have return trip fuel on board, cutting the fuel mass by 50%. It might also be good for missions that are multi stop in purpose. Of course the question is why you a rocket for such flights, what is the hurry?

The biggest use I can see is from LEO to GeoSync or from GeoSync to lunar orbit. Of course you still have the same amount of fuel to lift out of the gravity well regardless of whether it is part of the initial launch or gets the fuel later.

However, it does allow for much smaller launch/recovery vehicles and for smaller vehicles to refuel in orbit if the need arises. Space planes, satellites, maybe some vehicle for LEO cleanup which will have to use fuel to do its job. For those types of vehicles, reducing their mass during normal operations would actually save a lot of fuel in the long run because you would not have to move the fuel mass around as part of normal operations.

Re:Time? (2)

mark-t (151149) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943418)

Even *IF* the maximum G were 1, do you know how fast you could get to mars if you could actually maintain that acceleration and deceleration for half of the trip? Your average velocity would be faster than anything mankind has ever achieved outside of a particle accelerator (about half of 1% of the speed of light), and you'd reach the halfway point in less than 2 days.

Re:Time? (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943908)

Why do humans onboard mean the maxG=1. I have experienced 5 and that was too much, but people could easily handle a maxG of 2 or so.

Re:Time? (2)

mark-t (151149) | more than 3 years ago | (#35944010)

In a word. Comfort. Anything even modestly over a g would not be livable for a prolonged period of time (that is, anything beyond a few hours).

Re:Time? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35944306)

A few G's for a few hours would be all you would need. Coast for a couple days, repeat to decelerate, and you're at Mars. If we ever find a way to store fuel compactly enough to enable a ship to burn a g or two for a dozen hours, the solar system could be easily colonized.

Re:Time? (1)

DrgnDancer (137700) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943282)

Why not put the "fuel station" in orbit around Mars. Send up an unmanned ship loaded with roughly half the amount of fuel, food, oxygen, water, etc. needed for the mission and put it in orbit around Mars. Later, once everything is verified as arrived and safe, launch a manned ship with roughly half the amount of food, fuel, etc needed for the mission and let it dock with the unmanned station when it gets to Mars to restock. This will allow you to carry roughly half as much consumables on the (by necessity) much larger and more complex manned vehicle. It'll also give you a bit more fudge factor for relatively cheap. If you stock one manned vessel with rough 20% more consumable than you expect to need (just in case), you're adding quite a bit to a single ship's mass. If you add 10% more to each of two vessels, probably less of a big deal.

Re:Time? (1)

Ephemeriis (315124) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943636)

The problem isn't so much in getting from point A to point B in space, as it is with getting to space in the first place.

Let's say you want to send something to Mars. You've got a 1-ton payload... And then it takes 1 ton of fuel to make the trip from Earth orbit to Mars. So you need to lift 2 tons into Earth orbit.

Of course... If you had an orbital gas station you could just lift 1 ton into orbit, and then fuel up at the gas station.

Re:Time? (5, Interesting)

Nyeerrmm (940927) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943786)

You're misinterpreting how most current spaceflight is done. At present only asteroid/comet/deep space missions use any form of continuous thrust, in the form of low-thrust ion or Hall-effect thrusters. Anything to a major gravitational body will still rely primarily on high-thrust impulses from traditional chemical rocket motors. Though technology on the horizon may be changing that, it is the current state of affairs.

The path to Mars using chemical thrusters is very straightforward -- if you look up the Hohmann transfer, thats basically the way its done. Leave Earth orbit so that your sun centered orbit is elliptical and touches the Mars orbit. When you get to Mars speed up again to catch up (in practice you do a capture burn and do it in a frame where it looks like your slowing down, but nonetheless). If you want to be really clever sometimes you do a major maneuver in the middle to allow you smooth out some of the problems that occur because the planes of the orbits aren't quite the same. All throughout there you do small maneuvers to keep on course. If you want to go faster, you can do faster shorter transfers, but it requires bigger burns on both sides.

However, in order to do this with chemical thrusters, you need a lot of fuel. A 1500 kg probe requires an extra 1100 kg of fuel just for the catching up maneuver, and probably > 3000 kg for the departure burn (I don't have data on that at hand right now). Its logarithmic so if you wanted to get that probe back to Earth you'd have to bump those measures up by factor of 2 or 3. Throw in landing and departing the Martian surface and it just gets uglier. This is why a Mars Sample Return mission is so hard -- you just can't stack that much mass on top of a launch vehicle.

Imagine instead though, that you had a cheap way to get fuel to orbit. 'Space Guns' and other such ideas are primarily ridiculous because they apply 100s of Gs that would kill a person or most hardware. Fuel won't care though -- so use high-cost rockets to get the people and high-value equipment to orbit, fill up empty (expandable?) fuel tanks there with cheap fuel launches, and then get on your way. Maybe ship some more fuel to Mars, but I'm not sure the numbers make sense for that. However, you could definitely use this technology with technology to extract fuel from the Martian environment to make the return leg easier though.

Thats why fuel depots are interesting for space exploration.

Re:Time? (1)

Nethemas the Great (909900) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943800)

The problem trying to be resolved by in space fueling is the elimination of the need to carry it with you from earth on the same launch. Take for instance the most immediate need for this capability, satellite refueling. Presently the lifespan of a satellite is no longer than the fuel supply it was launched with. After this runs out it is no longer possible to correct for orbital decay, nor collision avoidance--an ever growing problem. Launching satellites with less fuel and being able to refuel them in orbit would create substantial launch and replacement cost savings.

Moving out a bit, the goal then becomes moving humans around in space. Humans come at a severe expense of weight due to life support and safety systems. The more weight, the bigger the launcher. The bigger the launcher the more complex and expensive they become both in terms of development, manufacture, launch as well as operation. If we can do away with the need to launch everything together, humans can be sent up in substantially smaller, cheaper, and safer vehicles. Payloads of fuel, and/or hardware don't require anything near the expense of humans, and can be sent up piecemeal with lower costs related to failure. In other words human payloads absolutely can not fail, but non-human ones while detrimental, do not matter so much.

One of the largest hurdles for humans going to places outside Earth orbit is how to return them. Our society doesn't have the will for one-way trips. Unfortunately, return trips require return fuel. We can either send it with the astronauts at great--possibly prohibitive--expense or we can have it already at the destination waiting for them to fuel up for the return trip. If we can manufacture it at the destination, even better.

Re:Time? (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943852)

You don't need the fuel at the half-way point. You need it in orbit - at the destinations, as you say. Besides, you don't need to come to a stop to fuel. There's no such thing as stopping in space. All you need to do is match velocity with the tanker. The tanker could have been sent beforehand, or it could be sent afterwards

Re:Time? (1)

Nethemas the Great (909900) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943864)

It wouldn't be necessary to "stop" even if you were to refuel mid-flight. The refueling vessel would be placed in opportune orbit--around the sun, around a planet, etc.. An inbound vehicle would simply intercept the refueling vessel's orbit, refuel, and continue on it's merry way.

Makes sense...not politically sexy...won't happen. (2)

Covalent (1001277) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943038)

This idea is an excellent one...build your spacecraft in orbit and then launch it from there with fuel from an orbital gas station. Significantly less danger for the crew, much faster travel, and shorter periods in outer (read: Cosmic Radiation) space. But it isn't politically sexy, so it probably won't happen.

Re:Makes sense...not politically sexy...won't happ (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35943484)

Why are they still thinking about chemical fuel? They should be thinking about Ion propulsion with a fission reactor as the power source.

Re:Makes sense...not politically sexy...won't happ (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943630)

Why are they still thinking about chemical fuel? They should be thinking about Ion propulsion with a fission reactor as the power source.

They should, but a fission reactor uses EVIL ATOMS, which might cause cancer in space aliens.

Re:Makes sense...not politically sexy...won't happ (3, Insightful)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 3 years ago | (#35944310)

Actually, not only is it not politically sexy, but it's outright politically dangerous. Having fuel depots allows you to use existing rockets for exploration beyond low-Earth orbit, alleviating the need to develop heavy-lift rockets. A number of politically-powerful congressional districts (and congressmen) are heavily banked on NASA building a heavy-lift rocket from Shuttle-legacy components, while that isn't the case for fuel depots. I predict it won't be long before this particular effort is squashed by Congress, perhaps even outright banning it like they did with the TransHab inflatable modules [wikipedia.org] .

Reminds me of the fuel stores in WWII. (2)

jafo (11982) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943050)

In WWII, the US was building up a fuel store by fueling up B52s and flying them across the Himalayas. But, depending on weather conditions, sometimes they would need to take on fuel at the depot to make the return trip. The implication in what I've read about this is that they were spending the majority of the fuel on the trip, to deposit a little fuel at the destination, like driving across the state to deliver a couple of gallons of petrol.

Re:Reminds me of the fuel stores in WWII. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35943126)

There was no B52 in WW2. Have you tried wikipedia?

Re:Reminds me of the fuel stores in WWII. (2)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943140)

In WWII, the US was building up a fuel store by fueling up B52s and flying them across the Himalayas. But, depending on weather conditions, sometimes they would need to take on fuel at the depot to make the return trip. The implication in what I've read about this is that they were spending the majority of the fuel on the trip, to deposit a little fuel at the destination, like driving across the state to deliver a couple of gallons of petrol.

First, we didn't have B52 bombers in WW2. You probably meant B29s.

Secondly, it's more like driving into the middle of a desert to deliver a couple gallons of petrol.

Which has been done repeatedly in history, when exploring new areas that didn't have gas stations. We even do it now in Antarctica.

Re:Reminds me of the fuel stores in WWII. (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943172)

No they didn't.

There was no B-52 during WWII.
There was no B-52 in service during the Korean war.
The B-52 didn't enter service until the 1950s and still is to this day.

Durring WWII the US would fly fuel of the "HUMP" in a number of planes including the C-46, B-24 and the B-29.
Saying that they used B-52s to fly fuel in WWII is as dumb as saying that your parents used their PC to log onto CompuServe back in the 1950s
Those that do not know history will just make it up as they go.

Re:Reminds me of the fuel stores in WWII. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35943324)

Saying that they used B-52s to fly fuel in WWII is as dumb as saying that your parents used their PC to log onto CompuServe back in the 1950s
Those that do not know history will just make it up as they go.

All spelling and grammar errors are intentional. Grammar Nazis' need entertainment.

What are you, a military trivia nazi? At least you're not a Nazi trivia nazi.

Anyway, the GPs point was about fuel transfer, and he was correct in everything he said, except the designation of the plane used. Chill the frack out.

Re:Reminds me of the fuel stores in WWII. (1)

starglider29a (719559) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943506)

Nope. I'm with LWATCDR. Check your facts or post on Facebook!

Re:Reminds me of the fuel stores in WWII. (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943836)

Airplanes are technology. Military aircraft are usually some of the highest technology of their time. This is technology site. If you are going to make a statement of fact with no room for error or interpretation and you are wrong you will get corrected. The point was what exactly? That it is better to have fuel magically appear than to have to ship it? Well yea but that isn't an option in space or in China durring WWII. The facts are that the air lift of fuel did allow the US to attack Japan with B-29s flying from China. It worked. The US did it until bases closer to Japan with sea access opened.

Re:Reminds me of the fuel stores in WWII. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35943968)

Except you didn't just correct him, you basically accused him of making up his entire post, in a manner similar to lawyers getting entire cases tossed on technicalities in one point of evidence. And it is not as dumb as saying he logged into compuserve in the 1950s, because neither PCs nor compuserve existed. WWII happened. Planes existed. Fuel existed. The US flew extra fuel in planes. His designation was incorrect. Chill out. Carry on.

Re:Reminds me of the fuel stores in WWII. (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 3 years ago | (#35944232)

Computers existed, timesharing services existed. Just not a type of computer a PC and a specific service CompuServe.
Same thing. Before you state fact at least check wikipedia. I mean really he was wrong. Not a little wrong but way off in his facts Not to mention there was no point to be made except that pre position supplies had been done before. Heck hit had been done for a long time. I suggest you look up coaling stations. I suggest you just chill out or if you are the poster might I suggest that you leave some room for doubt if you are not sure. Like saying "I heard that", or "I believe that" instead of making a factual statement that isn't. Or best of all if you do make a factual statement that was wrong just saying, "Thanks I blew that one" and letting it go.

Re:Reminds me of the fuel stores in WWII. (2)

ari_j (90255) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943212)

That's a really interesting story. I had to do some searching to find more information, as I knew it couldn't be (jet-powered) B-52s handling the task during WWII. It sounds from this Wikipedia article [wikipedia.org] that a variety of aircraft from C-3s to C-87s did the job, with the C-47 being the workhorse.

When I saw this article, though, about fuel stops in space, I was immediately struck with the thought that it would take a lot more fuel to decelerate enough to dock and re-accelerate than it would be worth. It probably makes sense to fuel up in low Earth orbit and possibly in the asteroid belt, before firing off into an escape orbit (of the Earth and the Sun, respectively), but once you're at escape velocity I can't imagine much benefit from stopping for fuel.

Re:Reminds me of the fuel stores in WWII. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35943354)

You don't "stop" to refuel, you match the velocity of the gas station. Which would be on the order of escape velocity (otherwise it would drop like a stone).

Re:Reminds me of the fuel stores in WWII. (1)

Nimey (114278) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943648)

Wrong. They flew C-47s and C-46s over the Hump to support (among other things) the B-29 bases in China, and I would expect that the cargo planes /would/ need to refuel - people forget how short-ranged planes were back then.

The B-52 was a beehive hairdo (1)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943992)

In WWII, the US was building up a fuel store by fueling up B52s

Yes, it maintained a lot of "fuel" to keep those up standing.

and flying them across the Himalayas.

Well, I hope that they didn't break any fingernails, when the pilots tossed them out of the planes . . . Himalayas . . . um, did they have sleds along with the parachutes . . . ?

Fuel at Mars (1)

bobs666 (146801) | more than 3 years ago | (#35944168)


One of the plans for the mission to Mars is to make the fuel on Mars, from the soil there. The chemistry has been tested on earth. The original plan was to put men on Mars and make the return fuel then, while some 300-500 days pass while the earth comes back around for the return fight window.

Given robots go first and make fuel why not lift it with to a space station for refueling. This way we get the fuel on sight, out of the gravity well. This fuel can be used for landing, blastoff and return. Getting the mass of the fuel, on site and all set up, before we commit people to the flight. This is simply good economy, and safety.

Putting the cart before the horse. (1)

couchslug (175151) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943066)

There is no reason not to develop remote-manned tech for another hundred years and THEN send human tourists with vastly improved technology.
We need remote-manned and robotic tech on Earth, now and for the future. We MUST have it to exploit the PERMANENTLY hostile environment offworld. Humans will have to live in protective enclosures anywhere they go, which reduces them to machine operators either way.
Humans explore nothing, they are passengers. Ditch the terrestrial model of "wooden ships and iron men" because that is an artifact of the time when both men and ships were CHEAP and EXPENDABLE.

Re:Putting the cart before the horse. (2)

Sprouticus (1503545) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943326)

you miss the scope of this. there is nothing to say that robotic missions would not need extra fuel. I posted above in more detail, but I can see missions which return from planets/moons to earth as options. Missions with multiple stops (all of jupiters/saturns moons being mapped in details would be awesome), LEO missions where you move around a lot but dont want to waste fuel mass carrying extra fuel mass (space planes, LEO cleanup vehicles, sattelites).

Also allows for small ships to go up the gravity well quickly. You still have to launch the fuel, but once it is in LEO, any vehicle can use it. Combine that with a system which allows space planes to connect to an external tank which never has to return to earth (rent-a-booster system) and you create a flexible system which optimizes the incredible cost of moving around in space. Both locally and interplanetary.

Re:Putting the cart before the horse. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35943438)

This "technology" people keep talking about, does it change the fundamental energy limits of the fuels or the propulsion systems we use? Here's a clue, in a hundred years people will know more about feeding and caring for horses than about cars, since there won't be any oil left to fuel them. And the collapse of the cheap energy orgy means that fewer people will be able to afford, or even need, whatever alternative mechanical transportation systems we'll have by then.

So worrying about a non-existent problem about a hypothetical fantasy future is a waste of time. There will be no colonies on Mars, no mining of the asteroids, no space-based solar. A hundred years from now your space fantasies will look as outdated and ridiculous as 19th century visions of bigger railroads do today. People will be wondering what kind of demented delusional fruitcakes thought this was serious...

Re:Putting the cart before the horse. (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943488)

A hundred years from now your space fantasies will look as outdated and ridiculous as 19th century visions of bigger railroads do today.

A hundred years from now, your 'back to the land' peak oil fantasies will be looking as outdated as the Victorians who were worried that by 1950 there would be so many horses in London that the accumulated horse crap would fill the streets thirty feet deep.

Oh, and if the human race does run out of cheap energy, you won't be raising horses on a farm, you'll be fighting in the streets over tins of dog food.

Re:Putting the cart before the horse. (1)

Arlet (29997) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943606)

A hundred years from now, your 'back to the land' peak oil fantasies will be looking as outdated as the Victorians who were worried that by 1950 there would be so many horses in London that the accumulated horse crap would fill the streets thirty feet deep.

And why is that ? We're already hitting peak oil, and we don't have plans for a realistic alternative. Even if we had some decent plans, it would take decades (and a lot of energy) to implement those.

Re:Putting the cart before the horse. (1)

www.sorehands.com (142825) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943640)

The streets of Washington DC is 6 feet deep in horse crap. Sorry, that was the politicians and lobbyists. It is hard to tell the difference.

Re:Putting the cart before the horse. (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943664)

Remote-manned (by which I assume you mean remote controlled like radio controlled airplanes and submersible remote operated vehicles) is impractical due to propagation delay. The Moon is 1.3 light seconds away, meaning a round trip signal is almost 3 seconds. Mars is anywhere from 8 to 40 minutes round trip time. That lag makes remote manned impossible. By the time you saw the rock, the rover would have crashed into it as much as 20 minutes earlier Robotic missions will need to have significant on board intelligence, which would be remote commanded.

Re:Putting the cart before the horse. (1)

Reeses (5069) | more than 3 years ago | (#35944112)

It could be argued that in the days of "wooden ships and men" the men were less expendable than they are now.

We're nearing a world population of 7 billion. If you think a few thousand of those aren't "expendable" as long as they enter into the deal knowing all the risks, then you need to do some math.

They're far more "expendable" than they were back when the world population was only a few tens of millions.

We're becoming progressively more worthless.

And the "Wooden ships" part being more expensive is because we've placed opportunity costs on the materials needed to build ships. We can build one rocket out of aluminum, or we can build another million iPhones. Sadly these days, we're choosing the iPhone.

Lagrange Points (1)

decipher_saint (72686) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943070)

I've been reading/watching a lot of old sci-fi lately and one of the features that keeps popping up is the idea of a Lagrange point making a moon/mars trip possible.

I mean if you wanted to go to Mars, land and come back you wouldn't do it quite like a trip to the moon. Ideally you build the ship in space at a Lagrange point then shuttle the fuel, men and equipment up there. Then send a ship with a lander capable of breaking Mars orbit AND either a decent sized orbiter for the trip back or park another Lagrange point in relation to Mars before you even go, stop there and gas up and leave.

Expensive and time consuming maybe but I think more dependable.

Re:Lagrange Points (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943528)

It probably makes sense to build it at the Earth-Moon L1, assuming materials are coming from Earth. Otherwise, L2, since they must be coming from the moon... Hmm, looking at Wikipedia, I see that L2 is proposed as the ideal propellant station site :)

Re:Lagrange Points (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943760)

I'm not sure what the draw is with Lagrange points. L1, L2, and L3 (the ones in line with the primary and secondary bodies) are dynamically unstable. It's not like you can park there. L4 and L5 points are much better because they are dynamically stable points, however nobody talks of placing a fuel depot there. You're much better off just building everything in Earth orbit. Sure, send a return vehicle ahead. Send fuel and supplies ahead. But don't bother parking at Mars/Phobos L2, just keep things simple and do a regular orbit.

Um (1)

countertrolling (1585477) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943084)

I take it this will be a 'full service' station, nod nod wink wink

Re:Um (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943214)

Just an attendant from some third world country sitting behind bulletproof glass with an attitude and some stale candy bars.

Re:Um (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943586)

I take it this will be a 'full service' station, nod nod wink wink

Yeah, unfortunately, that comes with extra foam.

Could make sense if done right (1)

jandersen (462034) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943108)

It seems like a wasteful solution if you imagine sending up rockets with fuel, but we could freeze it solid and shoot it up with a magnetic rail-gun, perhaps ...

Re:Could make sense if done right (1)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943294)

Also of note, People take a lot of resources to survive. So the trick with people is to move then quick so they use less resources. These could be put into orbit and take a decade or two to get into position. Have it sling shot around some planets and enough fuel (non-storage) to "Park It" in spot. For human travel taking a decade or two is way to long. We need fast and light ships to get us to say in mars in a year or two.

Re:Could make sense if done right (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35943490)

Man that's a great idea. We could freeze the fuel as... (da da duuummm) H2O. The fuel station can capture the ice, and use it's solar array to melt into water and slowly perform electrolysis into H and O for a simple hydrox burn. Holy crap I hope they are smart enough to do this, because it would totally open up the solar system for exploration.

Read the history of polar exploration. (2)

EWAdams (953502) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943120)

They sent out advance parties to place depots along the route, over 100 years ago. Totally obvious thing to do. I can't believe it has taken this long for Nasa to clue in.

Re:Read the history of polar exploration. (1)

starglider29a (719559) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943596)

How much energy did it take to keep the polar caches in place? That's the difference. NASA can't just hang it up there, turn on the anti-gravity, and find it there in 10 years. I mean... explorers sailed to new worlds for centuries using nothing but windpower. Why doesn't NASA do the same thing...

Oh, right... they also have to take their own oxygen, and don't have a medium upon which to float. Gotcha...

Re:Read the history of polar exploration. (2)

Arlet (29997) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943732)

Actually, if you put things in orbit, outside the atmosphere, they just "hang" there forever.

Re:Read the history of polar exploration. (1)

Nethemas the Great (909900) | more than 3 years ago | (#35944028)

And there are such things as solar sails... and technically there is a Dirac sea [wikipedia.org] ... :P

Re:Read the history of polar exploration. (1)

ThatMegathronDude (1189203) | more than 3 years ago | (#35944120)

Nope. All orbits decay. Some on the time scale of the age of the sun or the universe, but space is not a pure vacuum and all orbiting bodies will eventually fall back down.

Re:Read the history of polar exploration. (2)

Arlet (29997) | more than 3 years ago | (#35944282)

But we're not talking about the age of the sun or the universe, but just a couple of years, maybe decades, at most. On that timescale, there are plenty of stable orbits.

Comets. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35943160)

If we could capture a single comet, it should provide enough volatiles to keep us going for hundreds of years.

Sounds Inefficient at best (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35943162)

A) How many trips are we planning to take along the same route anytime soon? This doesn't seem as though it would be practical at all until there was a plan for an established travel lane.

B) How much extra fuel are you going to burn in the process of stopping to refuel, then regaining the same momentum you just sacrificed?

Re:Sounds Inefficient at best (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943240)

A) How many trips are we planning to take along the same route anytime soon? This doesn't seem as though it would be practical at all until there was a plan for an established travel lane.

If you're going to the moon on a regular basis, then carrying enough fuel to get to a Lagrange point and refuelling there may well make sense.
Particularly if you can launch fuel there from the moon instead of Earth (e.g. extracted from lunar water).

One possibility would be to fly to the Lagrange point, pick up fuel for landing, then refuel again from lunar water and offload the fuel you don't need at the Lagrange point on the way back. The downside is that if you get to the depot from Earth and can't refuel for some reason, then you die unless someone can rescue you quickly.

Re:Sounds Inefficient at best (1)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943336)

Well even for 1 way trips. It will be better then putting all the fuel on one ship, where the weight of the fuel needs more fuel to keep the ship going fast enough for people. You can take these station years in advanced and get them to slingshot around planets until they are fast enough to match your fast flying ship which will stop by and refill at the same speed the station is moving. Then you can go on accelerating or deceleration after you filled up.

Mmmmmm... (1)

Daetrin (576516) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943196)

Smells like chicken! [slashdot.org]

Re:Mmmmmm... (1, Offtopic)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943296)

Can someone please explain to me the recent spate of articles about NASA from NetworkWorld?????????

Oh, I get it "Michael Cooney" == "coondoggie".

The hard part (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943234)

Cryogenic

That's the hard part. Keeping it liquid. Would be a bummer to arrive at mars, get ready to fuel up, and oops we don't have any gas to get home.

The other mysterious part is no mention of water / oxygen / nitrogen / food / medkits / spare parts / etc. You'd think a "supply cache" would have more than just fuel in it.

Re:The hard part (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943288)

That's the hard part. Keeping it liquid.

Sunshades and a refrigeration plant should work. I believe that's what the Apollo-derived Mars mission plans were going to do so that they could use the LOX/LH2 S-IVB stage for Mars orbit entry.

How does a spacecraft on a trajectory dock? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35943242)

If I have a spacecraft going to the outer planets, obviously going at a high speed, how does it meet up with the 'gas station'? Does it slow down? Does the station speed up? Does the station launch some kind of refueling shuttle?

Would that be .... (1)

arthurpaliden (939626) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943254)

Self Serve or Manned ?

NASA Gas Station (0, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35943312)

Two astronauts are flying through space from the earth to the moon. Looking at his fuel gauge, one decides to stop at the next fuel station and fill up. About 15 minutes later, he spots a station and docks over. "What can I do for ya'll?" asks the attendant. "Fill 'er up with your best Hydrazine," replies the astronaut.

While the attendant is filling up the tank, he's looking the NASA rocket up and down. "What kinda spaceship is this?" he asks. "I never seen one like it before."

"Well," responds the astronaut, his chest swelling up with pride, "This, my boy, is USS Domination 3000 X."
"What all's it got in it?" asks the attendant.

"Well," says the astronaut, "It has everything. It's loaded with vectoring thrusters, zero-g seats, leather interior, large portholes, power telescopes, all-band radio with 100 mega watts per channel, self-cleaning toilet, drogue chutes, super-digital instrument package, and best of all, a 1 million pound thrust Rocketdyne engine."

"Wow," says the attendant, "That's really something!"

"How much do I owe you for the gas?" asks the astronaut. "That'll be $3 million dollars" says the attendant. The astronaut pulls out his NASA checkbook to write a check. As he is doing so, a handful of golf tees fall out. "What are those little wooden things?" asks the attendant.

"That's what I put my balls on when I drive," says the astronaut.
"Wow," says the attendant, "Those NASA people think of everything!"

"Gas station". Not "gas" station. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35943358)

(Unless the proposed orbiting fuel depot is actually a"fuel" depot. )

economics (1)

PastaLover (704500) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943372)

I don't think I quite get how this is more economical. Is it actually cheaper to send up a bunch of smaller rockets with fuel as payload than it is to simply send a bigger rocket with enough fuel on it? Can somebody walk us through the math?

Re:economics (1)

Arlet (29997) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943498)

Overall it should be the same. Sending the fuel first still requires the same total take-off mass as sending the fuel with the ship.

The advantage is in the logistics. You can send the fuel ahead of time, using a slow trajectory, and then launch your main ship on a faster trajectory. Or, when the fuel rocket fails, you can send another one before sending your main mission.

Re:economics (4, Interesting)

0123456 (636235) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943584)

Is it actually cheaper to send up a bunch of smaller rockets with fuel as payload than it is to simply send a bigger rocket with enough fuel on it?

Yes.

Flight rate is generally more important to launch costs than size. A small rocket you can fly a thousand times a year will cost you far less than a big one you fly once a year simply because you can mass produce them and reuse them several times before you throw them away, rather than custom-building a new one every time you launch it.

If I remember correctly, the plans for reusing Saturn V stages made no financial sense until it was flying about once a month, for example; at NASA's actual launch rates the savings from reusing them would be less than the costs of developing the technology to do so.

A further issue is that by splitting your hardware and fuel across multiple launches, one exploding rocket doesn't lose your entire multi-billion dollar Mars mission. A near guarantee of losing one payload out of a hundred launches is likely to be better than a 1% chance of losing the entire thing.

Re:economics (2)

AGMW (594303) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943592)

You can send a bunch of cheap(er) unmanned rockets with fuel as the payload and store it in orbit, then you can send a more expensive (reliable) manned craft with the crew. Money and risk reduced.

Better yet, if we're looking at Mars - why not send a bunch of comms- and GPS-style satellites and get them in orbit so when we get there we've got good location and comms stuff all sorted. Send a copy of the ISS there too, but this time as the base to drop people to the surface and drop off place for supply vessels from Earth (food, fuel, etc).

Re:economics (2)

Nethemas the Great (909900) | more than 3 years ago | (#35944124)

Humans are an expensive pain the arse to launch. The smaller their vehicle, the cheaper, and safer they become. Non-human payloads do not require the safety (nor life support) of a human rated vehicle. This makes them significantly cheaper. The expense of a rocket grows exponentially the larger you make them. Smaller rockets are also easier to mass-produce.

How big (1)

SnarfQuest (469614) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943408)

How big does this "gas station" have to be to raise enough Chickens [slashdot.org] for a Mars mission?

And how much corn will they have to raise to generate the ethanol required to boost enough bugs to thestation to feed all those chickens?

can anyone say... (1)

rilian4 (591569) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943410)

Starbase? Captain's Log, Stardate 2054.6. Visited orbiting refueling station on the way to a planned stop at Mars. The attendant did a horrible job on the windshield. Can't see a damn thing...I need better service station attendants. Mr. Spock, windshield status?....

You need propellant to lift the propellant (4, Interesting)

starglider29a (719559) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943416)

Disclaimer: degreed rocket scientist without time to do the math.

Rather than
  1. lift a surplus of propellant to a gas station
  2. have the Mars mission lift with just enough energy to park at L5, Phobos or whereever,
  3. refuel and thrust away to mars... Instead:
  4. launch the required propellant on nearly the same trajectory as the mission, once trajectory confirmed...
  5. Launch the Mars mission with enough energy to travel to Mars
  6. Rendezvous on the long trip, refuel, carry on

Advantages: putting the heavy lifting on the booster on Earth (where logistics is easier), don't waste energy stopping/pausing and restarting the trajectory.
Disadvantages: You better be sure you can refuel in flight.

Compartmentalized fuel delivery (1)

CrowdedBrainzzzsand9 (2000224) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943604)

Perhaps the delivery mechanism for refueling stations can be compartmentalized in a standardized way. Near-space heavy lifters could assign uncommitted cargo space to fuel "packets" that can be tugged later to the fuel stations by other craft.

This is why killing Ares was smart (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35943638)

This is the kind of capability development that is appropriate for a space agency to do.* The lack of orbital refueling capability limits all missions to what we can lift in a single payload. Developing the capability won't be easy or cheap, but with the capability in hand lots of other mission possibilities will be unlocked - for both public ventures and for private enterprises. It's a *much* better way to spend a limited budget than developing a new booster would have been.

Next up: Automated in-orbit assembly.

[*: Assuming it's a space exploration agency, and not a glorified jobs program.]

Only sane concept for ALL consumables... (3, Interesting)

trims (10010) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943650)

If we ever plan to go to Mars (or other extra-Earth area destination), we need to ship the vast majority of consumables ahead of time. In essence, we need KwikiMart outlets in space.

More to the point: consumables and human space travel have very different criteria: Consumables:

  • Can sustain much higher G forces, which means they have a much higher list of launch and propulsion options available
  • Most (excepting food) have a much higher tolerance for radiation and acceptable temperature ranges.
  • Don't really need to consume much of anything on their own - they tend to be inert, and need very little (or no) upkeep.

Honestly, if we expect to get somewhere, we need to be throwing out these large blobs of food/fuel/equipment in minimal containment vessels, with cheap, slow propulsion systems (i.e. very low mass/thrust ratio). Scatter a dozen along the path to Mars, and a dozen in Mars orbit, launching stuff a year or more before the humans plan to go. Then just build a SMALL crew vessel, with just enough storage space to get it between pit stops along the way, but with kick-ass engines.

Manned vessels are expensive. Make them just big enough for the humans. Put the consumables in the space equivalent of a refrigerator, and let the human vessel dock with the frig every week or so to pick up supplies.

ObCarAnalogy: build a race car and make frequent pit stops. Don't build a Semi with sleeper cab, 1,000L gas tanks, and a double trailer filled with food.

-Erik

Transforming Solar power into propellant (2)

whitedsepdivine (1491991) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943692)

If somehow they could use solar power to create energy usable by the ship. First you wouldn't need to re-fill the station ever. Second, you could have less weight on the ship to not have such transforming components. I would image these stations will be the most rarely visited gas stations created by man. So you would have a long time between visits to transform the solar power into another energy source.

if you thought gas prices here were bad (1)

Cyko_01 (1092499) | more than 3 years ago | (#35943746)

just imagine the cost of filling up in space! (especially since they would have a monopoly on space gas)

Van Allen Belts (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35943870)

Still don't know how they are going to get humans through the Van Allen radiation belts. It's never been done before.

Re:Van Allen Belts (2)

Relic of the Future (118669) | more than 3 years ago | (#35944060)

Before anyone takes anything an AC says seriously: the Van Allen belts extend up to about 50,000km, while the moon is over 350,000km away. And we've sent humans to the moon.

Re:Van Allen Belts (1)

tpjunkie (911544) | more than 3 years ago | (#35944070)

You mean apart from every Apollo mission that went translunar?

Space cowboys (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35943876)

Didnt the one is Space Cowboys blow up!

Fuel caches (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35943940)

From many scifi sources there is always refueling in space. Fuel caches of hydrogen carried out to places along the way and fusion power plants to use them. Asteroid mining to find ice to turn into water and extract the hydrogen and oxygen.

NASA needs another space assist from commercial companies to run these "gas stations" and "space truckers" to deliver fuel as well.

Better to use the $$$ for EV Battery-Swap Stations (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35943988)

I'm happy to see some Space investment, but - until we've gone to 100% Electric Vehicles (EV's),
I'd prefer to see that kind of $$$ spend here on the 1st habitable planet AFAWK, eg, building some
battery swap stations (as proposed by Shai Agassi, for his EV's; cf http://betterplace.com/ [betterplace.com] or his
several competitors), so we're reducing our carbon footprint here.

My 2 cents...

Self serve of full service (1)

sxmjmae (809464) | more than 3 years ago | (#35944104)

Would they be Self Serve 'Gas' Station or would it include full service?

Apollo Missions (1)

g0bshiTe (596213) | more than 3 years ago | (#35944300)

Did any of the manned missions to the moon require refueling during flight?
Why would we need a refueling station for moon trips now?
Load More Comments
Slashdot Account

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

Don't worry, we never post anything without your permission.

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>
Create a Slashdot Account

Loading...