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How Long Can the ISS Last?

timothy posted about a year ago | from the delaying-the-heat-death-of-this-part-of-the-universe dept.

ISS 112

R3d M3rcury writes with the story that "NASA and Boeing, along with other nations, are studying the feasibility of keeping the International Space Station in orbit until 2020 and possibly until 2028 — the 30 year anniversary of the launch of the first module." From the article: "To assess the long-term structural health of the station, Boeing engineers developed detailed computer models based on NASA's projected use -- the expected stresses caused by future dockings, reboosts, crew activity and thermal cycles -- and combined that with actual data from on-board accelerometers and strain gauges. ... "What we're looking at is theoretical crack growth," Pamela McVeigh, the engineer in charge of the Boeing structural analysis in Houston, told CBS News. "So the failure mode would be you'd have a crack beginning, probably (at) a bolt hole, and the crack would grow to another edge. So you'd lose like a flange on a C-beam, or an I-beam. The stiffness of your structure would then change, the bolt hole you that you were growing the crack out of, now that bolt wouldn't be effective."

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Other nations? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44910803)

"NASA and Boeing, along with other nations"

Corporations are people, but they are also nations? NASA is part of the US... if NASA is a nation, does that make the US a super-nation?

Re:Other nations? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44910893)

No.

Re:Other nations? (2)

SJHillman (1966756) | about a year ago | (#44911047)

I prefer mega-nation, although stagnation might be closer at this point in time.

Re:Other nations? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44911063)

Stag-nation, that is like when a nation goes to events on its own, without a date, in possibly unrealistic hope of meeting another nation that is likeminded? Yea, that sounds about right.

Re:Other nations? (3, Informative)

rossdee (243626) | about a year ago | (#44911179)

Boeing and NASA are from the USA. The other contributors to the ISS are from other nations

Re:Other nations? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44911227)

It was not unclear, but it was worded improperly. If we're done having fun and want to be pedantic, then fine, TFS was just wrong. Here would be one way to correct it:

NASA (which operates, among other things, the US space program), has hired Boeing, its primary contractor for issues regarding the International Space Station, to complete a feasibility study on various long-term plans for the ISS.

The only thing international about it is just that it is the ISS, so sure it affects other countries, but the work is not being done by these other countries. And the work is being done by Boeing in sub-contract to NASA, but the work is done by Boeing engineers, not NASA employees.

I seriously doubt we'd build the ISS now (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44910805)

The US have given up on space. The NASA budget is treated as pork, with no thought of genuine long-term progress.

Re:I seriously doubt we'd build the ISS now (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44910881)

The ISS originated with the Russian space station program anyway, as a successor to Mir. Had the US not been been included in this project back then, I doubt that NASA would have had much interest in a space station.

Re:I seriously doubt we'd build the ISS now (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44910905)

ISS developed around a design that emerged under Clinton (option A, aka Alpha), which followed on from the Freedom Space Station work, which itself followed from the "Space Station '84" project that was sold to Reagan.

Where on Earth did you get the idea that NASA wasn't interested in a space station?

Where on earth? I'll tell you where (5, Interesting)

dbIII (701233) | about a year ago | (#44910939)

Where on Earth did you get the idea that NASA wasn't interested in a space station?

Western Australia July 11 1979
Or if you prefer, the 8th of February 1974 off the coast of San Diego when the last mission finished.
They showed so much of a lack of interest that they threw a working space station away despite having enough Saturn V stages to move it into a higher orbit and five years to do it in.

Re:Where on earth? I'll tell you where (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44910945)

Actually there was excessive atmospheric heating that brought it down early. But even still, in the post Vietnam era every NASA program was being massively cut and NASA didn't know how to react to that.

Re:I seriously doubt we'd build the ISS now (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44910927)

There's a good reason for that. $100 billion so nations could cooperate?

Can somebody please explain why the ISS was worth this expenditure? And why did it have to be assembled in tiny pieces instead of using big components with heavy rockets like Skylab was? If the ISS was made of big components with a heavy lift rocket, it could have been assembled in only 5 Saturn V launches (at about $1 billion a launch) or 1 Sea Dragon launch. Reviving a heavy lift rocket program would have paid for itself.

Re:I seriously doubt we'd build the ISS now (5, Interesting)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about a year ago | (#44910987)

Why did it have to be assembled in tiny pieces instead of using big components with heavy rockets like Skylab was? If the ISS was made of big components with a heavy lift rocket, it could have been assembled in only 5 Saturn V launches (at about $1 billion a launch) or 1 Sea Dragon launch. Reviving a heavy lift rocket program would have paid for itself.

The whole point of the ISS was to give the space shuttle something to do. Using heavy lift rockets would have defeated its purpose.

Re:I seriously doubt we'd build the ISS now (1)

jthill (303417) | about a year ago | (#44911391)

Because we as a species are still developing our technical chops. What's the alternative, the war machine? Go ahead, show the world anything that produced the human race can be proud of, then go get yourself to high altitude or deep desert or far enough offshore and look at the night sky. We've got a toehold in _that_.

Re:I seriously doubt we'd build the ISS now (4, Insightful)

Teancum (67324) | about a year ago | (#44911459)

I seriously doubt that a Sea Dragon launch could have sent up the ISS, but I would agree that sending up 5-10 Saturn V launches would have most certainly done the trick. If anything, shutting down the Saturn V program was a huge mistake... when viewed in hindsight.

Every single mission that was accomplished with the Shuttle program (including sending up 7-man crews) could have been done with a Saturn V and done by far and away cheaper as well. Improvements in materials, guidance computers, and an evolutionary design change over time as has happened with the Soyuz rocket and spacecraft would have made the Saturn V and Apollo spacecraft a very modern and versatile platform to continue a real space exploration program and maintained at least the capability of going to the Moon as an option instead of having to re-invent the wheel again now that that capability has long since been lost.

What would have been lost, perhaps, is the need for international cooperation that went into building the ISS, but even that is not certain. Much of the basis for building the ISS came from the Apollo-Soyuz mission, where exchanges of technical information already were happening between the Soviet space program and NASA.

Even funnier is how the test stand originally built to handle a production run of over 100 Saturn V vehicles is now being used by SpaceX in Texas for testing the Merlin engines. That was the projection done by Werner Von Braun, and contracts were signed to have a contingency of building that many vehicles.

I do think the ISS would look quite a bit different than the current structure had it been built using Saturn V/I/Apollo hardware, although the modular approach would likely have been done still. It would likely have been an upgraded version of the Skylab modules, and I would even dare say that the Skylab backup that is currently in the Smithsonian very likely would have been a part of or even would have become the core American module for the ISS. It definitely would have been much roomier for the astronauts in the ISS with Saturn V launched modules.

Unfortunately, that is not the path that history took.

Re:I seriously doubt we'd build the ISS now (1)

Megane (129182) | about a year ago | (#44917297)

Because we had the Space Shuttle, it was The Future[tm], rockets were old and busted. They told us (and themselves) that it could do everything, so they damn well were going to use it for everything. It was also done that way to give the Shuttle a purpose.

So because pork politics.

It's only now when we're trying to do it again that we realize just how awesome the Saturn V was. And that was before we had powerful microcomputers for guidance. Elon Musk realized that there was no way NASA was going to get a good heavy lift launcher built in any reasonable time frame, and decided to work toward making his own. And Bigelow is working on the space station side of things, so we should see some interesting stuff by the end of the decade from both of them, while NASA limps along with the US Congress as a ball and chain to keep them from getting anything done other than slow-motion pork projects.

Re:I seriously doubt we'd build the ISS now (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44911707)

So? It's a vacuum with nothing in it. And the few things that are in it are incredibly far away. The US gave up on living on the ocean floor too, where's the outcry for that? Grow up and let go of the fantasies. You don't believe in Santa Claus anymore, time to stop believing the 1960s space propaganda.

Re:I seriously doubt we'd build the ISS now (1)

Osgeld (1900440) | about a year ago | (#44912511)

that is because they have not had any long term progress, dont know why its hard for people to notice this

Urgh. (3, Insightful)

dnwq (910646) | about a year ago | (#44910871)

God, we're going to keep that thing up there until it disintegrates and kill everyone aboard, aren't we? Just because no politician wants to be the one to pull the plug, even though they would hardly vote for an ISS today. Then we'll pat ourselves on the back for humanity's heroism and then go right back to fighting over the pale blue dot.

Re:Urgh. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44910917)

It probably won't fail that quickly, and when early signs of irreparable damage is spotted that can't be worked around, then the astronauts up their will hop into their escape capsule and return to Earth.

Re:Urgh. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44911797)

God, we're going to keep that thing up there until it disintegrates and kill everyone aboard, aren't we? Just because no politician wants to be the one to pull the plug, even though they would hardly vote for an ISS today.

Then we'll pat ourselves on the back for humanity's heroism and then go right back to fighting over the pale blue dot.

The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

Oh. Wait.

Re:Urgh. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44912505)

How about keeping the thing like you said, and filling it with sensors and autonomous imaging devices documenting the decay with the purpose of validating the models and developing those adaptive, variable bolts and self-healing materials? Long term exploration will happen eventually anyway.

Re:Urgh. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44913517)

Just weld the cracks. DUH. Its a learning process. Welding in a vacuum seems like a fun experiment.

Why not use it as a site to build the next one? (4, Interesting)

GrpA (691294) | about a year ago | (#44910873)

It would be nice if they could use the existing one as a site-office to begin building an even bigger one with a longer life expectancy. Use better materials, a piece at a time, and start building a replacement.

14 years isn't far from now. So what then? Start from scratch again? Seems a shame when they could begin stockpiling for the next generation and have it well underway by the time it comes to decommission the existing ISS.

GrpA

Re:Why not use it as a site to build the next one? (4, Informative)

dbIII (701233) | about a year ago | (#44910907)

Since it's modular it should be a matter of replacing a bit at a time, barring the sort of politics that stopped such a thing being done with Mir, which also had some relatively new modules.

Re:Why not use it as a site to build the next one? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44911033)

That was my first thought, too. It's not like the whole station is 14 years old, why scrap something that has modules only a few years old. Just replace the old ones.

Re:Why not use it as a site to build the next one? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44911159)

They're going to have a BA-330 module on it in 2015 [wired.co.uk] . If the whole station was made of those, it'd be a LOT larger.

Re:Why not use it as a site to build the next one? (3, Insightful)

Dereck1701 (1922824) | about a year ago | (#44913101)

Sadly no, they are not going to be attaching a BA-330 to the station they'll be attaching a BEAM module. Basically a closet for storage & testing built on Bigelows inflatable designs. I initially held out the same hopes when it first hit the news that a Bigelow module was going to be attached to ISS, but in hind site it was obviously never going to happen. First off if Bigelow was able to nearly double the volume (Ok 40% increase, still a lot) of ISS with a single launch and a few hundred million dollars NASA would have to answer a whole lot of unpleasant questions regarding the costs for ISS's construction. I imagine that even if Bigelow offered them a BA-330 free of charge (which isn't as crazy as it sounds, think of the PR) I doubt they would have accepted it. Second of all NASA is crazy careful, they won't allow a bag of potato chips without 3 months of testing and redesign. So I highly doubt they would allow a technology that has never had on orbit testing to be attached to ISS, their flagship manned space mission.

Re:Why not use it as a site to build the next one? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44915109)

Maybe someone will figure out how to take a bunch of inflatable modules into a ring and spin for gravity with a couple zero-g modules for R&R as well as docking. It'd make the ISS look like a blanket fort. We'd also need passenger transport capable of taking 15 or more to orbit.

Re:Why not use it as a site to build the next one? (1)

bossk538 (1682744) | about a year ago | (#44910953)

I would assume the risk of catastrophic failure would preclude it's use as an on-site office. However, keeping it up would yield invaluable data as to what components do fail and how, as well as what parts and systems do hold up very well.

Do we seem a little too risk averse these days? (1)

tlambert (566799) | about a year ago | (#44911377)

I would assume the risk of catastrophic failure would preclude it's use as an on-site office. However, keeping it up would yield invaluable data as to what components do fail and how, as well as what parts and systems do hold up very well.

Do we seem a little too risk averse these days? I would think that the "risk of catastrophic failure" would be enough to justify not building the damn thing in the first place, given todays risk averse climate.

At the very least, even if a lot of it falls apart, the end of life plan should be to boost the thing to a Lagrange point, rather than deorbiting it.

Re:Do we seem a little too risk averse these days? (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | about a year ago | (#44911597)

At the very least, even if a lot of it falls apart, the end of life plan should be to boost the thing to a Lagrange point, rather than deorbiting it.

DeltaV to deorbit ISS - DeltaV to move ISS to L4/L5 - >3160 m/s.

One of those is MUCH easier than the other....

Re:Do we seem a little too risk averse these days? (4, Informative)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | about a year ago | (#44911601)

Bah!

DeltaV to deorbit ISS - ~180 m/s

DeltaV to move ISS to L4/L5 - ~3160 m/s.

Preview, you fool, always preview!

Re:Do we seem a little too risk averse these days? (1)

swamp_ig (466489) | about a year ago | (#44916875)

Deorbit delta V is zero if you wait a while.

Re:Do we seem a little too risk averse these days? (1)

Sollord (888521) | about a year ago | (#44913115)

The ISS lacks the required shielding to be usable anywhere other than it's current orbit so moving it's is a total waste of time and money and it would be a giant hunk of space debris for any new missions to L4/L5 points

Re:Do we seem a little too risk averse these days? (1)

tlambert (566799) | about a year ago | (#44913307)

The ISS lacks the required shielding to be usable anywhere other than it's current orbit so moving it's is a total waste of time and money and it would be a giant hunk of raw materials for any new missions to L4/L5 points

Fixed that for you...

Re:Do we seem a little too risk averse these days? (1)

T-Bone-T (1048702) | about a year ago | (#44914091)

The ISS is anything but raw materials.

Re:Why not use it as a site to build the next one? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44911487)

As long as they monitor the stresses well enough, the risk of catastrophic failure while anyone is onboard should be lower than the risks in getting the astronauts there in the first place.

Re:Why not use it as a site to build the next one? (1)

Gavagai80 (1275204) | about a year ago | (#44911009)

Considering the ISS was built where and how it was built due to the US space shuttle program, it may not make a good starting point for whatever technologies will be involved with the next space station.

Re:Why not use it as a site to build the next one? (2)

AikonMGB (1013995) | about a year ago | (#44911031)

The ISS's inclination is actually as high as it is to allow the Russian launch vehicles to be able to make the trip; the use of the STS merely capped how polar they could go.

Re:Why not use it as a site to build the next one? (2)

AmiMoJo (196126) | about a year ago | (#44911235)

China is building a space station. They would have joined the ISS project if the US hadn't blocked them. It's basically US pride that is holding everything back.

Re:Why not use it as a site to build the next one? (3, Informative)

Teancum (67324) | about a year ago | (#44911501)

China is building a space station. They would have joined the ISS project if the US hadn't blocked them. It's basically US pride that is holding everything back.

It wasn't just the U.S. government that wasn't interested in having China join. There is also a concern by both Russia and America about the quality of any potential modules and spacecraft that would be attaching itself to the ISS in any docking procedure... and it was Roscosmos that would have taken the largest burden for such activities as the Chinese Shenzhou spacecraft would have most easily docked with the Russian segment rather than conforming to the American docking ports.

It was much more than pride at stake here, and while NASA officials were certainly the most vocal in opposition to Chinese participation, there were many other obstacles to getting Chinese astronauts on the ISS. If anything, it was also Chinese pride that sort of shot the whole project down too as they didn't want to be treated as a junior partner in the endeavor as well.

If the ESA and Roscosmos had wanted the Chinese Space Agency involved in the ISS, I'm sure it would have happened. There are other countries involved besides just Russia and America.

OPSEK (1)

fritsd (924429) | about a year ago | (#44911469)

Yeah, and they could call it .. I dunno... OPSEK [wikipedia.org] or something. (Clever idea BTW to have the central Lego pieces be the most multi-functional)

Re:Why not use it as a site to build the next one? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44918231)

Lack of science knowledge has come to this!!

The problem is the ISS is in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). There are no long-term stable orbits in LEO because there is still atmosphere causing drag that will de-orbit the entire structure sooner rather than later. That's a large part of "How long can ISS last?".

as long as they can (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44910883)

Keep it up there as long as they can. Until they have something to replace it they need a place to do low/micro-gravity experiments. Wikipedia tells me that the expected cost until 2015 is $150billion, unless the amount it costs to keep sending people there safely and performing maintenance and research etc becomes too much, that's a lot to just throw away. There's only so much they can shove into re-entry modules.

Regardless of longevity. (4, Interesting)

wjcofkc (964165) | about a year ago | (#44910937)

Regardless of when the ISS is retired, I can only hope that the powers that be have the good sense to push it into a higher orbit. Someday space travel will be accessible and we will have orbital museums and when that time comes we will regret a good number of historical items the were de-orbited. Honestly we should have kept and boosted into higher orbit one of the last space shuttle launches along with an external tank, since the external tanks are perfectly capable of making it to orbit. Basically wrap them in shielding and stow them away in high orbit until their time as accessible historical artifacts comes. There is a lot that will simply have to be re-created as mock ups, considering the sheer importance of this early age in space travel, it won't be the same but will be better than nothing. In the fifth grade I had the surreal honor of holding a piece of the Berlin wall as it was passed around class. I will never forget the sense of historical understanding that washed over me. If it had been a replica, I would have still found sentiment, but it would not have been the same.

Re:Regardless of longevity. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44910977)

Okay, how? This "shielding" you speak of, of "high orbit"... that sounds like it takes more work than building the thing in the first place! The cracks they speak of are just thermal fatigue cracking that exists in all materials, just in Earth orbit it is extremely rapid.

Re:Regardless of longevity. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44910979)

Do we really need the relics of space age to hang around until they collide with something else and turn into bullets that make space even more dangerous than it already is, just so your grandchildren, if they're lucky and we haven't cluttered up the useful orbits, can have a "sense of historical understanding" like a devout christian looking at the Shroud of Turin?

Re:Regardless of longevity. (1)

wjcofkc (964165) | about a year ago | (#44911193)

Space junk/debris is a serious problem. I am not talking about keeping everything we launch in orbit for posterity. Just historical artifacts.

We NEED space relics! (1)

tlambert (566799) | about a year ago | (#44911405)

Do we really need the relics of space age to hang around until they collide with something else and turn into bullets that make space even more dangerous than it already is, just so your grandchildren, if they're lucky and we haven't cluttered up the useful orbits, can have a "sense of historical understanding" like a devout christian looking at the Shroud of Turin?

We NEED space relics!

One "relic" I'm glad is still around is Buzz Aldrin. I still celebrate Sept. 9 every year (the anniversary of him punching Bart Sibrel).

Re:Regardless of longevity. (1)

SJHillman (1966756) | about a year ago | (#44911065)

That'd be like leaving a sunken ship in a harbor... it makes a great museum, but it can cause a lot of danger if you're not careful. It works for the USS Arizona and a handful of others, but it's a thousand times as dangerous to leave stuff in space to rot... especially since without regular maintenance, it will likely completely deteriorate long before we have the means to turn it into any sort of museum. If you want to go that route, the safest thing to do would probably be to crash it onto the moon instead... at least more of it will be recoverable than leaving it in orbit or letting it crash to Earth.

Re:Regardless of longevity. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44911109)

If you want to go that route, the safest thing to do would probably be to crash it onto the moon instead... at least more of it will be recoverable than leaving it in orbit or letting it crash to Earth.

Some profitable orbits are starting to get crowded, yes, so your harbor analogy isn't so bad. But space is a fantastically large ocean! I do get tired when people get their ideas of distances in space from the movies. The moon is really frigging far away!

Earth and moon in same photo [wired.com]

If we're going with the "oh, but it's a world treasure and the energy requirements aren't so bad"... here's something bold for you -- we should take ISS, put a big-ass rocket on it, shoot it out of the solar system! Then we have something to aim for when the governments of the world ask why we need a space program.

Re:Regardless of longevity. (1)

rossdee (243626) | about a year ago | (#44911219)

"If you want to go that route, the safest thing to do would probably be to crash it onto the moon instead... at least more of it will be recoverable than leaving it in orbit or letting it crash to Earth."

I guess you don't understand orbital dynamics, it would take a huge amount of fuel to get it to a lunar orbit. (or even to get it to earth escape velocity.

Re:Regardless of longevity. (1)

wjcofkc (964165) | about a year ago | (#44911251)

Even it if it did 'deteriorate' before it could become a museum, studying that deterioration could prove invaluable. Also, I am not talking about keeping these in a habitable condition, outside viewing only. Further, no matter how long it's left to the radiation of space, it's not going to magically fly apart. Also, most hazardous space junk is in lower orbits.

Re:Regardless of longevity. (1)

Teancum (67324) | about a year ago | (#44911585)

An ideal orbit for the ISS would be one of the LaGrangian points "near" the Moon (L4 or L5), It would be out of the way for anything that would be put into space for a long time, and quite possibly it could eventually be salvaged for parts and/or sheer mass for any future endeavors in that part of the Solar System. The nice thing about those locations is that you don't even need to worry about any regular maintenance except for perhaps keeping the vehicle operational if that might even remotely be a goal, and even then it could be refurbished eventually by future groups that may have the money to care about something like that.

I certainly think it is much better to put the ISS in a place like that as opposed to dumping it into the middle of the Pacific Ocean.... which is the current plan. It most definitely won't be going to the Moon under any possible scenerio. If anything, sending it to Mars would be just as viable from a delta-v perspective.

The Pacific Ocean option wouldn't even be worth salvaging at a future date, other than to melt parts down as scrap. I would hate to see anything from the ISS even in a museum that came from a Pacific splashdown.

Re:Regardless of longevity. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44911823)

As Crimson Avenger pointing out above, there is a roughly 5 fold difference in energy needed to push the ISS to a LaGrange point vs. deorbiting it. Movement in space is expensive.

You got the money, honey, we've got the time.

Re:Regardless of longevity. (2)

0123456 (636235) | about a year ago | (#44912215)

Movement in space is expensive.

Movement in space is cheap compared to getting things into space, if you're not in a hurry. Stick an ion engine on the back, let it run for a couple of years (with no-one on board, due to the radiation belts it has to pass through), and wait for it to get to L5.

Re:Regardless of longevity. (2)

Teancum (67324) | about a year ago | (#44912325)

It isn't as if using ion engines on the ISS [gizmag.com] is a new concept. The idea has been kicking around for some time and mainly needs some funding. The idea to put one of those engines on the ISS has been discussed simply to maintain the current orbit as it needs to be boosted periodically anyway.

I would even go so far as to suggest that the required delta-v to put the ISS at L5 has likely been already applied simply to keep the station where it is at instead of crashing down back onto the Earth over its current lifetime. A similar kind of energy will need to be applied over the next 15 or so years anyway, so why not build a system that can also work as an end-of-life termination system too?

Another issue with the ISS is that it is so huge that any effort to deorbit the station will most certainly result in a debris field regardless of how much effort you put into breaking it up prior to re-entry. Even splashing it down has a great many complications where it might even be cheaper and certainly offer much less risk to people here on the Earth if it was pushed up to a higher orbit as well. There is definitely going to be a cost to deorbit above and beyond just the delta-v issues.

Re:Regardless of longevity. (1)

mbenzi (410594) | about a year ago | (#44911087)

In regard to the Space Shuttle, I have said the same thing since they decided to retire the fleet. It seems the greatest cost of having things in space has always been getting them off the ground. There was no reason to bring the shuttles back once we knew they weren't going to be used again. I remember that, besides the Smithsonian, many institutions complained about how expensive it would be just for annual maintenance to keep a shuttle on display.

So, as you suggested, they should have moved it to a higher orbit and abandoned it. High above all the space junk it would not be a hazard to any satellites.

Re:Regardless of longevity. (3, Insightful)

CohibaVancouver (864662) | about a year ago | (#44911171)

There was no reason to bring the shuttles back once we knew they weren't going to be used again

And what about the little matter of the crews on board the Orbiters? We weren't bringing the Orbiters back, we were bringing the CREWS back.

Re:Regardless of longevity. (1)

wjcofkc (964165) | about a year ago | (#44911205)

1. Dock with ISS. 2. Disembark 3. Detach shuttle with remote control. 4. Boost into higher orbit with remote control. 5. Send crew back on something Russian.

Re:Regardless of longevity. (1)

demonlapin (527802) | about a year ago | (#44911715)

So, because the really expensive part is getting off the ground, we should launch a shuttle and a Soyuz (for crew return) instead of just a shuttle?

Re:Regardless of longevity. (1)

CohibaVancouver (864662) | about a year ago | (#44911721)

3. Detach shuttle with remote control. 4. Boost into higher orbit with remote control. 5. Send crew back on something Russian.

...I find it hard to believe that all of that is cheaper than just flying the Orbiter home.

Oh yeah, and learn your SpaceGeek. You're not 'detaching the Shuttle.' You're detaching the Orbiter.

This is a Space Shuttle:

http://harvardpolitics.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/space-shuttle-discovery1.jpg [harvardpolitics.com]

This is an Orbiter:

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4c/STS-121-DiscoveryEnhanced.jpg [wikimedia.org]

Re:Regardless of longevity. (1)

wjcofkc (964165) | about a year ago | (#44911225)

Finally, I voice without pessimism. The lack of spirit of adventure and inability to dream on slashdot is often astounding.

Re:Regardless of longevity. (1)

Hartree (191324) | about a year ago | (#44913079)

Why would most slashdotters want a space program?

They can just stay at home and play Kerbal Space Program. It's a lot easier and you can get pizza delivered. ;)

(In my pessimistic moments, I wonder if rather than a technological singularity, we won't have a great stagnation with everyone opting for VR rather than the real world.)

Re:Regardless of longevity. (2)

TheSeatOfMyPants (2645007) | about a year ago | (#44916231)

There are 2 reasons for that change:
1) Generational dreams change along with technology. Every world-changing invention has gone through an initial several decades of being awe-inspiring (with the periodic tragedy) before it became commonplace enough for rich people to do it for fun. I'm in my mid-late 30s, and that's what manned trips into space have qualified as since I was a little kid: no otherwise-impossible scientific advancements, two full crews of brilliant people killed (one with at least half the country's schoolkids watching) -- and now it's an experience for companies to sell to the ultra-rich.

I mean, if someone came up to you, said "I have a project that won't actually achieve anything we couldn't do otherwise, will get a couple dozen people killed, and the results will primarily become a great way for the ultra-rich to spend their money" would *you* be excited?

2) Most people's interest in devoting money/energy to long-term grand projects tends to fluctuate with their personal circumstances. When they feel they can secure their family's basic comfort long-term, easily pay for necessities & their taxes, and see clear benefits in their community from those taxes, they're *far* more likely to be willing to have some of that tax money go to projects that *might* pay off in a few decades. That's how it was from the 40s through the 70s, and to a lesser extent, in the 80s/90s.

When they're worried about randomly losing their job & not being able to quickly find another, know an unexpected crisis could financially ruin them, have to stretch a bit to pay for necessities plus the taxes, and their community seems to perpetually struggle despite the taxes, they're going to want every dime to go towards either their family's present/future (including entertainment that lets them forget for a few hours each night) or towards community resources their family uses, not projects that *might* pay off in the far future. That's how it has been to varying degrees since the dot-bomb crash, especially since the post-9/11 military/security expansion began.

Re:Regardless of longevity. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44911131)

Yes, I would at least like them to seriously consider it and come up with some documents to show how it might work.

I'm not an rocket scientist, but I would like to see them put a bunch of small rocket engines on it, an inflatable fuel tank, and send 3 heavy lift rockets up there with nothing but fuel. Maybe send it to geo orbit or put some RAD sensors on it and push it to another planet or moon. Maybe even work with one of those one-way missions to use this as a good start to a space craft that could make the journey...

Re:Regardless of longevity. (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about a year ago | (#44911249)

In order to prevent it from becoming a hazard you'd have to cover the whole damned thing in shielding. The only viable way to do that with current technologies is probably to surround it in those inflatable modules that Bigelow wanted to build; anything else would be too heavy for basically no payoff. Good luck getting umpteen launches of those going

Re:Regardless of longevity. (1)

Teancum (67324) | about a year ago | (#44911607)

Why would it need to be covered? The point is that the ISS is going to be abandoned in place somehow, most likely at the bottom of the Pacific right now.

The only real concern would be potentially having the ISS break apart a little bit at a time, and those individual parts becoming separate pieces of debris in space. Boosting the ISS up to a higher orbit (no mention at how high) simply makes it possible to abandon the station without any further maintenance or cost, even though the initial boosting would cost some money.

Re:Regardless of longevity. (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about a year ago | (#44911665)

The only real concern would be potentially having the ISS break apart a little bit at a time, and those individual parts becoming separate pieces of debris in space.

But that is in fact a real concern, one that can't simply be waved away. The station is designed to be powered; I'd imagine that abandoning it will cause it to deteriorate even faster. One day when we have repulsor technology or whatever magical wand is waved, we can worry less about debris and then that sort of thing will be a viable option. Until then, burning it up is the most responsible thing to do.

Wooden sailing vessels (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44910949)

The ISS could last virtually forever if it were regarded like wooden sailing vessels such as the U.S. Constitution. A ship like that remains itself even if every bit of it is replaced. The ISS could remain the ISS even if every module were replaced with another, eliminating all problems of structural aging. It'd be costly, but it could be done.

Of course, that doesn't address the central issue that has surrounded the ISS since the idea for it was first raised. Does the cost of maintaining it justify its cost or, stated another way, are the contributions of humans in space really worth the cost of keeping them there? We may be able to do more that robots and machines, but we're fragile and difficult to maintain in what is for us a hostile environment.

Re:Wooden sailing vessels (1)

SJHillman (1966756) | about a year ago | (#44911069)

The difference between the ISS and the USS Constitution is ease of doing it. The Constitution can be put in dry dock, and you can easily bring workers and materials to it. The ISS is in orbit... which is barely accessible during regular use of it, nevermind using it as a museum money hole. I'd be all for it if there was a practical way to do it, but there likely won't be until long after it deteriorates beyond salvation.

Re:Wooden sailing vessels (1)

Teancum (67324) | about a year ago | (#44911657)

If you could put the ISS into a orbit where perhaps future generations (I'm talking a thousand years from now or so) could worry about the refurbishment, I'm sure they could figure out how to turn it into a museum. Assuming that the cost of getting into space would drop considerably over that period of time, bringing workers and materials would not really be a problem and as a historic relic there might even be political rationale or even public sympathy in the form of donations that could perform such a task.

The real trick is simply putting the ISS in a position where such a task could be done. At the moment, it is close enough to the Earth that it needs very regular maintenance simply to maintain its current orbit and can't be left abandoned for very long (about a decade at most... sort of like what happened to Skylab and Mir). Quite literally, the atmosphere of the Earth is going to bring it down to the Earth if nothing else is done.

The only way to push the ISS up to a higher orbit is to attach some kind of thruster pack (likely an ion engine or something with a very high specific impulse but low thrust over a long period of time). It can take a few years to get to its final orbit as it won't be inhabited, but it does need to either go up or down as staying where it is right now simply won't work.

Re: Wooden sailing vessels (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44912355)

I'm sure a thousand years from now, they would consider it way to unsafe a design to even step aboard. They would end up building a replica with better materials and a safer design by their standards. Maybe compare a rotten old house in the slums without any safe design to something new with state of art materials, all safety features, I can't think of a good analogy. But a thousand years from now it with be considered a I can't believe they had people living in there type of thing.

Re: Wooden sailing vessels (1)

Teancum (67324) | about a year ago | (#44912507)

I would agree with you. A thousand years from now people would be looking at the ISS like we look at a Norse longboat and wonder how anybody put up with such a vessel to cross the North Atlantic Ocean. Such vessels have been found from archaeological digs, or even something much more recent like the H L Hunley [wikipedia.org] and have been restored at huge expense, certainly more than it cost to originally build those vessels.

While a replica may be built too, I think it has some deeper meaning to have the actual equipment there for future generations to see. The cost of pushing the ISS up to a higher orbit certainly is something that is in the realm of an affordable mission in the here and now.

Re:Wooden sailing vessels (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44914193)

The difference between the ISS and the USS Constitution is ease of doing it. The Constitution can be put in dry dock, and you can easily bring workers and materials to it. The ISS is in orbit...

This isn't a problem if you build a space dock to repair ISS.

This proobably explains why (1)

Provocateur (133110) | about a year ago | (#44910969)

This probably explains why Pan Am has been postponing my trip to the station since 2001.

It will never be scrapped (3, Interesting)

mbone (558574) | about a year ago | (#44911055)

It may be sent elsewhere, but the ISS is going to be around for a long, long time. Remember, the Russians own a good chunk of it, and they don't believe in giving up on functional assets. If NASA ever is forced out, watch the US modules being transferred to the Russians for $ 1 or something like that.

Re:It will never be scrapped (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44911295)

Yes, we can tell this because of all of the Pravda articles about Buran shuttles visiting the Mir!

Who the hell modded you up?

Despite Americans complaining about their economy, and rightly so, it is still one of the strongest in the world. Russia deorbited Mir because of a lack of funds, not because it stopped working. If anything, the reverse of your proposal would happen, where the US would buy or "rent" the Russian components for half a billion or so.

Re:It will never be scrapped (2)

Teancum (67324) | about a year ago | (#44911681)

What deorbited Mir was not really a lack of funds but rather political pressure from NASA and the U.S. government who didn't want to have Roscosmos distracted by Mir. There was MirCorp who was providing funding to keep Mir going and had even sent up a crew of cosmonauts to get it prepared for other visitors. [wikipedia.org]

That said, the Russian segments of the ISS were intended to be a part of Mir 2 (the second iteration of that station) and there definitely was a sense of closure with Mir anyway on the part of the Russian government. It was also not the first and certainly won't be the last space station put up by the Russian government.

Re:It will never be scrapped (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44916281)

Holy Wikipedia, Batman! I've never seen a Wikipedia page with so many [citation needed] tags! If we're citing un-referenced Wikipedia pages, on the same page, "In addition, the two financial investors were late on their payments".

And you should really contribute to this website you cite, as over on the main Mir page [wikipedia.org] , "Meanwhile, back on Earth, Yuri Koptev, the director of the Roskosmos, announced on 2 July that, due to a lack of funding to keep Mir flying, the station would be deorbited in June 1999.[15]". Hey, even a citation!

I maintain that Russian funding for Mir was not strong.

Which parts? (2)

lennier1 (264730) | about a year ago | (#44911141)

Looking at the track record of the Mir station, the Russian-made parts will probably far outlive ours.

ISS is waste of money (0)

Lawrence_Bird (67278) | about a year ago | (#44911161)

and the US and others should stop wasting more on it. There have been no research results which I am aware of (and I have looked) which come anywhere near justifying the giganormous cost of the ISS.

Those who wish NASA would do more probes or have more money for telescopes should all be in favor of the earliest termination of ISS.

Those who insist on seeing "man in space" (whether needed or not) should pin their hopes on commercial enterprise and not a government agency.

Re:ISS is waste of money (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44911221)

and the US and others should stop wasting more on it. There have been no research results which I am aware of (and I have looked) which come anywhere near justifying the giganormous cost of the ISS.

Those who wish NASA would do more probes or have more money for telescopes should all be in favor of the earliest termination of ISS.

Those who insist on seeing "man in space" (whether needed or not) should pin their hopes on commercial enterprise and not a government agency.

This author seems to have a track record of just not wanting pay for anything that doesn't directly benefit him. I love your discussions on class sizes and school taxes. The selfish people like yourself is the reason this country is going down the drain.

Now on to your response..

Commercial enterprise exists for one reason and one reason only, profit. Open up a history book sometime and look at how many great minds did it for the money. What? Profit wasn't the only motive? Hmm.. There is no way a for-profit entity can do something LESS EXPENSIVE than a non-taxed, not-for-profit entity (read: Government). You need a reality check bud.

Re:ISS is waste of money (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44912009)

if we can afford the ISS, we can surely give everyone free college (or remove all their dept of education debt). or feed/clothe them. or a bunch of other things that will make us better off in the long run.

Re:ISS is waste of money (1)

demonlapin (527802) | about a year ago | (#44912725)

Nonsense. Corporations that make no money are the very definition of not-for-profit. And there are plenty of corporations out there that only earn enough to pay their employees.

keep it going as long as possible (4, Insightful)

usuallylost (2468686) | about a year ago | (#44911181)

Hopefully they continue to work on it and refurbish it. If we are ever going to have a robust long term presence in space we are going to have to learn how to build reliable structures that can be repaired and maintained over the long term. The IIS seems like a perfect test bed for that sort of development and we already have a huge sunk cost so why not use it?

Re:keep it going as long as possible (2)

kermidge (2221646) | about a year ago | (#44913273)

There is a tendency on the part of many to consider that designing, building, and maintaining structures in space to be a done deal - simply order up what you want and that's it. What we are finding after all these years is that prolonged exposure of materials to space is still often a matter of unforeseen consequences. While experimental work on Earth and various theories of how materials behave have been useful even if only to present the range of possibilities we are continually finding new behaviours.

We've long known of cold welding yet keep finding new ways it happens, and amongst differing materials we hadn't suspected of the behavior. Ditto embrittlement. Then there are the slew of changes owing to constant change in dimension owing to temperature, complicated when disparate materials are joined in some fashion, with accompanying changes in the materials' characteristics - tensile strength and so on. Then there's degradation of performance, such as with solar cells. So what the Boeing study is doing makes much sense. This is real space engineering and is about as geeky as it gets.

Although it would cost more to get there, it'd be nice to be able to boost the ISS into higher orbit. There are problems with that, one being zones of debris, the other the inner Van Allen belt. A good project would be to drain it. The station is in good position to do so. If that were started soon, it could be done about the time the station is scheduled for de-orbit, and would go a long way towards the argument for keeping it going - presuming that there are no major problems at the materials end.

Research. It's not a simple matter of setting up some stuff on a work bench. Experiments have to be packaged to fit space allotted, all relevant measures for power, environmental control, out-gassing and related containment all have to be worked out ahead of time before a project gets sent up. Last I looked there is a slew of interesting stuff in the pipeline. There are some projects where research has advanced enough for small-scale manufacture as well, for some materials and pharmaceuticals.

There are a lot of dormant satellites in GEO that are unusable, often due to being out of fuel to control attitude or because they need minor repair to antennas, gyros, and circuitry. If there were enterprise to develop and build manned and unmanned service vehicles, the ISS could be used as a service garage and gas station. Longer term, with it or it's successor, it would be in a good position to aid in dealing with processing of asteroid material - although that could perhaps be done as well in lunar orbit and on Luna's surface. Much boils down to "it depends." Point is, though, there is a lot of useful work that could be done _now_ that ISS would be suited for. Oh, and there's also the matter of using it as a base to aid in the removal of unwanted orbital debris, a task whose importance is difficult to overstate, collision odds notwithstanding.

All the above is amenable to fairly straightforward engineering analysis. The gross difficulty is that those in charge of the purse strings tend to be not only ignorant of the issues, resistant to learning about them, and pursuing various agendas that are not based fully in reality, but rather on emotion, religion, graft, and other assorted idiocy.

It's one thing to have an intelligent discussion of varying views and priorities based on science and engineering realities; it's another entirely to make sweeping pronunciamentos that stem from un-examined and un-supportable supposition and prejudice.

And yes, for various reasons, I think the Chinese should have been, and should now be, included. There are certainly some risks but I think they're higher for the exclusion. Realistically it may be too late. Damage has been done and not so easily made good.

The decision on when to de-orbit ISS - and of any dismantling beforehand - ought to be an engineering decision.

This sentence does not make sense (0)

nizmogtr (675721) | about a year ago | (#44911427)

Am I the only person that thinks this sentence doesn't make sense?
"The stiffness of your structure would then change, the bolt hole you that you were growing the crack out of, now that bolt wouldn't be effective."
Not to troll or anything, but could someone with a better grasp of english explain what the author is trying to say here?

Re:This sentence does not make sense (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44911477)

If there's cracks then your structure is less strong - it is more likely to warp or bend. If there's a crack starting or ending at a bolt in the structure, then that bolt is not going to be very effective at holding things in place.

Re:This sentence does not make sense (1)

Brianwa (692565) | about a year ago | (#44913285)

It's an engineer's way of saying "it gets weaker if there's cracks in it".

A modest proposal (-1, Troll)

JockTroll (996521) | about a year ago | (#44911491)

Colony drop it. On the Mecca. Kill two birds with one stone and if it's during Haji, kill some more. ;)

Another viewpoint (4, Funny)

PNutts (199112) | about a year ago | (#44911543)

The stiffness of your structure would then change, the bolt hole you that you were growing the crack out of, now that bolt wouldn't be effective.

That's what she said.

Re:Another viewpoint (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44913525)

Weld it

That reminds me... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44911677)

I watched C-Beams glitter in the dark near the Tanhauser Gate...

as long as possible (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44912093)

excellent opportunity to develop the technologies for repair in space that are needed for further exploration.

What happened to VASIMR (2)

fritsd (924429) | about a year ago | (#44912415)

What happened to the NASA/Ad Astra plan to launch an experimental 200 kW VASIMR [wikipedia.org] , strap it to the ISS, and use it to boost the station to higher orbit?

Has it just not happened yet because it doesn't actually work, or because you'd need more solar panels for the required energy, or what?

Re:What happened to VASIMR (1)

Megane (129182) | about a year ago | (#44917391)

Maybe you could actually read the page you linked to?

As of June 2012, its launch is anticipated to be in 2015,[20] the Antares rocket has been reported as the "top contender" for the launch vehicle.[21] Since the available power from the ISS is less than 200 kW, the ISS VASIMR will include a trickle-charged battery system allowing for 15 min pulses of thrust."

Wow, both of your questions answered in the same paragraph!

Russians (2)

Dereck1701 (1922824) | about a year ago | (#44913305)

I don't know how long NASA will want to keep ISS in space (hopefully longer than the stated end of mission parameters though) but the Russians have already stated their desire that if NASA does decide they want to shutdown/deorbit ISS they are going to try to detach their modules and start a "new" Russian space complex, OPSEK (Orbital Piloted Assembly and Experiment Complex). Personally I'm a bit confused, even the oldest parts on ISS are only 15 years old. Does equipment really degrade that fast in orbit? I would think electronics would be the first to go, but they should be fairly modular making most of them easy to replace. Even if an entire module became structurally/electrically unsound, in many cases detaching it from the station and deorbiting it while keeping the rest of the complex active would seem quite easy. The only exceptions to this may be a few of the core modules or nodes, even those would not be out of the question, it would just be a question of sending up a new node or core module and moving unaffected modules to the new core/node.

Personally (0)

argStyopa (232550) | about a year ago | (#44913919)

Is anyone surprised? I see the ISS as only slightly less a political "creature of malignant compromises" than the abysmal shuttle was (and is a direct result of many of those, mind you). A "space station" at 230 miles is about as permanent as floating a buoy 25' from shore; it's practically disposable and should have been expected to be so.

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