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Russia To Build an Orbital Construction Plant

kdawson posted more than 6 years ago | from the all-watched-over-by-machines-of-loving-grace dept.

Space 182

jamax writes "Russia plans to build an orbital plant for the production of spacecraft (link to sketchy Google translation of the Russian original) that are too big to build planetside, or are just too bulky to fire into orbit once built. Presumably these are the ships we would fly to the Moon and Mars. Plans seem to be rather sparse at the moment, with the tentative construction date set for 2020, after the ISS is scheduled for decommissioning."

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182 comments

on-orbit assembly, finally (4, Interesting)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 6 years ago | (#23057458)

I hope that the Russians are *not* looking at flying to the Moon or Mars. The NEAs make much more interesting destinations where their expertise in micro-gravity environments can be best put to use.

Re:on-orbit assembly, finally (4, Informative)

dlanod (979538) | more than 6 years ago | (#23057528)

There's no mention of the Moon or Mars in the translated article, so that is purely speculation in the summary. It's very much pie in the sky (pun intended) at the moment, with reporting just saying "it was proposed" and "The government's Security Council supported the idea". Nothing about funding or plans at this point in time.

Re:on-orbit assembly, finally (4, Informative)

egr (932620) | more than 6 years ago | (#23057714)

Actually there is, in both, short version and full version Russian version [interfax.ru] and translated version [google.com]

Well, lets get real. (4, Insightful)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 6 years ago | (#23057890)

For the last decade, Russia has announced LOADS of plans for space but does not want to pay for them (even though they are very cash positive). The only way this will happen is if America or EU backs it. As to not flying to the moon ot mars, that is absolutely their goal.

Re:Well, lets get real. (4, Informative)

Cassius Corodes (1084513) | more than 6 years ago | (#23057976)

With the increase in state funds due to the rising resource prices, the russians have a bit of cash to spare, and with putin being keen to show his countrymen that they are a superpower again it doesn't seem outrageous that they might try something in space - which has always had major propaganda value. The budget for the Russian Federal Space Agency has been increasing every year (but is still a fraction of nasa).

Re:Well, lets get real. (4, Insightful)

rbanffy (584143) | more than 6 years ago | (#23057994)

The US, Europe and Russia have all proposed the most fantastic things, promising them for the next few years and then postponing or canceling them for budget reasons.

This project, like any fantastic one proposed in the past, has very little chance of, pun intended, ever flying.

DS9 (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23058102)

They should model it after DS9 for space tourists. I for one would look forward to playing Dabo at Quark's bar. I mean Russian's got to have a bar on that place.

Impressive...If It Works (1)

Pantero Blanco (792776) | more than 6 years ago | (#23057498)

This will be impressive if the project is successful. I admit that I'll be a bit disappointed that we didn't do it first, though.

Of course, it's going to be a while off, either way. Maybe our space program will have a renaissance in the meantime.

Re:Impressive...If It Works (4, Interesting)

interstellar_donkey (200782) | more than 6 years ago | (#23057532)

At the very least, it might start up a new space race, which would be a much needed motivation to get the US to start seriously looking at space travel again.

Re:Impressive...If It Works (1)

erlehmann (1045500) | more than 6 years ago | (#23057576)

At the very least, it might start up a new space race [...]

Though I'd call it a faction, not a race, I welcome our Lunar Corporation [wikipedia.org] overlords^Wmistresses.

Re:Impressive...If It Works (1)

Jerome H (990344) | more than 6 years ago | (#23057750)

Yeah
Earth 2150 FTW

Re:Impressive...If It Works (1)

Protonk (599901) | more than 6 years ago | (#23057630)

remember, talk is cheap. It is easy to talk about a subject of national pride like this and hard to decide to fund it. I put this in the same camp as GW talking about going to Mars in 2004. Anyone remember that?

Re:Impressive...If It Works (4, Informative)

earthforce_1 (454968) | more than 6 years ago | (#23058140)

Sadly the US probably won't - It looks like Obama will be the next president, and his is planning to gut NASA's manned space program:
http://www.cjr.org/campaign_desk/obamas_nasa_plan_gets_little_p.php [cjr.org]

It looks like the Russians or Chinese are our last best hope to find a way off this rock.

Re:Impressive...If It Works (0)

Protonk (599901) | more than 6 years ago | (#23058620)

because they don't make a new US president every 4 years and because commercial space travel will never happen, amright?

Re:Impressive...If It Works (1, Interesting)

tekiegreg (674773) | more than 6 years ago | (#23058822)

Well yeah but...commercial space travel to the moon or Mars? We just barely got those commercial rockets into suborbital space...4 more years and they might finally hit orbital travel...

I'm not saying that commercial travel isn't feasible for the U.S., but just not in a 4 year timeframe that you think...

Re:Impressive...If It Works (4, Insightful)

Protonk (599901) | more than 6 years ago | (#23058950)

WEll, I think there are a lot of things going on here.

First: Space is not the bonanza we thought it was in the 1950's and 1960's. Part of the formulation of our space program was the terrible arms race with russia, but part of it was the modernist notion that we would remake space in our image and reap the dividends. Surprisingly this mindset not only impacted the laity but also the technological priesthood (engineers, scientists). We were going to have colonies on mars and the moon within 50 years, no question.

Second: We greatly underestimated the challenges we face. Here was an underestimation made by the public but not by the engineers. We saw that we went from heavier than air flight to being on the moon in inside 70 years and assumed that continued progress would follow the same track. As a matter of fact it couldn't (not least because of diminishing marginal returns but also because of the huge change in challenges between getting to LEO and getting to the moon). Once we got to the moon we realized that the next step wasn't right around the corner. This happened to coincide with a number of social changes that demystified the space race and caused people to be less inclined to pay for large government projects.

Third: We confused lack of public progress with lack of progress and we confused public achievements with scientific achievements. In the time between Apollo 11 and now, we have sent out Cassini, Hubble, Chandra, DS-1, Pioneer 10 and 11 and Voyager, the mars rovers, the Venus probe, and hundreds of earth satellites. We have become much better (in many, though not all ways) at building spacecraft as a country and a species. But we have also glorified achievements that haven't been so monumental. The Space Shuttle wasn't as good a vehicle as it should have been and it should have been phased out long ago. the ISS, for all its good points, does not advance the state of the art as much as DS-1 did.

As a result, we have both an unrealistic expectation of space flight and an underestimation of our progress in the past 25 years. I think we need to be prepared to wait another 25 or 50 before we are talking about the Moon or Mars in any serious, consistent fashion. But we will also not be there in the same way. Corporate space flight WILL be a mainstay of the future and it probably will bring more people into space in the 21st century than government space flight.

So dont look at 4 year timelines. Look further down the road. Also, the 4 year comment of mine was snarky. The OP was complaining about Barack Obama's wish to cut nasa funding as though it would forever doom the US space program. I was pointing out what we happen to get a new president every so often and 4 years isn't the end of the world.

One small step... (4, Insightful)

dlanod (979538) | more than 6 years ago | (#23057504)

This would be a great step forward for space exploration, and hopefully it will kick start the rest of the world into launching their own if/when this proves to be a success. Something this big really needs governments to support it, it is too big for the nascent private space industry at the moment.

Re:One small step... (2, Insightful)

magarity (164372) | more than 6 years ago | (#23057694)

Something this big really needs governments to support it
 
The tricky bit is that said government must be able to afford it. Russia is not currently on that list.

Re:One small step... (2, Insightful)

juhan pruun (939183) | more than 6 years ago | (#23057836)

Russia is on that list. No foreign debt, space capable infrastructure and ... look at the commodity prices.

Re:One small step... (1)

dlanod (979538) | more than 6 years ago | (#23057872)

Russia currently can afford it, with its large oil and gas reserves giving it a very significant cashflow boost over the last few years. The questions will be (a) whether it can still afford it in 10-20 years time, which is the timescale for the project, and (b) whether they will deem that money better spent elsewhere.

Re:One small step... (1)

magarity (164372) | more than 6 years ago | (#23058392)

...I should have added, "but if the Chinese announce this kind of plan, watch out."

makes sense (5, Funny)

MassiveForces (991813) | more than 6 years ago | (#23057506)

they don't call it "The Federation" for nothing in Star Trek

P-Fleet (2, Funny)

Burning Plastic (153446) | more than 6 years ago | (#23057570)

It sounds like Captain Pirk has definitely arrived in our time...

Not sure this will work (4, Insightful)

EEPROMS (889169) | more than 6 years ago | (#23057584)

Building anything in space is horrendously complex and expensive. The USA will be broke for the next few years so I cant see anything coming from that direction other than some toy like commercial projects (Virgin) that will die once the handful of billionaires who can afford it have taken a ride. Even though Russia is rolling in cash right now I don't think they will have enough money and expertise to pull this off in the long run. Really this needs to be a global affair with its own "standards body" so everyone can take part and a really nasty bit of work in charge to bang peoples heads together when they start arguing over bolt sizes or the colour of toilet seat lid.

Re:Not sure this will work (2, Interesting)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 6 years ago | (#23057980)

Building anything in space is horrendously complex and expensive.

I think Bigelow Aerospace would disagree. They already have prototype space station modules in orbit, and in the next few years they'll be launching up more of them and linking them together into larger stations. Robert Bigelow seems to think he can make a profit on it, and is betting a few hundred million of his own dollars on it.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bigelow_Aerospace [wikipedia.org]

Re:Not sure this will work (5, Insightful)

khallow (566160) | more than 6 years ago | (#23058002)

other than some toy like commercial projects (Virgin) that will die once the handful of billionaires who can afford it have taken a ride.

That completely explains why successful businessmen are staking their money and reputation on a "handful of billionaires". Too bad they haven't figured this out yet.

Even though Russia is rolling in cash right now I don't think they will have enough money and expertise to pull this off in the long run. Really this needs to be a global affair with its own "standards body" so everyone can take part and a really nasty bit of work in charge to bang peoples heads together when they start arguing over bolt sizes or the colour of toilet seat lid.

Russia does have the experience. Money always is a problem with them so you might be right there. I don't understand the desire for a "standards body". Everyone doesn't need to take part. Everyone doesn't need to get in on toilet seat design. Everyone doesn't need "a nasty bit of work" in charge.

Sorry, but I'm annoyed by the airchair astronauts who know better than anyone else what's to happen in space. You seem to fit that mold quite well with your groundless pronouncements. Maybe it'll turn out that that building things in space are indeed "horrendously complex and expensive", that commercial projects will flop, and that we need some sort of global effort to do this sort of thing in space. But none of this has been demonstrated.

Re:Not sure this will work (1)

MrSteveSD (801820) | more than 6 years ago | (#23058748)

Sorry, but I'm annoyed by the airchair astronauts who know better than anyone else what's to happen in space.


Do you mean this guy? http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/8/88/Astronaut-EVA.jpg/600px-Astronaut-EVA.jpg [wikimedia.org]

He probably knows quite a bit :)

Re:Not sure this will work (1)

Taint Bearer (957479) | more than 6 years ago | (#23058220)

Building rockets etc on earth is horrendously complex and expensive as well.

We are going to have to start building things in space sooner or later, as it is much cheaper to get all our raw materials up there from NEAs than build it here and blast it all into space from earth. Not to mention that welds are much stronger when done in space, due to the micro-gravity and (partial) vacuum.

Its not like they are planning on launching this year or anything, its a maybe for 2020.

Re:Not sure this will work (2, Insightful)

mabhatter654 (561290) | more than 6 years ago | (#23058674)

Russia has more than enough experience to run a station.... WTF. More parts of ISS are built by them and they log way more manned hours than the US team does. They're much better at extreme repairs under dire conditions than US astronauts also.

Their process is a bit backwards, they have cheap, stable, easy to build large rockets. The only problem is that they are no where near as efficient as US rockets... they can lift Heavy... cheap... exactly what space building requires. Besides if they need robotics or other complex stuff NASA has been laying off for years.. they can borrow somebody cheap.

Re:Not sure this will work (1)

Lehk228 (705449) | more than 6 years ago | (#23058876)

space robots are super cheap. they don't have to be strong, a tiny gyro can unstuck one from almost any postion it can get itself into, and their onboard computers don't really need to be that fast since without gravity to deal with in navigation you can use more naive pathing algorithms since you can do things like jump a 40 foot gap or climb a wall.

the hard part is making sure the circuits can handle the extra radiation, and the Russians already can do that.

Vaporware (5, Insightful)

Protonk (599901) | more than 6 years ago | (#23057594)

Plain and simple. there is a long list of russian projects announced in boom times (like 1995 and now) but abandoned when the rubber met the road.

This is not to say that the Russians aren't advancing the state of the art in space--they are. They are also excellent builders of launch vehicles and spacecraft. BUT. That doesn't mean that proclamations like this are to be accepted without a huge dose of skepticism.

I would be much more willing to believe that Russians would fund a new launch site, a SSTO or similar projects. This smacks of unreality.

Re:Vaporware (1)

tftp (111690) | more than 6 years ago | (#23058464)

I would be much more willing to believe that Russians would fund a new launch site, a SSTO or similar projects.

Even the article in question mentions that a new space launch site ("Vostochny", or Eastern) opens in 2015 - it's only 7 years from now, so I'd guess the construction has been funded already. The surveying and design phase will take until 2010, and then the workers come in. The site has been already decided on.

With a SSTO there is a little problem, though - nobody on this planet has a clue how to do it, even in theory. Funding has little to do with this, compared to physics. My personal bet is that we won't see SSTO until we get antigravity. Chemical rockets are just as ridiculous as hot air balloons in the age of supersonic jets.

Re:Vaporware (1)

Protonk (599901) | more than 6 years ago | (#23058624)


With a SSTO there is a little problem, though - nobody on this planet has a clue how to do it, even in theory. Funding has little to do with this, compared to physics. My personal bet is that we won't see SSTO until we get antigravity. Chemical rockets are just as ridiculous as hot air balloons in the age of supersonic jets.

Or Orion. :)

Re:Vaporware (1)

Lehk228 (705449) | more than 6 years ago | (#23058894)

can't use orion on the ground or in the atmosphere. well, you / CAN / but it's a really fuggin bad idea.

Re:Vaporware (1)

Protonk (599901) | more than 6 years ago | (#23058976)

That's why the smiley face.

Damn! (1)

kris.montpetit (1265946) | more than 6 years ago | (#23057608)

2020?? This sucks. We're all going to be geezers before domestic space travel comes around

Re:Damn! (1)

Zarf (5735) | more than 6 years ago | (#23057838)

2020?? This sucks. We're all going to be geezers before domestic space travel comes around
yep. This just in... we may not see working nano-tech in our lifetimes either.

Re:Damn! (1)

ShadowMarth (870657) | more than 6 years ago | (#23058116)

Speak for yourself, I'll be middle-aged. Still die before we get off-world colonies.

pysics joke: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23057616)

Obrital plant: Schroedinger would be proud.

Ret-con (1)

crankyspice (63953) | more than 6 years ago | (#23057618)

The biggest question currently facing /. readers -- how will this play out against the NCC-1701 under construction teaser trailer (http://www.apple.com/trailers/paramount/startrek/ [apple.com] )?

Re:Ret-con (1)

phrostie (121428) | more than 6 years ago | (#23057786)

it looks like they are assembling it on the ground.

that's just F'ed up

Re:Ret-con (1)

Foerstner (931398) | more than 6 years ago | (#23057900)

The original Enterprise was always supposedly built in San Francisco. Why they picked that city, I don't know.

Re:Ret-con (2, Interesting)

Protonk (599901) | more than 6 years ago | (#23058018)

Because gene Roddenberry was a communist?

Or more likely, because he felt that it was a city the represented a look ahead and was cosmopolitan enough to get a feel for what Roddenberry felt the future should look like?

those Russians (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23057640)

A big spacecraft build in orbit because it is impossible to launch as a whole? This is nothing more than a plan for the follow-up for the ISS.

The only new thing about it is the idea that a (set of) module(s) could detach and make a trip to another planet.

Re:those Russians (2, Informative)

Protonk (599901) | more than 6 years ago | (#23057854)

Except the ISS wasn't a factory. It was a space laboratory and docking facility. the purpose of the ISS was to maintain a manned presence in space, not to serve as a serious jumping off point for exploration. Those who said that it would are speaking figuratively.

I'm not arguing that this is a real flesh and blood project (I think it is a case of the russians making a statement of national pride when they are flush with cash), but it certainly wouldn't be the ISS 2.

Re:those Russians (1)

tftp (111690) | more than 6 years ago | (#23058498)

'm not arguing that this is a real flesh and blood project (I think it is a case of the russians making a statement of national pride when they are flush with cash

I see it as a research project, with the only output expected being numbers, charts and computer models. Besides, there ought to be something after ISS, probably? The best way to find out what it is is to give those rocket scientists something to work on. If the research ends up interesting, the thing will be built. If not, it will be set aside - just as every research project under the Sun. Nothing to see here.

SEI/Space Station Freedom anyone? (2, Insightful)

usul294 (1163169) | more than 6 years ago | (#23057674)

As I recall there was talk 15-20 years ago of doing this in the US at a cost of $400-500 billion. Seems to be a tad too expensive for Russia, in fact for anyone. Its much cheaper to send up everything you need for one mission. The biggest cost is putting things into Earth orbit, so unless they have a plan to get raw materials to the assembly station without launching them off Earth first, it seems like they just want to build a giant space station for the hell of it when there is a cheaper way of doing things. I doubt this ever gets past the planning stage.

Re:SEI/Space Station Freedom anyone? (2, Interesting)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 6 years ago | (#23057760)

The Russian space program typically does things for millions that would cost the US billions.. that's the way they do business.

Re:SEI/Space Station Freedom anyone? (2, Insightful)

Protonk (599901) | more than 6 years ago | (#23057866)

The cost savings in working with the russians is probably about 30-60%, not 99.9%.

Re:SEI/Space Station Freedom anyone? (1)

Jurily (900488) | more than 6 years ago | (#23058362)

Like when the US spent a lot of money to develop a pen that can write without gravity, while the russians used pencils?

Awww. Wikipedia says it's just an urban legend. But that won't stop me from posting.

Re:SEI/Space Station Freedom anyone? (1)

Protonk (599901) | more than 6 years ago | (#23058630)

yeah, I think they used to use Grease Pencils (China Markers, some people called them) for stuff. Don't knwo if they still do.

DS (4, Funny)

gadzook33 (740455) | more than 6 years ago | (#23057676)

Well you can't very well build a giant steel planet with an energy weapon capable of destroying other planets in a warehouse.

Death Star? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23057678)

Yep... just another step along the way for the "Evil Empire" to create a "Death Star"

I have it on good authority (1)

BlindRobin (768267) | more than 6 years ago | (#23057690)

The plans describe something that looks just like pie...

I plan to buy yaught and jet plane (1)

syousef (465911) | more than 6 years ago | (#23057706)

...but I can't afford it.

I didn't think the Russian economy had quite reached the point where orbital contruction factories were a consideration.

Would love to see it happen, but not holding my breath.

How about (3, Insightful)

sentientbrendan (316150) | more than 6 years ago | (#23057728)

they plan to send a manned mission to Jupiter in 2100? How about a mission to alpha centauri while their at it?

Notice how people come up with fantastic plans to do space stuff in the year 2020? Bush did a similar thing with his plan to go back to the moon.

Whatever date it is, it's a date that the current people in office, will no longer be in office, or if they are, no one will remember what the plans are.

This is just an attempt by politicians to make themselves look "visionary" while actually doing nothing. If, 70 years from now when someone actually gets around to going to mars, no one is going to remember what kind of plans a bunch of jokers with no intention of providing funding pulled out of the ass in 2008.

Re:How about (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23058590)

They do the same with global warming.
They'll set goals for 2020 or even 2050 but they dont actually have to do anything.

Wouldn't put too much faith in this (2, Interesting)

alex.vingardt (1170679) | more than 6 years ago | (#23057736)

1) I wouldn't put too much faith into what this website (ie. lenta.ru) posts (they are known to post rumors as actual news) 2) The average age of members of the Russian Academy of Sciences is over 70 (which is a miracle in itself since the life expectancy for males is 59). People who could've been developing space projects like this have been choosing to work for private companies for the last 20 years or so. Space programs have always been monopolized by the government and these jobs don't pay well enough to attract recent graduates. Whatever projects the Russian Space agency claims to have in the pipeline (if indeed they do) will never be realized b/c of lack of qualified professionals in the field (those 70-year olds working for the government right now are not gonna be there forever [unfortunately]). Whatever press releases they put out there are just merely for show so that NASA and the rest of the world will think that the Russian Space Program is not stagnant. Unfortunately, claiming that something revolutionary (and not so revolutionary) is being actively worked on when in fact it's not the case has become a trend in Russia.

Re:Wouldn't put too much faith in this (1)

juhan pruun (939183) | more than 6 years ago | (#23057880)

Fanatics at something do not care about salary. Give them bed, healthy food and plenty of time to play with your imagination and skills at some ambitious project. Like Kosmos Kombinat ... or Linux

Re:Wouldn't put too much faith in this (1)

juhan pruun (939183) | more than 6 years ago | (#23057944)

your->their

Re:Wouldn't put too much faith in this (1)

Protonk (599901) | more than 6 years ago | (#23058034)

Russians care about safety. The military didn't, or at least felt that the cost of human life was less what the west felt it was.

The current russian space agencies and companies care about safety but don't have the same apparatus as the US companies do, nor do they have the same litigation history. US companies may deal with safety in superficially different manners than russian companies but the underlying notions (sound engineering principles, learning from mistakes, valuing life) are the same.

Implies they aren't depending on "heavy lift" (2, Insightful)

khallow (566160) | more than 6 years ago | (#23057778)

One reason that the US doesn't have a plan for an orbital assembly infrastructure is that NASA is working towards a "heavy lift vehicle", the Ares V which will lift somewhere in the order of 130 tons to low Earth orbit. The things NASA has in mind take only 1-3 launches of the Ares V to put up. So the only assembly one would need under those circumstances is docking.

Now my opinion on the matter is that Russia has a superior approach. NASA's Ares V is planned to launch around 2-4 times a year, but it has high fixed costs, and as far as I know, there are no plans to increase the launch rate of the Ares V significantly. That means there are unexploited economies of scale. An orbital assembly station is a cleverer approach in that it means one can use a smaller rocket to launch the material. They can either use existing rockets like Proton or Soyuz or future designs like Angora (which is intended to launch up to 25 tons into orbit, assuming they build it). That means the Russians can substitute frequent launches of a smaller vehicle to build things of comparable size (OTOH, I've been unable to determine how much mass or volume this station would be able to manage at once). My take is that the Russian approach, all else being equal including labor and ground-based infrastructure costs, will result in a lower cost per kilogram of payload. That is the primary metric for the cost of a launch vehicle.

There are tradeoffs between the two approaches. The Ares V has high operation costs and high costs per launch. The Russian approach will result (IMHO) in lower launch costs, but then one must add in assembly costs and R&D costs to make space equipment that can be assembled in space. I hope the Russians are serious about this assembly station and make it happen. If it works, it'll open up space in a way that larger launch vehicles cannot.

Re:Implies they aren't depending on "heavy lift" (1)

rbanffy (584143) | more than 6 years ago | (#23058128)

I am not sure if your reasoning makes sense.

When you launch an Ares V, you are, of course, burning a lot of money, but you are also launching about 5 times more cargo than an Angora launch. All things being equal, the bigger launch wastes less material and equipment.

And there is nothing that prevents using an Ares I or any other smaller lifter for lighter cargo.

Still, there is nothing to prevent usage of the combined capabilities of all the vehicles and platforms available. If someone can build an in-orbit facility where a satellite can be refurbished and sent back to a new orbit, it will more or less pay for itself in just a couple years. Some interesting electro-magnetic propulsion systems would have to be developed as well as some large pressurized shops with doors big enough to let a satellite through, but that's nothing really impossible.

Re:Implies they aren't depending on "heavy lift" (1)

Protonk (599901) | more than 6 years ago | (#23058192)

All things aren't equal. he is arguing that there is a strong negative cost curve for spacecraft launches, that the FIRST launch costs bunches, but subsequent launches cost less than the one before it.

If that is true, then using more launches of smaller vehicles saves more money than doing one on a large vehicle (also spreads out risk).

We aren't saying that it IS true, necessarily. I think that the spacecraft industry does face a declining cost curve, but not THAT steep (not like chipmaking or electricity generation, with large fixed costs and no costs of production).

If there aren't economies of scale, then you are right. But if there are, then you are wrong.

Re:Implies they aren't depending on "heavy lift" (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 6 years ago | (#23058330)

(also spreads out risk)
One obvious way is that if the Ares V is built on schedule, it'll be the sole vehicle in its class. That means it is a single point of failure. If Angora runs into a problem. the Russians have two existing vehicles that can deliver slightly less performance (I'm ignoring the Proton M which might be discontinued to make way for Angora), Delta IV heavy and Ariane V. That means less delay in projects that depend on Angora. OTOH, the assembly station is also a single point of failure and one which is much more difficult to work around.

Re:Implies they aren't depending on "heavy lift" (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 6 years ago | (#23058296)

When you launch an Ares V, you are, of course, burning a lot of money, but you are also launching about 5 times more cargo than an Angora launch. All things being equal, the bigger launch wastes less material and equipment.

There are various things to remember here. First, let's assume that Ares V is launched for around 30 years and generates 100 launches over it's lifetime. I see speculation that it's fixed costs per year are on the order of $2 billion a year and incremental cost per rocket is $250 million. That may be overstated though when it comes to cost and failing to meet deadlines, NASA routinely exceeds expectations. There's also several billion in R&D costs including Ares I work (since the justification for the Ares 1 is that it has commonality with the Ares V and provides a testing bed for some of the Ares V tech). That's up to 13k tons to LEO, for somewhere around $100 billion, $8,000 or so per kilogram over the lifetime of the program (ignoring the time value of money). In comparison, the Shuttle is apparently around $50k per kilogram once you including fixed operating costs and R&D.

In comparison, the Russians already have launch costs (including fixed costs per year) around 3-4k per kilogram (maybe more for larger payloads). The Angora will probably be more cost improvement than capability since it is a modest improvement in payload (about 25% more) than the Proton M and is intended to replace the Soyuz (so I dimly recall). I doubt they'll have serious R&D costs. And it's reasonable to expect that the Angora will launch around 500 or more times to get similar payload to orbit (just look at the business the Soyuz and Proton have picked up over the decades). Plus the Russians can use the Angora for commercial launches as well.

As I see it, there is some benefit to a larger rocket. At some point, the cost per launch is going to dominate the fixed costs. For a small rocket, those incremental costs would reasonably be higher per kilogram launched than a large one. But you need to have sufficient launch volume to exploit that. I don't see Ares V launch volume ever being enough for that to matter.

Re:Implies they aren't depending on "heavy lift" (2, Informative)

tftp (111690) | more than 6 years ago | (#23058556)

future designs like Angora

Angora [wikipedia.org] is a breed of cat. Angara [wikipedia.org] is a river. The latter is the name for the rocket [wikipedia.org] :-) Though I like cats more than rivers.

Re:Implies they aren't depending on "heavy lift" (1)

Protonk (599901) | more than 6 years ago | (#23058642)

THAT's why it wasn't ringing a bell. Thanks.

Utopia Planitia (1)

Borommakot_15 (1259510) | more than 6 years ago | (#23057802)

Sounds similar to Utopia Planitia [memory-alpha.org] to me...

Now, we just have to go looking for someone named Zefram Cochrane [wikipedia.org] ...

Good idea !!! (1)

posys (1120031) | more than 6 years ago | (#23057826)

makes sense...

Re:Good idea !!! (1)

Pavan_Gupta (624567) | more than 6 years ago | (#23057904)

indeed

Well, if the Russians are smart (3, Insightful)

Salsaman (141471) | more than 6 years ago | (#23057892)

Perhaps they will buy the decomissioned ISS, fix it up a bit, and just use that as a starting point.

Re:Well, if the Russians are smart (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 6 years ago | (#23058042)

Heh, you know the Russians will be operating the ISS 20 years after the Americans have left.

Re:Well, if the Russians are smart (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 6 years ago | (#23058136)

Not what I hear. The operation of the station is heavily dependent on both the US and the Russians. The US has provided a lot of the critical components [nasaspaceflight.com] of the system. For example, a considerable portion of the hardware comes from NASA, the communication system comes from the US, NASA has a "small army" on the ground maintaining the ISS. Further, the US may remain responsible for the station's deorbit even if they hand off operations to another.

Canadians will pwn them. (3, Interesting)

billy901 (1158761) | more than 6 years ago | (#23057962)

I doubt any of this will be possible without Canadian engineering. McDonald, Detweiller and associates created the Canadarm and Dexter, and Russia will probably require technology like this to make this possible. Canada is becoming a great hand in the space industry. McDonald, Detweiller and associates are really putting Canada in the news around the world. It's an excellent thing that they weren't sold.

Damnit! (1)

jollyreaper (513215) | more than 6 years ago | (#23057988)

The Reds are going to beat us to Jupiter!

Actually, America MIGHT be interested (1, Interesting)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 6 years ago | (#23058020)

We have talked about building power plants in space. If it is cheaper to bring up the raw material and process it, then I suspect that we MIGHT do it. Of course, that remains to be seen.

Re:Actually, America MIGHT be interested (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 6 years ago | (#23058086)

I gather from the clues in the story, that the Russians are talking about orbital assembly not manufacture. The distinction is that the pieces are made on Earth and assembled by robot or human in space. Probably most of the pieces will be designed so that it doesn't take a lot of labor to put them together. We are a long way from manufacture in space.

Currently, the only source for material would be Earth's surface. It doesn't make sense IMHO to lift a factory to orbit as well as the raw materials, when one can build the factory on Earth's surface for far less cost and lift the finished goods to orbit. We'll need another source (the Moon, Mars, near Earth asteroids, etc) that is easier to deliver materials from than Earth before orbital manufacture makes sense.

well, that is the question. (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 6 years ago | (#23058448)

I could see Musk, Bigelow, and either Carmack or Bezos getting together just to get a small NEA or put us on the moon and then send material back to earth orbit. If some sort of assembly is started in orbit, than I could see these guys starting a small manufacturing plant that produces solar cells for space.

Of course, the question is, can it make money? At first glance I want to say not a chance. But I think that combine a carbon tax AND the military (US and NATO) needing quick easily movable power, could make this very profitable. But ......

Re:well, that is the question. (1)

Ereinion (57056) | more than 6 years ago | (#23058576)

There's a book I read called Mining the Sky [amazon.com] by John Lewis that makes a good case for the economics of getting building materials from space instead of firing them up the gravity well - the Moon is a bit barren unless we can find water there, but one of the numbers he brings up is that even one of the smaller metallic asteroids (say 1km across) in near earth orbit could contain billions of dollars worth of iron, not to mention the 'trace' amounts of precious metals that would probably also run into the billions.

There's also a lot of silicon up there for building solar satellites, but man, I've played Sim City, I know what trouble beaming power from space can be...

Re:well, that is the question. (1)

Protonk (599901) | more than 6 years ago | (#23058722)

the problem is that most things with lots of materials tend to bring their gravity well with them (planets and moons). :)

I think in a lot of cases, the economics dictates that the absolute minimum be launched from earth (so an orbital assembly plant would only be a good idea if the eventual product is too large to be brought up by itself and the consumables needed for assembly are very few).

Once you are up there it is much more a task of conserving resources you have than anything else. So there better be a good reason to travel millions of miles to the asteroid belt to grab some metal.

Also, I think that most of those space industry/near sci-fi books (even though I love them, esp. islands in the sky) REALLY underestimate the engineering needed to mine, process and fashion materials into products and overestimate the usefulness of raw materials. In other words, a hunk of iron is probably less useful than a hydraulic pump or a chip for a transceiver.

that isn't to say it can't be done, but it is akin to asking a Columbus to build a mechanical clock at sea using only the materials found around him. What might be an acceptable task in Spain becomes monstrously difficult in the Atlantic.

Stepping Hard Into the 20th Century (0, Flamebait)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 6 years ago | (#23058022)

Am I ever glad that the US spent the last 15 years subsidizing Russia's space industry and wasting our time on that ISS boondoggle, so Russia could take the money and race past us with an actual worthwhile project in orbit.

Re:Stepping Hard Into the 20th Century (2, Insightful)

Protonk (599901) | more than 6 years ago | (#23058106)

I'm glad. That money meant that scientists and engineers from one of the foremost space powers in the world didn't starve or move to Iran. It meant that the AMAZING corporate memory at Krushnev and Energia (among many, many others) could be maintained when the country's ruling elite wrecked the place.

It meant that US companies and European companies could see lower costs to orbit for their products and that means that people in the US would face lower costs on things that required satellites in the first place.

It meant that the US got to get an official window into russian rocketry and that two former enemies could develop close ties between professionals and organizations.

It meant that for about 1/100th of the price of the Iraq war, we got all that, and a functioning Space Station to boot.

It meant that SOMEONE can get into space and push the species forward, who cares what language they speak when they get there.

Re:Stepping Hard Into the 20th Century (1)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 6 years ago | (#23058390)

All that is OK. What would have been better would have been if the US taxpayers weren't stuck with that ISS boondoggle, while Russia literally rockets past us. We didn't exactly get a "functioning space station". If we'd made a better deal, this new Russian "Orbital Construction Plant" could have been shared more with the US, instead of us just creating our own competition and trying to compete with a worse tool.

I'm all for human advancement. I just don't like being the one to pay for the other humans to advance, while we lag behind.

Re:Stepping Hard Into the 20th Century (1)

Protonk (599901) | more than 6 years ago | (#23058568)

I think you might be overestimating the russian space industry. they aren't "rocketing past" anyone, this press release is probably the same fluff as their manned flight to mars 10 years ago. As I posted elsewhere, this is a statement of national pride in a time of economic ease for Russia.

So all in all, we paid for them to keep their slight edge in some areas (launch vehicles, payload integration, manned space flight--although that is arguable) and paid for them not to drop too far behind in others.

Re:Stepping Hard Into the 20th Century (1)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 6 years ago | (#23058924)

Well, it's hard to know, because Russia's state capitalism ("fascism") is rolling in petrorubles, and finances quite a lot of secret space science and industry.

Russia also financed a successful laser-sail project into the outer Solar System while it was saving that money on the ISS (but getting the science to repurpose for its private agenda).

Again, what I would prefer would just have been a better deal. I think the cooperation is the best part, partly because it kept that engineering out of the hands of other, less manageable threats, like the states developing missile systems that are strong marketing for more Star Wars boondoggle. But the US should have gotten a lot more for its money.

For example, we could have paid Russia for its extra nukes to dismantle (and take custody of their explosive cores), and let them use the money to pay their share of the ISS (and the rest). There have been lots of better strategic deals, better for the both of us (and the rest of the world), though not for Putin's scary agenda.

Re:Stepping Hard Into the 20th Century (1)

Protonk (599901) | more than 6 years ago | (#23058756)

and on top of what else I said, you aren't paying very much. Out of your income taxes this year NASA (and other net transfers to russia or the ESA) probably comprised less than 50 dollars. That's the whole of NASA. What was paid to the russians is probably on the order of 2-5 dollars per year over 10 years or so.

I'm not saying that stuff is a good use of taxpayer dollars just because it doesn't use that many taxpayer dollars. I'm just saying stuff needs to be kept in perspective.

Re:Stepping Hard Into the 20th Century (1)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 6 years ago | (#23058946)

It;s that last part that I'm saying, too. I never said we're paying too much in absolute dollars for our space budgets. We're spending way too little. We should reverse the budgets of the Pentagon and NASA (and leave the Pentagon and the CIA/NSA/etc to fund their own military/spook space programs). But as is implicit in your statement, the saving grace in our bad deals is only that they're relatively small. That's small consolation. So I'd rather see much bigger deals that are a lot better for us (and everyone else, by not funding bad buys).

Re:Stepping Hard Into the 20th Century (1)

Protonk (599901) | more than 6 years ago | (#23058970)

But the Russian's aren't the bad guys. That is part of what I am saying.

Also, to be fair, part of those dollar transfers and contracts were for launch services that the US could not offer. In other words, Arianaspace (spelling), Lockheed and Boeing (and NASA, w/ the shuttle) couldn't fit a launch window, so we paid the russians to do it.

I hope they keep the rules in mind (1)

Dachannien (617929) | more than 6 years ago | (#23058030)

After all, regulations specify thrusters only while in space dock!

Re:I hope they keep the rules in mind (1)

Lehk228 (705449) | more than 6 years ago | (#23058934)

well i sure as hell hope they don't bring up their impeller drives in the dock, that would kill everyone.

Finally! (1)

johnnys (592333) | more than 6 years ago | (#23058048)

When they get that built, they'll be able to build and launch the Project Orion spacecraft without getting all that fallout into the atmosphere. Whee!

Re:Finally! (1)

Orange Crush (934731) | more than 6 years ago | (#23058462)

You do realize that the nuclear fuel for a nuclear spacecraft will have to come from the Earth's surface . . . and be launched into orbit on a rocket . . . which might explode/disintegrate/or otherwise scatter radioactive material over a large area in the even of a problem . . .

WTF? The cliche hasn't occured yet? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23058262)

In my Culture fanfic, Orbital Construction Plant builds GSV In Soviet Russia!

Kruschev... (1)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 6 years ago | (#23058380)

"...and the missiles are coming out of the factories like sausages!"

Russians are good at hyperbole and Americans are good at falling for it.

moD up (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23058430)

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How about building decent cars first? (1)

alexmin (938677) | more than 6 years ago | (#23058610)

As someone who knows it firsthand, technological prowess of Soviets/Russians are _greatly_ overstated. How about building a car that does not utterly suck first?
Many people in USofA may not realize it but modern Russian state is build upon premise of alleged supremacy over decadent West/third world East (don't laugh) and hot air like this press release is only internal propaganda tool not inteded for external consumption.
Besides, it's published on Lenta.ru (jokingly called Lenta.vru - ribbon.lie)

Re:How about building decent cars first? (1)

Protonk (599901) | more than 6 years ago | (#23058784)

you obviously don't know it first hand. Aside from the site being a sham (it is) and the claim probably being hot air (it is) if your conclusion is that Russian space expertise is vastly overstated then I don't think you have too much experience with it.

The Russians have world class talent and technology when it comes to space. that doesn't mean that they make great cars. As a matter of fact, it comes from making the decision as a communist power to make rockets, not cars (That is a gross over simplification, but you get the idea).

Ah, Russian translations (1)

ortholattice (175065) | more than 6 years ago | (#23058768)

This article's translation seemed relatively good compared to what I've seen, and I was starting to think they've finally been able to improve the translation process by at least ensuring complete sentences. Then I clicked on the linked story about the Black hole against collider [209.85.135.104] :

Eight babies mastered statistics on the neutron estrelles found mountains, Russian scientists fired newspaper for scientists, black holes and opened a few of its secrets, and probably pozhalev that, once again gathered to destroy the Earth.. The first four news - the truth, whether fifth - the court will decide.

Now I'm wondering whether the original article's translation was just a fluke of good luck, or if actually the errors are coincidentally all adding in the same direction to produce a nearly grammatically correct article about something completely different than what we think it is about. For all we non-Russians know, "orbital construction plant" could be a mistranslation of "crop circle maker".

And, just where are they getting the cash? (1)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | more than 6 years ago | (#23058874)

The Russians couldn't even afford to foot their end of the bill for their ISS commitments. I don't think that diverting funds will pay for their grandiose dreams.
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