How we can explore Beyond Earth Orbit in the next 5-7 years

(Originally posted on April 19, 2010 on the Space Tweep Society blog.)

If you are interested in how we could and why we should explore Beyond Earth Orbit in cislunar space in the next 5-7 years, please read my white paper.

I encourage you to post comments with your thoughts.

*Comments have been ported over.


9 responses to “How we can explore Beyond Earth Orbit in the next 5-7 years

  1. As I see it, most of the elements of your “BEO” exploration vehicle are there in the Flagship Technology Demonstrators Program. I’m just curious why you want to base it from the ISS, though. Is it to get Soyuz and Progress availability? Arianespace is getting ready to start launching Soyuz rockets from Kourou.

    While we should certainly leverage existing ISS-based technology to build an in-space vehicle as quickly as possible, I think it would be worthwhile to avoid the plane changes necessary from the inclination of the ISS orbit.


    • The simple reasoning for basing it from ISS is so we don’t have to man-rate a launch vehicle or require a heavy-lift vehicle in order to leave Low Earth Orbit. Utilize existing capabilities.

      The only thing about Soyuz launching from Kourou is that I know it is the Soyuz launch vehicle, but do they plan to launch the Soyuz crew vehicle there?


      • If you use autonomous rendezvous and docking for the vehicle components, why would you need heavy-lift?

        If we’re going to develop commercial crew vehicles for ISS and an Orion lifeboat anyways, why not just use those to deliver the crew to the BEO craft and provide emergency return capability?

        Addendum: I’ve read that the Russians and ESA have been talking about adding the Soyuz spacecraft capability through the ACTS program. There’s no reason I am aware of that the new Soyuz-2 rocket, which is the variant that will be launched at Kourou, couldn’t carry it.


        • The idea (which isn’t explained other than the hint at refueling) is that the BEO vehicle stays on orbit and is reused so you use the Soyuz (or COTS-D) vehicle to launch/return to Earth and hang out on ISS as you prepare your craft for the mission or return from a mission. Allows more flexibility to be at Station, allows more IP’s to be involved.

          I don’t think the 51 deg inclination is a big hit if you are utilizing existing capability (long term cost savings.)


          • I figured the BEO vehicle stayed on-orbit. I’m just saying it could all be done without the ISS being on the critical development path. 🙂


  2. Here’s a pdf

    Unfortunately we loose and reinvent capabilities in numerous areas across the country all the time. Don’t think there’s a possibility of “loosing” the astronaut corps, though.

    One may suppose that this waste is a natural product of evolution in a large scale, constrained system.

    It’s not optimal, but most ideas for solving this problem end up with less evolution and thereby eventually become far less optimal.

    Perhaps seeing the big picture requires a very high altitude (abstract) view. Was the Venture Star general design really flawed? Should it have been cancelled, from an academic / merit perspective? Ares? Why was a big APCP booster expensive?


  3. It really is heartbreaking to see the Shuttle program at such a high tonight. With Atlantis rolling out while Discovery orbits overhead, and only two more flights.

    So many people in about three generations contributed to that magnificent program. From my own family, my mother’s father designed a gearset for the cargo bay door hinges.

    And of course via Twitter I know dozens of people working in that program right now.

    As a moment in human history, space flight isn’t yet something that stands still for very long. As awesome as it is. Who knows how many more generations will be in this same situation.


  4. @jdpsyntelos – you are absolutely correct that this is not an optimized solution. It’s a solution that requires minimal development of new hardware and relies on the existing infrastructure and capabilities of the U.S. and the International Partners.

    @phalanx – I actually started writing this to not rely on ISS as a LEO platform but I think the advantages of using it outweigh the negatives.


  5. Nice proposal, Cindy. Certainly gets the ol’ noodle working.

    I’ll dust off a little of my trajectory expertise in formulating a reply.
    Transits from ISS to the Moon have departure windows that are available every 9-10 days. So, it seems feasible in principle to use ISS as the low Earth orbit staging area for construction, refueling, departure, and return for transits to the Moon. Exploring beyond the Earth-Moon system directly from ISS would be somewhat problematic, since departure windows would be dependent on infrequent nodal alignments at intercept, unless one can pay the plane change penalty as Justin pointed out. Ways around this situation is through more elaborate transit schemes, such as fly-by gravity assist of the Moon (which might help some) or by going to a yet another intermediate staging area, such as one of the Earth-Moon or Earth-Sun Lagrange points.

    At the heart of your proposal is an implied incremental approach for exploring beyond low Earth orbit. Build up the infrastructure in stages and move outward in stages.

    Nice job.