Sunday, October 9, 2011

Partners Discuss ISS Future

An artist's concept of an orbiter docked at the completed International Space Station. Image source: NASA.

Aviation Week reports that the directors of the International Space Station agencies met at the recent International Astronautical Congress to discuss the facility's future.

One of the more interesting ideas was disconnecting an ISS module for deployment elsewhere in the solar system.

“Could we take a module, pull it off the station instead of deorbiting it into the ocean?” asks William Gerstenmaier, associate NASA administrator for human exploration and operations. “Could we take some module that has some value to us in exploration architecture and move it to [Lagrangian point] L1 or move it to a lunar orbit and actually use it in another location?" ...

Ultimately, station elements could be disconnected, reconfigured and moved to the Earth-Moon Lagrangian points, where they would circulate in relatively stable orbits without falling into the Moon’s gravity well. From there, it would be easier to get moving on to an asteroid or lunar orbit and eventually Mars.

The “exploration platform” could be used as a way station for human asteroid exploration, as a base for a reusable lunar lander that could return to the Moon’s surface after refueling, and ultimately as the starting point for Mars exploration

Gerstenmaier said the ISS partners are discussing how to proceed once funding ends in 2020. The partners are studing the feasibility of extending the facility through 2028, assuming funding continues. Aviation Week reported on October 5 that Russia may continue to operate their modules past 2020 if other partners drop out.

During last week's meeting, the partners also discussed the possibility of the European Space Agency ending cargo flights in 2015 and shifting focus to a service module for the Space Launch System.

"If we can prove that we don’t need an ATV beyond 2015, then potentially that frees up some of those common systems ops costs to be used for something else that we, NASA, want, and this could be something along those lines,” Gerstenmaier says. “So we’re looking at how we can leverage off our barter agreements on ISS, generically, to help advance exploration" ...

Officials of Thales Alenia Space, which builds the ATV structure in Turin, Italy, say ESA has told the company no more of the unpiloted cargo carriers will be needed after 2015 and has set them to work looking for ways to supply a service module for the MPCV Lockheed Martin started building under the old Constellation program.

This would seem to imply that cargo delivery reliance would shift to the commercial cargo companies SpaceX and Orbital Sciences, and the Russian Progress vehicles.

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