×

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

Thank you!

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

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

Space Station Module Could Carry Humans To Asteroid

samzenpus posted more than 3 years ago | from the holiday-in-ceres dept.

NASA 62

Soulskill writes "Brian Wilcox, a JPL roboticist, spoke at a NASA workshop about the possibility of detaching one of the International Space Station's modules and using it as the primary living space for astronauts on a trip to an asteroid. 'The node could be connected to two space exploration vehicles and have add-on inflatable modules. ... The space station is slated to operate through at least 2020, which roughly coincides with the earliest likely launch date for human exploration of an asteroid. In April President Barack Obama set a 2025 goal for a manned mission to an asteroid.'"

cancel ×
This is a preview of your comment

No Comment Title Entered

Anonymous Coward 1 minute ago

No Comment Entered

62 comments

Earth return? (3, Interesting)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#33225608)

The cheapest and safest way to finish the mission would be to load the crew and samples into an apollo style capsule and reenter directly. The article doesn't describe that.

Also the module doesn't seem big enough for the centrifuge they describe. They could have a module on a boom, then rotate the whole vehicle. Perhaps the high gravity module could slide along the boom and dock with the main vehicle. If this goes anywhere I expect the centrifuge will be dropped. It is just too hard to engineer.

Re:Earth return? (2, Interesting)

srothroc (733160) | more than 3 years ago | (#33225646)

Rather than putting the module on a boom, I'd just put jets on the module and spin it up. You wouldn't need constant thrust, but on the down side, it wouldn't be able to put the module on the asteroid proper and you'd have to spin down for docking maneuvers.

Re:Earth return? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33225684)

I don't think they are talking about a complete module rotating. The seals would never hold.
This is probably a rotating drum inside a module.
Less worries about pressurization.

Re:Earth return? (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 3 years ago | (#33228242)

Rather than putting the module on a boom, I'd just put jets on the module and spin it up.

Won't work as the module is too small. To get any noticeable gravity at the ends of the module, your spin rate will be high enough to cause dizziness. (Not to mention the area of useful gravity will be small, and the gravity gradient will be very steep.)
 
Which is why most proposals use tethers or booms to give a 'virtual diameter' large enough to hold the spin rate down.

Re:Earth return? (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#33233674)

Rather than putting the module on a boom, I'd just put jets on the module and spin it up.

Won't work as the module is too small. To get any noticeable gravity at the ends of the module, your spin rate will be high enough to cause dizziness. (Not to mention the area of useful gravity will be small, and the gravity gradient will be very steep.)

Which is why most proposals use tethers or booms to give a 'virtual diameter' large enough to hold the spin rate down.

How about a toroidal (or cylindrical) running track, with no spin beyond the movement of the runners? It worked on skylab. The main problem is the impulse from the masses moving around.

Re:Earth return? (4, Interesting)

sznupi (719324) | more than 3 years ago | (#33225686)

OTOH aerobraking doesn't have to end up with immediate full reentry; some of our unmanned spacecraft performed many gradual ones when arriving at their destination (and becoming artificial satellites there), many "orbital tug" projects envisioned using aerobraking routinelly, and it is generally an extreme form of skip reentry - a good way to save on weight.

One problem could be how ISS modules are meant for long term habitation inside of Earth's magnetosphere; on deep space missions it will be good to have something built at least partially as a radiation shelter / essentially inside fuel tanks. Which presents another problem with artificial gravity - it's fairly easy when the spacecraft can be easily divided along the crewed mass vs. propulsive mass lines, not so when it's good for them to partially "mixed"...

Re:Earth return? (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#33226198)

In the event of a major failure of the spacecraft you need a reasonably fail safe way to get to safety. In the future when there are more deep space vehicles it might be possible to rescue a crew in this situation. Until then, being able to directly reenter and land is a good idea.

Re:Earth return? (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 3 years ago | (#33378624)

To some degree, sure - but the more we venture outside LEO, the less it should matter. Probably if a deep space emergency was so time & guidance critical, better heatshield (remember, useful only for very few destinations) would rarely contribute.

Not many flying boats nowadays.

Re:Earth return? (4, Interesting)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 3 years ago | (#33225724)

The designs I saw come out of this workshop, which of course are very preliminary, did indeed have direct return vehicles, but the goal is also to get the "mothership" back to Earth so that it can be used for the next asteroid mission, and the next, and the next. The goal being to develop a capability to visit asteroids of greater and greater travel time / delta-v. This is important because we don't get to choose killer asteroids, they choose us, and as the robotic missions guys said on the first day of the conference, they're all surprised they even managed to get data from their missions, and wouldn't want the fate of the human race resting on it.

Re:Earth return? (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 3 years ago | (#33228180)

The designs I saw come out of this workshop, which of course are very preliminary, did indeed have direct return vehicles, but the goal is also to get the "mothership" back to Earth so that it can be used for the next asteroid mission, and the next, and the next.

Getting the "mothership" back into orbit is going to require an enormous amount of fuel to slow down, which means that fuel has to be boosted to the target, slowed down at the target, and boosted back towards Earth... That's going to be very expensive to support. Refitting the craft after each trip even more so.

Re:Earth return? (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 3 years ago | (#33233646)

I expect they'll be doing aerobraking, and delta-v to return from NEO trajectories is less than 1.5km/s in almost all cases.

Re:Earth return? (2, Funny)

h4rm0ny (722443) | more than 3 years ago | (#33226390)

The cheapest and safest way to finish the mission would be to load the crew and samples into an apollo style capsule and reenter directly.

Nah. Just park the ship on the far side of the asteroid and with enough fuel, you can fly the asteroid back home to Earth. Much more living space that way. It would be like building a spaceship out of kit, so we could call this the Kit Technique or 'KT' mission.

Re:Earth return? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33227316)

boo! You should be punished!

Re:Earth return? (1)

Gilmoure (18428) | more than 3 years ago | (#33228090)

Ya' got some layers of complexity there. Not sure where'd you set your boundaries for practicality.

Re:Earth return? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33235858)

The cheapest and safest way to finish the mission would be to load the crew and samples into an apollo style capsule and reenter directly. The article doesn't describe that.

Also the module doesn't seem big enough for the centrifuge they describe. They could have a module on a boom, then rotate the whole vehicle. Perhaps the high gravity module could slide along the boom and dock with the main vehicle. If this goes anywhere I expect the centrifuge will be dropped. It is just too hard to engineer.

The centrifuge idea is with cables. Sorry, no link handy.

So what? (5, Insightful)

mmcxii (1707574) | more than 3 years ago | (#33225614)

In April President Barack Obama set a 2025 goal for a manned mission to an asteroid.

Seeings how much NASA gets pushed and pulled by every administration and every budget I wouldn't count on anything NASA has as far as long term goals being so concrete as to put a date to them. Politicians really need to stop using NASA as a token in a pissing match. It's petty and counterproductive.

Hell, if it weren't for JFK taking a bullet to the head we may have never even gotten to the moon.

Re:So what? (0, Troll)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#33225622)

Hell, if it weren't for JFK taking a bullet to the head we may have never even gotten to the moon.

Careful there.

Re:So what? (3, Insightful)

macraig (621737) | more than 3 years ago | (#33225668)

"Careful there", my ass. He's quite possibly right in spite of being so refreshingly blunt and transparent... unlike certain creatures who get chosen and paid to make decisions for the rest of us.

Further, I find this lazy-days-of-summer spacefaring timetable ridiculous, if not downright suspicious. THIRTEEN YEARS to plan a mission to an asteroid? It sounds suspiciously like plausible deniability, if you ask me: set a date so far in the future, so many administrations hence, that it's virtually certain to get killed or watered-down before that date arrives.

Re:So what? (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#33226180)

I meant, be careful what you wish for, somebody else might go out and try it and then people will be taking close interest in your IP address.

Re:So what? (1)

macraig (621737) | more than 3 years ago | (#33226570)

I don't think you understood the intent of his remark at all. Clearly in hindsight, after seeing your explanation, you thought he was drawing a parallel between Kennedy and Obama and implying that someone should put a bullet to the head of Obama in order to get the space program going again... is that about right?

Well, you misunderstood. Kennedy was noteworthy for the public statements he made about space exploration and his apparent commitment to it, so the OP was suggesting that the success of the space program after Kennedy's death was a nation's attempt to honor his public dream posthumously. Get it?

Obama has no similar dreams of space exploration to my knowledge, no equivalent public commitment, so putting a bullet to his head doesn't create another martyr for NASA.

Now back to the drawing board with ya....

Re:So what? (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 3 years ago | (#33230472)

Obama has no similar dreams of space exploration to my knowledge, no equivalent public commitment, so putting a bullet to his head doesn't create another martyr for NASA.

Exactly. Plus, putting a bullet in Obama's head will do nothing but give us another crappy President: Biden. A bullet in his head would make things even worse, by putting Pelosi in charge. I'm not sure who takes over if Pelosi is killed, but looking at our Congresscritters, it probably wouldn't be an improvement.

Assassinating individual politicians doesn't help anything, because they just get replaced by people who are just as bad, or even worse. Look what happened with JFK, after all: he was replaced by LBJ, and he was one of the worst presidents ever, giving us both the Vietnam debacle (he greatly stepped up our involvement there), and the idiotic "Great Society" programs which created a disastrous welfare system that ghettoized most American cities.

Re:So what? (1)

mmcxii (1707574) | more than 3 years ago | (#33234774)

Let them take down my IP. I didn't wish for anything. I was pointing to, as other have remarked, the concept that Kennedy's death got NASA a ton of public support since one of his dreams was to get a man on the moon by the end of 69. This also can be seen in MLK's legacy. The assassination of MLK made a lot of fence sitters sympathetic to his cause.

Hell, we even had people push the health care bill on the public sympathies of Ted Kennedy's death. Political causes will find their own martyrs where they can.

Re:So what? (1, Insightful)

16K Ram Pack (690082) | more than 3 years ago | (#33226562)

Precisely.

Most "green" targets are being set like this. The UK has a target to halve CO2 emissions by 2050. But there's no interim 5 year targets. It will be just like Kyoto - everyone will get a year or 2 away from the date and it will be "oops, we didn't meet it". The people in charge can blame the last lot for not getting it started early enough and it's soon forgotten.

Obama couldn't give a rat's fuck about landing people on an asteroid. He just wants to get a few geeks to vote for him now because it sounds like he does.

Re:So what? (1)

macraig (621737) | more than 3 years ago | (#33226640)

Of course it's possible that Kennedy also didn't really give a rat's fuck [hey, can they do that?] about it either, and that his public position was motivated by nothing more than the Cold War. Nevertheless, regardless what he did or didn't think personally, publicly he did in fact make a determined effort to set that as a goal for the nation. Obama, as you said, has certainly done nothing similar. Did Kennedy foresee the need for diversifying and decentralizing Homo sapiens and finding new resources for us to exploit when we had fully exploited this planet, while Obama has his feathered head planted firmly in the sand? Maybe. Whatever the reason, Kennedy acted and Obama hasn't.

Re:So what? (1)

16K Ram Pack (690082) | more than 3 years ago | (#33227154)

And what timescale did Kennedy give for man to go to the moon? It was about 8.5 years, wasn't it? Or the sort of timescale where he could actually be judged on progress. He delivered his commitment on TV including directly asking Congress for the money. What's Obama done? "Promised" that NASA will get $6bn over 5 years (about half of the money Kennedy asked for in 1961). And Kennedy didn't give a damn about diversifying and decentralising Homo sapiens. It was about winning a propaganda victory in the cold war.

Re:So what? (1)

boxwood (1742976) | more than 3 years ago | (#33227358)

... It was about winning a propaganda victory in the cold war.

And don't forget about improving American rocket technology. Technology that would be used for building better ICBMs.

Re:So what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33226978)

Under Promise & Over Deliver. Almost makes you think Obama has a secret former engineering career under his belt...

But yeah, an honest president would probably either only promise what he can fund during the next 8 years or delegate the promising to the NASA executives.

Re:So what? (1)

Penguinisto (415985) | more than 3 years ago | (#33225722)

What's to be careful about? He's right.

Even back then, most folks had the attention span of a fruit fly - I'd bet on JFK getting killed as the main impetus, all dressed up as 'legacy'. It's the only explanation that actually makes sense.

After all, it's not as if the fact that NASA continued pushing for a pre-1970 "in this decade..." landing (in spite of Johnson and Nixon's penchant for farting around with Vietnam) just for the hell of it...

And sibling is right - it's pretty refreshing to see something unabashedly honest (and totally relevant) on /. once in awhile.

/P

Personel/Crew (5, Funny)

Sinn3d (1594333) | more than 3 years ago | (#33225640)

BP might also end up flooding (oops pun) the market with rugged drillers looking for a job. So the crew should be easy to put together.

Doh! I've been skooped. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33225716)

Aw shucks. There goes my plan to glue the Hubble, two Progress capsules, an Iridium satellite and a capsule made by Bert Rutan.

Re:Doh! I've been skooped. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33226936)

Hubble got you!

Cost cutting (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33225736)

Why bother to go to an asteroid, when you could just wait and hope an asteroid smashes into you?

Re:Cost cutting (1)

Penguinisto (415985) | more than 3 years ago | (#33225746)

...because it's really hard to dock with an asteroid coming at you with a velocity of 25,000 km/h?

Re:Cost cutting (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33225802)

When it lands, it won't be moving that fast...

And (1, Interesting)

rossdee (243626) | more than 3 years ago | (#33225984)

If you put wings and jet engines on a bus it would be an airliner..

Is there some specific asteroid that is going to be coming close enough to the ISS that it could be reached by detaching one of the modules?

You are probably going to need a lot of delta-v to match obits with the asteroid unless you 'visit' consists of hitting it or watching it whoosh past you at umpteen km/sec

Re:And (3, Interesting)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 3 years ago | (#33226040)

wow, it's such a shame you didn't go to the workshop, you could have saved us two days.

Re:And (4, Informative)

mbone (558574) | more than 3 years ago | (#33226400)

There are a number of Near Earth Asteroids that are dynamically easy to reach (i.e., with very low delta-V's). The "Plymouth Rock [usra.edu] " presentation to the NASA Small Bodies Assessment Group (SBAG) last year lists 12 that could be reached with Orion. These are being found fairly rapidly, so there is no shortage of targets.

Re:And (1)

Abcd1234 (188840) | more than 3 years ago | (#33229552)

lists 12 that could be reached with Orion.

I love how you just throw this out there, as if Orion actually existed on anything but paper. It's like people around here talking about fast breeder reactors as if they'd been magically scaled up to production when no one was looking...

Re:And (1)

turgid (580780) | more than 3 years ago | (#33233636)

As far as I can tell, there is nothing magic or technically complex about Orion that would make it impossible to build. Further, I think by saying "Orion" they really mean Orion-like vehicles. I can think of at least two off the top of my head right now: the new Boeing proposal and Dragon from SpaceX.

Not a bad idea (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33226104)

There are no aerodynamics to worry about, only torsional stresses caused by the low thrust engine.

We keep thinking in terms of rockets - and clean lines - just to make it into orbit - but once in orbit that no longer matters if you don't plan to land it again.

You wouldn't be moving the pig with chemical engines, you'd be using plasma or solar sails where the forces can be measured in grams. If you want decent gravity, add a couple of outriggers and spin the whole thing - that would be a lot more force than the propulsion system will cause.

The expensive bit - getting the mass into orbit has been done, just fly up a relatively lightweight propulsion system and reuse the ISS.

O.K. the OTHER expensive bit will be food/water for a long trip, but this could do multiple missions. Park fuel/food in orbit - send a crew out for as long a loop as is deemed survivable then refuel/refill and swap crews on return.

Hell - stuff it to the rafters with food and park it above Mars for a year after a trial trip to an asteroid - no need to design an entirely new "ship" to do this - we have one we can use already. Thinking about it, no need to store water internally either, stuff it in a big plastic bag and tow it, thaw as needed.

Re:Not a bad idea (1)

AGMW (594303) | more than 3 years ago | (#33226256)

The expensive bit - getting the mass into orbit has been done

I always wondered why the last stage(s) of the old rockets, and the big tanks on the shuttle, were dumped rather than carried into orbit for use as habitats, storage, spares, etc. They contained fuel tanks and rocket engines (for the old stages) and presumably a 'little' more fuel could have carried them all into orbit where they could have been attached to each other to make a huge 'station'. Boost them to the Moon, or Mars, for use a raw materials for when we get there maybe, or clean them and add them to the habitable space on the ISS? Hell, just add them to the ISS as a fuel depot and have subsequent trips carry a 'little extra' fuel that can be transferred to the depot for later use.

Presumably the extra cost just wasn't worth it!

Re:Not a bad idea (1)

Shadowmist (57488) | more than 3 years ago | (#33226352)

Because very shortly after they've been cast aside, expended stages quickly become tumbling masses unsafe to approach. With ongoing collisions of space debris, they also would become new sources of space junk themselves.

Re:Not a bad idea (5, Informative)

mbone (558574) | more than 3 years ago | (#33226464)

Because there was not an immediate need for them, and (to be blunt) because in many ways "the system" is set up to spend money building things, not to save money reusing things. Look at the Jules Verne [wikipedia.org] - a man-rated cargo carrier (i.e., an actual pressurized spacecraft) that was used once, filled up with garbage, and disposed of via re-entry.

There were many plans in the early days of the space shuttle to take the Space Shuttle External Tank (which certainly could be used in orbit - it actually is brought to orbit, and then energy is expended to make sure it re-enters immediately) and make them into space stations in the Skylab fashion. (Skylab was the 3rd stage of a Saturn V outfitted as a space station - this was originally intended to be launched "wet" in a 1973 Venus Flyby Mission [wikipedia.org] . Nixon killed this mission and all plans and infrastructure for manned deep space flight and we are still trying to get them back.)

The Space Shuttle External Tank space station could have been done, there was even a start-up I had a remote involvement with trying to make one into a space hotel, but such ideas got no support and no funding and all died on the vine.

Re:Not a bad idea (1)

anonymous cupboard (446159) | more than 3 years ago | (#33228898)

Look at the Jules Verne [wikipedia.org] - a man-rated cargo carrier (i.e., an actual pressurized spacecraft) that was used once, filled up with garbage, and disposed of via re-entry.

Progress could also hold atmosphere although a bit smaller. There is no airlock to the garbage scow so it has to be capable of holding pressure. The problem remains with Progress or Jules Verne that you would then need somewhere to put your rubbish and something to shoot it with to make it burn up in the upper atmosphere. I have visions of a garbage bag sitting on some kind of mass launcher on the outside of the ISS - actually that would be kind of fun.

Re:Not a bad idea (1)

mbone (558574) | more than 3 years ago | (#33229532)

The problem remains with Progress or Jules Verne that you would then need somewhere to put your rubbish and something to shoot it with to make it burn up in the upper atmosphere.

Why ? Material is brought at great expense to Earth orbit, why not keep it there for potential future re-use ?

The ATV is a 20 ton spacecraft, with steering & fully man-rated. ISS Node-3 is 19 tons. Why not save up 3 or 4 years of (once per year) ATV supply vehicles, and make the asteroid mission out of those ? That would be 60 or 80 tons of living space, which I suspect the astronauts would appreciate.

What? (0, Troll)

Seth Kriticos (1227934) | more than 3 years ago | (#33226218)

The summary of the summary (emphasis mine):

"Brian Wilcox, a JPL roboticist, spoke at a NASA workshop about the possibility of [..]. 'The node could be connected [..]. ..." (followed by some unrelated info).

How the fuck is this news, guys and girls? I could have a pony in a year. Nobody cares until I actually have one. Please post summaries of stuff that's happening, not what someone fantasies of.

Re:What? (1)

coastwalker (307620) | more than 3 years ago | (#33230810)

Its all the more depressing when you realize that only the Chinese actually have the disposable income to do space with astronauts these days. Isn't it about time NASA fired all these dreamers and got on with the robotic future?

The actual presentation (5, Informative)

mbone (558574) | more than 3 years ago | (#33226718)

Here is the actual presentation [nasa.gov] , from the agenda [nasa.gov] (which has all of the presentations).

Perusal of that shows that gravity was to be obtained by a rotating tether, not within a module.

Think about it (1)

Thelasko (1196535) | more than 3 years ago | (#33227584)

Do you really want to take a vehicle, not originally designed for the task, that has been in space for ~20 years, into deep space?

That would be like taking a modified, 20 year old, Toyota Hilux to the North Pole. [wikipedia.org] Such a challenge is difficult for a new vehicle specifically built for the task.

Re:Think about it - I have. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33228948)

Yes. The ISS modules are 1/4 to 1/2" rolled aluminum alloy pressure vessels, their design life was estimated at 50 years minimum, unlimited maximum. All other aspects pertaining to the asteroid rendezvous missions are bolt on or bolt in. Life Support, Power Bus, Flight Avionics, Stores, Crew Accommodation, New Shielding in the form of high molecular weight plastics, Interconnector/Docking for a crew return Capsule, Utility Block, everything else would be new and mission specific. The only thing the ISS module would be doing is forming a scaffolding and holding pressure for the crew. The nice thing is you could really take time and build it properly on orbit at the ISS, largely in a shirt sleeve environment.

Space exploration is not Arctic Exploration, Pickup Trucks are not Space Craft.

Could (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33228060)

but wont, nasa is full of what if's and could but yet never manages to do

I could win the lottery, but I am not going to write an article on it

The left hand should speak to the right (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 3 years ago | (#33228120)

""Brian Wilcox, a JPL roboticist, spoke at a NASA workshop about the possibility of detaching one of the International Space Station's modules and using it as the primary living space for astronauts on a trip to an asteroid."

And, with sufficient wing area, pigs could fly.

Seriously, Tranquility (Node 3) would require such major reconstruction to do this that they might as well build a new module. Not only is it not built for the thermal, radiation, and micrometeorite enviroment beyond LEO... It's also not built to take the stresses of being boosted out of orbit. (Module's launched by the Shuttle 'hang' by their sides, not sit on their tails.)

Nor can it really be rebuilt on orbit. When the shuttle goes out of service, we lose the ability to boost the racks that fit Tranquility's existing structure. We also lose the ability to resupply the US airlock, which means we won't have the capacity to support the spacewalks such a conversion would require.

Oh, and by the way... (1)

Un pobre guey (593801) | more than 3 years ago | (#33230982)

... we need a few billion more to 1) actually make it go somewhere, 2) shield astronauts from radiation during the trip, and 3) make it have enough food, water, air, power, etc. for the crew to survive.

Sorry, my bad. I'll send a bill.
Check for New Comments
Slashdot Account

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

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

Submission Text Formatting Tips

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

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

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

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

Loading...