How the Bigelow module added to ISS will change the space equation.


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How the Bigelow module added to ISS will change the space equation.

Looking a bit further down the road, the potential launch of a Bigelow BEAM module, particularly if it takes place on a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster could be a harbinger of much greater things to come. As Mars visionary Robert Zubrin and many others have observed, the addition of an inflatable module similar to that being considered for the station, to the SpaceX Dragon 2.0 capsule greatly increases the available space and capability of a future Dragon to serve both as a Mars transfer vehicle, and / or surface habitat. Add in the introduction of Falcon Heavy, and the pieces for an alternate vision of far more affordable (and timely) inner system exploration begin to fall into place.

Stewart Money has it exactly right. I have never accepted the claim that Orion was the only spacecraft being built that would be capable of going beyond low earth orbit. Add the right components to any manned vehicle, and you have an interplanetary spaceship.

The trick of course is adding the right components. For both Orion and Dragon, the present assumptions are much too nonchalant about what those components are. For humans to prosper on an interplanetary mission, the vessel requires a lot more than a mere capsule and single module.

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  • The Falcon Heavy will be able to put a BA330, larger than BEAM with life support for six, in orbit with enough reserve capacity to keep the upper stage providing the BA330 with and engine and tanks essentially for free. If the BA330 is sold for $100m and the launch cost $100m that puts an almost complete interplanetary ship in orbit for $200m which is much less than most proposals I’ve heard. I’m told by some this is the expensive option.

    This ship is dry and so it creates a market for kerosene and oxygen to LEO. To fuel and supply this ship for a mars mission would take about one billion which again is much less than figures you usually hear. I would propose two ships with a dozen colonists be our first mars mission. Three Dragon 2 landers would be prepositioned in mars orbit and several supply Dragons would be waiting in a cluster on the mars surface.

    Total mission cost to put a dozen fully supplied colonists on mars would be about $3.6b

    2 fully supplied and fueled ships: $1.3b x 2 = $2.6b
    6 Dragon 2 mars landers: $900m
    2 crew launches to orbit: $100m.

    We could do this in less than ten years. During those ten years we should be working to establish a mars industrial ecology and train the colonist to produce this from mars ISRU ingredients.

    We can fully supply this colony (including new colonists) for about $150m every 26 months until they become fully self sufficient (75% of which is water which they will almost immediately be able to supply themselves with after arriving by baking it out of the soil.) The only critical requirement is they have enough energy. While this can be managed completely with solar cells the advantage of nuclear energy should be obvious.

    One lightbulb fully funds this.

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