NASA and Roscomos sign agreement to work together to build lunar orbiting station

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Extending the pork: NASA and Roscosmos have signed an agreement agreeing to work together in the construction of what NASA calls a deep space gateway, a space station orbiting the Moon.

The goal here is to garner political support for getting funding to fly a third SLS/Orion mission, which would be its second manned flight. It is also to establish some long term justification for SLS/Orion, which presently has no mission and will disappear after its first manned test flight, presently scheduled for 2022. That single test flight will have taken 18 years and more than 40 billion dollars to build, an absurd timeframe and cost for a single mission that does not bode well for future SLS/Orion missions.

The Russian perspective can be found here. They claim that the station would be finished by 2024-2026, an absurd prediction based on the expected SLS launch rate of one launch every one to two years. For Russia, the hope is that they can use this project to get U.S. money, just like the big American space companies like Lockheed Martin (Orion) and Boeing (SLS).



  • LocalFluff

    “- Like building a parking spot for a flying car.”
    someone described it like. One very strange argument for the DSG is the short abort-to-Earth time compared to Mars. But it is the same as from the Lunar surface!

    Of all the ideas for human space exploration that I’ve seen, from Tsiolkovsky and von Braun to today’s companies and agencies, I’ve never heard of starting out with a space station in Lunar orbit. Well, Robert Zubrin out it well at the mars Society Conference, I recommend all readers here to watch his statements about the DSG. The doctor Mengele space station.

  • So now lunar orbit is ‘deep space’? Deviancy isn’t the only thing being defined down.

  • LocalFluff

    The DMSS (Doctor Mengele Space Station) will almost go to the Moon. That is almost as good as almost winning the Korean war. Solves problems, does it? According to this plan humans would go to Mars in the 2050s and by then the DMSS technology will be as outdated as the space race technologies are today, you know, with launch escape towers and non-reusable capsules splashing down in the ocean and no experience from long-term health in microgravity or from any centrifuge. It’s a gateway to nowhere, like a black hole.

    “- This might be dangerous to astronauts. Let’s expose them to it for no reason!” Made up by a black hole brain the thoughts of which orbit nothing. NASA HSF is going from very bad to even worse.

  • Mark

    This is a case of putting the (pork) cart before the horse.

    It COSTS rocket fuel/energy to transfer from an earth orbit and then to slow down for a lunar orbit. TANSTAAFL. Any lunar station would have to offer refueling capabilities to offset the energy cost. Conceivably, a lunar station could be used to assemble a deep space vehicle, but then the question is… where do the parts come from? The same place the refueling fuel would come from, the surface. So, yea, you don’t need a lunar station until you have a lunar colony capable of producing an exportable product, a product that would only be used in space.

  • Edward

    Mark wrote: “It COSTS rocket fuel/energy to transfer from an earth orbit and then to slow down for a lunar orbit.

    I think Mark has the basic idea, but I think that one of the concepts for the early use of the Deep Space Gateway (DSG) is to use it as a way station to and from the rest of the solar system. For the next few decades, deep space vehicles would still come from the Earth, not built on the Moon, and be refueled at DSG, perhaps from lunar sources. No lunar colony would be necessary, but one may be desirable, as it would add usefulness and capabilities to the DSG.

    The delta V (therefore propellant) requirements to go from low Earth orbit to a high lunar orbit is about the same as going from high lunar orbit to low Mars orbit, and that last trip can use even less propellant if aerocapture or aerobraking at Mars is used. The small delta V needed to get into and out of a high lunar orbit, 0.14 km/sec or so, more than offsets the added complexity and cost of a much larger space vehicle that would be needed to go directly to Mars, or any other Solar System destination.

    Here is an interesting delta V map of the Solar System (please take note of the assumptions before planning the delta V budget for your own voyage, “mileage” may vary):

    Here is an alternate view for going to the Moon, including the delta V to get to Earth Moon L1, an option for the DSG:

    And while we are having fun with space travel, don’t forget this chart showing the Apollo lunar missions (top right hand side of the Wikipedia page):

    My point is that a refueling station at a lunar-orbiting DSG can mean a much smaller spacecraft and less propellant are needed to get to Mars; the propellant tanks would be less than half the size of a direct mission, and the engines can be smaller. To go other places around the Solar System, the refueling at DSG can save some weight, too.

    From a high lunar orbit, it may be advantageous to use an ion engine, because it is far more efficient in propellant use. A space tug, similar to Orbital ATK’s proposed Mission Extension Vehicle, Lockheed Martin’s proposed Jupiter tug, or ULA’s ACES/XEUS could bring spacecraft to the DSG for refuelling, and the spacecraft leaves using its own ion engines.

    Even if the propellant comes from Earth, refueling at DSG saves weight over missions going directly to a planetary transfer orbit.

    We saw from Musk’s announcement of the Interplanetary Transport System, last year, that there is an advantage to refueling in space rather than having one large vehicle that goes directly to the destination. The minor complexity of refueling in space more than makes up for the greater complexity and cost of launching a heavier mission directly to the destination. Once the propellant comes from the Moon rather than the Earth, then costs will plummet.

    So, the big question is: are we spending money too soon on DSG? If so, then we could be putting that money to better use for immediate benefit if we spend it elsewhere.

    However, if we think that in a decade we will be refueling planetary probes at the DSG, then the experience gained on these early unmanned missions could prove beneficial for when NASA, SpaceX, and others start manned missions to Mars.

  • Mark


    Launch a station into earth orbit, do a transfer burn to lunar intercept, do a retro burn to achieve lunar orbit.
    Launch a fuel supply craft into earth orbit, do a transfer burn to lunar intercept, do a retro burn to achieve lunar orbit, dock with station.
    Launch a mars mission craft craft into earth orbit, do a transfer burn to lunar intercept, do a retro burn to achieve lunar orbit, dock with station, transfer fuel from fuel supply craft, do a transfer burn to mars.


    Launch a fuel supply craft into earth orbit.
    Launch a mars mission craft into earth orbit.
    Dock mars mission craft with fuel supply craft, start transfer burn to mars, discard fuel supply craft when empty.

    You have to create fuel on the lunar surface to make it worthwhile going there. That requires a lunar colony be created first. Arguably even after the creation of such a colony the need for an orbiting station is moot. Why send up fuel ships from the lunar colony to transfer fuel to a space station when you could cut out the middle man and transfer the fuel ship to ship.

    The lunar space station is a boondoggle.

  • Edward

    You wrote: “Dock mars mission craft with fuel supply craft, start transfer burn to mars, discard fuel supply craft when empty.

    But now you accelerated the entire booster craft to Mars transfer velocity rather than to Lunar orbit. As I mentioned before, that takes twice the propellant. Lunar orbit fueling reduces the weight that must be accelerated to that higher delta V.

    This alone can make a lunar orbit refueling station worthwhile, but there are also the cases where lunar landers (manned or unmanned) can be refuels in lunar orbit for additional weight savings. For instance, a space tug does not need a 15-year propellant tank when it can refuel every few years.

    You have to create fuel on the lunar surface to make it worthwhile going there.

    Or you can transport water to the Lunar orbital fueling station and separate it on orbit. No need to put that heavy facility on the Moon. That makes it worthwhile.

    That requires a lunar colony be created first.

    Unless it is automated. You even suggested an automated refueling station, so why not an automated or remotely operated water mining operation?

    Arguably even after the creation of such a colony the need for an orbiting station is moot.

    I would argue that point, because otherwise you have to take the landing propellant with you from the Earth to the Moon. With an orbiting refueling station the fuel only has to come from the Moon, saving a delta V of 10 km/sec for that fuel. Also, orbital refueling allows for taking the propellant for return from any location on the Moon. If you refuel your lunar mission on the Moon then the propellant has to be shipped from the polar water mine to wherever the mission landed.

    Why send up fuel ships from the lunar colony to transfer fuel to a space station when you could cut out the middle man and transfer the fuel ship to ship.

    This is where you suggested an automated refueling station.

    The lunar space station is a boondoggle.

    I mentioned that possibility. I also tried to suggest that there could be uses for a lunar space station. Why am I still arguing with you even though you seem strictly set in your opinion, especially after my bad experience with Cotour and his unreasonable stubbornness? Because, Mark, I still have hope that you can see alternate possibilities.

    My father is convinced that the ISS is useless, because he cannot think of useful things for half a dozen astronauts to do on orbit 24/7/365/23 (the last 23 is the number of years that ISS is currently scheduled to be continuously manned, 2001 to 2024). I keep sending him information on experiments that are done there, and I think he is coming around to realizing that seven billion people can be more creative than one person. He is now suggesting that it is not worth the expense.

    I tend to agree with him. The estimate is that by the decommission date in 2024, ISS will have cost $150 billion, which would be millions of dollars per experiment performed. Although we have learned a lot of other things about living and working in space on a continuous basis, if we factor that experience into the cost analysis then that is still a lot of money compared with the possibilities of commercial space habitats.

    However, it is difficult to know what is the right thing to do (to paraphrase Sam Spade in “The Maltese Falcon”) and sometimes progress comes at a higher than expected price. (“The Deal” 7 minutes)

    Sometimes the price is worth it, but it may be difficult for those who paid the price to think so. But that’s the deal.

  • Mark

    I’ve been on the internet long enough to know that bulletpoint discussions never end well. So this will be my final response on this subject.

    You do not put the cart before the horse. You do not build a lunar refueling station before you have fuel being produced on the moon. And we are likely to get this turkey no matter what because it is a way to get launches for SLS.

    And the ISS WAS a boondoggle, just not quite as bad of a one as the proposed lunar station. At least building it kept the Russian rocket scientists out of hostile nation missile development, and it gave the then useless shuttles something to lift into orbit. But as a science platform? Meh, I think we could have got the majority of research done on a much smaller, cheaper space station.

  • Mark: I agree with you, almost 100%. The one place where we disagree, which has nothing to do with the lunar space station, or even ISS, is the sense I get from you that you think an orbiting space station has no purpose. It does. It teaches us in a relatively safe way how to build interplanetary space ships. That was the whole point of my book Leaving Earth.

  • Edward

    You wrote: “You do not build a lunar refueling station before you have fuel being produced on the moon.

    I know that you will not respond, and it is not so polite to get in a last word, but you do not seem to be looking at the larger picture. Don’t worry, most people don’t. That was the point of the story about my father.

    The proposal for the lunar station does not include refueling capabilities. Neither the NASA nor the Russian announcements linked in the post suggest such a thing. That is an idea that is being suggested by us in this thread. NASA and Russia have other reasons for establishing the DSG. My analysis is that both expect to get experience with long term exposure outside of the Earth’s protective magnetic field. This experience will be needed in order to evaluate various effects from a trip to Mars.

    Yes, we could have gotten the majority of research done on a much smaller, cheaper space station, but that is not what our government wanted. Without a commercial space industry (except for commercial communication companies), we were stuck with whatever government wanted to do in space. With a little luck, we should see this happen with space habitats, such as Bigelow’s, as tended by commercial manned and unmanned launch companies, such as Blue Origin, Boeing, Orbital ATK (now Northrup Grumman), Sierra Nevada, and SpaceX.

    One of the main benefits of ISS was the large structural size. Among the lessons learned were how to build a large structure in space and how to control it.

    Control may seem simple, but large structures can vibrate, and the ISS is no exception. NASA has always seen any Mars expedition as needing a large ship. Robert Zubrin sees a more compact expedition by using his Mars Direct proposal. SpaceX seems to be in between these two concepts. The point is that NASA has learned a lot of practical knowledge about large structures in space.

    I think that if we go to Mars the way that NASA expects to do it then we will see yet another overly expensive project that ends up being underproductive. One of the reasons that I prefer the idea of commercial exploration of space is that commercial companies cannot afford to overspend or underperform. We can expect to receive far more bang for our buck with commercial space companies in control than with government in control.

    I agree that ISS turned into a huge, expensive boondoggle once president Clinton decided to use it for political purposes in his failed attempt to contain rocket technology. ISS probably would have been half the price, or less, and held half again as many astronauts without that failed attempt. With the additional astronauts, about twice as much science could be getting accomplished on it for a quarter of the per-experiment price.

    Once again, you are confusing expensive Space Shuttles for useless Space Shuttles. They, too, were performing useful science and other tasks, but they, too, were far more expensive than intended and flew far too infrequently to get as much done as intended.

    I also see DSG as being yet another project that will cost more than necessary and will be used less than it should. NASA is looking for serious direction, and it has received very little direction ever since Obama cancelled our return to the Moon. It mostly was told to continue building Orion and to build an SLS, both of which are far more expensive than their intended missions make them worth.

    Sorry. I had to laugh, for a moment. Neither Orion nor SLS have missions, intended or not. They are two more shiploads of money being tossed away for nothing in return.

    I have pointed this out before, and I hope I am not getting boring by repeating it, but Paul Spudis phrased it in his book The Value of the Moon, “Regrettably, strategic confusion currently abounds in the American civil space program.”

    We have spent a lot of money in space without a cogent goal. Even Apollo failed to have a goal that created a continuous manned presence in space. At least ISS has managed to do that much. But DSG will not keep that in play. For that we will have to rely upon commercial space companies to handle that role once ISS has been decommissioned. DSG also fails to have a strategic goal.

    This coming week, the Space Age will turn 60 years old. We do not have nearly as much presence in space as the people in 1960 we thought we would. We let government be in charge, and we got what government wanted. Now We the People are starting to take charge, and we are beginning to get what we want.

    This is just a part of the larger picture.

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