Author Topic: Development of a Commercial LEO Station  (Read 35151 times)

Offline baldusi

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Development of a Commercial LEO Station
« on: 01/15/2014 05:38 PM »
I've been pondering how to transition the ISS to a commercial market. From the current situation, we have (or will have in brief) commercial services for cargo, crew, payload processing, qualification, etc. Also there are NASA and CASIS that give grants.
The two things that seem to be lacking are demand confidence and volume and a station commercial supplier.
I'm wondering of an approach like COTS/CRS wouldn't be a good one. The COTS-like phase would help develop a concept of the services agreements and technical proposals. Upto a maturity level where NASA can just buy utilization (its a complex definition, but doable).
Then do a CRS or NLS like contract where NASA or CASIS delivers experiments at the Cape and gets it returned and can send scientist and astronauts to work (but maintenance would probably be made by the commercial employees).
The secret would be a long term and fat enough contract to justify a fully commercial station by itself. Probably quite a bit smaller than the ISS.

Offline Lurker Steve

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Re: Development of a Commercial LEO Station
« Reply #1 on: 01/15/2014 05:48 PM »
I don't see how a true "commercial" space station would be profitable without long term state-sponsored funding.

Forget about the costs to develop, build and launch the station, which will be already be a huge number. How do you keep up with the necessary logistics ? Even a small station that is staffed at half the level of ISS will require multi-billions per year in logistics, crew rotations, and maintenance. Where is that money coming from if the complex isn't owned and funded by a multiple nation states ?

Offline ChrisWilson68

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Re: Development of a Commercial LEO Station
« Reply #2 on: 01/15/2014 05:49 PM »
I'd be happier than anyone to see a viable commercial station.  But, unfortunately, the demand just isn't there at price points anywhere close to what is feasible today.  Bigelow has essentially been ready to deliver such a station for years and trying to sign up customers, but they haven't been able to find enough of those customers.  For shorter-term, unmanned experiments, SpaceX has apparently not found enough customers to justify actually launching a DragonLab mission.

This is just going to have to wait until launch costs come way down.  So, if you want to see a commercial LEO station, hope for your favorite disruptive launch provider to succeed.  For me, the best shot at this is SpaceX making its launchers rapidly reusable -- both lower and upper stages.

Offline ChrisWilson68

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Re: Development of a Commercial LEO Station
« Reply #3 on: 01/15/2014 05:55 PM »
I don't see how a true "commercial" space station would be profitable without long term state-sponsored funding.

Forget about the costs to develop, build and launch the station, which will be already be a huge number. How do you keep up with the necessary logistics ? Even a small station that is staffed at half the level of ISS will require multi-billions per year in logistics, crew rotations, and maintenance. Where is that money coming from if the complex isn't owned and funded by a multiple nation states ?

I agree with you that the costs are too high to be justified by the commercial market.  But "multi-billions per year" is over-stating it.  Dragon is already in commercial service supplying logistics to the ISS for $133 million a flight, including all costs from launch vehicle to capsule to pad operations.  Crew Dragon is nearing operational status and shows no signs of costing much more than the current cargo Dragon.  So the costs for maintaining a small station with six-month crew rotations is likely to be between half a billion dollars and a billion dollars a year with currently-available and soon-to-be-available (2-3 years at most) systems.

Online Robotbeat

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Re: Development of a Commercial LEO Station
« Reply #4 on: 01/15/2014 05:56 PM »
How much would logistics cost if serviced by, say, SpaceX and Blue Origin flights? They both want to get manned capsule flights down to, say, $10-20 million per flight. 10-20 flights a year of logistics (some would be cargo) gives $100-$400 million in logistics costs. Not actually that bad.

Obviously, there are a bunch of other costs, but these are the main ones which present the most obvious difficulties. But $100 million per year is fairly reasonable.

I think Lurker Steve may be correct that this would need state funding, because for people studying things in microgravity and the space environment, their basically sole source of funding is grants from the likes of NASA, NSF (the other one ;)), etc.
Chris  Whoever loves correction loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.

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Offline ChrisWilson68

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Re: Development of a Commercial LEO Station
« Reply #5 on: 01/15/2014 06:08 PM »
Yes, I think the costs can get to $100 million or below per year if SpaceX or Blue Origin achieve their targets.  I think it's more than 50% likely SpaceX will do it within 10 years.  Blue Origin seems more of a long shot to me, though it's hard to tell with how secretive they are.

Online Robotbeat

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Re: Development of a Commercial LEO Station
« Reply #6 on: 01/15/2014 06:26 PM »
Yes, I think the costs can get to $100 million or below per year if SpaceX or Blue Origin achieve their targets.  I think it's more than 50% likely SpaceX will do it within 10 years.  Blue Origin seems more of a long shot to me, though it's hard to tell with how secretive they are.
...but $100 million is pretty low, might only be possible if there are other revenue streams for the logistics providers, like an increase in satellites, refueling, exploration, space tourism, and the like.
Chris  Whoever loves correction loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.

To the maximum extent practicable, the Federal Government shall plan missions to accommodate the space transportation services capabilities of United States commercial providers. US law http://goo.gl/YZYNt0

Offline Elmar Moelzer

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Re: Development of a Commercial LEO Station
« Reply #7 on: 01/15/2014 06:33 PM »
I thought Bigelow does have interested customers, just no way of getting them into orbit (waiting for CST-100 and Dragon). I might be remembering this wrong though. Also customers could be from other nations as well. Does not have to be limited to the US and NASA.

Offline Lurker Steve

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Re: Development of a Commercial LEO Station
« Reply #8 on: 01/15/2014 06:45 PM »
I don't see how a true "commercial" space station would be profitable without long term state-sponsored funding.

Forget about the costs to develop, build and launch the station, which will be already be a huge number. How do you keep up with the necessary logistics ? Even a small station that is staffed at half the level of ISS will require multi-billions per year in logistics, crew rotations, and maintenance. Where is that money coming from if the complex isn't owned and funded by a multiple nation states ?

I agree with you that the costs are too high to be justified by the commercial market.  But "multi-billions per year" is over-stating it.  Dragon is already in commercial service supplying logistics to the ISS for $133 million a flight, including all costs from launch vehicle to capsule to pad operations.  Crew Dragon is nearing operational status and shows no signs of costing much more than the current cargo Dragon.  So the costs for maintaining a small station with six-month crew rotations is likely to be between half a billion dollars and a billion dollars a year with currently-available and soon-to-be-available (2-3 years at most) systems.

Remember that Dragon currently provides just a fraction of the current ISS logistics, and that's still 3-4 flights per year. So, we call logistics (no crew) a minimum of 500 million. You probably need the same number of crew flights, so that's another 500 million. Where does this Monopoly money come from ?

Offline guckyfan

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Re: Development of a Commercial LEO Station
« Reply #9 on: 01/15/2014 08:06 PM »
To be attractive to commercial customers I assume that there will be cargo and crew flights needed every month. The customers will want a quick turnover.

Add a cargo pod to Dragon instead of a simple trunk. The cargo pod would be disposable, passive and low cost, with the additional berthing port as the most expensive item. That way one flight per month can deliver both crew and cargo. Assuming at least first stage and Dragon reuse the price can be well below 100 Million $, so 1 Billion $ per year. Maybe that's low enough to attract a sufficient number of customers, both scientific and tourist.


Offline ChrisWilson68

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Re: Development of a Commercial LEO Station
« Reply #10 on: 01/15/2014 08:13 PM »
I think cargo and crew flights every month makes it a lot more expensive than it needs to be.  In my opinion, you could do that if it is a success and you can scale up to more business to make it worth the cost, but the most likely path to initial feasibility is with something like three cargo and two crew flights a year, to minimize total costs.

Offline Lurker Steve

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Re: Development of a Commercial LEO Station
« Reply #11 on: 01/15/2014 08:16 PM »
I think cargo and crew flights every month makes it a lot more expensive than it needs to be.  In my opinion, you could do that if it is a success and you can scale up to more business to make it worth the cost, but the most likely path to initial feasibility is with something like three cargo and two crew flights a year, to minimize total costs.

And you are still talking about more money than just about every country other than the US and Russia spends on space.

Offline Elmar Moelzer

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Re: Development of a Commercial LEO Station
« Reply #12 on: 01/16/2014 01:31 AM »
I think cargo and crew flights every month makes it a lot more expensive than it needs to be.  In my opinion, you could do that if it is a success and you can scale up to more business to make it worth the cost, but the most likely path to initial feasibility is with something like three cargo and two crew flights a year, to minimize total costs.

And you are still talking about more money than just about every country other than the US and Russia spends on space.
Not all of these flights would have to be financed by a single country.

Online hop

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Re: Development of a Commercial LEO Station
« Reply #13 on: 01/16/2014 04:15 AM »
I thought Bigelow does have interested customers, just no way of getting them into orbit (waiting for CST-100 and Dragon).
That's certainly a story Bigelow have told, but it's not clear that it's really the whole story. If the current "interest" doesn't add up to the kind of money that would actually be needed to design, build, launch and operate the station, it would be convenient to blame it all on transport while trying to attract more investors and customers.

If Bigelow had really motivated customers with billions of dollars in hand who desperately wanted a station, those same customers could easily invest enough to ensure that one (or more) of the commercial crew competitors completed their vehicles in a timely fashion. At this point, finishing crew Dragon, CST-100 or Dreamchaser is probably lower risk than the rest of the Bigelow station project.

IMO, this tells us something about the level of interest in a commercial station.

Offline baldusi

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Re: Development of a Commercial LEO Station
« Reply #14 on: 01/16/2014 12:42 PM »
May be I didn't made myself clear. I'm sorry. The long term contract should be a ten year contract, with enough utilization to pay for the station.
The idea would be that transport, control and maintenance would be supplied by the station owner. NASA could give the experiments on the launch site, and the operator would integrate them in the VV (more like packing, actually), and the station personel would unpack it, run it and send the results back. Or, for an extra fee, the contractor could fly a NASA scientist to their station, supply him with food and accomodations, and let him run the experiments.
The contract would be for X amount of rack space, electric power, microgravity conditions, crew experiment operation time etc. If NASA and CASIS can't fill it, they have to pay anyways, if they need more, the price is alredy scheduled.
If NASA wants to train astronauts and do physiologic experiments, they could add a sort of hotel contract, where the contractor  has to supply some basic exercise machines, but NASA has the option of sending their own.
Additionally, if NASA wants to use the station to assemble and check out BEO modules, stack, there should be provitions.
If they can get a ten years 1B/yr basic contract, I guess that they could get multiple bidders.
Now, not only defining this would be quite an ordeal, but actually validating and certifying the station would be quite an issue. Each offeror would probably have different ops projects and such.
So an initial phase might be done COTS style. Or may be the optimum wpuld be done more like CCDev1/2/CCiCAP/etc. Where first some "small" amounts would be awarded to interesting techno log is and ops concepts, then they could select some candidates to develop the concepts and proposals for an integrated solution. And put some development money to retire risk and mature the proposals.
Then, take the most serious three or four proposals to actually build demonstrations and prepare for certification. And then chose one to do the certification and build the station. After that, they go to the service contract thet I've explained before.

Offline su27k

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Re: Development of a Commercial LEO Station
« Reply #15 on: 01/16/2014 03:33 PM »
Yes, I had the same idea, basically NASA would be paying the bills (at a level way below ISS), but will not dictate the station/transportation design, it will just buy space on the station. The same method can be applied to a moonbase later on.

However I think it's a bit early to think about this, given ISS may get extended to 2028, and SpaceX may make launch cost a lot cheaper in the next few years.

Offline baldusi

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Re: Development of a Commercial LEO Station
« Reply #16 on: 01/16/2014 04:57 PM »
And I believe there's no time left to start the process, even if it's extended to 2028. ISS was designed to use the Shuttle, Canadarm and lots of EVAs. A commercial station would need cheaper and simpler ops. If you don't do it the Russian or the ISS way, there's little to no experience and validation.
Of course that cheaper launches would be great, and the extension will help to develop the commercial enablers of science, like Nanoracks.
But the phase of developing cheaper ways of doing what ISS already does, is now. NASA is focused on doing longer term ECLSS, year long stays and leveraging the station for BEO. And that's what it should do. Let the commercial contractors think how to do 80% for 20% of the cost.
« Last Edit: 01/16/2014 04:59 PM by baldusi »

Offline Danderman

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Re: Development of a Commercial LEO Station
« Reply #17 on: 01/16/2014 05:07 PM »

But the phase of developing cheaper ways of doing what ISS already does, is now.


Is anyone actually working on this?


Offline Lurker Steve

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Re: Development of a Commercial LEO Station
« Reply #18 on: 01/16/2014 05:13 PM »
Yes, I had the same idea, basically NASA would be paying the bills (at a level way below ISS), but will not dictate the station/transportation design, it will just buy space on the station. The same method can be applied to a moonbase later on.

However I think it's a bit early to think about this, given ISS may get extended to 2028, and SpaceX may make launch cost a lot cheaper in the next few years.

If NASA isn't operating the station, then they really don't need to be involved at all.

Any research being performed by NASA scientists would have it's funding shifted to the NSF, I assume, except that the NSF doesn't really have that much funding on a regular basis, right ? And I certainly don't see any part of the US government committing to a 10 year long contract.



Offline Lar

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Re: Development of a Commercial LEO Station
« Reply #19 on: 01/16/2014 08:19 PM »

But the phase of developing cheaper ways of doing what ISS already does, is now.


Is anyone actually working on this?
To what level of detail? I'm sure folks (say, at Bigelow) have done some paper studies and produced some powerpoints... but actually testing out things would require at least labs, not just studies.

Edit: no, not necessarily. But detailed engineering of systems like ECLSS, power, heat rejection and so forth would need to be done, at least to some level of detail, if one was trying to reduce the amount of d EVA required to maintain things.
« Last Edit: 01/16/2014 08:35 PM by Lar »
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