Author Topic: Development of a Commercial LEO Station  (Read 33352 times)

Offline baldusi

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 7417
  • Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • Liked: 1413
  • Likes Given: 4390
Re: Development of a Commercial LEO Station
« Reply #100 on: 06/09/2014 02:40 PM »
As stated in other posts, NASA will have a need for a LEO post. LEO is cheap to actually train astronauts compared to BEO. The radiation environment is milder, thus they can make a few tours of duty without tripping over their life radiation exposure limits. And emergencies can be handled more easily (like in hours time, rather than days or months). But above all, a lot of technologies that need to mature can be done in LEO safely until they are reliable enough for BEO.
Thus, how could a Commercial service help for all this research? Well, there should be a double approach. First, is the actual human experiments and technologies (like suitports, ECLSS, radiation mitigation drugs, etc.) and the second are straight experiments.

I'm not sure that a single station could cover it all. There might be some ways to leverage a single point. But it would have to have certain limitations. I still believe that microgravity and radiation experiments might be better served by a free flier. Nothing prevent such free flier to actually launch and return to the station. But the microgravity quality, the simplification of being able to actually conduct dangerous experiments, and the possibility to gain altitude to increase radiation exposure without endangering the crew, but having the possibility of actually having the crew setup experiments and process samples for return, are all clear strong points of such proposal.
The services that a LEO station could supply to a module would be many, and greatly simplify the BEO effort to just those technologies that need maturation. Let's go over the main HED need that need LEO for development:

* Radiation shielding during the cruise and surface-sorties phases of a Mars landing mission
* A new environmental control and life-support system.
* Habitats for crews journeying to and living on Mars.
* Extravehicular activity suits, otherwise known as space suits.
* Crew health. There are medical unknowns associated with long-duration spaceflight, (and Mars surface activities).


First we have to assume that a commercial station can do certain things cheaper than NASA. I'll take that as an assumption and won't go into discussing it. That's material for another thread.
Let's remember that communications, thermal environment, MMOD, molecular oxygen and power supply are different problems for LEO and BEO. Also mass is a lot cheaper and can be done with off the shelf LV. Thus, replicating any of those things wouldn't be a useful investment. Radiation is milder and might have difference on high energy particles in LEO. But as a milder first approach is the right middle step to take.
Second, if they can get some extra users (i.e. non-NASA), they can lower costs. Thus, my proposal is that the commercial station would supply all this services:

-Crew transport (including emergency evacuation vehicle).
-Cargo transport (pressurized, unpressurized, return and dispose).
-Power generation, storage and distribution.
-Continuous communication with ground stations (both telemetry, voice, video and wideband)
-A docking/berthing port.
-A proven ECLSS.
-A traditional EVA port.
-Might supply some fluids, too.
-Confidential space.

Thus, NASA could make a custom module, dock it with the commercial station. Inside that module, they could have their suitport, the new ECLSS, test long duration screws, try delayed communication protocols, train and improve on suitport EVA procedures, etc.
Yet, they would be just a closed port away from a safe heaven. And if they had any contingency on the suit ports, they could have the traditional EVA port (plus some suited astronauts ready for rescue). They wouldn't have to worry about power, communications, supplier or even waste disposal (unless they want to simulate that).
The rest of the commercial station could have "green" NASA astronauts, some on support, the commercial contractors for general experiments, and tourists. The latter part would have some issues on control access. But if the station is big enough and NASA accepts international space agencies nationals on the "LEO side" of the station, with the required institutional agreements, it shouldn't be much of a problem.
In fact, the concept of a permanently closed door that can only be opened on emergencies might work well enough. They could share general quarters and galley. And they could use a double door activated by the ground control for accessing the NASA or Commercial clearance-only parts of the station.
One interesting part is that NASA might send radiation exposure experiments on the the commercial side, with no astronaut ever touching it. And they might gain access to the free flier platform for higher radiation exposure and dangerous things (like validating fire suppression systems). Not to mention that they could contract for the commercial operators and agree with the foreign nationals (and even tourists) to run certain physiological tests, thus increasing significantly the sample size.
This would allow to concentrate budget and efforts on the BEO specific issues. And who knows, the closed-loop ECLSS might even be interesting for the commercial operator, whom might license it back. Might even develop a commercial version for itself that might be usable in the future for BEO.
I find this model of services very intriguing. If reusability can actually be used economically for LEO. There's potential for a significant reduction on costs. And if not, having the commercial suppliers apply creative thinking and ingenuity to supply a given service for less costs, should help significantly.
The truth is that this would require a very serious effort on actually specifying the services requested. And developing a certification process for it. I firmly believe that if the ISS can be extended to 2028 and commercialization is extensively used, by that timeframe a commercial replacement will require little new development. By 2018 crew and cargo services will be characterized well enough. Nanoracks and CASIS will have standardized experiments significantly. And I understand that imaging and communications will have a pretty good degree of development.
I understand that some detail might have to be traded. As in free flier or not. Or external arm self relocating arm or simpler versions. Or docking vs berthing. And a long list of etc. But clearly that's where the commercial suppliers can actually lower the cost. This would not be about the engineering exercise but actually closing a business case.
« Last Edit: 06/09/2014 08:35 PM by baldusi »

Offline TrevorMonty

Re: Development of a Commercial LEO Station
« Reply #101 on: 07/20/2015 05:00 PM »
The new smallsat LVs in development have potential to create a whole new area of possibilities for a commercial station. These LVs allow for miniature COTS vehicles (eg 120-150kg Cygnus or DC) to be developed that can launch on demand for <$5m.

These vehicles would be small enough to be robotically captured and placed in an ISS airlock. Where cargo/experiments are removed and reloaded for down mass(DC) or rubbish disposal(Cygnus).

Besides supplying ISS the same vehicles could be free flier labs or service a small fully automated station. Full size Cygnus would make an ideal automated station.

These small COTs vehicles with regular supply runs may also make a small partially manned station possible eg few Cygnus or Exoliner modules connected together with crew of 2-3. A small crew frees up a lot of room in crew capsule (Dragon or CST100) for cargo or accommodation.

With 3 major suppliers in small sat LV market (RocketLab, Firefly, LauncherOne),  prices should only go down and hopefully lead to even lower cost RLVs.

NB. The miniature DC is required as it has to be able to land at an airport. A capsule would be OK if it can land on land as water recovery adds significant costs.
« Last Edit: 07/20/2015 05:05 PM by TrevorMonty »

Offline A_M_Swallow

  • Elite Veteran
  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 8013
  • South coast of England
  • Liked: 236
  • Likes Given: 86
Re: Development of a Commercial LEO Station
« Reply #102 on: 07/20/2015 05:31 PM »
The new smallsat LVs in development have potential to create a whole new area of possibilities for a commercial station. These LVs allow for miniature COTS vehicles (eg 120-150kg Cygnus or DC) to be developed that can launch on demand for <$5m.

These vehicles would be small enough to be robotically captured and placed in an ISS airlock. Where cargo/experiments are removed and reloaded for down mass(DC) or rubbish disposal(Cygnus).

Besides supplying ISS the same vehicles could be free flier labs or service a small fully automated station. Full size Cygnus would make an ideal automated station.

{snip}

Could they be made to berth to a Suit Port?
Suit ports have a hole permitting people (and robots) the extraction of cargo from the small vehicle whilst leaving the possible poisonous propellant outside the spacestation.

p.s. The hole in a Suitport is 24.4" by 16.4" with very rounded corners.
ref: 20130008729.pdf
« Last Edit: 07/20/2015 05:49 PM by A_M_Swallow »

Offline TrevorMonty

Re: Development of a Commercial LEO Station
« Reply #103 on: 07/20/2015 09:44 PM »
Given small size of vehicles it would be simpler to just fly them into an airlock then deal with them. With ISS safety this may be an issue but for automated station it shouldn't be a problem.

Offline A_M_Swallow

  • Elite Veteran
  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 8013
  • South coast of England
  • Liked: 236
  • Likes Given: 86
Re: Development of a Commercial LEO Station
« Reply #104 on: 07/20/2015 11:32 PM »
Given small size of vehicles it would be simpler to just fly them into an airlock then deal with them. With ISS safety this may be an issue but for automated station it shouldn't be a problem.


If the space station has an air lock then visits from people are expected so air quality has to be controlled.

An in vacuum handling area is possible.

Offline TrevorMonty

Re: Development of a Commercial LEO Station
« Reply #105 on: 07/21/2015 01:38 AM »
Given small size of vehicles it would be simpler to just fly them into an airlock then deal with them. With ISS safety this may be an issue but for automated station it shouldn't be a problem.


If the space station has an air lock then visits from people are expected so air quality has to be controlled.

An in vacuum handling area is possible.
For an unmmanned automated station air quality shouldn't be an issue as there is nobody producing CO2 and moisture. Temperature control should be all that is needed.
For maintance it maybe easier for station to dock with ISS temporarily, than have a dedicated (expensive) visit by a crew vehicle. In these situations air quality would be handled by ISS or visiting vehicle's ECLSS.

Offline TrevorMonty

Re: Development of a Commercial LEO Station
« Reply #106 on: 07/21/2015 03:54 AM »
Had a few more ideas regarding this unmanned Cygnus station.
For docking of robotic supply vehicle, it would fly into airlock and dock with a receptacle on robotic arm. Something along lines of in flight aircraft refueling systems.

Once docked airlock would pressurize and open to lab. Another robotic arm in lab (attached to far end of lab) would extract nanorack experiments and place them in lab racks.

For experiments that don't need to be returned a mini Cgynus could be used as it should be able to carry more nanoracks than mini DC. As per ISS Cygnus it would dispose of old experiments on re entry.

Being unmanned there is no reason the lab couldn't be opened to space to run experiments that require a vacuum. This feature could offered on scheduled basis if there is demand, of course all experiments onboard would need to be vacuum experiments.

Costs. Cygnus lab and deployment $150-200m?
Mini Cygnus $2m?.
Electron LV $4.9m before volume customer discount which could be significant.
Nanorack ISS 1U experiment is $60k for commercial US customer more for non US customers when you can fly.

Unlike ISS launches should be  monthly if not more with short lead times.

Offline jongoff

  • Recovering Rocket Plumber/Space Entrepreneur
  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 5989
  • Lafayette/Broomfield, CO
  • Liked: 1938
  • Likes Given: 667
Re: Development of a Commercial LEO Station
« Reply #107 on: 07/21/2015 04:35 AM »
The new smallsat LVs in development have potential to create a whole new area of possibilities for a commercial station. These LVs allow for miniature COTS vehicles (eg 120-150kg Cygnus or DC) to be developed that can launch on demand for <$5m.

These vehicles would be small enough to be robotically captured and placed in an ISS airlock. Where cargo/experiments are removed and reloaded for down mass(DC) or rubbish disposal(Cygnus).

Besides supplying ISS the same vehicles could be free flier labs or service a small fully automated station. Full size Cygnus would make an ideal automated station.

These small COTs vehicles with regular supply runs may also make a small partially manned station possible eg few Cygnus or Exoliner modules connected together with crew of 2-3. A small crew frees up a lot of room in crew capsule (Dragon or CST100) for cargo or accommodation.

With 3 major suppliers in small sat LV market (RocketLab, Firefly, LauncherOne),  prices should only go down and hopefully lead to even lower cost RLVs.

NB. The miniature DC is required as it has to be able to land at an airport. A capsule would be OK if it can land on land as water recovery adds significant costs.

One of the concepts Altius has been working on for several years is the idea of using smallsat launch vehicles *without* mini rendezvous spacecraft for deliveries to space facilities. Upper stages already have a decent amount of sophistication, if you have a capture arm that doesn't require the delivery vehicle to station keep (*cough*Sticky Boom*cough*), you can put the prox ops sensors on the destination side, and talk the upper stage through the rendezvous maneuvers. If you do it that way, you get a much better $/kg rate than if you have to take up half your cargo mass with a very expensive wrapper.

~Jon

Offline TrevorMonty

Re: Development of a Commercial LEO Station
« Reply #108 on: 07/21/2015 06:14 AM »
A combination of both our ideas may work. Have 2nd stage with payload capsule dock in airlock. Separate 2nd stage and place it outside with external arm.  Close airlock, swap new payload capsule for old one payload capsule with experiments to be disposed of.

Open airlock to outside, attach payload capsule to 2nd stage for disposal ie deorbit burn. Having an external robotic arm would enable support of external hosted payloads.

The pressurized payload capsule would need to provide temperature control while in transit, batteries maybe enough if transit time is short.

The airlock could contain some Nanoracks for any vacuum experiments, allowing station to handle both types of experiments at once.

Having all the docking smarts and sensors on the station makes sense. Dumber and cheaper the 2nd the better.
« Last Edit: 07/21/2015 06:16 AM by TrevorMonty »

Offline baldusi

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 7417
  • Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • Liked: 1413
  • Likes Given: 4390
Re: Development of a Commercial LEO Station
« Reply #109 on: 07/22/2015 07:40 PM »
The new smallsat LVs in development have potential to create a whole new area of possibilities for a commercial station. These LVs allow for miniature COTS vehicles (eg 120-150kg Cygnus or DC) to be developed that can launch on demand for <$5m.

These vehicles would be small enough to be robotically captured and placed in an ISS airlock. Where cargo/experiments are removed and reloaded for down mass(DC) or rubbish disposal(Cygnus).

Besides supplying ISS the same vehicles could be free flier labs or service a small fully automated station. Full size Cygnus would make an ideal automated station.

These small COTs vehicles with regular supply runs may also make a small partially manned station possible eg few Cygnus or Exoliner modules connected together with crew of 2-3. A small crew frees up a lot of room in crew capsule (Dragon or CST100) for cargo or accommodation.

With 3 major suppliers in small sat LV market (RocketLab, Firefly, LauncherOne),  prices should only go down and hopefully lead to even lower cost RLVs.

NB. The miniature DC is required as it has to be able to land at an airport. A capsule would be OK if it can land on land as water recovery adds significant costs.

One of the concepts Altius has been working on for several years is the idea of using smallsat launch vehicles *without* mini rendezvous spacecraft for deliveries to space facilities. Upper stages already have a decent amount of sophistication, if you have a capture arm that doesn't require the delivery vehicle to station keep (*cough*Sticky Boom*cough*), you can put the prox ops sensors on the destination side, and talk the upper stage through the rendezvous maneuvers. If you do it that way, you get a much better $/kg rate than if you have to take up half your cargo mass with a very expensive wrapper.

~Jon
Or you could have a Mini-Jupiter/Exoliner rather than a Mini Cygnus.

Tags: