Author Topic: Ixion Wet Station Concept (NanoRacks, ULA, and MDA)  (Read 4231 times)

Offline jongoff

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Someone in the Axiom thread got Ixion and Axiom confused, and suggested we start a thread specifically for the Ixion concept being developed by NanoRacks, ULA, and MDA. I did a quick search and found a few mentions of Ixion in other threads (one thread on an article about the NextSTEP BAA Ph2 that this study is part of, and one on the NanoRacks thread), but I think it might be worth having a dedicated thread for their specific "wet station" concept.

IIRC there have been a few articles posted describing more about what NanoRacks' team is looking at here, including doing a node module made from Centaur domes and forward skirt structures that would allow kitting out a Centaur after it gets to ISS. If people can track those down, it would probably be worth relinking to them here in this thread.

All told, I think this is an interesting concept for getting large amounts of inexpensive pressurized volume in space. Most people assume that Bigelow's inflatables, or traditional ISS modules are the only ways to go for commercial space facilities, but I think there's a place for wet habitats (or Skylab like dry habitats) in the future, so I wanted to start a dedicated Ixion thread.

~Jon

Offline Navier–Stokes

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Re: Ixion Wet Station Concept (NanoRacks, ULA, and MDA)
« Reply #1 on: 04/14/2017 06:21 PM »
Here's a good article from Evan Ackerman in the IEEE Spectrum: NASA Funds Plan to Turn Used Rocket Fuel Tanks Into Space Habitats. I've attached a few of the relevant pictures from the article to better illustrate the concept.

Offline GWH

Anthony Colangelo's Podcast Main Engine Cutoff has a really interesting interview with Mike Johnson the chief designer for Nanoracks on this, really worth a listen:
https://mainenginecutoff.com/podcast/20

Online Lars-J

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Re: Ixion Wet Station Concept (NanoRacks, ULA, and MDA)
« Reply #3 on: 04/14/2017 10:23 PM »
Wet stations sound great in theory, but are so impractical.

And even if it was plausible, I would think that Centaur - with its A) incredible mass fraction, B) very thin tank skin, and C) thin diameter - would be far from the optimal starting point.

Offline Kansan52

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Re: Ixion Wet Station Concept (NanoRacks, ULA, and MDA)
« Reply #4 on: 04/14/2017 10:49 PM »
If memory serves, that is why Skylab (a dry lab) was chosen. Wet labs were researched and abandoned.

The residues were one problem. Another was making an opening large enough. The diagrams do not indicate the size of the opening into the 'wet' tank.

Offline GWH

Wet stations sound great in theory, but are so impractical.

And even if it was plausible, I would think that Centaur - with its A) incredible mass fraction, B) very thin tank skin, and C) thin diameter - would be far from the optimal starting point.

The stage insulation is said by Tory Bruno to help somewhat with point B, although he falls short of full on endorsment of the concept:
https://www.reddit.com/r/ula/comments/4x00xd/nanoracks_space_systems_loral_and_united_launch/#d6br6gs

Online Lars-J

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Re: Ixion Wet Station Concept (NanoRacks, ULA, and MDA)
« Reply #6 on: 04/14/2017 11:24 PM »
Here's a good article from Evan Ackerman in the IEEE Spectrum: NASA Funds Plan to Turn Used Rocket Fuel Tanks Into Space Habitats. I've attached a few of the relevant pictures from the article to better illustrate the concept.

From the article:
Quote
Mike Johnson: ... The reason that Skylab wasn't build like this is kind of a strange story: [NASA] had fewer Saturn IBs than they had Saturn Vs, so von Braun just decided to use a Saturn V and fly up a "dry" lab, with all of the equipment aboard it already.

IEEE Spectrum: So you're saying that NASA didn't go with the idea of reusing a wet Saturn 1B stage for Skylab mostly because they had spare Saturn Vs lying around that could lift an entire dry lab all at once?

Mike Johnson: That's correct. They had extra Saturn Vs, leftovers from the Apollo program.

That's a wee bit of oversimplification, I'd say. The engineering challenges for doing a wet lab conversion on orbit were significant.

Offline GWH

Personally I feel that the concept is weak in LEO for anything more than initial testing, but much stronger in higher deltaV destinations or within gravity wells where crude in-situ resources are available but pressurized volume is at a premium.  For example multiple Xeus landers could be tied together on the lunar surface providing a larger pressurized volume for anything from living areas to propellant storage.  The relative cost of getting the hardware in place on lunar surface should far eclipse the value in returning said hardware to a staging orbit for reuse.

Offline jongoff

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Re: Ixion Wet Station Concept (NanoRacks, ULA, and MDA)
« Reply #8 on: 04/15/2017 01:31 AM »
Wet stations sound great in theory, but are so impractical.

And even if it was plausible, I would think that Centaur - with its A) incredible mass fraction, B) very thin tank skin, and C) thin diameter - would be far from the optimal starting point.

I'm not sure what tank skin thickness has to do with it. You're obviously going to need some sort of MMOD protection, even if you had a thick isogrid tank wall. The smaller diameter is less optimal, but the techniques they develop for Centaur should work for ACES too, and that's 2/3 the volume of a bigelow module.

~Jon

Offline TrevorMonty

For human habitat a wet habitat may have its limits, but for low cost robotic factory it could be ideal. Nanoracks and SSL are looking at this as basis for in orbit manufacturing. Add Made In Space to equation and lot possibilities open up. 

Offline ChrisWilson68

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Re: Ixion Wet Station Concept (NanoRacks, ULA, and MDA)
« Reply #10 on: 04/15/2017 05:41 PM »
For human habitat a wet habitat may have its limits, but for low cost robotic factory it could be ideal. Nanoracks and SSL are looking at this as basis for in orbit manufacturing. Add Made In Space to equation and lot possibilities open up.

Ideal?  It's as ideal as setting up a machine shop in an old tanker truck on Earth.

And even on Earth even the most robotic of factories aren't sealed-off black boxes that humans never enter.  Robotic manufacturing requires regular maintenance by humans.  So there's no way with today's technology that a factory in space doesn't have to be a human habitat.

Online dror

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Re: Ixion Wet Station Concept (NanoRacks, ULA, and MDA)
« Reply #11 on: 04/15/2017 07:16 PM »
For human habitat a wet habitat may have its limits, but for low cost robotic factory it could be ideal. Nanoracks and SSL are looking at this as basis for in orbit manufacturing. Add Made In Space to equation and lot possibilities open up.

Ideal?  It's as ideal as setting up a machine shop in an old tanker truck on Earth.
...
To put the alegory in it's context, it is as ideal as setting up a machine shop in an old tanker truck you got for free, instead of buying a brand-new tanker truck and flying it to space...

Still not ideal though
"If we crave some cosmic purpose, then let us find ourselves a worthy goal. "
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Offline ChrisWilson68

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Re: Ixion Wet Station Concept (NanoRacks, ULA, and MDA)
« Reply #12 on: 04/15/2017 08:33 PM »
For human habitat a wet habitat may have its limits, but for low cost robotic factory it could be ideal. Nanoracks and SSL are looking at this as basis for in orbit manufacturing. Add Made In Space to equation and lot possibilities open up.

Ideal?  It's as ideal as setting up a machine shop in an old tanker truck on Earth.
...
To put the alegory in it's context, it is as ideal as setting up a machine shop in an old tanker truck you got for free, instead of buying a brand-new tanker truck and flying it to space...

Still not ideal though

You still need to fly all the people and equipment to space to convert the old tank into a factory or whatever.  If those people doing the conversion are going to require a lot of time in space and support equipment, the whole conversion process might require a lot more to be launched into space than the alternative of just launching a module that is already designed and built on Earth to be the desired factory (or habitat or whatever).

Remember, this conversion has to be done in space.  Upper stages don't have airlocks or docking ports or anything like that.  Are you going to cut a hole in the space for a docking adapter and weld it in place in vacuum in zero-g?  Is the structure of the upper stage even going to be compatible with that kind of a change?

It's all far more ambitious than anything that's ever been attempted in space before, and all to avoid a solved problem: just launching something into space that's already exactly the factory or habitat you want.

Offline TrevorMonty

Re: Ixion Wet Station Concept (NanoRacks, ULA, and MDA)
« Reply #13 on: 04/15/2017 08:39 PM »
For human habitat a wet habitat may have its limits, but for low cost robotic factory it could be ideal. Nanoracks and SSL are looking at this as basis for in orbit manufacturing. Add Made In Space to equation and lot possibilities open up.

Ideal?  It's as ideal as setting up a machine shop in an old tanker truck on Earth.
...
To put the alegory in it's context, it is as ideal as setting up a machine shop in an old tanker truck you got for free, instead of buying a brand-new tanker truck and flying it to space...

Still not ideal though

You still need to fly all the people and equipment to space to convert the old tank into a factory or whatever.  If those people doing the conversion are going to require a lot of time in space and support equipment, the whole conversion process might require a lot more to be launched into space than the alternative of just launching a module that is already designed and built on Earth to be the desired factory (or habitat or whatever).

Remember, this conversion has to be done in space.  Upper stages don't have airlocks or docking ports or anything like that.  Are you going to cut a hole in the space for a docking adapter and weld it in place in vacuum in zero-g?  Is the structure of the upper stage even going to be compatible with that kind of a change?

It's all far more ambitious than anything that's ever been attempted in space before, and all to avoid a solved problem: just launching something into space that's already exactly the factory or habitat you want.
Listen to podcast.

Online dror

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Re: Ixion Wet Station Concept (NanoRacks, ULA, and MDA)
« Reply #14 on: 04/15/2017 09:26 PM »
For human habitat a wet habitat may have its limits, but for low cost robotic factory it could be ideal. Nanoracks and SSL are looking at this as basis for in orbit manufacturing. Add Made In Space to equation and lot possibilities open up.

Ideal?  It's as ideal as setting up a machine shop in an old tanker truck on Earth.
...
To put the alegory in it's context, it is as ideal as setting up a machine shop in an old tanker truck you got for free, instead of buying a brand-new tanker truck and flying it to space...

Still not ideal though

You still need to fly all the people and equipment to space to convert the old tank into a factory or whatever.  If those people doing the conversion are going to require a lot of time in space and support equipment, the whole conversion process might require a lot more to be launched into space than the alternative of just launching a module that is already designed and built on Earth to be the desired factory (or habitat or whatever).

Remember, this conversion has to be done in space.  Upper stages don't have airlocks or docking ports or anything like that.  Are you going to cut a hole in the space for a docking adapter and weld it in place in vacuum in zero-g?  Is the structure of the upper stage even going to be compatible with that kind of a change?

It's all far more ambitious than anything that's ever been attempted in space before, and all to avoid a solved problem: just launching something into space that's already exactly the factory or habitat you want.

Yes, there are planty of situations in which this would not be ideal.
Generally it is better to reuse upper stages as stages, fit your module on earth, use your lunar lander for return to earth.

But in some situations it may be a better option to use that pressurized volume:
Cygnus missions could increase the volume of ISS or the DSG station or DragonLab style missions,
On the Moon Xeus landers can be covered with regolith for extra protection.
Extra leg room for the @JournyToMars
...

It's an option worth exploring.

*It reminds me of the old "space islands" initiative that got me fascinated a long time ago:
http://www.spaceislandgroup.com/home.html
"If we crave some cosmic purpose, then let us find ourselves a worthy goal. "
Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot

Online A_M_Swallow

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Re: Ixion Wet Station Concept (NanoRacks, ULA, and MDA)
« Reply #15 on: 04/15/2017 10:24 PM »
Would it be easier to turn the upper stage into the storage tanks for a propellant depot?
Possibly attached to a space station.

Offline ChrisWilson68

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Re: Ixion Wet Station Concept (NanoRacks, ULA, and MDA)
« Reply #16 on: 04/15/2017 10:31 PM »
Would it be easier to turn the upper stage into the storage tanks for a propellant depot?
Possibly attached to a space station.

That's a lot more plausible than turning it into a habitat or factory.

But I think by the time we have prop depots, expendable upper stages will no longer be a thing.  Two well-funded companies have concrete plans for fully-resuable launch vehicles that they are actually actively working on building and testing.  Both have flown real hardware.  That's far further along than any propellant depot plans, and once fully-reusable launch vehicles are regularly flying, I think expendable launch vehicles won't fly much longer.

Offline Chasm

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Re: Ixion Wet Station Concept (NanoRacks, ULA, and MDA)
« Reply #17 on: 04/16/2017 12:25 PM »
Dry storage space itself is already valuable. Maybe things are easier to relocate if there is no need to store them 3 layers deep.


The big problem with wet workshop is that you just get an empty tank and then have to outfit it.
I wonder what happens if the concept gets reversed. Start with a rather simple module including all the MMOD and external connections, strip the internals down, using it as tank during launch and reinstall gear on orbit.

Offline TrevorMonty

Re: Ixion Wet Station Concept (NanoRacks, ULA, and MDA)
« Reply #18 on: 04/16/2017 02:49 PM »


Dry storage space itself is already valuable. Maybe things are easier to relocate if there is no need to store them 3 layers deep.


For ISS a large store room would be valuable and maybe what BEAM ends up being used for. For Ixion experiment ISS also gets exploration suit (stored on outside as per moon and mars ones) locker.

The ACES IVF pods could still be used for station keeping. Use LOX tank for water storage and fit a small electrolysis plant to feed the IVF small O and H gas tanks.

Offline WmThomas

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Re: Ixion Wet Station Concept (NanoRacks, ULA, and MDA)
« Reply #19 on: 04/16/2017 03:49 PM »
Dry storage space itself is already valuable. Maybe things are easier to relocate if there is no need to store them 3 layers deep.


The big problem with wet workshop is that you just get an empty tank and then have to outfit it.
I wonder what happens if the concept gets reversed. Start with a rather simple module including all the MMOD and external connections, strip the internals down, using it as tank during launch and reinstall gear on orbit.

I like this idea. But could the normal internal fittings withstand the temperature of Liquid Hydrogen without severe damage?

Online Lars-J

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Re: Ixion Wet Station Concept (NanoRacks, ULA, and MDA)
« Reply #20 on: 04/16/2017 07:09 PM »
Indeed. And if they are so hell-bent on doing the outfitting in orbit... try this thought experiment. How about launching just an empty habitation shell as a payload, and then outfit that instead. Does that sound like a lot of work? Still a LOT easier than a wet lab conversion.

Offline ChrisWilson68

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Re: Ixion Wet Station Concept (NanoRacks, ULA, and MDA)
« Reply #21 on: 04/16/2017 07:13 PM »
Dry storage space itself is already valuable. Maybe things are easier to relocate if there is no need to store them 3 layers deep.


The big problem with wet workshop is that you just get an empty tank and then have to outfit it.
I wonder what happens if the concept gets reversed. Start with a rather simple module including all the MMOD and external connections, strip the internals down, using it as tank during launch and reinstall gear on orbit.

Upper stages are very carefully designed for their purpose.  It would be totally impractical to take a module designed to be a habitat module and bolt on some engines and use it as an upper stage.

An upper stage might look like it's the same shape as an ISS module, but it doesn't mean they're really very similar other than shape.

Offline Chasm

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Re: Ixion Wet Station Concept (NanoRacks, ULA, and MDA)
« Reply #22 on: 04/17/2017 01:57 PM »
 ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
It's a reversal for arguments sake.
The goal in both cases is to get additional usable volume, for cheap.

NanoRacks basically says that their concept is not exactly new and that over the decades much work went into it. Few modifications to Centaur itself are required, most of them in areas that are easily modded. That together with ULA they can build the concept with standard parts or things that have been done before in a few weeks for the centaur items and a bit more for the rest. (Paperwork obviously not included.)

Cue a small set of objections: But MMOD, but balloon tank, but thermal regulation, but interior of any kind, but attaching anything internally because balloon tank, but electrical connections, but fluids, but external handholds, but external attachment points, but radiation shielding, but .....

Next step is to mitigate by adding things to the stage and it is not simple any longer.

So what happens if you start from the other end and take wet lab a bit more literal. Starting with an empty module as (additional) upper stage tank. Remove everything from the interior but attachment points and maybe major structural elements. Probably patch in bulkheads/parts of a tank dome to cover the docking adapter(s) and assorted gear around them. It's not like upper stages are perfectly empty either.

Is that a particularly great idea? Hell no. It removes one set of complaints and replaces them with others.



After listening to the podcast again and the concept to launch Ixion together with a Cygnus on top...

A variation of that idea would be to revert to a variation of their first CRS round wet lab concept. Stick a docking adapter on the centaur H2 tank. Only use this contraption as trash truck.
That should cut down exposure to MMOD and other risks nicely. Much less need to do interior work on orbit. Cygnus moves the stack to the ISS, both get captured and berthed. Open the wet and fill it what has accumulated for disposal, replace the access cover. Undock and reentry. Only then really start to work on the Cygnus cargo.
Now that there is less need for disposal services extra points for upgrading the Cygnus pressure section to a full if somewhat empty module like some of the ATV concepts, the propulsion section to a detachable tug and recovering Centaur engine and avionics with SMART. ;)

Sounds roundabout enough for gouvernment work. After all why just play rocket lego if there are also ISS and transport addons aviailible.  ;D

Online dror

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Re: Ixion Wet Station Concept (NanoRacks, ULA, and MDA)
« Reply #23 on: 04/17/2017 07:05 PM »
...
After listening to the podcast again and the concept to launch Ixion together with a Cygnus on top...

A variation of that idea would be to revert to a variation of their first CRS round wet lab concept. Stick a docking adapter on the centaur H2 tank. Only use this contraption as trash truck.
That should cut down exposure to MMOD and other risks nicely. Much less need to do interior work on orbit. Cygnus moves the stack to the ISS, both get captured and berthed. Open the wet and fill it what has accumulated for disposal, replace the access cover. Undock and reentry. Only then really start to work on the Cygnus cargo.
Now that there is less need for disposal services extra points for upgrading the Cygnus pressure section to a full if somewhat empty module like some of the ATV concepts, the propulsion section to a detachable tug and recovering Centaur engine and avionics with SMART. ;)

Sounds roundabout enough for gouvernment work. After all why just play rocket lego if there are also ISS and transport addons aviailible.  ;D

If it is ACES and not Centaur, you don't really need a propultion module at all, do you?

But, then again, what's in it for Orbital ATK?
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Offline jongoff

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Re: Ixion Wet Station Concept (NanoRacks, ULA, and MDA)
« Reply #24 on: 04/18/2017 02:31 AM »
Cue a small set of objections: But MMOD, but balloon tank, but thermal regulation, but interior of any kind, but attaching anything internally because balloon tank, but electrical connections, but fluids, but external handholds, but external attachment points, but radiation shielding, but .....

There are answers to most of those objections... :-)

~Jon

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Re: Ixion Wet Station Concept (NanoRacks, ULA, and MDA)
« Reply #25 on: 04/19/2017 11:36 PM »
Cue a small set of objections: But MMOD, but balloon tank, but thermal regulation, but interior of any kind, but attaching anything internally because balloon tank, but electrical connections, but fluids, but external handholds, but external attachment points, but radiation shielding, but .....

There are answers to most of those objections... :-)

~Jon

There are, but are they credible and practical? NOTE, no one has said that this is impossible. Just impractical.

I finally got around to listening to the pod cast while driving yesterday, some notes from the interview:

1. Mike Johnson clearly likes Centaur. A LOT. He is spent the last 15(?) years working on and off with proposals to adapt Centaur tanks as station components or cargo spacecraft. First as a "dry lab" (modified on ground), then now as a "wet lab" (modified in orbit). While he does admit that his concept could be applied to many other upper stages, I do find the single-minded obsession with Centaur stages somewhat baffling. He seems to have lots of connections with people at ULA, perhaps that is the explanation. But this single-mindedness does bring to mind the saying "if all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail".

2. The actual work of outfitting and modifying the Centaur on orbit is hand-waved away, aside from a brief mention of robots doing the work. I really do wish the host would have pressed him more on this.
« Last Edit: 04/20/2017 05:20 AM by Lars-J »

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Re: Ixion Wet Station Concept (NanoRacks, ULA, and MDA)
« Reply #26 on: 04/20/2017 04:12 AM »
Cue a small set of objections: But MMOD, but balloon tank, but thermal regulation, but interior of any kind, but attaching anything internally because balloon tank, but electrical connections, but fluids, but external handholds, but external attachment points, but radiation shielding, but .....

There are answers to most of those objections... :-)

~Jon

There are, but are they credible and practical. NOTE, no one has said that this is impossible. Just impractical.

I finally got around to listening to the pod cast while driving yesterday, some notes from the interview:

1. Mike Johnson clearly likes Centaur. A LOT. He is spent the last 15(?) years working on and off with proposals to adapt Centaur tanks as station components or cargo spacecraft. First as a "dry lab" (modified on ground), then now as a "wet lab" (modified in orbit). While he does admit that his concept could be applied to many other upper stages, I do find the single-minded obsession with Centaur stages somewhat baffling. He seems to have lots of connections with people at ULA, perhaps that is the explanation. But this single-mindedness does bring to mind the saying "if all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail".

2. The actual work of outfitting and modifying the Centaur on orbit is hand-waved away, aside from a brief mention of robots doing the work. I really do wish the host would have pressed him more on this.


I think DCSS would be better suited though the Delta IV doesn't fly as often and generally is not used for LEO missions.
« Last Edit: 04/20/2017 04:16 AM by Patchouli »

Offline jongoff

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Re: Ixion Wet Station Concept (NanoRacks, ULA, and MDA)
« Reply #27 on: 04/20/2017 07:05 AM »
There are, but are they credible and practical? NOTE, no one has said that this is impossible. Just impractical.

I think the solutions for several of the problems are pretty straightforward. Especially MMOD protection, and how you mount stuff to the inside and outside of a Centaur/ACES style balloon tank. A lot of the other concerns (about kitting out the volume) are ones that inflatables tend to share or are worse at. Admittedly it's an idea I've been noodling for years, so I'm somewhat biased.

I'm being intentionally vague for now, but hopefully can say more down the road.

~Jon

Offline Chasm

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Re: Ixion Wet Station Concept (NanoRacks, ULA, and MDA)
« Reply #28 on: 04/20/2017 09:07 AM »
Not say, show.  :)

I would really like to see some form of wetlab fly. If it is not a perfect solution? So what.
The concepts have been around for a long time and got reworked again and again. Unlike some other ides which gets thrown around there is certainly no "That doesn't even work in Kerbal Space..." factor.
I'm pretty tired of all those ideas that get developed to hardware and then canceled at the last second because they are not shiny enough, don't make that last ‰ of profit or got endorsed by the wrong person at some point in time, three decades ago.



ACES
As I understand there is no getting close to the ISS while there are still cryogenics in the stage. If you have to vent all tanks ACES does not help too much as far as docking or disposal goes. Otherwise it would be time for another round of rocket lego. 8) The upside is the the increased size and that more gear is located on the rear bulkhead, removing obstacles from the top. Construction method stays the same so no changes there.

Other upper stages
As per the linked podcast the H2 upper stages are quite similar, there is not too much difference between them. It's hard to justify launching on Delta IV because of price. Using a foreign launcher is not a real option for an American company either.
I suppose switching stages would be an easy fix if "but balloon tank" was the only complaint, but it isn't.

Offline TrevorMonty

Re: Ixion Wet Station Concept (NanoRacks, ULA, and MDA)
« Reply #29 on: 06/06/2017 01:01 AM »
tweets from Jeff Foust today

At a @spaceRESlux event in New York this afternoon, featuring space industry executives and the deputy prime minister of Luxembourg.

Manber (NanoRacks)also noted they (finally) had kickoff meeting on their NextSTEP hab module study. Hope to have 1st comm’l module up by 2021.

Sent from my SM-G570Y using Tapatalk


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