Poll

How close is commercial to providing an "ISS replacement"?

Closer than we were when COTS started
38 (43.7%)
About where we were when COTS was started
27 (31%)
Further away than we were when COTS started
22 (25.3%)

Total Members Voted: 87

Voting closed: 03/01/2018 03:34 PM


Author Topic: POLL: How close is commercial to providing an "ISS replacement"?  (Read 3473 times)

Offline Political Hack Wannabe

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Ok, so a little background on this.  Last week, I was having a conversation about the proposed president's budget.  During our discussions, I noted that it was 7 years when COTS was started (2005) and the first CRS flight (2012), and that it's about 7 years from now until 2025, and asked the question - are we closer to have a "commercial ISS replacement" than we were to commercial station resupply in 2005?  I take the view that yes, we are closer, but he was adamant that we were further away.  I asked did he mean technical developments or business case, and he said both. 

Anyway, I am interested in what other people think.   
« Last Edit: 01/30/2018 01:10 AM by Lar »
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Offline Coastal Ron

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I voted further, since there are far more unknowns for a commercial space station than there were for a cargo spacecraft.

Plus, while money can solve the problem of "unknown unknowns", so far there isn't any interest I can see for a commercial company to take the lead and fund such a project.

For instance, while the Commercial Cargo program addressed a known need, and it was fairly straightforward to identify the business case for it and thus fund the program. As of today there is no known business case that I know of for a commercial space station of any type.

So step #1 is to identify a problem that creating a commercial space station solves, and THEN it will be more apparent where the money will come from - and once you understand the money equation, the time part of that (i.e. how close is a commercial ISS replacement?) can be answered.
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Offline whitelancer64

Depends on what you mean by "replacement"

I'd say closer, but there's just no way to 100% replicate the capability of the scientific equipment on the ISS commercially.

Can, say, Bigelow throw up a couple B-330s within 7 years? Yes. Could that in theory replace some of the functions of the ISS? Yes.

Would ANY commercial company build something like, for example, the AMS for commercial purposes? Very unlikely.
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Offline Political Hack Wannabe

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Depends on what you mean by "replacement"

I'd say closer, but there's just no way to 100% replicate the capability of the scientific equipment on the ISS commercially.

Can, say, Bigelow throw up a couple B-330s within 7 years? Yes. Could that in theory replace some of the functions of the ISS? Yes.

Would ANY commercial company build something like, for example, the AMS for commercial purposes? Very unlikely.

I fully grant there is some vagaries when it comes to "ISS replacement."  There is a lot that has gone into ISS, and to replace everything is impractical.  OTOH, as you pointed out, a few BA-330s could replace some functions of ISS.  The way I look at it is can a commercial platform take on 80-90% of the activities going on at ISS?  That gets us to a replacement realm
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Offline Political Hack Wannabe

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I voted further, since there are far more unknowns for a commercial space station than there were for a cargo spacecraft.

Plus, while money can solve the problem of "unknown unknowns", so far there isn't any interest I can see for a commercial company to take the lead and fund such a project.

I am looking at the likes of Bigelow, Axiom, Ixion, and others.  I am not looking for a 1 to 1 replacement, as I think that is unlikely.  Think of it akin to Commercial Cargo replacing Shuttle

For instance, while the Commercial Cargo program addressed a known need, and it was fairly straightforward to identify the business case for it and thus fund the program. As of today there is no known business case that I know of for a commercial space station of any type.

So step #1 is to identify a problem that creating a commercial space station solves, and THEN it will be more apparent where the money will come from - and once you understand the money equation, the time part of that (i.e. how close is a commercial ISS replacement?) can be answered.

I guess my question is do you think Axiom/Bigelow/Ixion/etc haven't really done this?
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Offline deruch

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Further away.  And I agree with your interlocutor that it is further in both technical and business respects.  While those 7 years are interesting because it makes an equal time span to the one between now and 2025, IMO, the first CRS flight was not really a meaningful end point.  The equivalent space station comparison would be like if someone put up a single module station that lasted less than 2 months, had 1 crew visit it, but couldn't be sustained long enough to allow a second rotation.  IMO, a better comparison point would be from the start of COTS to the point where you felt Commercial Cargo was capable of fully supporting a moderately operational USOS.  i.e. The date where, if HTV weren't flying and Progress were grounded for some reason, the commercial providers could support a US Segment still capable of doing some science (3 crew minimum) and at least a minimal Russian Segment (1 crew minimum). 

I suppose the basis of my criticism is what counts as an "ISS replacement"?  What are the minimum capabilities for a station to qualify? 
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Offline Coastal Ron

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I voted further, since there are far more unknowns for a commercial space station than there were for a cargo spacecraft.

Plus, while money can solve the problem of "unknown unknowns", so far there isn't any interest I can see for a commercial company to take the lead and fund such a project.

I am looking at the likes of Bigelow, Axiom, Ixion, and others.  I am not looking for a 1 to 1 replacement, as I think that is unlikely.  Think of it akin to Commercial Cargo replacing Shuttle

I agree, a 1:1 replacement is not required. Still, a lot of hardware will be needed.

Quote
For instance, while the Commercial Cargo program addressed a known need, and it was fairly straightforward to identify the business case for it and thus fund the program. As of today there is no known business case that I know of for a commercial space station of any type.

So step #1 is to identify a problem that creating a commercial space station solves, and THEN it will be more apparent where the money will come from - and once you understand the money equation, the time part of that (i.e. how close is a commercial ISS replacement?) can be answered.

I guess my question is do you think Axiom/Bigelow/Ixion/etc haven't really done this?

No, no one that I know of has proven a business case for a private space station.

- Bigelow is a station service provider, but as yet has not "pulled the trigger" on his proposed LEO business.

- Axiom has lots of big names attached to it, but it's a brand new company - none of the principles lists it on their LinkedIn profiles, so according to LinkedIn Axiom does not yet exist.

- Ixion (aka Ixion Initiative Team) is just a partnership to do a study, not a company.

What SpaceX is doing for Mars is far more visible, and has far more financial clarity, but so far that only exists because Elon Musk is willing to spend future money to make it happen. I don't see the equivalent for a commercial LEO station as of yet. Do you?
« Last Edit: 01/30/2018 04:51 AM by Coastal Ron »
If we don't continuously lower the cost to access space, how are we ever going to afford to expand humanity out into space?

Offline hop

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I guess my question is do you think Axiom/Bigelow/Ixion/etc haven't really done this?
IMHO no, otherwise they would be building space stations instead of building powerpoints and test articles of space stations.

But... your original question references COTS.  A COTS analog ISS would still be largely government funded, just contracted more flexibly with more of the design and operations on the contractors. There's no reason to think the existing ISS prime contractors or others couldn't operate a station on this model, given enough money. Whether this would be better or cheaper than ISS is less obvious, but IMO it's further away than COTS was when started, simply because it's a much bigger project.

Offline Political Hack Wannabe

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I suppose the basis of my criticism is what counts as an "ISS replacement"?  What are the minimum capabilities for a station to qualify?

I am leaving this open a little, because I doubt there is universal agreement.  In my mind, can the station handle 80-90% of the research activities of the ISS?  I am willing to hear an alternative number or metric.  But that seems a reasonable starting point to me
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Offline Political Hack Wannabe

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Hop and Coastal Ron - I suspect a huge aspect of this, when it comes to the business case, boils down to the question of will NASA have needs for activities on a LEO station post 2024, and if it does, can it build the required trust with commercial providers by 2025 to use them in the place? 

I grant that is not a small question. 
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Offline oldAtlas_Eguy

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Voted Closer.

This is because the primary pacing item to a commercial station was commercial crew. Once commercial crew is flying only the technical and scheduling and economic issues remain and of those they seem to all have been solved at least for one provider Bigelow. Others are still struggling mainly with the economic issues.

Online Lar

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(mod) Some changes.
- Moved poll to Polls section
- Edited Topic to include POLL:
- set votes to not visible till after voted
- set expiration date to 31 days from poll start

Because that's how things are done here.

(fan) I voted closer, because tech. However I could have voted farther, because money/business cases.
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Offline Coastal Ron

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I suppose the basis of my criticism is what counts as an "ISS replacement"?  What are the minimum capabilities for a station to qualify?

I am leaving this open a little, because I doubt there is universal agreement.  In my mind, can the station handle 80-90% of the research activities of the ISS?  I am willing to hear an alternative number or metric.  But that seems a reasonable starting point to me

I think there are two specific use cases for an ISS replacement that are not necessarily mutual, but both are important:

1. Quantifying the effects of zero gravity on humans, and testing ways to mitigate or eliminate them.

2. Identifying business cases for future uses of space, such as medical research, manufacturing, etc.

#1 seems to be in the realm of government-only funding, since it's pure research and governments have lower risk levels than the private sector does (yep, that's just they way it is...). #2 seems like it would be the primary incentive for creating a commercial station, but as of today I don't think enough benefits have been identified to make it a clear funding decision.
« Last Edit: 01/30/2018 10:12 PM by Coastal Ron »
If we don't continuously lower the cost to access space, how are we ever going to afford to expand humanity out into space?

Offline Political Hack Wannabe

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It think there are two specific use cases for an ISS replacement that are not necessarily mutual, but both are important:

1. Quantifying the effects of zero gravity on humans, and testing ways to mitigate or eliminate them.

2. Identifying business cases for future uses of space, such as medical research, manufacturing, etc.

#1 seems to be in the realm of government-only funding, since it's pure research and governments have lower risk levels than the private sector does (yep, that's just they way it is...). #2 seems like it would be the primary incentive for creating a commercial station, but as of today I don't think enough benefits have been identified to make it a clear funding decision.

Ron, I have a problem with the way you are phrasing this.  There are other items and activities that NASA could want to do in LEO, beyond zero-g effects on humans.  There are activities that it funds for scientists on ISS unrelated to item 1, and I'd be curious to understand why you think those wouldn't continue in a post-ISS world.  Or, are you assuming those fall into #2?  Also, it feels like you are suggesting the ideas/knowledge of potential users of commercial space stations are 0.  Are you suggesting that?
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Offline david1971

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I am leaving this open a little, because I doubt there is universal agreement.  In my mind, can the station handle 80-90% of the research activities of the ISS?  I am willing to hear an alternative number or metric.  But that seems a reasonable starting point to me

I'd set the bar much lower - a destination in LEO with the expectation of continuous human occupation.  There's no way we (USA/Russia/Europe/Japan + other partners) will dump the $$$ needed to build ISS into something like ISS again.

Offline Cherokee43v6

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I voted closer, but with the caveat that this is driven by two factors.  Access and Capability.

To date, there has been no active 'business case' demand for private/commercial space stations because all of the access has been pure-play government owned and operated.  We are on the cusp of a resolution to this with the near-term flights of the first commercial crew vehicles.  However, just having commercial/private manned launch and return vehicles is only part of the equation.  Such flights must also fit within the economic means of those seeking to make use of the facilities.

Capability is actually harder to measure.  Primarily because the lead operation in Commercial/Private space stations, Bigelow Aerospace, has been very 'up and down' as the extended timelines on availability of access have played out.  You can't say that they've done nothing, after-all, they've flown two 'free-flying' test modules and built the BEAM for NASA to test and technology validate on the ISS.  But there are other questions that remain foggy.  ECLSS, and Power being the most critical.

To me, the most logical path to a new station would see the first piece or pieces of it initially deployed to the ISS.  From there, critical and/or useful equipment could be relocated from the ISS to the new station piece and an on-orbit checkout and debugging could occur before setting it up as a free-flyer for later expansion.  This also might improve near-end-of-life ISS utilization as the researchers/backers would have the option/ability to have their equipment be among that transferred to the new station, rather than losing the investment in the equipment after only minimal usage.
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Offline Eer

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I voted closer, due to "access" via COTS and derivative transportation service availability.

I agree with David1971, that continuous occupation from whatever source is an appropriate criteria at this juncture.

I personally hope to see work towards spin gravity research ramp up, separate from microgravity research that is no doubt still valuable.  But I also hope human and other critter habitation will generally be isolated from the microgravity labs, so they don't interfere with each other.

Access should mean there's more easily more than one such lab.

Offline Coastal Ron

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It think there are two specific use cases for an ISS replacement that are not necessarily mutual, but both are important:

1. Quantifying the effects of zero gravity on humans, and testing ways to mitigate or eliminate them.

2. Identifying business cases for future uses of space, such as medical research, manufacturing, etc.

#1 seems to be in the realm of government-only funding, since it's pure research and governments have lower risk levels than the private sector does (yep, that's just they way it is...). #2 seems like it would be the primary incentive for creating a commercial station, but as of today I don't think enough benefits have been identified to make it a clear funding decision.

There are other items and activities that NASA could want to do in LEO, beyond zero-g effects on humans.  There are activities that it funds for scientists on ISS unrelated to item 1, and I'd be curious to understand why you think those wouldn't continue in a post-ISS world.  Or, are you assuming those fall into #2?

I'm looking at this from a funding-stream standpoint - who will fund a new station, and what ROI do they expect?

For U.S. Government space exploration, the ISS does nothing for improving robotic exploration, so the efforts on the ISS are focused on how to keep humans alive and well for space exploration. Which I identified as #1 above.

For the "science" on the ISS, sure, there are more than just one goal, but for the U.S. Government they have not been the primary drivers of funding the ISS. Secondary, sure. And lots of organizations have been interested in the capabilities the ISS provides, and I lumped all of those under #2 above, because they are focused on finding products or solutions that can benefit people on Earth.

If you think there should be more categories then please add them. You wanted to hear an alternative number or metric, and I provided two...  :D

Quote
Also, it feels like you are suggesting the ideas/knowledge of potential users of commercial space stations are 0.  Are you suggesting that?

Again, I'm looking at this from a funding-stream standpoint, so I'm not counting on wishes and hopes, I'm trying to see who would fund this. Today.

And look, we are all space enthusiasts here, which means we are are dreamers. And that is GOOD! But when dealing with turning those dreams into reality we have to make sure we stay realistic. And for me that means showing me the money first.

My $0.02
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Offline JH

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I feel like I might be missing something here. As far as I can tell, there are at least two potential revenue streams for a commercial space station: the often over-promised, but demonstrably real, tourism market, and ZBLAN optical fiber manufacturing—the first test of which was sent to the ISS last month.

I understand that the true market size has not been clearly determined for either of these, but isn't it a bit hyperbolic to say that there are no credible ways to monetize a space station without relying primarily on government funding?
« Last Edit: 01/31/2018 03:13 AM by JH »

Offline jongoff

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I voted farther. While I think it likely we'll see at least one or two human-tended commercial space facilities in the next 7yrs or so, I'm not sure if they'll really be anywhere close to "replacing ISS". The problem is that while COTS (and hopefully CCrew) succeeded technically, it's way too expensive to enable most potential commercial space facility use cases. Also, it's not yet clear if the meager pittance of seed funding NASA has put into ISS experimentation via CASIS (something like <0.5% of ISS's budget) will result in any "killer-apps" that can be anchor customers for commercial space facilities. Made In Space and a few others might yet convince me otherwise, but I'm not sure we're at the point yet where we have enough demand to actually pay for sustaining even one commercial human-tended space facility, at least at current CRS/CCrew costs.

My $.02

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