Saturday, August 16, 2008

Georgia and the International Space Station - Part 2

Georgia and the International Space Station - Part 2

Some new information has come to my attention and this will change the dynamic somewhat. It turns out that our European partners already have a partner for access to the ISS in Russia. Under development are several joint projects between Europe and Russia including an upgraded Soyuz which will be launched from a new launch pad from the French spaceport in French Guiana. The new pad is scheduled to start operations in 2009.

For a time a joint project called Kliper was being developed which was a winged upper stage derived from the Soyuz. Klipper would be roughly equivalent of the NASA Orion/CEV. Kliper is in limbo at the moment as the Russians and Europeans develop a spacecraft called the CSTS which is a capsule-type spacecraft for the ATV. There are various proposals and counter-proposals which are very confusing but the gist of it is that Russia and Europe will eventually have a manned, jointly developed spacecraft in the near future, certainly before Orion if all goes well. Since the ATV is the basis for the European design, the only remaining element needing to be developed is the manned capsule. It already has a proven launch vehicle, so this places development way ahead of NASA and the Constellation program.

What this all means is that the US even more venerable to being cut off from access to space until Orion is online.

The scenario is thus - Europe is now dependent on oil and Natural Gas from Russia and those resources can be held hostage in exchange for freezing the US out of the ISS. The Europeans have no choice. Either they cooperate on Russian terms or they freeze and their industrial capacity grinds to a halt. Thus the Europeans will be placed in the position of freezing us out of our program, the one we invested the most money in. What the other partners in the ISS will do remains to be seen. Japan would probably not cooperate given their long standing disputes with Russia. Other countries might be either shut out or forced to capitulate to Russia to keep their activities on the ISS going. When Russia has the only operational spacecraft to access the space station, given the deteriorating political situation between our two countries, we will in all likelihood be shut out or be charged exhorbinant fees to use the Soyuz or Klipper to access the ISS.

This will force the US to have even more need to develop the Orion even while keeping the Shuttle operational. This may be an excellent opportunity to develop new launch capability for the US. One of the advantages of French Guiana for the Europeans is that the site is close to the Equator which, due to the boost a rocket gets from the faster rotation of the Earth at the Equator, makes it much more advantageous for space launches. Therefore, its necessary for the US to develop a similar capability and the prime Real Estate is one of three places; Guam, Hawaii or American Samoa. Thus, the US would have a launch capability which would make launching Geosynchronous satellites easier. Adding Orion, with its Ares unmanned and manned launch vehicles plus the present unmanned launch vehicles that the US already has in inventory would make the US more competitive in space access and increase the payload capabilities of the US systems. In this scenario, the US would not reuse the Shuttle launch facilities, but instead build an entirely new launch facility at one of the American locations mentioned. Thus the reuse of the shuttle pads would not be necessary with new ones being constructed elsewhere. This might be more expensive, but in the long run more beneficial to the space program.

Another alternative which would allow the use of the assembly infrastructure is to keep one Shuttle Pad, either 39A or 39B configured for the Shuttle and build a new pad for Ares at the site for the 39C pad that was originally supposed to built for Apollo. The new pad would be built for the Ares I and when it was operational, then the pads for the Shuttle could be reconstructed for Ares. Keeping one pad for the Shuttle will leave us able to bring the Shuttle back if necessary in a short amount of time.

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I am interested in CNG vehicles because they are good for the environment and aren't powered by dead Marines. I still have a little hope for the world. Read the musings and enjoy.