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A Testbed for Future Space Exploration

Published by Matt on Wed Oct 27, 2010 12:21 pm via: ESA
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The International Space Station (ISS) is a successful laboratory for science and technology, but it could be called on for even more exciting uses.

ESA is now asking for fresh and challenging ideas to expand the use of the ISS for exploring deeper space. The ISS has been orbiting Earth for the past decade, and it will be used for at least ten years more – confirmed by our international partners. It might be in space, but its work is benefiting us on the ground.

Backdropped by Earth's horizon and the blackness of space, the International Space Station is featured in this image photographed by an STS-130 crew member on space shuttle Endeavour after the station and shuttle began their post-undocking relative separation. Undocking of the two spacecraft occurred at 01:54 CET on 20 February 2010. Credits: NASA

Backdropped by Earth's horizon and the blackness of space, the International Space Station is featured in this image photographed by an STS-130 crew member on space shuttle Endeavour after the station and shuttle began their post-undocking relative separation. Undocking of the two spacecraft occurred at 01:54 CET on 20 February 2010. Credits: NASA

ESA plans to continue the valuable life and physical sciences research, perform fundamental new experiments and study Earth to help understand global climate change.

Building on this, we are already thinking about sending astronauts from low Earth orbit to explore deeper space – the Moon, Mars, asteroids and perhaps other destinations.

To prepare for these pioneering missions, ESA’s Directorate of Human Spaceflight is now calling for ideas for using the ISS to test the new capabilities and technologies needed for venturing further into the Solar System.

“A new era for the utilisation of the International Space Station is about to start,” said Simonetta Di Pippo, ESA’s Director of Human Spaceflight.

The sky is not the limit

We are gathering ideas for experiments, spacecraft systems, subsystems and components, technology demonstrations, operations and education in preparation for future exploration missions.

For instance, these long-duration flights pose new threats to astronaut health because of the radiation, microgravity and prolonged isolation.

Full panoramic view of Earth from Cupola. Credits: NASA

Full panoramic view of Earth from Cupola. Credits: NASA

New ideas are needed for regenerative life-support systems, waste and water processing and food production. These technologies must be tested in a realistic situation before using them on actual exploration missions.

The handling of failures, maintenance and repairs needs a fresh approach because crews will be on their own so far from Earth. Built-in self-diagnosis and automatic recovery will be required, perhaps with materials that repair themselves.

The ISS offers an ideal opportunity for the final testing and initial use of habitation modules and facilities, as well as new robots for maintenance, repairs and handling cargo.

Tele-operations, telecommunications and improved information systems will increase the crew’s autonomy and reduce their dependency on ground support. These can all be tested safely aboard the ISS, before we leap beyond Earth orbit.

Act before 26 November

The call is directed towards space developers, research groups, industry, national institutions, academia and educational institutes, entrepreneurs and ESA’s own staff. Share your visions with us.

Details are attached (see link on the right). Letters of interest (not mandatory nor binding) are required by 5 November and idea proposals by 26 November 2010 using the form on the right.

“This call is intended to support the preparation of a Programme Proposal to be submitted to the ESA Member States at the next ESA Ministerial Council in 2012,” said Simonetta Di Pippo. It is not part of a formal selection process for ESA’s ISS Utilisation programme.

7 Comments
I'm glad they aren't suggesting trying to fly the ISS to the Moon or Mars.
Maybe they know what they're doing, and what the station is actually capable of, and not just dreaming?
One of the top priorities should be using a VASIMR engine for periodic boosts. It's been planned for a long time but still hasn't happened.
There was talk of sending a VASIMR engine up on the final shuttle flight (STS135) in June 2011. I don't know if that is still going ahead.
Its still cheaper to use the cargo ships (which have to come anyway) to do orbital adjustments.
Do you have any numbers to back up that claim?

With VASIMR you could potentially use almost any gas you want as a fuel. Now that the hydrogen is used by the sabatier reactor, you have methane left from that process that gets vented overboard. In other words: fuel for VASIMR would basically be "free". Not to mention that the ISP of VASIMR is way better than any chemical rocket.

So why would that be more expensive than bringing up fuel on the cargo ships to do reboosts of the station? (If you don't need that fuel for reboosts, you could bring more of the other stuff, right?)

Or am I missing something here?
The Progress' and other visitors have to bring extra fuel for margin, system pressurization, etc. It would other wise be wasted.

A VASIMR would spend most of its time shut down because the station does not need to be maneuvered often. It wouldn't be useful in an emergency avoidance maneuver.

Cost wouldn't just be for the engine itself. All of the required engineering and integration work in determining effects on the station etc, could easily cost more than the hardware itself.

I agree with you that it would be a "nice to have", but its not a "have to have". But suggest it, maybe they'll go for it.
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