With the International Space Station (ISS) in its 12th year of occupation, space agencies are looking to model the Station’s success in future missions to beyond Earth orbit (BEO) destinations. Many components needed for NASA’s envisioned BEO missions are still merely conceptual, allowing the possibility of international cooperation in developing them.
While international space cooperation has advanced steadily since the dawn of human spaceflight, international space efforts were devoid of a central coordinating body until 2007 when the International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISECG) was founded by 14 of the world’s national space agencies.
Under the ISECG umbrella, space agencies plan to increase international collaboration in space exploration and emphasize international missions to Beyond Earth Orbit (BEO) destinations.
In a recent paper, “Benefits Stemming from Space Exploration,” ISECG states, “Future space exploration goals call for sending humans and robots beyond Low Earth Orbit and establishing sustained access to destinations such as the Moon, asteroids and Mars.
“Space agencies participating in the International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISECG) are discussing an international approach for achieving these goals, documented in ISECG’s Global Exploration Roadmap.
“That approach begins with the International Space Station (ISS), and leads to human missions to the surface of Mars.”
Modules without Makers:
Aiming for a 2017 debut with Orion, NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) currently has just two missions specified in its manifest, while further missions remain undefined.
However, NASA’s Exploration Systems Development (ESD) team has crafted design reference missions (DRMs), hypothetical missions that present glimpses into NASA’s next era of human spaceflight.
Several of NASA’s DRMs involve sending humans to near-Earth asteroids (NEAs), while other missions involve lunar flybys and landings. The DRMs culminate with the eventual goal of reaching Mars. While the conceptual missions vary in complexity, most DRMs require components that are currently at “notional” developmental stages, thereby lacking official designs or manufacturers.
As NASA works to direct its resources toward the development of SLS and Orion, the agency has indicated a desire to allocate the design and construction of currently “notional” mission components to its international partners.
Using components from its Automated Transfer Vehicles (ATVs), the European Space Agency (ESA) is slated to construct the majority of Orion’s service module.
Meanwhile, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden has sought BEO mission contributions from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI).
In addition to serving NASA’s overall goal of conquering deep space, internationally developed BEO mission components would allow NASA’s international partners to play guaranteed roles in reaching BEO destinations.
Building on the expertise that the world’s space agencies have individually accrued through decades of operation, international BEO missions could echo the same global unity and shared technology that have allowed the ISS to operate successfully for over a decade.
One notional BEO mission component is the deep space habitat (DSH), a “pressurized environment in which crew members live and work during extended transit phases and while at exploration destinations for longer duration missions.”
The DSH “provides all of the resources necessary to support the crew members during [the transit] timeframe and carries additional supplies and spares for the rest of the stack,” according to NASA’s most recent Concept of Operations (Con Ops) document (L2).
With JAXA’s H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV), ESA’s ATV, and Roscosmos’ fifty-year history of making modular space vehicles, there are a range of proven vehicles constructed that could serve as technological precedents for the DSH.
Another notional component, the Space Exploration Vehicle (SEV), is described by NASA as a “modular vehicle that combines a pressurized cabin and crew member support equipment, a propulsion/consumables unit, and robotic support packages.”
Similarly, the notional Robotics and EVA Module (REM) is envisioned as an “’add on’ airlock to other destination elements, consisting of a suitlock with two suitports, at least one robotic arm with a grapple fixture and EVA positioning end effectors, an international docking system standard interface, an external equipment pallet, a crew lock, and mounting points to which elements and payload hardware can be mounted.”
NASA’s international partners could answer a call to develop the SEV and REM.
The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) offers a long history of successes in robotics, including the development of the ISS’ Mobile Servicing System (MSS), and JAXA’s Hayabusa asteroid probe demonstrated Japan’s ability to return samples from BEO destinations.
Meanwhile, JAXA, ESA and Roscosmos could all contribute to the success of the SEV and REM using their recent experience building pressurized ISS modules.
The Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP) element is yet another BEO mission component that remains notional.
Consisting of “large solar arrays” and “Hall Effect Xenon (Xe) thrusters,” the SEP element is a “highly efficient, electrically driven method of propulsion” that “reduces propellant mass required for more advanced missions,” according to NASA. Solar-electric propulsion successes by NASA’s partners include JAXA’s Hayabusa and ESA’s SMART-1 satellite.
While ISECG advocates the technological advantages of global space cooperation, the group looks back to Earth for the ultimate benefits of collaboration, stating, “When nations work together on challenging space missions, this promotes international cooperation beyond the realm of space.
“It aligns interests and forges relationships that further peace and stability on Earth.”
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