“If we're talking about infrastructure to support unclear goals, we need to make a decision about infrastructure that might be useful for all our goals,” he said during his IAC presentation on the subject.
A pressurized module derived from those that make up the habitable volume of the ISS could sustain Orion crews at L-2 much longer than they could remain there in the big capsule alone, and the linked vehicles could use Gerstenmaier's gravity lanes to reach more interesting destinations such as lunar orbit, an asteroid, the vicinity of Mars or even the JWST for upgrades or repairs.
“It doesn't take much delta-v to do that,” says Gerstenmaier, using the term for change in velocity. “It takes a long time.”
At the 62nd IAC in Cape Town, South Africa, Gerstenmaier and others were considering recycling space station modules to one of the Earth-Moon Lagrangian points (AW&ST Oct. 10, 2011, p. 46). Closer examination has proved that idea impractical—station modules were not built for the radiation, thermal and gravity environments, all of which are poorly understood. “We have different gravitation conditions at Lagrangian points,” says Derechin. “It may be simple, but we will need new technology for rendezvous and docking.”
The Russian engineer suggests the time to begin addressing those problems is now, while the ISS is still functioning and can be used as a starting point.
Space-agency chiefs who partner with NASA on the ISS are much more focused on finding funds to operate the station now than they are on figuring out how to move pieces of it somewhere else after 2020. In an IAC press conference, they were unanimous in their support for keeping the station running as long as possible after that date.
“Myself, I would like to make sure we extend the ISS beyond 2020 because it is useful,” said Jean-Jacques Dordain, director general of the European Space Agency, which will learn at a ministerial conference next month if its partner nations are willing to fund ESA at the station until 2020. He was joined in that view by Keiji Tachikawa, president of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and Steve MacLean, president of the Canadian Space Agency.
Sergey Saveliev, deputy head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, also agreed with Dordain on the need to focus on the station after 2020. Russia, which plans to invest $1 billion a year in human spaceflight activities in 2015-25, expects that the ISS will be used to support future exploration, no matter what the destination.
In May, Alexey Krasnov, head of human spaceflight at Roscosmos, said Moscow needs to begin planning by 2014 if Russia is to remain in the partnership beyond the end of this decade.
“We don't need firm commitments then, but indications of what the partners want to do,” Krasnov told an ISS-utilization symposium in Berlin. “We know this deadline might create some difficulties. But we have to have some idea of what we are going to do for this 10-year budget.”