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=== The ISS Option? ===

An editorial question from

Martha Adams

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Why put up a whole new space station for space work? With the ISS already there? Augustine 2 in 2009 October discusses the utility of an orbiting space station for space work, but Augustine's speculations don't include today's ISS.

Which seems to ignore a very good option, if some details can be corrected. Today's ISS orbital plane is so far from the solar system ecliptic that it's nearly useless for any work beyond ISS orbit. But -- the ISS is there now, so what would it cost to bring its orbital plane down to the Solar System ecliptic? As vs putting up a whole new station? And with a corrected orbital plane now nearly clear of the South Atlantic radiation anomaly, why not raise the ISS orbit, thus reducing its rate of orbital atmospheric degradation? And the cost of pushing it up again, and again...?

How to change a satellite's orbital plane is discussed in orbital mechanics works. It's (fuel) expensive, but that fuel cost must surely be very much less than the cost of building a whole new station, ferrying its parts up (partway) out of Terra's deep gravity well, and then assembling it there. Repeating work already done, if you can avoid it, seems to me completely sensible. I'm puzzled by the appearance in Augustine 2 that the ISS has no future place in space work.

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Re: A Closely Related Topic --

I haven't seen a lot of comment around about shutting down the Shuttle project. The Shuttle wasn't all that great a thing; it seems to have featured too many off-topic, non-engineering military and political compromises. But basically, it worked. It was built, and a large industrial base of hardware and human expertise was built to support it. That later thinking seems to be better thinking, is off-topic: this is expectable in all technologies (else they aren't evolving). Basically, the Shuttle could have served as a needed large step toward an American and a human presence in space and toward growth beyond our local Terran gravity well, out into the challenging, unfriendly, and ultimately necessary Big Reality that is out there.

It could have: it didn't. Today we're seeing it shut-down and its resources dissipated, very like what was done with Apollo. This shut-down extends farther, to the Constellation project that was so loudly presented as a follow-on to Apollo. (Which it copied remarkably, accompanied by loud assertions of "New! New!" Changed by Obama, shortly later, to "Gone, gone.") And us sitting here in America, see a remarkable spectacle that our ever so thoughtful politicians in Washington have devised for us.

It is, gee whiz, we just happen not to have any way to get people out to the ISS and beyond these days. "Just happen" and we say, That's OK. We'll buy, another way. The Russians can do it for us. We can hire rides up to the ISS for $50 million a shot (cheap!) and so we don't need any Shuttle nor anything else of that sort.

This incredible reality and stumble leaves me feeling amazed and frustrated, but I'm not sure I'm awfully surprised by this out of Washington. See my Brass Tacks piece Tripod here, and my Question over in CEP / Culture, Economics, and Politics. Finger pointing is easy, concerning this remarkable story, and I point my finger to politicians not engineers and scientists, at the root of it. If in fact I'm wrong in this, will somebody please outline my error to me.


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