Since the end of the Apollo era, one of the main goals of NASA, Roscosmos and other space agencies, was the development of technologies enabling a long-term human presence in the world. ;space. These technologies will also help when the time comes to mount new missions on the Moon, Mars and other parts of the solar system. In recent decades, these efforts have led to the creation of Mir and the International Space Station (ISS).
In the coming years, these efforts will also lead to the lunar orbital platform gateway and commercial space stations – such as the Bigelow B330. And if private aerospace companies such as the Gateway Foundation succeed, we will also have a spaceport orbiting the Earth. The company recently released a video showing exactly what this spinning space station will look like and how companies like SpaceX could help build it.
The company's concept is known as the Gateway, a rotating space station based on the designs proposed by the German rocket specialist and space architect Werner von Braun. These drawings appeared in a series of articles from the national magazine Collier's in the 1950s, entitled "Man will soon conquer space!" That's why the company named the project Von Braun.
This concept is actually quite honored. The design of Von Braun is based on earlier proposals, the oldest of which was made by the Russian scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky in 1903. The concept was beautifully illustrated in Stanley Kubrick's paper. 2001: The Space Odyssey, which was co-written by the famous scientist and futurist Arthur C. Clarke (and based on a short story from his film "The Sentinel").
In any case, the general concept involves a spinning wheel station in Earth orbit, which would establish a human presence in space while providing an artificial gravity to its inhabitants. This is an important aspect of the proposed space flights that will lead astronauts into distant spaces, such as Mars and further into the solar system (and possibly beyond).
Given the effects of long-term exposure to microgravity, which have been extensively documented in the recent Twin Study, mission planners have looked for ways to mitigate them. The study consisted of ten separate studies on the long-term effects of microgravity on humans, using twin astronauts Scott Kelly and Mark Kelly as test subjects.
After spending more than a year in space, the study teams noted a number of important changes between Scott Kelly and his brother. Although he experienced the same loss of muscle mass and bone density as other astronauts who spent long periods aboard the ISS, other changes have made the # Adaptation to life on Earth very difficult.
Kelly's eyesight had decreased, he had had intense swelling at the extremities, and changes in the function of his organs and the expression of his genes had also been observed. Beyond microgravity, questions also arise about the human body's response to long-term exposure to lunar gravity (16.5% of normal on Earth) and Martian gravity (~ 38%) .
This is particularly important given current plans to establish a permanent outpost on the Moon and conduct crewed missions on Mars over the next two decades. As the president of the Gateway Foundation, John Blincow, states in the recently released video (see below), this is one of the benefits of the gateway proposed by his company:
"People need gravity so that bodies do not fall apart. But to what extent will lunar gravity be acceptable for one year but not for two years? Will Does Martian gravity work in the long term for humans, but not for large farm animals? Will two days a week at 30% g be enough for ISS teams to conserve their bone mass? The construction of the von Braun space station can help unlock these secrets. "
The structure of the bridge consists of two concentric inner rings fixed by four spokes to an outer ring. The two concentric rings constitute the lunar gravity zone (LGA), where the rotation of the station generates a gravitational force equal to that of the lunar surface. The outer inner ring – the LGA Habitation ring – is where the housing modules will be placed, which will consist of small rooms for the guests.
Meanwhile, the LGA's high-ceiling indoor ring will offer tourists the opportunity to dine and play in a low-consumption environment. The hub and bay are at the heart of the station, where traffic and environmental control, security and the gateway's transport link will all be located. The Hub will also have an observation lounge where guests can watch the incoming shuttles.
The outer ring, called the Mars Gravity Zone (MGA), rotates faster because it is further away from the nucleus. This results in an artificial gravitational force similar to that which would be felt on the surface of Mars. This area will have 4 or 5 decks and will be the place where will be located the large modules offering permanent accommodation. As Blincow explained:
"The Von Braun space station will be a rotating space station designed to produce different levels of artificial gravity by increasing or decreasing the speed of rotation. The station will be designed from the start to accommodate both the research of the National Space Agency and space tourists who wish to live on a large space station with the comfort of a low gravity and the sensation of a beautiful hotel. "
Another important element mentioned by Blincow in the role that SpaceX could play in the creation of the station. Originally, the bridge design included modules 12m long and 8.5m wide (about twice the size of ISS modules). But thanks to the recent progress made by SpaceX with their Spatialship and Very heavy, the Gateway Foundation believes that heavier payloads could be launched.
"If we had a SpaceX Very heavy second stage, designed solely for the construction of space, we can have modules 12 m wide and 18 m long, "said Blincow. "This much larger size will allow a much larger interior volume for the same launch costs."
The modular design of the rings is designed to accommodate different types of activities and activities. While some will be reserved for housing dockers, others will be dedicated to scientific research. These last modules will be in great demand because the station offers the possibility of examining the way in which the terrestrial organisms manage with the lunar and Mars gravity without having to go there.
Others will be available for hotel and restaurant chains, luxury private accommodations and other businesses seeking to establish offices in the space (possibly to take advantage of tax laws!), Also underlined the fact that the creation of the bridge will transcend national borders, and will require an international effort that brings together enthusiasts of space agencies, commercial aerospace and space.
The end result will be an international station much like the ISS, but an economically autonomous private enterprise. No indication is given of the cost of building the bridge, but Blincow is confident in its cost-effectiveness, thanks to SpaceX and how its commitment to reusable rockets lowers the cost of individual launches.
Referring to Musk's announcement in 2017 that the WCR would be fully reusable (which he had done at the 29th International Astronomical Congress (ICC) in Adelaide, Australia), Blincow said:
"When we started to set our cost estimates for space construction, we relied on the lowest estimated launch cost we could find: the SpaceX BFR at $ 1,000 per kg. It cost about $ 150 million per launch. But then, Elon Musk made a presentation in Adelaide that changed everything. By making all components of BFR reusable, its costs could be spread over many flights, such as an airliner.
"Elon Musk estimates the launch costs of the Spatialship and Very heavy recall to about $ 7 million. Some estimate that each launch will reach $ 40 million once all factors are taken into account. But whether it's seven or forty million dollars, it's always music to our ears. This means that rotating space stations, maintenance facilities and fuel depots can and will be built at an affordable cost. "
The construction process, which will rely heavily on advances in space robotics, would also validate key systems and technologies that could eventually become part of the construction of huge space habitats (such as O'Neil cylinders). These are considered by many as a viable alternative (or addition) to the colonization proposals of other planets.
These systems range from stabilization to air recirculation, from water recovery to low severity sanitation, from food storage in the open to the challenges of air conditioning. engineering. All questions under the general heading "How to maintain a population in the space?" Will be addressed during the construction of the gate Gateway, says Bilcow.
In terms of financing the construction, Bilcow indicates how his company hopes to set up crucial partnerships with space agencies of the world (NASA, Roscomos, ESA, China, India and India). others) as well as with commercial aerospace companies. They also plan to raise funds through early ticket sales and sale of modules (for the super-rich), organize a lottery and create a membership program for members of the group. Crew (for all others).
Beyond the construction of a bridge orbiting the Earth, the Foundation also hopes to create a fleet of trans-atmospheric vehicles (TAV) that can transport people to the space station. They also hope to build another one in lunar orbit (lunar bridge), which would allow regular movements between the Earth and the Moon (with cis-lunar shuttles) and regular lunar surface displacements (with cis-lunatic landing gear). lunar).
Again, the costs of such a project would be astronomical and would go beyond what a country or company could incur. However, with many entrepreneurs looking to do space tourism, not to mention how such space stations could facilitate exploration missions on the moon and even on Mars, the partnerships Blincow envisioned could be feasible.
Like so many other ambitious projects aimed at colonizing space, marketing LEO and establishing a human presence on other bodies of the solar system, we will have to wait to see if the Gateway Foundation has legs. or suffers the same fate as Mars One. – who recently announced his bankruptcy. In addition to the vision, they have an asset: they have the ability to reduce the numbers. Hope they work on their behalf!
The main points of the Foundation's video were also presented at Caltech in January 2016 (hosted by the Keck Institute for Space Studies). Entitled "Building the First Low Earth Orbit Spaceport", the conference was presented by John Blincow and Tom Spilker, a retired flight engineer who worked for many years with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). .
For more information about Gateway Foundation and its various projects, check out their website here.
Further reading: Gateway Foundation