back to article Experts warn transition to private space stations won't happen anytime soon

NASA will have to continue relying on international cooperation to keep the International Space Station (ISS) ticking over to 2030 and beyond, despite plans to replace the laboratory with private commercial space stations.  Launched in 1998, the ISS is now in its third decade of operations. The aging space lab is showing signs …

  1. druck Silver badge

    Actual space!

    We shouldn't forget the role the ISS plays in education and inspiring new generations of engineers and scientists. My 8 year old was lucky enough to put a question to Samantha Cristoforetti live on the ISS from the Farnborough International Airshow, I kept saying to him after, you've just talked to someone in actual space!

  2. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    A quick glance at YouTube

    Advises me that there are dozens of aliens hanging around the place, abducting people and turning cows inside out. Perhaps NASA could lease some orbital living quarters from them? I mean, compared to a space station, cows are cheap!

    1. Spherical Cow Silver badge

      Re: A quick glance at YouTube


      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        Re: A quick glance at YouTube

        Present company excepted, of course!

  3. Eclectic Man Silver badge

    Medical experiments

    Let us also remember that the ISS has been used to find out what happens to people who sped a long time in micro-gravity / zero-gravity environments. It seems that bone density loss takes ages to be reversed on return to Earth. This bodes badly for a manned Mars mission, and for missions to further bodies in our solar system.

    I cannot see any private organisation funding an experimental rotating, manned space station to see if it is viable as a way of maintaining body mass in space. I reckon that would be too much even for Mr Musk. The insurance premium alone would be exceptional.

    1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

      Re: Medical experiments

      Tether two super-heavy Starships (once Musk has them) nose to nose, and spin them about the tether's centre. No need to build a dedicated space station. Two SH Starships have plenty of occupiable volume, especially if the tankage can be converted into usable volume.

      Some structural mods are probably needed to overcome the increased rotation and centifugal forces on the spaceframe, and it would be useful to have a pair of gantries connecting both craft so occupants could move from one to the other.

      Perahps even make the tether lenght variable, to test effects of different rotation speeds and radii, e.g. people's tolerances, motion sickness etc.

      Point is it's not beyond SpaceX's capability, and far simpler, faster and cheaper than building aother space station to see if centrifugal force from rotation really can be a replacement for true gravity. Yeah mathematically they work out to the same thing, but still there could be unexpected outcomes.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

        1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

          Re: Medical experiments

          Two large lumps tethered together and spinning in space is somewhat more tricky than it seems. Twisting forces can seriously affect things, any imbalance in mass could be disastrous, and, the big one, how do you get on and off the thing? In the film 2001, there was an enormous station in space and it had a central, non-rotating, dock for space shuttles. That takes some engineering.

          As for the tether, what happens if it fails? Going to be seriously dangerous for anyone on board. The JWST has already been hit by a micro-meteoroid unexpectedly early in its career. Moving a large rotating space station out of the way of space debris caused by colliding satellites would be much more difficult than moving the (not intentionally rotating) ISS.

          1. Hurn

            Re: Medical experiments

            Actually, in 2001, the hub rotated with the station.

            This is why the PanAm Clipper had to carefully line up with the station, and start rotating at the same speed as the hub.

            Once rotational speed was matched, only then did the Clipper move forward, into the docking space at the center of the hub.

            The motion went well with the music.

            1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

              Re: Medical experiments

              I did manual docking with a rotating space station many, many times in Elite. Those docking computers were quite expensive and by the time you could afford one, you didn't really need it :-)

              1. Spherical Cow Silver badge

                Re: Medical experiments

                Did you know Elite has been ported to Android? The app is called Alite (sic).

                1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

                  Re: Medical experiments

                  I don't have an Android device with a screen big enough to play that sort of game on. And ot really needs a keyboard and joystick :-)

                  There's Oolite, of course, plays on FreeBSD, Linux, MacOS and even Windows :-)

                  1. Spherical Cow Silver badge

                    Re: Medical experiments

                    No need for a joystick, I just tilt my phone to fly.

      2. Ian Johnston Silver badge

        Re: Medical experiments

        Centrifugal force is not the same as gravity at those sorry of scales because it comes with huge Coriolis accelerations as well. The bottom that spinning space stations could provide autodial gravity is one of the enduring myths of 2001, and it might be worth asking why nobody has ever tried to spin a space station in reality.

        1. that one in the corner Silver badge

          Re: Medical experiments

          > it might be worth asking why nobody has ever tried to spin a space station in reality

          Perhaps because we haven't actually built that many space stations yet and the ones we do have are all too small to be usefully spun up?

          Ok, the main truss of the ISS might be long enough but all the living area is concentrated in the middle, so without an extreme amount of reconfiguration...

    2. iron Silver badge

      Re: Medical experiments

      Rather we should remember to read the article before posting because it literally says: "like studying the long-term health effects of living in space"

      1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

        Re: Medical experiments

        Indeed, I did not find a mention of bone density loss (spaceflight osteopenia) in the article, which is why I mentioned it in my post.

    3. steelpillow Silver badge

      Re: Medical experiments

      It's not just bone mass. Muscles atrophy, including the heart. Exercise can only ever be a short-term palliative. And the most pernicious damage is to the brain. Normally cerebrospinal fluid drains out during the day and seeps back at night. Take away the day's gravity and the fluid just keeps right on building up. The permanent brain damage suffered by past astronauts has yet to be fully assessed/admitted/published but it is known to be there.

      Spinning the thing up brings its own problems, such as the airlock; do you drive the AI mental trying to dock, or do you de-spin it? Too small a diameter and Coriolis and similar forces make the inhabitants sick. NASA experiments with centrifuges have suggested a minimum overall diameter around 60 m (200 ft) if I remember correctly, making the height of a human around 6% of the radius. You'd have to glue a lot of orbital-delivery fuel tanks together to build that.

      I too cannot see private capital taking the risk without a lot of government commitment, preliminary research and shared risk/cash to pave the way.

      1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

        Re: Medical experiments

        steelpillow: "Muscles atrophy, including the heart. Exercise can only ever be a short-term palliative. And the most pernicious damage is to the brain. Normally cerebrospinal fluid drains out during the day and seeps back at night. Take away the day's gravity and the fluid just keeps right on building up. The permanent brain damage ..."

        I always wanted to be an astronaut, until now (I am rather attached to my brain, as Woody Allen once said, "it's my second favourite organ.").

        Actually feeling a bit sick now, and just in time for bed too. To sleep, to sleep, perchance to dream.*

        I love Mother Earth! x

        *Shakespeare, I think.

    4. gandalfcn Silver badge

      Re: Medical experiments

      Musk is only about Musk as is proved almost daily.

  4. Alpharious

    In space, no one can hear you tax evade

    Are you sure about that? See it's all fun and games until corporate America realizes that there is no jurisdiction or income tax in space, then BLAMO you have the General dynamics orbital office complex and infant medical research facility. Free from labor laws, taxes, and ethics.

  5. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    highly capable microgravity laboratory

    No it wasn't.

    The very few micogravity experiments it tried were ruined by the vibration of people moving around and all the machinery needed for life support

    There was even a free flying microgravity module to try and solve this.

    If you wanted to try and build a microgravity experiment you needed it to be fully autonomous and free-flying AND fit in with all the requirements of a manned space station - way cheaper to just build a cube sat and have a cheap commercial launch and recovery

  6. RegGuy1 Silver badge

    Could have done more experiments

    Kirt Costello ... noted that over 3,300 experiments have been conducted over the last 20 years by rotating crews of astronauts.

    I bet they could have done more experiments if they had left the crews alone and stopped turning them round and round.

  7. Ian Johnston Silver badge

    So basically the only worthwhile "science" done in this place is working out whether people can live in it. Sorry from that the small amount of worthwhile research done could have been carried out robotically at a fraction of the cost. Human spaceflight may be good for morale, but scientifically it's a pointless waste of money.

    Bah bloody humbug.

  8. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    We are now in the decade of results.

    See subject. That sounds like PR spin for "we will no longer have a space station where we can do more new experiments".

    Why would we ever need a "decade of results"? Surely there's enough people to analyse the data and results while others can be busy coming up with new stuff to try. It could even be the same people creating experiments, gathering the data then spending time working with their own data and results, sharing with others and reaching conclusion while others take their place/space on the space station with their own experiments. Surely the boffins at NASA have figured that out by now!

    Oh...wait. That IS how it works!

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