TCS Daily


Heavenly Hiltons

By Buzz Aldrin - January 16, 2003 12:00 AM

The civilian space program has been in need of a bold new central theme to focus space activities since the conclusion of the Apollo program. We believe that ''civilians in space'' is a theme that the American public will support since they've been paying for the space program for so long and have yet to reap the ultimate reward for their patience and support, a flight to space themselves.

It is our belief that a new national strategy can be based on careful evolution to an achievable two-stage-to-orbit space transportation system that can lead to broad public participation in orbital space travel concurrent with the phase-in of the next-generation Shuttle system. The new strategy would also target the elimination of our dependence on wasteful expendable launch vehicles and the expensive Space Shuttle system. To reduce the burden on the American taxpayer, the new reusable system should be developed by a
government-private sector partnership and evolve to meet the needs of the future space tourism business. There is no reason that a properly structured national space development strategy cannot serve national defense, civil, and commercial requirements.

With a clear eye toward the broad range of future civil needs, and applying the many lessons learned from Apollo, Skylab, and the Shuttle, an evolutionary strategy can be crafted for the next decade and beyond that keys on private sector inclusion, reusability, high flight rates, new uses for existing assets, and ''people in space.'' We owe this to the American people.

We believe that space tourism can become the catalyst that takes our archaic expendable space architecture to its next evolutionary level, that of fully reusable vehicles. Tourism offers a potentially lucrative, high-volume traffic market model. Unlike traditional traffic models for satellite delivery, space tourism is based upon a firm commercial foundation, being a natural evolutionary outgrowth of the booming multi-billion-dollar adventure travel sector of the multitrillion-dollar travel and tourism business.

The space tourism traffic model requires, however, that we look at reusable space transportation systems with emphasis on operability, reliability, safety, and cost rather than performance (the predominant use of leading-edge technologies to drive enhanced efficiencies), which has been NASA's primary focus since its inception. It forces us to reexamine our existing systems, architectures, and ground operations, to consider the advent of space hotels, the vehicles that will launch them, and how they can be attained through natural evolution and integrated into a logical planning sequence. Most significantly, because of the sheer market implications, space tourism will provide the financial incentives to develop reusable two-stage systems that can be built with today's technology, an approach yet to find favor as attempts have been made to develop technically unachievable systems.

Space Hotel

Space hotels can only evolve from a viable, robust, orbital space tourism business that has successfully operated a fleet of highly reliable vehicles, turning an acceptable profit from short-duration orbiting adventure space travelers. Once the transportation system is available, we can expect trip times of up to 24 hours in zero g inside the small confines of the passenger vehicle. Eventually, as soon as the business case allows, adventure travelers will require a destination to travel to and an extended stay period, up to a week, in an orbital habitat. Based on what we have learned from 40 years of space development, how can we cost-effectively construct these first ''Heavenly Hiltons''?

Using America's Skylab space station as the model and building upon the ''wet'' and ''dry'' workshop concepts first devised and demonstrated by Wernher von Braun, the challenge of large-volume, quickly deployable habitats to meet the needs of high-volume passenger traffic to low Earth orbit (LEO) can be met.

Key is the Space Shuttle's currently expended external tank (ET). The ET is a utilitarian asset whose worth can finally be realized by the advent of space tourism. This worth is, in large part, a consequence of investing sufficient energy in it to almost place it into orbit.

In our commercially focused approach, a heavy-lift vehicle must be available to deliver a large habitable volume, a hotel, for immediate occupancy once the emerging in-space tourism business is ready to make the step to long on-orbit stay times. Using existing components and existing external tank tooling to construct a single new LO2 pressure vessel, a new external tank configuration can be developed. In this new configuration, two dry tanks (occupiable habitats), each 19,500 ft3 in volume, sit atop the inline vehicle. The top ''dry'' tank (habitat) will be a modified ET LO2 pressure vessel, retaining the ''ogive'' shape but modified to allow access through the nose cap in orbit. It will sit above a cylindrically shaped ''dry'' habitat of equal volume, which sits atop the ''wet'' (fuel carrying) cylindrical LO2 tank, which sits atop the ''wet'' LH2 tank. The entire stack is inserted into Earth orbit.

The Shuttle's main engines, or possibly the new Delta IV RS-68 engines, and orbital maneuvering capability, would be either cradled beneath the stack or side-mounted in an aft boattail configuration. In either case, the cryogenic rocket engines could be housed in reentry vehicles for recovery and reuse. These Shuttle derived hybrid ''resorts'' will be much larger than Skylab.

Unlike the technique we used to deliver Skylab to orbit, the entire core of the heavy-lift vehicle is lofted to orbit and is available as habitable volume for the hotel, a total of 114,000 ft3, with an additional 9,100 ft3 of volume available if a habitable aft cargo compartment (ACC) is incorporated. Based on the experience of Skylab, following internal modifications and outfitting, approximately 83,000 ft3 of net internal volume can reasonably be expected as living space in the baseline core hotel.

These massive ''Marriotts in the sky'' will be gravity-gradient stabilized and power rich, with enormous growth potential through either mating additional ET-derived elements or integrating large exterior TransHab-type inflatable volumes. They will be built with existing pressure vessel tooling and perhaps most important, they can be quickly fabricated and ready for occupancy following a short on-orbit configuration period.

A Government-Private Sector Partnership for the Future

Partnership with the private sector is not new. The federal government, including the Departments of Commerce, Interior, Transportation, and Defense, has a long history of supporting commercial enterprise, including tourism, in the case of the Department of the Interior. Similarly, NASA has supported the biomedical, pharmaceutical, and materials sciences industries by assisting them in the development of flight hardware and has flown their experiments.

NASA has been reluctant, however, to support space tourism, an activity whose parent industries include the multi-trillion-dollar travel (including airlines), tourism, hospitality, and cruise line industries. While it is unclear why this has been the case to date, it is clear that by embracing space tourism, NASA and the other space-related government offices have an exciting opportunity to invite a major multi-industry consortium with substantial resources into the space development arena. If the government is truly interested in commercializing space activities, including space transportation, here is an opportunity to act.

Buzz Aldrin is chairman of both the nonprofit ShareSpace Foundation and Starcraft Boosters, Inc. He also serves on the board of governors of the National Space Society. Aldrin was Apollo 11 lunar module pilot for the first human landing on the moon.

Ron Jones is executive director of the ShareSpace Foundation.

This article was excerpted from
Space: The Free-Market Frontier a publication of the Cato Institute.
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