Launcher Option 6: Independent LEO Transportation Node
The final alternative is to launch a whole new space station into
orbit, and assemble the spacecraft there. The space station will be
expensive, but this is the only real long-term solution to the problem
of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) assembly. The Space Shuttle will not
always be available when we need it, and the ISS requires a
considerable fuel cost. A transportation node in Low Earth Orbit will
not only be an opportunity to make money and carry out useful science
and manufacturing, but it will provide a permanent foothold in space
for private enterprise. A LEO transportation node is necessary for
cislunar (and beyond) manned spaceflight.
For the first mission, all that is needed for a transportation node
is some pressurized tubing to connect the stack to two Soyuz capsules,
an airlock, a manipulator arm, some girders and solar cells, and some
expansion ports to add a SPACEHAB module later (image). This shouldn't mass more
than 15,000 lbs (7,000 kg), which would leave a couple of tonnes over
the 120,000 lbs (55,000 kg) required for the actual translunar
The Ariane 5 has a payload
of about 42,000 lbs (19,000 kg), and the Proton can deliver 53,000 lbs (24,000
kg) to orbit. With one Ariane 5 carrying the SPACEHAB
modules, and two Protons with most of the equipment and fuel
(including the space station), the total orbited mass would total 137,000
lbs (67,000 kg). Two Protons at $60 M each, and an Ariane 5 for $105 M
totals $225 M, plus the space station (maybe another $150 M, for a very
frugal set of girders, Common Berthing Mechanisms, and a robot arm; no
Whether the Ariane 5 is man-rated or not, the crew will have to go down
in two Soyuz capsules. This will also provide extra habitation room during
assembly, as well as functioning as extra service modules or even
lifeboats. That's another $50 M.
Another possibility is to have the assembly node include a SPACEHAB
module and support systems for the space station from the beginning (image). This would add about $150 M to
the cost, and for the first mission, costs should be avoided as much as
possible. It would, however, make the station far more capable, and the two
Soyuz pilots would not have to stay in two connected capsules for two weeks
while the crew goes to the moon and back. Another possibility with the
extra mass, aside from making the Lunar
Habitat more massive, is that it would be possible to add a Pressurized
Mating Adapter (PMA) to the space station to allow a shuttle to dock at a
later date. However, the addition of another launch and the SPACEHAB module
raises the price far beyond that of a simple assembly station, and on the
second mission, there will be room for a second SPACEHAB where the Lunar Transfer Vehicle was for the first mission,
without a fourth cargo launch.
| Launcher || Payload || Cost|
| Ariane 5 + 2 Protons + 2 Soyuz|| 148,000 lbs (67,000 kg) || $275 M (for subsequent missions)|
| Ariane 5 + 2 Protons + 2 Soyuz + Assembly node ||148,000 lbs (67,000 kg)|| $425 M ($305 M if amortized over 5 flights)|
| 2 Ariane 5's + 2 Protons + 2 Soyuz + Node with Habitat|| 190,000 lbs (86,000 kg)|| $680 M|
This is the cheapest ticket to the moon yet. It costs considerably less
to make a space station of our own than to rent the Space Shuttle, and
this is the most capable option yet considered. The staging base will have
many opportunities to pay for itself through research, industrial, and
entertainment value. With a reflight costing only $275 M, this seems to be
the best option, especially in the long-run.
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