LEO Staging Base
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Original Assembly Node Concept

The original concept for a LEO assembly fixture in a low-inclination orbit was some trusswork that would essentially mimic the interfaces of a Shuttle payload bay -- just the sills and the RMS with a bit of power generation, attitude control, only UHF comm. It would launch folded up on a single Titan IV, perhaps even an Ariane 4 or a Delta III.

LEO Assembly Node

The image above gives an idea of the original concept, although it doesn't show navigation, propulsion, or radiators. We'd put some payload retention latch assemblies (PRLAs, pronounced "perlas") along the sill, and maybe have some of them on little tracks so they could slide back and forth along the sill for alignment. Imagine the truss folding at hinges on the longerons, and the RMS, solar array, and floodlights all folding down and attaching to the truss for launch.

We'd need to send a crew up to assemble the thing unless we want to invest in automated devices. Depending on automation is super-expensive; everything has to be redundant, you have high data bandwidths, and things still fail. We'd probably be better off paying $50 million for a Soyuz crew to take care of it, assuming we can get a Soyuz crew to a low-inclination orbit. (This is a big assumption as it has never been done. Maybe they could launch from Guiana?)

Then as the payloads come up and rendezvous with the assembly fixture, it grabs them with that RMS and berths them in its PRLAs. When our moon crew comes up, they'll make the final utilities connections, check everything out, and head for the moon. The Soyuz pilots would spend the next several days camped out in their capsules until the moon crew gets back. We might include a simple tunnel with a berthing ring on each end so the two pilots can have a bit more space to play with; but it would be a simple tunnel, unpressurized until they get there; and it would have to fold up with the rest of the fixture.

Adding a Spacehab module for the LEO crew to live in and provisions for docking both Shuttles and Soyuz spacecraft has made the assembly fixture a much more elaborate facility. We might start small and grow to something like that as the program progress, but it doesn't feel like a first-flight kind of thing.

Conceptual Pressurized
LEO Staging Node

We'll really only know when we get to do some serious program planning with more detailed cost and revenue anlysis for it. The LEO facility under conceptual development (above) might be so useful and nifty that it is worth doing on its own merits. The facility in the image above looks like a nice start on an industrial space facility. We could service and resupply such a facility from the moon better than from Earth's surface, so besides being part of the initial program build-up, it could be part of the story explaining why we want to go to the moon in the first place.

For the first flight, the only function of the assembly fixture is to get the parts flying in formation and keep them there until the moon crew arrives.

LEO Staging Base

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