Considering Spaceflight in Russia, China, and India

On Thursday, December 1, 2011, I helped to organize, along with Nathan Bridges, the second meeting of the informal “Space History and Policy Forum.” This group met at the Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Maryland, and our featured speaker and discussion leader was Marcia Smith, a longstanding observer, analyst, and commentator on all issues relative to space policy. She operates Space Policy Online, certainly my first stop when seeking information about space policy issues.

She presented at the forum an “Update on Russia, China, and India,” and asked the following three core questions:

  • Are we too dependent on Russia?
  • Should we cooperate with China?
  • Could regional rivalry between India and China spur a new arms race in space?

The discussion was lively, stimulating, and insightful. While the discussion was not recorded, Marcia has posted on her web site her discussion slides. These are located here.

My thanks to everyone who participated and for those who didn’t, I’d very much like to hear your responses to the questions she posed.

The next meeting of the “Space History and Policy Forum” will be in March 2012, although the exact date, speaker, and venue have yet to be determined. If you would like to receive updates about the forum and its meetings please let me know and I will add you to the e-mail distribution list.

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One Response to Considering Spaceflight in Russia, China, and India

  1. GH says:

    I’d love to see and hear more about the discussion. After Dr. Smith’s presentation.
    My own thoughts

    Space Transportation
    -we should never have shut Shuttle down without something else being very nearly ready to fly. Unfortunately its too late to do anything about that now.
    -fortunately it looks like Space-X and Boeing are moving along rapidly
    -If Dream Chaser is developed, then it is the next generation of space transportation
    -If the Russians can keep building and successfully flying their R-7 and Soyuz, then we are dependent on them for the time being and until someone else’s machine is available.
    There is no sense worrying about this now. The best we can do is to help in any way possible the commercial transport providers to do the best they can as quickly as they can.

    ISS is the key beachhead in establishing future space capabilities. It should serve as the site for assembly of the next generation of deep space vehicles and the point from which future planetary vehicles depart and return.

    Next Steps in Advancing Space Technology and Exploration
    I think the key is to make use of the long duration technologies of the ISS as the departure point from which to develop a vehicle that can move from LEO to high earth orbits, then lagrangian points, and eventually lunar and planetary trajectories. Such a vehicle should not be a throwaway but should come back to LEO for refurbishment, outfitting, and upgrades. The architecture needs to be modular and reconfigurable. We have the perfect model for such building blocks in many of the ISS elements, yet many of the recent illustrations I have seen of this concept shows things like Russian Service Module for the habitation element and Orion for a return capsule. I don’t know why an Orion would ever be required. Use whatever transport is normally used to take people to and from ISS. An earth return vehicle should not be dragged along on the deep space missions. The Russian SM design is archaic, designed in the 1960s-70s, and not easily upgraded, refurbished or maintained in space. I also worry that we turned off US production and testing of elements like the Hab Module and Nodes of the ISS and chose to depend on European industry to develop the most recent human elements. For this reason, we may be more dependent on the Europeans than on the Russians. The US needs to re-establish itself as the pre-eminent human spacecraft designer and developer. The next big steps after the cis-lunar sortie spacecraft is a manned moon lander. It should be optimized only for crew landing and return and not for cargo or as a surface habitat. It needs to be as small and light as possible with a goal being a vehicle that does not need to be thrown away. The next big step is a large pressurized rover for multi-week lunar missions. The early focus of activity on the moon should be on in-situ resource utilization, particularly the consumables required to extend human duration and reduce the transportation costs, like oxygen production.

    This is a logical series of technological steps.


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