When it was proposed to repair Hubble using a robotic arm, so its life span would be enhanced, I then wondered if there was no additional use of that arm. Given its expensive nature and usage, it would be a waste not to use it. The problem however is, that if the arm would be parked in an orbit, there is always the chance that it gets damaged from space junk.[It is also posted on my own blog at the same time.]
Now there is a way to solve that. It is relatively simple and I wonder why it hasn’t been added to space stations before, and why it doesn’t look like it is forseen to be added. A storage space, a space dock. Because most satellites and so on are already build for use in space, a first version can easily be a non pressurized storage space, space dock.
The arm to be used for reparing the Hubble can then be stored inside this storage space. Even more so, for such an area to be fully usable, it would best need its own arm. This means that if the storage are would be built in such a way that the robotic craft carrying the arm, could be integrated into the storage area, there would be two usages for that arm, and it would have a longer lifespan. Mir didn’t have such a storage area/dock, nor does the ISS has one, or even has one planned, I think (but correct me If I’m wrong).
The advantage is that large parts which cannot enter the pressurized space station can be stored in that dock. If needed, there could always be build a pressurized dock but that would also mean that it would be more expensive, because you then also need a large doorway to bring pieces in.
To make this possible, a unpressurized version would be better to start with. It is also easier in construction, and it does not need to be sent up in one piece. You could put the separate pieces into the space shuttle’s cargo bay, or in Arianne 6 heavy lift rocket, or other heavy lift rockets (Boeing and others), and put the pieces together in space. This would allow to make it a large space dock. Larger than if you would send it up in one piece.
As a material you could use liquid metal. It is twice as strong as Titanium, and it has some other possible advantages, one its structure. It also has disadvantages: its cost. It is not cheap. So building anything at the size I am thinking is going to be expensive.
Therefore it is better to uses international cooperation, to realize this Space dock. That means that it can be done without having to upgrade NASA budget substantially, and without putting a burden on American economy. Personally I would cooperate with ESA and others. It would also allow to put a larger dock up, as you can then use more than one heavy lift rocket to send parts up.
There are several designs for such a space dock, which I have in mind, most come from science fiction series, made smaller, but design would range from the ones seen in Starship Enterprise (but a much smaller version) to others coming from the strips of Yoko Tsuno. [This way you find back an image of it easier, images say more than words]. perhaps some new ones. One coming from the way model airplanes are build.
Another problem is that for this to be useful, such a dock will have to be in a higher orbit then the ISS. You could connect a small one to the ISS, so you can use it to store equipment in for the ISS, as well as to do some experiments with. For example, a satellite used to test the effect of weightlessness
on liquids could be left floating in that dock. You could use it to test the idea of melting liquid metal in space, and making parts of it. which is something I intend to test using a different cheaper liquid metal inside the cargo bay of the experimental transport carrier I intend to build. [I already found an easy/cheap way to scratch build four escape pods].
The problem with connecting it to the ISS is gravity and drag. A smaller version could be connected, but a big version would bring more trouble and costs then benefits.
The ideal place for such a dock, perhaps in later version, would be an lagrange point, as it the best place to get to the moon economically from that dock.
Now some will ask what do we need it for, what’s its use ? Currently there is so much space junk and defunct satelites around that they are a treath to the working satellites up there. It means that they are a threat to the satellites we use for early warning systems for Tsunamis, earth quakes,… those used for monitoring the earth. Because of that space junk and defunct satellites, precious fuel has to be used to avoid collisions, fuel that could be used to let them operate longer. [For more about this, there is a post called A business proposal on my own blog about this.]
Such a space dock gives us the ideal space to test novel techniques in that we otherwise can not do. If future satelites would be build so that they can be refueled in space and if necesary repaired, then this would enchance there lifespan. Meaning that company’s can make more profit, and at the end of there life, they could be used in the way as described in the other post.
There is as far I know no technological reason that we cannot build such a dock. There might be technological hurdles to take, but none that we can’t take with our current knowledge. We also have the heavy lifting capacity to send it up in space. Now we need the will and the money to make it real.
To give an idea on how big it could be, I will work out an example using data from an existing heavy lift rocket. With a panel version. I didn’t find data for that heavy lift American rocket able to lift 20 tons or something like it.
Using panels six meters long and lets say 1 meter wide, thickness, let’s say four cm’s. At a maximum lenght of 13.95 meter, that would mean (an estimate) as I don’t know how many I could put next to each other. There is one crucial parameter that I do not know. Also it depends if you send up the panels only, or if you add a robotic craft, used for bringing it to its location and perhaps setting some parts together.
Some quick sketches point out that it would be best to use two types of plates (if it is built out of plates) and that the length might have to be less. This way space can be used to a maximum extent. A non detailed estimate to the low side would be that 80 plates could be lifted off with one rocket. Of course if the properties of the plates are changed this number can rise. And if a different rocket would be used, able to lift more, then the number would still go up.
Still it remains expensive. The best would be to also start looking to optimum strategies of reusing existing materials, reusing existing satellites, and if possible, to mine asteroids and the moon. That is something we will need to do in the future anyway, if we want to advance in this area.
One way of getting it to its destination point wile using less fuel would be to use the idea of a kind of rope to pull it to that location. Only you will need a long and strong rope to do that, and place to do that.
As for those who might consider the option of tractor beams, If they will ever exist like they are shown in the movies, you should ask the physicists and scientists. I have one idea, but using that currently, even if it would work, would be insane. Too much space junk out there, too dangerous.
As for those who might think to use that dock to shoot an space craft to lightspeed, then do know this. Currently that is not possible, and most likely not for along time. Also, traveling at light speed has its own problems. Because of the very high speed, you have less time to prepare maneuvers, and the consequences are much higher.
There is a game called space tanks. It is an easy way of showing you what I mean. By no means does it come anywhere close to the real complex calculations needed to do this. But it shows easily what happens if you make a wrong calculation and fligh at a high speed. Supose a craft flies at high speed, and has to make an unexpected move. Because of its high speed this will require more space then at a lower speed. Also if the craft makes the wrong move, then it would need more fuel to correct that. One also has to watch out for gravitational fields. The easiest way of showing this, if you shoot a projectile in space tanks at the highest speed, towards a point between planets withouth thinking to much about it. Depending on the angle it hits the gravitational field or atmosphere if there is one, it will behave differently then when at low speed.
The high speed may look attractive at first, but it also means that more fuel needs to be added for maneuvering. And that might just undo the benefit of the high speed.
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