Wednesday, July 08, 2009

One Small Step...

. . . towards a manned European spacecraft. Maybe. Much as I'm pleased to think the world's largest economic bloc might be gearing up for a manned space programme, I have to ask what this not-even-off-the drawing-board Advanced Re-entry Vehicle is for. Unless very heavily modified, the Ariane 5 delivery system will be able to push it into low Earth orbit, no more. That would allow it to rendezvous with the International Space Station - a logical destination since the ARV is a modification of the unmanned space freighter already being used to deliver supplies to the ISS. But the Euro-ARV won't be ready to fly until 2025 at the earliest, and the ISS is scheduled to be retired in 2015. Could it be that Eurocrats are formulating plans for repurposing the ISS? There's already been talk about moving it into a higher orbit, or somehow drifting it outward to the Moon, or even sawing off and modifying modules to turn them into interplanetary spacecraft. Maybe Stephen Baxter was onto something when he wrote this . . .


Blogger PeteY said...

Well, sure, it can only go to LEO, but nobody ever went further without going there first.

I see it as a belated European realisation that the USA is not as reliable as it seemed when it comes to manned access to space. There was a 2-year gap from 2003, and now there's likely to be another 5-year one. Having built a large part of the ISS (not just Columbus, but nodes 2 and 3, and the MPLMs, and the ATV), Europe now finds it won't be able to get there. Sadly this won't bridge the gap this time.

July 09, 2009 2:10 am  
Anonymous Al R said...

When I visited KSC last year I couldn't get a straight answer from the woman at the ISS exhibition about how long it was meant to last. "Well, there's a design life", was about as far as she was prepared to go. But she wouldn't say what that design life was.

Personally I think we should bend it into a giant wheel and bring back Pan-Am.

July 09, 2009 9:12 am  
Blogger Paul McAuley said...

Pete, I agree that Europe shouldn't be reliant on either the US or Russia to get into orbit, but it needs a plan too. Getting into low Earth orbit just for the sake of it is so 1964. Al, I wanted that the model of that Pan-Am shuttle when I was very much younger, but couldn't afford it. Another life-long scar... Buzz Aldrin has suggested that private space companies could supply the ISS, which is a step along that path.

July 10, 2009 5:32 pm  
Blogger PeteY said...

Paul, I grant that they should ensure it can at least re-enter safely from a lunar return trajectory (like Soyuz can, in theory) as well as from LEO. Beyond that, well, ESA doesn't have a Nova-class booster to get it to lunar orbit anyway. Perhaps a circumlunar flight could be managed, with a separately launched upper stage. I'm all in favour of private sector playing too, but it's a start.

Al - congrats on your big deal with Gollancz. It made all the papers. I assume you're Alastair Reynolds, right?

July 10, 2009 11:07 pm  

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