Some Interesting Ideas From the Other Side of the Pond

I don’t have time to go into detail at the moment, but I wanted to relay an interesting paper that Keith Cowing reported on NASAWatch today. Now, if I were someone at the ESA, I’d probably be taking NASA’s grand plans about Constellation with an appropriate sized grain of salt right about now. But there were some good ideas overall:

  • The report mentioned that our ISS experience shows the importance of having redundant transportation methods (ie imagine what would’ve happened to ISS if Soyuz didn’t exist). I don’t think that redundant transportation method should necessarily be another government-centric transportation system, but I agree wholeheartedly that monocultures are a bad idea.
  • The report also mentioned that having a safe-haven in LLO is one of the best ways to increase the safety and flexibility of a lunar exploration program. Right now, most of the danger associated with lunar exploration have to do with operations on or near the moon. The current architecture does nothing to reduce those risks, but instead focuses on the much sexier earth-to-orbit transportation risks. Having some infrastructure in LLO can go a long way to fixing that, while also giving you some very interesting mission options. Now, I’m still a fan of the idea of Lagrange stations, and I think that in the long-run they’ll dominate the traffic in the lunar half of cislunar space. I just think that there is a small, and critical niche filled by one or more small polar LLO stations. I’ve been planning to write up my ideas on this concept for over two months now, so can someone poke me in a few weeks if I haven’t followed up on this thought?
  • Unlike NASA they don’t seem to be deathly afraid of on-orbit assembly when it makes sense. Of course, they don’t have an HLV fetish that they have to rationalize…

There were a few other good points, but those three were the key ones that stood out to me. Of course they also seem to be missing the importance of propellant transfer, and they seem to be almost as clueless as NASA as far as commercial enterprise is concerned (both why it’s important, and how best to foster real commercial involvment). But it was an interesting read if you have a few minutes.

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Jonathan Goff

Jonathan Goff

President/CEO at Altius Space Machines
Jonathan Goff is a space technologist, inventor, and serial space entrepreneur who created the Selenian Boondocks blog. Jon was a co-founder of Masten Space Systems, and is the founder and CEO of Altius Space Machines, a space robotics startup in Broomfield, CO. His family includes his wife, Tiffany, and five boys: Jarom (deceased), Jonathan, James, Peter, and Andrew. Jon has a BS in Manufacturing Engineering (1999) and an MS in Mechanical Engineering (2007) from Brigham Young University, and served an LDS proselytizing mission in Olongapo, Philippines from 2000-2002.
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5 Responses to Some Interesting Ideas From the Other Side of the Pond

  1. Rob says:

    It’s an interesting paper. I’m glad that ESA is exploring their options, because I’m starting to get that old sinking feeling about NASA. They seem to be slipping further and further behind.

    I think private ventures are going to catch up to them and surpass them, I’m just not sure of the time frame.

    You might, in future discussions, point out why a polar orbit for the station makes the most sense (rather than equatorial). I understand that a polar orbit covers all of the surface, eventually, but it’s also a more expensive orbit to attain from the surface.

    Is it that the delta-V difference for the moon is insignificant because the moon rotates so slowly? I’m not familiar with the numbers for the moon… And coming from Earth, is polar orbit just as easy as equatorial? I would think so, but I’ve never calculated anything.

    I’m also curious why, “Other ESA orbital infrastructure concepts (LEO, Lagrange points) do not have synergy with NASA’s architecture”. It seems that some of the tricks you can do with Lissajous and Halo orbits would make L1 pretty attractive…

    Thanks for an informative blog!

  2. Habitat Hermit says:

    “…can someone poke me in a few weeks if I haven’t followed up on this thought?”

    Will try to remember doing that if needed.

  3. Jon Goff says:

    Habitat Hermit,
    D’oh! It’s already been two weeks, hasn’t it? I’ve been really busy lately getting caught-up on work, but I’ll try to make some time soon to get another post up.


  4. Gewis says:


    It has been a few weeks, more than. What are your ideas on polar LLO infrastructure and Lagrange-ish stuff? “Lagrange” should make me think of L1, L2, or multipliers for coordinate system changes in vector calculus, but instead the first thing that pops into my head is a ZZ Top song.

  5. Martijn Meijering says:

    I’ve just spent a couple of hours reading some ESA architecture papers:

    Compared to what NASA is planning to do, it certainly looks as if ESA wants something that is closer to the sort of things you advocate. But I don’t think it is because they have a radically different vision. They basically want to do the same thing that NASA wants: to return to the Moon as soon as possible, instead of building as much of a sustainable infrastructure as possible.

    It’s not as if they don’t want to build a HLV, they just don’t have the money for it. (In fact, they do hope to build a 50t launcher.) Therefore, they are forced to go down the infrastructure route. This, and a lower budget, will mean less ambitious targets than those of NASA.

    Their program targets appear to have been cleverly chosen to disguise the fact that it is all about putting boots on the moon and later Mars. Forced to develop infrastructure first, they will use it to add complementary capabilities to the US systems (communications satellites at L1/L2, science satellite/communications relay in a lunar polar orbit, LLO station).

    They will no doubt rationalise decisions made for one reason (lack of money) as evidence of a unique European contribution.

    “importance of having redundant transportation methods” – we want to have our own transport capabilities
    “safe-haven in LLO” – we can’t yet do a lunar surface mission that will look good on TV
    on-orbit assembly” – we can’t afford a HLV

    I notice there is no strong focus on ISRU, export of LUNOX, solar electric tugs, reusable landers, encouraging space tourism etc. Some of these things are mentioned as later enhancements, but not as initial targets.

    So: I don’t have much faith in any deeper Vision on the part of ESA, but at least they’ll develop some useful infrastructure NASA doesn’t want to build yet. I’d like it better if they mostly skipped the things NASA is already planning on doing, but it’s better than nothing.

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