Refueling in Space to Help Enable Exploration
The recent successful robotic refueling exercises
conducted at the International Space Station may foreshadow what a group of international space students see as the key to future exploration of the solar system.
Under the umbrella of the International Space University, 34 participants from 19 different countries produced the Operations and Service Infrastructure for Space
(OASIS) plan featuring a network of non-terrestrial spaceports. Their concepts, put forth in the project report
, also echo the international cooperation that the space station now exemplifies.
"The refueling technologies demonstrated on the ISS pave the way for future on-orbit spaceports that will refuel spacecraft with propellants made from water launched from Earth, water ice found at the lunar poles, and possibly wet asteroids," said Kennedy Space Center's Rob Mueller, who served as OASIS team project co-chair.
And while the space station demonstration was aimed at refueling satellites in geosynchronous orbit, the ambitious OASIS proposal aims at enabling spaceships to travel further into the solar system. The 50-year, three-phased plan views the moon, asteroids and Mars as waypoints to be used for the exploration of the solar system, providing refueling points for longer journeys by using propellants created from available space resources and solar energy.
"This OASIS study is visionary and would take 15 to 20 years to implement the first extra-terrestrial spaceports, but the technologies needed to do this are currently in the early stages of development at NASA, as well as at new space companies, and are feasible," said Mueller. "A particularly interesting aspect of this study is the proposed formation of an International Spaceport Authority where 14 countries would create a legal and space-based infrastructure framework to allow routine and affordable space transportation to occur."
The OASIS-proposed waypoints, or spaceports, would provide a network of supply stations and operations beginning in low-Earth orbit, and continuing on to the moon, as well as the Martian moon Phobos. The goal of creating these stations would be to make space travel more affordable and accessible by providing intermediate, multi-purpose locations for staging, launch and resupply -- in essence, steppingstones to the further reaches of our solar system.
The emphasis for the development of this network is both international and commercial for human and robotic missions, and NASA's involvement will continue as the OASIS Next
project follows the initial proposal.
"NASA's Kennedy Space Center and Florida Institute of Technology co-hosted the International Space University's 25th annual Space Studies Program in Florida," explained Mueller. "The innovative ideas presented by the diverse student team in project OASIS will be used to inform and stimulate further debate and analysis regarding the future direction of our space program."
Cheryl L. Mansfield
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center