Space: Ticket To Ride Just Went Up 20 Percent


March 22, 2011: The cost of round-trip transportation just went up. Russia has increased the cost of a trip to the ISS (International Space Station) 20 percent, to $63 million per person (including 50 kg/110 pounds of accompanying baggage). That's quite a bit more than what it cost to send someone up via the U.S. Space Shuttle. Although mainly a cargo vehicle (carrying stuff into orbit at a cost of about $25 million a ton), the Shuttle also carried six crew or passengers, in addition to the flight crew of two. For the moment, Russia is the only country with the capability to get people up to the ISS and back. That won't last forever. The Space Shuttle is 56 meters long, weighs 2,000 tons and has a payload of 24 tons and all its replacements are smaller.

Earlier this year, Japan launched its second Kounotori (White Stork) HTV orbital delivery vehicle. Carried into LEO (low earth orbit of about 400 kilometers up) by a Japanese H-IIB launcher, the HTV carried 5.3 tons of supplies to the ISS. Japan is one of several nations building cargo and passenger vehicles to help keep the ISS staffed and supplied. The January HTV trip had the vehicle docked to the ISS for two months, so that it could be used for some experiments. Then the HTV was be filled with discarded material from the ISS, and launched towards earth, to burn up on reentry. Japan is considering upgrading the HTV to carry personnel and be able to return (like the Russian Soyuz space vehicles) with people, and be reused after refurbishment. The 10.5 ton cylindrical HTV is 10 meters (31 feet) long and four meters in diameter. It is equipped with maneuvering rockets, plus a guidance system and communications gear. Max carrying capacity is six tons.

The European Space Agency (ESA) has developed the unmanned ATV (Automated Transfer Vehicle) spacecraft for supplying the ISS. The ATV may completely replace the existing Russian Soyuz and Progress systems, especially if ESA and Russia can work out a cooperation deal. The Progress is actually a variant of the Soyuz, and both weigh about seven tons. These two space vehicles are used one time only, and were designed in the 1960s. The Progress can deliver 2.7 tons of cargo.

The ATV is a 20 ton vehicle, which can carry 8 tons of cargo. The ATV had its first flight in 2008, and the second one went up last month. A joint Russian/ESA ATV would do the same work as the smaller, and older, Russian Progress vehicle. But the current ATV is not equipped to return material from space (where it will mainly be used to supply the International Space Station.) A reusable ATV would cost about a billion dollars to design, and one that could carry passengers, a few billion more.

The U.S. is developing a reusable capsule, the 25 ton Orion, that can carry up to six personnel, or up to 3.5 tons of cargo (six tons in s special cargo version). The Orion can land, via parachute and airbags, anywhere, and be refurbished for up to ten trips. However, the Orion won’t be ready for use until 2015.

Currently, Russia builds two Soyuz and four Progress capsules a year. For the 4-5 year period when there is no Shuttle or Orion, Russia will build four Soyuz and seven Progress capsules a year. Russian/European ATV craft may show up later this decade.

The Orion is based on the American Apollo space capsule of the 1960s, which was a contemporary of the Soyuz. The three remaining U.S. Space Shuttles will be retired this year, leaving it to Russia to provide transportation to and from the ISS until Orion arrives to help out. There are also some more commercial efforts to build supply craft, like the Dragon. One of these made it's first successful flight into orbit, and successful return, last December. All of these new orbital delivery systems should be able to deliver passengers more cheaply than what Russia is currently charging.




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