Thursday, March 19, 2015

Jupiter Spacecraft - Proposed Reusable Tug

Well, someone has heard.  Someone has come to reason.  In the Tech Times article called Lockheed Martin In Collision Course With SpaceX In Providing Reusable Spaceflight Architecture by Sumit Passary, Lockheed Martin is proposing a reusable space tug to compete in the new cargo resupply contracts bid to the ISS coming up.  I first wrote about a tug that was very similar in January of 2013 in my post Space Exploration Plans From Beoing.  I am happy to see that someone is taking the idea seriously.  This proposal is sophisticated and versatile enough for future infrastructure in space.

Locheed Martin calls it Jupiter spacecraft.  It has solar panels, propulsion (chemical), a robotic arm, and a refueling system.  Once in orbit, it will receive canisters called Exoliners one at a time.  After delivering the initial Exoliner with which Jupiter is launched,  Jupiter will rendezvous and capture the subsequent Exoliners for deliver.  Exoliners can also be deorbited as trash.  This is a very sophisticated if not complicated procedure.  Where is the refueling coming from?  I'm sure the Jupiter spacecraft is getting its fuel from the Exoliners.  Sure, it's not straight forward like Cygnus or Dragon cargo spacecraft, but the benefit is that it is reusable which brings down the launch weight and subsequently the cost.

Now, a craft like this can operate for years.  It may out live the ISS and start servicing other missions like a Bigelow Aerospace commercial space station.  The technology could be expanded into satellite repair/refuel.  It can also be upgraded to service flights to the Moon and back.  Such a technology is quite versatile.  It can not only move cargo pressurized or not, but also space capsules carrying people to higher orbits, different orbits, to asteroids, or the Moon.  It can expand our presence in space.  The idea of automated space tugs is not a new one, but this is the first commercially proposed one.

Jupiter/Exoliner space tug system is sophisticated, versatile, and commercial.  I'm happily surprised that Locheed Martin came up with the proposal.  Now, if they would only replace their venerable and rapidly obselete Atlas V with a reusable rocket that uses more principles from my Space Faring Standards post, they would be set.