Monday, September 10, 2018

When it Comes to the LOP-G, NASA Should Summon ESPRIT and/or Call for a Falcon

          By Brian Orlotti

European engineers have designed a new robotic logistical spacecraft for NASA's proposed Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway (LOP-G).

Initial concept of the ESPRIT module, as of September 2017. Graphic c/o RussianSpaceWeb.

As outlined in the September 9th, 2018 Russia Space Web post, "ESA develops logistics vehicle for cis-lunar outpost," the new module, dubbed the European system providing refueling infrastructure and telecommunications (ESPRIT) is intended to supply fuel, power and communications for the LOP-G.

Its design is a compromise intended to compensate for changes made in early 2017 to the LOP-G's assembly schedule which imposed severe mass restrictions and, therefore, fuel restrictions on its first component.

The LOP-G’s planned first component, the power and propulsion bus (PPB) was to have been launched in 2023. In May of 2017, to deal with the imposed mass restrictions, engineers at the European Space Agency (ESA) proposed to split the PPB into two separately launched modules.

The second module, dubbed the logistics communication and utilization bay (LCUB), would offload certain tasks previously assigned to the PPB. It could take on a Canadarm, a small airlock for scientific experiments and communications gear. The LCUB would also feature an observation window in its airlock.

In mid-2017, the LCUB was renamed to ESPRIT. As its name implies, the spacecraft would carry xenon and hydrazine fuel and directly plug into the propulsion system of the PPB. ESPRIT’s onboard communications system would enable it to serve as a comms relay between assets on the lunar surface, other spacecraft and Earth.

The Japanese space agency, JAXA, is considering installing an experimental optical communications system on ESPRIT.

In order to maneuver the module to the cis-lunar station, ESPRIT would be launched along with a space tug based on the Japanese HTV or a private vehicle.

In April 2018, the new Falcon Heavy rocket became another potential carrier for ESPRIT. Launching ESPRIT on a Falcon Heavy rocket would enable it carry more fuel. However neither NASA nor the ESA have confirmed whether they would actually make use of a Falcon Heavy.

After its initial internal studies, the ESA decided that further development of ESPRIT would be conducted under contracts awarded to industry on a competitive basis.

One such contract was given to a group comprised of Toulouse France based Airbus, Cannes France based Thales Alenia Space and Bremen Germany based OHB.

The next phases of ESPRIT’s development, known as Phase B2/C and D, are scheduled to begin in early 2020 with a flightworthy module delivered to its launch site in Florida by mid-2023 and launched on an NASA's costly Space Launch System (SLS) rocket in late 2023 or 2024.

An NASA powerpoint slide from an August 27th, 2018 NASA Advisory Council meeting released by NASAWatch via twitter. As outlined in the August 27th, 2018 NASAWatch post, "NASA Wants the Lunar Gateway To Do Everything for Everyone," the final design of the LOP-G has not been finalized and NASA may be overpromising features and functionality in order to secure funding and molify potential partners. It's also worth noting that the ESPRIT module doesn't seem to be included in this slide. Graphic c/o NASA.

With NASA and the ESA’s bureaucratic miasma causing delays, redesigns and compromises, one is temped to ask why the two space agencies have stuck with the SLS launcher for ESPRIT.

Favouring a scarce, prohibitively expensive launcher versus Falcon Heavy, a cheaper system now actually being produced, does little for efficiency.

Not Invented Here’ syndrome, perhaps?
Brian Orlotti.

Brian Orlotti is a network operator at the Ontario Research and Innovation Optical Network (ORION), a not-for-profit network service provider to the education and research sectors.

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