Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Case for a US Miltary Presence at LEO and Beyond

Artist rendition of military operated MOL space lab (Credit: NASA)
by Marcel F. Williams

On January 31, 1958, the US Army launched America's first satellite into orbit. That was nearly four months after the Soviet Union became the first nation to place a satellite (Sputnik) into Earth orbit and nearly two months after the failed US Navy  attempt to launch a satellite into orbit aboard the Vanguard rocket.

The Soviet's launch of Sputnik had suddenly turned science fiction into reality. And with the perceived threat of possible Soviet dominion over the rest of the solar system, the  US Army, Navy, and Air Force  appeared to be on their way towards the rapid development of their own  individual  unmanned and manned space programs in order to counter the growing threat of communism during the Cold War.

In 1958, the US Air Force conceived plans for its own lunar missions, the Lunex Project, with crewed missions to the lunar surface scheduled for 1967 and an underground military base by 1968.


Diagram of the US Air Force Lunex lunar lander (Credit: US Air Force)

In 1959, the head of the US Army's ABMA, Wernher von Braun, appointed Heinz-Hermann Koelle to head Project Horizon, a program to study the feasibility of deploying a scientific and military base on the Moon by 1966. During the same period, the US Navy also conceived a plan to place naval personal on the lunar surface by 1967.

The US Air Force also funded a space plane program, Dyna-Soar, from 1957 until it was cancelled in 1963 at total cost of over $5 billion in today's dollars. The single manned space plane was to be used for space rescue, bombing, aerial reconnaissance, and even as an anti-satellite weapon.

Most of the military efforts for an aggressive manned space program, however,  was thwarted on July 29, 1958, when President  Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act which established NASA and transferring 8000 employees from the NACA(National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics) which included Langley Aeronautical Laboratory, Ames Aeronautical Laboratory, and Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory.   Elements of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA) including  Wernher von Braun and his team were also incorporated into NASA. NASA also incorporated the  United States Naval Research Laboratory and gained control of the Army's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. 

Still the US Air Force Dyna-Soar program was succeeded by another program in 1963 called MOL (Manned Orbiting Laboratory), a 3 meter in diameter 22 meter long crewed military space station that was to be placed in a polar orbit for reconnaissance. The Nixon administration cancelled the Air Force program in June of 1969, just a few years before it was to be deployed, favoring NASA's Skylab program as temporary successor to the end of Apollo.

But a new space age is now approaching: an age where private American commercial companies will begin to launch private citizens and astronauts from government agencies into Earth orbit and possibly beyond. So it will be extremely important for private US companies to know that their investments in space and their hired  personal  in space  will be  protected by the US government from intimidation and coercion from foreign powers in space.  So a permanent US military presence will still be required for  the protection of  US assets within cis-lunar space, and for search and rescue efforts, and for general law enforcement in space.

The US military role within cis-lunar space should, therefore, be similar to the role that the US Coast Guard has in American territorial waters on Earth. Otherwise, private companies will be forced to develop their own private military forces in order to protect their personal and their property from potential hostile foreign interest and possibly even  commercial competitors who might be willing to use force in order to gain economic advantages in the New Frontier. So its clearly time for the US Department of Defense to establish a permanent military presence within cis-lunar space and eventually on the surfaces of the Moon an Mars in order to secure the peaceful flow of commerce in the New Frontier while also protecting the security of American citizens that will be living and working there. 

Artist rendition of an orbiting DOD space station composed of a Bigelow BA-330 module plus two Orbital ATK Cygnus module. A Boeing CST-100 Starliner is docked with the station while being inspected for departure by two FlexCraft vehicles. A DreamChaser space plane approaches the space station from the distance carrying a replacement crew of six military astronauts.
Since the DOD already uses private commercial space companies to develop and deploy its military satellites, utilizing private companies to also develop and to deploy crewed space stations within cis-lunar space should also be taken advantage of.

The International Space Station (ISS) has so far  required over 30 launches to assemble the orbiting platform. However, a DOD habitat used to house six military personal should only require one to three launches. The BA-330 manufactured by Bigelow Aerospace can house as many as six astronauts, providing 330 cubic meters of pressurized volume. The 20 tonne habitat plus a Cygnus derived two tonne node could be deployed by the ULA's Delta IV heavy or by Space X's Falcon Heavy which is scheduled for its first test flights in 2016 and its first commercial launches in 2017.
FlexCraft vehicle (Credit: NASA)

Additional habitat space plus FlexCraft vehicles for EVA's could be provided by adding Orbital ATK's Cygnus modules to the DOD habitat. These modules are over 3 meters in diameter and up to 7.5 meters long. Two such modules plus a Cygnus derived node, weighing less than ten tonnes in total , could be deployed to orbit with the single launch of a ULA Atlas V, Delta IV, or its future Vulcan rocket  or a single launch from a Falcon 9 (Space X). And additional launch could provide the DOD space station with a total of four Cygnus habitat modules to be berthed with the BA-330 module. However, with a 7.2 meter fairing diameter, a future Vulcan Heavy rocket might be able to deploy the entire BA-330/Cygnus facility with a single launch.

Once the Space Launch System is fully operational by the mid 2020's,  much larger and cheaper habitats and possibly even rotating artificial gravity habitats could be deployed for the DOD at LEO.
Artist rendition of an SLS propellant tank derived habitat, a 23 tonne module (dry weight) with more than 500 m3 of habitable volume (Credit: NASA)
A permanently crewed military habitat at LEO could be used for:

1. The training of Air Force, Navy, Marine, and Army personal, giving these DOD astronauts   launching and landing experience, microgravity experience aboard the pressurized habitat for up to 60 days, pressure suit experience during EVAs, and FlexCraft training during EVAs.

2. The training of NASA personal, giving new NASA astronauts launching and landing experience, microgravity experience aboard the space habitat for up to 60 days, pressure suit experience during EVAs, and FlexCraft training during EVAs. This will be especially important after the ISS program ends in 2024. Since NASA beyond LEO missions are not likely to require more than one crewed launch per year, this would allow other NASA astronauts to get some experience and training in space before they're time  to participate in a beyond LEO mission comes around.

3. Refuge for American and foreign astronauts in other spacecraft in  case there is a major solar storm. The 46 cm thick walls of the BA-330 should be thick enough to protect astronauts from major solar events. Adding 30 cm of internal insulation within the Cygnus modules should also be enough to protect astronauts from major solar storms.

4. Refuge for American and foreign astronauts in other spacecraft in case their spacecraft has a serious malfunction that doesn't allow them to return safely to the Earth

5. For medical treatment for injured American and foreign astronauts, at least two military physicians will be on board the DOD habitat. Medical treatment at LEO will, of course, be greatly enhanced once rotating artificial gravity habitats are deployed.

6. Servicing malfunctioning military satellites. This may require the deployment of reusable vehicles and propellant depots.

7. Search and rescue missions practically anywhere within cis-lunar space , perhaps using an Orion capsule and a reusable ACES 41 booster after the deployment of LEO orbiting propellant depots. The US Air Force has recently decided to provide funding to the ULA for the development of the ACES 41.

8. NASA astronaut stop overs on beyond LEO missions using propellant depots and back from beyond LEO missions for eventual return to the Earth's surface.

9. The temporary jailing or isolation of individual or individuals who may have serious psychological problems or who may have committed serious crimes or an individual or individuals who may have some sort of contagious disease.
Orion space capsule joined with an ACES 41 vehicle (Credit: ULA)
With US Department of Defense  budget currently over $800 billion a year, spending  $4 to $8 billion a year  for a military human space program would represent less than 1% of annual US military expenditures. And the DOD should commit itself before Congress not to spend more than 1% of the military budget on its human space program.

With such funding, however, the DOD could easily employ private launch companies to deploy six military astronauts to the DOD orbital facility every month for a 30 to 60 day stay. For national security purposes, the DOD might simply purchase reusable spacecraft such as the Dragon (Space X), Starliner (Boeing Aerospace), and the DreamChaser (Sierra Nevada) with military personal piloting and landing the vehicles themselves.  Twelve military crew launches per year should also greatly enhance the economic stability of the emerging American Commercial Crew launch companies.

However, thirty to sixty day stays in a microgravity environment may preclude military astronauts older than 40 years of age from participating  in the program because of the serious visual problems associated with astronauts 45 to 55 years of age during long periods in microgravity environments.  Astronauts older than 40 might eventually be included in long  DOD orbital missions once simple rotating artificial gravity habitats start to be deployed by heavy lift vehicles. 

Marcel F. Williams

Links and References

Declassified: U.S. Military's Secret Cold War Space Project Revealed

NASA

 SP-4206 Stages to Saturn 

Lunex Project

Lunar Expedition Plan (LUNEX)

Boeing X-20 Dyna-Soar 

Cygnus Beyond Low Earth Orbit 

Congress Requires NASA to Develop a Deep Space Habitat

 A Commercially Based Lunar Architecture

Aerojet Rocketdyne and ULA win Air Force funds to replace Russian engine

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