Will NASA astronauts in the future explore
space beyond earth orbit while crammed into
spacecraft the size of the Apollo capsule?
If a couple of NASA engineers have their
way, the answer is NO. Instead, when US
space explorers travel to the Moon, asteroids
and Mars they will travel in a real space
ship like this:
Engineers Mark Holderman and Edward Henderson
of NASA Johnson Space Center recently unveiled
a conceptual design (see their slides
here) for the NAUTILUS-X Multi-Mission
Space Exploration Vehicle (MMSEV). The
NAUTILUS-X has large roomy modules to live
and work in. It even has a centrifuge ring
to provide a degree of simulated gravity
to greatly reduce or eliminate the bad effects
The NAUTILUS-X would be constructed IN
space. Don't worry! This does not mean decades
to complete as was required for building
the International Space Station (ISS). Lightweight
expandable modules like those under development
Aerospace can be connected together
within relatively quickly. (See here
how Bigelow plans to build their multi-module
stations starting in 2015.) The modules
and the components of the system can be
launched with commercial space transports
that will soon start servicing the ISS.
The cost of the NAUTILUS-X is estimated
at $3.7B, far less than the cost of the
Orion capsule that NASA is building.
The NAUTILUS-X would be the first true
space ship. It would be built in space and
would operate only in space. It would not
be used once and thrown away but would be
capable of multiple trips. It would refill
its fuel tanks from orbital propellant depots.
The propulsion system is also modular and
could be replaced when a new and better
propulsion system becomes available.
The NAUTILUS-X would act as the mothership
during exploration missions. A spacecraft
like the SpaceX
Dragon would dock with it to bring crews
from earth and would later take them back.
Also attached would be descent/ascent vehicles
for visiting other bodies in the solar system
such as the Moon or Mars.
The NAUTILUS-X is obviously quite an ambitious
concept. However, it will be tested in steps.
Bigelow will demonstrate the building of
multi-modular systems when they build their
commercial space stations starting in 2015.
The centrifuge could be tested on the International
Space Station as shown here:
For longer and more elaborate missions
with bigger crews, the modular approach
allows for building bigger spaceships:
More about the NAUTILUS-X concept can be
found on the HobbySpace