NASA's Nautilus-X: Reusable deep manned spacecraft

Feb 15, 2011 by John Messina weblog
NASA's dream spacecraft would be assembled from expandable structures and hold a crew of 6 with enough supplies for a 2 year mission.

(PhysOrg.com) -- NASA is currently examining several key technologies that can advance space exploration. Dubbed Nautilus-X this tubular spacecraft can be used as a reusable vehicle for lunar and deep-space missions, holding a crew of six with enough supplies for a two-year voyage.

Mark Holderman and Edward Henderson of JSC listed six technology applications in their latest presentation to the” Future in Space Operations” group. The six technologies include: satellite servicing, ISRU on the Moon, a SBSP demo, solar electric propulsion vehicle, propellant depots, and the Multi-Mission Vehicle (MMSEV).

The Nautilus-X (Non-Atmospheric Universal Transport Intended for Lengthy United States eXploration) would be assembled from expandable structures, such as the inflatable living quarters proposed by Bigelow Aerospace. It would also contain a ring centrifuge to provide partial gravity, and radiation-mitigation systems that may also include tanks of water or liquid hydrogen slush, according to an article published on HobbySpace’s website.

A ring centrifuge would provide partial gravity for crew’s health.

HobbySpace also mentioned that the centrifuge includes both inflatable and deployed structures and may utilize Hoberman-Sphere expandable structures. The rotational hardware would be derived from Hughes 376 spin-stabilized ComSats.

The goal is to deliver the centrifuge to the International Space Station (ISS), using a single Delta-IV/Atlas-V launch, where it will be tested.

Other views of the ISS centrifuge:

According to Edward Henderson of NASA’s Johnson Space Center the Nautilus-X will be designed as a multi-mission space exploration vehicle and could incorporate mission-specific propulsion units. In theory the engines and fuel can be swapped out depending on the mission. This all-purpose system would make it much simpler than using heavy-lift rockets for specific missions to the moon or other planets.

It’s estimated that construction would take at least five years and require two or three rocket launches and cost about $3.7 billion. By using existing technologies, like Bigelow's modules and the adaptability of a multi-purpose crew transporter, could mean a system like Nautilus can play a very important role in NASA's future.

Explore further: NASA-NOAA Suomi NPP Satellite team ward off recent space debris threat

More information: via HobbySpace

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User comments : 30

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Quantum_Conundrum
1.4 / 5 (16) Feb 15, 2011
I thought they were planning on intentionally destroying...*ahem*...de-orbiting the ISS in a few years anyway. What's the point? It's all a waste.
kaasinees
3.3 / 5 (3) Feb 15, 2011
Only to be driven by man that are deep.
apex01
2.6 / 5 (19) Feb 15, 2011
NASA is nothing but a bloated bureaucracy now. It should be privatized.
GDM
4.9 / 5 (9) Feb 15, 2011
Great idea to combine commercial space with International. Let's do it!
zevkirsh
2.3 / 5 (8) Feb 15, 2011
how about setting up a robot on the moon that shoots a high power proton or particle beam towards vehicles approaching the moon in order to slow those vehicles down enough so that they can land on the moon , thereby those vehicles do not have to stop themselves, and thus can carry much less fuel, thereby making them even easier to stop.

advanced space travel will happen when the mass of a vehicle is not constrained by the mass of the fuel that vehicle must carry in order for that vehicle to accelerate.
that_guy
4.2 / 5 (5) Feb 15, 2011
This is a fascinating article, and I think it's a great idea. For every new deep space mission, all you need is a new crew, supplies, and replacemnt parts. It will be a giant leap in extraplanetary exploration.
Eikka
2.3 / 5 (7) Feb 15, 2011
That centrifuge section looks a tad too small. The coriolis effect would limit its speed to less than 2-3 rpm, because otherwise the people inside would puke as the fluid in their inner ears keeps rotating constantly.

At 2 rpm, the minimum diameter to produce 1 G of artifical gravity would be nearly half a kilometer.
GreyLensman
4 / 5 (1) Feb 15, 2011
how about setting up a robot on the moon that shoots a high power proton or particle beam towards vehicles approaching the moon in order to slow those vehicles down enough so that they can land on the moon , thereby those vehicles do not have to stop themselves, and thus can carry much less fuel, thereby making them even easier to stop.

advanced space travel will happen when the mass of a vehicle is not constrained by the mass of the fuel that vehicle must carry in order for that vehicle to accelerate.

Doesn't take that much fuel, I'm afraid. Look at the tiny size of an Apollo Service module. Coming back to Earth, now that's altogether different - but we have a nice big atmosphere that will slow you down for free (if it doesn't fry you first).
ShotmanMaslo
1 / 5 (1) Feb 15, 2011
I thought they were planning on intentionally destroying...*ahem*...de-orbiting the ISS in a few years anyway. What's the point? It's all a waste.


That was part of the Constellation plan, but with Constellation cancelled, ISS was extended at least until 2020.

That centrifuge looks indeed very small to me, and rotating bearings could be a potential source of problems. It would be better to shape the vehicle as a big stick and let it rotate, as in previous NASA concept.
Quantum_Conundrum
1.8 / 5 (4) Feb 15, 2011
It would be better to shape the vehicle as a big stick and let it rotate, as in previous NASA concept.


I'm not sure that would work.

"Rotation" requires a reference point.

Having an elongated object rotate end over end isn't very useful and only would provide a few feet of useful area with simulated gravity on either end.

Having a ring rotate gives a "relatively" high surface area with gravity, while still maintaining some of the benefits of tube shapes. Though honestly, I think they should have concentric rings to maximize the surfaces. Those near the center would have less simulated gravity, but still better than nothing.

I think they should send up like a small chest sized model of this to the ISS, with some lab mice or something similar, so that they can test in space before making the real one. This way we can make sure the principles work and the components don't experience any freaky, unforeseen failures or side effects.
ShotmanMaslo
1 / 5 (1) Feb 15, 2011
"Rotation" requires a reference point.


The stick would rotate around short axis.

Having an elongated object rotate end over end isn't very useful and only would provide a few feet of useful area with simulated gravity on either end.


The stick will be long, maybe up to about a hundred meters. That provides plenty of useful area or volume. You can put whole transhab or large bigelow inflatable at one end, with comfortable 1g gravity and small Coriolis force.

For rotational artificial gravity, it is important to keep the radius large and rotation slow, or the astronauts will get sick. With large radius, you dont need to build circular contraptions, just a standard cylindrical module is enough. It also has much higher volume to surface (and thus, mass) ratio than circular centrifuge.

ShotmanMaslo
1 / 5 (1) Feb 15, 2011

Here is rotating stick NASA study about spaceship with artificial gravity:

http://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/20070023306_2007019854.pdf
Quantum_Conundrum
not rated yet Feb 15, 2011
The stick will be long, maybe up to about a hundred meters. That provides plenty of useful area or volume. You can put whole transhab or large bigelow inflatable at one end, with comfortable 1g gravity and small Coriolis force.

For rotational artificial gravity, it is important to keep the radius large and rotation slow, or the astronauts will get sick. With large radius, you dont need to build circular contraptions, just a standard cylindrical module is enough. It also has much higher volume to surface (and thus, mass) ratio than circular centrifuge.


The "stick" in that detail is the counter weight. The habitation is the conical thing at the bottom, which to me must undoubtedly be less practical than just using a cylinder.
Burnerjack
1 / 5 (2) Feb 15, 2011
Let's get the Chinese to fund it. We've got more important fiancial concerns to consider. If Bill Gates or Google et.al. want to invest in this, well, more power to 'em.
StandingBear
1 / 5 (1) Feb 16, 2011
some years back, I wrote some politicos about the need for a 'system ship' to be used for exploration. Looks like this is a first for implementation of this. Small, but like the Chinese say: "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.".
ShotmanMaslo
1 / 5 (1) Feb 16, 2011
The "stick" in that detail is the counter weight. The habitation is the conical thing at the bottom, which to me must undoubtedly be less practical than just using a cylinder.


Figure 4. is where the ship is depicted. It is a stick with cylindrical inflatable habitat at left end, fuel tanks and high ISP engine in the middle, and nuclear reactor with radiators at right end. Figures 1. and 2. depict previous concepts from older studies.
TrustTheONE
4 / 5 (4) Feb 16, 2011
We should be investing in the space elevator tecnology. With this technology we would be able to lift serious cargo and mount the spaceship in zero-gravity. We could have strong shielding, bigger quarters, more fuel, more crew.
We are tring do cut down the tree with a dull axe, instead we should spend some time sharpening the axe.
Eikka
4.2 / 5 (5) Feb 16, 2011
For a centrifugal gravity ship, all you need is a long cable and a counterweight at the other end.

The module and the counterweight will spin around the center of mass for the system. Fine tuning the spin rate is a simple matter of reeling the cable in or out once you get it spinning. For docking with another ship, you stop the spin and reel the counterweight in so it doesn't float about.

With a ring shape centrifuge, you have to deal with mass distribution because the system tends to wobble if it isn't perfectly balanced. You'd need something like a pumped water ballast to counter the fact that people might move around inside it.

With a counterweight system with the hab module at the other end, you don't.
Quantum_Conundrum
1 / 5 (2) Feb 16, 2011
I read this entire article, and I think they are going to need to test a scaled-down model in space before constructing something like this.

I noticed some issues that are going to be very hard to solve, such as the fact that after the landing vehicle is on mars, the main spacecraft will be out of balance due to the loss of mass. Also, even when the lander comes back, it is missing the descent stage and all the fuel, so the main craft will be out of balance anyway.

For the return trip, you could have an ejectable mass, preferably something with an actual use, like a probe or satellite, on the other side of the counter weight to offset the loss of mass. This would not work completely during the landing part of the mission, because your only options are to do nothing, or to over compensate, (since some of the "lost" mass of the lander actually is coming back later,) and overcompensating is just as bad as doing nothing.
Quantum_Conundrum
1 / 5 (1) Feb 16, 2011
Another alternative, which may be best of all, would be to have two landing vehicles, one on either end, this way all fuel mass losses are automatically the same. Docking could be synchronized, and this would potentially allow landing in two locations on the surface in the same mission.

This is brilliant, because it would allow two sets of seismometers to be installed, as well as two weather stations, and it would allow you to do core sample geology at two very different, yet "relatively close" locations...on one mission.

====

Otherwise, I think the landing vehicle needs to be attached at the axis of rotation in order to help avoid "most" of these complications, but as they discussed in the paper, this approach causes more complications, such as the need to either de-spin the vehicle, or match it's spin on docking, not to mention balance and center of mass issues, etc.
Quantum_Conundrum
5 / 5 (1) Feb 16, 2011
Another thing I thought of.

Why not skip the "counterweight" completely, and replace it with another crew habitat?

This would give 2 landers and 2 crews, with one large enging system and power plant in the center between the habitats, and so it solves any symetry or center of gravity issues automatically. It allows two seperate lander missions, which also solves the fuel mass/decent stage mass loss issue, because the losses are equal. This avoids the need to bring along any sort of ejectable ballast, and it avoids the issues of docking in the center axis.
eurekalogic
1 / 5 (4) Feb 16, 2011
Its cheap dodo that will kill good people. "Inflatable" where a spec of dust can almost blow a hole in bullet proof glass. Great idea. That idea started from temporary rescue vehicles and now the temporay resue is the permanent facility. I think not.
ShotmanMaslo
4 / 5 (4) Feb 16, 2011
Its cheap dodo that will kill good people. "Inflatable" where a spec of dust can almost blow a hole in bullet proof glass. Great idea. That idea started from temporary rescue vehicles and now the temporay resue is the permanent facility. I think not.


Inflatable does not in any way imply weak. Look at transhab and bigelow habitats. The wall is tens of centimeters thick, with many layers, and is supposed to be safer than current ISS modules. Shielding against micrometeoroids included.
krundoloss
4.2 / 5 (6) Feb 16, 2011
Whatever we do, we need to get moving on this stuff. I think the best way to do that is to Unify all space exploration into one international agency. Its our planet, so we should all share in our efforts to move beyond it. Why are individual countries and little private agencies all competing against each other on the most difficult task mankind has ever faced. Unify Space Exploration!
that_guy
3 / 5 (2) Feb 17, 2011
I read this entire article, and I think they are going to need to test a scaled-down model in space before constructing something like this.

I noticed some issues that are going to be very hard to solve, such as the fact that after the landing vehicle is on mars, the main spacecraft will be out of balance due to the loss of mass.

umm, testing scaled down model = duh. That's engineering.
Balance issues - could be minimized or eliminated with good design. Presumably the landing craft would not be on the spinning part...

Why are you such a debbie downer? Did mars beat you up when you were a kid?
Skepticus
3 / 5 (2) Feb 19, 2011
Nice vaporware pics as usual. This glorious vision in the trough will be shattered as soon as the aerospace contrators and politicians dig their snouts into it.
jwillis84
not rated yet Feb 21, 2011
I was born in 1964 and watched the lunar landings, as well as 2001 a Space Odyssey when it came out.

In that movie one of the astronauts was jogging around a cyclindrical track. I thought his personal center of gravity was "given" tangential inertia by pushing off and picking up speed jogging around the track.. eventually his mass experienced the centrifugal force and thus the track did not rotate.

This has always seemd "safer" to me, human coordination controls the amount of gravity, balance corrections in the inner ear would prevent them from running into things.. of course over coming the vomit comet effect was something I never thought about at six years old.

For medicinal purposes, or gravity requiring work.. they could get on an electric racetrack running around the inside of the drum.. seems a magnet linear levitator could impel a person or work module to any speed necessary.

As for the vomit comet effect.. years later in college it occurred to me that neuralmagnetic damping
jwillis84
not rated yet Feb 21, 2011
Sidebar: When an astronaut accelerates himself he imparts an equal opposite tangential acceleration to the station, ship, when he stops, momentum is conserved and the station, ship returns to course. That movie 2010 always made sense to me flipping end over end as the result of some fluidic momemtum source that had froze up and was no longer available to counteract people jogging about or pods leaving the ship. Friction comes into play, but if its slippery enough pretty small.. and they could pump it closer to the core or away from the core to deploy and recover it.
rbrtwjohnson
5 / 5 (2) Feb 21, 2011
NASA's Nautilus-X is an excellent idea. I think another great idea would be a fusion-powered electrodynamic starship. Let's go with it! To travel to another star system in our lifetime.
tinyurl.com/nuclear-fusion-starship
kehvan
5 / 5 (1) Feb 25, 2011
NASA's Nautilus-X is an excellent idea. I think another great idea would be a fusion-powered electrodynamic starship. Let's go with it! To travel to another star system in our lifetime.
tinyurl.com/nuclear-fusion-starship

Better yet, use an electrodynamic space thruster on the Nautilus-X.