Broadcast 4064 Gary Barnhard

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The Space Foundation Conference

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Guest:  Gary Barnhard;  Topic:  We discussed Gary's concept to use the ISS as an SSP power technology Development and Demo platform.  His paper, "Space Station Freedom Redux: Rearchitecting ISS as a Space Solar Power Technology Development & Demonstration Platform" is posted on our blog.

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We welcomed Gary Barnhard to the program to discuss his engineering concept to convert the ISS upon its retirement to an SSP development and demo platform in LEO but in a different orbit than its current orbit.  At times during Gary's presentation, the project seemed overwhelming with both engineering and policy requirements, plus the likelihood of runaway costs.  To make it easier to grasp, I urge you to review Gary's presentation material posted on our blog which includes his paper mentioned above, a PPT presentation plus additional documentation.  Next, please pay attention to the tags used for this program as they do a good job of briefly outlining some of the main concerns, issues, challenges, policy issues, all of which would have to be resolved to see Gary's plan become real.  As for estimating costs financial return economics, including possible commercial returns, while discussed, I think doing that with any degree of accuracy would require more work and analysis with lots more specifics as to how this or that would take shape.  In the end, I suspect the economics of the project and the return, if commercial, or the return to tax payers if public, would be a crucial determining factor, especially if we have comparison SSP projects and private stations supplying us with real time data.

Tags:  Gary Barnhard, ISS retirement, Space Solar Power (SSP), Gary's ISS SSP assumptions, power challenges, ISS and NASA policy, ISS partners, maintenance costs, debris concerns, moving the ISS to a preferred orbit, ISS inclination, ESA, Public Private Partnerships (PPP), ISS mass, Russian modules, private space station competition, time lines, relay beaming, National Space Council, maintaining ISS security, situational awareness needs, plan development phases, Alliance for Space Development.

We did talk feasibility of the project.  First, there was the technical feasibility.  Gary talked about moving the ISS, once its retired by NASA, to another more desirable equatorial or near equatorial orbit.  While I am not an orbital analyst by any means, I know that changing orbits and moving something requires an abundance of energy and all of that adds up to substantial costs that would have to be built into the project and probably amortized into R&D costs or maybe even operating costs. Doing so would add to the economic burden of the project, the risk and expected returns.

What about the ISS being converted to an SSP relay beaming tech platform?  Could that be done?  Probably but again, one would have to look at the costs for doing so and then what you have when you complete the job.  How does that stack up with other commercial opportunities that will likely exist around the same time?  Sharpen your pencils everyone.  I see lots of really finely tuned analysis with a variety of quality assumptions ranging from best case to the horrific case example. That said, I don't see why the remodel of the station could not happen, but one would have to really have it all down to a fine point to do this job.

What about policy, the National Lab, NASA, congress, etc?  Lots and lots of policy negotiations would be going on to make this happen. Probably involving the ISS partners too.  Negotiations could be successful, but I think it would take lots and lots of persuading and hard evidence to do that.  When I was listening to Gary, I could not help but think back many years to ago when I had Dr. Julie Robinson, the ISS Chief Scientist on the show.  I believe Julie was on two or three times.  On one or maybe all the programs, Julie was asked could a commercial company or entity take over the station and operate it.  Her answer was a pretty definitive no.  As I recall, she said it was never built to be a commercial project. It has huge overhead and maintenance, one-of-a-kind parts and should any of those need to be replaced, they might have to be built. Only a government could operate something like the ISS.  Julie continued by saying plans being discussed for private space stations do not look like the ISS, do not use designs like the ISS, have better ways of getting power to the station and its projects are designed to need less maintenance and fewer repairs and such.  It was a very interesting discussion.  If you want to hear it, search for Dr. Julie Robinson in our search box in the upper right-hand corner of our website and go to the firs time Julie was on the show.  Listen to what she said on this matter and then impose Gary's commercial plans on the station.  After you do this thought exercise, please tell us your conclusions by posting on our blog.

As you listen to other parts of this show, you will likely agree that having an SSP demo and test bed in LEO is probably a worthwhile thing to have and use to learn more about power beaming and space solar power.  The question becomes would the ISS be the best platform to use for that project.  By the way, Gary also suggested that rather than letting the ISS crash back to Earth were the SSP plan rejected, it would be better to put it in a parking orbit and eventual turn it into a museum.  For my part, I think that is likely the most economic and beneficial use for the retired station.

Please post your comments/questions for Gary on the blog for our show.  We wish Gary well in the pursuit of his project and will stay in touch with him to see how it is going.  You can reach him through me or his email address which is on his published paper.

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energy, SSP and the ISS

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30 Jul 2023 Gary Barnhard
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