Deep Sky: A Post-ETS World

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After the fated Shuttle Decision of the 70s, NASA's direction was clear: Space station development served by Saturn derivative rockets. From Skylab to Spacelab to Freedom, from Saturn IC to Saturn Multibody, Artemis to Orion, NASA and its partners have charted a course to the stars. At the end of the alt-history Eyes Turned Skyward we were left with a world where cheaper and cheaper access to space promised a world that would make even Von Braun blush. 

With blessings I endeavor to recreate the world where ETS left off, with reusables becoming core to space exploration and development going into the 2020s. I'll be doing this in a 1.3.1 install with RSS/RO with a few personal tweaks. 


We begin on August 7, 2017 at Cape Canaveral with the launch of Discovery Expedition 1.


The launch was on a grey day, with NASA's PAO office doing most of the grumbling hoping to make a bright announcement of NASA's future in earth orbit. 


With liftoff at 1346hrs local Expedition 1's crew punched through the clouds atop their Saturn II Block II booster. Her roaring RS-76s bringing the brand new S-IVR and Apollo Block V up out of the thickest parts of the atmosphere, B-2105 was one of six identical boosters Boeing had built and now maintains for NASA. This was her third flight, certified for at least another 20 thanks to the new Block II upgrades to the Saturn II to meet the increased demands of a fully reusable system.


Staging occurs at 2.8 kilometers a second and an altitude of 120 kilometers, determined to be the maximum limit for the booster with downrange barge recovery of the first stage. Doing this, the Saturn II Block II can lift up to 27 tons into a 400 kilometer 28 degree orbit out of the Cape. From now until orbit is achieved the S-IVR and Apollo stack ride on the back of a J-2X engine. 


After a good retrieval of the mission module, Val Kerman is instructed by Houston to do a cursory once around of the S-IVR nicknamed "Hermes" by the pad crews. It is the second of four such planned stages, designed and built as a reusable upper stage. After insertion into a low orbit, the S-IVR reenters face first into the atmosphere relying on the ablative heat shield in front to provide protection and aerodynamic stability for the stage. Upon reaching subsonic speeds the stage deploys parachutes and is recovered in the Mojave desert on airbags.


After a two day rendezvous process Expedition 1 arrives at their destination and home for the next six months: the orbiting Endeavour module of Space Station Discovery placed there in July 2017 by another Saturn II Block II.





I hope y'all like my little model building project!


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The Saga Continues



On a brisk January morning in Florida a workhorse is ready and waiting for the go-ahead.



The Star Launch Services Thunderbolt L1, launching payloads and returning boosters for over a decade now. Her sea level J-2s have been launched, refurbished and relaunched dozens of times at this point. 



Remarkably reliable, these J-2s will boost the upper stage and payload up to altitude and velocity, and then guide the booster back to another safe landing at the launch site.

At this point we've seen this dozens of times, with reusable "shuttles" being the norm over the skies of the Atlantic Seaboard rather than the exception. Today is different.



Today NASA's latest addition to the TDRS network is meeting a special friend in orbit. 



Coming from the newest propellant depot in the growing depot network around the Earth-Moon System, a fully fueled Centaur-T. Those same reusable rockets bringing up satellites, crew and cargo are also tasked with replenishing NASA's thirsty tugs. And demand is only growing, making the future of spaceflight bright with possibility.



After successful rendezvous and docking, TDRS and the Tug make the push for GTO.



After separation from the Centaur, TDRS circularizes and corrects its inclination under her own power (OOC: This freaking burn took like 40 minutes don't play RSS kids).



And it finally gets to unfurl her wings and relay messages between Houston and NASA's spacecraft in orbit.



Its mission complete the Centaur Tug uses its remaining propellant to make the burn back to LEO. It will go on to rendezvous with the depot, refuel, and in two week's time be ready to meet a new payload that needs to get to almost any orbit it could need. One might say it was even getting.... routine.



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Busy few days, but sometimes you just gotta stop and smell the roses.


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The Future is Heavy


With a over a decade of successful lunar landings across Earth's satellite NASA had learned as much about deep space operations as much as they had the Moon itself. Among them was the cost, in delta-V and dollars, of getting the 50 ton Artemis/CSM stack up to the Moon in the first place. With a manned Mars campaign and its heavier landers and habitats on the horizon and Lunar base construction in full swing at factories across the world, NASA needed a way to lighten the burden in terms of launch mass and financial cost. 

Enter Pegasus.
For years now Pegasus had made a name for itself as the transfer stage for the Artemis and Apollo stack, a critical component of NASA's manned Lunar presence. 


And so today, a multi-thousand ton beast waits patiently on the pad. 


It was almost inevitable that the reliable Pegasus stage would undergo similar modifications to its cousin Centaur to enable its use as a trans-orbital tug for NASA's heavier payloads to inject into high energy orbits. Launched aboard a Saturn Heavy it represents a key piece of infrastructure in the Earth-Moon system and beyond. 


Equipped with multi-layer insulation, electricity generation, additional thermal management systems for extended trips, and highly efficient RL10-B-2 engines the Pegasus-T is capable of pushing an Artemis lander and Apollo CSM up to lunar transfer. 


Fully capable of independent rendezvous and docking, Pegasus-T is intended to be a part of a modular system. Up to three Pegasus-Ts can be strung together side by side at a depot for use by heavy payloads in higher energy transfers such as to Mars. 


But its sights aren't set quite as far out. For now it waits at the LEO Transorbital Depot Station for its first payload, and paving the way forward for NASA's manned flight program.



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Sorry guys my install died. I'm working on putting together a new one with the same general premise but in the mean time it's slow going.

In return I'm showcasing my crowning achievement.

RIP: C:\Users\REDACTED\REDACTED\KSP RO\Kerbal Space Program, 2018-2018



Approaching three productive decades of service as the world's premier orbital outpost, Space Station Freedom's time was fast approaching. With Saturn II online and flying payloads once or twice a month now NASA's flight schedule and budget began to open up as its Reagan-era hardware began to be phased out. First on the block a new low orbit station to expand on humanity's beachhead to the cosmos, christened Space Station Discovery.


By 2017 the station's components were designed, built, tested, integrated and ready for launch. Owing to Saturn II's fairly quick turn around times and thus availability of boosters, NASA's campaign to construct Discovery would be as rapid as possible for a multi-module station.


The first module Endeavour is designed as the station's hub. It contains gyroscopes, computers, batteries, coolant tanks, and limited attitude adjustment capabilities. 


Shortly after Endeavour was confirmed to be online and in a proper orbit, Discovery Expedition 1 launched carrying a crew of five aboard their Apollo Block V. 


The rapid launch cadence continued with the launch of the port truss structure with external experiment racks, attitude fuel, and the station's primary thermal management and solar array systems. 


Expedition 1's commander Valentina Kerman out supervising launch and docking of the truss segment. Under her watchful eye the first truss was berthed to Endeavour with no issues, thanks to decades of experience with in space construction.


Several months later crews at Cape Caneveral had constructed and a Saturn II-Heavy to carry the Enterprise module. A collaboration between Boeing and upstart Bigelow Aerospace, both of whom had either been flying or developing inflatable habitats for decades now between Boeing's contributions to Artemis and Orion to Bigelow's research into use of inflatables on stations. 


At over 30 feet in diameter Enterprise serves as the station's crew quarters, wardroom, and life support module.


In just six months after the initial launches Discovery had acquired both of her trusses, crew accommodation, and several Apollo and cargo resupply flights. 


Built with European experience in design and American 6.6 meter tooling, Harmony is truly what makes the station international. It houses the station's primary scientific facilities ranging from physics to astronomy to biology. In addition it also contains the station's primary orbital maneuvering engines. 


Within a year Discovery's place in orbit had gone from emptiness to a "complete" space station. Docking ports all along Harmony's zenith and nadir sides are designed to accommodate additional temporary modules from corporations to academic institutions for accessible on orbit research facilities. As such Space Station Discovery will never truly be complete, adapting and changing throughout its long lifespan taking up Freedom's torch as the best research station in orbit.


And I'll leave it with a beauty shot of the station floating peacefully over the good Earth.


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