Technically-achievable, Near-term Space Logistics


Spacefaring image Snead

This is a post by Mike Snead, President of the Spacefaring Institute and Associate Fellow of the AIAA.

If this comes as a surprise, so be it. The United States has a remarkably robust aerospace industrial base that has been capable, since the 1990s, of building an integrated, airline-like spacefaring logistics infrastructure throughout the Earth-Moon system. This infrastructure would be suitable for passenger—yes, passenger in every legal/ethical sense of the word—travel as well as payload and cargo transport throughout the Earth-Moon system. In fact, we would now likely be entering the third generation of such a capability—the operational equivalent of what you see in the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey” would be reality today.

The 2006 technical paper summaries what one such integrated infrastructure could look like using mid-1990s American technologies. The reusable flight systems would be certified for “aircraft-like” safety—not the passenger-inadequate “human-rated” safety approach of NASA—while the in-space logistics capabilities would be built using the heavy-lift launch capability of a system similar to the Space Launch System now under development. Starting today, we could have the initial infrastructure to LEO built within 10 years. Why we are not doing this is not a technology limitation, but imposed political limitations focused on the wrong outcomes, operational capabilities, and disregard for appropriate levels of human safety and operational effectiveness.

If the United States is to become a true commercial human spacefaring nation, building an integrated, airline-like spacefaring logistics infrastructure throughout the Earth-Moon system is a must do!

To begin to understand how this is achievable, see

Read the full paper here.

Mike Snead, PE, President, Spacefaring Institute LLC, Associate Fellow, AIAA and Past chair, AIAA Space Logistics Technical Committee



Mars via the Moon

Hollister (Hop) David has several images worth seeing at his website. He argues for using Earth-Moon Lagrange Point 1 as an interplanetary hub. Moving from LE1 has several advantages: not only can you park outside of Earth’s gravity well without millions of piece of space junk flying about, but you are close to the moon where you can pick up water or other needed supplies.



EML1 and 2 (just above and below the moon) could be valuable as transportation hubs in cislunar space. They could also be valuable staging points to launch interplanetary ships from.

Parking at LE1 is also a good idea for propellant depots. Without the space junk, the area is much safer for the depots.



And there is a third reason for leaving from LE1. The Oberth Effect allows the ship to use Earth as a flyby. Picking up speed as the ship passes Earth gives you a fuel boost from the increased kinetic energy of the fuel.

Visit Hop’s website for a ton of valuable information:


Mars at One Tenth the Cost: The Modular Path to Money Saving

John K. Strickland

Elon Musk’s SpaceX has enormous implications for Mars.  When Musk’s reusable rockets and upcoming reusable spacecraft become a reality, Mars missions will be possible at one-tenth the cost of the Mars plan NASA now has on its books.  One such low-cost Mars plan comes from the Space Development Steering Committee’s chief analyst John Strickland.  Working with artist Anna Nesterova, Strickland has developed the following program.

SpaceX’s Falcon-based reusable boosters will carry vehicles and crew that will travel to Mars.  A Falcon-based super-booster can carry 220 tons.

A logistics base will remain in low Earth orbit.  At this base, the cargos launched from Earth are attached to in-space propulsion units, units that will carry them to another logistics base further out in space.  The next destination will be a space truck stop at a gravitational “balance point” between the earth and the Moon called L1.  L1 provides an advantage—with minimal fuel you can stay in place.  And there’s a bonus at L1–no space debris.

The L1 logistics base will be built by robots. First they will build a long, docking truss.  Why is it called a “docking truss”?  Because this truss will provide docking, unloading, loading, and refueling facilities for cargos and vehicles doing the transport runs between the Earth, the Moon, and Mars.  This logistics base will be a full-service space truck stop and cargo depot.

The L1 truck stop will also be used for trips to the Moon and back.  Those trips can be very fruitful.  The moon’s water can be used to make the rocket fuel with which the truck stop refuels all the vehicles based at it. This Includes a fleet of vehicles headed for Mars.

At the L1 docking truss, key elements of the first Mars mission will be assembled in space. This Mars fleet will consist of twenty two vehicles. There will be twelve large vehicles designed to stay in Mars orbit, and each will have a 100 foot wide aero-capture heat shield.  The heat shield will use the Martian atmosphere as an air brake to ease the vehicle into orbit without using up valuable fuel.  Meanwhile, there will be ten Mars ferries that will go back and forth from Mars orbit to the red planet’s surface.  Seven ferries will carry cargo, and three will carry crew.

The Mars-bound crew clusters will go into low Mars orbit and stay there.  Two will support the crew operations before and during a landing, but they will not land.

Two crew clusters are docked together, a fact that has allowed the crews to work together during the long voyage to Mars. Within a few hours, the crew clusters will separate and reconfigure.  They will deploy two extra heat shields. Why?   To protect the propulsion modules that have thrust them into an Earth-Mars transit orbit.  Each propulsion module will use an aerocapture shield as an air brake to slow itself without using up fuel.  It will park in Mars orbit, where it will wait to provide propulsion for the trip back to Earth.


Above, the Mars fleet has arrived safely in Low Mars Orbit. A robot on rails has built a Low Mars Orbit logistics base, and all the fleet’s vehicles have docked at the base. The robot has stacked all of the aero-shields like pancakes out of the way at the left end of the truss.  The vehicles that the shields protected during aero-capture are not designed to land.  They are crew clusters, propulsion modules, propellant depots and large cargo carriers. Mars landings are handled entirely by the ten conical Mars ferries. Three of these ferries carry crew.  In this picture, one of the seven cargo ferries is taking on fuel from a depot before landing on Mars. Together, the ten ferries can land over 600 metric tons of crew, habitats, food, equipment and rovers on Mars by making multiple trips.            Art: Anna Nesterova



In the final picture above, the seven cargo ferries have landed the equipment (far right) to produce at least 100 tons of fuel per month from Mars ice and to set up a habitat for the crew.  Now, that the first 100 tons of propellant have been produced and stored, one ferry has enough fuel to go back into orbit.  In this picture the first crew ferry (in the foreground) has safely landed with even more cargo for the Mars base and with humans. The ferries descend and take off at a landing zone well away from the base itself for safety.  The cargo container is pulled directly out of the Ferry’s cargo bay with a winch.

John Strickland’s Mars mission is not a quickie.  It is not a flags and footprints mission.  It builds a permanent transport infrastructure in space.  And once we start landing this program’s components on Mars, we are on Mars to stay.

Art: Marcus Mashburn


White House petition proposes space solar power as national energy and space goal

spsalphaA petition to the White House to task the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to examine space solar power (SSP) as a new energy and space goal for the U.S. has been posted on the White House WE the PEOPLE website, with a goal of 100,000 signatures by April 3, 2013. Read More