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Space Waste

Oct 21, 2019
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Space Waste

The International Space Station cost over $150 billion to build (so far). A great deal of that was in boosting all that material out of Earth’s Gravity Well and into orbit. That is a great deal for a Space Station with an internal volume of only 32,333 cu ft.

The STS had 135 missions, each with an External Tank weighing about 66,000 lbs. empty. On each mission, the External Tank was jettisoned after the Shuttle performed a maneuver to make the ET dive and burn up in the atmosphere. That translates to 8,910,000 lbs of aluminum, titanium, and other materials boosted into orbit, then thrown away. The H2 tank was 97 ft x 27 ft diameter with an internal volume of 52,881 cu ft, and the O2 tank was 54 ft x 27 ft diameter with an internal volume of 19,541 cu ft., for a total of 72,422 cu ft. for each ET. In comparison, the entire ISS has an internal volume of 32,333 Cu Ft.

The total internal volume for 135 External Tanks was 47,304,513 cu ft. That is enough internal volume to make a room 30 feet wide, 8 feet high, and 37 miles long!

It would have taken relatively little to make the ET suitable to be used in orbit for storage, labs, or habitats. Of course the tanks would be in various orbits, but there would be several in any given orbit. The cutaway view shows how simple the design was. It would have required basic cutting to make entrances into those tanks, and fittings and hardware to make the entrances closeable and sealed. Also, before cutting into them, the remaining Hydrogen and Oxygen could have been recovered for use in orbit.

I have included a graphic I created in jpeg showing all this information. Feel free to copy and use it.
 
Oct 21, 2019
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They could have done a lot, in hind sight. Then again they couldn't have blow billions of more dollars on building a much smaller space station if they had done that now would they?
 
Oct 23, 2019
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I don't think that it is fair to use terms like basic to describe this undertaking. It doesn't sound like a simple operation to go find some fuel tank floating in a low, decaying orbit and then capture it, boost it into a good orbit and try to convert if for human habitation. That's a lot of work to be performed in space on multiple missions and it sounds rather expensive to do. Plus, the thing was designed to carry fuel, not serve as an orbital habitat. The amount of retrofitting to make it perform the functions that the ISS does, sounds like a lot of expensive and complicate missions.
 
Oct 21, 2019
49
10
35
I don't think that it is fair to use terms like basic to describe this undertaking. It doesn't sound like a simple operation to go find some fuel tank floating in a low, decaying orbit and then capture it, boost it into a good orbit and try to convert if for human habitation. That's a lot of work to be performed in space on multiple missions and it sounds rather expensive to do. Plus, the thing was designed to carry fuel, not serve as an orbital habitat. The amount of retrofitting to make it perform the functions that the ISS does, sounds like a lot of expensive and complicate missions.
Obviously it would take a great deal of retrofitting to make an ET into a useable space. The point is that, even though we would have had to boost all of the internal fitting, instruments, insulation, etc., etc., etc., there would still be nearly 9 million lbs less mass to boost into orbit for the same useable volume. Some of the ETs could be modified just for storage, without much work. Others could be used as storage tanks for hydrogen and oxygen with almost no changes at all, perhaps even water or some other liquid.
 

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