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Much Lower Launch Costs Make Resupply Cheaper than Recycling for Space Life SupportThe development of commercial launch vehicles by SpaceX has greatly reduced the cost of launching mass to Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Reusable launch vehicles may further reduce the launch cost per kilogram. The new low launch cost makes open loop life support much cheaper than before. Open loop systems resupply water and oxygen in tanks for crew use and provide disposable lithium hydroxide (LiOH) in canisters to remove carbon dioxide. Short human space missions such as Apollo and shuttle have used open loop life support, but the long duration International Space Station (ISS) recycles water and oxygen and removes carbon dioxide with a regenerative molecular sieve. These ISS regenerative and recycling life support systems have significantly reduced the total launch mass needed for life support. But, since the development cost of recycling systems is much higher than the cost of tanks and canisters, the relative cost savings have been much less than the launch mass savings. The Life Cycle Cost (LCC) includes development, launch, and operations. If another space station was built in LEO, resupply life support would be much cheaper than the current recycling systems. The mission most favorable to recycling would be a long term lunar base, since the resupply mass would be large, the proximity to Earth would reduce the need for recycling reliability and spares, and the launch cost would be much higher than for LEO due to the need for lunar transit and descent propulsion systems. For a ten-year lunar base, the new low launch costs make resupply cheaper than recycling systems similar to ISS life support.
Document ID
Document Type
Conference Paper
Jones, Harry W. (NASA Ames Research Center Moffett Field, CA, United States)
Date Acquired
October 26, 2017
Publication Date
July 16, 2017
Subject Category
Astronautics (General)
Launch Vehicles and Launch Operations
Report/Patent Number
Meeting Information
International Conference on Environmental Systems (ICES-2017)(Charleston, SC)
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.
launch costs
life support

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