Rationale for Flexible Path - A Space Exploration Strategy for the 21st Century

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G. R. Schmidt; G. A. Landis; S. R. Oleson (2010), JBIS, 63, 42-52

Refcode: 2010.63.42
Keywords: Human, Spaceflight, Plan, Augustine, Telerobot, In-space, Flexpath

In 2009, the U.S. President convened a special committee to recommend directions for the U.S. human spaceflight program. One preferred option - the “Flexible Path” strategy - differs markedly from the Moon and Mars-oriented paradigm that has driven U.S. planning in the past. Specifically, it refrains from placing humans on the surfaces of these planetary bodies in the near-term, and instead focuses on sending piloted spacecraft into orbit around exploration targets of interest, and conducting astronaut exploration of the surfaces using telerobots and remotely controlled systems. Teleoperation provides scientists real- time control of rovers and other sophisticated instruments, thus expanding the scientific return at these destinations. It also eliminates development of the numerous man-rated landers, ascent vehicles and systems required to sustain humans on planetary surfaces. The propulsive requirements to travel from Low Earth Orbit (LEO) to many destinations with shallow gravity-wells in the inner solar system are quite similar. Thus, a common set of spacecraft elements (e.g., launch vehicles, upper stage/transfer vehicle, crew module/habitat) could be used to perform a variety of different missions, including orbit- based surface exploration of the Moon, Mars and Venus, and rendezvous with Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs), as well as Phobos and Deimos. This paper presents the rationale for Flexible Path, and explains why it should be the strategy for human space exploration in the 21st Century.

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