The Affordable Space Platform: The STS External Tank

by Matthew A. Bille, Univ of North Dakota, Grand Forks, United States,

Document Type: Proceeding Paper

Part of: Engineering, Construction, and Operations in Space III


Future development of space requires establishing affordable work platforms in orbit. This paper surveys possible uses of the Space Transportation System's External Tank (ET) to provide such platforms. A review of the literature and discussions with officials of the private companies engaged in ET development demonstrate there is no lack of proposals for developing orbiting ETs. The tanks could be observatories, microgravity facilities, or life sciences labs. Structural engineers see the ET as a habitat, a hangar, a building block for a larger platform, or a source of raw materials. The major finding is that ET development is both practical and necessary. Obstacles to overcome include designing support equipment and developing procedures for converting the tanks. There are also financial and political hurdles to be cleared. Steps to promote full utilization of the ETs include providing government incentives for ET developers and requiring NASA to look again at using some of the tanks itself. ET development must be encouraged if space is to be exploited at a price we can afford.

Subject Headings: Orbits | Space exploration | Geomatic surveys | Private sector | Gravity forces | Lifeline systems | Construction materials | Equipment and machinery

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