Exploration Beyond Low Earth Orbit – The Augustine Commission

Destinations The meeting of the Augustine Commission on 30 July 2009 in Cocoa Beach focused on the options for “Exploration beyond LEO”. Dr Ed Crawley chairs this sub-group, and the complete power point presentation can be found here – Exploration Beyond LEO.  The destinations considered were:

  • The Earth’s Moon
  • Near Earth Objects (NEOs)
  • Earth-Moon and Sun-Earth Lagrange Points (EML1, EML2, SEL1 SEL2)
  • Venus
  • Mars and it’s moons (Phobos and Deimos)
By the time of this meeting, the sub-group had narrowed the options to the five shown in the slide at the right. Associated with these options were a number of findings that the committee used in devising the options:

  • There are some cases where astronauts enable science at a pace that rapidly eclipses what robotic missions can achieve: field geology, especially on Mars and Moon (& probably NEOs)
  • Impressive disparity in cost between robotic and human missions
  • Astronomy that, 4 decades ago, made sense to do from the Moon, is often now best done from free-flying platforms in space, often at Lagrange points.
  • Astronauts vs. robotic servicing of astronomy missions being studied at GSFC; results still a year out
  • Given current knowledge of galactic cosmic rays, current lifetime radiation limits, and strong limitations on physical shielding vs. GCRs (as opposed to solar events, say), human Mars missions cannot now be flown. Research on understanding these effects, reducing associated uncertainties, and examining (biological and physical) mitigation should be prioritized
  • Research in understanding radiation, zero- or low-g, and other crew-oriented effects book-kept elsewhere.
  • Criterion: Significantly and appropriately addresses at-least-some/some/many important established priorities of the scientific community (includes astrophysics, planetary and lunar science, solar science, and Earth science)
Five Options

As discussed in our previous post on the Augustine Commission, Propellant Depots were a big topic. The slide on the right features Werner von Braun’s comment concerning “Tanking Mode” for space exploration.

The two slides below accompany von Braun’s comments from 1962 with the latest assessments of the opportunities and challenges posed by Propellant Depots.

von Braun
Depots Why Depots Why Not

The following slides constitute Chris Chyba’s closing summary:

Advanced Technology Changes the Game
New Business Models
Luanch to LeO
On-Orbit Fueling
Commercial Engagement
International Engagement
Why We Explore and What It Means
Our Ultimate Objective

Chyba’s conclusion was clear: “Destinations are Not Goals”. Rather, our overarching goal is to expand human civilization into the Solar System.

You can find all of the commission’s published documentation on their web site.


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