MIT Researchers Pitch a Galactic Gas Station
Kyle Maxey posted on March 10, 2014 |
Could an interspace gas station be the key to deep space missions and space flight proliferation?

MIT, rocket, rocketry, space, exploration, fuel, moon, colony, marsMIT researchers have announced a low-cost, low-maintenance plan to create space-based propellant refueling stations.

Currently, all space missions, whether to low-Earth orbit or destinations much further out, carry every ounce of fuel they’ll use during their journey. What’s more, most missions carry additional fuel as a safety measure in case the mission hits a snag.

In MIT’s new proposal, researchers want missions returning home to drop their unused, extra propellant at a space-based way station that can collect and dispense fuel to crafts in need.

Conceived as outposts that would park themselves at Lagrange points, the stations aren’t just survival beacons. The depots could potentially save future missions a ton of money too by allowing them to minimize their onboard fuel requirements. Additionally, the stations could allow researchers to pack more scientific equipment aboard their semi-vacant vessels, taking the room normally reserved for additional fuel.

“Whatever rockets you use, you’d like to take full advantage of your lifting capacity,” says Jeffrey Hoffman, a professor of the practice in MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics. “Most of what we launch from the Earth is propellant. So whatever you can save, there’s that much more payload you can take with you.”

As imagined by it designers, approaching craft in need of fuel could either use a robotic arm to grab a fuel container of propellant or use a galactic gas pump to directly inject fuel into their dry containers. Either way, a surefire monitoring program would need to be put in place in order to avoid desperate ships showing up only to find a bone-dry station.

While MIT’s plans might seem modest in comparison to other proposals, they’re certainly a good start for a space industry that’s being reinvigorated by ambitious commercial ventures. If future private space ventures are to catapult our extra-terrestrial exploration efforts into a new golden age, infrastructure like refueling stations and small-scale colonies will need to be established; steppingstones that will then be looked upon as the hallmarks of a brighter, space-faring future.

Image Courtesy of MIT

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