A couple of weeks ago NASA presented a study they have made about constructing an actual interplanetary spaceship. They call it the Non-Atmospheric Universal Transport Intened for Lengthy United States X-ploration, or NAUTILUS-X for short and it's actually a pretty exciting concept!
Instead of trying to simply emulate designs from the sixties (ie Constellation/Orion) this is an actual spaceship, it's designed for a space environment and it is not meant to enter the atmosphere or land anywhere, it purely exists in space. The closest we've come so far is the lunar lander, but this is on an entirely different scale.
Some bullet points from the powerpoint presentation:
- Long-duration space journey vehicle for crew of 6 for periods of 1 -24 months
- CIS-lunar would be initial Operations Zone [shakedown phase]
- Exo-atmospheric, Space-only vehicle
- Integrated Centrifuge for Crew Health
- Life Support in deployed Large Volume with shirt-sleeve servicing
- Truss & Stringer thrust-load distribution concept (non-orthogird)
- Capable of utilizing variety of Mission-Specific
- Propulsion Units [integrated in LEO, semi-autonomously
- Utilizes Inflatable & Deployed structures
- Incorporates Industrial Airlock for construction/maintenance
- Integrated RMS - Supports Crewed Celestial-body Descent/Return Exploration vehicle(s)
- Utilizes Orion/Commercial vehicles for crew rotation & Earth return from LEO
It's modular and can be outfitted in several ways according to the mission profile and most if not all of its components could be lifted into orbit with vehicles in use now. There are suggestions on how the centrifuge could first be tested out on the ISS and it seems like the designers had the VASIMR plasma engine in mind when they constructed the ship. Its initial configuration would be a bit smaller than the one I've posted above and would be used as a mothership for lunar exploration as you can see in the graphics nearby.
As a space exploration enthusiast I find this exciting because I think this is the kind of stuff NASA (and ESA, and JAXA and what have you) should be doing. Not exclusively of course, but I do think something groundbreaking like this, that can catch the imagination of people is needed to make space exploration interesting again for the guy on the street. Imagine having this thing making a trip through the solar system and blogging, tweeting, buzzing about it all the way. It'd be an amazing experience!
As a sci fi fan and a gamer I find this exciting because wow, that's a bonafida spaceship!! I love how I could just take this design and insert it into our Diaspora game with no real need to change anything. It looks like something the Ariesians could have cobbled together.
Now we just need to keep our fingers crossed that the Nautilus-X actually gets built. It always comes down to the money...