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To refill the ISS, many spacecraft have been or are used

  • The shuttle (retired for obvious reasons)
  • ATV (retired)
  • HTV (will be retired)
  • Progress
  • Soyuz
  • Dragon
  • Cygnus
  • CST-100 (future)
  • Dream Chaser (largely developed)

I assume the R&D for developing each spacecraft is VERY expensive, and some (HTV and ATV) will have had a limited lifespan.

I understand the need for different craft for cargo and crew transport, but why did we choose to make that many different cargo craft ? Is there any cost rational behind this or is it just a matter of national pride ?

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    $\begingroup$ Because every government wants to develop that capability for indirect military reasons. And companies parasitizing on government are very happy with that. There's no good technical or economical reason. $\endgroup$ – LocalFluff Aug 10 '15 at 11:32
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Essentially each country who has agreed to send such spacecraft wants to build their own spacecraft. This is most noted in US/ Russian, but is to a lesser extend to European/ Japanese partners. Breaking them down by country, we have the following:

  • United States
    • Shuttle
    • Cygnus
    • Dragon
  • Russia
    • Progress
    • Soyuz
  • ESA
    • ATV
  • Japan
    • HTV

Okay, so there are 4 parties who have build spacecraft. Why did each of these build their own? Mostly, they want to build them as both a matter of national pride, and a means to develop new technology. This development of man rated technology allows each of them to enhance their space capabilities, and generally speaking is good for the economy of the affected partners. There are two that have developed more than one, let me explain those.

  • United States- The Shuttle had to be discontinued, and a replacement was needed. Two were provided for cargo replacement, as a means of redundancy, which allows for the United States to continue to send spacecraft in the event of a problem with one.
  • Russia- The Progress/ Soyuz have both been around for a long time. One is manned, the other unmanned.

So, basically it's a chance to build technology in one's own nation (Or EU), and the pride and technological advancement that comes from such. In addition, valuable redundancy is gained from such.

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  • $\begingroup$ I would just also add that in the USA, the outsourcing of ISS resupply to private entities was basically done by funding a few competitors, and those that looked to be on track got additional funding. This is seen in the Commercial Crew Transport program, for instance with Dragon v2 and CST-100. SpaceX was doing a good job, so they got funding, but are still a relatively new player without a long track record. Boeing got a lot of money because it was also doing a good job, and has demonstrated ability to deliver for decades in the past. As you indicated, not relying on a single company. $\endgroup$ – Dan Aug 10 '15 at 17:51
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Diversity is good, as recent history has shown.

With the failure of Cygnus, Progress, and Dragon, there is still an HTV due to launch with cargo.

There is national prestige involved, and while manned spaceflight is very hard and expensive, cargo is significantly easier and cheaper.

The ISS consortium agreement does a lot of horse trading and barter for services, so the ATV while probably not cost effective, was used to barter for services for the ESA.

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    $\begingroup$ Diversity is indeed good. But low cost is good too. Inspite of all these recent hugely costly development projects, it is the cheapest and smallest and by far oldest of them all, Soyuz, that actually is the only astronaut launcher used today. Something is fishy here, don't you understand? $\endgroup$ – LocalFluff Aug 10 '15 at 15:47
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    $\begingroup$ Probably part of the conspiracy. $\endgroup$ – Russell Borogove Aug 10 '15 at 21:56
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ESA and Japan are partners in the ISS venture. As such, they are supposed to contribute to the operating cost of the station. They have chosen to do this in the form of resupply flights. This gave them the opportunity to bolster their space industry by developing new technology (and by producing a pile of hardware). It also meant they could spend the several billion $ that their contribution would cost, in their own country/union instead of e.g. paying NASA or the Russians.

For both, independent access to space is a political mandate. Not an unwise one, as the recent developments around NASA and Russia have shown.
For Europe, this policy has its origins in the 1970s. At the time, the USA was trying to establish a monopoly on commercial satellites.

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  • $\begingroup$ No, they developed technologies which already existed. Then they canceled it. ESA and JAXA have no "independent access" to space, do they? They stole billions of tax money from poor subjects and wasted it all on inventing the wheel all over again. It would have been very much more productive to instead specialize on certain functions, like all entrepreneurs do. The failure is evident and it is important that we talk about it to try to prevent a repetition of it. The emperor without clothes won't help your fantasies about him come true, I'm sorry but that is the fact. $\endgroup$ – LocalFluff Aug 12 '15 at 12:31
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    $\begingroup$ Ariane and H-II are precisely "independent access to space". You're asking "why can't we all just get along?" Until that question is solved and we have enduring world peace, you'll see countries make sure they have independent access to strategic resources, including space. $\endgroup$ – Hobbes Aug 12 '15 at 12:36
  • $\begingroup$ I don't understand you. You seem to talk about "countries" (i.e. the gangs who actually are the governments, I suppose, or did you have some ghosts in mind?) as if they were individuals. And you use the hieroglyph "strategic resources", that kind of (not) analytical approach won't help you either. $\endgroup$ – LocalFluff Aug 12 '15 at 12:40
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    $\begingroup$ replace "countries" with "the governments of these countries". If you have an axe to grind, let's take this to chat instead. $\endgroup$ – Hobbes Aug 12 '15 at 12:45
  • $\begingroup$ Rosetta one-year at 67P demonstrates EU's independent access to space, from launch to deep space tracking. $\endgroup$ – mins Aug 14 '15 at 6:45

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