Not only the Chinese are rather unimpressed by the concept of "Lunar Gateway", which is summed up as a much smaller ISS in the Moon orbit.

It made me wonder - wouldn't it be better to move ISS into Moon orbit? How would the effort compare?

Things I can see right now as a necessity:

  • need to refurbish ISS, which is approaching end-of-life and will begin to fail badly soon, if not refurbished.
  • need for an efficient propulsion module to bring it there and allow for station-keeping. Something similar to the Power and Propulsion Element (PPE) currently planned for Gateway, more powerful obviously. Zarya's propulsion has a little too low specific impulse to make it viable. (OTOH, the current solar panels could put some serious wattage into the engine)
  • keep ISS unmanned during the transition through Van Allen belts.

Things I'm not sure would be needed:

  • radiation shielding, due to operation outside/on outskirts of the magnetosphere
  • a new module to replace Zarya, in case Russians decide they don't want their modules in lunar orbit (I think it's out of range of Soyuz)
  • a new return craft capable of sitting there for months and serving as a lifeboat

I also wonder how would that look like from financial point of view, comparing to dedicated Gateway. Does it even make sense to consider?

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    $\begingroup$ Are you describing an effort to move the station in one piece? Disassemble/reassemble? I'd imagine there would be different challenges for both. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 19, 2018 at 12:43
  • $\begingroup$ @JackOfAllTrades234: Choose whichever is more viable in your opinion. $\endgroup$
    – SF.
    Commented Jul 19, 2018 at 12:47
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    $\begingroup$ The ISS is around 450 tons, and consisted of multiple launches to get it to LEO. Surface to LEO requires 9.3 relative units of delta-V, from LEO to the orbit of the moon requires 4.8 relative units of Delta-v. It looks as if we'd need at least half the propellant used to get the ISS into space across multiple missions to even consider it. This doesn't even cover emergency aborts (bringing people home in emergencies), dark-side transmissions, unstable lunar orbits or many other expensive and unsustainable factors. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 19, 2018 at 12:54
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    $\begingroup$ The biggest problem is Mascons as linked in this answer, even if we could move it there, keeping it there would be difficult. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 19, 2018 at 12:59
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    $\begingroup$ @MagicOctopusUrn Here's an interesting 1994 paper on long-duration low-altitude lunar orbits: lpi.usra.edu/lunar/documents/NTRS/collection2/NASA_TP_3394.pdf $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 20, 2018 at 2:15


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