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Have there been any proposals to launch a "space station" type of assembly into LEO, then send up some engines to get it to be able to move again? Take for instance something akin to the ISS, but much simpler with less modules, points of failure, and structural elements. Then take this, put it into orbit, and bring it some more thrust with 2 additional launches.

Has anyone ever proposed having 2 symmetrical docking ports that we would attach 2 or more boosters to to extend the range of the shuttle itself? Or potentially even just one booster to the end of it, using a docking port on the end?

I was just wondering if modular construction has been proposed or used to attach anything other than science modules, cupolas, solar arrays, etc... Have we ever sent a booster into space to be attached to a docking port? Are docking ports not powerful enough to withstand the thrust unless it's directly from behind? What are the limits with this type of modular booster idea-- are there better alternatives (refueling, etc...)?

Something like this is what I was thinking (shameless KSP screenshot). I was able to slowly propel that station to the moon with those strap-on boosters, but it was extremely unstable. The only way it stabilized was when the back-boosters hit the science modules and they stopped wriggling.

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    $\begingroup$ Progress spacecraft are routinely docked to the ISS to reboost it — low thrust and low delta-v operations, but propulsive maneuvers from a docked booster all the same. Does this qualify? $\endgroup$ – Russell Borogove Oct 17 '18 at 15:03
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    $\begingroup$ Keep in mind that once in Earth orbit, fuel is more important than thrust; it makes more sense to either dock additional loaded fuel tanks (as opposed to stages with engines) and keep a small engine in the core, or launch the core with large empty fuel tanks and then send up tankers to fill it, rather than assembling a spacecraft from multiple stages-with-engines. $\endgroup$ – Russell Borogove Apr 2 at 21:16
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    $\begingroup$ @SteveLinton - I would kind of disagree with "no one has assembled any kind of spacecraft". The Apollo CSM/LM stack was assembled in orbit, and the thruster on the SM was used to propel LM to the moon. If you consider the primary mission was purely to land LM on the moon, then the CSM was nothing but a booster. And of course the LM was used to maneuver the whole stack during Apollo 13. $\endgroup$ – Carlos N Apr 3 at 16:25
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    $\begingroup$ The Neal Stephenson book Seveneves goes into a lot of technical detail about what would be required to move the ISS around without destroying it. Neal Stephenson has a reputation for meticulously researching his novels, so there is probably enough material in there to at least point you to more specific questions, if not as an authoritative source of answers. $\endgroup$ – Avi Cherry Apr 5 at 23:19
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    $\begingroup$ @RussellBorogove Expanding on this--once you're in orbit you want small engines. Unless your burn is so long that the Oberth effect matters the rate of your burn is irrelevant. You care about the ISP of your engine, it's safety/reliability and it's weight. The smaller the engine the less it weighs and the less weight it costs to beef things up to improve safety. $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel Apr 6 at 1:02

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