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I am just curious, in theory about what the potential impacts would be to science if we were to have a space station that was outside of Low Earth Orbit. Of course, it would take longer to get to and would possibly have a harder time maneuvering around debris (and let's not even discuss budget issues and not having a shuttle to carry and assemble parts for a new space station). But I was also curious if the lower gravity and or increased distance from Earth would open any scientific experimental options that we have not looked into so far.

I just think that it would be good to start adventuring into different spaces to master new techniques. I think we have LEO down pat and it might be good to venture outside of our comfort zone.

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  • $\begingroup$ I don't think not having a shuttle is really a problem. Today's launchers (ahem, Spacex) are very cost-effective and useful. I think a core launched on a Falcon Heavy or something, equipped with a Canadarm would do nicely for a start. It could then build the station around it using modules carried up by Falcon 9s. Just theory crafting here. $\endgroup$ – Vedant Chandra Jun 11 '15 at 19:25
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    $\begingroup$ Practicality must be the biggest concern. Getting to LEO is so much cheaper and easier than to a higher orbit. (And still, ISS managed to cost $100B) $\endgroup$ – radex Jun 11 '15 at 19:37
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, all of that is definitely true. Maybe it's just not worth the extra expense. Orion is going to have a pretty hefty price tag, but it is going somewhere much further away that hasn't been explored as much so I suppose things like that is where the priority of funding gets set. $\endgroup$ – Kleigh Jun 11 '15 at 19:39
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Initial obvious locations are various Lagrange points or lunar orbit.

Many people have looked, thought about it, but nothing has been seriously funded for reasons of logistics.

Until recently, access to orbit was very expensive, and large scale orbital construction even more so.

The Shuttle, the primary launch vehicle for the United States for the last 30 years was limited to LEO. So anything you wanted outside LEO needed an upper stage and you lost the use of the Shuttle's unique facilities.

That is not a show stopper, but when all you have is a Shuttle, most things look like nails that a Shuttle would make a great hammer to hit it with. If you were to try to build the ISS with today's stable of launchers it would probably look very different. (Much more like Mir probably).

New launch entrants, are dropping the cost of access to space already. (SpaceX has disrupted the market so much, that ULA and Ariane have both announced plans for partial re-usability (Vulcan and Adeline respectively) which they had been saying for years would not be cost effective.

No more Space Shuttle, so that is no longer an option nor a limit. What can be done now? Well any payload you want to send to L1 or lunar orbit, you need an upper stage that can propel it. This goes for manned vehicles as well. So everything will cost more than LEO (say at the ISS), and we have already seen how prohibitively expensive, business as usual at the ISS can be.

Now everything you wish to send as resupply, crew, etc will be more expensive, since you have to launch the upper stage to get there and back, as well as the actual payload. But say the Falcon Heavy is fully reusable, and as cheap as SpaceX seems to imply, that may become less of an issue. Launch crew on a Falcon Heavy, instead of a regular Falcon 9. If it is fully reusable, assume it might also be affordable.

The ISS in LEO is protected by the Van Allen belts, something that would be lacking at L1 or Lunar orbit, and thus more mass would be required and of course, more cost.

Right now, a Soyuz is always on hand, with a seat for everyone on the ISS available. If there is a medical emergency, and air leak, whatever, they can be back on Earth in a matter of hours. At L1 or lunar orbit, it could be potentially 3 days to get back. This is not a show stopper, but something that needs to be considered (and solved for Martian missions of 2 years duration).

Next issue is why? What value does a station at L1 add that the ISS does not already provide? In reality the ISS's mission is tenous enough at best. The cost would be high, the value unclear, so not a lot of desire for such a station at this time.

That is a quick summary of possible issues, there are more, but they are all solvable.

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  • $\begingroup$ Well I more so meant when I said "what the potential impacts would be to science if we were to have a space station that was outside of Low Earth Orbit", what would be the pros of doing it. I know that there are tons of reasons why we probably never will, but has anyone ever listed or tried to argue to do this for any specific reasons. Is there anything that we might get from being outside of LEO that we aren't getting by being limited to LEO now? Does that make sense? I might have worded it badly. $\endgroup$ – Kleigh Jun 12 '15 at 18:40

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