Partial G Launch Vehicles
To improve reliability and cost, an off-the-shelf launch vehicle should be used for the partial gravity health experiment. To increase the chances of the partial gravity health experiment being carried out, the lowest cost man rated vehicle should be chosen.
Since developing a partial gravity research station will take years, we can consider not just launchers that are operational today, but also launchers that are in development.
Currently there are only two human transport vehicles in operation: The Space Shuttle and The Soyuz. Since the shuttle is extremely expensive, to be phased out in 2010 and the airlock is not in the center of gravity of the vehicle then it cannot be docked to a rotating space station. Soyuz may be an option because it already spins while in orbit, at least on its way to the ISS.
Falcon 9 / Dragon
Assuming we can get the launch of the station done in one launch and each crew+equipment mission is another launch, the bare minimum would be 3 launches:
- Launch of the space station.
- Launch of the first crew, to try out one gravity level (Moon / 0.15G?).
- Launch of the second crew, to try out another gravity level (Mars / 0.4G?).
The Falcon 9 Heavy vehicle costs $90M per launch for up to 11,500kg, normal Falcon 9 is $55M per launch for up to 5,000kg.
- Is the 7 passenger Dragon spacecraft big enough to ship up a 2 or 3 person crew plus several months worth of supplies?
- 14 cubic meters is a lot larger than Soyuz.
- Total cargo load is 2500kg, so a 3 person crew could carry maybe 1700kg cargo. How long does the ISS last on that much cargo?
- Dragon flies on a normal Falcon 9 spacecraft, so $55M per launch.
If we assume that the initial space station launch would require a Falcon 9 heavy and we have 2 expeditions to the station, we end up with $200M in launch costs, not including the cost of transporting the cargo to the launch site and preparing the cargo and astronauts for launch.
Proton / Soyuz
We haven't investigated the cost of a Proton/Soyuz option.