Space Boom

Posted by Andrew on May 28th, 2012

By the end of this decade we could well be on our way to the largest period of growth in human history. The global economy would dramatically increase and the overall wealth of the planet will skyrocket. The people at the lowest end of the economy will see the largest changes as they go from subsistence living to a modern middle class lifestyle made possible by this leap.

This future could be wildly off target, or it could be happening right now on a launchpad outside of McGregor, Texas. The key to this rapid growth is a simple idea. Impractical, some say impossible, it’s considered by some as far fetched as free energy or transmuting lead into gold.

But it’s not an idea that violates any laws of physics; only what we’ve done before. For a generation that’s seen the world wired electronically, watched room sized-computers shrink to devices that fit on your wrist and place face to face video calls around the planet for free, it’s a hurdle like any other, one that will take smarts, perseverance and a willingness to ignore the naysayers and do what hasn’t been done before.

The reusable rocket
It’s a term we’ve heard before. The Space Shuttle was initially touted as ‘reusable’, when in fact only parts of it were. The large tank, the solid rocket boosters, the components responsible for most of the heavy lifting aside from the shuttle’s engines, were either burned up in the atmosphere or dropped into the ocean where salt water could corrode the parts that weren’t damaged on impact. At a $1.5 billion per launch, the shuttle hardly met the economics of reusable. It’s true cost per pound to orbit was $28,000.

A truly reusable rocket, like the kind Elon Musk and SpaceX is trying to build, can be used a 1,000 times or more. The main expense is fuel. Giving that a Falcon 9 uses only about $200,000 of fuel per launch (versus the $260,000 it costs to send a 737 around the world), expensing that capital cost over 1,000 launches ($60 million a rocket), gives you a capital expenditure of just $60,000 per launch. Round that up to $300,000 and your cost to orbit is under $15 per pound. That’s 2,000 times less than the cost on the shuttle.

In the economics of space travel, $1,000 per pound to low earth orbit was long considered the magic number where incredible economic opportunities become possible. If Elon Musk has his way and makes his even larger rocket, the Falcon Heavy, reusable, we’ll be looking at $10 per pound – less than it costs to send something cross country via FedEx.

It’s crazy. It’s insane. It’s foolish talk. And yet the world just watched astronauts on the International Space Station set foot aboard a spaceship (the first private spacecraft ever) built by people everyone was calling crazy, insane and foolish.

Now they want to build bigger rockets and think it’s possible to bring internet-like growth to the cost of going into space. I think they’ve proved they’re serious and capable. If anyone can make it happen, it’s SpaceX.

Where’s the boom?
So we can put people and satellites in space at a fraction of the cost before…what’s the big deal? What does the mean for us earthbound mortals? Everything.

Forget about space tourism, that’s low hanging fruit. In the scheme of industries, it’s only a step above renting out cabanas to cruise ship passengers. The biggest sectors of our economy aside from services and manufacturing are energy, communications and materials.

Opening up the frontier of space will change all of those radically.

First: Communications
Want more bandwidth? Want to make a clear phone call that doesn’t drop? Want to watch 4k movies on your iPhone while you’re hiking in the outback? Better yet, want the citizens of Syria and Iran to have free access to communications their governments can’t block?

Build more satellites. Lots of them. At $10 per pound, we’ll be able to blanket the planet in always-on high-speed internet access. Telecommunications companies will have to compete with underfunded rivals. Two girls in a garage could re-invent communications.

High school kids can build a communications satellite today. Unfortunately you can’t get it into space on a paper route budget (firstly, because newspapers are extinct). At a cost rivalling FedEx rates, this becomes a reality.

As bandwidth grows, so will our demand for more of it. Most of the planet is still waiting for smartphones with mere Edge-like speeds. The first-world will find all sorts of ways to push the bandwidth limits and keep the communications industry a high-profit business. We won’t be afraid to turn our phones on when we travel to other countries and will find ways to justify more bandwidth.

Second: Materials
If the dreamers at Planetary Resources have it right and some of those near earth asteroids are filled with rare metals, we could be facing an unheard of age of abundance. While finding gold in large quantities would seem like the goal, the real purpose of this mineral exploration is to find the kind of metals that have a far greater practical value than serving as bling.

The platinum group metals Planetary Resources think may abound on asteroids are some of the most import and rare kinds of materials we use in building everything from fuel cells to solar panels. Chief among them: Platinum.

Platinum costs about $1,500 per ounce. It’s the most expensive part of a fuel cell. The reason electric cars are so expensive? The battery. An abundance of platinum group metals could reduce the cost to a few cents on the dollar.

Cheap platinum would radically change the way we consume energy. Instead of getting your power off the grid, you’d plug into a fuel cell in your garage that you recycled every few months or so. For the part of the world that doesn’t have much of a grid, this is a life-changing possibility. Simple things like cheap air-conditioning could save millions of lives a year from malaria.

Third: Energy
Forget covering Arizona with solar cells. Let’s build an armada of them in space. A solar collector in earth orbit has sunlight 24 hours a day, never has to worry about clouds and runs at 144% efficiency compared to being on earth.

This would be the cleanest form of energy on or off our world.

At $10 per pound to orbit, it’s actually cheaper than what it costs to build on earth when you factor in all the ancillary costs from land leases, environmental impact and legal hurdles.

Getting that power back down to earth without creating a space beam weapon that could incinerate cities will be a challenge, but one we’ve already taken steps towards solving. It could be decades before we’re getting practical amounts of power from space. Yet it takes decades now to build a nuclear power plant or erect a wind turbine.

Abundant solar power in space also means we can use it in orbit for things like cracking water (from asteroids) into hydrogen and oxygen. Going even more out there, lots of abundant energy could one day lead to a practical means for producing antimatter – the most efficient means of containing energy and the kind of power that could take you to the other planets in days, not months and years.

The long boom
As manufacturing moves more to rapid prototyping-style machines and becomes more of a commodity with falling prices, outside the service industry; communications, raw materials and energy are the largest parts of the global economy (agriculture is less than 4%).

To launch and service all those satellites, solar stations and asteroid mining ships, we’ll need a whole new industry. While robotics will do a lot of that work, you still need humans doing quality control and the jobs we don’t have machines for just yet.

We’ll see new companies based on doing things like providing logistics support to all these different industries, building replacement parts in orbit, training spaceworkers and a thousand other things that go with a boom.

Cheap access to space also means huge space stations, space yachts, space mansions and a whole lot of things you can do in space we never imagined on earth.

Earth orbit is just the start, but even before we set foot on Mars, there’s an entire space industry waiting to happen that goes way beyond novelty vacations for the mega-rich. We’ll thrive as an interplanetary species when exploiting the resources of space is a practical way of surviving.

The only practical limit is the number of people we can train in high-tech jobs to make this possible. To solve this problem, smart people need to be having more kids and we need to find ways to help the rest of the planet get access to better educational resources.

The near future
The exciting part is that we could know within just a few years, maybe before even before we see book five of Game of Thrones on television (or the third film in the new Spider-Man series shows on screens) if this is possible.

As we speak, a group of SpaceX engineers are in Texas test firing rockets, examining landing systems and checking off days on their calendar, bringing us closer to finding out if this is a pipe dream that’s still decades away, or something that will become a reality very soon.

This final photo is their reusable test rocket on the launch pad at their test facility in Texas. See that little line to the right? That’s the SpaceX Dragon and the ISS in orbit overhead.

It’s one thing to dream about the stars, it’s another to go to work and look up and see where you’ve been and know where you’re going next.

Andrew Mayne is a science fiction and thriller author. His website can be found at AndrewMayneBooks.com

  • Bob

    This article brought a tear to my eye, we are on the home stretch to the future right now.
     

  • Anonymous

    I don’t quite know what to think about this article. yes, it sounds good. But with 5% more water in our atmosphere comes more hurricanes (or as a scientist once said “nature’s air conditioners”). Most of our money is going to be used to fight the environment. Taxes? We aint seen anything yet. The Maldives soon to not exist. The age of environmental refugees. Maybe this over night space industry will solve this, better do it quick. Seems like the world economy hangs by a thread every day. Another quake in central Japan and the world was a lot of fallout and a couple of major cities needing to be evacuated. Almost half the country thinks the Earth is less than 10,000 years old. That will make it harder for Neil deGrasse Tyson to get NASA the funding it needs from anti-science republicans and libertarians. But I have been told private industry will do it with their own money…someday. China is looking at the United States to see how they will support an ageing population. Because they have the same problem but 10x as big.

    Astrophysicist Nikolai Kardashev wrote about levels of civilizations as they harass energy. For everything written in this Mayne article, Kardashev said it would take hundreds or thousands of years. 

    Gotta love that remark “smart people need to be having more kids.” Does Mayne have kids? I think there are plenty of kids who need college to not just be for the wealthy. Maybe you don’t need college at all, especially when CBS finds a junior in High School with a cancer cure. Musk and Carmack said they taught themselves aerospace engineering. But not all self taught professionals are allowed access, they like to protect titles with degrees.

    maybe metamaterials will get us there. Hopefully all these stories about engineered materials will make it to market. The human race sure doesn’t like to share rare earth metals with each other. China produces what? 90% of the world’s supply.

    Two professors at MIT say the continued rise in robotics in the workplace is going to clash with their human counterparts. “Technological unemployment”, loss of white collar business jobs. Robots that understand speech coming into call centers and marketing. And soon they take a bite out of the trucking industry.

    “hey, where are the flying cars, I was promised fly cars.” waka, waka. 

  • http://www.andrewmayne.com Andrew Mayne

    So far the hurricane prediction hasn’t panned out, they’ve actually lost strength in the past several decades. As far as the Maldives are concerned, nobody can make up their mind if they’re actually sinking. While their past president was claiming they would be the first victims of climate change and would need a new home, he was securing the investment of hundreds of millions of dollars in beachfront construction for resorts and airports in the doomed island. Make of that what you will.

    I don’t recall a timeline for Kardashev remotely like what you’ve suggested. I also don’t remember him ever coming up with any reasonably testable predictions…

    Over 50% of the population of the United States has attended college and that’s been steadily increasing from less than 10% fifty years ago, so I’m not sure where your point is going there.

    Education costs have certainly gone up, but this is a direct relation to the prevalence of student loans creating a bubble like the housing crisis.

    Meanwhile, there’s an increasing move towards open courseware and lowering the overall cost of access to the poorest people on the planet.

    I highly suggest you check out the books The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley and Abundance by Peter Diamandis.

    If I can suffer through Kropotkin, those will be a breeze for you.

    Here’s a quick summary of some of Ridley’s points: http://www.rationaloptimist.com/blog/reader’s-digest.aspx

    Hurricane strength: http://www.worldclimatereport.com/index.php/2007/02/27/global-hurricane-intensity-not-increasing/

    The Maldives: http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20627633.700-shapeshifting-islands-defy-sealevel-rise.html

  • Anonymous

    “If I can suffer through Kropotkin, those will be a breeze for you.” sarcasm. So, basically I am stupid for not agreeing. I didn’t say you were dumb, I just didn’t agree on the birth of this new space industry solving Earth’s problems. 

    My point with education is there is plenty of smart kids ready to dive into these next generation economies. They just need a little help from that institution, you libertarians like to destroy, government. You are libertarian, right? As I have noticed republicans have trashed the word “liberal” (so now we are “progressives” when the original label was just fine). These same people don’t want to be labelled republican now, they like the word “libertarian.” These people believe when you are is born in America, we are all in the same starting block in life. Some need a little help to get on the actual race track.

    Sometimes I try real hard and can understand words. Sometimes I can even read and understand Michio Kaku. He does lays out Kardashev. In fact, he already talks about how we are on the way to entering this scale. Most technical journals and textbooks are in English. The language of science is English and becoming a common language of the planet. Then the internet was developed and now we have a universal communication system. Michio says we are a Type 0 civilization, still getting energy from dead plants. Now, he says is time to harness the planet’s energy and enter Type I, which should take about a hundred years.

    The environment is going to sap all the resources of the planet. When Japan contacts China and asks for help in case they have to evacuate the Tokyo metropolitan area, something is up. That is what? 45 million or so people, about a 130 mile radius from reactor 4. There was this cool art exhibit illustrating what future England will look like with predicted sea levels. How about that “brown cloud” of pollution from China that warms the America’s a half a degree. But, hey maybe SpaceX will clean the water, the air and keep that methane buried.

    Maybe if I read those books, I will conform and my little brain will be at ease. Maybe I will learn the “17 reasons to be cheerful.” Maybe I shouldn’t have read those articles on why our brains are naturally optimistic even when faced with negative information. Something about more activity in the frontal lobes or something. 

  • Anonymous

    oh this Matthew Ridley sounds like the perfect author I would dislike. climate change denier and hater of government. there is that word again, libertarian. 

    Here is a prediction (from my feeble mind) if the nuclear industry had let themselves be better regulated, they wouldn’t have destroyed it like they did.  Maybe this sites wouldn’t be leaking. Reactor builders are sad becuase of the lack of new orders. oops, what just happened in Canada? 

    but I have gone off topic, SpaceX —-> type I civilization, here we come! yeeehaw!

  • Anonymous

    Space X is bad because they can’t solve all of the worlds problems? That’s not a “glass is half empty” view, that’s denying the value of the water that’s in the glass because it can’t cure AIDS.

  • http://www.andrewmayne.com Andrew Mayne

    My point about Kropotkin is that I spend a lot of time trying to understand points of view that are counter to my own.

    It’s a worthwhile exercise and tends to make discussions more interesting.

    If you were to read Hayek, Friedman or some of the contemporary libertarian authors you’d have a better understanding of how a libertarian defines oneself.

    They’re not anarchists in any sense. They believe there is a clearly defined role for government.

    Socially speaking, they are as far to the left as you can imagine. Much of the cogent arguments for civil rights, decriminalization of the war on drugs and militaristic intervention comes from libertarians.

    Check out some of the blogs at Reason.com just to get an idea.

    The books I suggested are well-written and very articulately describe points of view that I believe in.

    My point of view wan’t a position I had that I sought out validation for. It came from looking very deeply into very different points of view and trying to understand what had the best evidence and could explain the most things.

    I’m continuously challenging my own point of view and looking for evidence the contradicts what I believe to be true.

  • Anonymous

    no, Mayne seems to think this overnight space industry will cure all the world’s ailments.

  • http://iTricks.com/news JustinRYoung

    I think the point is that it could have a great impact. Not unlike the Internet did.

    JRY
    Sent with Sparrow (http://www.sparrowmailapp.com/?sig)

  • Anonymous

    how about a big number. $100 trillion per gram. What is that? an estimate of the cost to produce antimatter in today’s accelerator labs. We have a production problem. Some say we need it at  $10 million per milligram to become a rival of nuclear fission. A one hundred kilometer solar collector to produce ten terawatts to run a factory to produce one gram of antimatter a day?  I have a feeling this isn’t coming quickly. Back to the civilization scale timeline. But it is good to think about this and to have an artist at Penn St draw up a prototype antimatter powered spacecraft. Hey, look a somewhat optimistic post. I feel all squishy inside now.

  • Anonymous

    I listened to all three parts of last night’s ‘Weird Things.’ “10 months of funding” would get SpaceX to Mars? Curious, seeing how NASA says they need more spacecraft to image Mars in more detail to even know where best to land. I would fund that first. I am reminded of the ‘ARES’ Mars airplane. A plane to fly that would about 30 km over the surface and collect data on Mars’ magnetic field. This would help find any protective shielding for explorers setting foot on the planet. Quite a lot of inaccessible areas on Mars for the orbiters to collect data on. But, SpaceX has the golden ticket to Mars. The Science can be done afterward. Why even need NASA then.

    What are SpaceX’s astronaut training resources? Would they call on NASA for expertise? Bigelow has some resources, right? They have been a little secret on this topic. There was a video interview where it discussed NASA’s accepted failure of astronaut life per every x number of missions. Wonder if SpaceX has a number. Musk is looking to put people on Mars in “10 to 20 years”? Which company is making strides in space radiation shielding? graphite nanofiber? Bigelow claims to have expertise in this area.

    there I go being a cynic again. I wish more people, in this age, were also. 

  • Anonymous

    Interesting to hear Lawrence Krauss say the singularity might not come so fast as one expects now. It might not be easy. A the reason we might never get to do “big science” is the limit of our economics. The limitations of energy and having too many people on the planet. It might hamper “incredible technology.” Our resources might be devoted to other things.

    He had an interesting thought of why a race might not want to go across the galaxy. Europeans could have come to North America many years before. The physics of ships was already in place, but it was a socioeconomic reason they came. A race might get to a location and like it enough to not leave. I think this is the main reason to have a NASA. An institution to inspire us, edge us on even when we are distracted. A group of people willing to teach. Hope SpaceX has that in their mission statement.

  • http://iTricks.com/news JustinRYoung

    SpaceX will allow NASA even greater exploration capabilities. When you can get to space cheaper and easier you can do more in space more often.

  • Anonymous

    TheSpaceReview had an interesting point about long term space travel. They are still analyzing the physiological changes in the astronauts in the ISS and this is the 31st trip to the station. It is a complex problem because there is quite a variance in how people respond. So going to Mars is a long way off. The more this gets discussed, the more I think Musk wasn’t serious about going to Mars so soon and only needing ten months worth of funding.

    But then the one answer is create artificial gravity on the spacecraft. This means a larger craft.

    This is not ready for primetime.

  • Anonymous

    Neil deGrasse Tyson, maybe not a favorite of the ‘Weird Things’ podcasting trio, but I like what he says (2 min 41 sec min, YouTube, ‘Big Think’, space privatization shouldn’t be delusional). I think he sums of the issue perfectly: 

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lQd7zqyd_EM

  • Anonymous

    io9 talking about if a private corporation could land humans on Mars:

    “…..Andy Turnage, executive director of the Association of Space Explorers…..”How much money would you be willing to spend to have your name go down in history as the first person to step on Mars?” asks Turnage. This is a kind of immortality whose value could be incalculable. And, at least for now, Turnage believes it’s the only way to justify spending money to go to Mars from a strict financial standpoint…….”

    “…….Chris Carberry, executive director of Explore Mars, Inc…..According to Carberry with Explore Mars, estimates of the costs of a NASA trip to Mars have ranged from $150 billion to $1 trillion. Robert Zubrin has estimated a private venture to go to Mars might only cost $4 to $6 billion. And Elon Musk himself told Carberry that he thinks it can be done for just $2 billion, although Carberry says that estimate is probably not built on any detailed numbers….”

    “….Carberry says there are two big questions: whether SpaceX can get its Dragon capsule rated for human crews, while still keeping costs low. And whether SpaceX can grow without its currently low overhead ballooning.But bear in mind that getting into LEO, as SpaceX did, is not the same thing as getting out of Earth’s gravity well entirely….”

    “…Futurist Jamais Cascio with Open The Future….Any private company that is serious about going to Mars is probably going to want to invest in creating a space elevator first, says Cascio. That way, you can use the space elevator to launch satellites and other things into orbit, thus helping to pay off the costs. And you’ve already massively reduced the costs of launching your Mars vehicle….”

    “….the biggest expense of going to Mars could be just finding ways to keep “monkeys alive in aluminum cans, while in a high-radiation environment,” says Cascio. Compared to just three days each way for a Moon trip, the weeks or months required to go to Mars mean massively more radiation shielding — which means more weight, which means more cost….”

    “…Companies like Franklin Chang-Díaz’s Ad Astra Rocket Company are trying to develop much faster propulsion systems, says Carberry…”

  • Anonymous

    if SpaceX has their way, a spaceport might be built in shwood’s state. 

    Houston Chronicle:

    “….SpaceX, a California company, has proposed to build a launch area and control center on the Gulf Coast, about 20 miles east of Brownsville and three miles north of Mexico. The private spaceport would launch up to 12 rockets a year, initially carrying cargo payloads, but eventually including passengers…..”

    “….Texas is developing a multimillion-dollar offer to encourage SpaceX to build the spaceport in Cameron County. The company also is looking at launch sites in Florida and Puerto Rico.
    All three possibilities would launch to the east, over water. Launch sites closer to the equator also require less fuel to reach orbit, said Bob Lancaster, president of the Texas Space Alliance, which is pushing for commercial space development in the state….”

    but some environmentalist think the area has some of the best parkland and beaches. They don’t want hazardous materials or heat from the launches to disturb endangered species in the area.

  • Anonymous

    if SpaceX has their way, a spaceport might be built in shwood’s state. 

    Houston Chronicle:

    “….SpaceX, a California company, has proposed to build a launch area and control center on the Gulf Coast, about 20 miles east of Brownsville and three miles north of Mexico. The private spaceport would launch up to 12 rockets a year, initially carrying cargo payloads, but eventually including passengers…..”

    “….Texas is developing a multimillion-dollar offer to encourage SpaceX to build the spaceport in Cameron County. The company also is looking at launch sites in Florida and Puerto Rico.
    All three possibilities would launch to the east, over water. Launch sites closer to the equator also require less fuel to reach orbit, said Bob Lancaster, president of the Texas Space Alliance, which is pushing for commercial space development in the state….”

    but some environmentalist think the area has some of the best parkland and beaches. They don’t want hazardous materials or heat from the launches to disturb endangered species in the area.

  • Anonymous

    wow, is Wikipedia great or what? reddit space points to this:

    ‘NASA spin-off technologies’

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NASA_spin-off_technologies

  • Anonymous

    Wednesday China’s UN representative Cheng Jingye told the world his country wants to be included in the development of outer space. China also will help any country without any space capabilities. Time to solve the big questions of sustainability in space with all of the planet’s best minds together. Ray Bradbury had a good quote about getting away from war and into space.

  • Anonymous

    well look at this, the space industry is lobbying for the American taxpayers to continue the launch indemnification program. The Weird Things trio is so happy for private industry to begin its push into space. But alas, taxpayers will always be there for them. The trio talk about “crony capitalism” and subsidies that raised costs of government space flight. The very industry, you guys push for, learned it quite well.

    Spacepolitics.com: 

    “…The program requires commercial launch providers to take financial responsibility (typically through insurance) for any third-party damages from a launch up to the “Maximum Probable Loss”, or MPL, calculated by the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation when it awards the launch license. Any damages that exceed the MPL by up to approximately $2.7 billion would be indemnified by the government; damages above that level would revert to the launch provider…”

    “..This indemnification regime comes up for debate every three to five years, as industry lobbies for it to be made permanent in order to remain competitive with launch providers in other nations, while Congress debates whether it should expose the government to any liability…”

    You want private firms in space, let them use their own money. I think they cant reach $10/lb into orbit without these guards against craft failures. Neil deGrasse Tyson and the Breakthrough Institute are right. Companies don’t have the will to really “go all in”, America has to give them assurances. The U.S. never had a “free market.”

    dang, negative again.

  • http://iTricks.com/news JustinRYoung

    If your point is that there are companies that engage in crony capitalism in the worst way then I think we are making the same point.

  • Anonymous

    what I am saying is that SpaceX does the same thing the whole space industry does:

    Morris Daily Herald:

    “…SpaceX is already tossing around cash to play the political game in Washington. Since its founding in 2002, SpaceX has ramped up its lobbying effort every year. In all, the company has spent about $3.5 million on lobbyists, according to data filed by the Center for Responsive Politics…”

    Don’t believe everything Elon says. “Privatizing profits and socializing losses”

  • http://iTricks.com/news JustinRYoung

    A lot of companies have lobbyists. Many we are all big fans of.


    JRY
    Sent with Sparrow (http://www.sparrowmailapp.com/?sig)

  • Anonymous

    I will be positive here. Maybe every other comment, I should do, ought to vacillate between good and bad. This will be tough.

    A commentator on Wired’s article ‘Is Space Getting Too Politicized’:

    “…Politics played part in going to Moon – but they also led to the situation that there was only one scientist among people who visited the surface, the rest were ex-military….”

    (now someone replied that they were still in the military, whatever, point made.)

    I say hopefully this space bloom allows more scientists in space. Maybe the military will not always get to be first in line.

  • Anonymous

    from Network World:

    [Government Accountability Office] “……The GAO said the United States provides less indemnification for third party losses than China, France, and Russia, according to studies. For example, the Chinese government provides indemnification for third party claims over $100 million. The French government provides indemnification for third party claims over 60 million euros (about $75 million as of May 2012) and the Russian government provides indemnification over $80 million for the smaller Start launch vehicles and $300 million for the larger Soyuz and Proton vehicles.

    “Not withstanding the high reliability of today’s generation of launch vehicles, many industry experts advocate extending the indemnification program in part because of the inherent riskiness of launching payloads to orbit,” said the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Chairman Steven Palazzo (R-MS). “Catastrophic launch failures are deemed to be a low-probability event, but understandably one that could result in extremely high damages.”  The committee held a hearing Wednesday on the indemnification program.

    Speaking at that hearing, DigitalGlobe, which owns and operates one of the largest constellation of commercial high resolution satellites, vice president J. Alison Alfers told the subcommittee: “As a consumer of commercial launch services, we believe the government sponsored launch indemnification program is essential to maintaining a domestic launch capability. In our view, the risk mitigation benefit provided by the program allows the launch providers to at least partially fix their exposure for damages associated with providing launch services and this translates directly into price competitiveness as well as the overall cost-benefit assessment that all providers do when deciding whether to enter or stay in the market. In an environment of totally uncapped risk, we question whether adequate financial incentive would remain for current providers to stay in the market and new providers to enter, and we are certain that an uncapped risk environment would result in significantly higher and likely prohibitive launch costs.”…….”

  • Anonymous

    SpacePolicy online discusses this issue more: 

    “…Testimony by Alicia Cackley of the Government Accountability Office (GAO), however, suggests that the cost of insurance is a very small amount of launch prices.  She said in her written statement that it costs one percent of the dollar amount of coverage.  She told the committee that the average MPL for which the launch operator must buy insurance is $99 million, meaning that the insurance costs less than $1 million on average.   Launch prices are generally proprietary, but are on the order of $100 million for a launch to geostationary orbit…”

    Some have stated the industry hasn’t really figured out a proper microeconomics model yet for space sustainability. There are not enough actors in space to figure some of these things out yet.

    Interesting politics.

  • Anonymous

    hey Weird Things Trio, have you guys ever thought of having Spacevidcast’s Benjamin Higginbotham on the show? If you haven’t heard of Spacevidcast, it is a weekly online video show about commercial and government space flight. He works for SpaceX (as “their video guy”, his quote), but the show is not affiliated with the company. I would think you guys could do a heck of a talk about space flight with him. Here is his June 2nd episode (about 50+ minutes) touches on Virgin Galactic’s license, Dream Chaser, Sea Launch, SpaceX’s successful launch, Falcon Heavy, dawn of “new space”, Bigelow, Neil deGrasse Tyson, NASA not inspiring (I don’t agree), Venus transit and viewer comments at the end of the show:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CbkYNehAZpM&feature=plcp

  • Anonymous

    good editorial on how government thought one way with air flight and then another for space flight:

    “…not by developing airplanes or operating airlines, but by creating incentives such as the Kelly Air Mail Act and establishing the National Advisory Council on Aviation to do basic aeronautical research….

    ..Government policies ensured that were hundreds of other entrepreneurs developing airplanes for a wide variety of purposes…

    …This division of labor between government and private enterprise, which worked so well in the development of American aviation, was abandoned at the beginning of the Space Age. In its place came a new model, advocated by rocket pioneers like Dr. Wernher von Braun and adopted by Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy, in which NASA abandoned the supporting role of its predecessor agency and assumed the role of the new Lindbergh….”

    Moon And Back: 
    http://moonandback.com/2012/06/12/23358/

  • Anonymous

    found on reddit space, ”Crewed Space Capsules, to scale” (look at the Soyuz): 

    http://i.imgur.com/TgVo1.png

  • Anonymous

    Space-Travel.com on China’s new rocket engine:

    “The high-performance engine is non-toxic, pollution-free and reliable….

    ….It also makes China the second country in the world, after Russia, to grasp the core technologies for a liquid oxygen/kerosene high-pressure staged combustion cycle rocket engine….”

    Seems these engines have not been successfully built in the USA.

  • Anonymous

    “Wired:
    …actually in 2312, you have no capitalism in outer space. Could you talk about why you think that might happen, and what you think might be the alternative?

    Robinson: 

    When I went to Antarctica, what I was noticing was that when you’re in Antarctica, it looks like you’re in a non-capitalist system, because all the scientists and workers down there are, for the time they’re there, in a non-money economy, where you just are given your clothes, you go into the galley, you eat the food that’s made for you. It’s all non-monetary, except when you go into the post office and you buy some trinkets, perhaps, to send back home. So it was only unnecessary stuff like toys that were in a money economy, and the rest of it was just being provided for you.

    And I thought the first space stations possibly will resemble the South Pole, and that’s always struck me very strongly. I feel like, “Gosh, I sort of visited a space station.” Except I didn’t have to mess with the space suits, exactly. I could still breathe the air — because I was at the South Pole rather than in space. So following up that thought, I thought, well, as they develop up there what will happen is — they’re not truly outside of capitalism, because capitalism has bubbles within it, you might say — and I thought maybe that’s how it will develop, the transition to the next economic system, especially if capitalism can’t properly price what we’re doing on Earth and wrecks the Earth, that it might transition in space first and then have to work its way back onto Earth in a tail-wagging-the-dog type manner.

    So while many of my space colonies are simply “colonies,” in that very definite meaning of the word, of some Earthly nation state, some of them are semi-autonomous. And Mars, after it declares independence, begins to protect some of the outer satellite colonies from interference from anywhere else. So I ran a history that got into an economic system that was, in space, rather cooperative, and using really fast computers to try to even calculate things outside of a market.

    This is a tricky area, because it’s very poorly theorized. The people who’ve studied it clearly seem to find that there are recomplicating issues that come up so fast that even the most powerful computers might not be able to handle it, but I have quantum computers in this book — very small but extremely powerful quantum computers — and at that point, all kinds of computations are speeded up amazingly. So 100 billion years to factor a thousand-figure number drops to like 20 minutes. And that kind of scale shift made me think that maybe we can let computers run the economy, though it’s very much a question rather than a statement.

    Wired: 
    You call this system “the Mondragon Accord.” Is that based on something real?

    Robinson: 

    Yes, in the Basque part of Spain there’s a town called Mondragon that runs as a system of nested co-ops — including the bank, which is simply a credit union owned by everybody. So it’s a town of only 50 to 100,000 and they’re all Basques — more or less — and they don’t intend to leave the city, so there are reasons why capitalist economists want to say that it can’t possibly work for all the rest of us, but I’m not so sure. And what I wanted to do is scale it up, and show a Mondragon-style system working amongst all the space colonies in one giant collective of cooperatives.”

  • Anonymous

    Marc Millis, propulsion physicist, talking to Forbes:

    “Is a tenth of the speed of light achievable?

    Every time you increase speed by a factor of 10, you increase the energy requirements by a factor of 100. To get up to a tenth of light speed, you have to go about 370 times faster than our voyager spacecraft (an excellent measure of contemporary ability). That would require well over a hundred-thousand times more energy……

    What about space radiation and biomedical issues for manned flight? Is this the eventual gorilla in the room?

    Potential solutions exist, such as substantial shielding mass, and large centrifuges for inducing gravity-like environments for long-duration flights. But they are not yet practical to implement.

    It is fair to conjecture that the kind of ‘breakthroughs’ sought for trek-like propulsion would also solve these problems, but in different ways. For example, the type of inertial and gravitational controls sought for breakthrough propulsion would equally apply for synthesizing onboard gravity for long-duration crew health and comfort. And the technology for handling high-energy and high-velocity particles could be applied to shield the crew from radiation.

    If humanity made FTL a real priority, how long would it take to implement?

    I don’t know if we will ever achieve FTL. But I think that control over inertial and gravitational forces might happen before the end of this century, and FTL might be achieved between the years 2300 and 3000. Regarding maximum speed, for the general relativity approach, all that is known so far is that top speed is a matter of available energy. According to [research physicist] Eric W. Davis, the top speed inferred from quantum [physics] is about a thousand times light-speed. Your mileage might vary.”

  • Anonymous

    Washington Post:

    “For the past three decades, the total energy produced by the world has grown at a modest pace — around 1.9 percent per year. And humans have devoted just a tiny fraction of that to spaceflight.”

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/rf/image_606w/WashingtonPost/Content/Blogs/ezra-klein/StandingArt/when%20do%20we%20get%20spaceship.JPG?uuid=hlN85LS-EeGBBJhg4QBAUg

  • Anonymous

    Asia Times Online:

    “The Chinese government has invested tremendous resources in its manned space program, spending 35 billion yuan (US$5.4 billion) from 1992 to 2011, according to the China Manned Space Engineering Office….

    …The Chinese space program has been aided by Russian and German technology. In exchange, China is allowing Russian and German experiments on Chinese spacecraft…

    …Planetary Resources Inc may have the dream, and NASA may have the research, but China has the cash. Some of China’s state-owned enterprises are sitting on tens of billions of dollars, and the Chinese government itself has roughly three trillion dollars in foreign reserves. Furthermore, China’s growing economy is heavily dependent on imported minerals. China may be the only country in the world with the technology, the financial resources, and the political will to make a risky (and potentially highly profitable) investment in a space-mining project….”

    I know, Asia Times Online is based in Thailand and China, so a little boasting there in that last paragraph. But, it is interesting.

    I wonder who wins in a few decades, a big Chinese government space agency or private industry?

  • Anonymous

    AmericaSpace talks to United Launch Alliance’s Tony Taliancich:

    “…..AmericaSpace: As a follow up to my last question, some of the new private space firms are seeking contracts that currently belong to ULA. Do these companies have the capacity and capability to do what ULA does?Taliancich: “I can’t speak for all of their infrastructure, but nobody has the infrastructure for all of these missions the way that ULA currently does. At the same time, they are going after contracts that ULA currently hasn’t signed at this time – if they were to go on contract with one of those other providers; say SpaceX or whoever, part of that contract would require them to have that infrastructure. Any contractor has to be careful with published cost as opposed to the actual cost – this must include all of the infrastructure that allows one to launch. Given all of that it is conceivable that someone will go out and spend the money to build all of the infrastructure needed – but they won’t have the history, they won’t have the scar tissue and the learning that makes one successful – but it can be done. However, in terms of commercial vendors, the customer is going to have to bear the burden of paying for that – because the vendor is not going to do it for free. There’s also a hidden part of the cost that people forget and that’s the integration of the payloads to be compatible with the launch vehicles. All of these things add up…….”

  • Anonymous

    Elon Musk’s financial history is interesting.

    Phys.org:

    “…Tesla has lost nearly $1 billion selling high-end electric sports cars to the likes of George Clooney. Now it’s going to attempt to sell them to the rest of us — and try to make money doing so.
    The company’s first mass-market, five-seat sedan will be delivered Friday. The car, called the Model S, will either propel the company to profitability or leave it sputtering on the fumes of a $465 million government loan….

    …The company has lost $759 million since it was founded in 2003 and has never made a profit. It survives, in part, on its loan from the U.S. Department of Energy…”

    I wanna know who Musk knows in the government, he sure gets a lot of loans. He says he doesn’t need them, then why take ‘em? With the amount of taxpayer money invested in Musk, we better hope the results come. Ah, now I see from some sites, Elon was an Obama campaign bundler.

  • Anonymous

    AmericaSpace says SpaceX’s contract with NASA for payload to space, originally for $1.6 billion, now could expand to $3.1B. NASA wants SpaceX to deliver 44,000 lb to the ISS. But, the website says there could be rumblings that the commercial space industry doesn’t like NASA’s certification requirements. 

  • Anonymous

    SpaceX testing the liquid propelled kerosene and oxygen Merlin 1D engine: (posted 06/25 on spacexchannel):

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=976LHTpnZkY&feature=g-all-u

  • Anonymous

    big day for space. The Commercial Space Watch website says the Orion space capsule just got its final weld and ready for shipment to Kennedy Space Center. It will go fifteen times the distance above the Earth that the ISS is and become the fastest human spacecraft. All this to mimic what a craft would experience coming home after being beyond low Earth orbit. It will hit the atmosphere and feel 4000 degrees F.

    NASA image:

    http://www.nasa.gov/images/content/662319main_image_2290_800-600.jpg

    he he he. I am turning your Weird Things comment section into like a pseudo space exploration blog. 

  • Anonymous

    the moonandback website linked to some of NASA’s videos promoting the Commercial Crew Program. kind of cool to see what ULA, SpaceX, Sierra Nevada, Boeing and ATK are doing:

    http://moonandback.com/2012/06/25/nasa-videos-promote-ccdev2-partners-spaceships/

  • Anonymous

    Dr. C. David Fischer, Jr. on moonandback.com:

    “…Now, in space policy, we have the Moon Society advocating for a Moon program. And we have the Mars Society advocating for a Mars program. We have the Planetary Society. We have the National Space Society. We have the Commercial Spaceflight Federation. We have many groups advocating for their program. And it is easy for the congress critters to ignore us. No one has a very big voice…

    …Settlement, no matter where it will be or when it will be, will only be successful if we can migrate each step along the way (to wherever we go) off of the NASA budget and into the commercial sector. And we can only do that if we create the conditions that allow individuals, free people, to own the assets (labor and capital) that not only allow for subsistence, but for excess capacity, for success and failure. It is the excess capacity that will eventually result in wealth and trade.

    It is past time for the central planning of all space exploration efforts. We must all be advocating for the chaotic market within which commercial space can succeed. The combined voice will be strong enough to make a difference in the space policy debate.”

    I just recently re-watched ’2001: A Space odyssey.’ Cool to see Pan-Am space craft taking Dr. Heywood R. Floyd to a space station. The craft looks similar to what NASA wants to go back to. I like the flight attendants wearing “Grip Shoes.”

  • Anonymous

    Parabolic Arc website says Space Operations, Inc wants to update the Gemini Program for a two seat spacecraft. They think, with funding, it could be built within 6 months and be tested in 12. But no crews will be launched before 2017.

  • Anonymous

    nasaspaceflight.com:

    “……SpaceX’s Falcon 9 currently employs nine “SpaceX designed and built” Merlin main engines on the First Stage – sporting a single shaft. propellant fed, dual impeller turbo-pump, operating on a gas generator cycle which also provides the high pressure kerosene for the hydraulic actuators, which then recycles into the low pressure inlet….”

    (I am no expert. The pump feeds the propellant to where the fuel is burned. The propellant burned in this cycle powers the pumps and motors, produces hot gas that is exhausted. Wikipedia has a nice diagram of this:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Gas_generator_rocket_cycle.png )

    nasaspaceflight:

    “….The turbo-pump also provides roll control by actuating the turbine exhaust nozzle on the single second stage MVac engine….SpaceX are looking to work in their upgraded engine into the Falcon 9 manifest …providing a vast improvement in performance, reliability and manufacturability, all of which could provide a timely boost to aiding the potential for success for the fully reusable Falcon 9 and their Falcon Heavy…”

    (The website notes they no longer need to shut off two engines during ascent. The Merlin 1D can now throttle all engines because it is lighter.)

    nasaspaceflight:

    “…During the testing of the Merlin 1D…the engine achieved a full mission duration firing and multiple restarts at target thrust and specific impulse (Isp).The engine firing was for 185 seconds with 147,000 pounds of thrust, the full duration and power required for a Falcon 9 rocket launch.The extra power and multiple restart elements are major steps towards achieving the highly complex task of making Falcon 9 reusable, a vehicle known as F9r or Grasshopper…”

    (The first stage will have landing legs, which are under construction. It will fire three engines to decelerate and later one to safety land on on these legs. The upper stage, after entering orbit, positioned aft forward will restart burn to deorbit and also land on its legs.)

    nasaspaceflight:

    “….The Falcon Heavy’s performance stats are impressive, with a Mass to Orbit…117,000 lbs, with its 3.8 million lbs of thrust lifting the 1,400 metric tons of vehicle off the pad. The FH will be..227 ft..in length, with a max stage width..17 ft…total width of..38 ft.

    …SpaceX added that the enhanced design makes the Merlin 1D the most efficient booster engine ever built, with a vacuum thrust-to-weight ratio exceeding 150, while still maintaining the structural and thermal safety margins needed to carry astronauts…”

  • Anonymous

    Marshall Space Flight Center and the University of Alabama at Huntsville in 2013 might be very interesting places. They are working on pulsed fusion propulsion, once they assemble the generator transported from DOD weapons testing. Slamming atoms into atoms to get bursts of energy. Hopefully the reaction can be scaled.

    Alabama Media Group’s website, al.com:

    “The pulse engine would not lift a rocket out of the gravity well of Earth, but would run continuously for weeks after liftoff to move the rocket out of orbit and toward another planet.”

    Gosh, how I love government science.

  • Anonymous

    AmericaSpace:

    “…Elon Musk is confident that more efficient manufacturing processes – including the use of robotic construction techniques – will contribute to expanding the number of engines produced from eight per month to an eventual goal of 400 per year…

    …Falcon Heavy…capability reportedly makes it 50 percent more powerful than the Delta IV Heavy and only 50 percent less powerful than the Saturn V, which still holds first place as the most powerful rocket ever brought to operational status…

    …In his September 2011 remarks to the National Press Club…“If you look at the cost of a Falcon 9 rocket – which is a big, one-million-pounds-of-thrust rocket, yet the lowest-cost rocket in the world – it’s still $50-60 million,” he said, “but if you look at the cost of the fuel and oxygen and so forth, it’s only about $200,000. Obviously, if we can reuse the rocket, say, one thousand times, then that would make the capital cost of the rocket, per launch, only about $50,000.” To press his point, Musk compared it to a Boeing 747, which costs several hundred million dollars to build, but whose inherent reusability ultimately brings down the cost to fare-paying passengers to a “relatively small” figure that covers little more than “fuel, pilots and incidentals”…

    …SpaceX…its growing public image and success rate is paying dividends; in the wake of the Dragon mission to the International Space Station, the company’s value doubled to approximately $4.8 billion.”