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The Case for Becoming a Spacefaring Society:
Recommendations for Space Technology Investment

by Jonathan Goff and Ferris Valyn

To become a spacefaring nation, there are critical infrastructure technologies and capabilities  that are required to reduce the cost and risk of future operations.  There are at least three critical technologies that can feasibly be developed and deployed in the near future:  Orbital Propellant Transfer and Storage, Proximity Operations Vehicles, and High Flight Rate Reusable Launch Vehicles.

Developing these technologies with respect to commercial operations will provide benefits across multiple fronts: economic, foreign relations, national defense, scientific endeavors, just to name a few.  While governmental involvement is necessary, so is private sector involvement, and it must be much more than that of a contractor.  What is needed is a law that is the space development equivalent of the High Performance Computing and Communication Act of 1991 or the Kelly Air Mail act of 1925.

Orbital Propellant Transfer and Storage Infrastructure aka Orbital Propellant depots
Traditional operations beyond Low Earth Orbit have required massive rockets bringing all of their fuel with them since there are no fuel stations beyond the surface of the earth.  An orbital propellant depot that can refuel robotic and human missions allows for more missions with higher capabilities.   They also create innovative new markets, by allowing the reuse of space assets.  Although some capabilities have been demonstrated by the Orbital Express mission, as well as various Russian projects, more work is needed for proper commercialization.  Finally, purely private sector development is unlikely because orbital propellant depots suffer from a chicken-and-egg problem, related to no existing markets.  

Proximity Operations Vehicles aka Space Tugs
Proximity Operations is the ability to maneuver massive vehicles in close quarters to large expensive facilities, without damaging either object.  It is the earth equivalent of moving large boats in busy seaports.  Small, specialized, highly maneuverable vehicles that deliver the larger vehicles (like tugboats or space tugs) is preferable to requiring every vehicle to manage this on its own, as it allows the larger vehicles to focus on their primary mission – delivering cargo and people across distances.  In addition, ancillary benefits through new markets and applications would also appear.  Although key technologies have been demonstrated through government programs like XSS and Orbital Express, space tugs suffer the same chicken-and-egg problem that orbital propellant depots with regard to private development and private deployment.  

High Flight Rate Reusable Launch Vehicles
While the original vision of the shuttle fulfilled this, the actual shuttle is substantially different, and is much closer to merely being salvageable, rather than truly reusable.  To date, most government attempts at building reusable vehicles have been aimed at fielding "Shuttle Replacements"—Space Shuttle-sized operational vehicles such as Venturestar—in spite of the insufficient demand in this payload class and the expense of developing reusable vehicles this big.  Most private ventures, while focused on more reasonable sized vehicles, have suffered from undercapitalization.  While technical challenges remain, such as developing robust but lightweight thermal protection systems, business and economic obstacles must also be overcome, such as demonstrating sufficient flight rate.

Recommendations
These recommendations focus not only on fulfilling the technical aspects, but also on developing an economically sustainable infrastructure.  

  1.  Help Foster the Creation of Interface Standards: Have the Office of Space Commercialization sponsor workshops, run by a private standards body (such as ASME, AIAA, or UL) to develop standards for important inter-vehicle interfaces, such as orbital fluid transfer interfaces.  These workshops should include industry and government experts on relevant topics such as proximity operations and orbital propellant transfer, as well as potential customers such as NASA, DOD and commercial providers.  The goal would be to determine in each case if the technology is sufficiently mature to settle on a standard interface, and if so, to set an industry standard.  For instance, while propellant transfer interfaces may be mature enough for standardization; other interfaces like docking may not.  If not, the workshop could provide suggestions on technology maturation efforts in order to reach the point where a standard can be set, including recommendations on which public or private entities should be responsible for those maturation efforts.
  1.  Invest in Research and Technology Maturation: While much of the technology needed for these capabilities currently exists, there remains research and technology maturation that needs to be done in each case.  At the beginning of the VSE program, a Human and Robotic Technologies technology maturation effort was begun.  This effort provided substantial funding for demonstrating technologies such as on-orbit propellant handling and storage, autonomous operations, ISRU, and many other spacefaring technologies.  This funding was cut shortly after the ESAS study in order to help pay for the Ares-I launch vehicle.  Restoring funds for technology maturation can significantly reduce the cost of future space programs.  We recommend that a program similar to the H&RT program be reinstated with full funding.  NASA and the DOD can also assist in technology maturation efforts by continuing to fund relevant SBIR research topics, paying for demonstrator missions, and funding suborbital and orbital microgravity research experiments.
  1.  Prizes: One proposed prize delayed due to lack of funding for the NASA Centennial Challenges program was the Propellant Depot Challenge. This challenge was to demonstrate long-duration storage of cryogenic propellants on-orbit.  Full funding should be restored to the Centennial Challenges program (as well as equivalent DOD-run prize programs) to provide money for prizes like this to incentivize demonstration of key propellant depot capabilities.  Such prizes can also be used for demonstrating different space tug capabilities (such as deorbiting of space debris, relocating of space assets, etc), and for flight demonstration of robust and highly reusable thermal protection systems for reusable space transports.
  1.  Reinvigorate the Office of Space Commercialization: This office, which is part of NOAA and the Department of Commerce, should be fully funded and staffed.  This office can work together with the Small Business Administration to help encourage the entrepreneurial development of propellant depots, space tugs, reusable space transportation, and other space infrastructure technologies.  This office could perform functions like sponsoring conferences and workshops, investor education events, providing business development mentoring for potential suppliers, and other important services.
  1.  Fully-Fund COTS-D:  While COTS-D doesn’t require reusable launch vehicles per se, it helps attack one of the key challenges in reusable transportation development—it demonstrates a customer base, which can help close the business case for higher flight-rate vehicles.  Helping invest in the development of commercial manned orbital access will also aid other space infrastructure projects such as those being undertaken by Bigelow Aerospace.  Lastly, having domestic manned spaceflight capabilities is worth having in itself.
  1.  Technology Mandates: It is important that government agencies set an example and lead out as early customers of new space capabilities.  One way this can be done is through the use of technology mandates.  For propellant depots, once a standard exists for propellant transfer interfaces, the government could set a date by which all government flights beyond LEO require the stage and payload (if applicable) to carry one of the standardized propellant transfer interfaces, and require propellant to be purchased (if available) for missions that are too big to fly on existing commercial single-core launch vehicles.  This is a low-impact method of reducing the market risk for fielding propellant depots without substantially impacting the cost of normal operations if propellant depots aren’t immediately available.   Also, a similar mandate could be used for requiring government missions to purchase commercial crew delivery services if such become available.

We urge the Obama administration to invest in a spacefaring future by implementing these policy recommendations.

Originally posted to FerrisValyn on Wed Jan 14, 2009 at 05:58 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tips for a spacefaring society go here (23+ / 0-)

    Same applies for this as last nights piece - This was sent to the transition team - the only thing altered is a few style issues related to HTML, and my name has been replaced with my dkos name.

    •  Lots to read! nt (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      FerrisValyn, jlms qkw, Vladislaw

      "Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do." ~Voltaire

      by The BBQ Chicken Madness on Wed Jan 14, 2009 at 06:02:36 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  The best technology to become space faring is... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Vladislaw

      The Space Elevator. Anything else is thinking in the past.

      A space elevator is a proposed structure designed to transport material from a celestial body's surface into space. Many variants have been proposed and all involve travelling along a fixed structure instead of using rocket powered spacelaunch. The concept most often refers to a structure that reaches from the surface of the Earth to geostationary orbit (GSO) and a counter-mass beyond.

      "Morally pro-life" and "Legally pro-choice" are not mutually exclusive opinions. One can hold both positions earnestly.

      by Jimdotz on Wed Jan 14, 2009 at 06:36:59 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  2 Issues (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Jimdotz, FarWestGirl, Vladislaw
        1.  There is more to being spacefaring than just getting to space.  And the Space elevator doesn't address a number of those issues.  For example, suppose you want to go beyond LEO, or GEO - you'll need something to propel you.  Then there is the issue of resources in space to tap into.  Read that first link, you'll see that there is a need for MORE than cheap access (which is what Space Elevator provides)
        1.  There are serious technological challenges that face the elevator.  Challenges that put it out of reach, realistically, I would say for at least 30 years.  And we can do a number of things in that time.  So why put all the effort into something like a space elevator, right now, when we don't have something for sure in the near term.  

        Betting on the space elevator to make us a spacefaring society is like betting on fusion to solve our energy issues - yes, in theory, it would work (although its really not enough, in the case of the space elevator).  But are you prepared to bet on something for which serious challenges remain?  

      •  Space elevator economics, in a nutshell (3+ / 0-)

        Someone, please double check my math, here:

        = = =

        Assume a $10 billion deployment cost (wildly optimistic) but okay lets assume.

        Let us assume a target price per pound to LEO of $100.

        Let us assume a seven (7) year operational life meaning that after seven years another $10 billion is needed to either replace or refurbish the elevator, the cars that travel up and so on.

        Let us assume money costs 8% per year.

        The mortgage payment on that elevator is $156 million, per month. 8% over seven years.

        At $100 per pound the elevator needs to lift 1,560,000 pounds per month or 52,000 pounds per day, every day, 365 days per year for 7 years.

        That pays the mortgage with NOTHING for employee wages or other operating costs such as food water oxygen and life support for the travelers.

        As I recall, it is at least three days going up meaning the cars must have substantial life support systems.

        = = =

        In my opinion, ONLY a full scale human colonization effort of Mars can generate the demand needed to justify a space elevator.

        Full scale in the sense that the Normandy invasion of 6 June 1944 was full scale, or how O'Hare Airport operates on a daily basis.

        "Seeing our planet as a whole, enables one to see our planet as a whole" - Tad Daley

        by Bill White on Wed Jan 14, 2009 at 06:51:32 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Trolls, bad designs, and go nowhere programs (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Unitary Moonbat, jlms qkw, Vladislaw

    go here.

  •  Question on Fuel Depots: (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Bill White, jlms qkw, Vladislaw

    So would a fuel depot model mean that we would be launching a rocket that's only payload consists of fuel for the next mission?  We would then send up the actual mission later, dock, and transfer the fuel?

    "Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do." ~Voltaire

    by The BBQ Chicken Madness on Wed Jan 14, 2009 at 06:07:45 PM PST

    •  Yes (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      FarWestGirl, Vladislaw

      this way, you can make much more capable missions.  Its a bit like how (if memory serves me correctly) most military planes actually take off mostly unfueled, and then refuel once in flight - they can carry more payload that way.  

      •  Ok. Follow up. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Vladislaw

        Just wanted to make sure I understood the concept.  And yeah, military planes do that - it really is ingenious when you think about it.

        I just finished reading a book called "Living off the Land in Space", which was average.  But it's basic premise was that we won't, in the long run, be able to keep taking everything we need with us from earth to venture out.

        I would wonder if the idea of a fuel depot would be able to be incorporated into that option.  A basic (and not very useful) example would be to install a giant solar panel up in orbit which would store electricity up for weeks, then we launch a rocket with an electrically powered ship on top and 'fuel' it up once it's up there.

        Now, obviously that example makes no logical sense.  The electricity wouldn't add weight, and electric rockets, uh, yeah.  But I'm talking conceptually only.  Using a system that somehow collects fuel just sitting in space, rather than having to take up any fuel at all.

        It may limit the amount of launches per station, since it would take a set amount of time to - for lack of a better term - refuel itself.  But overall it would solve a lot of issues that we might run into otherwise with a fuel depot system.

        "Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do." ~Voltaire

        by The BBQ Chicken Madness on Wed Jan 14, 2009 at 06:19:50 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Actually, I think Fuel Depot implementation... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        FerrisValyn, Vladislaw

        ...would have one, very important result that you don't appear to have covered.

        It would allow for the construction of space vehicles that were simpler, more reliable, safer, and with much shorter turnaround times.

        Consider: what is the most time-consuming system of the shuttle, in terms of replacement and delicacy of the hand-work involved with getting any shuttle ready for its next mission (true of any re-usable spacecraft, incidentally - not just the shuttle)?

        The re-entry shields (those delicate tiles, in the case of the shuttle).  Right?

        With a reliable orbital fuel depot (robotically refueled by craft whose empty shells could be reused for the construction of space-stations and interplanetary missions), we could devote a portion of that fuel for the re-entry phase of our reusable craft.  How much money and complexity could we save in the manufacture of any earth-to-orbit-and-return vehicle, by designing it to burn off a significant percentage of its orbital velocity before re-entry?

        Retro-rockets.  Remember those?

        It ain't called paranoia - when they're really out to get you. 6 points.

        by Jaime Frontero on Wed Jan 14, 2009 at 06:26:34 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Can you offer specific figures? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FerrisValyn, Vladislaw

    For example, how many tax dollars should be budgeted in FY09 for propellant depot research and development?

    Do you believe the current NASA budget is large enough to reach these objective? What current programs might you eliminate to advance these technologies more rapidly?

    "Seeing our planet as a whole, enables one to see our planet as a whole" - Tad Daley

    by Bill White on Wed Jan 14, 2009 at 06:09:54 PM PST

    •  It'd be better to ask Jon. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Vladislaw

      In point of fact, I honestly believe that this could be done for not to much money.  Ideally, I'd like to believe we could get extra money, and I'd rather it go to funding something like this than more shuttle flights.  

      •  Without hard numbers how can Congress (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        FerrisValyn, FarWestGirl, Vladislaw

        possibly proceed?

        For example, Lockheed Martin (I believe it's them) has a proposal to practice cryogenic propellant transfer using a Centaur stage after its delivered its payload to LEO.

        I've read the proposal and its terrific. We SHOULD fund that experiment ASAP. That said, Lockheed can send someone to Capitol Hill with a 200 page binder explaining EXACTLY how the mission will be run and strong cost estimates.

        Without that, how can Congress responsibly appropriate money?

        = = =

        Rotary Rocket comes to mind.

        Should we simply give $100 million or a billion dollars of taxpayer money to Gary Hudson and say "Surprise us!"

        "Seeing our planet as a whole, enables one to see our planet as a whole" - Tad Daley

        by Bill White on Wed Jan 14, 2009 at 06:22:41 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  These are the conceptuals, I would argue. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          FarWestGirl, Vladislaw

          We have the underlying major policy (at least I'd like to suggest thats what this is).  This gives us the conceptials of what NASA should be focusing on, and how it should go about it for something like this, and in some cases, more than the conceptials.  

          For example, we already have a good idea for what COTS-D will cost (I don't remember it, but I can bet you that NASA already has it).  And funding the Office of Space Commercialization already has some level of budgeting involved.  And we have previous data for the Tech maturation.  All that data people like Ladwig and Garver either have, or can easily get.  

          That leaves the issue of Standards development, Prizes, and Mandates.  

          Stardards development - I suspect that this might prove not to be too expensive.  What we are talking about is something the equivelent of a series of workshops, to determine where we can define standards, or if more research is needed.  Done properly, I think this won't be too expensive.  

          Prizes - We have Centennial Challeges.  I would argue that NASA, and the government, wouldn't be willing to go beyond 50 million, and it might be as low as 10 million.  But even at that level, you could still do a number of great prizes.  

          Tech Mandates - in and of themselves, these don't actually cost anything.  Now, thats not the whole story, because what you end up requiring is hardware on crafts, that might not use them, which will increase the price of your craft.  But I would argue that this is worth attempting.  

          To put it another way - no, I would be against the $100 million going to Gary Hudson and asking for a suprise.  

  •  Re: Space tugs -- Fregat is a pretty darn good (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FerrisValyn, Vladislaw

    piece of equipment that already exists and yet doesn't have all that many customers.

    Anyway, looking at the bigger picture, should the American taxpayers simply pay whatever is needed to develop build all these new technologies on faith that a future market will emerge?

    "Seeing our planet as a whole, enables one to see our planet as a whole" - Tad Daley

    by Bill White on Wed Jan 14, 2009 at 06:13:12 PM PST

    •  Development vs deployment (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      FarWestGirl, Vladislaw

      Nowhere in the proposal do you see a call for construction of full on depots.  Jon and I had a long discussion about that, and he was quite adament about that - he wanted to see a good chunk of this coming from private industry.  More than once, I suggested tying it to the public works program, and Jon did not like that idea.  

      So what you see here is the push for developing the technology, rather than the deployment of an infrastructure.  And on that front, I think we would both agree that technological development is almost always beneficial.  

      And many of these suggestions, if not all, could easily be incorporated into Direct.  

      •  Actually, the Direct team is openly calling for (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        FerrisValyn, FarWestGirl, Vladislaw

        many of these same ideas.

        Being the party in power, we need to offer ideas that can be turned into legislation, and that means we specify WHO we trust to develop these ideas, HOW MUCH we give them, and what benchmarks are imposed along the way.

        Pete Worden? I'd be calm giving him a billion dollars and say come back in a year and "Wow! us"

        Others? Eh, maybe not.

        I don't want to be too negative, because we do need to develop all of these technologies. But HOW now matters as much as WHAT.

        We agree on WHAT, now the question is HOW.

        It's like showing your work in math class, the task now is proving that we are likely to get from Point A to Point B by following a given strategy.

        "Seeing our planet as a whole, enables one to see our planet as a whole" - Tad Daley

        by Bill White on Wed Jan 14, 2009 at 06:28:38 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Again, I am not actually arguing with you Bill, (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Vladislaw

          at least, I don't think so.  

          I personally think that most of this could be done for under $2 billion, and it most assuradly would not be going to all 1 person, by any strech.  

          Which proposal in particular are you thinking is too early?

          •  Ferris, NONE of these proposals are too early (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            FarWestGirl, Vladislaw

            but most of them are not yet sufficiently well developed

            (as in engineering hours spent creating designs that a machinist can build)

            The basic ideas are ALL good however there is a HUGE amount of labor intensive engineering work that remains to be done before anyone can start bending tin. And that makes check writers hesitant to write checks.

            For example, Jon Goff has explained to me (briefly) the notion of resonant orbits, which would be very useful information for choosing the proper orbit for a propellant depot.

            However there appears to be a lack of AIAA papers which document, and double check, the parameters of those orbits. Getting grad students to write those papers (and many others) will make it far easier to persuade the check writers to write checks.

            = = =

            Returning to the Roton example (according to what I read):

            Gary Hudson was adamant that his job was to get Roton built. Until he left the company, Bevin McKinney saw his job as needing to make sure the design would work, before Gary Hudson actually built the Roton.

            "Seeing our planet as a whole, enables one to see our planet as a whole" - Tad Daley

            by Bill White on Wed Jan 14, 2009 at 08:17:57 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  What technology did we call on to be deployed? (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Vladislaw

              The only thing where I see us talking about deployment, rather than development, is in the mandates, with the requirement of carrying propellant transfer interfaces, when it is fully developed, and to buy from a prop depot, if applicable.  

              But otherwise, show me where we talk about deploying technology.  Because what I see, and what I think Jon probably sees, is a technology development program coupled with a market development program, not a deployment program.  

        •  When we built the internet (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Vladislaw

          It was on the dime of the American taxpayer and a few large educational institutions.  This enabled thousands of small groups of people with an idea and not much else to turn those ideas into businesses, some of which became fantastically successful.

          Maybe we need to be focusing on building the public infrastructure that would enable someone other than a government backed agency or an internet millionaire to build and fly hardware.

          What are the major costs associated with building a rocket and/or spacecraft?  SpaceX seems to have spent a lot of money setting up a large machine shop with specialized tooling that they then use to build their rocket, mostly because to use someone else to do it was too expensive.  Also, you need lots of computer time, and people who can design the craft.

          What if we spent a piddling amount (compared to just about any other program that we spend money on) to build public manufacturing facilities that could be used by any group of designers with an idea?  What if you didn't need to be a Carmack, Musk, Bigelow or Bezos to fly some hardware?

          Would that be enough to kick-start this industry?  It seems like there are far more good ideas out there that never even get a chance to fly due to the oppressively high startup costs.  If all you needed was an insurance policy and some raw materials you could probably get venture capitalists into the market.

          •  I believe an honest-to-God space hotel and/or (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Vladislaw, BeDirect

            zero-gee sports arena would motivate the private sector to develop Earth to LEO launch capabilities for sale to the public.

            Not many tax dollars would be needed (except for technology transfers such as TransHab data provided Bigelow).

            More needful is for the government to be openly supportive (if only in a rhetorical sense) of non-governmental players having routine access to LEO.

            Dan Goldin's open hostility to MirCorp (even if they were not the most politic in their approach) is an example of what not to do.

            "Seeing our planet as a whole, enables one to see our planet as a whole" - Tad Daley

            by Bill White on Wed Jan 14, 2009 at 08:08:03 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Yes, but (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Vladislaw

              Why should we care about giving more money to the already wealthy?  Shouldn't they be able to fend for themselves without handouts?  I mean after all there is already a business case there.  (and it seems too much like public funding for a football arena, something which I deplore :-)

              I'd like to see more support for the small teams that are trying new things, but struggling for capital.

              •  Little need to give more money (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                FarWestGirl, Vladislaw

                In my opinion, if Obama merely said:

                "Space hotels would be waaaay cool and we should allow them and so long as it doesn't cost NASA any significant amounts of money, consultations are good and we should cooperate BUT we aren't spending taxpayer money"

                That alone would make hotels and sports arenas far more likely.

                Or maybe allowed shared use of Mission Control at incremental cost; don't charge a percentage of fixed overhead, merely whatever additional costs are incurred.

                Support and encouragement such as that.

                Then, Bigelow makes it financially or he doesn't.

                "Seeing our planet as a whole, enables one to see our planet as a whole" - Tad Daley

                by Bill White on Wed Jan 14, 2009 at 08:22:00 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

          •  The first 25,000 feet, no? (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Vladislaw

            What are the major costs associated with building a rocket and/or spacecraft?

            Is there a bigger part of cost-to-orbit than the first 25,000 feet?

            If you want to build a public infrastructure to encourage private spaceflight, put a two- or three-mile-long mass driver at Spaceport America in New Mexico.  Design the bucket intelligently, and private companies would design their craft around it.

            How close could one get to a 50-50 mass/fuel ratio?

            It ain't called paranoia - when they're really out to get you. 6 points.

            by Jaime Frontero on Wed Jan 14, 2009 at 08:25:05 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Mass driver needs to be higher, neh? (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Vladislaw

              I thought the air-friction losses were too great that low down, and you would need it to be up a mountain.  And even then getting something to orbital speed in 2 miles precludes manned flight due to the bug-windshield problem. (but I digress)

              The point I was trying to make is that the technologies to get the first 25,000 feet are very expensive to develop, in large part because of the specialized equipment required to even get started building something that can have a chance of getting there.

              there are tons of ideas out there to make this cheaper, but it seems like most of them never even get to the "let's try it" stage because of the high cost of entry.  Let's put together a system whereby newspace startups can use equipment and space provided as a public service to test their ideas, and see what comes out of it!  This was the same thing that made internet business models work.  Not every internet business idea was a good one, but because the price of entry into the space became so low literally millions of ideas could be tried and not just hashed to death on forums :-)

              •  You misunderstand. (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Vladislaw

                A mass driver could accelerate a spacecraft to Mach 2 without major discomfort to any humans aboard, and then launch it at the end of the driver track under its own rocket power.

                By way of comparison, the Space Shuttle is at about Mach 2.5 somewhere close to 60,000 feet.  And has used up... what? 40% of its fuel?  So, a mass/fuel ratio of close to 50-50.

                Makes more sense to me.

                It ain't called paranoia - when they're really out to get you. 6 points.

                by Jaime Frontero on Wed Jan 14, 2009 at 10:15:51 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

  •  To play something of the contrarian, here . . . (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FerrisValyn, Vladislaw

    These are all EXCELLENT targets to aim for

    Orbital Propellant Transfer and Storage Infrastructure aka Orbital Propellant depots

    High Flight Rate Reusable Launch Vehicles

    Proximity Operations Vehicles aka Space Tugs

    However, I deny that the taxpayers (by themselves) can purchase enough flights in space to actually support these technologies. Instead, we need private people and companies spending their own money on spaceflight pursuing their own private goals and objectives before there will be sufficient demand to make these technologies financially feasible.

    Yes, I want to get to the same place but the government cannot do this for us.

    "Seeing our planet as a whole, enables one to see our planet as a whole" - Tad Daley

    by Bill White on Wed Jan 14, 2009 at 06:18:35 PM PST

    •  Not actually disagreeing with you, well (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Vladislaw

      at least not our paper.  I don't see how to interpert what we wrote as implying that government programs would be the sole source of capital.  Again, we don't actually have the government build the large scale hardware.  

      •  The paper, thus far, isn't clear concerning who (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        FarWestGirl, Vladislaw

        writes the checks, to whom are the checks given, and how much are the checks written for.

        If I'm a staffer for a Congress-critter responsible for NASA's budget, those are the answers I need.

        And if its not Congress and tax dollars being sought, then its the venture capitalist who will be asking the same questions.

        "Seeing our planet as a whole, enables one to see our planet as a whole" - Tad Daley

        by Bill White on Wed Jan 14, 2009 at 06:31:01 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  You should read up on... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FerrisValyn, Vladislaw

    Looking over the first link you posted, I wanted to comment on #10 - Space Tugs.

    While not exactly like what you two are discussing there, you should read up on the idea of Electrodynamic Tethers.

    An electrodynamic tether is basically a long wire that hangs down into the atmosphere and produces electricity based on the magnetic fields of the planet.

    While it's not the best option for interplanetary travel (maybe at some point, there are some options)...one thing it could be GREAT at is for orbiting stations and satellites to change orbit with basically no fuel at all.  This could be used both to keep things in orbit longer (like a fuel depot perhaps?) and be useful as a tug to move things in and out of certain orbits.

    "Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do." ~Voltaire

    by The BBQ Chicken Madness on Wed Jan 14, 2009 at 06:28:26 PM PST

    •  Forward, Hoyt and Tethers Unlimited (4+ / 0-)

      have some really nifty ideas that can shove stuff around in space for minimal expenditures of fuel.

      Solar ion propulsion plus Belbruno trajectories can also help establish logistics chains to the Moon or Mars at much lower cost.

      Perhaps space enthusiasts are too tunnel vision focused on getting their delta v by burning stuff.

      ;-)

      "Seeing our planet as a whole, enables one to see our planet as a whole" - Tad Daley

      by Bill White on Wed Jan 14, 2009 at 06:39:40 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  We go with what works... (4+ / 0-)

        In such a complex field, it's difficult to turn your back on something that has proven effective and efficient for the past 5 decades.

        The tether idea for orbiting objects I really like.  I would love to see an experiment done on the ISS to test the theory on a larger scale (it has already been proven in space with smaller versions).  If we could retrofit the station with a full sized tether, that would open up lots of room on future missions for resupply and science.

        And ion propulsion is awesome.  My hope is that we have a breakthrough at some point which ups the power to achieve accelerations of, say, 10% of a chemical rocket.  We'll never look back.  But I don't even know if that's physically possible.

        "Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do." ~Voltaire

        by The BBQ Chicken Madness on Wed Jan 14, 2009 at 06:53:10 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Haven't people started using tethers to de-orbit (3+ / 0-)

          surplus satellites?

          That was an ingenious idea. Include a rather small solid rocket motor with some inert mass and a tether.

          When its time to de-orbit the satellite and incinerate it in the atmosphere, fire the "Tether Terminator (tm)" at the center of the Earth and over time that mass, at a lower altitude, will drag the entire thing down.

          "Seeing our planet as a whole, enables one to see our planet as a whole" - Tad Daley

          by Bill White on Wed Jan 14, 2009 at 07:04:52 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  I think so... (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Bill White, FarWestGirl, Vladislaw

            But the fact that you can use the same system to RAISE your orbit as well is just too cool.  I'm not sure if satellites are using that option quite yet.  They may be.

            The ISS I think would be an amazing way to prove that it's useful on a large scale.

            "Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do." ~Voltaire

            by The BBQ Chicken Madness on Wed Jan 14, 2009 at 07:09:43 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  You know they were going to try and use that (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Vladislaw

              on MIR, right?

            •  Momentum-Exchange/Electrodynamic-Reboost (MXER) (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              FarWestGirl, Vladislaw

              Tethers Unlimited

              Momentum-Exchange/Electrodynamic-Reboost (MXER) tether systems can provide propellantless propulsion for a wide range of missions, including: orbital maneuvering and stationkeeping within Low Earth Orbit (LEO); orbital transfer of payloads from LEO to GEO, the Moon, and Mars; and eventually even Earth-to-Orbit (ETO) launch assist. By eliminating the need for propellant for in-space propulsion, MXER tethers can enable payloads to be launched on much smaller launch vehicles, resulting in order-of-magnitude reductions in launch costs. In order for MXER tethers to achieve their potential in real-world application, several key technologies must be developed and demonstrated, including space-survivable tethers incorporating both high-strength and conducting materials, technologies for rendezvous with and grappling of payloads, and techniques for predicting and controlling tether rotation and dynamics

              If "we" were truly serious about moving large quantities of mass beyond LEO, tethers are a terrific way to go, IMHO.

              "Seeing our planet as a whole, enables one to see our planet as a whole" - Tad Daley

              by Bill White on Wed Jan 14, 2009 at 07:28:50 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

  •  Here is a contrarian comment from Dennis Wingo (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Vladislaw

    Posted by: Dennis Wingo at January 10, 2009 9:05 PM

    The point I believe that Elon was making, is that launch costs are TOO high and must be brought down.

    With all due respect Elon is wrong. Launch from the Earth is only the first step. We have been going around in circles here on the Earth for so long with this mantra of cheap access to space and what has it gotten the advocacy community? Absolutely nothing but broken dreams and bankrupt investors. Even Elon admitted this past year at ISDC that all he was going to do is to reduce costs around the margins.

    This is the mistake that Mike Griffin made as well, focusing on a heavy lifter as it has the lowest cost per lb to orbit for an expendable system. However, as Von Braun said, a bigger rocket is easy, it just costs more money.

    It is much easier to develop reusable in space transportation systems, and unless I am mistaken, if you are going to go anywhere but LEO, transportation is a requirement. It is far easier today to build a RSV (Reusable Space Vehicle) than it is to build an RLV. The pay off is immediate and on going.

    We have to get beyond this mindset that requires super low cost access to space before you do anything. A reusable cislunar human and cargo transport, coupled with a reusable single stage to orbit (Lunar) transit vehicle, and we have the critical elements needed.We can drop that megawatt of solar power on the Moon for no more than a couple of billion dollars using the existing Atlas and Delta fleet. If we quadruple the production of these vehicles (along with the Falcon 9) the price of launch will decrease by 50%.

    With ISRU derived propellants and with local industrial development along with local food production, we can change the entire cost structure of operating in cislunar space.

    Or we can continue to sit on the Earth and whine about needing cheap launchers.

    Frankly this argument has 30 years of failure written all over it, it is time for a change in our thinking.

    Should we side with Dennis (and go to the Moon with the rockets we have) or side the Space Access Society and wait for the rockets we wished we had?

    "Seeing our planet as a whole, enables one to see our planet as a whole" - Tad Daley

    by Bill White on Wed Jan 14, 2009 at 07:36:38 PM PST

  •  Barack Obama is preparing America to go (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Vladislaw

    back to the Moon.

    He is too good at doing media and communications for this to be an accident:

    "Seeing our planet as a whole, enables one to see our planet as a whole" - Tad Daley

    by Bill White on Wed Jan 14, 2009 at 08:29:04 PM PST

  •  Two Words (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Vladislaw

    Transporter technology ala Star Trek. Don't laugh. It's already being done on a small scale. The theory works in the real world.It probably means getting around the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principal to increase the scale but I think it can be done. Even if that doesn't pan out, with the increase of computing power going up like it is there will be breakthroughs in all sorts of fields. Breakthroughs that we can't even imagine. We need to build a deep space fleet off planet where they don't have to be built to withstand the rigors of breaking free of the gravity well that is Earth. We need to build shipyards in space and either a elevator or transporter technology is the cheapest, NON POLLUTING, way to go. We probably have 100 to 200 years to get this right, but it's never to late to start thinking about it.

    Life is just a temporary discontinuity in the second law of thermodynamics

       

    •  The problem I'm seeing is that (0+ / 0-)

      with the current way the teleportation is done, it may end up running into some laws of thermodynamics with the larger mass of atoms to be 'read' from. More specifically, the lasing pattern will induce increased energy states to a given object making it harder to be read with increasing changes in velocity and positional changes as the pattern is broken down.
      By the time you get a whole person (example) read and transmitted what comes out on the other end may be nothing more than a slightly overcooked barbecue.
      Not really something you want to see happen. Brings up that whole Star Trek the Motion Picture thought.

      To have faith in the power of a human being is no crime. The crime is to have no faith in your fellow human being.

      by RElland on Wed Jan 21, 2009 at 07:03:18 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Sorry abuot not making it here early enough (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FerrisValyn

    "Proximity Operations Vehicles aka Space Tugs"

    what is the lowest operational level a tug can work at? could it come down to the suborbital flight plane and still be robust enough to make it back to orbital?

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