Quantcast

Privatizing Space Flight

HomeBuiltAirplanes.com

Help Support HomeBuiltAirplanes.com:

Jon Ferguson

Well-Known Member
Joined
Dec 15, 2011
Messages
827
Location
Harpers Ferry, WV
I requested a new thread and then decided that it might be best if I just go ahead and start it. Let's begin here:
Re: Virgin Galactic spaceshiptwo crashes.......
Originally Posted by BBerson We are involved as taxpayers. Scaled Composites and Musk's various companies are all tapped into the federal treasury. These are the industry magnates you mentioned. SpaceX is under contract to NASA to deliver cargo to the ISS and to develop a manned capsule to replace the capability lost when the Shuttle was retired, which it will also operate under contract as a private entity. That's called being a vendor. They're not getting some kind of handout.​
I for one love free enterprise and find the notion that a private company or citizen can build a space flight company and explore space to be invigorating. I think that competition between firms will result in great gains in this area.
 
Last edited:

BBerson

Light Plane Philosopher
HBA Supporter
Joined
Dec 16, 2007
Messages
13,733
Location
Port Townsend WA
When Musk gets $500 million for Tesla from the government, that is not free enterprise.
It is crony capitalism. I have no idea how much the government financed his space endeavors, but I am sure it works in a similar manner.
 

bmcj

Well-Known Member
HBA Supporter
Joined
Apr 10, 2007
Messages
13,513
Location
Fresno, California
When Musk gets $500 million for Tesla from the government, that is not free enterprise.
It is crony capitalism. I have no idea how much the government financed his space endeavors, but I am sure it works in a similar manner.
Unfortunately, sometimes that does happen, but it does not characterize the workings of a true private capital endeavor. In the end, though, those that live by the government grant don't always have the ability to survive in a true privatized environment, so when the government teat dries up, they may be the first to fall, whereas the true private ventures are unaffected and continue to support and grow themselves.
 

Wanttaja

Well-Known Member
Joined
Sep 15, 2013
Messages
1,559
Location
Seattle, WA
I'm all for free enterprise, and I'm especially in favor of space exploration. Love to see it done by private companies.

However... when you look at history, just about every major bit of exploration has stemmed from national prestige/security, or in anticipation of economic reward.

Columbus didn't sail west to meet new people and map the ocean; his sole intent was to blaze a quicker way to the treasures of Asia. Henry Hudson didn't sail northwest to have fascinating interaction with Aleuts, he was trying to find away around that **** inconvenient land mass that was blocking the Northwest Passage. He found his death there, as did Sir John Franklin, 300 years later, trying to do the same thing.

The subsequent Spanish "Exploration" of the Americas was primarily intended to exploit, hoping to find gold, silver, or the fountain of youth. European "exploration" of the Indian Ocean region and Indonesia was basically for the same reason, with two "East India Companies" (Dutch and English) taking a major role in the economies of their respective countries. Jim Bridger and Kit Carson undoubtedly loved the untamed lands of the west, but the voracious market for beaver pelts didn't hurt.

It wasn't until the late 19th century...a period without major wars to drain away resources... that the "gentleman explorer" came to the fore. And, of course, THEY either paid their own way out of personal fortunes, or spent a lot of time drumming up financial support.

So...what's the financial incentive for a private mission to Mars? Or even to the Moon?

The other factor is the pure, raw, COST of space travel. When Columbus wanted to sail west to the Indies, he didn't have to invent floatation. He didn't have to start an entire industry to build just three ships. He didn't have to invent food storage technologies, methods of water in casks, or design computers for navigation. He went down the docks and bought ships. He didn't have to find a few dozen men with the "Right Stuff," he just had to wander through any waterfront and hire his "aquanauts."

All exploration until the 20th century used off-the-shelf technology. The explorer could concentrate on performing the mission, rather than supporting a huge "tail" of high-tech developers. It's ironic that some of Franklin's problems may have been DUE to high-tech (lead solder in the food cans). Columbus' ships were common trading vessels of the day, the East India Companies' ships were basically modified men o' war, Cook and Bligh sailed colliers (coal ships), and Franklin's ships were originally designed to carry howitzers. And the sailors were worthy of their craft. Hull staved in? Fother a sail around it, pump like mad, careen it on a remote beach, and Chips'll carve out some replacement planks. We'll whip out the blacksmith's forge and make some nails out of spare iron.

Not an option for the private space explorers of the early 21st century. Every hull, every motor has to be designed, custom-built, and extensively tested. Crews have to be freakishly well-trained. But if something happens...better hope you had all the possible contingencies planned out and the required redundant equipment in place, 'cause the crew aren't probably going to be able to fix the heat shield well enough to let you safely deorbit.

And...again...the financial incentive to do all this just isn't there, for private industry. It just costs too **** much for what you can make from it.

The basic problem? Rockets. Most of the problems, and most of the expense, are due to the use of traditional rocket engines. They use too much fuel, they burn way too short, and they're too prone to blow up. We need some sort of electric propulsion system that produces decent thrust, or drives that flash a reaction mass like water into plasma, or....

Nearly EVERYthing else associated with space travel can be handled with current, proven technology. We just have to get engines that can provide continuous power for decent durations. Even ~3 hours running time would make LEO ops trivial... take off, climb vertically at 400 MPH, enter a hover a half-hour later at 200 miles, then apply enough horizontal thrust to achieve orbital velocity. To land, do the same thing in reverse... you won't need a heat shield, descending from orbit at 400 MPH.

What do we need? Scientists. Engineers. Nut jobs. But most of all, encouragement and a bit of investment.

Another X-prize, in other words. Offer a ~$50 million prize for the first vehicle able to hover 5' off the ground for 30 minutes, burning no more than N pounds of fuel. No use of atmosphere allowed (as fuel, oxidizer, or reaction mass). Device is allowed to use ground power up to X kilowatts, fed by external cables, and the test rig will hold the vehicle on the test stand and limit its height. In other words, you don't need a control system... just raw thrust, running for 30 minutes.

In addition, make another $50M available as development grants for five worthy contestants. Got a neat idea that might work, but just a grad student? Convince the organizers it's feasible, and we'll give you $10M and a small staff to help organize your effort.

Forget this crap about having contests for advanced moon buggies. Let's see if there's folks out there with breakaway technology.

Ron Wanttaja

BTW, read John Varley's "Red Thunder." One McGuffin (magic thrust technology) and the rest built from tank cars and Russian surplus catalogs. A fun read.
 

cheapracer

Well-Known Member
Log Member
Joined
Sep 8, 2013
Messages
6,273
Location
Australian
When Musk gets $500 million for Tesla from the government, that is not free enterprise.
It is crony capitalism. I have no idea how much the government financed his space endeavors, but I am sure it works in a similar manner.
China is walking over the rest of the world currently because the Government heavily invests in enterprise. That's not a boast for China, it's actually a statement of disappointment in my own Country's relative attitude as it should be yours.

Crony'ism is something that's impossible to control anywhere in the World and so what? The money still gets out there creating employment and social structure benefits, not something to be stopped just because it gets headed up by a Mate of some Senator. That comes down to petty jealousies and that is no foundation to stifle a Country.
 

mwflyer

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jul 16, 2014
Messages
83
Location
St. Louis, MO USA
Good tell. Columbus did get some assistance from Isabella and Ferdinand, too. Remember that when the space explorers start making money, the government will be right there with its claw out to take its "fair share".

The good thing about governments investing is they have lots of money and can be fairly casual about what century they get paid back. Think massive infrastructure projects like highways and dams.

The problem with governments making investments is that they are fairly poor at making good ones. If an organization isn't driven to make money, it tends to be driven by politics. And what's called 'investing' is really 'paying off' supporters and hangers on.
 

Retroflyer_S

Banned
Joined
Nov 3, 2014
Messages
411
Location
Michigan
Good tell. Columbus did get some assistance from Isabella and Ferdinand, too. Remember that when the space explorers start making money, the government will be right there with its claw out to take its "fair share".

The good thing about governments investing is they have lots of money and can be fairly casual about what century they get paid back. Think massive infrastructure projects like highways and dams.

The problem with governments making investments is that they are fairly poor at making good ones. If an organization isn't driven to make money, it tends to be driven by politics. And what's called 'investing' is really 'paying off' supporters and hangers on.

That is not going to be easy since the gold is just 30 000 - 40 000 usd / kilogram ( $1200/oz ). Maybe Indium ad Lithium could be imported.
 

BBerson

Light Plane Philosopher
HBA Supporter
Joined
Dec 16, 2007
Messages
13,733
Location
Port Townsend WA
China is walking over the rest of the world currently because the Government heavily invests in enterprise. That's not a boast for China, it's actually a statement of disappointment in my own Country's relative attitude as it should be yours.

Crony'ism is something that's impossible to control anywhere in the World and so what? The money still gets out there creating employment and social structure benefits, not something to be stopped just because it gets headed up by a Mate of some Senator. That comes down to petty jealousies and that is no foundation to stifle a Country.
Musk "only" needs 1% of our economy to fulfill his dreams.
Just for fun he* could build an "electric supersonic airplane with 70% batteries". I think if Topspeed said that he would be banned from this site.

(* "his head might explode")
Listen at 40 minutes here: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=SOpmaLY9XdI
 

cluttonfred

Well-Known Member
HBA Supporter
Joined
Feb 13, 2010
Messages
7,658
Location
Fort Walton Beach, Florida, USA
I think Ron hit the nail on the head when he mentioned, "All exploration until the 20th century used off-the-shelf technology." Space travel will become viable when it is profitable with existing technology. If the Apollo missions had found gold or platinum or uranium or what have you on the moon we'd likely have had a permanent base and mining operations within a few years with 1970s technology. Right now, the cost/benifit ratio means that it doesn't yet make economic sense to go to space...but when it does, we will go.

Not to get too political, but I for one do believe that is one role of government to invest in basic research and as a U.S. taxpayer I have no problem with money going to Tesla or SpaceX or Virgin Galactic to help them push the boundaries of technology. I am much less enthusiastic about seeing my tax dollars go to bailing out Wall Street or GM (Ford didn't need a bailout but must still compete with Chevy, how is that fair?) or supporting fossil fuel subsidies instead of investing in the renewable energy technologies our children and grandchildren will need.
 

bmcj

Well-Known Member
HBA Supporter
Joined
Apr 10, 2007
Messages
13,513
Location
Fresno, California
I think Ron hit the nail on the head when he mentioned, "All exploration until the 20th century used off-the-shelf technology." Space travel will become viable when it is profitable with existing technology. .
Yes, but until you develop and build new space technology, there will not be any 'old' technology to put on the shelf for later use.
 

cheapracer

Well-Known Member
Log Member
Joined
Sep 8, 2013
Messages
6,273
Location
Australian
Would not a balloon be the most economical for space tourist venturing like the Red Bull thing What'his'face jumped from?
 

BJC

Well-Known Member
HBA Supporter
Joined
Oct 7, 2013
Messages
11,729
Location
97FL, Florida, USA
Would not a balloon be the most economical for space tourist venturing like the Red Bull thing What'his'face jumped from?
I would imagine that most tourists would want the weightlessness that would not be available in a balloon, plus most of them probably would not want to parachute back to Earth. Landing a balloon that is capable of reaching 120,000 feet is probably not something that could be done reliably.


BJC
 

cluttonfred

Well-Known Member
HBA Supporter
Joined
Feb 13, 2010
Messages
7,658
Location
Fort Walton Beach, Florida, USA
Maybe what's needed is a combination of methods. A true space elevator with a tether from the ground to beyond geostationary orbit (35,800 km) is beyond current technology, but a tethered station supported by helium balloons, say, 30-40 km up, ought to be quite doable with today's technology. With solar panels integrated into the fabric (no clouds up there) it would generate its own power and more and could run an elevator service to bring up small spacecraft suborbital or even orbital flight. A modular, scaleable design could even be used for quite large craft brought up in pieces. From the space tourism perspective, the station itself could also serve as a boutique hotel. Maybe the "Twenty Mile High Club?" ;-)
 

Jon Ferguson

Well-Known Member
Joined
Dec 15, 2011
Messages
827
Location
Harpers Ferry, WV
It was a great post Ron and I appreciate the time and effort that went into it. I especially enjoyed the bit that sounded like a Jack Aubrey book! We should remember that once upon a time everything we take for granted now was brand new and cutting edge. While the merchantment and man o war vessels of the past might have been commonplace at some some point in history they were probably a pretty radical idea. I have no problem with the government acting as a "paying customer" like any other agency. Musk does seem to have a talent for getting government financing. I've invested in his auto and battery industry exploits on the potential alone. It's not a huge portion of my portfolio mind you but still I think it could be big some day.

As for Virgin... Well those people manage to amass wealth through enterprise it seems to me they figure they can be profitable doing this.
 

Wanttaja

Well-Known Member
Joined
Sep 15, 2013
Messages
1,559
Location
Seattle, WA
Maybe what's needed is a combination of methods. A true space elevator with a tether from the ground to beyond geostationary orbit (35,800 km) is beyond current technology, but a tethered station supported by helium balloons, say, 30-40 km up, ought to be quite doable with today's technology.
I don't claim to be that knowledgeable on space elevator theory, but: I believe most of the weight of the elevator is supported by centripetal force and the fact that there's "balance weight" from the portion of the that elevator goes beyond geosynchronous altitude. Both these items combine to minimize the force on the ground (e.g., "weight") and minimize the stress on the structure. Wouldn't get that, from a 40 km-high tower. You'd have, basically, a 40-km high building, which is about 40 times as tall as the current leader.

As for the balloons...well, look at the size of the balloon needed for Felix's capsule, which weighed only ~1200 kg.

From the space tourism perspective, the station itself could also serve as a boutique hotel. Maybe the "Twenty Mile High Club?" ;-)
Certainly would be a draw, but: remember that the gravity at your Love Cap(sule) is going to be, basically Earth-normal. Lot of folks would be disappointed in that.

When you consider how much of the Internet's growth was driven by, errr, "naughty stuff," it's likely an *orbital* boutique hotel would be a real draw. Zero-G whoopie would be a powerful attraction. There are some logistical problems here (like, for instance, how you clean the rooms between clients....Ick) but your primary issue is going to be Space Adaptation Syndrome. Roughly half of your clients are going to be puking their guts out for a couple days after arrival (speaking of room-cleaning problems). Assuming they arrive in pairs (e.g., you're not running the first space brothel), there's probably going to be little woopie-ing going on for a while. Hence, their memories of the trip won't be entirely positive, and to achieve what they came for, they're going to have to plan to stay several days (e.g., you won't run customers through quickly).

Ironically, the Virgin (heh. heh heh. Heh heh heh heh) Galactic Spaceship Two flight mode might actually be better for this, with a short-term exposure to zero-g probably reducing the chances of getting sick. However, the short duration will complicate performing what is a probably a new maneuver for both parties. It's likely they won't make it all the way through the checklist, which will make it difficult for the pilots to get passengers to return to the full upright and locked position for the return to Earth ("re-entry" would be a confusing term, here).

Ron Wanttaja
 

bmcj

Well-Known Member
HBA Supporter
Joined
Apr 10, 2007
Messages
13,513
Location
Fresno, California
Would not a balloon be the most economical for space tourist venturing like the Red Bull thing What'his'face jumped from?
You underestimate the cost of such a balloon. I've heard the numbers but can't quote them off the top of my head. I do recall that they were quite staggering, and reusability is, if not impossible, the at least difficult and expensive. Remember, Helium can be expensive too, and is not unlimited. Already, I've heard that Helium prices are going up because of the demand and limited supply.
 

Apollo

Well-Known Member
Joined
Feb 7, 2010
Messages
301
Location
Southern California, USA
When you consider how much of the Internet's growth was driven by, errr, "naughty stuff," it's likely an *orbital* boutique hotel would be a real draw...
LOL - the adult entertainment industry has always been at the forefront of new technology developments. Whether it's VCRs, CDs, digital cameras, streaming video, etc. the adult industry adopts new technology quickly. When Google or Sony finally develop robot companions, there's gonna be some sexy fembots for sure. There's a lot a lonely men out there :depressed

The problem with low-cost access to earth-orbit is that there's no place to visit - YET. Bigelow Aerospace is developing inflatable space stations and "habitats" that will allow space hotels to exist in the not too distant future. That's when the fun begins, whether it's space based manufacturing, space vacations for the rich, or the 100 mile high club :)

http://www.bigelowaerospace.com/
 

JamesG

Well-Known Member
Joined
Feb 10, 2011
Messages
2,408
Location
Columbus, GA and Albuquerque, NM
Certainly would be a draw, but: remember that the gravity at your Love Cap(sule) is going to be, basically Earth-normal. Lot of folks would be disappointed in that.
But the view would be spectacular and pop-culture actually expects StarTrek-like experiances. I don't think free-fall would be missed that much.
 

bmcj

Well-Known Member
HBA Supporter
Joined
Apr 10, 2007
Messages
13,513
Location
Fresno, California
But the view would be spectacular and pop-culture actually expects StarTrek-like experiances. I don't think free-fall would be missed that much.
You're assuming the pop-culture actually remembers Star Trek. ;)
 
Top