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You probably already saw this, but ...

SpaceX announce Falcon Heavy. It's been expected for some time — it's been on their road map for a few years — but it's worth repeating: man-rated and with a payload of 53 tons to Low Earth Orbit, Falcon Heavy has the largest payload of any space launcher since Energiya and the Saturn V [*], and it's dirty-cheap by EELV standards at $80M-120M per launch. Moreover, it can't easily be dismissed as vapourware because it's an evolutionary development of a real, flying launch vehicle (Falcon 9) — a Falcon 9 core with two extra first stages strapped to the sides as boosters (and some fancy cross-stage plumbing to run the central core motors off fuel bled from the strap-ons, so that at BECO the central stage still carries a full fuel load). With the giant Iridium NEXT contract SpaceX have landed (the largest commercial launch contract in history), not to mention the ISS resupply contract, SpaceX looks likely to have the cash flow to build and fly this thing.

It occurs to me that, while Falcon Heavy doesn't have the payload to do a direct manned Moon mission via Lunar-orbit rendezvous (as in Apollo), it'd probably suffice for Earth orbit rendezvous missions: one launch for the Lunar Lander, one launch for the Earth Departure Stage, and one launch for the crew capsule (possibly an evolved Dragon capsule).

Cost? $120M each for two Falcon Heavy launches. $80M for a Falcon 9/Dragon launch. Cost of an uprated Dragon able to accommodate two astronauts for two weeks. Cost of a Lunar Surface Excursion Module. Cost of an Earth Departure Stage to boost the LEM/Dragon combo up to trans-Lunar injection.

If this were NASA, you'd need to get a bigger calculator to show all the digits on the budget. But given SpaceX's track record, I think by 2016 they'll be able to plan and run a moon mission on a budget of under US $1Bn — possibly under US $600M.

Note that these days the budget for a big Hollywood blockbuster — Avatar, for instance — can push over the $0.3Bn mark. It's hard to say what the media rights to the second! ever! manned Moon program! would be, but it's hard to see them going for much less than a major blockbuster movie. I think it unlikely that the expedition could be run entirely on the media rights, but they should certainly make a double-digit percentage contribution to the budget. Add the opportunity to tout for the science budget of some major agencies (by carrying lunar orbiter packages as payload, perhaps?) and it might be possible to raise $250-500M towards the costs of a $600-1000M expedition.

Is Elon Musk planning on being the 13th man on the moon?


[*] The Space Shuttle, with payload, outweighs the payload capacity of Falcon Heavy — but the Shuttle payload itself is much smaller. Besides, the Shuttle is an inelegant turkey designed by a committee and it's going to die. So there.

378 Comments

1:

Yes, but what would we do once we got there?

Vanity trips to the moon were so 20th century...

2:

>>and it might be possible to raise $250-500M towards the costs of a $600-1000M expedition.

Sure, for the first launch, since its the manned 'return' to the moon, but a couple of things have to be cleared up before we get too excited.

First and formost, Other then the media value, and bragging rights, what would be the profit motive for a manned lunar mission?

Second, would there even be a second SpaceX manned luner mission? I can see Elon Musk pushing a manned launch even if it's not profitable just for the bragging rights, but if that's the only reason then there wont be any follow on missions and we're right back where we started. The media value of follow on missions would be much lower so wouldn't be able to offset the cost as much.

All in all I'm optimistic that we are (back?) at the technology level where a lunar mission can be contemplated by OGH. Lets see what SpaceX does after the Falcon Heavy is put to regular use.

3:

Very very cool.

4:

Cool, I haven't been paying attention but it seems like SpaceX actually might have a business model.

It would be interesting to dream up a case for manned missions (repair/upgrade of satellites?) and how SpaceX drives that cost down a lot.

From there we still need a commercial reason for lunar expeditions. Perhaps rare metals for extreme battery technology...

5:

Oh well,

On the one hand, I'm as excited as anybody.

But before I stop calling it vapour-ware, I want to see it in condensed form, carrying at least the equivalent of 40 tons (but preferably 50) to orbit. The numbers they put on their website are optimistic, but just about credible, so I'd say there is a pretty high likelihood of seeing that.

Why the scepticism? So far, SpaceX has never delivered any payloads anywhere near the advertised maximum payload of the respective rocket. The cheese notwithstanding, the last time around, the Dragon was empty! And Falcon 1 only delivered 165kg to orbit - much less than the maximum 500kg advertised.

Sure, lack of payloads to carry and safety margins to ensure the success of a vital test flight are reasons that are hard to argue with. But I'm from a country that saw many a businessman who kept making promises but never kept them. So, excuse me for publicly scratching that itch.

I want to see it fly. Absolutely. (My guess for a first mission? A DragonLab flight to the moon.) But I also want to have my wishes based on facts rather than hopes and believes.

6:

Sod the manned mission, he should be able to put a new rover up on the moon with much less trouble. Not that I wouldn't rather see people bouncing around up there, but the system is going to need testing, and it's been ages since the last lunar rover (I think).
That or a station/satellite* at one of the Lagrange points.

*is it still a satellite if it's at a Lagrange point?

7:

Oh and btw,

has anybody else noticed that the price of the Falcon 9 in 2013 rose by 10% from the $50-$55 million range in 2011 to $55-$60 million? Inflation can't quite explain that.

8:

Yes, but what would we do once we got there?

Get NASA back into the pure science mode.

NASA shouldn't have gotten diverted onto boondoggle projects like Shuttle and ISS. It's at its best when doing unmanned robotic exploration and space science.

However, there is a case, as demonstrated by ESA, for a space sciences organization who primarily do robotic exporation to also piggy-back astronauts along on a man-rated launcher to do, well, science.

Remember, Apollo sent just one geologist to the moon for about two days, and retrieved around 1 ton of rock samples from just six sites. Any one of the (now cancelled) Constellation program's version 1.0 short duration missions would have delivered 70% of the astronaut EVA surface time of the entire Apollo program. And that's without delivering a decent rover like NASA's LER prototype with suitports, which should allow a couple of astronauts to spend two weeks on the surface and cover a couple of hundred miles.

I reckon a NASA lunar expedition built around Falcon Heavy as an EELV and SpaceX as the developer for an evolved Dragon as CSM and [someone else] for an LEM might be able to deliver something on the lines of a Constellation program's short excursion missions for about $1-2Bn a flight, largely by ditching the gigantic white elephant of the Orion I and Orion V launch vehicles. (Which were going to drive the Constellation flights to over $5Bn a pop.) At which point NASA could afford to find room in their budget for one or two manned lunar science missions per year until they've done the Moon properly.

Meanwhile, Musk will be working on Falcon X Heavy ...

9:

Yeah, lets see how the Heavy pans out before jumping the gun.

If SpaceX can use the Falcon Heavy to turn a profit on ISS resupply missions and the Iridium NEXT launches then we can say that OGH's Lunar Mission is feasible.

But the question still remains. Wheres the profit motive for going back?

10:

Screw the moon. Musk's going to Mars.

11:

Mars is very difficult to land anything weighing more than about 1000Kg on the surface of, apparently. The moon is low-hanging fruit that provides a good sandbox for testing the tech you need to do a Mars mission.

12:

> until they've done the Moon properly.

I'm really curious about what we could possibly hope to find there by doing it properly.

13:

See here for a detailled press conference about the Falcon 9 Heavy, where Musk also talks about how to get to Moon. He concurs with Charlie in estimating the need for two flights to get a return-mission to the moon.

14:

How about this instead, A Falcon rocket sends to Mars a glider which flys over the Valles Marineris with a camera which sends back to Earth spectacular footage of the Canyon walls, the dunes, etc. Maybe world-wide TV rights would be enough to pay for the mission. While the mission is being put together, a camera crew is filming a documentary about the making of the Mars mission. The documentary is released to movie houses when the spacecraft is Mars bound and serves the role of being an
advertisement for the upcoming TV spectacular. Timing would be important, one would not want the spacecraft to arrive at Mars while something like the Olympics or a royal wedding is underway.

15:

How come is so cheap compared to other rockets. Like NASA, Ariane etc?

Is it just bureaucracy or better more efficient engines?


16:

It's cheaper using less efficient engines.

As with the old Russian R-7 Soyuz launcher, Falcon burns kerosene and liquid oxygen. It's cheaper and much easier to handle than liquid hydrogen, the fuel is denser (so the tankage is smaller) and it's well understood -- it's sixty year old tech. Again, they're not pushing the size of the engines either: they're just strapping a bunch of small, cheap motors together.

Turns out that fuel is about the cheapest component of a space launch: the fuel for a Falcon 9 costs as much as a single long-haul tankful for a Boeing 747. The real issue is that with each flight of an ELV you're building a Boeing 747, flying it once without prior shakedown testing, and throwing it away afterwards. That's why spaceflight is expensive. (Trouble is, recycling the bits between flights is much harder than with an airliner.)

Construction and systems integration is as streamlined as possible.

Finally, they didn't start with a legacy of corporate management dating back to the 1960s or earlier (like Boeing or Lockheed) or with a multinational bureaucracy (ArianeSpace).

17:

Is this a new constraint? There are people actively planning Mars Semi-Direct mission profiles for Falcon Heavy.

18:

Just yesterday I was awarded an MS in "space studies." My thesis was on what you could do with the commercially available vehicles to enable a return to the Moon.

Falcon Heavy wasn't available for my examination. The two winners were the Atlas V 551 and the Delta IV Heavy.

Here's what you *can* do. (I had to run the flippin' numbers...sooooo many conic patchs I could just puke.)

You take an Atlas V 551. Its payload is *another* Centaur upper stage. You have to offload some propellant from this payload stage (so to speak) if you go for a 23 degree 200 nm orbit -- at least according to the payload user's handbook for Atlas. If you talk to any of the ULA guys, however, they tell you that, yeah, there IS enough extra ooomph to get a fully fueled Centaur into LEO at 23 degrees.

This payload stage will need, in addition, a LIDS docking mechanism; extra batteries (available already from ULA if you want them); extra hydrazine for the RCS (ditto), and a sunshade for the stage to limit LH2 boiloff. This sunshade is already developed and waiting for a space test.

This all comes to about 100 kg extra.

You do the same thing if you're using a Delta IV; put its LH2/LOX upper stage into orbit. Same comments as above to outfit it.

But the Atlas V costs $100 million a flight vs. the Delta IV Heavy's $250 million a flight. Atlas V wins.

The extra Centaur is gonna cost extra -- about $10 million.

So, we've got our Centaur in LEO. Next, a Dragon with six people on board is launched via Falcon 9. Cost: $135 million (according to SpaceX). It docks with the Centaur. At the appropriate time, a TLI burn is made and wheee! we're off to the Moon.

You use the Centaur, of course, to do a lunar orbit insertion burn to a 100 km low lunar orbit.

Um....I don't have a lander. Crap. So, we use the Centaur to do a trans Earth injection burn and then drop the stage. The Dragon *at this moment* has an overdesigned heat shield, designed to support return from the Moon entry speeds.

So, for about $250 million, it is possible *right now* if you wanted to, to do an Apollo 8 mission.

Now all we need is a stinking lander in low lunar orbit...

I didn't look at that, 'cuz the thesis professor hadn't approved that as part of the thesis.

19:

Are they using something with negative density in the Falcon Heavy? Because the math doesn't add up.

The Falcon 9 (9xMerlin 1C 1st stage, 1xMerlin Vac 2nd) can loft 10,450kg to LEO. The Falcon 9 Heavy is two Falcon 9 1st stages bolted to a full Falcon 9, with slightly improved engines.

Riddle me this -- how is it that 3 Falcon 9s (that is -- three 1st stages, three 2nd stages) can only lift 31,350s to LEO, but the same stack bolted together, and without two of the 2nd stages, can lift *another* 21,600kg on top of that?

So, if you bolt three of these together, dump two of the 2nd stages, then you, in effect, get *two more Falcon 9 boosters for free?*

They do say they'll be using a slightly more powerful version of the Merlin -- but we're talking 5.6MN per booster, rather than 5.0MN -- that's 1.8MN more for the Falcon Heavy over three Falcon 9s, and I don't see that 1.8MN lofting the mass that it would take 10MN (in the form of two more Falcon 9s).

The Delta IV Heavy and the Altas V HLV are similar configurations to the Falcon Heavy - take two more first stages, bolt them on as boosters. But the difference to LEO?

Altas V 502 to Atlas V HLV: 10,300kg -> 29,400kg (2.85x)
Delta IV Medium to Delta IV Heavy: 8,120kg -> 23,040kg (2.83x)
(note, D-IV-H has a larger fairing than Delta IV Medium)
Falcon 9 to Falcon Heavy : 10,450kg -> 53,000kg (5.07x)

Hmm. I sense *magic*, and *magic* doesn't work in rocketry. One of those two numbers that Space X is telling us is wrong. The Atlas V CCB (1st stage on all of the Atlas Vs) has slightly less thrust (4.1MN, opposed to 5) and nearly the same specific impulse as the Falcon 9, but burns much longer (253s vs. 170s)
The 2nd stage on the Atlas V doesn't have the same thrust, but it burns much longer and has a high specific impulse to boot. In the case of LEO, the double engine centaur burns at 147kN for 421 seconds with a specific impulse of 449(!) and the Falcon 9 burns 445kN, Isp 342, and burns for 325 seconds.

And yet, the Atlas V 502 lofts the same payload -- but when you bolt three of them together, the Atlas gets a payload increase of less than 3 times (expected -- more drag, only one 2nd stage booster) and the Falcon gets over 5x?

We know what the Atlas can do -- we have 24 launches, we know the payload masses. We know the payload fraction increase of the Delta IV Heavy, because it has actually flown, and it's pretty much bang-on-the-same as the Atlas V Heavy.

Delta has shown than 1x(3-drag/2 less second stages)=2.85ish. Atlas claims the sam. Falcon is telling me that 1x3.1=5. Never mind the drag or second stages.

I'm sorry. I don't believe them. Esp. when the second stage is RP-1. The first stage's job is primarily altitude, and aero loads mean that RP-1/LOX is the right answer, because of the vastly higher density of RP-1 over LH2 (thus, smaller booster, less drag.) The second stage's job is getting to orbital velocity, and there, the much higher specific impulse of LH2/LOX is a huge, huge win. Look at Tsiolkovsky's Rocket Equation -- Exhaust Velocity is Specific Impulse * Gravity -- so Isp is a multiplier in the formula.

Give me actual payload masses and fuel fractions in the first two Falcon 9s, or better yet, build a Falcon Heavy, prove to me that you've stacked 53,000kg in payload -- not 2nd stage booster, payload (or the STS puts 150,000kg into orbit!) and then maybe I'll believe. But right now, Mr. Math says "Nope."

20:

What's this? Looks like somebody who's famously anti-spaceflight has got hisself a little woody for a spaceship. :P

Me, too. I have to admit, I read the news about that rocket a couple times over. It will be really cool if it works. Supports multiple engine failures! I tried to get a tour through Space-X when I lived in Los Angeles. They won't let you near the place due to terrorism concerns.

21:

I would like to believe that space exploration would advance in my lifetime (I am rapidly approaching 41) but I have very serious doubts. Apart from the economics of such projects, I dont think many people actually care. They're far too concerned with where their next tax break is going to come from, they would be appalled at the idea of millions of tax payer dollars being spent on putting people into space.

Seriously, people are already whinging about the tax rises the Uk government has announced. What chance does a space program actually have? Considering the huge amount of money required I would say its hovering around zero. And that is deeply sad.

We should be looking up and marvelling, we should be stunned and awed. Instead we keep looking at the ground and grumbling.

I just hope to frakking god that I am proven wrong.

22:

the Shuttle is an inelegant turkey designed by a committee and it's going to die.

Agreed. Doesn't stop it being beautiful, though.

:-)

23:

Payloads? Apart from a Lunar mission what current or future payloads actually need the 50-tonne lift capability of the Heavy? Everyone in the commercial world has geared down to spacecraft that can be launched within a ten-tonne mass budget and are configured to building and deploying hardware within that mass/volume box. There's the Delta 4 Heavy for anything bigger up to 25 tonnes or so although the only users of that capability have been the US military up till now.

There are a few science-project possibilities that could use the unitary-lift capability such as a super-Hubble with, say, an 8-metre mirror but it would take at least ten years and probably more to fund and build it before it would ever fly. Ditto for pretty much anything else, even a single-lift of the extra-atmospheric hardware for a mission to the Moon which could again be lifted on multiple smaller off-the-shelf vehicles and assembled in orbit.

SpaceX may fly a Heavy as a test vehicle but the customers won't lining up around the block to book flights on it, I suspect. More cheese, Gromit?

24:

I'm not anti-spaceflight: I'm just extremely skeptical about space-colonization, which is a totally different kettle of fish.

25:

Be careful using a consumer inflation index to estimate aerospace costs. You find that the increase is roughly what is predicted by the NASA New Start Inflation Index. (A bit lower than the increase from the FY09 table, but higher than that of the FY10.)

As to whether prices increases in the aerospace industry are being driven by legitimate factors, that's another kettle of fish.

26:

Wow. Same expression.

That is what I get for not checking what has been posted while running down numbers.

27:

Thinking of media rights, how heavy is an IMAX camera? Do they make a digital version?

28:

@Robert Sneddon: You're assuming this is primarily a rational business project. I really do think that Elon Musk wants to be D.D. Harriman and John Boone all rolled into one. I'd be shocked if there aren't plans for a mutli-Dragon-capsule modular attachment hub sitting on a SpaceX hard-drive and for a modular Earth-to-Mars ship consisting of a bunch of Dragons and hubs stacked on a driver like some mutant LEGO toy.

29:

They've flown IMAX cameras on space shuttle missions, as far back as the 1980s. I suspect a RED One or successor is more likely (big sensor format digital video camera).

30:

A few bits from the press conference, in response to various questions:

First off, Musk was talking about a two-launch Apollo replay using FH, not three. (They're planning on man-rating FH, so you'd need one (crewed) launch for the CSM-equivalent, and one for the LEM.)

He also mentioned that the company has "philanthropic goals" that wouldn't be consistent with a sale to a defense contractor. (He was talking about an IPO, but given the remarks on a sale, I'm guessing he'd only be willing to do that on terms that still left him in full control of the company, on the model of the Google founders, or earlier on, the Ford family.)

Lastly, in other interviews (not in the FH press conference, I think!), he has talked about wanting to retire on Mars. But he doesn't seem to be in a huge rush --- and even if he was, the moon is the obvious place to try out some of the relevant tech...

31:

"...wanting to retire on Mars..." — The kind of thing the CEO of a space transport company is almost _required_ to say.

32:

Both moon and Mars are inhospitable vacuum. The chief selling point for Mars has been CHON. But LRO and Chandrayaan-1 have found CHON at the lunar poles.

Not only is water useful for life support and radiation shielding but it can be split into hydrogen and oxygen -- the best chemical propellant. Having propellant on the moon would bust an 20 km/sec round trip to a 16 km/sec trip out and a 4 km/sec trip back. Breaking the exponent in the rocket equation makes smaller, simpler vehicles possible.

If lunar propellant could be exported to EML1 and LEO, that would bust the exponent in the rocket equation to smaller chunks. Given depots at LEO and EML1, an 53 tonne to LEO HLV would become a much more powerful tool.

33:

Yes, but all this drastically increases the complexity.

34:

I suspect that Musk actually does want to be DD Harriman hence the heavy lift options. Falcon X/XX have published capacities into the 150 tonne range, assuming he gets to keep doing this, and they don't start to hit some horrible engineering problems.

I do suspect that the immediate use case that Musk wants is a lunar flyby option - there's certainly 2-3 billionaires willing to spring for that one. After that, as Charlie points out, you've a 3 launch Apollo option that's doable - lander development shouldn't much of an issue for them given the prior art on the subject and the experience we have now collectively in restartable rocket engines.

Once you get to 150 tonnes, assuming that the X/XX come along and you're into the Mars fly-by and lander territory. BUT... building a 20+ tonne lander for Mars is an entirely different Kettle of engineering fish than building the same for the moon.

If that does happen, and happens in the next decade, then I, for one, will have a hat to eat!

35:

Sod the moon and mars. Yes I'd like to see them explored by people, not six-wheeled RC go-carts (though any port in a storm is the rule here) but there is a better reason for space presence and one that could capture the public attention (and therefore funding) - energy production.

For as long as I've been not-a-kid people have been wringing their hands over how much energy we don't have and for how short a time we will have what little we do.

Eight and a bit light minutes away is the only working fusion reactor within exploitable reach. While we still have the ability to lift stuff out of the atmosphere we should be planning on how we can use all that lovely, free and mostly going-to-waste energy to make life on Earth the internetty-rich, computationally-riddled, 'lecct-car, jam-today thing everyone seems to think it should be for everyone to be capital-aitch Happy in life.

Oh, and deal with all those things that are mainly limited by the expense of powering them up, like desalination plants and the like.

That's what the promise of space is. We have materials down the well, but the energy is all at the other end of the Tsiolkovsky Equations. Let's go get it.

Sorry I missed the chance to see you in New York Charlie. I've been begging the twonks at I-Con to invite you back, but it seems that SF Authors don't rank highly in that Con's communothinkiverse any more. Maybe if you were to spend more time in public dressed as some unlikely and unfeasible Japanese cartoon character?

36:

Propellant depots could drastically decrease the complexity.

As delta V budget climbs, you rapidly reach an undoable mass fraction. At this point you start discarding mass in the form of expendable stages.

More stages mean more mass, complexity and failure modes.

37:

You don't need orbital solar panels to do solar energy better.

All you need is working solar sail tech. Stick big reflectors up in a Molniya orbit and use them to reflect light down to the ground where you build your solar farms. Done right, you can have solar power farms on the ground that produce power 24x7 and at much higher power output per square metre than you could normally get on the Earth's surface.

There are big issues with positioning and ground tracking, but I'm betting a mirror-film is going to weigh a lot less and be a lot cheaper to stick in orbit than an actual gigawatt-range photovoltaic farm.

(NB: I-Con did invite me back this year, but at short notice and I was unable to say "yes" due to a scheduling clash. Some other year, maybe.)

38:

"Get NASA back into the pure science mode."

In a universe where NASA was at sometime in the past in a pure science mode - this sentence would make sense. In this universe, it makes no sense whatsoever because NASA has never been in a pure science mode.

"However, there is a case, as demonstrated by ESA, for a space sciences organization who primarily do robotic exporation to also piggy-back astronauts along on a man-rated launcher to do, well, science."

But the ESA astronauts can only do that because someone else has done what you call the "boondoggle" part - developing the destinations for the ESA astronauts to visit.

39:

Speaking of men in space, next Tuesday, April 12th, is Yuri's Night.

40:

Sure, but that's child's play compared to setting up a propellant factory on the moon. At least we understand making rocket states work properly, most of the time.

Still, there is probably a level of spacefaring where a propellant depot begins to make sense.

41:

As an aside, if a govt eg the USA, China etc really wanted to push cheap access to space they might indulge in a serious X-Prize eg $10billion for the first fully reusable SSTO with a LEO capacity >10 tonnes and a turnaround of less than 1 week.

42:

Tim -

I wrote something like that architecture concept up starting in the late 1990s - see "Lunar Millennium".

I went as far as trying 1-person capsule and lander, for fun, launched on the same vehicle. Launching off the top of a Falcon Heavy gives you a lot more to work with...

Also talk to Jon Goff who's made friends with a lot of the Centaur people...

Out of curiosity - Where did you get your Space Studies MS? ISU? GWU?

43:

BTW, just read the moderation policy and noticed this:
"You'll have noticed that the only adverts I carry are discreet links to online stores which sell my books."

Er... no. I didn't notice until I checked. That's either because I am habitually blind to Net advertising or that Asperger's thing, or maybe both. So, it's either bad for you because I don't see the ads, or good for you because I'm being screwed by your subliminals :-)

44:

Hi Charlie,

Doing a reflector in orbit's going to get fugly, to the point where someone should run the calcs for a masters.

Issues:
1. The solar energy is going to push the sail, so keeping it in place either means surrounding it with a mag sail (and what do the mag-deflected particles do to the mirror), or rigging some really complex mess of sails so that most are doing station-keeping, and some are focused on Earth.

2. The atmosphere's going to absorb most of the reflected light, regardless.

3. When the reflection misses the array, it's going to roast whatever is around it. Speaking as someone who knows what's around most American solar arrays (e.g. saharan mustard and red brome, both highly flammable when dry) that's going to be dangerous, possibly lighting fires. More likely, it will simply overheat the transmission facility. Or the homes of whoever's nearby.

4. Even deserts get clouds. Cloud-beam interactions will be fun to model.

Personally, I'd suggest putting solar ovens in orbit (solar sail reconfigured as a focusing mirror), have them power Stirling engines and beam the power somewhere. It might make more sense to beam the power produced to other satellites rather than Earth, or to use them to power military missions.

45:

It was in science mode, when it was still NACA.

46:

Actually, I was thinking of mirrors making it possible to use solar photovoltaic power in latitudes where it just won't work at present -- like here, in Scotland. We're at 60-plus degrees north, and in the depths of winter we get only 6 hours of sunlight a day -- also, it tends to be attenuated by the sun never getting much above the horizon. Russia and Scandinavia also have a buttload of territory in the same situation.

Nuclear is still probably better. (I found this article quite depressing, if true ...)

47:

Given perfect optics, the diameter of the image projected by the mirror will be

((distance from mirror to image)/(distance to sun)) * diameter sun.

A Molniya's orbit apogee has an altitude of about 40,000 km.

The projected image of the sun would have a diameter of about 370 km. If you wanted the beams to have the same power density as ordinary sunlight, the mirror would need to have diameter 370 km.

48:

There are lots of possible missions for the F9H, but the low cost is clearly the driver for some actual missions, unlike Nasa's ridiculously expensive (and now canceled) return to the moon mission. Bear in mind that China and possibly India might also be in the running. Delivering a moon rover and beating the Google Lunar X prize contestants would be a huge PR coup should Musk want to do some sort of cheap moon mission (or he might be the carrier for a contestant).

While robotic explorers are far cheaper than human crewed missions, there is a need for local brains for even machine exploration. You may not want to land people on Mars to explore, just leave them in orbit to control the machines that have landed with minimal light speed delay.

As noted by another commentator, propellant depots hugely reduce the cost of spaceflight. Using electric engines and water as reaction mass makes this much easier to achieve compared to cryo-propellants.

Whether SpaceX proves to be the leader or not, these private, cost controlled space companies provide a better model for space exploration than public funded missions.

49:

Nitpicks,

SpaceX hasn't yet proven their cost estimates are accurate for sustained, recurring flight operations. They are only now beginning to transition out of development mode on Falcon 9 (and aren't fully done there either, they have a Block I, Block II transition to make). Obviously they are years from that on Falcon Heavy. Regardless, will their costs be less than say, ULA commercial pricing? Almost certainly. What will their mission success rate be in production mode? We'll see.

Charlie's moon mission exercise seems to presume that somebody already paid the development money for the manned Dragon/Falcon 9 development, which is probably reasonable considering the drive for commercial crew to the ISS. However, considering a cargo Dragon flight in current CRS contract dollars is ~$120M, I'd suggest that the mission is more likely to be a pair of $200M Falcon Heavy launches and a $200M manned Dragon launch.

Then there is the issue of developing the lunar lander, along with the earth departure stage. Those aren't going to be cheap. Could you rehash Apollo by 2020 for ~$5 billion? Perhaps, but $500 million-$1 billion is just too optimistic.

50:

"putting solar ovens in orbit (solar sail reconfigured as a focusing mirror), have them power Stirling engines and beam the power somewhere. "

I agree. Although I might replace the Stirling heat engine with a PV cells that work with concentrated sunlight.

I think Charlie just doesn't like microwave beaming.

51:

Yes, it would likely be difficult mining lunar propellant. How difficult?

Some factors to consider:

The elevated CPR found by Chandrayaan-1's mini Sar radar seems to indicate sheets of ice at least two meters thick.

Lunar light lag is only 2.7 seconds. It might be possible to establish initial infrastructure without canned meat. There is certainly demand for more able telerobotics that can accomplish work in dangerous and hard to reach places. Underground mines, deep sea drilling, nuclear power plants damaged by tsunamis, etc. Advances in telepresence and telerobotics are inevitable, in my opinion.

If telerobots establish some infrastructure and successfully mine water, then extended visits of canned monkeys become more plausible.

52:

In #18, Tim Kyger writes: Just yesterday I was awarded an MS in "space studies."

Huzzah!

53:

If you have controllable solar mirrors in orbit on a scale sufficient to supply a significant fraction of human energy needs, don't you also have the capacity to fry cities like a seven year old with a magnifying glass frying ants?

Might make a few peeps nervous, that might.

54:

"Riddle me this -- how is it that 3 Falcon 9s (that is -- three 1st stages, three 2nd stages) can only lift 31,350s to LEO, but the same stack bolted together, and without two of the 2nd stages, can lift *another* 21,600kg on top of that?"

AIUI, the two boosters feed propellants to the inner stage so that at booster separation the inner stage is still full¹. Consequently, the outer stages go less high and less fast so the energy which would have taken them higher and faster goes to the payload instead.

¹ or, at least, not empty.

-----

Surprised nobody's mentioned Mars sample return:

http://news.discovery.com/space/spacex-falcon-heavy-rocket-mars-sample-return-110405.html

55:

Erik @19:

I am not an expert, but there are three things you may have overlooked in the press release materials about the F9 heavy that might enable it to have a higher payload multiplier over the plain F9 than the Delta or Atlas heavys do over their vanilla versions:

1. they've upgraded the engine design for the F9H over those used in the vanilla F9

2. The booster stages have a mass ratio of 30, (IIRC, this is insanely high, they claim it's the highest in history), compared to a mass ratio of 10 for the Delta IV side boosters.

3. They've designed in cross-tank pumps, so that when the booster stages separate, the remaining central first stage will still have nearly full tanks. So the central stage can boost for much longer after the boosters separate than a Delta or Atlas central stage could. Effectively, they've turned the central first stage into a second stage, and made the boosters the first stage. Adding a stage like this is probably the biggest factor in increasing the payload capacity.

56:

Many reasons.

For one thing, they don't exist in a vacuum. The Merlin engine is a derivative of a 1990ies NASA engine for a rocket designed to put small payloads into orbit that never saw the light of day - which is something that happens to most things developed within the confines of a centrally planned economy. (*) This has been improved upon, as technology advanced in the meantime.

Next, there are economies of scale. SpaceX has launched 20 Merlin 1C engines in the last two launches alone. It only used this one kind of engine (the second stage has a bigger nozzle, but essentially the same engine). Compare that to any other rocket you can find.

The Ariane 5 is using two solid rocket boosters, a Vulcain II engine and yet another engine for the upper stage (there are different types). Both burning hydrogen and oxygen. Unless they launch an ATV, in which case the upper stage is burning hydrazine. (Just like a scaled down Space Shuttle.)

A Delta II Heavy (that launched the Mars Rovers for example) is using two different sets of solid boosters, nine all told, three of one type, six of the other. It is using a kerosene fuelled first stage engine and yet another engine in the upper stage.

In short, those rockets are assemblies of (often literally!) hand-crafted prototypes flying in loose formation. And the engines are easily the most labour intensive part. Each of several hundred small nozzles that spray the fuel into the burning chamber of the Vulcain II has to be screwed in, in an ultra-clean environment, by hand by a group of three mechanics. And they do that, because it is cheaper to let shaved monkeys do the job, than building a machine for it ...

You can save a lot of money if you start producing five engines of a certain type per week and requiring six weeks to build all you need for one rocket - instead of producing one engine of a certain type every six weeks and doing so with three different types of engines in parallel in order to launch one rocket.

The rest is probably down to a) using 21st century technology instead of anything ranging between half and a quarter century back in time and b) not relying on received wisdom if you think you know better. b) is also known as "taking chances" (which can't be separated from taking opportunities). E.g.: received wisdom mandated the use of retro-rockets during stage separation. SpaceX doesn't use them - but didn't squash all the bugs in that subsystem until after losing Falcon 1 Flight 3.

Received wisdom also said that you need baffles in your fuel tanks to suppress sloshing ... and SpaceX agreed - but only after losing Falcon 1 Flight 2 due to a combination of a slight collision during stage separation, after which the fuel started sloshing in the tanks and the rocket veered out of control. (Flight 3 was the first to use the Merlin 1C engine, which had a much higher residual thrust after burn-out than anticipated.)

That is one of the reasons why I want to see the Falcon Heavy fly. Both because it is great to see people take chances and (eventually) get away with it ... and because sometimes people take chances and don't get away with it ...

(*) That includes those so-called "free market economies" where a few companies grow large enough to be a substantial part of the economy itself. As companies are centrally directed entities, you end up with an economy that is mostly centrally planned. Even the Soviet Union didn't do its planning in *one* central spot, but several dozen. Again, perfectly comparable to the USA.

There are, for example, a lot of striking similarities between cars developed but never produced by GM and Eastern German car manufacturers. In both cases they were vastly superior to cars in production at the time and even had a significant edge over their best competitors.

57:

Erik:

Actually, they are using something extra with a positive density: Fuel.

The Falcon Heavy is not the Falcon 9 Heavy. It doesn't weigh 900 metric tons as originally conceived, it weighs 1400 metric tons. So, they obviously changed the concept to using non-standard Falcon 9 bodies.

What convinced me that it might be possible to use that rocket to carry 53 tons into orbit, was the fact that a Soyuz rocket weighs 300 tons and could carry a bit less than 9 tons into orbit from Florida. Linear extrapolation to a 1400 ton rocket yields a payload of 42 tons - with the caveats that the upper stage engine of the Soyuz is a staged combustion engine with a higher ISP than the Merlin and that initial acceleration is lower than that of the Soyuz, so there will be higher losses due to gravity.

However, the Soyuz is half a century old and far from optimal despite some updates. It doesn't use cutting edge engineering and materials to reduce weight, it's using conical booster rockets (instead of cylindrical ones) and of course it can't transfer any fuel from the boosters into the core stage. Also, you can't use linear extrapolation for any more than rough payload estimates. Usually, bigger rockets are more efficient than smaller ones.

So, half a century later, there might be enough of an advance in rocket science to increase the performance by the required 25% over the Soyuz without negative density materials.

59:

Well, solar reflectors in orbit beaming at northern Europe would make the clouds glow brighter.

Here's an idea: perhaps Big Pharma can launch a bunch of solar sails to combat Seasonal Affective Disorder through use of reflected sunlight. They'd have their bill paid for by a tax on all people within the zone of reflected light. It's gotta be cheaper than bringing another pill to market.

60:

You're probably right, Alex. PV would work too. Just thinking about it, I suspect that solarsats providing spot power to critical, transient needs actually isn't a bad idea. Japan would probably love to have a few, right about now.

61:

To put things in perspective, at a $1 billion price tag, the US government could fund such a mission by cutting 2 days from the Iraq/Afghanistan mission.

62:

So how much is the budget on a series of Survivor?

"Next season we're going where we've never gone before. An out of this world experience. Off this world. Announcing: SURVIVOR LUNA!"

63:

Please see my post 47 above.

A mirror with perfect optics at Molniya apogee would project an image of the sun about 370 km in diameter. About the size of state of Massachusetts. You would need a photovoltaic array of this size to take full advantage.

If you wanted the reflected beams to have the same power density as sunlight, you would need the mirror to be the size of Massachusetts.

If you're in a 300 km low earth orbit, a 2.8 km diameter mirror would give you the power density of the sun. For the very brief time it is directly overhead.

Solar power sats aren't a good idea. If we want energy without a carbon footprint, nuclear is far cheaper.

64:

"I found this article quite depressing, if true ..."

It's not true, it's silly. The "researcher" has forgotten about the law of conservation of energy. Either wind and wave energy is converted into electricity and thence to heat, or it's converted to sound energy and thence to heat. There can only be regional effects. The law of diminishing marginal returns and the existence of competing technologies guarantee that we'll never use more than a tiny fraction of wind and wave energy, so the regional effects will be very localised.

The original headline was the worst part. (NS has changed it in response to criticism from readers. Gone are the days when NS would do its own critical thinking.) Wind is, and always will be, renewable: powered by the _flow_ of solar energy, not from an old store of it.

65:

Obviously. Reread Comment 44 first.

To clarify, I was talking about putting a Stirling Engine/PV panel on a "solar oven" in orbit and beaming the energy (presumably via microwaves) to a small collector somewhere else. Something like this might be useful for powering up another satellite or kicking some energy to a small ground-based end user. Passive solar beaming to a ground-based generator won't work, and part of the problem is that it's difficult to keep a mirror that big on station. It's a solar sail after all.

Also, don't forget to add in the power losses due to atmospherics and clouds, and all the fun things that happen when that energy gets captured by the atmosphere, rather than generating electricity. For Massachusetts, this isn't inconsequential. You might even get bigger storms out of it (heat up the clouds, get them higher, more water freezes, and fun! happens).

Come to think of it(and sarcasm is intended in this proposal), about the only realistic way to capture energy from passive solar reflection is to use it to warm surface water in the ocean. This will help power a Stirling engine based on the temperature differential between deep ocean water and the artificially warmed surface. Of course, you have to mount this deep water system on a speed boat to track the hot spot, but that's a mere detail...

66:

I don't think space mirrors or solar panels in space are very good ideas (especially if they become economic) -- unless they are arranged to shade parts of the earth equal to their own cross-solar area.

Otherwise, they're effectively increasing the area of the earth than intercepts solar radiation, without increasing the area that re-radiates it. Global warming will ensue: intensified weather systems, thermal expansion of the oceans, and all the rest of the gang that we've invited in to trash the place.

67:

Any power source generates heat. Whether nuclear, fossil fuels, what have you. The human generated power is a minute amount compared to what the sun gives the earth. Power generation may contribute noticeably to warming if it generates green house gases which trap solar heat.

In terms of global warming, solar power sats are more benign than sources with a larger carbon footprint such as coal or oil.

However nuclear also has less of a carbon footprint and is far cheaper than the various solar power sat schemes.

68:

In addition to adding fuel, I've seen speculation elsewhere that Spacex might have reduced the weight of the outboard cores relative to a standard F9 first stage by leaving stuff off. If you don't have to gimbal the engines, for instance, you can save some dry weight with simpler engine mounts.

69:

I think Elon Musk is serious about wanting to retire on Mars. I don't think that he's planning to go there using the Falcon Heavy. I think that he's planning to go there in something much, much bigger, so that he'll retire in a huge Martian luxury dwelling instead of the spartan tubes that we usually see in proposed exploration projects.

Musk will be 40 yars old in July. That gives him 25 years to establish his credibility with the Falcon heavy and the many other vehicles that would work with it.

It also gives him many years to find out what interplanetary travel technique is best suited for the greatest engineering efficiency and lowest production cost. It might be a development of VASIMIR engines but it might also be something his engineers would develop from "older" technologies like pulsed plasma thrusters. Or it might be something else, since he's shown by now that he is willing to consider any useful approach.

He's also shown that he's willing to work with other companies. Like MDA Ltd. (MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates), for instance, which is not too far from where I live. I was stunned a few years back when I learned that SpaceX solved all the "complex problems" related to an approach and connection to the ISS by having MDA Ltd., (the makers of the shuttle Canadarms and the main remote manipulators on the ISS) develop routines to use the manipulators to snatch the Dragon capsule from afar and bring it gently to a mating port on the ISS. In just one stroke all the complexities of the Shuttle dockings, the Soyuz dockings had been completely eliminated.

That's why I'm sure that SpaceX will have a lunar lander in a rather short while, and a Martian lander no less than 20 years from now, in time for a 5 year period to develop a bigger version that can carry the robots necessary to build a luxury retirement home on Mars. Musk is willing to work with everyone, consider every technology to reach his goal.

Or maybe he'll find that getting that home down on Mars will be too costly and end up building a place on Phobos, with a nice view on Mars. We just don't know that much about possible Mars landing thrusters yet.

70:

On future plans: One of the odd things on SpaceX's current announced roadmap is that they're planning to give the Dragon capsule a powered landing capability, using the Draco thrusters and giving it landing gear. Which seems like an odd area to innovate in --- parachutes are pretty well-tested technology, and they're planning to retain them as a backup, so it's not as if they're saving weight by using something else.

Which does kinda make me wonder if there's a plan in someone's back pocket to land one of these in a place where parachutes won't work...

71:

Unfortunately, the main determinant of NASA's manned space policy is politics. It's essentially viewed as a jobs machine by Congress and the Senate. So, you get expensive programs proposed with insufficient funding. Contracts are let to the big aerospace manufacturers (i). Studies are done and designs are drawn up (ii). Bids are taken (which are unrealistically low). A design is selected. More contracts are placed (iii). The project falls behind schedule and over budget (iv). A revised schedule and budget are proposed (v). A redesign is ordered to simplify and speed up the project (vi). This adds to the cost and puts it further behind schedule and eventually the project is cancelled (vii). But, the project has done its job, politically, which is to provide employment and profits for politically connected groups.

The constellation heavy lift launcher has just come to part (vi) of this cycle, and congress has ordered NASA to come up with a cheap and quick replacement heavy lifter, using existing technology--in particular SRBs. The solid rocket boosters are manufactured by Thiokol in Salt Lake City in a plant that specializes in large multi-segment boosters. Once the shuttle flights end, there will be no further market for these as the Ares I has been cancelled--unless some powerful Senators from Utah get their way.

Now normally NASA is a good Marine, it salutes and does the mission, but I notice that they're dragging their heals on the revised heavy-lift booster. The requirement for it is at least 10 years down the road, and NASA has more immediate problems like a system that can launch astronauts to the international space station. But Congress finds the heavy lift vehicle a pressing matter.

NASA may not be what it was in the halcyon days of Apollo, but management there does want to get something in space done. Basically, they have decided to turn the launch business over to Eon Musk, or anybody who can compete with him (you can see this in the proposals they made to the president). But congress is not happy with the idea. SpaceX may get things done on time and very cheaply, but the way it does things doesn't involve large, well connected aerospace companies that make generous campaign donations, employment in sensitive districts, or solid rocket boosters.

This battle between NASA and congress is now playing out. SpaceX's success has already scuppered the Ares I. The announcement of the Falcon Heavy is a shot at the revised heavy lift launch vehicle. SpaceX is saying there are cheaper alternatives to the revised heavy lift booster, and given the emphasis on budget cutting a lot of congressmen may be inclined to turn against it . (Those of you who have seen the TV series "Yes, Minister" with understand all this perfectly.)

Sources: Talking to rocket engineers at Science Fiction conventions and reading between the lines of Aviation Week & Space Technology.

Predictions: SpaceX will fly the NASA astronauts up the the the ISS within a few years because the main NASA program will be behind schedule and over budget. A lot of money will be spent on a revised heavy-lift vehicle until the Falcon Heavy becomes ready, whereupon the revised heavy lift vehicle will be cancelled because it is behind schedule and over budget.

I'm wondering that if you cut all the make-work out of NASA's budget, it wouldn't be about the same size as the European Space Agency's.

72:

Parachutes can't get you down feather-light. Parachutists land "soft" because they collapse their legs and roll with it rather than come down hard; capsules have a harder time doing that. Parachutes are great to hold descent velocity at a moderate terminal velocity, but they start to get unmanageably big if you need touchdown impact loads which are directly comfortable.

It's easy to get down to a 10G or so impact, which is nothing by auto crash standards (especially if you take it eyeballs-in), but that starts to scare possible paying customers and their flight surgeons, and will start to break a lot of expensive flight electronic systems.

You can have two separate structures, one supporting the heatshield and one with the people and expensive stuff inside, and a crush structure or shock absorbers between them.

Or you can have a robust structure, and fragile things and people inside isolated with individual shock absorbers (Apollo had that, primarily to handle the emergency case of impacting solid land rather than water).

Or you can (always, without exception) touchdown at sea or in a lake. Gemini and Mercury did this. I think Gemini assumed the pilots would eject and parachute individually if it was coming down over land, but don't quote me on that.

Or you can add some rocket motors to slow you down a bit more right at the end (Soyuz does this).

If you already have the thrusters and fuel, then a few m/s of terminal braking is nothing much to supply. Your capsule needs at least a bit of rocket for reentry attitude control, even if you had a service module with RCS and OMS motors... Unless you reenter purely ballistically, without any flight control, in which case reentry loads probably exceed landing load under parachute anyways (20 Gs-ish) and your crew will probably be Very Unhappy with you, though they'll live.

73:

Actually, I was thinking of mirrors making it possible to use solar photovoltaic power in latitudes where it just won't work at present -- like here, in Scotland. We're at 60-plus degrees north, and in the depths of winter we get only 6 hours of sunlight a day -- also, it tends to be attenuated by the sun never getting much above the horizon. Russia and Scandinavia also have a buttload of territory in the same situation.

Well, yes. I live in Helsinki, which is situated just North of the 60-degree latitude, and is the Southern coast of Finland. Last winter there was a two-month stretch when I didn't see the Sun at all. I was at work on weekdays when the Sun was supposed to be up, so didn't go out that much, and when I was out it was overcast all the time.

I'm all for renewable energy sources, but it should be something that works. During the summer it's a different situation here, but the low angles for much of the day still are a problem.

Also, today the length of day is over 13 hours. It's again overcast so solar power would have some problems...

74:

What will they do when they get there??

Look for that bloody cow of course :)

75:

The Moon Race was the work of JF Kennedy to get money moving in a pure Keynesian way I think. The Republicans and Dick Nix hated that. The moon rocket was trashed so hard it was a hard fight to save one for show. The motors and the means to make them were scraped. Ok, the Space Shuttle was to be as big or bigger than a DC-3 and take off horizontally. Then the budget cuts started. If it would not kill lots of people the Republicans did not care. Now the Neo-Cons are winning their war to make a US government too poor to tell the rich what to do. And I don't think we will go back to space as long as I live. If only they had kept the motors. Remember Bull's Iraq cannon. He tried to sell it to NASA early on (in the 60's?) as a first stage helper. The parts were ready to be put together on a orbital path when Bull was murdered. They were going to be trashed and I talked to a family friend you was a real gov. rocket engineer. He liked he idea of looking into using it and was going to talk to his rocket engineering society. I wonder what happened. Not much so far as I can see. the Nixon recession seems to have been started when all the Apollo people were fired at the same,e time. The Apollo people lost their homes, and that can be charted as it moved out of the Cape. The moon race got the best people. The Space Shuttle got the one who were no good enough. They were not fired

76:

Our Apollo people could not have stayed much longer. The Moons grit was runing all the seals. That's the real problen in going back and doing anything on the moon

77:

Yes, that grit is quite a problem which is why I am skeptical of all those proposals to construct telescopes on the Moon since it would be difficult to keep the optics clean.

78:

How do we justify the cost you ask?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helium-3

79:

Lunar He3 mining as an economic rationale for lunar colonization is just moonshine. And not very good moonshine. Firstly, per your wikipedia article, it requires really large-scale mineral processing: "over 100 million tons of regolith to obtain one ton of helium 3" -- that's roughly twice as much regolith as the USA and Canada process iron ore per year. On the moon. By some estimates you're going to consume 20-30% of the energy locked up in any He3 you mine on the moon by the processs of (a) building the extraction plans (b) running them and (c) shipping it back to Earth.

Secondly, nobody's built even a De-T fusion reactor that produces electricity, much less breeds fuel (using spare neutron flux to split 6Li into 2 x T). An He3 fusion reactor would run an order of magnitude hotter than the does-not-yet-exist first generation fusion reactor (all repeat: fusion-power-TOO-CHEAP-TO-METER-is-thirty-years-away).

As a corollary, development costs: it costs somewhere on the order of $100Bn to design and commercialize a new power-producing technology, like a new generation of fission reactors or (hypothetically) a working fusion reactor. Getting to He3 requires developing two such steps, so we're talking about spending somewhere around a quarter of a trillion bucks to develop the tech to use it (over a 30-60 year period).

Finally, fusion reactors ain't waste-free: by definition, they emit neutrons so you get secondary activation of isotopes in the reactor body.

My betting is that thorium cycle reactors or some other innovative fission design is going to out-compete fusion in the cradle. Like the Stirling engine, fusion is the power of tomorrow -- and always will be.

Lunar He3 fuel for fusion reactors, meanwhile, remains a hail mary pass for the space cadets -- in economic terms it's moonshine.

80:

Apollo was pure Keynsianism?

Really?

Have you by any chance forgotten this little thing called the space race? Itself, a side-show to the gigantic dick-size fest that was the Cold War?

Kids these days ...

(As for Gerald Bull, (a) he didn't try to sell his gun design to NASA, and (b) he was assassinated by parties who were peeved at his choice of sponsor, i.e. one Saddam Hussein. You might want to read "Arms and The Man" by William Lowther.)

As for the Nixon recession being started by Nixon firing all the NASA engineers -- that's one to cut out and keep!

81:

Broca, an important point about Lunar grit is that there's a slight shortage of Lunar air to suspend the stuff in; mostly it stays on the ground unless it gets kicked up, and if it gets kicked up it falls down again rapidly.

That's one reason why proposals for placing telescopes on lunar farside typically have the mirrors placed on top of a tall mast -- to get them above any grit that gets kicked up by construction. Once they're up there they should be easier to keep clean than mirrors on Earth, which have to be regularly cleaned of airborn dust.

Again, there are other solutions to the grit problem: consider the suitlock design, for example, as a means of mitigating grit contamination.

82:

I still wonder how much Nike would pay for an image of a Moon/Mars-boot with their logo on it touching down on the surface.

83:

Could we please stop calling the struggle for world domination the "cold war"? If anything, it was cold-blooded, but it wasn't cold.

Some of the fighting took place in Asia - Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq ... not coincidentally today's trouble spots. How many million people died just there?

Africa saw wars between countries, financed by American or Soviet Allies - part of the strategic games the two superpowers played to reach their goal of total world domination.

Southern America dictatorships were established and elected governments removed by military intervention to keep the Soviets out - who cared about the people?

Hundreds of nukes were blown in the Pacific and Polar Sea and elsewhere.

There was nothing cold about the cold war. And it didn't just end. It was won. And with it, world domination.

84:

It was a cold war in distinction to it being a hot war.

It wasn't a hot war, because the two sides maintained otherwise apparently peaceful relations with each other. If their forces had started directly fighting each other, that would have been 'hot', but despite such activities as trying to overfly each other's territories with spy planes, direct conflict only happened by accident (e.g. Flight KAL 007, when a 747 was shot down over Russia after apparently ignoring interceptors).

I note that you decry the current widely accepted terminology, but do not suggest a different one.

85:

I'm pretty sure we refer to it as the Cold War because that is a convenient label that everyone understands (I don't think anyone with an ounce of common sense or the tiniest knowledge of the history of the period knows that the Cold War wasn't decidedly hot at times), and because it's much easier than saying something like: The period during the 20th Century, roughly defined as between the end of World War II (itself a mis-label, if you really want to be picky) and the fall of communist states in Eastern Europe, principally the USSR; during which time the USA and USSR contended with each other for global influence and power in mutiple arenas, including but not exclusively, economic, military, scientific, social, political, polictical-by-proxy in a number of developing and developed nations, and several proxy-wars where opposing forces were sponsored, encouraged or supplied by the USSR and the USA. It may be a bit more accurate, but it's kind of a mouthful. No?

86:

And what @84 said.

87:

Just remembering that one of the underlying SpaceX goals is/was to move from making an ELV to a RLV.

The original intent was to start with the first stage and then work up the stack to try and find approaches that would allow effective recovery and reuse.

Not sure if that is still part of 'The Plan', but would be interesting to see what the effect would be on the economics of launch.

88:

Just call it the war of the Superpowers and be done with it.

The "cold" war makes it sound as if there had never been a war in the first place. But that's just not true.

89:

Reply to Charlie Dodgson@70

There's a quote on the Space-X "Updates" site:

Once we have proven our ability to control reentry accurately, we intend to add deployable landing gear and leverage the thrusters in order to land on land in the future

There was a mass-produced system that the Soviets used for delivering armoured vehicles by parachute (PRSM-915). Above the package is a rocket pack; a trigger dangles below the pallet. When the trigger touches the ground, the rockets fire, and brake for the last few meters. Fairly spectacular to watch, but I don't know what the failure rate was...

There are other types of parachute, too; remember that hang-gliders and paragliders were investigated by NASA in the 60s (look up MOOSE and FIRST if you want "freefall from orbit" jollies).

If they wanted to do GPS-accurate delivery on the cheap, they could just buy one (google "Joint Precision Airdrop System") - they're looking at delivering armoured vehicles at the heavy end of the spectrum.

90:

I'm surprised and slightly skeptical about the commercialisation of space. It's never struck me as something particularly lucrative, I do understand how the satellite industry is profitable and therefore rocket industries are profitable but it's not a very easy market. I'm not sure how far business will go compared to national space agencies. I can hardly see a commercial space organisation launching to the moon and other bodies for the purposes of pure science.

91:

"Lunar grit is that there's a slight shortage of Lunar air to suspend the stuff in; mostly it stays on the ground unless it gets kicked up, and if it gets kicked up it falls down again rapidly."

Fine lunar dust is kept in suspension by electrical charge from the solar wind. This fine stuff is a potential problem.

92:

Every time I see someone object to the colonization of space because of the lack of a revenue stream, it always makes me twitch. It's not that I don't see the need or value of economic return on investment, I do, but I can't help but get the feeling that "How much money it makes us" is, for some, the only metric by which value is accessed.

How is the technology needed to make space colonization economically feasible to be developed without making the investment in time and resources needed to, well, develop it?

93:

Not sure why my other posts didn't get through - maybe it was the URL - so no URLs.
Anyway, the key to making money from a Human rated heavy lift vehicle is the inflatable hotel idea from Bigelow. He already has a prototype in orbit. How many people fit into 50 tonnes of cargo space? How big an inflatable hotel can 2 or 3 launches loft?

94:

Rather than new energy generation, what about the original idea for flat mirrors - adding sunlight to the higher latitudes for city illumination and extended growing seasons?

Extended growing seasons would be useful, as would control of frosts, e.g. citrus crops. City illumination at night would save energy and possibly reduce crime. Might even make British beaches pleasant to bathe on.

The same technology could be used as sun shades to reduce local insolation to reduce A/C demand and possibly mitigate hurricanes and tornadoes, a very worthwhile economic driver.

95:

Depends how sustainable you want your colony to be.

A Bigelow-style space hotel in LEO? Sure: I reckon there's a very good chance it will happen within 20 years (even if Bigelow goes bust first).

But that's not a colony. The implication of colony is a permanent self-sustaining settlement. I submit that we're a very long way away indeed from being able to build a permanent self-sustaining settlement anywhere off-earth, much less one that can survive without any inputs from earth (even high value/low weight stuff like custom semiconductors, or information goods like TV shows). A lot of problems that the space cadets wave away as trivialities of engineering -- such as running a microgravity farm that can produce food and oxygen and micronutrients, or even taking a random lump of rock and extracting aluminium and iron from it -- are actually really hard when you look at them from the perspective of trying to do that stuff at the wrong end of a logistics pipeline that costs $2000 per kilogram.

96:

The only real info on how difficult it might be are the Biosphere projects and Antarctic bases. However, I was pointing to the Bigelow hotel project as a potential revenue stream for a heavy lift vehicle.

97:

Every time I see someone object to the colonization of space because of the lack of a revenue stream, it always makes me twitch. It's not that I don't see the need or value of economic return on investment, I do, but I can't help but get the feeling that "How much money it makes us" is, for some, the only metric by which value is accessed.

How is the technology needed to make space colonization economically feasible to be developed without making the investment in time and resources needed to, well, develop it?

Given that "colonization" means having and raising children in the colonies, it is quite possible such technology will never be developed. Amount of effort necessary to create structures off-Earth in which it is practical to have babies and raise them is far too great for anyone to do it for its own sake, and there are no intermediate steps with any obvious return do justify them. (Yes, there are worthwhile things to do in space, but I see them done on "offshore oil rig" model -- people go for week or months to do dangerous work, make pile of money, then return to sunny beaches. They do not move to space.)

Every colonization process on Earth happened in incremental steps. People would settle some place because there was a short-term economic benefit to it. Then they would build up the place, adding to its economic value and making it more attractive to later immigrants. But in space, without some game-changing technology (AI, mind uploading, radical genetic engineering, radical cyborgization), there is simply no "from here to there" path of incrementally increasing benefits -- because to put it bluntly, there are NO economic benefits to having humans in space. At no time (without game-changing technology) you can point and say "From here on space settlement is growing on its own" as opposed to being subsidized from Earth. OTOH, if biotechnology ever develops to a point where making radiation-tolerant, vacuum-survivable, yeast-eating "humans" is possible -- then colonization of space might become realistic. But they will be effectively different species.

If you want to "develop technology to make space colonization economically feasible", your best bet is go into genetics and/or medical technology field, and start working on ways for humans to live on much simpler and more failure-tolerant life-support system. Stomach which digests anything a goat and a hyena can digest would be a HUGE boon to space colonization at some point. And it has immediate applications on Earth.

Space colonies MAY happen at some point, but only by evolution rather than by intelligent design.

98:
"... because to put it bluntly, there are NO economic benefits to having humans in space."

Humans do a great many things for reasons other than economic benefit. There's also the "all our eggs in one basket" argument... the Earth is a single point of failure for our entire species.

Space offers us a nearly unlimited quantity of energy, raw materials, and, well, space. The Earth does not. Are the problems involved in developing the necessary infrastructure difficult? Yes, exceedingly so... but I've seen nothing to convince me that they are (a) insurmountable, or (b) not worth the effort.

99:

all repeat: fusion-power-TOO-CHEAP-TO-METER-is-thirty-years-away.

Or Eight and a bit light minutes.

Plus all the hard science has already been done by the Great Green Arkleseizure. All that's left is engineering and politics. We can do that. We do them all the time.

100:

As much as it pains me to admit it as an old-school space fanatic, this statement is absolutely correct:

"But in space, without some game-changing technology (AI, mind uploading, radical genetic engineering, radical cyborgization), there is simply no "from here to there" path of incrementally increasing benefits -- because to put it bluntly, there are NO economic benefits to having humans in space."

Space hotels, lunar tourism, etc. for a handful of billionaires are not getting humanity any closer to a meaningful presence in space! As much as I enjoy Clarke-ian fantasies, space is for post-"Singularity" intelligences (whatever they may be), not for primates from the African plain. And it's not even clear why posthuman intellects would want to spread their processing out over r-cubed volumes rather than compress it into maximally dense configurations around the sun. In a fractal, quantum computational universe, given enough computing power and understanding of the laws of physics, why not just *simulate* other planets, stars and galaxies with arbitrary realism and explore strange new worlds from home?

If you really want to open new frontiers for exploration, my advice is to study computer science, *not* aerospace engineering!

101:

Humans do a great many things for reasons other than economic benefit. There's also the "all our eggs in one basket" argument... the Earth is a single point of failure for our entire species.

To put it politely, that's garbage.

Firstly, we're capable of surviving a dinosaur killer scale external event as it is. Yes, lots of people would die and it's possible that our global civilization would be irreparably damaged, but humans would survive an event on the scale of the Chicxulub impactor. (We're more resilient than big dinosaurs. We can, if necessary, eat jellyfish and grasses and insects.)

Moreover, something like the K/T event is a one-per-hundred-million-years event. Our species so far is less than 10^6 years old -- so a K/T scale event is a one in a hundred to one in a thousand risk over the entire lifespan of our species. Against the lifespan of modern civilization it's more like a one in a million event.

Anything bigger? We'll probably be able to spot it and deflect it in time.

So that's external events. Internal events are another matter. But the one that's most likely to kill us is environmental degradation -- being poisoned by our own waste products. And you know what? Running away doesn't solve that problem. If we can solve it we don't need to run away; and if we can't solve it, the folks who run away will die of it anyway. (Sooner, probably, rather than later -- because we coevolved with a support ecosystem and attempts to transplant it to extraterrestrial environments are liable to be much more fragile and less fault-tolerant than the real deal, on the planet it evolved on.)

Yes, space has huge amounts of raw materials and energy. Unfortunately, so does the interior of a blast furnace -- and we're not exactly adapted to living inside one of those, either.

102:

There are only two technologies that would make space colonization cheap and feasible. Orion, or something like Dense Plasma Focus fusion (if it works).

103:

Both those technologies fall foul of Niven's Law: any reaction drive is a weapon of efficiency directly proportional to its efficiency as a propulsion system.

I am mystified as to why so many of the space cadets can't seem to understand that other people might have problems with them dashing off to found their Libertopia in the asteroid belt with the aid of nuclear propulsion systems with Isp >10,000 ... and that those misgivings are as justifiable as if the somewhat unhinged political radicals next door are collecting explosives and machine guns.

104:

About that article. I did a couple of quick calculations.

First, 47TW/6E9 people = 8KW/person.

Second, Surface area of the Earth*1KW/M^2/47TW=

(510,072,000km2/2)*(1,000,0000m^2/km^2)*(1KW/M^2)/47TW=5426

Really? That means that we are using 0.02 percent of the power that is incident on the Earth.

I suppose if you only think about wind and wave power, maybe he has a point, but that seems a rather narrow point of view to me.

And 8KW? Really? I'm such a fat pig.

Regards,

Hans

105:

To be able to colonise anywhere outside of Earth we are going to need to learn how to terraform (not necessarily entire planets but at least isolated sections of them). That's a hideously complicated idea involving us being able to construct a stable biosphere of millions of interacting species. But if we could do it then why would we need to? If the Earth's biosphere begins to fail we can fix it with our terraforming knowledge, if space becomes limiting we can terraform the deserts, build new islands (this is the kind of thing that would be trivial if we could colonise in space).

There is no reasonable technology I can think of that would make space colonisation attainable without invalidating the reasons to do it by solving problems on Earth.

106:

Umm, Charlie, not to nitpick and all, but "We can, if necessary, eat jellyfish and grasses and insects" reveals a pathetic level of ignorance, and since you are a beer drinker, I need to enlighten you somewhat.

grasses: family Poaceae, include the following: maize, rice, wheat, barley, rye, sorghum, millets, teff, job's tears, sugar cane, and bamboo, among other things. Rather than being a starvation food, our bloody civilization runs on grasses.

It's hard to go through a day without eating or using a grass product.

If and when grasses go extinct, we'll probably follow in short order. Absent that, hoist a beer to grasses and get to making survival plans. While I mostly agree with you on environmental degradation, I think our species will survive for the rest of its 6 million years (the average fossil span of mammals species), whatever happens. Civilization? Not so much.

107:

Actually, I do not think Plasma Focus Fusion (if it works) does fall foul of Niven's Law. It is not a self sustaining reaction in the way a fission chain reaction is, nor could it easily be upgraded to a bomb (I hope - or we are screwed anyway). In fact, it may be as benign as a conventional heavy lift launch vehicle, given that it is going the aneutronic route. Which is not saying much if you drop it on someone at 12kps.

108:

@ 16:

It's cheaper using less efficient engines.

As with the old Russian R-7 Soyuz launcher, Falcon burns kerosene and liquid oxygen. It's cheaper and much easier to handle than liquid hydrogen, the fuel is denser (so the tankage is smaller) and it's well understood -- it's sixty year old tech. Again, they're not pushing the size of the engines either: they're just strapping a bunch of small, cheap motors together.

BINGO!

Turns out that fuel is about the cheapest component of a space launch: the fuel for a Falcon 9 costs as much as a single long-haul tankful for a Boeing 747.

I like James Nicolls' turn of phrase: "Or to put it another way, fuel could be free and it wouldn't affect the current bottom line significantly." Turns out that running a 2H2/O2 mix isn't very good for them, even if the fuel was free and there were no additional cryogenic penalties. Who'd a thunk?

This is a lot more true to the von Braun Ferry Rocket of my youth. Come to that, I distinctly recall just those arguments being made for this type of configuration in those old 50's books about The Future Of Space Travel.

109:

Yes, you spotted my little joke. (I was waiting for one of the space cadets to say "grass? Who needs grass when you've got blue-green algae?!?")

110:

@ 32:

Not only is water useful for life support and radiation shielding but it can be split into hydrogen and oxygen -- the best chemical propellant.

Well, depending on your metric, not really, not in most cases. Turns out that you usually want are the cheapest mile-seconds, not the (least insane) fuel/oxidizer combination with the highest specific impulse.

111:

All this talk of colonization goes nowhere because most all people in industrial societies these days are totally risk adverse. Large numbers of people going into space means some will die. And our politicians will not let that happen.

If the Americas were discovered today they would never be settled. I think something like over 99% of the people who came over to the upper half of NA died for the first 150 to 200 years or so before they figured out how to create a stable system for more than a few guys trapping beavers. At least one they were willing to live within.

I think back to the discussion here about how many people are required to support a modern civilization and the number of 15,000 was considered too low. Maybe by a factor or 10 or 100. So tell me how we get from 0 to 15,000 with no appreciable deaths?

112:

Besides being easier to handle, kerosene has a better thrust to weight ratio.

In general, better ISP means worse thrust.

The initial part of the trip to orbit must be a vertical ascent. Gravity loss is incurred during vertical ascent. If thrust to weight ratio sucks, the rise is slower and gravity loss is suffered over a longer time.

Hydrogen and oxygen's poor thrust is another factor that make it a poor choice for the ascent stage.

113:

In principle is there any reason why, with sufficiently advanced robots, colonies couldn't be constructed by hollowing out asteroids without risking human life? Do enough elements exist out in the asteroid belt to build livable environments for humans? This would obviously take some pretty advanced robots, which is another reason why computer science is the best field to go into to if you want to promote space exploration...

114:

Large numbers of people going into space means some will die. And our politicians will not let that happen.

That's not because folks are risk-averse -- the number of people mainlining heroin, robbing banks and riding motorcycles without helmets proves that.

The real issue is that government manned space programs (which is to say, all of them up until now) are national prestige projects and if something goes wrong it reflects badly on the flag, and by extension on the executives who ordered it.

As it happens space travel (for values of space travel that involve sitting on top of hundreds of tons of cryogenic fuel and oxidizer) is inherently a dangerous activity -- comparable to being a member of an RAF or USAAF bomber's flight crew over Germany in 1943-44. Things may improve considerably, but until they do actual colonization is unlikely. Because, well, would you invite your family to emigrate to the promised land, if the process involved flying over a thousand miles of enemy territory and being shot at by guys with machine guns?

(NB: Attrition rates among RAF Bomber Command and USAAF bomber groups during the 1943-44 years were in the range 0.5-4.0% per mission, with anything over 3% being regarded as unacceptable (because it meant losing 50% of the bomber force in around 15 missions). The Shuttle has lost two crews in 132 flights, putting it slap bang in the middle of that range. Soyuz passed 100 manned flights in 2009, with two crew losses (one due to a procedure error, one due to spacecraft failure) and two failures to make orbit which the crew survived, putting it in the same ball-park. Hence my comparison to WW2 bomber crews.)

There are vastly more dangerous occupations out there: cave diving, technical diving, BASE jumping, and ascents of Mount Everest spring to mind. The difference is that they're all destinations in their own right, not merely a means to an end (i.e. getting off the planet).

115:

Humans do a great many things for reasons other than economic benefit. There's also the "all our eggs in one basket" argument... the Earth is a single point of failure for our entire species.

Wonderful. You are proposing nothing short of duplicating entire civilization in a place without breathable air, let alone biosphere. Oh, and without any economic return along the way. Good luck convincing politicians -- and non-politicians, -- to do that.

Space offers us a nearly unlimited quantity of energy, raw materials, and, well, space. The Earth does not.

Exploiting energy and raw materials does not require colonization. Nobody raises children aboard oil rigs. As for unlimited amount of space -- Malthusian Catastrophe is already averting itself, as wealthier people have fewer children. We don't NEED unlimited space. Especially the kind where you need an airlock for a foyer. Vast majority of humans prefer milder climes.

Are the problems involved in developing the necessary infrastructure difficult? Yes, exceedingly so... but I've seen nothing to convince me that they are (a) insurmountable, or (b) not worth the effort.

I feel no need to convince you. Since most people in the world, including most space enthusiasts, do not agree with you, it is up to YOU to convince them otherwise.

116:

Please see my post 112.

Launching from earth's surface you want a dense, high thrust propellent to minimize drag and gravity loss.

In orbit, gravity loss is not an issue. It makes more sense for an upper stage to use hydrogen and oxygen.

Further, you seem to be completely missing my point. Do you believe the virtue of lunar propellant would be to save on propellant expense? Are you unaware that propellant is a minute fraction of spacecraft cost?

The major expense is large, complex, *disposable* spacecraft.

The virtue of propellant at various locations is breaking the exponent in the rocket equation.

If the delta V budget is low enough, it is much more doable to make trips in single-stage, *reusable* spacecraft.

Round trip between earth's surface and LEO is 18 km/sec. The 10 km/sec trip up mandates several stages. The 8 km/sec trip down is accomplished via aerobraking and this mandates very robust thermal protection. The re-entry abuse suffered makes reusability more difficult. It is possible vehicles for this trip will always be multi-stage expendables.

But spacecraft for trips between LEO and EML1? For trips between EML1 and the lunar surface? This is quite a different story. For these trips, single stage *reusable* vehicles are much more plausible.

117:

I disagree somewhat about the thermal protection needs on LEO-to-Earth-surface flights. IIRC the early Soviet RVs used an ablative heat shield ... made out of four inch thick slabs of oak. Use once, then it's charcoal. But a ton of oak is cheap (in these terms). Especially when the alternative is some sort of elaborate aerogel that comes in tiles as fragile as expanded polystyrene foam, or a hyper-exotic synthetic resin. Sure you probably want to X-ray the oak bricks before you clip them together (to ensure there are no internal flaws) but ... carpentry, dammit! It's cheaper than wings, tiles, and an undercarriage.

118:

Charlie, RealClimate has some comments about the paper behind that article in New Scientist - see http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2011/04/unforced-variations-apr-2011/ .

119:

I was saying re-entry abuse is one the factors that make reusable earth to orbit vehicles difficult (if not impossible).

The 10 km/sec to LEO delta V budget likely mandates multi-stage expendables even *without* thermal protection.

Add in re-entry abuse, and structure must be made more robust. Thermal protection eats up more of the precious mass fraction.

Citing cheap thermal protection does nothing to demonstrate SSTO RLVs are possible. It's my belief that Earth to LEO and back will always require multi-stage expendables.

An orbit to orbit spacecraft is another animal. Mass doesn't have to include wings, drag chutes, or robust thermal protection. If a space tug's delta V budget between depots is 4 km/sec, it doesn't need to be multi-stage.

120:

That's not because folks are risk-averse -- the number of people mainlining heroin, robbing banks and riding motorcycles without helmets proves that.

The real issue is that government manned space programs (which is to say, all of them up until now) are national prestige projects and if something goes wrong it reflects badly on the flag, and by extension on the executives who ordered it.

By folks I should have said politicians and media. But more and more I deal with people in the middle class who expect life to be risk free. And they want their politicians to "make it so".

As it happens space travel (for values of space travel that involve sitting on top of hundreds of tons of cryogenic fuel and oxidizer) is inherently a dangerous activity -- comparable to being a member of an RAF or USAAF bomber's flight crew over Germany in 1943-44.

I'm fairly certain the early rates for the US crews was 10%. And moral took a fast hit as many did the math and realized they were on suicide assignments. Then the US Air Force brass admitted that the guns on the B17s and B24s were no match for German fighters and flack and changed tactics. Especially with the early models of the planes.

121:

I note that during the Apollo Project internal NASA risk assessments put the risk of a fatal accident at roughly 20%. Which they got with the Apollo 1 pad fire, and nearly repeated with Apollo 13.

Still: hair-raising risk levels, not quite into Russian Roulette territory but not far below it. That's why nobody's going to be looking at permanent space colonies for a long time to come, in the absence of transport tech breakthroughs.

(I am thinking that surface-to-GEO space elevators are not a near-term project even if the materials tech is up to it, but some sort of orbiting pinwheel system to yank a hypersonic ballistic ship -- like the Virgin Galactic -- up into LEO, and later decelerate it and drop it into the stratosphere -- might be feasible. In which case we may go from bombing-raid-over-hostile-territory levels of risk and eye-watering expense, to first-class trans-Atlantic via Concorde levels of cost and risk. At which point it's time to revisit the colonization question.)

122:

@David L:

"If the Americas were discovered today they would never be settled. I think something like over 99% of the people who came over to the upper half of NA died for the first 150 to 200 years or so before they figured out how to create a stable system for more than a few guys trapping beavers. At least one they were willing to live within."

A little respect for the First Nations would be nice. Americas were populated before the Europeans started coming over and displacing the original inhabitants. I sure would hope that nothing of the sort that was done back then would happen now.

123:

You're making me dream of growing oak trees on the Moon.

124:

Amen on the Indians. Best genetic engineers in history, if you think of maize as an invention.

Quote of the day: "Primitive means first, not worst."

So far as our vaunted technical superiority goes, I was just watching a TV program on the "Weird Weapons of the Axis." Usual stuff, but they had a nice little segment on the German rocketeers. About how, during the 1930s and 40s, they were dreaming up antipode bombers (think space shuttle dropping dirty bombs), flying to the moon, orbiting mirrors to change climate, circular space stations, all that.

I hadn't really thought about how old many of these dreams are, but it's really telling. Many of our SF ideas are pushing 75 years old or more.

125:
Please see my post 112.

Launching from earth's surface you want a dense, high thrust propellent to minimize drag and gravity loss.

In orbit, gravity loss is not an issue. It makes more sense for an upper stage to use hydrogen and oxygen.

Further, you seem to be completely missing my point. Do you believe the virtue of lunar propellant would be to save on propellant expense? Are you unaware that propellant is a minute fraction of spacecraft cost?

I suppose this is where I engage in a bit of snark and point out that it's obvious you haven't read all of my posts here.

Go back and read them. Then we'll talk.

126:

I don't remember which one, but there was one Sci-Fi book I read which had their Cold-War analogue called the "Protracted Struggle".

I think it's a nice name.

127:

I don't remember which one, but there was one Sci-Fi book I read which had their Cold-War analogue called the "Protracted Struggle".

I think it's a nice name.

128:

Charlie: what do you mean by "self-sufficient"? A space station or lunar base that earned enough by tourism to pay for needed imports would be self-sufficient by the low standards of economic historians. Like, say, Grenada.

I can guess what you do mean, but I don't want to put words in your mouth. It's an honest question.

129:

Speaking for myself, any "colony" that can't supply it's own food, air and base supplies isn't self sufficient.

Purely from a practical perspective.

130:

The Carnegie-Mellon university team for Lunar X Prize has booked a Falcon already

http://news.discovery.com/space/moon-rocket-private-space-110207.html

I'm really astonished how well SpaceX is doing. I'd have expected the ULA would be hopping up and down trying to strangle the operation at birth, as it is making them look 3-5x more expensive than they should be. Especially if the Falcon 9 heavy really is that much cheaper than the Delta V.

I'm expecting some Congresscritter from Utah, Florida or Texas to hold some bullshit hearing on "safety" to spike Dragon's use as a crewed vehicle to allow ULA/Nasa to "compete" by destroying Space X's business plan and not certifying it as man rated. There's no way they're not going to try to stop Musk launching spy satellites, as that is where all the money is. Problem is, it's illegal to export a rocket as it's an ICBM in disguise, so you can't tell the FAA to stuff it and launch from French Guiana very easily.

Good luck to him, he's going to need it. I think they've only got this far by being pretty low profile and extremely cheap, so ULA, Boeing, etc can't lean on the providers of finance to force them to stop funding Musk, and also going so fast that Congress hasn't really noticed.

I've a feeling politics will be more difficult to overcome than rocket science issues.

Also, can you glide on Mars? with 1% of atmospheric density, isn't it more of a plummet?

131:

What are the "Orion I and Orion V launch vehicles?" If you're talking about the Ares 1 and 5, the last estimate for the 5 was estimated to cost around 1.3 billion dollars a flight. That was a Congressional Budget Office estimate.

NASA has never been a "pure science" org. It's always been an engineering organization. Admittedly, the engineering requirements are often driven by political requirements -- hence the consistently large relative size of the manned spaceflight budget.

Shuttle and the ISS aren't boondoogles. They're both rather flexible platforms that have unique and useful capabilities. As such, you can do some cool stuff with them, including a lot of science. However, that's not their prime virtue by any means.

ISS and Shuttle (and Apollo before them) are great technology drivers and demonstrators. All three advanced state of the art technology in a myriad of ways -- flight controls, guidance algorithms, composites, advanced aluminum structures, etc. It'd take some effort to show it, but I'd bet both ISS and Shuttle have both paid off their development costs in technology development returns.

However, Shuttle and ISS are both essentially prototypes. The designs haven't been iterated to account for the lessons they've taught us. As such, the Shuttle is not efficient at what it does, largely because the assumptions made during it's design (primarily turn around time and flight rate) weren't valid.

ISS is still a pretty effective prototype space habit and lab. Since a large part of it's cost comes from launch costs, a good, cheap launch will greatly improve the station's cost effectiveness.

Lastly, you've been trashing on what you call "space cadets." You do realize that Elon Musk is essentially the king of said cadets?

132:

no matter what it was a part of the space race seemed a good deal. Again going by memory. I remember reading about a giant canon that was being offered to NASA in the very early satellite times. I remember and may still have the article showing the proposed pr pic of it. It seemed to be the one same as the pic shown of Bull's canon. And the only book I have read about Bull said space was a big interest of his before he moved into The MERCHENT OF DEATH BISSNESS. I'm just wondering if it would have worked. And not to bomb targets. Keynesian. THATS THE WAY IT WORKED OUT. Prosperity of the times was from weapons for the Cold War. The Space Race was making High Tect things and making high paying jobs that Congress would pay for. I read someone who did know things about economics and he wrote the drop in housing prices that started the Nixon recession could be followed on a map. Starting at the Cape when the of the Apollo (not all the NASA engineers) hit the bricks. And lost there homes.
My space scrape book starts in Ikes time. And he wanted nothing to do with any space race, putting people on launches to make sure the did not put one up. As for the Cold War, I was in it, doing Duck and Cover before the ICBMs were around. I was ducking for real in the hotter parts too. As for the Cold War you may look to your Old Boys. Kim whatshisame was mailed here to help make the OSS work. The one that was killed by Pres. Harry Truman because it would not stop saving war criminals who knew all about the evil Commies. They were the only ones who could run spys in the USSR. I say again the spys from Kim were the only ones who told us anything about the USSR from what I can tell till the U-2 fly overs. Pres Jimmy Carter was and still is being beat over firing the human Intel of the CIA. From what I can tell his Head of the CIA reviewed of what the Commie experts had been saying and what was known by then about what really happened. It looks like Kim's buddies had a lot to do with the Cold War. The old Germans hated them and us. And did they make the West any friends in South America where the CIA helped them hide. Kim's doings?

133:

d brown @ 132
Could you translate that into English, please?

Or can someone interpret?

134:

The "space cadets" thing is refering to the people who hand wave away all the problems involved and insist that space colonisation is an easy goal.

ISS and the shuttle may not be as good as what we could build now if we had the same motivation and resources but niether of them are anywhere close to the technologies that we would need to establish a colony somewhere. The ISS is a great science lab but its definitely not anywhere close to a habitat. It's an airtight container that has to have it's environment regularly delivered in a bottle

135:

@103: ....misgivings as justifiable as if the somewhat unhinged political radicals next door are collecting explosives and machine guns

Well before that, the public outside ITAR-national security circles will notice that the engineering/ economic path to robust, affordable launch to LEO also leads, inevitably, to cheap & cheerful ICBM capability.

This is stonkingly obvious to us, but don't be surprised when the opening of the Bigelow Hilton is pushed off the home page by yet another panic over East Charliestan's version of the Nodong X.

136:

Sure you probably want to X-ray the oak bricks before you clip them together (to ensure there are no internal flaws) but ... carpentry, dammit! It's cheaper than wings, tiles, and an undercarriage.

The idea of oak appeals, but hopefully it isn't another one along the lines of "NASA spent millions on space pens, the Soviets used pencils". King David's Spaceship!

Anyway, the question isn't whether it's cheaper than super-whizzy-delicate-ceramics, the question is whether it's lighter. The cost difference is "how much extra does it cost to uprate the booster to launch that ton of deciduous forest into orbit"?

Next we can riff about the Greens approving of renewables in spacecraft but complaining that the Chinese are using Mahogany from badly-managed forests; and the Swedes developing a cheaper self-assembly system that used softwoods, allen keys, and a cheap factory in Vietnam...

...or the Forestry Commission really being part of a long-term plan by the BIS to assure strategic supplies for the British Space Force, or a cunning plan so that 1 (Space) Cdo RM could play "Hearts of Oak" as the Regimental March...

Maybe I'm being a sap...

137:

It was a bit rambling but I got most of it, Gerald Bull was the engineer who made that giant cannon for Saddam, Kim Philby was the British spymaster and double agent (Though the name Kim nowadays brings North Korea to the fore so I guess that can be confusing).

The point about the recession being triggered by NASA cutbacks is an interesting one, as I always try to explain to people who object to space spending, who seem to think the money is shoveled into a rocket and shot into space, that most of it goes into stuff like the mortgages of the project engineers. (It probably doesn't but as an image it's less wrong than the rocket-packed-with-bills one)

138:

Mars is very difficult to land anything weighing more than about 1000Kg on the surface of, apparently.

Is there any particular reason why? I know the Martian atmosphere won't really "do" parachutes, but for an un-manned mission I'd have thought that a rocket-braked "soft" landing was mostly a question of better site recce than the early Apollos had, and automatics good enough to make the descent without manned intervention in the reasonable certainty that they were landing on something "flat enough for the gear".

139:

Seriously, people are already whinging about the tax rises the Uk government has announced.

I'm going to reduce the amount I do for you by 20%, and increase the amount I charge you to do it by 5%. Put in those terms, is it any wonder people aren't happy?

140:

A colony that can't maintain a complete human lifecycle from birth to grave, without support from outside, isn't a viable off-world colony in terms recognizable by the "all their eggs in one basket" brigade.

Sure, it's unreasonable to expect a real colony not to import stuff manufactured or designed elsewhere -- in the real world, that's business as usual -- or to experience immigration or emigration.

But ...

If someone is proposing space colonies as a solution to human life on earth being wiped out, then that is what they are asking for and anything short of it is a failure.

141:

Is there any particular reason why?

Yes. Too little atmosphere for parachutes to effectively decelerate large payloads from hypersonic re-entry speed prior to lithobraking, combined with too much atmosphere for safe use of retro-rockets without turbulence and buffeting -- the interaction between the rocket exhaust and the atmosphere around the lander is very hard to model.

142:

Good points. Space colonization and exploitation are hard problems to solve. I think the pay off once we do is huge however -- to the extent that I've devoted my life to solving them.

And yeah, the ISS is only a first step to living in space. A lab for learning how to do so, really.

Thanks for the discussion,
--Nathan

143:

You'll note that the whole "space colonization is HAAAAAARD (or at least harder than you think)" line is one of the things I've been banging on about for the past couple of years on this blog. Possibly because I'm an SF author and I'm kicking the tyres on a whole bunch of ideas for the novel after next, in the interests of plausibility ...

The whole structure of NASA's manned spaceflight program since Apollo has been, first and foremost, about maintaining a US national space engineering capability in being by assigning make-work (first Shuttle, then ISS as a mission that only the shuttle could support). I believe the Soviets did it a whole lot more cost-effectively, on a much smaller budget, with Soyuz/Mir; while I don't mourn the fall of the USSR, it's a real shame that Mir 2 was relegated to the core of the ISS, and then many tens of billions of dollars were spent on extending and building ISS rather than on a develop - deploy - evaluate - redesign cycle for about three or four somewhat smaller Mir-sized stations with which we could have pushed the state of the art.

144:

I knew about the atmosphere being too thin for parachutes; I wasn't aware of it being an awkward density for rocket brakes though.

145:

I think you're totally barking!

146:

I don't think it's really a problem to soft-land stuff on Mars since there is a third alternative that's proven and well-tested, the Shuttle-on-runway method. The Buran and X-37B demonstrated it can also be done unmanned, although they did require a lot of groundside guidance systems. As I recall all Shuttle missions actually landed on autopilot though there was a hand-on-sidecontroller ready for a meatbag to take over the landing when the vehicle had crewmembers on board.

There are probably enough places on Mars that a disposable glider could put down safely without running into a rock it couldn't avoid. It's bulkier than a retrorocket or parachute pack but it probably wouldn't mass much more than either and the space guys are good at getting big stuff to unfold from unfeasibly small spaces when necessary.

147:

I don't know my l/d from my Reynolds number, but I'd hazard a guess that the kind of wings that you want when you're decelerating from orbital speeds in the upper atmosphere (of any planet) are small, short and stubby, whereas the ones that you want to so as to fly on Mars at less than 200 mph are big, very long and very thin. Issues may thus arise.

148:

Atmospheric pressure at Martian surface ~ 1% of Earth
Gravity at Martian surface ~ 37% of Earth

To get enough lift to glide, the glider will have to go much, much faster. I'm going to guess from first principles (not knowing the relevant equations) that we need to be landing at 6 times the speed the shuttle does.

The shuttle touches down at ~350 km/h.

It uses a 4.5 km runway.

And unless you want to ground loop, you're going to have to find somewhere almost tarmac smooth - I don't think Spirit or Opportunity spotted anywhere like that (though they were targetted at interesting sites, which smooth ground wouldn't be). I don't think the Bonneville Salt Flats would be long enough.

149:

(And yes, I'm assuming a shuttle form for re-entry reasons.)

150:

I saw proposals many years ago for a Mars glider reconnaissance vehicle, deployed at high altitude from a parachute-braked re-entry vehicle. It had long fold-out wings and it was meant to scan several hundred kilometres of the Mars surface from a kilometre or two up before it crashed. The aim was to return high-res photographs and/or radar maps of possible manned and unmanned landing sites and maybe carry out some limited atmospheric research but it obviously couldn't do any direct and sustained surface science as the wheeled rovers can.

Lower air pressure means less drag which compensates to some extent for the decreased lift force. Aircraft on Earth can fly perfectly well at high altitudes where the air pressure is a fifth or less of the pressure at ground level. The wind on Mars can raise duststorms to heights of several kilometres above the surface which you wouldn't really expect from the near-vacuum air pressures there either.

151:
A colony that can't maintain a complete human lifecycle from birth to grave, without support from outside, isn't a viable off-world colony in terms recognizable by the "all their eggs in one basket" brigade.

I dispute the colony has to be an autarky. We'd have begun solving the "all your eggs" problem if a quorum of planets and other habitats could keep the culture ticking over - compare the Eclipse Phase setting, where it's basically only Earth that's trashed.

Also: autarky is complete redundancy, it's inefficient. Even if it could be done in principle, market forces wouldn't stand for it.

152:

Well, there is always this one, then...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Variable-sweep_wing

153:

Roger on the definition of self-sufficiency. Those folk don't seem to be thinking it through. (Julian: good luck on getting space colonies in the aggregate to be independent of the need to import things from Earth.)

The thing with space colonization, as has been raised before, is that there's no there there. If you could walk around on Mars, breathe the air, and see a blue sky, then I firmly believe that the effort would already have been made to establish a (not very self-sufficient) colony. Or colonies.

Truth is, that's a story I'd enjoy reading, if done right and with real characters. Turtledove and Stirling seem to have taken whacks at the idea, but not very well, at least according to taste.

154:

Practically speaking, what the alternative path have accomplished?

155:

Market forces are a convenient shibboleth, aren't they?

But the whole "eggs in one basket" argument for space colonization is only useful to the space cadets because market forces clearly don't provide a justification for space colonization.

You need to decide whether to have your cake or eat it: if market forces won't support a self-sustaining space-colonial infrastructure, you must concede that there's going to be a non-capitalist aspect to any such enterprise: and if that's the case, the relative inefficiency of autarky in market terms is irrelevant to the success or failure of the goal.

This is why I find libertarian space cadets so annoying:

They seem to want space colonies so they can do their own thing, far from the degenerate second-hander socialist hordes of Earth.

But space colonisation isn't economically viable (and for some reason they haven't yet gotten their shit together wrt. the second-best project, the vast ocean-going liner owned by libertarian zillionaires and operated by their hired minions).

So they keep coming up with bullshit arguments for why we should colonize space, which don't make sense unless someone else trousers the cost of the externalities.

We probably could do Earth/Moon/Mars transport on the cheap, possibly to the point of colonizing Mars successfully ... if only we'd dust off the plans for Project Orion. 7500 tons of payload into LEO with one launch! Simples! Only, what was that about a Chernobyl-sized fallout plume? (Who cares, we aren't here any more! Let them sue us in the courtroom on Mars!)

156:

Problem is, it's still easier to go Mole Man and dig in in case of some catastrophe on the Earth, rather than going to the Moon or Mars. In other words, it's easier to build domes (or live in tunnels) on this planet than on Mars or the Moon, because here, we've got that nice magnetosphere, molten core, lots of water, and available radioactives to tap for quite a while.

The real problem with "space is a refuge" is that the Earth is one hell of a tough basket, and any disaster that makes the Earth uninhabitable for humans may well scour Mars and the Moon clean too.

Additionally, if we're clueless enough to wipe ourselves out here, the idea that we'd be any safer in some fragile bubble out yonder is laughable. Presumably, if we're knowledgeable enough to actually operate a closed ecosystem in space for a long time, we'd be smart enough to do it here too, where it's easier.


157:

I wonder if there's scope for a group of space cadets supporting religions in favour of unlimited reproduction.

They might think that'd provide the population pressure to make really serious space colonization investment attractive.

158:

Practical benefits: wasting less money.

(My understanding is that ISS will have cost on the order of $100Bn by the time it's built. Mir was around one-twentieth that, with running costs under $1Bn/year. So we could have gone through 3-4 Mir-type stations, learning along the way and refining the design. And then built a 4th/5th one with a decent propulsion system to actually go to Mars orbit and back -- note, not to the surface, but to take a bloody good poke around Phobos and Deimos and do some learning about long-duration interplanetary manned spaceflight while paving the way for eventual Mars-surface or asteroid missions.)

I'm with you 90% on the way things would be different if Mars had a breathable atmosphere. The other 10% is saying, "hey, wait a minute, oxygen implies a biosphere: what about pathogens?"

159:

...learning along the way and refining the design. And then built a 4th/5th one with a decent propulsion system...


Charlie, You're thinking like an engineer. Politics doesn't work that way, as you well know. More's the pity.

160:

Population pressure as a driver for colonizing space is so bloody stupid that I'm having difficulty working out where to start on the demolition.

Here's a hint: unless we (a) build a space elevator (not definitely impossible but very difficult) or (b) allow nuclear rockets or ramjets in our atmosphere (politically unlikely) putting canned apes into orbit is going to remain expensive, for values of $250K-$5M, for the forseeable future.

Meanwhile, side-effects of population pressure/rapid population growth is that (a) there are less resources per capita here on Earth, and/or (b) the economic value of an individual human being is reduced. Or, to put it another way, nobody's going to pay to deport the surplus population.

It's an absolutely ludicrous idea, as drivers for space colonization go. (Also, there's no obvious how-to-get-there-from-here, given that space colonization appears likely to be very capital-intensive, and space cadets who are busy raising hordes of children are going to be deploying their capital-accumulation capability elsewhere ...)

161:

I'm assuming that the cadets are somewhat detached from the practicalities of space flight (otherwise they wouldn't be space cadets), and are purely using the theists as a way to get bulk votes to generate political clout for funding said space elevator.

They're certainly not engaged in bulk reproduction activities. More in hiring PR agencies for the believers, public speaking training for the priests, all to aid recruitment and use the large families that result as a force multiplier for the votes they're buying.

162:
Also, there's no obvious how-to-get-there-from-here, given that space colonization appears likely to be very capital-intensive, and space cadets who are busy raising hordes of children are going to be deploying their capital-accumulation capability elsewhere ..

Which brings us back to the original posting subject (and which I missed):

It occurs to me that, while Falcon Heavy doesn't have the payload to do a direct manned Moon mission via Lunar-orbit rendezvous (as in Apollo), it'd probably suffice for Earth orbit rendezvous missions: one launch for the Lunar Lander, one launch for the Earth Departure Stage, and one launch for the crew capsule (possibly an evolved Dragon capsule).

If you really have Real Cheap Launches coupled with a decent-sized payload, I'd guess that this would be the time to do some real R & D. Tethers. Closed ecologies of various sizes. How to fold stuff. How to unfold stuff. How to put together Stuff in Space.[1] Etc.

There's a frightening amount of immensely practical yet tedious chores that we really don't know much about . . . and won't until someone actually commits those hundreds of millions of dollars to actually find out how to do it right.

[1]My own personal hobbyhorse: working in space, specifically, working in space suits is notoriously difficult. I'd like to see something like a hundred-meter kevlar balloon launched and pressurized with maybe four pounds of nitrogen. You'd still have to wear a life-support rig. But it would be more like SCUBA, and you'd have your dexterous monkey-boy digits free for some cleverness.

163:

(Reading your post 108...)

I don't see that you have a clue that the constraints and requirements of ascent from earth's surface is quite different from an orbital burn.

Ascending through a thick atmosphere up the slopes of a steep gravity well, denser, higher thrust kerosene is the best choice. Here is a good essay on hydrogen vs kerosene:
http://cuddihy.blogspot.com/

For a vehicle already in orbit, a horizontal burn is optimal. The burn doesn't have to have a large vertical component to fight gravity. Here, hydrogen wins.

Charlie's post 16 correctly points out it is disposable spacecraft that makes spaceflight very expensive. The exponent in the rocket equation is delta V/Exhaust velocity. Both are very important if you're looking for better mass fraction. And it's impossibly small mass fractions that mandate multi-stage expendables.

If your goal is single stage reusable vehicles, you want small delta V budgets as well as high ISP propellant.

For a vehicle already in orbit, hydrogen is a better choice than kerosene. That may be why ULA wants to use hydrogen and oxygen RL10 rocket engines for their ACES propellant depots:
http://www.ulalaunch.com/site/docs/publications/AffordableExplorationArchitecture2009.pdf

Launching from the moon is different from an orbital burn. You do suffer some gravity loss during ascent from the moon's surface. But since the moon is airless, you don't need to make a tall vertical ascent to get above the troposphere before you do your major burn. The moon's gravity well is also much shallower than earth's. I haven't examined it to see if hydrogen beats kerosene for moon to orbit. But ULA wants to use hydrogen for getting off the moon and they have some competent engineers.

Another disadvantage for hydrogen is difficulty of storage. However EML1 and 2 are much more benign thermal environments for hydrogen than LEO or earth's surface. The permanently shadowed craters of the moon are colder than Pluto.

164:

hopdavid: Please read the moderation policy. You're getting dangerously close to violating it (cause: gratuitous rudeness): consider this your yellow card, and moderate your tone accordingly.

165:

Random on-topic note:

I'm posting here from the back of the room at the 2011 Space Access conference in Phoenix, AZ, US. Started Thursday, continues through Saturday.

Gwynne Shotwell, the president of SpaceX, was here yesterday afternoon, gave a great presentation. Been a bunch of other good ones. Lots of things flying, firing, testing, people innovating.

Last night, I presented the asteroid nickel-iron DMLS fabrication test project idea which sprung out of the 2nd or 3rd older space colonization long threads here. I'm getting offers of help and additional ideas and information from other participants, as hoped for. It's not there yet, but it's moving forwards, and this blog deserves credit for having been the inspiration for the test...

We had Jeff Greason of Xcor present this morning, Dave Masten's on this afternoon, Armadillo's on tomorrow afternoon (unfortunately not John Carmack himself, who's off with ID software's crunch period). Bunch of NASA folks presenting, which given where this conference started is amusing. Lots of press coverage. The conference room is just about the comfortable limit short of full of people.

166:

Regarding the 1-tonne limit for landing on Mars:

I had thought that this was due to the diameter of the rockets we use to launch things. Specifically, when the diameter of the heat shield used for the initial part of the aerobraking is no larger than the enclosure used during launch. This limits the surface area available for creating drag, and the delta V available for aerobraking is dependent on the mass to surface area ratio. This gets you down to the low hypersonic regime where you deploy the parachutes.

The parachute size limit suggests that parachute mass scales differently. One can certainly imagine some kind of expandable or deployable heat shield that would increase the available surface area for aerobraking, but the parachute answer suggests that even with that advantage, parachute mass would increase more rapidly with payload mass. Still, one wonders how much it could be pushed, if I'm right about the heat shield surface area thing.

With precision landing one could imagine a mission of > 1 tonne down, from a single launch, with multiple independent landers.

For reference, MSL is 900 kg, near the 1-tonne limit, and will be the highest-precision Mars landing to date (if it lands according to plan).

My day job is microbial genetics; I only do space mission design concepts in my spare time, so I'm probably missing something here.

167:
Last night, I presented the asteroid nickel-iron DMLS fabrication test project idea which sprung out of the 2nd or 3rd older space colonization long threads here. I'm getting offers of help and additional ideas and information from other participants, as hoped for. It's not there yet, but it's moving forwards, and this blog deserves credit for having been the inspiration for the test...

Fantastic! If you would, could you please keep everyone current for the duration? Nuts & bolts is where it's at for this sort of thing, though the DMLS project seems rather, er, advanced for what I was thinking of. I'd like to see experiments flown with, for example, decent-sized tethers, say a couple of hundred meters up to a kilometer or two. For something more advanced, I'd like to see long tethers used to simulate gravity. It would be nice to know how much of a headache this technique really is - is damping etc really feasible, or is it just better in the long run to go with something rigid?

That we don't know even this much after more than forty years of manned space flight really kills me - at the age of seven or eight, I really thought I had a decent chance of Working in Space as a grownup. Not a coincidence that so many people felt that way at that age, I suppose, the Apollo program was in it's prime then. It seemed only natural that good things would follow: By the time I graduated from college, it would be the 1980 or thereabouts after all. Maybe I had a shot at being part of the crew of the manned Mars mission that they had started assembling in 1979 ;-)

168:

Ta for the update, George. US private space is finally, er, taking off, and it's great to watch the plans that I first read about in Omni in 1981 actually working, just 30 years later. I remain curmudgeonly about some of the factors driving that success, notably the otherwise deeply shitty concentrations of wealth, but I have to admit that it's not all bad. Rockets! Fun! H2O2!

Re the 'lots of Mirs' counterfactual: the place for the first Mir out of LEO is not Mars orbit, but in lunar orbit, an earth-moon lagrange point, or perhaps an extended solar-electric tour of the earth-moon system. It's only 4 days from home if something unexpected happens, especially if that something is a medical emergency or the discovery that the MTBF of a key batch of widgets was horribly overestimated. Once 'Komarov' has spent 24 months outside LEO, _then_ you can send 'Gagarin' to Phobos, or to Eros.

169:

Kim Philby was one of the Cambridge Four spies. he was deep into the old boys and British Intelligence. He was sent to America to make the OSS up to date spies. At the end of WW-2 he was the key man in saving Nazi war criminals who, he said were commie experts. He sold so many to the OSS that President Harry Truman did away with the OSS and started the CIA. But Kim's Nazis were the only ones who could run spies in the USSR. They were maybe the key part of the Cold War by scaring the USA over what they said the USSR was doing and going to do. History has shown they they were wrong a lot in one way. Many people in real power did not want resources going to the space race instead of the weapons race.

170:

Arturer C Clark said something like if a renowned scientist says something is possible he is right. If he says something is impossible he is usually wrong. Unless we come up with things that are impossible we are never going into space in a big or even a not so big way. I hope I am wrong.

171:
Still, one wonders how much it could be pushed, if I'm right about the heat shield surface area thing.

With precision landing one could imagine a mission of > 1 tonne down, from a single launch, with multiple independent landers.

This is why basic space-based assembly and handling techniques are so important. My gut hobbyist's impression is that it would be a lot easier to start with a Mars orbiting mission[1], robotically resupplied through a hundred-million kilometer pipeline. Once the advance base is set up, assemble the descent/ascent vehicle in orbit, top up the tanks with (robotically supplied) fuel, and supplement any losses with <1,000 kg fuel drops if necessary.

[1]Like a lot of other people, I don't particularly favor a manned landing, though the public will insist upon it I suppose. I suspect a not insignificant cost saver would be that those one-way-to-Mars missions might be easier to resupply if the crew stays in orbit.

172:

It’s amusing to think that if the only problem with Orion-style nuclear space flight is the nuclear fallout, then the main thing preventing us from becoming a spacefaring species is our current moral/political values. If somehow this technology had been developed by the British in Victorian times, does anyone think they would have hesitated to start blasting into space for Queen and country, and we’d be all over the solar system by now?

It’s something to ponder when you look at these things from a cosmic perspective – what price is too high for progress? I think the Chinese, for example, have a different answer to this than the modern West -- perhaps closer to the British of old -- which is why the future of civilization may belong to the East, not the West!

173:

I hear your cliches and yawn.

174:

They may be cliches, but that doesn't necessarily prevent them from being true!

175:

Charlie, I know you don't game any more but that comment makes me think you'd love Blue Max Studios http://bluemaxstudios.blogspot.com/ where that bit is a feature, not a bug and used in the game. Anyway, its interesting so far.

176:

Anyway you have to admit it would make a good Steampunk story -- Victorians with nuclear spaceships hoisting the Union Jack throughout the Solar System while wrecking atomic havoc back on Earth!

177:
It’s amusing to think that if the only problem with Orion-style nuclear space flight is the nuclear fallout, then the main thing preventing us from becoming a spacefaring species is our current moral/political values.

Ha! I sneer at the pathetic wimpyness that is Orion. For me it's Sea Dragon or nothing.

If you want some sort of Victorian, motif, apparently fusion initiated by chemical explosives are just this side of doable. Maybe something like the fabled N60 (nitrogen buckminsterfullerene) would be just energetic enough to do the trick.

178:

Oh come on, I want to see a Victorian FOOF drive...

179:

"But space colonisation isn't economically viable"

Is that really true? I'll go with the definition that colonization means having a self sustaining population at the location, where self sustaining means population replacement with babies, but not necessarily having to create all the necessities and luxuries of living locally, so that trade is necessary.

Tourism might be one economic driver. We know Virgin Galactic believes sub orbital flights are a viable market. Space Adventures has a profitable, but very small, orbital tourist business. At some point there will be orbital hotels, lunar flybys, lunar surface expeditions... These will require support personnel, just like any resort, and just like any resort, the employees will mostly be locals, so we can imagine that these people may become at least semi-permanent residents.

While initially everything will have to be shipped up from earth, the high cost will drive local production or food and air to start, and other items later. If one can grow plants in situ, then that opens up all sorts of craft manufacturing for infrastructure. Humans are smart and will create a lot of opportunities to service those tourists and branch out from there.

While I don't claim this is easy, I think you are putting too many straw man arguments in the way. High transport costs are a barrier to early development, but they are not insuperable and those costs will drive local resource exploitation to reduce costs.

180:

I regret that I haven't been following your blog regularly. It's usually a pattern of discovery, thrill and then I forget about it. I'll add it to my RSS feed and hopefully I'll be able to keep better track.

"The whole structure of NASA's manned spaceflight program since Apollo has been, first and foremost, about maintaining a US national space engineering capability in being by assigning make-work (first Shuttle, then ISS as a mission that only the shuttle could support)."

That's definitely a big part of the political justification for NASA. And it's not fundamentally a bad thing. We need to keep a resevoir of such knowledge and talent. The make work aspect is really discouraging a lot of people, though. You'd probably be interested in Shuttle lectures given at MIT in Fall of 2005: http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/aeronautics-and-astronautics/16-885j-aircraft-systems-engineering-fall-2005/

I recommend the whole series (at least through Lecture 17, the last one I've listened to so far), but lectures 1,2,4 and 17 might be of particularly interest to you as they provide mixed support for your statement above. For most part, you can listen to the audio lectures and still get the point of the lecture.

We run into a paradox in funding large projects. Inevitably, the individual interests of the investors (or representatives thereof in the case of Congress) start affecting the requirements and they use the power of the purse to further their own interests at the expense of the original goal. That's a big reason that NASA has trouble completing anything big, but often does well on the smaller projects like DS1, Spirit and Opportunity, etc.

One of the arguments used to impose those interests on a program is "we could be doing pure science." I'd say that anything that increases human knowledge through the scientific method constitutes pure enough science. So in that since the ISS is doing plenty of pure science -- learning about humans in space, if nothing else -- and the Shuttle did a good amount. I don't think anyone would argue that Shuttle ought to be an on going proposition in anything but the short term, however.

That deserves a blog post of it's own, though. I wrote one last week, for what it's worth:
http://aldaylongmusings.blogspot.com/2011/03/quibbling-with-krauss.html

I'll plan on expanding on it later.

Sincerely,
--Nathan

181:

It's a good question, but I did the back of the envelope analysis and it looks pretty feasible.

http://aldaylongmusings.blogspot.com/2011/04/more-on-falcon-heavy.html

I need to emphasize that two things differentiate the Falcon Heavy from the Atlas here: structural fraction (lower is better and the Falcon 9's is already pretty low) and the cross feed system that allows the Falcon to completely drain the side booster tanks before using any of the core propellant mass.

182:

Strong second recommendation for at least Shuttle lecture #17 (I really ought to make time for the others). The guest lecturer is Chris Kraft, who not only was the first NASA Flight Director, but who invented the whole *idea* of mission control --- a collection of engineers on the ground, who would be continuously monitoring telemetry and resolving problems as they arose --- more or less out of nothing, in the course of planning for the Mercury missions. I'm not sure I'd take all his views as gospel, particularly on the evolution of the Shuttle program past his retirement, but if you have an interest in the history of the U.S. Space Program, this is a rare view of one of the key figures.

183:

The crossflow system mentioned as part of the Falcon 9 Heavy flight profile has me scratching my head a bit. It's parasitic weight in that it doesn't add to the boost capability per se, it just shuffles the fuel and oxidiser around. It will need powering, using either a combustible fuel/oxidiser mix or a high-pressure gas system to drive the high-speed pumps, both of which will add yet more non-boost non-payload mass to the stack.

The crossflow system also adds complexity, meaning the two strap-on boosters will not be carbon copies of the central booster which will not be a carbon copy of the Falcon 9 design, to allow for the pumps and fuel feeds both in and out. Has anyone else done in-flight mass transfers across booster segments or is this going to be a Falcon first? It's also something else to go wrong which is a bad thing to add to an already complex system.

From what I understand the Delta 4 Heavy which flies in a similar three-core format simply throttles the central core's motors way back during inital flight until separation at which point it ramps up to full thrust, requiring no cross-flow system. I wonder why the Falcon 9 Heavy couldn't do something similar, perhaps not firing some of the nine motors in the core until separation to save fuel and oxidiser. Is it that the Merlin motors can't be lit/relit in flight but have to be started on the pad? Can they in fact be throttled to any extent or is it too costly in Isp terms?

184:

First off, the Merlin engines can be restarted in flight --- the vacuum-nozzle variant in the second stage is air-lit, and in the second demo flight it was re-lit in orbit (as a dress rehearsal for injection into GTO, perhaps).

As to the cross-feed, the advantage is more or less the same as the advantage of more traditional staging arrangements: the sooner you can lose tankage, the less fuel you have to waste pushing it around. In effect, FH acts like it has three stages: a first stage with 27 Merlin engines and two cores' worth of dry weight, a second stage with 9 Merlins and one cores' worth of dry weight, and an upgraded F9 second stage. That beats firing off all the cores in parallel for the same reason that staging is a win generally: during the "second stage burn", the engines don't have to push around the weight of the first stage tankage (i.e., the two outboard cores).

Nathan's sanity checks on the figures, which he linked to above, go through the math in somewhat more detail --- but some of that's speculative, as SpaceX is being really cagey about even fairly basic things like the weights of the stages, and some of that is guesswork. But there is at least one official index of the benefit. SpaceX says that they're able to turn off the crossfeed, for lighter-weight loads --- under 100,000 pounds. So, per the press releases, the crossfeed gets you 20% extra payload capacity to orbit.

185:

What got people going about Orion was a home movie of a small test model about the size of a dog house powered by hight exposes. It jumped right up and ran true. And old SF story has been just been rewritten using this "steam" kind of Orion. So far Steam Science Fiction is a dismal thing. If it can be worse it will. It seems to be the Science Fiction of Liberal Arts people who know little about technology and like it less. Old American railroads were even worse than European ones. But it seems as if people loved them as a huge improvement for their lives. How ignorant they must have been of what many now know as fact. If they have been to enough school.

186:

How does every post about something space-related turns into the old and tired space colonization argument so fast?

187:

It's been written, more-or-less straight-faced: you need to hunt down a copy of "Anti-Ice" by Steve Baxter.

188:

Alex, space tourism or even sending expeditions out to near-earth asteroids to do mining isn't colonisation. If it is, then by that metric we've colonised the North Sea and the Gulf of Mexico with our oil and gas platforms.

I'm sure there are plenty of things we can do in space that will become profitable if and when the infrastructure for getting there becomes more affordable. But people making their primary residence off-earth and raising families there is unlikely for a very long time, as is a non-specialist economy able to sustain itself in the absence of inputs from earth.

189:

One more thing on the cross-feed:

The advantage over just burning the side cores completely, and then discarding them and air-lighting the center core when they're spent, is that you get higher thrust at the beginning of the launch (an extra nine engines' worth). That means you accelerate faster, and reduces gravity loss (the fuel spent keeping the rocket up in the air while it accelerates parallel to the ground).

The main disadvantage (and the probable reason that they're making a point of saying that you can turn it off) is that you're trusting to the correct operation of this plumber's nightmare at altitude, under acceleration and heavy vibration, and some of those conditions are going to be hard to fake up in a static test. (FWIW, the "at altitude" part was a problem on the Saturn V --- there was a flexible cryogenic fuel line that shook loose on one J-2 engine on the second unmanned test. That had never happened in static tests on the ground, because the ice that condensed out of the air kept it rigid. In the stratosphere, it didn't ice up.)

190:

I think you could probably improve upon the performance in your calculations, by assuming that the central stage will get somewhat bigger nozzles for its engines than the boosters. - Trading a bit of thrust on the ground for higher specific impulse after leaving the atmosphere.

That's what the Russians did with the central stage of the Soyuz as well. So, it seems to be a good plan.

191:

You can't read to much FREEMAN DYSON. He was a insider at Bomber Command and has written about their real loses. He was also in the Orion group. I have not gone into my books to find the right ones, but I am sure he wrote about a Orion rocket. He, or somebody. said there was a radioactive isotope called Calif something that was a liquid so radiative that it had to be kept in containers with born. If pushed it out it would fuzz, a lot. Add a lot of water and you would have a Atom rocket. 'ALL' that remains is the hardware, and getting it up in the first place. In the end times off Global Warming that may be seen as better than the worst. Not if it could get Solar Power into orbit. Back in the old days of SF someone wrote a storey called , I think, RIDING THE TOURCH. different hardware, but still the same. We are fixed with the rich we think making space a fun place for them will get us there. Thats nuts.

192:

Kim Philby was oneof the Cambridge Four

Five, IIRC? Philby, Burgess, Maclean, Blunt, and Cairncross...

193:

YES IT WAS A Cambridge FIVE NOT 4. I KNEW THAT, NO REALLY I DID. IT'S THE TRUTH, NO FOOLING. I JUST MISTYPED, REALLY THATS THE TRUTH, MO JOKE. WOULD I KID YOU? BUT WERE THERE 6? OR MORE. If our,the US's Neo-Cons) will stop kicking RUSSIA over what happened 30 or 40 years ago to win votes today, maybe the KGB files will open back up. We need real history to set whats coming. That's short here in the States. THATS A REASON TO READ FREEMAN DYSON.

194:

It's interesting that there was a sort of cold war between Britain and Russia over India, in the 19th Century. With Afghanistan as the disputed buffer. It finally wound down and Russia became part of an anti-German alliance. Which led to the First World War and its consequences.

So if the Russians look at their history, they might be a bit wary of getting too cosy with former enemies.

The British Army has been in Afghanistan often enough that there must have been a plethora of head-desk moments in certain offices in the Ministry of Defence, over the past decade.

195:

Californium. Not a practical rocket fuel: the longest-lived isotope has a half-life of 898 years, meaning it barely occurs in nature at all: you need to synthesize it from plutonium in a high neutron flux reactor, and it is not cheap (even compared to Pu).

196:

I think your probably right about Californium. But hey, it sounds like a hardware problem. The post may give people ideas. And if you want to jet around with any G force it's going to cost.

197:

Perhaps I did not make myself clear enough. I said that tourism will provide the economic driver that will lead to colonization, as per the definition required.

Obviously oil rigs don't meet the definition today. But for argument's sake suppose after they run dry, they become tourist destinations. And suppose that the staff reside there more or less permanently, have their wives and children on the rig, and the local population lives off the rig tourism. Some people might even start independent businesses, fishing, sea farming, etc, etc to create a more diverse economy. Wouldn't this then meet the definition of colonization? This seems to me to be same process that happened in mining towns that successfully transitioned to communities even after the minerals were exhausted.

[If one looks at countries like Bermuda, that was founded by ship wrecked families, it prospers as a tax haven and tourist destination, requiring almost all its food and goods to be imported, even water for some people. It would support a much smaller population with little technology if it was cut off from the outside world].

If we can accept that as a general process, why not the same off planet?

198:

What definition of colonisation are you going by? Charlie's post @95 highlights what definition is suitable here: [B]a self-sufficient settlement [/B] (paraphrased by me)

You are right in suggesting that there are places where settlements only exist because of tourism and that without it these places will wither away. However if you have an outpost (whether it be on an oil rig or orbit or the moon etc) and tourism is the only source of income then that income must be spent on importing all the necessities to keep the outpost alive alive and kicking. In reference to that eggs-and-basket argument a non-Earth outpost that survives by using money from tourism to buy essentials would not help if the Earth 'died'

199:

All those into Cold War spy stuff should google "Gehlen Organization". West German Intelligence was considered a joke by the time all the shit had flown off the fan, around 1970

200:

Why are people still arguing that there is a business case for a colony on the Moon or Mars?

There is none. Get over it.

But that's fine. There are a lot of big and expensive things in this world that were build without any commercial or other tangible benefit other than glorification of something or someone, warning, vanity, memorial or whatever.

Thousands of Cathedrals, Churches, Temples, Monasteries, Monuments, Memorials, (obsolete) Fortresses, Palaces, Works of Art, Historic Buildings etc. pp. have been build and/or are being preserved at high cost.

Because we should is perfectly sufficient. Because it has been the dream of people for centuries to walk and live on the moon, to personally experience what it is like to be on another planet, to just go to a new place. Because the human mind is what it is, we need new experiences, new information, new perspectives to understand the world we live in, we should strive to expose ourselves to such new experiences. Especially because it requires the management of small, closed ecosystems - where you can't easily move to another place with an intact ecosystem once you destroyed the old one.

If that sounds like Strossian Economics 3.0, that's because it is. New information and experiences are much more valuable to us as a whole than Gold, Platin or Energy - because they are non-rival goods and they have a huge impact on the way we use our limited resources. And once we have those new experiences and information, we can use it and it won't easily disappear.

201:

Sorry, I forgot to add in a sentence that I was only mentioning the remaining artifacts of western culture. There are of course also lots of Mosques, the Pyramids, the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City, Machu Pichu (or however that is spelled) etc. Or, back to the western world, the huge effort to save Venice from drowning or the Tower of Pisa from falling over.

202:
I think your probably right about Californium. But hey, it sounds like a hardware problem. The post may give people ideas. And if you want to jet around with any G force it's going to cost.

Why talk about something pushing the bounds of plausibility for vaporware when we (almost) have a perfectly good real-life cheap heavy-lift launcher?

I'll repeat what I said earlier: this is an excellent opportunity for doing some practical experimentation. That earlier talk about large mirrors? How about we experiment with ways to control their movement and positioning? How tough a problems is this, really?

There's an equivalent here with the all-you-need-is-shrimp-and-alga closed-loop life support: "All you need to keep control of structures hundreds or thousands of meters across and less than an inch thick is a little centrifugal [:-)] force."

I wish. Maybe the truth isn't far from that. But that's by no means a sure thing. The same goes for tethers.

But that's fine. There are a lot of big and expensive things in this world that were build without any commercial or other tangible benefit other than glorification of something or someone, warning, vanity, memorial or whatever.

Hey, if it was up to me I'd take half the American defense budget and put it into space stuff, based upon nothing more substantial than Space Stuff is an unfulfilled boyhood fantasy.

Which I think is reason enough . . . but for some mysterious reason, other people childishly and spitefully disagree with me and take great delight in thwarting my will ;-)

203:

This seems to me to be same process that happened in mining towns that successfully transitioned to communities even after the minerals were exhausted.

Like which ones? Usual pattern is a poverty-heroin ghetto without any food shops.

204:

Well I said jet around, the system at as many Gs as the ship or it riders could take.). Not do heavy lifting to orbit. I still want any facts on using something like Bull's canon to move small parts or water up cheap. He was a sharp practical engineer who spent years on the idea.

205:

I hate to be a nattering nabab of negativism but. (no i do)
Capitalists have never invested in anything big before a government has made sure they will make money. It may not have shown everywhere but I'm sure it's so. Your Lords and Earls were the government (I think). Here in the USA it's a fact. From Canals to Airlines, no mater what the new Republicans want to tell voters. The idea that money managers will do so is based on the work of one American Conservative SF writer and his right wing buds, I think. You must have the politicians on board with a reason to take the cash from one place and put it somewhere else. Look at the space race or any space work. If the American government had not wanted spy satellites it would not have happened. All the early American satellites were for spying. And they worked to calm us down about the USSR. They worked to scare us into not messing with them. They scared us so bad we almost bombed first.

206:

I'm using "The implication of colony is a permanent self-sustaining settlement."

The reality is that there are many places on earth where people are born, live and die, yet would not be self sustaining without trade from elsewhere. Indeed most places on earth would be miserably primitive at best, and non-survivable at worst, without imports. If you want colony to mean a habitat that allows life to continue without contact of any sort, that is OK, but not relevant to much of the living on earth today.

Where I think Charlie's argument, and yours by extension, breaks down, is the assumption of stasis. That tourism (or mining) is the only industry and will remain that way. On the contrary, I would argue that these jump start the local economy, which then expands. Consider a old mining town. The cost of shipping anything from a large town or city will result in high prices that can be arbitraged by local production or services. Bring the whores to the miners. Distill local liquor. Use tools to work local materials, like wood, and build saloons, cabins, hotels. Supply local food by hunting. etc. etc. At some point, these support activities become the economy, even if the mining that started the growth peters out.

But look at any small town in the US or Britain today. Cut it off from the rest of the nation and how long would it survive? This is directly analogous to Charlie's question about the minimum size to maintain an industrial civilization. The answer seems to be bigger than almost any town except large cities. But we don't argue that these towns are non-viable economies, because we accept that they trade with the wider society.

Therefore I think it is perfectly reasonable to suggest that oil rig might well develop into a viable living space for a local economy.

Writ large, that implies that we could have large numbers of people living throughout the solar system, even though they may not be completely viable over the long term without access to trade goods from other settlements and earth. It would seem very strange to me to see such a vibrant civilization and claim that they aren't real "colonies" based on some local sustainability requirement.

207:

I'm sure you've read about the Norse colonies on Greenland. They needed trade with Scandinavia to survive. Call them settlements if you will, but they were viable for quite some time until the changing climate stopped that trade.

208:

You need to get out more. I live in California. The old gold rush towns mostly are still alive rather than dead.

Nevada's silver towns are similar I believe.

209:

"Therefore I think it is perfectly reasonable to suggest that oil rig might well develop into a viable living space for a local economy."

Principality of Sealand

210:

More than one of those old mining towns kept going with illegal prostitution and gambling. More than one made the news when the busts came down. Back in the 70's I rode into one thats a big place to take the kids now. Small towns in parts middle of the USA are just drying out. The new Gov. of Kansas is giving 5 year stat tax cuts to get people back in parts of the state..

211:

It's more than old mining towns that are dying out. The Kansas reference has some clues.

A group of people have to either be self sustaining or economically generate more than they consume to survive. And Welfare IS a form of economic activity.

Many small towns on the great plains have been dying off for decades. They tend to be spaced every 20 to 40 miles. Basically how far you could ride in on a horse, do your business, and then get home before it was very late. And the prices for things tended to be somewhat expensive compared to bigger towns due to the cost of doing business on a small scale was way more than on a bigger scale. Automobiles changed all of this. The depression of the 30s kept people home and then we had that minor dust up of the 40s which skewed economic and people movements but after that the kids just started leaving. Plus many families. Where you could work a 10 to 20 acre farm with horses with tractors you needed much larger farms to turn a profit. So families moved also moved off the farms.

In the phone industry they saw the results in spades. By the 80s the phone companies were having a terrible time out west making ends meet. The state PUCs wanted them to get touch tone, ISDN, ADSL, etc... and there was just no way to justify it. The smaller Bells that were left got eaten up by bigger ROCs then they just dumped money into them for the privilege to providing the profitable services to the bigger cities. But in the back of my mind I have to think that this helped make what is now Sprint into a weaker player as they had a lot of their user base out there.

But this is happening all over the US is rural areas. I grew up watching it happen if far western KY. My grandfather and later his wife ran a business starting the 30s (maybe earlier) delivering wholesale goods to country general stores. She kept it up until the mid 70s, maybe a little longer. Better roads and cars killed off the general stores. As people could drive to the bigger cities, say 3,000 or more people, they stopped going to the general store at the cross roads and instead to the small Sears, Kresgee, JC Penney, etc.. Where they at least had a choice of more than one style of shoes in their size. Then as cars and roads got better they drove the hour or two to a town with a full sized Sears, Penneys, or even a mall.

Small towns are NOT thriving unless they have some underlying activity that's keeping them going. At best they are holding even with an aging population or shrinking. And many are dissolving to avoid the high taxes required by things like municipal police and fire departments.

Now one way small towns stay alive in the US is by commuters riding the rails or driving to work in bigger cities. But there are limits to how far that can go. In New England Conn and NJ small towns feed off people working in NYC. Boston and Chicago have similar feeds. But out of the northeast you get into commuters driving and all the issues that entails.

At least in the US. Europe has had a few 1000 years to figure this all out and my understanding is they have no places left of any appreciable size that are anywhere near as thinly populated as the US from about 1000 miles west of the Mississippi till the far size of the Sierra Mountains.

212:

Oh yeah. To the point. You can have moderately large groups of people living in space but they have to have the ability to generate a very much desired "something" over a fairly long period to make it work. In the US it was crops out in the Great Plains from the 1880s till now. But as technology advanced the people needs went way down to the point that in many cases they are just some isolated pockets of people now days where there used to be thriving communities. But it's a lot easier to pack up and move to the big city from middle of now where Kansas than it is to move back from the asteroid belt. So what happens if the valuable thing drops in value enough after 10 years so no longer makes it profitable to ship food to the outpost for more than 10% of the residents? Do the residents draw straws? It's not like there will be a bus coming by once a week.

213:

There are several potential non-traditional-rocket launch systems that, if they proved out, could be built in the medium term (say 20 years from now) and could lower launch costs by a factor of 10 or 20. I agree with Charlie that the space elevator is questionable, mostly because it's near the limit of strength of materials we're likely to be able to manufacture anytime soon1, and because of the space junk problem. That still leaves laser launchers (using air as reaction mass as long as the launch vehicle is in the atmosphere), pinwheel tethers, maglev catapults, and combinations of those with each other and with various sorts of hypersonic turbojets, scramjets, and single stage rockets. A little further down the timeline are systems like the (Lofstrom) Launch Loop and the Space Fountain.

Every one of those systems requires some fairly large capital investment even after the R&D is done, and probably construction times on the order of years or even more than a decade (building a catapult in high terrain for instance would probably be a long job). So like all the other things we're talking about here, the critical gating item is sufficient interest in getting into space that someone is going to be willing to spend tens or hundreds of billions of dollars and years of engineering and construction time to do it.


1. Single crystal metallic hydrogen theoretically has the highest tensile strength per unit mass of any material, but we haven't a clue how to make it or keep it stable. In theory there are non-hadronic materials like positronium and muonium that would be even better, but they're even less credible than hydrogen: neither one is stable at the atomic level for longer than microseconds.

214:

Lots of people moved West, the West as on TV not the real West of Kansas, with handcarts. Now, I'm afraid Democracy will never work well with very long term, large and costly doings. But I am influenced by what's happening here in the USA. Well the world ends when I do. But there is at least one thing that is going to end life as is know it in a lot of time. I'd spend money to move us out. Will the bosses?

215:

It's been said that modern capitalism developed from the solutions found to the problem of running the Royal Navy. So a Military-Industrial Complex is the whole point of the system.

Maybe we need a time traveller to go back and distract Samuel Pepys.

216:

A few questions, before we quite say "none" yet, with regards to economic reasons for space settlements.

(1) What's the realistic amount of stuff from Earth per year that a resident of the Moon would need to live comfortably?

(2) What's the amount of stuff from Earth that would need to be transported to the Moon to carve out a comfortable living space for said resident?

(3) How much is the procurement and lifting cost of (1) and (2)?

(4) Does the cost of (1) and the annual capital cost of (2) come to a number that could potentially support a tourist trade, after the cost of transporting and sustaining said tourists is deducted?

I have no idea, but somebody should run the numbers to see if there is a threshold lifting cost at which lunar tourism becomes viable enough to sustain a settlement.

Of course, I suspect it won't work at all.

217:

People who want to know about real NASA space work must read THE HUBBLE WARS, by EJ Chaisson. If they have not. The Hubble never worked as it should have thanks to graft and " orders from the highest level. " But it's the only game in town. (highest level. guess who CS)

218:

I agree with most of what you are saying but I think you missed the point, a typical justification for space travel is that we shouldn't have all our eggs in one basket (I.e the Earth becomes uninhabitable due to nuclear war, plague etc so we have to survive elsewhere) however this justification breaks down because to build a self-sufficient colony you need the ability to build sustainable ecosystems and a self-sufficient industrial base.

Now if you have such a capability then going to space isn't a good option for surviving the end of the world, it would be much easier to build habitats underground, undersea or even on the surface. Anything in space has to be done through the bottleneck of getting the components out of the planet's well.

Bring the whores to the miners. Distill local liquor. Use tools to work local materials, like wood, and build saloons, cabins, hotels. Supply local food by hunting. etc. etc. At some point, these support activities become the economy

I have to point out here that there are not going to be local resources to work with. Yes if you were on an asteroid/moon/Mars you could extract minerals, metals and perhaps even water but you've got no soil to grow crops, no rare elements etc etc etc. A viable colony would need a whole suite of technologies that we don't have today that can turn moon rock et al into useable materials. A habitat requiring imports is unlikely to develop a local economy because there is nothing for them to work with.

I really don't think a comparison of terrestrial town development in our history is appropriate for space colonisation

219:

As a humble arts graduate, I tend to avoid the techie stuff on this blog - but could the experience of the North Sea oil rigs have any relevance to the problems you're talking about here?

220:

Oil rigs have the advantage of free gravity, breathable atmosphere and being incredibly cheap and safe to travel between.

A habitat in space has diminished/negligible gravity (over months bones decay: BIG PROBLEM), no habitable environment and all travel is monumentally expensive as it has to be done through a bottleneck that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars per kg.

If we wanted to build a self-sufficient colony we will need to develop a suit of technologies enabling us to grow crops, mine and refine and generally have an industrial base capable of building everything we need to maintain our ecosystem in a can. A good trial towards this would be to try to build a self-sufficient settlement in the Atacama or Goby desert with the stipulation that the project can only have a small amount of mass sent to it per month. In these deserts there are limited resources, no fertile land, no vegetation and no wild life. Building a colony there would be a monumental challenge but would be an order of magnitude simpler than space due to the gravity, atmosphere and the ability to go and save the people by truck if disaster strikes

221:

Gotcha, thanks for that.

222:

@ DJP O'Kane. Oil rigs seem relevant in the sense that they are clearly far easier to build and live on than anything in space, and far more comfortable too. Yet there is hardly anyone around who wants to live there.

The only attempts at living on oil rigs tend to rely on the income from literal off-shoring of illegal activities. That's a hardly a reliable and scalable business, and they seem to fail anyway, because other parts of the globe are already good at the business.

223:

Ryan says: "Oil rigs have the advantage of free gravity, breathable atmosphere and being incredibly cheap and safe to travel between."

All true compared to space. Yet it's worth pointing out that compared to all other places where people live, oil rigs are among the most expensive and dangerous places to travel to and live on. Most oil rigs are nowadays automated exactly because of the cost of having people live at sea. The procedure is usually to drill with a manned platform, then leave an automated station in place.

They're not exactly promising examples for space colonization

224:

In order to make the moon a permanent tourist destination for the rich, you would have to reduce the cost of transport (both ways) to something on the order $50 million per person and find a few thousand billionaires(*) willing to pay several hundred million dollars each to establish earth-side and moon-side infrastructure. Which we might very optimistically put at something on the order of three times the ISS budget as an absolute minimum (that includes advances in technology quite a bit beyond the Falcon Heavy). All of that is quite unlikely.

Even though we live in times when the filthy rich have taken away unprecedented amounts of wealth from the population, by not investing in public goods and infrastructure, the number of billionaires in the world has only just surpassed one thousand.

You might see a few rich people piggyback on an erected moonbase to see it for themselves, just as there were tourists flying to the ISS. But they too only flew there - they didn't pay for the ISS to be build. The same goes for McMurdo Station (and a few others) in the Antarctic.

You might see tourists going to oil rigs in the North Sea or the Gulf of Mexico one day. Perhaps even some sort of widespread permanent residency (depending, among others, on property laws and regulations concerning the environment). But you won't see someone building new rigs on the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea or the Caspian for a few tens of billion dollars for this purpose - despite the much more suitable environment.

225:

Ref the oil rig comparisons (this is likely to be my view and relate to anything from 219 to 224 inc). I used to work with people who had worked in the oil industry, on-shore, North Sea, and Persian Gulf:-

A large part of the present hazard level is due to the rig being "connected" to several million tons of volatiles under very high pressure by a steel pipe. I don't have them, but I've seen pics of a rig in the South China Sea being sunk in about 5s by a blow-out.

A large part of the present "comfort" level is down to the (un)preparedness of the board to spend money on making them physically comfortable places. Other than expense, there is no reason why a rig should not be equipped like a luxury liner.

They are some of the hardest environments to get kit too that man has ever attempted a long-term (several years) residence in, but they have free air and gravity, easy environmental heating/cooling requirements, and mostly have some sort of connection to fresh water (at least given desalination facilities).

Even the Alaskan fields (see Ice Road Truckers for some idea of their logistical difficulties with items that can't be air-freighted) are way easy compared with "living in space" where you'd need near enough 100% efficient closed system re-cycling of air, water and bio-mass (mostly food) to avoid needing thousantds of tons of extra supplies per year shipping to them.

226:

"typical justification for space travel is that we shouldn't have all our eggs in one basket (I.e the Earth becomes uninhabitable....)"

So if earth is protected for the next 10,000 years, then how unlikely is it that our technology is good enough by then to convert any settlement to a self sustaining colony?

"I have to point out here that there are not going to be local resources to work with. Yes if you were on an asteroid/moon/Mars you could extract minerals, metals and perhaps even water but you've got no soil to grow crops, no rare elements etc etc etc."

That is just plain wrong. All the elements on earth are available from other bodies in the solar system. Where they are in short supply on one body (e.g. water on the moon's surface) they are available in abundance elsewhere (e.g. water in short period and extinct comets). Crops can be grown hydroponically, but soil can be made quite easily as long as you have the requisite organisms available.

"A habitat requiring imports is unlikely to develop a local economy because there is nothing for them to work with."

Tell that to the inhabitants of many different regions on earth. Mining and purifying water, and delivering it to suitable orbits for propellant and consumption could be a very viable business.

Before I forget. For those of you who think that economies cannot start because everything is cheaper on earth by definition, just remember Ricardian "comparative advantage".

227:

A habitat in space has diminished/negligible gravity"

Not necessarily. Centrifuges solve the gravity problem. Big enough and you won't even notice the coriolis forces

"A good trial towards this would be to try to build a self-sufficient settlement in the Atacama or Goby desert with the stipulation that the project can only have a small amount of mass sent to it per month. In these deserts there are limited resources, no fertile land, no vegetation and no wild life. Building a colony there would be a monumental challenge but would be an order of magnitude simpler than space due to the gravity, atmosphere and the ability to go and save the people by truck if disaster strikes"

You may be surprised to learn that there are hotels in the Atacama desert to serve the science teams that visit. Let's pretend some valuable mineral like oil was discovered there. Mining facilities would arrive, as would a water pipeline. Parts of the desert would quickly change to support those mining activities.

Adapting to local conditions is key. The Inuit don't drag tents to live on the ice in winter, they build igloos. Perhaps one does something rather similar with comets to build pressure vessels to live in. Perhaps we will be "printing" structures and tools, maybe even easily recyclable ones, to reduce mass and costs. I don't think these are "magic" by any means, so even if launch to LEO stays above $1000/kg, the costs of everything else such as orbital transfer of people and materials will fall dramatically.

228:

"You might see tourists going to oil rigs in the North Sea or the Gulf of Mexico one day. Perhaps even some sort of widespread permanent residency (depending, among others, on property laws and regulations concerning the environment). But you won't see someone building new rigs on the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea or the Caspian for a few tens of billion dollars for this purpose - despite the much more suitable environment."

You'd be wrong. There were plans to build a ship to act as a permanent residences for the wealthy. It would have been a sort of floating hotel, traveling about the world and offering a tax free residence.
One might ask how this could possibly be cheaper than living in an existing tax haven, but clearly someone thought it made sense.

Obviously this does not mean that there is a viable business for a comparable structure in space. However, with new materials technology and construction, it may turn out that the cost to space falls to the launch costs to LEO. After that, costs fall dramatically due to local resource utilization, ensuring that the total costs fall well within the affordability of a fraction of the population.

229:

With the greatest respect I still think you're are missing the point, I never said it was impossible but the idea that a self-sufficient colony is A) easy and B) good answer to the eggs-and-basket argument is foolish.

Resources;

There may be an abundance of elements that we can use but resources are not just minerals, I would really like to see any evidence you have that soil can be "easily made with the right organisms".

Hotels etc;

The point of the discussion is self-sufficiency. I.e. if supplies from Earth were unavailable would the colony survive and thrive? The point is not and never was "is it viable to have hotels there"

Gravity;

The size of such a station would be incredibly costly. Bearing in mind it costs tens of millions to launch tons into space it seems unlikely that our technology will allow us to make a space the size of a hollowed out asteroid.

Again no body is arguing that it is not possible. The points being made are that the eggs-and-basket argument is foolish (if you can do it there you can do it here) and that there has yet to be a demonstration of how to make money from space colonisation. I'm not convinced by your billionaires retreat idea to be frank

230:

No need to wait for oil, there's plenty of copper around.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chuquicamata

(One of, if not the, biggest copper mines in the world. Not in the Atacama region per se as Chile is divided, but located in the Atacama desert in the larger sense).

231:

For the sake of the human race I think we must get into space, someday. As was said about war. War is simple, but even the simplest things are hard to do in war. (or something like that.) The posters here, like everywhere, know things on paper. They don't know how hard it can be to do things right here. But I must say they are done. To move things up soon, not now, I think a laser hot air jet will be the best heavy lifter. Something like a hot air Orion. Fields of smaller lasers could reduce the damage from not hitting the sweet spot with one or more. With added bottled air when needed. So, would a ox mix be the way to go. or just gas. A liquid gas? A light gas like or a heavy dense gas? Heck. add water tanks and make it a steam rocket.

232:
"There were plans to build a ship to act as a permanent residences for the wealthy."

There were indeed; I first remember hearing about it something like twenty years ago, when they were planning to have it afloat by 2000. Thirteen or fourteen years ago, they were planning to start construction before 2000. I've not heard anything about it for more than a decade, now. Anyone would think that it actually turned out to be totally impractical in some way....

233:

I agree that the "eggs in one basket" argument for space settlement looks very difficult to achieve, but it isn't foolish.

It looks foolish on the surface because the current day costs of transporting goods off earth looks prohibitive.
If we were back to talking about colonies around other stars, this argument holds much more water. But around other bodies in the solar system?

Let's consider what a viable colony might mean. If we could clone the earth we would have an instant viable "colony" right there, with duplicates of everything.

Now consider our single earth. If the northern hemisphere was vaporized, leaving the southern untouched, how viable would the remaining populations be? Certainly they would be thrown somewhat backward, but would survive in a more primitive state.

If just the USA was vaporized, the impact would be bad, but not insurmountable. If Great Britain was vaporized, maybe no one would really notice :)

Now consider just an Earth-Mars civilization. Same problem. Vaporize earth and it would be hard to survive on Mars. But how hard? Imagine a billion people living on Mars using Earth to supply some manufactures. Would that really be that much worse than just the southern hemisphere of earth surviving? With a billion people, there is not going to be a problem of not having sustainable environment, possibly even a fully terraformed one.

Now consider the whole solar system with settlements. Populations created by indigenous growth. The solar economy is perhaps 10x larger than Earth's. Earth is vaporized. I doubt that these colonies would then fail to survive.

The original European colonists of North America couldn't survive without supplies from Europe. But within 400 years, the USA became the largest economy on the planet and could survive the vaporization of Europe.

Don't get hung up on the simple things. There were experiments back in the 1960's to use simulated lunar regolith as a "soil". You can make soil yourself with composters in your back yard. This is trivially easy.

Gravity is also not that hard. Rotate any 2 masses around a common center. The total mass need be little higher than the same masses joined in a micro-g tin can.

But again, the real key is not to ship up the complete cans from earth. Use local resources with either lower deltaV or better economics through reusability to reduce costs.

The points being made are that the eggs-and-basket argument is foolish (if you can do it there you can do it here)".

What would be the point of colonizing parts of earth if the earth were to be made unviable? Cost is not relevant here. Successful risk mitigation of loss is.

"I'm not convinced by your billionaires retreat...".

I'm not claiming it is, just that people are looking at space tourism as a business, and creating billionaire retreats have been mooted. Who would have thought that eco-tourism was viable, or trips to Antarctica?

If launch costs to LEO remain at $2000/kg, that means a launch cost of $400k per person. Indenture yourself for a few years and the trip is paid for. If local resources can be readily used, then you are not going to be burdened with paying for a lifetime of air and food and luxuries, just your share of local resources.

In situ resource utilization makes a huge difference to space travel costs. A vehicle requiring a 6 km/s delta V with a fuel Isp of 400s, can deliver dead weight and payload of about 22% of starting mass and fuel. Returning with the necessary fuel and payload means a tiny useful return payload, which includes our tourists. But if the ship can be refueled at the destination, that 22% of mass can be returned to the starting point. If fuel is readily deliverable from low gravity wells in efficient, reusable transports, the fuel for the trip in each direction need not incur the LEO costs, ensuring that only the necessary people masses are launched, resulting is far more economic trips.



234:

The HOA fees were just horrible....:)

235:

Everyone keeps talking about making things locally off world. Especially metals and such. Has anyone making these arguments been to a real steel furnace. Even a small one? Or seen what it takes to get to the point of putting stuff into a furnace. And has anyone studied how to make such smelting operations work in low or micro G? With little or no atmosphere. Or an atmosphere that might make our current production methods not work?

Then all you need is a machine shop the size of a fairly big warehouse and you're all set.

I'm all for it. But the "details to be worked out later" seem to be a pretty big hill to get over.

236:

Just how did people make iron and steel before there were blast furnaces? All those steel tools and structures, all made without the benefit of a modern blast furnace. Amazing!

So given some artificial g and an artificial atmosphere, why the assumption that one cannot form metal objects using older techniques?

Import the higher tech stuff and create the low tech, bulk materials locally. Substitute where possible for local materials.

237:

I'm now trying to imagine a village blacksmith hammering out parts for his orbital. Heating them over charcoal made from the trees to be found in LEA.

It's steampunk, but not as we know it.

238:

It's an interesting image. Bear in mind that museums are full of fine tools and implements made with this level of technology. Build CNC machines with Earth supplied cutting edges and you could really extend capabilities.

I don't think we need charcoal for fuel, but carbon is plentiful in some meteorites, probably on Mars as impactors, and possibly in other forms too - we know there are methane emissions. Combustible gases are easily created - hydrogen, methane, acetylene... to heat metals.

One shouldn't be looking for the capability to build spacecraft, but rather the capability of building pressure hulls, tools, furniture, fabrics...

I suspect that life in a settlement will be quite basic, a bit like that experienced by the early American colonists after they left England, or living outside of cities in undeveloped countries. Depending on the type of local resources that can be extracted or grown, plus the sophistication of 3-D printers and fabs, life may be more or less quite desirable, even if cut off from the high tech stuff that would be too expensive to transport.

Sustainability will require a viable economic model, which we can only guess at today. But humans are inventive.


239:

Didn't Niven cover that one already?

240:

Sorry. Sounds too much like " just how hard can it be to build a combination aircraft carrier / nuclear sub" using 1911 technology. And I'll toss in the power plant and control system for free. After all, you get to bring up some thing from Earth.

241:

This is the Bestest Blog. I had not read "Looking under the street lamp again" when I said people should read Freeman Dyson. He adds a lot of how it really works and history that's hard to find. The world is missing his and Richard P Freyman's wisdom. RF was the Los Alamos safecracker. He took time off from dying to be on the Shuttle Crash Board. To really find out anything he did his own investigation of NASA from the underside. What he found was not good. The bosses could do no wrong. He was the guy who put part of O-Ring in ice water live on TV, without knowing what would happen.

242:

Iron just melts out of the crushed ore that's picked or dug up. You need bellows. Steel was made in India by packing charcol around good iron in a clay pot and letting it burn in the ground for days. If you were lucky you got steel for a very good sword. A TV history show said there were traces of steel at a monastery that was making iron. They had a largish ring of big bellows and the show said the runs and pig molds had traces of steel. King Henry the whatever kicked them out so who knows. Really making steel came in modern times, I think, in Germany, I think. I knew this already, really, no fooling. But they is more and better in the back of one of ERIC FLINTS's Grandtville books. I worked on a job in a re-melt mill in town. I was told that even then, there was a lot luck in making new steel. There were things that were just not known or in full controll. But that could have been bull. There was a series in Analog some time ago, I just reread it, about making steel in space. they used big iron pots heated with sunlight and blown with ox. Looked good to me but how would I know?

243:

Jules Verne's "Propellor Island" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Propeller_Island is the first reference to this idea that I can think of.

244:

I'll buy that for a dollar; the biggest submarines ever built prior to the true "nuclear age" boats were the British K-series, laid down in 1910 .. 1916. Ok, they weren't over-successful, but that was largely due to the nutter who came up with the idea of open-fired boilers running steam turbines for surface propulsion.

245:

Ah, the transfer of steel and other metal making to space. Thats a tricky one, insofar as a blast furnace won't quite be enough.
I'll need to find out more about the specific mineral resources in space to comment, but using carbonaceous asteroids to reduce iron and some other metals would probably work, the important bits include the source of heat and whether there is any slag to partition the unwanted stuff in.

As for:
"Iron just melts out of the crushed ore that's picked or dug up"
That is a gross simplification. As someone who helped run a (failed) iron ore smelt last year, its more difficult than that. The Chinese had cast iron first, around 400AD or so, it took another thousand years for it to be established in the west. Before cast iron was bloomery smelting, where the furnace reached around 1200C or so, and the specific conditions within it promoted the growth of a bloom, a lump of iron with some slag and charcoal embedded in it. This then had to be hammered repeatedly whilst hot (Throwing off sparks and bits of molten slag) in order to make it into one lump of iron.
The problems with melting iron are numerous - your furnace material has to be capable of taking high temperatures, you have to have a good source of air, usually a waterwheel or such; then there's preparing the ore and charcoal so they are optimal sizes, not to mention getting the ratio of ore to charcoal right as well.

In space though, it would be nice to use the solar energy for heating.

246:

Further reflection makes me think that the French boat "Surcouf" may well have been bigger, but she was a one-off, and the K-boats were a series of at least 20 vessels (including the 3 M-class, which used K keels, and conventional diesel-electric propulsion).

247:

A lot of existing metallurgy relies on gravity too. To get your slag to float off on the top of your melt, you need to have a top, and that means gravity or some suitable simulacrum.

You'd need one heck of a centrifuge to put your asteroid in. In the only smelting plant in which I've worked, the two furnaces were rotary*, in order to tumble the material and mix it well, but the thought of that running several times faster just to get separation - well, it makes me wince.

[*] Lead smelter, taking ground up car batteries and remaking the metal to virgin lead ingots. You can imagine what the impurities were - the filters on the stacks cost over a million pounds, in the mid 80s.

248:

@247
Steel making with no gravity?

How to move the steel from furnace to BOS reaction vessel to caster with no gravity? The only option would be pumps rated for liquid steel at 1500 deg.C. Good luck with that.

The BOS process relies on oxygen bubbling through the steel, with no gravity the bubbles will stay in place and not reduce the free carbon to CO2 and CO, so you cannot refine your iron to steel.

How are you going to cast the steel? Continuous Cast or ingot casting both rely on convection cooling, so that the steel freezes from the bottom up, with liquid material filling any voids left as the steel contracts on freezing. Continuous cast has it's own problems with requiring HUGE amounts of cooling water, and a zero-gravity liquid metal breakout could be horrendous to deal with.

In fact the whole issue of the development of heavy industry in sci-fi colonisation scenarios could be fascinating, given the difficulties when you start to think about it in any depth.

249:

IMAX' image resolution is lower than 4K, actually (see http://magazine.creativecow.net/article/the-truth-about-2k-4k-the-future-of-pixels ), so as long as some digital camera manages to replicate the image quality of the lenses and so…

250:

How light is an IMAX camera? Sufficiently light for film makers to have taken one up to the ISS already.

That was a 3D one, too. (We saw the result in a Berlin IMAX theatre.)

251:

"Steel making with no gravity?"
"How to move the steel from furnace to BOS reaction vessel to caster with no gravity? The only option would be pumps rated for liquid steel at 1500 deg.C. Good luck with that."

Hey. One fellow mentioned putting the furnace and mill into a centrifuge to make gravity. Maybe a tethered one to save on materials.

Sorry but I have a hard time with any of this. Smelting very high grade ore in space is for more than coin sized results is going to take a LOT of stuff. And boot strapping it in space makes going from 1600 to 1900 on Earth look trivial. So you need to ship a LOT of the equipment up on a rocket. A few hundred rockets. Which means that whatever you are doing at the other end to make money better be better than transmutation of sand into gold.

252:

The Japanese I-400 class subs of WWII were the biggest non-nuclear submarines ever built, intended as submersible aircraft carriers to attack the Panama Canal entrance lock gates in the Caribbean. Only one was ever deployed before the war ended.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I-400_class_submarine

253:

Smelting very high grade ore in space is for more than coin sized results is going to take a LOT of stuff.

What do you think is required and why?

Starting with 95% pure NiFe ingots, what would you need?

254:

Alex, the burden of proof goes in your direction. No one is under the slightest obligation to prove anything to your satisfaction. Why don't you provide some specifics for a change instead your usual hand-waving?

Heck, I'll give you a real easy one: how would you, specifically, control the movements of a mirror that is no more than a few mils thick and a kilometer in diameter?

Specifically.

255:

Starting with 95% pure NiFe ingots, what would you need?
Too true, plus in microgravity and the ability to heat to 1000s of degrees with mirrors and vacuum its probably possible to manipulate the results with magnetic fields, but i'm not sure if molten iron is always magnetic at all temperatures.

Re scent of violets: a solar mirror would act as a solar sail and experience outward pressure. To move it, tug on one of the tethers. milimeter prescision can be achieved with good computer Control.

256:

I've pretty much given up on Alex: he just Doesn't Get It. (Magical thinking in action.)

257:

No one is under the slightest obligation to prove anything to your satisfaction.

Who is asking for the skeptics to prove their position? I've not made any such demand.

What I do see in these discussions generally is that positions are taken without considering the assumptions.

For example:

1. We need lots of metal/steel for colonies. (e.g. structures) Is that true, or an assumption? Could other materials be used, that would be simpler to fabricate?
2. Because we specify steel, we need modern steel making equipment to create high grade steel. Indeed we also need to SMELT it from ore. But do we, if metals are already available? Can we use lower grades of steel, or possibly iron?
3. We need modern fabrication techniques, e.g. rolling mills. Do we need steel made this way, or will other approaches work?

Not only are these assumptions possibly wrong, but we also have a long history of metal working and even crude steel making. So I don't need to be specific about simpler methods, I can point to artifacts that have been constructed from antiquity using simpler and cruder methods. The question then becomes whether these techniques can be adapted to different circumstances or not. If they can't, then perhaps other materials and fabrication techniques need to be used, depending on the resources and conditions available.

Unless something is impossible, it is potentially doable. As long as no magical techniques are invoked, that is a reasonable assumption. I would prefer to bet on human ingenuity to solve problems, than bet against it.


258:

I may not "get it" according to your world view. So I hereby invoke the great deity Clarke's First Law, appropriately paraphrased.

When a distinguished but middle aged science fiction writer states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right; when he states that something is impossible, he is probably wrong.

259:
Re scent of violets: a solar mirror would act as a solar sail and experience outward pressure. To move it, tug on one of the tethers. milimeter prescision can be achieved with good computer Control.

This level of detail leaves just a little bit to be desired. How do you deal with problems of torque? How about rippling in the mirror? Remember, it's for the most part less than a tenth of a millimeter thick. You can add mass for structural stability of course, but more mass is exactly what you don't want.

This is a tough problem, btw; look at how sturdy a recent solar sail actually is.

260:

LIKE WOW MAN! Paul Krugman likes your stuff!!! posters should look up "Fire; Dog: Lake ... chat with Paul Krugman" in this blog.

261:

Bollocks, Alex.

What you're asking for may or may not be impossible: the problem is, if it is going to be very difficult (and very expensive) to find out if it is possible (or not). You seem to have very little appreciation of the complexity of what you're asking for. I find that kind of Panglossian optimism coupled with blithe dismissal of complexity ... irritating.

(Also: why this obsession with steel? It's massive and not terribly strong and making it by our current processes involves applying lots of heat and oxygen, as well as some carbon, to the iron ore -- manipulating it in microgravity adds a whole new can of worms, as does the mere idea of cooling and processing steel in vacuum -- hint: it's a thermal insulator! I suspect a far more productive use of engineering resources would be to investigate what kind of synthetic polymers one can make from materials available in carbonaceous chondrites. Kevlar and similar carbon fibre composites being, oh, around twenty times as strong as steel per unit mass ...)

262:

This is a tough problem, btw; look at how sturdy a recent solar sail actually is.
I said it would act like a solar sail,i.e. have a constant pressure to have some (very) slight tension on the tethers, not be a solar sail.

A solar sail is designed to accelerate, so it's as light as possible. A smelter mirror is the opposite so it would be way more sturdy. I was merely pointing out that you could have fine control by controlling tethers.

Alternatively, you could have a stable mirror and move the smelting chamber within the focal point.

263:

You might see tourists going to oil rigs in the North Sea or the Gulf of Mexico one day.

Some already do:

http://diver.net/seahunt/rigs072303a/rigs072303a.htm

http://diver.net/seahunt/d_rigs.htm

264:

Heck, I'll give you a real easy one: how would you, specifically, control the movements of a mirror that is no more than a few mils thick and a kilometer in diameter?

How do you deal with problems of torque? How about rippling in the mirror? Remember, it's for the most part less than a tenth of a millimeter thick.

My 2 cents worth for this challenge.

The mirror surface can kept rigid by using 2 membranes and inflating them like a balloon[s]. Small examples have already been worked on by Nasa. This solves the rippling effect in response to movement.

Maneuvering the whole km sized structure will probably require that it be built with spars and rigging to distribute loads during rotations. Rotations can be done with either high Isp thrusters (e.g. Hall effect) that are already in use on satellites, or gyroscopes.

Rough calcs suggest that the mirror is of the order of 10-100 tonnes in mass, so add another 10-100 tonnes to support it.

265:

Automagical is a phrase that comes to mind.

266:

Charlie, it has been noted that people overestimate short term technical development, but underestimate long term development. We both have enough experience to appreciate developments over our lifetimes.

...the problem is, if it is going to be very difficult (and very expensive) to find out if it is possible (or not). You seem to have very little appreciation of the complexity of what you're asking for.

Almost any development looks highly complex, yet can be solved by the age old approach of divide and conquer.

Spaceflight is one obvious example. Deep water oil and gas drilling is another. Gene sequencing is a technology that gas gone from costing billions for the first human sequences to meeting the $1000 target within the next few years. Who could have imagined that in 1990? Oil and gas drilling was a commercial venture, the HGP was primarily research orientated, and spaceflight was mainly about national prestige. If the goals or drivers are strong enough, even very complex problems can be solved. But I agree.... at a price. The good news is that expanding economies allow bigger projects to be attempted.

The [Panglossian] attitude that you find irritating, to me is just observing historical accomplishments and not doubting that projects can be solved with enough effort. I recently read "Conquering Gotham" about the Pennsylvania RR's building of the rail tunnels under the Hudson River to Manhattan (and the East River to Long Island). It was extraordinarily difficult and was proclaimed as impossible, yet it was done despite the many technical hurdles that had to be overcome during construction.

I have no obsession with steel. Check the comment thread, it was first raised by David L @235. I don't think steel is a particularly attractive material to manufacture. What I find amusing is the flawed assumptions used to dismiss ideas as unworkable. Take your own example:

manipulating it in microgravity adds a whole new can of worms, as does the mere idea of cooling and processing steel in vacuum -- hint: it's a thermal insulator!

Vacuum helps you in heating steel. No brick insulated containers needed to retain heat. Cooling? Um, quenching with water (comet, or Martian subsurface ice, sourced)? Surely you weren't stumped by that? And who stipulated that the metal had to be formed in micro-g. Have our Martian settlers been excluded from making metals in favor of the asteroid jockeys? The point here is not to dismiss objections, but rather to suggest that smart people can find solutions to even the most apparently intractable problems.

I suspect a far more productive use of engineering resources would be to investigate what kind of synthetic polymers one can make from materials available in carbonaceous chondrites.

I actually agree with you there. But since I don't want to ruin a near perfect record of disagreement, I would suggest sourcing plastic feed stocks from living organisms that can be grown and processed. Whether these are organisms that we already have (with some modifications) or completely new gene engineered ones, is up for discussion.

267:
This is a tough problem, btw; look at how sturdy a recent solar sail actually is.

I said it would act like a solar sail,i.e. have a constant pressure to have some (very) slight tension on the tethers, not be a solar sail.

A solar sail is designed to accelerate, so it's as light as possible. A smelter mirror is the opposite so it would be way more sturdy. I was merely pointing out that you could have fine control by controlling tethers.

I said look sturdy this supposedly optimized-for-lightness solar sail is. A smelting mirror would be heavier still. But what I am asking for are a few numbers. For example, assuming a mirror 500 meters in radius, how much would it mass? Realistically. What is the largest allowable magnitude of force to rotate the mirrors primary axis? Would that be large enough to change it's orientation by, say, one radian in one hour? Is that sufficient for the work at hand? What sort of torque are we talking about? And how do we damp ripples in the surface of the mirror so it doesn't tear?

That sort of thing. The sort of basic stuff you have to know before you can even think about moving on to using them for lighting the Earth's surface or for smelting.

Alternatively, you could have a stable mirror and move the smelting chamber within the focal point.

Unless restoring forces are periodically applied, your mirror will drift. It's a big object, subject to tidal forces if nothing else.

Think of this as the "Superman picks up an ocean liner by the bow" problem: even if Superman has the raw strength to hold that much mass up in a one-g field, does the ocean liner have enough strength not to break in half when being supported at only one point in the same one-g field? The point is that any structure of that size built with any known materials is not rigid; it's wobbly, like a bowl of jello.

268:
The mirror surface can kept rigid by using 2 membranes and inflating them like a balloon[s]. Small examples have already been worked on by Nasa. This solves the rippling effect in response to movement.

Maneuvering the whole km sized structure will probably require that it be built with spars and rigging to distribute loads during rotations. Rotations can be done with either high Isp thrusters (e.g. Hall effect) that are already in use on satellites, or gyroscopes.

Rough calcs suggest that the mirror is of the order of 10-100 tonnes in mass, so add another 10-100 tonnes to support it.

Could we see some cites on this work? As well as your "rough calcs" to see how rough they really are? How does this inflation scheme scale up? My first thought is that inflation won't give you a concave or even a flat mirror. It will, however, be jim dandy at giving you a convex mirror, i.e., one that diffuses the light rather than concentrates it.

269:

This will get you started:

http://hdl.handle.net/2060/20090026381

270:

I'm sorry but Alex seems to think our technological progress came about by magic. It came about by standing on the shoulders of those who came before. And there was a lot of standing and shoulders in the 1800s. And compared to space they were and still are nearby. Break a drill bit in space and you better have enough spares.

So we come up with a process to make strong stuff for building things in space. But name a process throughout history that doesn't generate some form of waste. Lots of it in many cases. Or call it by products I don't care. Gravity and the atmosphere plus oceans make a big sink for such stuff. (Yes I know now we try and not just toss it over the wall.) But if you were in a lap and accidentally generated a cloud of Chlorine gas you could, in most cases, open the windows and step outside for a while. Or if you lost control of your power reactor you could vent the steam to the atmosphere. Not an ideal situation but in space where do you vent it? So that it will not come back to bite you in 10 minutes or 3 days. Of course that centrifuge with a materials lab and machine shop at one end of the tether could just open up a floor drain I guess. Once we figure out how to build something that big and get it to where we wanted to extract the stuff.

And of course there's no maintenance issues with such processes. Just wipe out the pipes with a paper towel once a day and you're all set. And there will be no need to tailor the process to each rock we mine. (Hugo Chavez's big bluff is to stop selling the US his oil. Fact is no one else has refineries to handle his coal tar sulfur laden stuff that some call crude oil.)

And yes let's use a comet for water. After all they have orbits that make it easy to grab some water on the way to your rock. Orbital mechanics is a bitch. A big one.

Automagical. We can just figure it out.

271:

Back of envelope calculations for mirror.

solar Inflatable solar mirror, 0.5 km radius. Inflated with air at 1 millibar.

area of mirror = PI * 500^2 m^2.
~= 10^6 m2

membranes = 1 mil ~= 1/30000 m

mirror volume = 3 m^3

density of aluminum ~= 3 gm/cm^3 = 3*10^3 kg/m^3

mass of mirror ~= 10^4 kg = 10 tonnes.
add transparent membrane = 20 tonnes

Air for inflation.

density = 1.2 kg/m^3, 1 millibar = 1.2*10^-3 kg/m^3

Assume lens shaped with average thickness 50m

vol = 5 *10^7 m^3
mass ~= 5 * 10^7 * 1.2 * 10^-3 = 5 * 10^4 kg = 10 tones


Total inflatable mirror mass = 30 tonnes.

Use 10 mil membranes, mirror mass => 230 tones.

That is the ballpark mass range without supporting structures.

272:

I do love the goal post moving. So now your problem is waste disposal? Let me see now. You are on the moon (or Mars) and you want to dump a lot of waste products. Hmm. Sees like it would be quite easy. Just dump them. No different on an asteroid. Bury them in the regolith. What about gases? Well they will expand in vacuum. If they are light enough, solar radiation will disperse them to interstellar space. So I don't see Chlorine gas as a problem. But let's say we are in a lab doing research. Chlorine spillage would be inside a fume trap, so what exactly would be different, except that the venting will be a little more complicated than just venting the gas to the air, but hardly a difficult problem. Worst case requires venting the air and replacing it. And O2 is in such short supply in the solar system.

It's not like just about any current process is being re-engineered to use less energy, generate less waste, use less toxic materials all for sound economic reasons, aided by increasing regulations and waste disposal costs. Why would we not expect that this will not continue, or that particular technologies will be selected for use in settlements. I thought I already addressed the drill bit problem. They are high tech, high value imports.

Cometary water. Perhaps you have heard of short period comets? Extinct comets? Water in abundance, with delta Vs in the high single digits and low double digits to high earth orbit. Use the rocket equation with high Isp electric rockets to determine the water payload mass fraction to suitable orbits. (Almost none for some asteroids that need water to process that carbon or metal) No roaring high thrust thrust H2/LOX engines, just gentle shoving of water (ice) with paper thin hulls.

You'd be a bundle of fun stranded on an island. You couldn't take a drink of water without demanding that a purification plant be built first.

273:

Alex, this is not what I meant. Nor is your other "cite" - you can't say that here is a 5-meter mirror, you just multiply everything by 10,000 to scale it up by a factor of 10,000.

Are you really that unaware of the problems of moving and controlling structures built on such a large scale? Do you even know what a moment arm is, or moment of inertia?

Throwing up some BOTEC figures (and these are certainly rough, you didn't lie about that) on just the mass of this thing doesn't even rise to the level of not being serious.

You don't seem to be aware of just how much of a problem this one little bit is, and how many hours some very bright, incredibly motivated people have worked on it.

Which - going back to the initial Yay! posting again - is so nice about the Falcon: It actually delivers a large enough payload in a big enough volume at a cheap enough price that people can make a real stab at running off the first dozen or so iterations.

Because that's just the way these things work; you can't do all of your modeling on a work station (no matter how powerful) then tweak the first design you launch to iron out the bugs and have something workable on the next go 'round.

What you're talking about is much closer to automobile or airplane design, where you have twenty or thirty or forty iterations before your product starts looking good.

274:

To give but one example of (lack of)linearity: take an empty can of tomato paste two inches across by five long. It's dead easy to pressurize such a can to 14 lbs p.s.i. and not worry about any mechanical problems such a strain imposes on the sides and ends.

Now increase all dimensions by a factor of 100,000, including the thickness of the original rolled steel. Pressurizing such a structure to 14 lbs. p.s.i. is a great way to convert it into dangerous high-velocity shrapnel. Same thing for changes of orientation; you can easily twiddle your original can through a full circle along one of the short axes in less than a second. Does Alex really think you can do the same thing with a structure measuring two kilometers across and five long? I would hope not.

275:

We both know there are no kilometer sized solar concentrators in existence, or even being planned AFAIK.

Showing that inflatable small scale concentrators have been designed and built for space applications sows that they can work, that they are not "diffusers" and that serious people have done the design work. I am not claiming that they just be scaled up - they could be scaled up so far and then replicated.

The BOTEC was just to show that I wasn't coming up with numbers out of my arse and that the mass of the structure was not out of bounds compared to other structures launched into space. Solar sail technology of larger sizes has been studied fairly seriously, so we do have some data on what is currently possible with thin films and where the technology is headed.

I am familiar with scaling issues, but I do use calculations to determine how things can or cannot scale. Obviously I cannot do detailed design work, nor should I do so for a blog comment. Conversely, I have never seen our host, or other commentators do so for a technology argument either. That is a very high bar to achieve. It is also trivially easy to pretend to be a very serious person (VSP) by raising issues that would take considerable time and effort to debunk with such a high bar. Far better to show that something is not out of bounds or is known to be false.

Just to make a point about scaling. Insects won't scale to large mammal sizes either. That is why mammals are designed (OK, evolved) differently. Mammals won't scale to sauropod sizes either, but we know very large sauropods existed, so scaling arguments based on limited data are not very useful, as designs can overcome them.

Thus, to take your concentrating mirror example, you assume that the mirror must be contiguous and thus have the scaling issues you identify. But there are other approaches using coordinated free-flying units that would not have these problems, although they would have others, which may be more tractable. That different approaches to solve problems can be applied, is why I have confidence that smart, motivated people can eventually overcome them, whilst most of us can barely see past the first hurdle.

276:

"I've pretty much given up on Alex: he just Doesn't Get It. (Magical thinking in action.)"

I agree.

277:

Erik Drexler designed a solar sail for his Master's thesis that had between 1 and 2 orders of magnitude higher area-to-mass ratios than any current design. It's so fragile that it has to be manufactured in space because unfolding it after launch from Earth would probably tear it, and it has to be spun for stability, but it's still better than anything else for that job. Of course, the low mass means it will be accelerated faster by sunlight than a more conventional design, so there's a tradeoff.

278:

There's a kind of analytic fallacy I've taken to calling the "In Principle Effect". It starts from a statement that "in principle" something can be done, but no attempt is made to verify that all the steps in the process of going from the known conditions at the start to the required objective are actually possible. Then the "in principle" phrase is used to argue that it's not necessary to verify the steps. Also, even if all the steps are physically possible, that doesn't mean they are practically possible: NP-complete problems can in principle be solved, just not in any time that allows us to actually use the solutions for anything.

For example, "in principle", it's possible to build a machine which exhibits strong AI, because any computation can be implemented on an appropriate Turing Machine, and thought must be computation. Also, "in principle" we can build a complete self-sustaining technical economy in space, because we've done it here on Earth.

279:

I've my own little bit of input on this.

I bought a cheap digital recently, after a lifetime of using film camera. A 14 megapixel sensor, takes an SDHC card, good zoom range on the lens. Kodak make the image sensors which go into Leica and Hasselblad cameras. All this is good.

No viewfinder, you use the screen on the back of the camera to frame your pictures, and Kodak are not a company known for designing optics. At wide-angle settings the barrel distortion is huge, and the way you have to hold the camera feels unstable. I've not done any checks yet, but I'd expect signs of blurred edges in a high-res image.

To some extent, this sums up a lot of the problems of modern, computer-based, tech. Once you can put the huge number of transistors onto a chip for a modern processor, you can make some remarkable things using the same technology. But it can depend on the old-fashioned stuff that is hard. (You can use computers to design the optics—that is what made good zoom lenses a viable product—but they're still hard to make.)

Most cameras have a smaller digital sensor than the film-equivalent. So the Leica M-series went digital, still using the same optics, and the lenses give a similar result to a longer focal-length lens on 35mm film. It's the same effect as enlarging a part of the image, or a "digital zoom" option. On the other hand, it does make the optical design a bit easier.

It's still hard to beat the optical quality of some of the pre-computer lens designs. Part of that is because of the physical simplicity.

280:

unless we go sideways we must go up someday. How? LiveScience.com – Mon Apr 11, 4:50 pm ET
The gigantic underground plume of partly molten rock that feeds the Yellowstone supervolcano might be bigger than previously thought, a new image suggests.
The study says nothing about the chances of a cataclysmic eruption at Yellowstone, but it provides scientists with a valuable new perspective on the vast and deep reservoir of fiery material that feeds such eruptions, the last of which occurred more than 600,000 years ago.

281:

I'd forgotten about the I-400 class (and they're WW2 rather than Edwardian, WW1 or inter-wars like the K and M classes, and Surcouf). I think my point still stands though; the Edwardian tech is robust enough to build something the size of a nuclear (hunter-killer rather than ICBM) boat.

282:

Break a drill bit in space and you better have enough spares.

So you've magically forgotten how to sharpen drill bits? ;-)

283:

I don't know about you, when when I've broken (as opposed to blunted) a drill bit, sharpening hasn't been an option.

Still, would we want anyone with a drill bit wandering around in an orbital? Could be dangerous, it could be used to make a nasty hole and depressurise the whole environment. No, I think we better restrict them to hammers. Hammers and plastic sporks.

284:

It depends on the drill bit, and where it breaks. I do sometimes break (wood) bits at points where there's still a useful amount of thread left.

I'll give you that sharpening high-carbon and carbide bits for hard materials isn't an option (at least with a carborundum stone).

285:

Incidentally, cooling steel by quenching with water ice from coments is ... well, it's not going to do what you think it's going to do. Hint: where does the heat go? Instead of steel ingots at 1400C, you now have steel ingots at, say, 200C, and a buttload of superheated steam. Now, you can jettison the steam -- this being vacuum -- and it will carry away the heat quite nicely. But that's extremely wasteful because for each Kg of steel you've produced you've just dumped several Kg of water, not to mention the large amount of fuel it cost to run out to a comet and get you that water in the first place.

If you want to recycle the steam, you need radiators, and radiative cooling in vacuum isn't terribly efficient. If you want it to run at maximal efficiency, though, you need to radiate from the hottest surface available. Like ... a thin panel of freshly manufactured white-hot steel.

286:

Which gives me a though. Unless you can re-cycle the heat from solidifying a batch of $metal by using it to melt a new batch of $ore, is making refined metal in space, particularly orbital habitats, actually a great idea?

287:

@261: I suspect a far more productive use of engineering resources would be to investigate what kind of synthetic polymers one can make from materials available in carbonaceous chondrites. Kevlar and similar carbon fibre composites being, oh, around twenty times as strong as steel per unit mass ...

Kevlar is probably out, AFAIR it requires dissolving in hot concentrated sulfuric acid, pushing through spinnerets that can resist the acid and landing in lots of water to remove the acid quickly, which is going to be a tad hairy in low g. However aligned ultra high molecular weight polyethylene (Spectra) has a similar strength, carbon fibre is good, as you say, and if you can grow them long enough carbon nanotubes are a lot better.

I'm not sure how well such materials deal with UV and radiation damage though. The UV can probably be dealt with by vacuum coating with metal (i.e. a mylar like solution) but radiation may be the problem. That said, the meat that wants the structures is probably more vulnerable anyway.

288:

Batshit idea: assuming you've got some kind of continuous-flow process that takes in ore at one end and extrudes hot steel sheet at the other, maybe you could surround the output end with a parabolic reflector rather than radiating the waste heat. Point it at a big enough infrared laser cell, and you can turn some of the waste heat (in the range 1-10%) back into high-grade energy to recycle in the furnace. Use the residual waste heat (that laser cell is going to get very hot) to drive a stirling engine cooled by your heat-sink radiator panels. Or use countercurrent cooling to transfer waste heat from the output steel to the input ore. In other words, try and recycle the waste heat as much as possible.

This is stuff that doesn't work on Earth, or at least doesn't work well enough to be worth integrating into production processes.

289:

Note that vacuum deposition of evaporated metal is a lot easier to set up in space: you've got high-Torr vacuum on tap, basically. So you could go with carbon fibre and plate each whisker in a thin layer of metal to absorb most of the UV -- a prohibitively expensive approach on Earth.

Doing it right isn't simply a matter of smelting asteroids to produce steel. It's going to involve developing entire new materials processing systems and, possibly, entirely new materials (because stuff that is cheap on Earth -- anything relying on gravity or heat transfer) is expensive, while stuff that's expensive down here (anything requiring vacuum or zero gee) is easy might be easier.

290:

There is also the cognitive block called the "show me" syndrome. This is where people who cannot see how something can be done insist that they won't believe it until they can see the result with their own eyes. Sometimes not even then.

291:

Because dorks who drill holes in pressure vessels and endanger the rest of the community get chucked out the airlock without a space suit.

The same dumb argument means that nobody can have guns, indeed anything that might be used as a weapon, access to computers....yada, yada, yada.

292:

I've no idea about how to do it in practice, but that's very much the sort of thing I was thinking of in principle. Recycle the heat from cooling the product because you can't just wait for it to convect away.

293:

Now you are playing the "OK I didn't think it through, but I have another objection..."

You know full well that you can cool the metal to whatever arbitrary low value that might be available from local ice. In vacuum, water will boil away at very low temperatures, so the metal can be cooled to well below 0 C.

Yes, the cost of water will be high if done in Earth orbit, but again, we have to do it there because...? Perhaps we make steel on Mars. Or perhaps Ceres, where there is an abundance of water with reasonable deltaVs to a number of locations.

Everything looks very hard prospectively, yet easy with hindsight, once the problems have been solved with innovative solutions.

294:

The "show me" syndrome is what fuelled our scientific revolution. If you make a claim you have to demonstrate that it is logical and/or evidence to support that.

Discussing hypothetical routes to colonisation will have little evidence to support but do require a strong logical approach. As far as I can tell your propositions rely on "maybe we an invent X to fix problem Y". That's fine but every time you do that your argument becomes weaker until eventually your argument boils down to "if we invent the technology to do X we can do X"

295:

Atrocious typos by me there

*and/or have evidence
*Discussions of hypothetical
*maybe we can invent

296:

It is interesting to compare this thread with "Question..." concerning the reactors at Fukushima.

In that instance, Charlie "wished away" the problems of nuclear power generation to support the view that nuclear reactors are a better solution than fossil fuels, especially for countries like Japan. [I agree with that view]. BUT, many people have legitimate "yes, but" objections to wide scale nuclear power, from reactor safety, pollution during fissile material mining, to proliferation. Indeed, these people would argue that nuclear power advocates have a PANGLOSSIAN viewpoint concerning these issues.

It can be hard to understand that spaceflight was once considered "utter bilge". There were objections that explosives did not have the theoretical power to lift objects to orbit (solved with liquid propellants), that rocket mass ratios would be impossibly small to reach orbit (solved with multiple stages), that rockets would burn up in the ionospheric "heat barrier" (misunderstanding of temperature and heat), that humans would die in zero-g (wrong) and so on.
During the techno-pessimistic 70's, there was strong public opinion that spaceflight of almost any sort was a huge boondoggle, wasting $billions when there were more important issues to deal with on Earth. While that was clearly mistaken for earth resources and comsats, it is still a reasonable argument today for human spaceflight.

On this blog, most people, including our host, think that human space exploration is a reasonable goal, a natural extension of the Apollo lunar program. But settlement and eventual colonization is not viable. That may be true, or it just may be a limit of the collective imagination.

297:

The fact that "Once upon a time people thought X was bunk!" is absolutely no justification for "in the future Y will be possible".

Again you seem to misunderstand, our host and no-one here is saying that space colonisation is impossible, not viable or not desirable.

What we are saying is that space colonisation is a lot harder than space exploration yet people often confuse the two. In addition the arguments for space colonisation are woefully flawed, IMHO I am a fan of space colonisation because it appeals to me emotionally. If society got the the point where it's resources and technologies were so vast that the expense of researching, experimenting and eventually accomplishing viable colonisation was justified by "I want to" then I would be gunning for it.

I'd like to know if you acknowledge the following points;
*Manned space exploration =/= space colonisation
*That "Once upon a time people thought X was stupid therefore Y will be accomplished" is not a valid argument
*The statement "if we had technologies X, Y and Z we could do it" is useless speculation if you cannot show evidence that such technologies are possible, viable and currently under research

The purpose of these discussions is not to intellectually masturbate over "when we have magic 3d printers we can print cities from moonrock!!!!" or other such ideas. The purpose is to highlight flaws in current thinking and problems that should be addressed.

298:
This is stuff that doesn't work on Earth, or at least doesn't work well enough to be worth integrating into production processes.

I think it's more accurate to say that it doesn't work any better in space, it's just that nothing works as well as it does on Earth (not surprising, since we haven't been in a position to figure out how to do Stuff in Space) so that compared to the other bad alternatives it becomes a viable option.

299:

When you have cheap enough energy and a cheap enough heat sink (the atmosphere and/or a body of water) it simply makes no sense to invest much in recycling waste heat, although it's done to some extent in certain processes when practical.

If getting rid of waste heat becomes expensive, in this case becase you're working in the vacuum, then trying to recicle the waste heat might be cheaper than trying to radiate it. In the case of steelmaking water alone might not be enough, though, and you'll probably need a sequence of cooling/heating fluids (water, thermal oil, molten salt) to do the job.

Compare the cost of installing and running such a system versus the cost of installing and run a much simpler (if much bigger) radiator and that will dictate what technology is going to be used.

300:

"Compare the cost of installing and running such a system versus the cost of installing and run a much simpler (if much bigger) radiator and that will dictate what technology is going to be used."

The main point some of us are making is that supplies in cases such as this are extremely restricted/expensive. So you get what you have on hand. And to find out what you will have on hand before you get there is also extremely expensive and time consuming. And if automated you hope you built a good enough automation so you are too terribly surprised when you get there with your "kit".

301:

What "show me's" would have convinced you, in 1900, that there could be a global airline business within 100 years?

There were airships, but no powered aircraft. ("show me an aeroplane" - FAIL) In the first decade of the C20th powered aircraft could barely carry one passenger ("show me you can carry passengers" - FAIL. Can only do it with an airship). There was no large market for people traveling in the 1920's ("show me the demand"- FAIL). At every step, there was no obvious path to where we are today. Which is not to say that global air travel was destined to succeed, nor that space colonization is in any way similar. The point is that "show me", whether in toto or in increments, does not help. However, if you can show what is possible, that shows you the paths that can be taken, if the incentives and opportunities materialize (c.f. "Profiles of the Future" - ACC).

Brian Arthur has argued that technologies enjoy combinatorial effects, more technology begets increasingly more technology. Kevin Kelly argues that technology has it's own logic of development.

I find arguments about whether we can get from A to Z as flawed as Victorians arguing that there cannot be global air travel. Whether global air travel would materialize, in the form it has, is very contingent on people, technologies and history. (e.g. Had the R101 and Hindenburg airships not gone down, would we have seen airships compete with, or delay, aircraft development?)

302:

"During the techno-pessimistic 70's, there was strong public opinion that spaceflight of almost any sort was a huge boondoggle, wasting $billions when there were more important issues to deal with on Earth. While that was clearly mistaken for earth resources and comsats, it is still a reasonable argument today for human spaceflight. "

Depends. Some (many?) of us believe that the US Congress forced NASA into boondoggle mode when they took control back from the Executive branch back in the 70s. And then started dictating the technologies that NASA would use to do their "science".

303:

"Incidentally, cooling steel by quenching with water ice from coments is ... well, it's not going to do what you think it's going to do. Hint: where does the heat go?"

Also what about the impurities? And yes you can purify comet water. But now we need another process with equipment and maybe specialty tools and such.

As I said. It's much easier to stand on shoulders on Earth than in space.

(This is NOT directed at Charlie.)

304:

"You'd be a bundle of fun stranded on an island. You couldn't take a drink of water without demanding that a purification plant be built first."

Stranded is different from a planned trip.

If stranded look for the flowing water nearest the it's source and not just downstream from where the local meat gathers to drink and and recycle.

If a planned trip. At a minimum I'd expect to have some nice little tablets that campers add to their water to avoid the nice invisible stuff. And if on a very long trip a portable distillation unit. But that would NOT be a stranded situation.

And if stranded on an asteroid I expect I'd make do till the supplies ran out. If possible trying to fix whatever caused me to be stranded. I know I'd not be building a space ship by hand by mining rocks and building a smelter.

305:

I'd like to know if you acknowledge the following points;
1. *Manned space exploration =/= space colonisation
2. *That "Once upon a time people thought X was stupid therefore Y will be accomplished" is not a valid argument
3. *The statement "if we had technologies X, Y and Z we could do it" is useless speculation if you cannot show evidence that such technologies are possible, viable and currently under research

1. Agree. Simple definition.
2. I have not made that statement. The correct proposition is:
"Once upon a time people thought X was [stupid/impossible/uneconomic/?] but this does not a priori invalidate X". (c.f. Clarke's First Law).
3. Disagree. All the threads about starflight, nanoscale computing to name but two would be useless mental masturbation under this constraint.
relevant aphorism is Clarke's 2nd Law:
"The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.".

I'm reminded of the 3 stages of belief changes:
1. It's impossible.
2. It's possible, but why would anyone want to do it?
3. I said it was a good idea all along.

Some commentators are stuck at 1. Charlie is at stage 2 (I think). No-one, including myself, is at stage 3.
I characterize my arguments as debunking stage 1 and making attempts to question the thinking behind 2.


306:

Once upon a time people thought X was [stupid/impossible/uneconomic/?] but this does not a priori invalidate X

I still don't see why you think this is a good argument? At best it reminds us that the future is often indeterminable. But as we cannot predict revolutionary changes, yet we still must try to plan and discuss, we have to work with what we know.

1. It's impossible.
2. It's possible, but why would anyone want to do it?
3. I said it was a good idea all along.

Utter bollocks. It is amusing that you state this as though there was such an objective thing as "three stages of belief". For me it starts with scepticism which can either move to acceptance or non-acceptance based on the presented logic and evidence.

So far I have yet to see you address space colonisation with anything less than "i'm sure we'll work it out". That isn't constructive. We can speculate that if we had technology X how would X change the issue and then discuss the viability (scientific/economic/political/social) of obtaining technology X. This is indeed the only thing we can do, if that comes under Clarke's second law* then well done, we agree. Regarding 3d printers, nanomagic etc unless we can accomplish the second step of discussing the viability of such things we have just moved the problem one step further**.

To sum up so far you have suggested that tourism could act as a driver and that once a tourist spot is set up it could start inventing in situ resource gathering/processing technologies. The second part of that is key, it's simple to say but it would require a massive redesign of every industry/factory that we have here on Earth now to make it a)work in space and b) be able to be launched by the kilo at £1000s per kilo. No body is saying that is impossible, what people are saying is that it is a monumental task that will not happen any time soon.

*which I think is a massive over simplification of an issue, >99.999% of the time innovation does not come about through attempting the impossible but making logical developments towards making impracticalities more practical utilising improved methods

**How do we create self-sufficient colonies? Nano. How do we make nano? Well victorians couldn't predict aeroplanes!!

307:
What "show me's" would have convinced you, in 1900, that there could be a global airline business within 100 years?

Hey, can I play? What "show me's" would have convinced you, in 1100, that there could be a global airline business within 1000 years?

What "show me's" would have convinced Archimedes, in 250 B.C.E., that there could be a global airline business within 2500 years?

What "show me's" would have convinced you, in 1950, that there could be flying cars, controlled nuclear fusion etc. within firty years?

Ex Post Facto is just soooo convincing, isn't it?

308:

I was going to start thinking about whether you actually need steel in space at all, but I see that has already been covered.
Iron based materials are eminently recyclable anyway. Perhaps of more interest for shipping down to earth would be copper, nickel and rare earth elements. For space, carbon based fibres, or some aluminium sheeting. Surely Al would be easier to produce in space?
High iron meteorites could just be used as shielding, although it would be a bit much to move them to earth just to use it for that.

309:

I did have this momentary vision of two men with hammers, wearing space suits and stuck by their feet onto a space station. They would be hitting a lump of red hot iron with the hammers, squeezing out the slag and shaping it to suit.

310:

To sum up so far you have suggested that tourism could act as a driver and that once a tourist spot is set up it could start inventing in situ resource gathering/processing technologies. The second part of that is key, it's simple to say but it would require a massive redesign of every industry/factory that we have here on Earth now to make it a)work in space and b) be able to be launched by the kilo at £1000s per kilo.

Firstly I don't actually buy into the premise of colonization (as defined by self sustaining population that does not need earth) is necessary. It is valid for the star flight discussion, but not for the solar system.

Secondly, tourism might well be sufficient, as an industry, to pay for semi-permanent settlement. Examples have been given of places on earth, including I believe, oil rigs.

Thirdly, I think you mentally jump from:
Space Tourism = orbiting hotels = final destination => zero-g => zero-g manufacturing => all resources must be in situ or shipped from earth. That is a very narrow box.

Fourthly, there is absolutely no need to jump from tourism to independent industrialized nation instantly.
Imagine that you are in a space hotel, something like the Bigelow Sundancer module. What do tourists want apart from the view and micro-g sex? Food? It's normally shipped up at $2000/kg making for very expensive ala carte meals. Obvious solution - grow some fresh vegetables. The tourists are even conveniently bringing their nitrogen rich s**t. So you can now reduce the cost of meals and make them better, so more profits. Now they need a place to sleep, so you grow some bamboo and lash a bed together, some nice chairs. Meanwhile some bright spark has figured out that polar moon water can be shipped to the hotel for less than hauling it up from earth. After a decade the business has grown so much that the hotel is now catering to 100's of tourists very day, there is fine food, gambling, swimming in the micro-g pool, games old and new. Most of teh technology is still shipped up from earth, but the consumables are mostly recycled and there are many varieties of plants and animals now growing in the "greenhouses". There are even trees that will eventually be turned into lumber for fixtures and fittings. Crockery is created with lunar fines and fired locally. All this is done with low tech tools, available resources and no heavy industrial machinery. Indeed this is a very familiar pattern and looks not unlike any small town development. Manufactured goods are imported indefinitely, basic food and goods are slowly replaced with cheaper, local ones.

Arguing that "this doesn't count, because it isn't a REAL colony" is just specious. Las Vegas isn't a real colony either, but so what? It has a 500K population, permanent residents, a large tourist business to pay for it's prodigious import bill, and it has been in its modern business form for over 50 years. And there are artisans and light industry there too that have sprung up to meet local markets.

Now let's address what could go wrong with our happy space tourism scenario. The $2000/kg lift cost is too high and restricts the business to a tiny number of willing billionaires who would do the trip once only.
There may be no lunar water, or it remains unavailable. Water remains scarce. Plants cannot grow in space, even in centrifuges. Pathogens keep being created that makes cruise ship outbreaks seem tame. Too few people can tolerate micro-g steps in the journey to the hotel and cannot make use of the hotel's signature micro-g facilities. The hotel can never be luxurious and degrades to the quality of a Greyhound bus station. Food cannot be made tasty enough for its cost. governments block private space flight. Any of these impediments prevents the hotel from being profitable and expanding to something very desirable and makes its future as a business bleak.

One block to solar system civilization is that there is "no there, there" as Charlie likes to say. O'Neill addressed this one way. Others have addressed it differently. I would posit that the Earth for most city dwellers has "no there, there", in the sense that we cannot live in the wilds without a lot of technical support. When camping means driving in the RV with supplies, it seems no different than if it was on Mars. Mars might be even better, no mosquitoes.

311:

Alex, I agree with a lot of what you just posted but you don't seem to be getting the point, perhaps you didn't pick up on how the conversation started. The reason we are talking about self-sufficient, independent of Earth colonisation is to address the issue of eggs-and-basket. Our future relies on our ability to live without Earth.

312:

Furthermore I am still not convinced that tourism will ever work as a driver of space. You are talking about hundreds of people a week at the cost of several million each just to get there! How many people do you think will take this holiday?!

313:

"What "show me's" would have convinced you, in 1950, that there could be flying cars, controlled nuclear fusion etc. within fifty years?

Ex Post Facto is just soooo convincing, isn't it?"

Flying cars exist and have done for a long time. We just don't use them for what should be obvious reasons. Flying buses, OTOH, have been insanely popular...

Controlled nuclear fusion? Well we've have a local one running for about the last 5bn years. Unfortunately it isn't stable, and slowly rising output will render macro life on earth untenable in about 1-2 bn years. After that it will eventually become very unstable and destroy the planet.

Obviously our attempts have not made as rapid progress as was once predicted. But if it were impossible in principle, surely we should stop wasting development funds on trying? Do you doubt that it will ever work, or is the issue one of funding and timing?

And yes, hindsight is not a good way to predict the future, even if we only have history and current knowledge as a guide. But you know, Daedalus might just possibly have been the first airline executive had he had the vision. No doubt the maiden flight death of Icarus put a bit of a damper on his plans as liability insurance rates rocketed.


314:

Getting carbon out chondrites and growing carbon buckytubes should require a lot less heat than smelting iron; if we can grow them in sufficient lengths (current record is a few millimeters, which is long enough for some uses) then they can be spun into fabric; impregnating with epoxy creates a carbon composite material with high rigidity, tensile strength, and impact resistance. It could probably replace metals in a lot of construction and mechanical engineering applications.

315:

Again you seem to misunderstand, our host and no-one here is saying that space colonisation is impossible, not viable or not desirable.
What we are saying is that space colonisation is a lot harder than space exploration yet people often confuse the two.

I think it is more complicated than that. If we were just grading space colonization difficulty on a scale of 1-10, I would certainly be giving a lower score than you. We could debate why, and that would be it.

But the perception of difficulty alters the investment path. We see this with global warming, where the perceived high cost and indeterminate payoff of developing mitigation strategies and new technology development have stalled this path, resulting is business as usual.

If space colonization as a goal is perceived as hard, solutions will not be looked for and the problems will not be solved. The US "space" program after WWII was quite modest and few thought that human spaceflight was likely any time soon, if at all. Sputnik and, more importantly, Gagarin's flight changed that perception, resulted in the "space race", which poured in huge amounts of funding for a rapid program to reach the moon. I think it is fair to say that landing on the moon was a very difficult problem. But having done it, we cannot seem to be able to even repeat this task, despite decades of hardware development. Has it somehow become hard?

Now I'd be quite happy if space was a place that we had a significant presence in. Humans living and working throughout the system, managing the machines that were exposed to the local environment. Exploration would be part of that, although I am not so sure that space suited people will be scrambling over alien landscapes, but rather that they will sit in comfortable habs and control machines that do. If that slowly developments into what might be permanent settlements and a space based civilization, so well and good.

316:

I don't know how this would matter much. But nobody has ever drilled iron or steel, when they could punch a hole when it was still hot.

317:

The reason we are talking about self-sufficient, independent of Earth colonisation is to address the issue of eggs-and-basket.

If that is the strict premise, then *gasp* I think it may not be possible for hundreds of years, possibly indefinitely. But I also don't think we could effectively colonize an emptied Earth either, except at a low tech level. Maybe not even reliably at that.

318:

The 100's a week will require costs to orbit to decline.

100 tourists staying for a 7 day vacation ~= 5000/yr.

Assume $200K per person to launch ($2000/kg * 100 kg/person). Add $20K/night "room" = $140K, for a total cost of

How elastic is the market? If you can reduce costs 10 fold, now you are in the high end of the luxury cruise market and that supports perhaps 10 ships with 1000 passengers each, say in the ballpark of 500K passengers, or 100x the market. And the space destination is a unique experience.

319:

Yeah. But you don't need a physical for a cruise. There's a lot of folks in that market that couldn't make the grade for the space flight.

320:

"nobody has ever drilled iron or steel, when they could punch a hole when it was still hot." OK, OK. Never mind the hot part. Earlier I had been thinking of the first iron clad ships. Fabrication shops have punchs from the Armstrong ones to powered ones that punch holes and others shapes in very heavy medal. Armstrong powered hydraulic ones that can be carried, can make big hole. I can't remember going past about 3/8 of a inch. But I know they go a lot bigger. 3/8, I don't know what that is in those french commie numbers they use in the common market.

321:

I also don't think we could effectively colonize an emptied Earth either

If we cannot colonise an emptied (emptied of what? civilisation? man? the biosphere?) Earth we don't have hope for anywhere else.

Assume $200K per person to launch ($2000/kg * 100 kg/person). Add $20K/night "room" = $140K, for a total cost of

The biggest problem with this is that you are only working out the cost for the individual. The cost of the rocket launch, the R&D, maintenance, purchase of your next rocket etc all add up to hundreds of millions!

The cost of a rocket launch alone would be on the order of $100million, each of your tourists would need to pay a million each just for the launch, and that's being very generous and allowing 100 tourists per rocket (at best it would be an order of magnitude less increasing the price for each tourist by an order of magnitude more).

IF you can reduce costs 10 fold

That's an almighty "if".

322:

I'm reminded of the 3 stages of belief changes:
1. It's impossible.
2. It's possible, but why would anyone want to do it?
3. I said it was a good idea all along.

Some commentators are stuck at 1. Charlie is at stage 2 (I think). No-one, including myself, is at stage 3.
I characterize my arguments as debunking stage 1 and making attempts to question the thinking behind 2.

Disagree - Using the same basic 3 point paradigm, I think those of us (inc Charlie and myself) who're at Stage 2 see Stage 2 as 'It's possible but hard. Let's put some thought into how we might address the "it's hard" bits, and try to make it easier.'

323:

A further thought on the "it's hard to cool smelted metals in a vacumn" argument. Based on some roughly 30 years old metallurgy courses, the very low cooling rates we might achieve might let us make very large "single crystal" components. These are/were considered advantageous in terms of overall strength.

324:

The middle-ranking crusieships have a crewing level of aobut 0.33, that is one crewmember for every three passengers to do stuff like keep the ship running, clean and do laundry and feed and entertain the passengers. Assume a barebones space hotel hosting ten guests had only five specialist crew to keep them alive and provide the basics, that's another five people to lift and recover for each group of ten guests, inflating the cost-per-occupation cycle. They also need to be fed and supplied with consumables adding to the kg-cost of every flight even if they remain in the hotel complex for multiple guest occupation cycles.

325:

Some numbers on the aviation bussiness for comparison on how the cost of a mature tech evolved.

Round trip PanAm NYC to London, in 1939 when service started: $750 - $9660 in today USD
Lufthansa NYC to London, today: $698

Average US income in 1939: $1730 - $22283 in today USD
Average US income in 2009: $49777

So in 70 years of transatlantic commercial aviation the cost of a ticket in real terms dropped to about 7% of its original value while the income of its potential customers doubled, meaning that in terms of disposable income it fell to about 3.5% of its original cost.

I guess at some point orbital and/or lunar hotels might be viable, but I'm not sure I'll be alive by then.


Source of PanAm cost: http://www.centennialofflight.gov/essay/Commercial_Aviation/atlantic_route/Tran4.htm

326:

Single crystal items are really good for some purposes but not necessarily ideal for everything. Other forms of heat treatment - including quenching - have their advantages too. But there are definitely things it would be much easier to do in space. (The question, of course, is whether it's possible for the advantages to outweight the disadvantages.)

327:

It's not like I said "hey, single crystal castings - Elebentee!!!" All I said was that it would be much easier to do single crystal castings in an environment where you have naturally low cooling rates.

328:

I also don't think we could effectively colonize an emptied Earth either

If we cannot colonise an emptied (emptied of what? civilisation? man? the biosphere?) Earth we don't have hope for anywhere else.

The thought experiment is if the earth was emptied of all people and technology. Think of this as waking up one morning and finding that all evidence of civilization outside of the major city you live in has gone. Could that city re colonize the earth? Could it even survive? You lose some points if you have to assume that the city has enough food for 2 years and a convenient nuclear reactor to power the place. This is a softer, easier case of Charlie's "what is the minimum population to colonize another star system". Here we have a planet which we know the biology is compatible, that our crops can grow, that biosphere isn't hostile.

Even with all that, could we successfully repopulate the world with our level of civilization? Would we fall back to a much lower level of technology? Would even that collapse?

My point is that even our stone age ancestors traded quite widely and colonized ares of the planet without being locally self sufficient. (Is there even any flint or obsidian readily available in Scotland to make blades and cutting tools?) Colonization is hard, but it is made a lot easier when you can draw on resources.

329:

The biggest problem with this is that you are only working out the cost for the individual. The cost of the rocket launch, the R&D, maintenance, purchase of your next rocket etc all add up to hundreds of millions!

Please run the numbers. The cost to LEO is $2000/kg as per the posting on payload. A clothed person is 100kg.
That launch cost has to include everything for a sustainable business, so it is correct. You don't launch without a full payload of people, any more than an airline will fly a nearly empty aircraft. (Unless you are Heywood Floyd).

IF you can reduce costs 10 fold
That's an almighty "if".

The 10 fold reduction of price was to illustrate possible tourist volume elasticity. We know that the cost to launch is not due to fuel (energy) costs, but rather the costs of building the vehicle, throwing it away, and the support staff amortized over the number of flights. A Boeing 747 costs about $300m. It is not thrown away and is kept in the air earning revenue from its 400-500 passenger payloads as continuously as possible. This keeps ticket prices very low. That business model is the target of the space tourism industry.

330:

Yes, there was flint in Aberdeenshire.

I would hope that civilisation wouldn't fall quite that far back.

331:

Mi>I think those of us (inc Charlie and myself) who're at Stage 2 see Stage 2 as 'It's possible but hard.

The reason I question that characterization is that there is the issue of "no there, there" that Charlie has espoused in other postings. He has argued that Mars is a lot harder to colonize than the Gobi desert, and by implication, since the Gobi desert (like most deserts) is not exactly populated, Mars is unattractive too. And Mars is almost benign compared to other possible solar system destinations. Indeed that is the logic behind the O'Neill's. But they do require either dirt cheap launch costs or a space manufacturing capability. O'Neill envisage initially using lunar resources, then later, asteroids. If you could do it, then the potential living space would be huge. Arguably if you can ship manufacturing capability to the first one, almost all processes assume an earth like character, although heat dissipation might be a problem for some processes. O'Neill side stepped that issue bu assuming his first space colonies would be mostly residential and farming, and that the colonies would focus on converting lunar regolith to solar arrays that would sell their power to earth to pay for its operation.

332:

one crewmember for every three passengers to do stuff like keep the ship running, clean and do laundry and feed and entertain the passengers. Assume a barebones space hotel hosting ten guests had only five specialist crew to keep them alive and provide the basics, that's another five people to lift and recover for each group of ten guests,

The support staff ratio should be built into the equation, but they make almost no different.

Assume support staff are rotated every 6 months. That means 1 lift cost amortized over 3 * 26 passengers = 1/78 of the launch cost added to the ticket. Almost trivial. Salaries are included in the $20k/night "room" rate.

333:

I agree, if all the technology disappeared we would be back to the stone age before you know it. And what? If we had self-sustaining colonies off Earth it would be simple for them to come back. No hassle in terraforming all they have to do is built the infrastructure.

Please run the numbers. The cost to LEO is $2000/kg as per the posting on payload. A clothed person is 100kg.

Please run the numbers yourself, the figure you are quoting is correct but the tourists have to pay for the rocket as well If the rocket masses 1000 tonnes with 10x100kg passengers then the cost to get the passengers to orbit will be $2,000,000 and the cost of the rocket will be $2,000,000,000. Who is paying for the rocket if the passengers are only paying for their own mass? Do you see the problem now?

334:

The numbers that follow depend on the cost-to-orbit of payload, that is excluding things like re-entry vehicle mass, of $2000/kg.

I don't know how much consumables mass per day on a space station, but lost water from the recycling system, air, air purification canisters, food, clothing... I'll take a SWAG at about 4 kilos a person per day. Assuming three crewmembers on a six-month rotation that's 12 kilos a day total or about 2 tonnes for the six month cycle. The crew themselves, assuming 60kg/person will add about another 200kg to that, and at 2k/kg lift costs that works out at about $ 4.5 million, and that's before salaries, training and recruitment costs etc.

Assuming ten guests each staying a week, they need 40kg/day total or about 7 tonnes for six months so say about 14 million bucks lift costs. The 260 guests, assuming they all weigh 60kg (unlikely, being rich fat cats) cost about 31 million dollars to get into orbit and back home again, so the all-up lift costs for a six-month cycle are about 50 million bucks.

The return, at 200k/night based on full occupancy of ten paying guests is 34 million bucks, or sixteen million dollars less than your outgoings and that's before crew and operations staff salaries, training, contruction of the hotel, maintenance and repair... Doubling the cost to 40k/night or about 300k/week plus flight is more realistic on those raw numbers but it's still not a very good deal, financially speaking for the operators. A solid million a flight is more likely to be the rack rate and probably more to cover the capital costs.

335:

OK, I see what you are saying. The payload = passengers + dead weight of the passenger vehicle. However while that increases the per passenger launch cost, say from $2000/kg to $10000/kg, it does not mean that the passengers must subsidize the unused potential payload of the FH (if we use that vehicle).

We have 53 tonnes payload.
10 passengers + capsule = 5 tonnes ((100kg * 10) + 4000 kg capsule)).
The remaining 48 tonnes is still useful paying cargo payload and will be used as such. Therefore fully amortized passenger cost = $10000/kg * 100 = $1m/passenger.

the cost of the rocket will be $2,000,000,000

No, the cost of the rocket + launch is $80-120m all in.
How can it be otherwise?


336:

Rishi - payload costs to orbit already include the cost of the rocket, both its construction and its development. You don't charge for it twice, any more than your FedEx airfreight charge comes with a surcharge.

Let's assume $125M for a Falcon Heavy launch (that's the top end of their price range). And a 53,000 kg payload. That's $2358 per kg.

Figures as quoted by SpaceX.

How much payload capacity you need per passenger is another matter - I'd go for a multiple of the passenger's weight - but it's nothing like your figures.

337:

The remaining 48 tonnes is still useful paying cargo payload and will be used as such

So now tourism isn't the driver? If the tourists are only paying for 5 tonnes and you need to fill the other 48 tonnes with paying cargo then ~.1% of the trip will be paid for by tourists.

In addition you are proposing a system whereby the vast majority of mass is payload are you not?

1 tonne for passengers
4 tonnes for capsule
48 tonnes for cargo

If we propose a reusable spaceplane (such a the skylon proposal) with ~$500 per kg. The mass of our vehicle is ~50 tonnes without fuel, ~350 tonnes with fuel and ~15 tonnes for cargo. For tourism this means:

$50,000 per passenger, $500,00 for them all
$175,000,000 for the loaded vehicle.

Who is paying for the vehicle? Bearing in mind that the majority of the vehicles mass is not cargo

338:

Hmm seems I was making the same mistake

339:

Finally starting to look at some numbers. Since our target should be

Water consumption. Human water loss is ~2 liters/day (urine, breathing, sweating, bowel movements). So even w/o recycling that is 1/2 the SWAG estimate. Given the launch costs and known urine recycling on the ISS, let's assume 0.5kg/passenger/day as unrecoverable.
So right off the bat we save water lift costs to 1.3 * 0.5 * 7 kg/passenger Not cheap, but not a deal breaker. (Clearly we can see already that more efficient recycling would rapidly pay for itself over the lifetime of the recycler).

But your own numbers, are $1m per flight, which is 5% of what it cost to fly to the ISS for the first space tourists. Not a bad deal at all!

Since I was remiss in not including the crew capsule, mass, let's say a baseline weekly cost of $2.5-4m per passenger. Expensive for you and me, yes, but for the target group? Compared to the ISS, you can go as a couple, you get privacy for that 100 mile high club activity with no tut-tutting from Nasa, and probably superb food (because at that price why accept anything less) and hopefully low g conditions to prevent motion sickness and allow more normal living in the periphery of the hotel.

My guess is that these numbers are well within an order of magnitude of those that space tourism industry proponents are thinking about.

340:

If we propose a reusable spaceplane (such a the skylon proposal) with ~$500 per kg. The mass of our vehicle is ~50 tonnes without fuel, ~350 tonnes with fuel and ~15 tonnes for cargo. For tourism this means:

$50,000 per passenger, $500,00 for them all
$175,000,000 for the loaded vehicle.

Who is paying for the vehicle? Bearing in mind that the majority of the vehicles mass is not cargo

You are making the same mistake as Rishi. If the Skylon payload cost = $500/kg, that cost includes the full cost of developing and building the vehicle amortized over the vehicle lifetime, plus fuel & maintenance costs, plus support.

Perhaps you can wrap your head around a more prosaic example.

A trans-Atlantic flight on a B747 costs $1000. There are 500 passengers. Total flight revenue = $500k.
The aircraft cost $300m. So who is paying for the aircraft?

The space shuttle was supposed to reduce launch costs through reusability. Thus instead of throwing away a rocket on single use, a more expensive vehicle would be cheaper though reuse. Infrequent flights scuppered plan, as there were far fewer flights to amortize the vehicle and support costs over.

Today we are caught in the problem that the high costs of launch mean few launches. That means that there is not enough demand for reusable vehicles (assuming we could build and fly them efficiently) and thus throwaway launchers remain competitive. If Skylon, or something like it, is ever built and if the payload cost/kg can be kept low, this may drive market volume and finally allow market break out into the cycle of increasing flights and declining prices.

341:

Dammit, keeps losing lines.

should be:

target is less than $20m as charged by Space Adventures for tourists to the ISS.

342:
The 10 fold reduction of price was to illustrate possible tourist volume elasticity.

Actually, this is a rather inelastic commodity; here's a typical set of figures:

"In the case of Government sectors, there are other reasons, documented in the Study, why launch demand is virtually insensitive to launch price. Figure E 4 shows the overall effect of reductions of launch price on demand for launches for all market sectors in aggregate. Even after a 75% reduction in launch prices, launch demand has not even doubled from the Baseline level after twenty years."

Iow, dropping prices by a factor of ten won't increase demand by a factor of three even over twenty years, according to the historical record plus lots of other models.

343:

Ok that's fine. Im glad I learnt that to be honest. I will grant you that if launches become very cheap then there could be a tourist break in the market. However I remain unconvinced due to the requirement for a massive reduction in launch costs and the steady supply of rich people per week

344:

Does "all market sectors" include space tourism? I suspect not, as almost all space launches are for the satellite (mainly comsats) and the military sectors, AFAIR.

That doesn't mean that space tourism is price elastic, although we will know within 10 years as different companies are setting different prices for sub-orbital trips with projections of 10 fold reductions in price over 10-20 years. A better indicator is probably the market for cruise ships, looking at volumes for different market segments.

345:

In the current volume of "Spaceflight" (v53, #4, April 2011, "Strategic Role of asteroid Mining" by Stephen Ashworth, the claim is made that NEA's are a source of water and that there are some with delta Vs of 0.6 km/s. The water could be then used for rocket propellant or even for low Isp steam rockets. This would bootstrap water resource mining.

Now if this is correct, water would not be launched, but extracted almost in situ. Water, "cheaply" acquired could be used as part of the hotel hull (as ice?) for radiation and meteroid shielding to almost any arbitrary level. With excess water, you get excellent hotel facilities (bathing, swimming) and a huge reserve of O2 for consumption and emergency supply.

346:

"However I remain unconvinced due to the requirement for a massive reduction in launch costs and the steady supply of rich people per week".

You may be right. But you are betting against a number of entrepreneurs who think otherwise. As Charlie says, Bigelow might go bust before space hotels become a profitable business, but whose opinion and analysis holds more weight in this debate? Bigelow is already proposing with Boeing a cheaper alternative to the ISS. Maybe something will happen and he gets his inflatable habs jump started with government funds. I'd bet he will be more tourist friendly than Nasa.

347:

A single cooling cycle might not be enough to get low defect single crystals; it might be necessary to anneal the metal a time or two. This is how low-defect silicon is made for semiconductor manufacture.

But, you know, it might be interesting to try to take advantage of microgravity to make alloys of normally immiscible metals, or create foams or aerogels of metals for low density and high strength.

348:

Can I get a "What the facts Are" for BULL's Canon helping the water up? Somebody is really going to need water and I don't mean for drinking. The liberal arts way is to look at a problem and say it's to big to fix. The engineering way is to grab a small part of the big problem and fix that. Then move on. There is a reason for X planes. The first of anything never works right. With a X-1 you get spark, smoke or a hole in the ground. All those 5 and 20 year plans. They did not know about chaos theory, or call it complexity theory. No matter how hard you plan and work, it will not do what it should the first times. Don't build things up too much like NASA.

349:

SOMEBODY ASKED ABOUT MAKING IRON AND STEEL. (I stole this.) Iron thats melted out of the rock ore or now days the ore it self is loaded into the blast furnace, along with coke (pure carbon derived from coal) and limestone (a substance that removes impurities).
The iron emerges from the blast furnace free from most chemical impurities, and infused with a small percentage of carbon. Generally, the amount of carbon in this mixture is around 1%, but will vary according to what the steel will eventually be used for.
The iron is transferred to the basic oxygen furnace (BOF).
Once all of the materials have been loaded into the furnace, they are exposed to a jet of pure oxygen. The oxygen combines with the carbon to create carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. The impurities float to the top(with no gravity?) were skimmed off by hand. that's why steel workers got the big bucks they did. when we were still making steel that is. I think the only way to make it in space is to first, make big iron pots (out of asteroids?) and add sunlight and spin.
These fumes are pulled from the basic oxygen furnace, but the purified molten iron - now called carbon steel - is left behind. The transformation from iron into carbon steel takes less than an hour in a basic oxygen furnace. I think the only way to make it is to first make bigger and bidder pots (out of asteroids?) and add sunlight and spin

350:

Alex wrote:
We both know there are no kilometer sized solar concentrators in existence, or even being planned AFAIK.

https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Solar_Energy_Generating_Systems

6.5 km^2

That's the biggest one, and a large array of linear concentrators, but there are a number of single-point concentrators that are large fractions of a square kilometer (8 Ha, 15 Ha).

351:

Charlie has argued that Mars is a lot harder to colonize than the Gobi desert, and by implication, since the Gobi desert (like most deserts) is not exactly populated, Mars is unattractive too.

I think you're comparing apples with lemons here. Living in an Earth desert is hard compared with living elsewhere on the planet, agreed. Building off-Earth colonies will be harder than living in an Earth desert also agreed.

That does not mean that building off-Earth colonies on $planetary_body is harder than building same at, say, La Grange points. The key to building the planetary colonies is likely IMO to be in establishing some more or less (the more the better) self-sufficient bio-domes before installing the colonists.

352:

I know enough metallurgy to know that I don't know enough metallurgy to figure out exactly how to take full advantage.

My reasoning was "Cooling things fast in vacumn is hard. How can we take advantage of this by making things that are cooled slowly?" If there's stuff that we can do by 2 or more slow cooling cycles, so much the better.

353:

Of course if some private firm does reduce launch costs by a factor of 10 will the French (and ESA) use it or just eat the difference to keep their programs alive? I'm asking a serious question.

354:

Payload per passenger:

Obviously, at first, space suits are going to be mandatory (as survival gear). A Russian Orlan-M weighs on the order of 100Kg. A basic survival pressure suit (no EVA capacity) can probably be a bit lighter -- but it's still going to be over 60Kg. And you still need a reserve air supply in case the can suffers a depressurization.

The seat the passenger sits in is going to be in the 10-30Kg range. (It has to be able to support a passenger safely at up to 20g for a minute, in event of an uncontrolled ballistic re-entry -- a survivable emergency condition that has arisen a couple of times on Soyuz flights.)

The tourist is going to consume a few kilos of food, air, and water every day. Call it 100Kg for a one-week trip, to be on the safe side.

So before we include the tourist or the spacecraft, we've already added 200-250Kg to the freight bill, at $2000/Kg.

Realistic spacecraft weight: a Mercury capsule weighs about 1100Kg after re-entry and holds 1 PAX. A Soyuz-TMA reentry module weighs 2,900Kg and holds 3. A Dragon capsule weighs 4,200Kg and holds up to 7 passengers or 6000Kg of cargo. So we're looking at on the order of 1 ton/passenger for vehicle structural weight into orbit. Interestingly, the unloaded weight of a modern jet airliner seems to be significantly lower -- around 300-400Kg/passenger -- but I note that an airliner doesn't have to carry a head shield or survive a 20g uncontrolled ballistic re-entry.

So I reckon it's probably reasonable to say that each space tourist is going to require 1000Kg of payload capacity, as an absolute minimum for any rocket-based system. And at $2000/Kg, it means the flight is going to cost a flat minimum of $2M/passenger.

355:

You could go on to state that you will need on the order of 40-50t of hydrogen to get a Soyuz equivalent rocket into orbit - or very generously about 5t of hydrogen per passenger if we launch near the equator and squeeze 10 of them them into a sufficiently small tin can on top of it.

1kg of Hydrogen = 140 MJ of energy or roughly 200MJ of electricity accounting for losses through electrolysis, liquification etc. and easier calculation.

So, energy consumption is on the order of 1 TJ per passenger. (With each ton of stuff in orbit having 45 GJ of kinetic energy - we're talking about 5% efficiency for stuff to orbit or 0.5% efficiency for meat to orbit.)

1TJ = 277778 kWh

We're talking about a hard lower limit of $28 per kg if we assume 10 cent per kwh. (0.2 Euro is more realistic in Europe).

We may conclude that a trip to orbit costs about a year's average wage in energy cost alone. Fuel makes up about 20% of an airline's cost. If this were similar for orbital transportation, we'd be talking about the price of a house as being equal to an orbital return-ticket.

... if you can pull a reusable space plane out of your hat with a weight similar to a disposable hydrogen-fuelled rocket. And of course, you have to assume that somebody has already paid for whatever structure it is you want to go to.

So I'd say a million is a pretty good estimate for a lower bound, even taking applied unobtainium into account.

356:

Add another 1M for added expenses (possibly luggage?) and 1M for profit and you're looking at approximately 4M/passenger. I would imagine that for that price there would be plenty of people willing to pay. Not even necessary the super rich.

357:

Yeah but if we cut costs by a factor of 1000 tourists could easily go, duhh :P

358:

Let's see what happens when we use the drawing board Skylon instead.

Payload 30 astronauts (3 tonnes out of 9.5 tonnes to ISS orbit, so this includes all pressure hull, seats, environmental, spacesuits, etc.)
$1000/kg basic payload cost, so assume $3000/kg per person.
Assume 5 flight crew, so real payload = 25 passengers.

Amortized cost = $3600/kg.
Ticket price = $360k.


Alternatively.

Unit cost $300m (190GBP)
200 flights lifetime + financing = $3m/flight.
(assume x-prize goal of 2 week turnaround, 8 years total flight operations per unit)
Add 200% for space line operation = $9m/flight.

Ticket price = $9m/25 = $360k. ($3600/kg)

For 100 tourists/week, a fleet of 8 Skylons is needed, plus 1 or 2 for hotel staff and supplies.

The power of an airline operational business model.

Fantasy perhaps, but fight with Alan Bond over the numbers, not me :)

source data: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reaction_Engines_Skylon

359:

Obviously, at first, space suits are going to be mandatory (as survival gear). A Russian Orlan-M weighs on the order of 100Kg. A basic survival pressure suit (no EVA capacity) can probably be a bit lighter -- but it's still going to be over 60Kg. And you still need a reserve air supply in case the can suffers a depressurization.

My turn to call bollocks.

You do not need a full EVA suit for tourist service, just a simple survival pressure suit, so ORLAN suits are not required. The Russian SOKOL-K series suits mass ~10kg, nowhere near as high as $60kg. Add perhaps 10kg for separate emergency air supply and cooling.

US Shuttle launch suit is a little heavier at 13.6kg.

IOW, the suits are not going to be a major mass cost for the flight. Let's not be unduly pessimistic when the required technology actually exists.

360:

"The tourist is going to consume a few kilos of food, air, and water every day. Call it 100Kg for a one-week trip, to be on the safe side.
So before we include the tourist or the spacecraft, we've already added 200-250Kg to the freight bill, at $2000/Kg."

Again, this is just pessimistic and misleading.

100kg/week = 14kg/dy. With total water loss at 2kg/dy* from urine, breathing, sweating and stools, you don't need anything like the figure you are quoting. If all the water was brought on as fresh food, then you might need perhaps 3kg/dy allowing for preparation wastage. So restaurant food costs are $42k/person/week, a fraction of your $250k.

In reality, you don't need to consume all your water as food. Call your fresh, gourmet food intake 1kg/dy with separate water for consumption. That reduces the food cost to $14k/wk, a trivial sum compared to launch costs. Water is assumed to be recyclable, with the 90% water content of food discarded.

Now if you really want to get creative, you can really
cut costs. Recycle water to reduce losses to 0.5kg/dy. Fuel cost to replace water => $7k/week.
half of the food is grown in situ, so only ship up meats and processed foods to meet this water demand.

Since urine loss is 1.5 kg/dy, use the existing urine recycling technology to recover most of this. Condensers could recover the respired water easily.

By all means allow for greater water demand by offering real showers and baths as befits a luxury stay, but don't add unnecessary, bogus water costs.


* source: Mayo clinic

361:

SoV was talking about space based solar concentrators.
The ground based jobs would be extremely massive to launch.

362:

1TJ = 277778 kWh

We're talking about a hard lower limit of $28 per kg if we assume 10 cent per kwh. (0.2 Euro is more realistic in Europe).

So we have a lot of room at the bottom, even with the inefficient transport specified. If the energy cost per trip is of the order of $3000, then we can ignore it and concentrate on the amortized capital cost of the vehicle and flight operations overhead.

Which means that orbital flights could eventually be no more expensive than trans-global aircraft flights, i.e. in the $10000 per trip range.

363:

Alex, FYI, Bigelow bought the Transhub technology off NASA in the first place. What he's proposing is providing the habitation module for the ISS to replace the accommodation unit that got dropped from the construction spec.

So the technology has already had a wad of government funds.

364:

So the technology has already had a wad of government funds.

Since Bigelow paid Nasa for the inflatable hab technology, he has not been at the teat of the government yet. (Bigelow is not responsible for the sunk development costs). If he (and Boeing?) do get the contract, then he will be getting government funds. If you are arguing that the government already spent money on the technology and Bigelow got a good deal on the license, well that was a transaction between grownups. But on that basis, rather large chunks of the US economy that look like private business have been subsidized by government research and spending.

365:
But on that basis, rather large chunks of the US economy that look like private business have been subsidized by government research and spending.

(Bangs head against the wall.)

366:

You're missing the point. Try not to leave blood on the wallpaper unnecessarily. You seem to do that a lot :)

367:

Er, so what is your point then, Alex?

368:

But on that basis, rather large chunks of the US economy that look like private business have been subsidized by government research and spending.

Er... you mean apart from Boeing, McDonnell Douglas, Intel, Texas Instruments, Motorola, blah blah blah blah blah blah?

Apart from ALL the examples I can think off of the top of my head from aircraft design and manufacture, through cellphones, computer technology and pretty much every single high technology industry and major university in the country?

APART from those you mean?

369:

Alex, I think you've lost track of the point you were making now.

370:

Here was my original comment at 346:
"Bigelow is already proposing with Boeing a cheaper alternative to the ISS. Maybe something will happen and he gets his inflatable habs jump started with government funds. I'd bet he will be more tourist friendly than Nasa."

You can recognize that:

1. Almost everything has government funding somewhere. From your education, to roads you use to drive to work. Do you wish to be accused of feeding at the government trough because you went through public schools? (public = state for UK residents).

2. It is generally accepted that benefiting from government funding requires getting more back then you invest. Thus aerospace firms that get government contracts are making net profits from public funding.

It should therefore be obvious that Bigelow has not yet benefited from government funds. He has made an arms length transaction to buy technology, which is a net return to the public purse. (The hab tech was R&D for one concept for a moon base, which never materialized). The prior spending on R&D for the hab technology is therefore irrelevant, a sunk cost. He will only be getting public funds if he gets government contracts.
Then absolutely you can argue that he is not really offering a private enterprise solution, but a cross-subsidized one.

BTW, Bigelow has been floating the hab as a cheap base that is quite independent of ISS.

e.g. www.space.com/9358-bigelow-aerospace-soars-private-space-station-deals.html

and the Wikipedia entry:
/wiki/Bigelow_Aerospace

371:

ADMINISTRATIVE NOTE

Alex, your behaviour is beginning to piss me off. (You're displaying symptoms of obsession here, and they're getting more pronounced, to such an extent that they're functionally hard to distinguish from trolling.)

Please take a rain check for the weekend. Otherwise I'm going to close comments on this topic.

372:

It should therefore be obvious that Bigelow has not yet benefited from government funds.

No, it's not obvious, in fact quite the opposite. Bigelow's business only exists because of the largess of the government "selling" him a technology for a fraction of the cost of the research that went into it.

Just because you think this to be the case that doesn't make it so.

Bigelow's entire business has been on the idea of using their stuff for small space stations, but, thus far, the only customer I've seen referred to who might consider paying is the government.

Now, as others have pointed out. Pretty much every colonisation effort in modern history that's succeeded required a large degree of government involvement. The cost, in modern terms, of setting up the Australian penal colonies was extra-ordinary but the bulk of that cost was paid by governments and not businesses.

Likewise your arguments about Space Tourism organically turning into space colonisation just miss so many crucial stages that knowing where to even start with the deconstruction of your "in a bound they were free" style of logic leads me to instead refer to another favourite saying in this context.

"That's not even wrong!"

373:

Ok. Shutting down here too.

374:

Thanks for the warning. I'll just watch this thread and make no more comments on it.

Have a good weekend.

375:

Thanks.

(I think we need some cooling off around here. 374 comments!)

376:

How are we measuring "benefitting from government funding"? Because ISTR that the US economy has benefitted to the extent of more than 40 1962 dollars for every 1962 dollar spent on project Apollo.

377:

Do you have a cite for that 40x figure? Apollo has an estimated cost of $170 billion in 2005 dollars. At 40x, $6.8 trillion in reasonably recent money is a lot to account for, even spread over 40-50 years.

Most of the really optimistic estimates I've seen for return on investment of Apollo or NASA spending in general use wild, non-falsifiable accounting like saying "Apollo used early miniaturized computers, so I will arbitrarily credit some fraction of the present enormous microelectronics industry to Apollo." These estimators also tend to be the same crowd who credit Apollo or NASA with inventing things it really didn't, like Teflon, CNC machine tools, and Tang.

I would love to see a serious, documented estimation of the value* of Apollo, so if you have a pointer please share.

*Quantifiable dollar value, that is. I have no need to be convinced of the scientific value of space programs.

378:

As a supporter of Apollo I have a hard time with the 40 figure.

Things that did come out of the program were more mundane things like HASP (and a lot of other useful computer programs), large scale semi-conductor usage (although the ICBM programs forced much of the move away from tubes), large scale project management tools (computers again), etc...

They did advance many fields. But it's really hard to pick out something and say we would not have this today without NASA/Apollo. Mostly they forced a lot of technologies to be advanced much quicker than if the program had not happened.

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on April 6, 2011 1:29 PM.

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