back to article Bubble-baron Bigelow bags Boeing boosters

Colourful inflatable space-bubble kingpin Robert Bigelow has allied with US aerospace globocorp Boeing for the purpose of "making space travel commercial the way air travel became commercial a century ago". Model Bigelow space station at Farnborough 2010 Overheard at the briefing: 'There will definitely be less Krazy Glue …

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Joke

Those damn lizard people...

"Space commerce will be real ... Bob [Bigelow], bless him, is the nearest thing to space commerce there is at the moment - for humans that is."

Those damn lizard people and there commercial space business undercutting our attempts to get into the market...

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What this really is

- A truncated version of the Orion capsule designed for the now-cancelled Constellation program. Boeing would very much like to make a return on all that development time.

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FAIL

Safety

I presume commercial space craft will be subject to some regaulatory body for safety. Given the record of the Shuttle, I find it hard to believe how safety standards can be upheld, or even if any commercial space craft can even meet the standards NASA has set itself, which itself has a high failure rate*. I think I'll watch from down here for a while.

*compared to, say, commercial arlines

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Safety records.

@ravenviz: it's the safety record of capsule systems you should be looking at, not the shuttle.

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Go

"a high failure rate"

... based on the number of launches, or the cumulative distance travelled in service?

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Boffin

@ravenviz

"I presume commercial space craft will be subject to some regaulatory body for safety."

Correct. *Commercial* spaceflight in the US comes under the FAA, *not* NASA.

"Given the record of the Shuttle,"

Looking at the actual statistics shows the Shuttle to have a slightly *lower* accident rate (As in number of launches versus number of failures. This is roughly 1 in 20 for a *mature* launch system)

" I find it hard to believe how safety standards can be upheld, or even if any commercial space craft can even meet the standards NASA has set itself"

Shuttle in fact did *not* meet NASA's internal standards for crew-rating, having no independent crew escape system (hang on till the solid boosters burn out and separate from the tank is not in fact a crew escape system)

"I think I'll watch from down here for a while."

You might like to look up accident rates (or *crashes* as they tended to be called then) from the early 1930's onward, which is *roughly* when people started selling *tickets* to fly people to other places *without* them needing to be qualified pilots first.

They were high.

The vehicles they flew were reusable.

They got better.

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Component failure rate at launch

NASA themselves say that during a shuttle launch, they tend to suffer a component rate of circa 1%. Of course anything important has more than one backup component, but considering each shuttle has over a million components and by this calculation, 10,000 components are failing...

It shows just how exteme a launch is and how hard it is to make a launch as close to 100% perfect as they can make it. 1% sounds small and by other measures would be a fantastic achievement, but there is no room for significant errors or failures during shuttle launches.

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Re: @ravenviz

I really do agree that you can't be good at the start, and you have to start somewhere; but at what cost initially? People really do want to travel by aeroplane for purposes of work, financial gain, seeing loved ones, etc. They are prepared to take the small risk that they may not get there. Heck even the pioneering spirit in bygone years of restarting your life on dusty plains in North America. But what do they get from going into space? Sure there will be a benefit for some people in life experience, but are the risks simply too high? Will regulating bodies allow these high risks?

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FAIL

I don't care...

I *really* want to go into space (i.e. at least 3 orbits) and I have been waiting for a ticket for 40 years. I'm willing to take the risk. You can stay home if you like, but I'm descended from the guys that actually left England and made it across the ocean.

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@Desk Jockey

"but considering each shuttle has over a million components and by this calculation, 10,000 components are failing..."

One *non* obvious fact about reliability is that halving the number of parts of a system (with all new parts have *exactly* the same reliability as the old) narrows the failure rate by 1 std deviation, roughly from 1 in 50 failure to 1 in 100.

The Shuttle is a *very* poor design which manages to get the *worst* of both worlds in terms of reliability and maintainability. A substantial part of this is that *neither* the main engines or the solid boosters delivered their targets on specific impulse which triggerd a *massive* weight cutting excercise. Despite this the Shuttle has *never* delivered its full planned payload capacity (65000Lb promised). It has 5 engines firing at launch (just like a Saturn V). Unlike a Saturn V. Unlike the Saturn a failure in *all* of the first 2 mins of flight (pre SRB separation) will probably kill the crew. It has *no* redundancy.

The Shuttle was the best design that could keep all the *stakeholders* happy enough to keep investing in it and working on its design and manufacture.

That does *not* make it the best design in pretty much *all* other senses of the term.

Within the design there is room for *massive* improvement, mostly by *removing* stuff. But a re-design from *scratch* using the *known* performance of the engines would give a much better design.

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Diet restrictions

So I assume, Curry, Bran flakes, eggs and any other gas inducing food stuffs are banned prior to be a launch participant? Especially for the upper passengers!

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could be making test flights in 2014

Bit late to be announcing "plans" only, if these sorts of things are supposed to replace the Space Shuttles which, everyone has known for a decade, are due to retire this year (even if STS-135 gets pushed out to the beginning of 2011). Have they just been hanging on for a while to see what popped up on Ebay?

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Coffee/keyboard

Pedant Time

[Colourful inflatable space-bubble kingpin Robert Bigelow has allied with US aerospace globocorp Boeing for the purpose of "making space travel commercial the way air travel became commercial a century ago".]

I think the author has poured the appropriate level of sarcasm from the very first paragraph! I hope he pointed out that air travel was not commercial in 1910! In fact, I don't think air travel became properly commercial until the 1950s, even then it was very expensive for air passengers so maybe the 1960s is a better period to state air travel became commercial?

I shudder to think of the potential impact of an 'unreglated' space environment. Space travel (like the airline industry) is where the concept of risk taking should not be encouraged.

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Happy

Re: Risk taking in space travel

"I shudder to think of the potential impact of an 'unreglated' space environment. Space travel (like the airline industry) is where the concept of risk taking should not be encouraged."

How else are we supposed to lower the population and remove ourselves from the roles of entitlements and government controlled social experiments in stealing our money? Spend it while it is still ours!

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WTF?

Health and Safety waiver

How many pilots died whilst developing air travel?

How many sailors died whilst navigation and stable ship designs were developed.

Isnt all this health and safety rubbish putting the cart before the horse? Get the orbitals being used with working business models and then worry about safety.

Isnt this why most Nasa people are ex-military? Isnt space exploration *meant* to be dangerous.

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Unhappy

Tolerance levels

Two points to answer that:

a) Yes lots of pilots and sailors died in the pioneering days and many still do risk their lives. But today's tolerance for major failures and people dying is very low. Remember Comet and the damage it did to the British airline manufacturers? Lots of passengers died because they did not understand the risks and design flaws. Nowadays, the acceptance of passengers dying is much lower than it was then.

b) Everyone is shit paranoid about stuff falling out of orbit and crashing down on cities. The US have even shot down their own satellites to prevent this (and military tech being captured). Business do not have the same levels of money to pump into safety and so they will take risks and shortcuts. Fine with experimental aircraft/boats over water, but much more of a problem up in space where a space station or a huge rocket crashing back to earth would do an incredible amount of damage.

It comes down to how much risk you are prepared to tolerate and how much money you are prepared to put into risk mitigation. As BP (among many others have proven) the answer is too much and not enough.

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Happy

@Desk Jockey

"Remember Comet and the damage it did to the British airline manufacturers?" "passengers died because they did not understand the risks and design flaws."

Not quite. it was sold as the world's first *mass* transit airliner. The implication being that it was *safe* and did *not* need a sense of adventure to fly it.

In reality the desire of the makers to keep the engines in house, despite having *nothing* with a decent thrust level forced the use of *very* thing structural materials which in turn forced the use of

rivets rather than the preferred adhesive bonding. the combination of thin materials, rivets and square windows to make a *highly* effective stress concentration process. With very limited understanding of low cycle fatigue, no cyclic testing and a belief Boeing were a *lot* closer to introducing the 707 the results (had they known more or tested more in a more realistic manner) would have been *completely* predicable. The *company* did not understand the design flaws (In De Havilland's case it always seems to have been in stress analysis. I've often wondered if shifting from the wood of the Mosquito to metal alloy was too much for them. Is wood *that* more forgiving than aluminium alloy?), the passengers did not know *any* flaws existed.

"b) Everyone is shit paranoid about stuff falling out of orbit and crashing down on cities. "

This might explain why *all* US launch sites are located on the coast or in desert areas, rather than say in central Manhattan.

"It comes down to how much risk you are prepared to tolerate and how much money you are prepared to put into risk mitigation. As BP (among many others have proven) the answer is too much and not enough."

it also comes down to how high a public profile you have. All *potential* 1st generation commercial passenger launch providers are *very* aware that an early failure could *kill* their industry stone dead. Note that the 3 Comet crashes (despite their high loss of life) did *not* kill the market in jet airliner travel.

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Alien

Family market

So, looking at the illustration on page two, this capsule is designed for 6 adults and one child. Are Boeing trying to break into the family market here?

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Happy

@ Wheel

That'll be Dr Evil, Mini-Me, Number two, Scott and a few hangers-on...

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Playmobil capsule?

I was tempted to ask for a Playmobil reconstruction, but the artist's impression seems to be based on Playmobil anyway, so never mind.

Until the 1950s, planes were strictly for the rich and risk-takers. It's all too easy to forget that the trips Amelia Earhart, Alcock and Brown, Lindbergh and all the rest were doing are today regarded as routine flights. Back in the day though, they were proofs of concept that planes really could fly those kinds of distances without a 100% failure rate. The planes were pretty unreliable, and not everyone flew with chutes for the simple reason that if you bailed out in the middle of the Kalahari then you were going to die anyway.

And as for getting people on these space-flights - hell yeah. A while back, there was a survey of who'd be up for a non-return trip to Mars (you get there, you investigate, you send results back to help the next team, you run out of air and food, you die). *Loads* of people up for that. It's hard to overstate how much people are interested in getting involved in serious exploration - curiosity is deeply embedded in the human psyche.

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Flame

Bits missing

...is it just me or does the "autocad" picture seem to be a bit short on components, given it's mean to be supporting 7 people for a specific duration of time?

...and isn't the "packing" of the 7 a bit optimistic, given none of them are wearing space-suits? Or are they considered a secondary requirement here?

Methinks much more development & design required.

My money's on 4 per capsule maximum, once real life kicks in.

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Troll

Airline Seats and Food

Good points...but if they follow the business models of today's airlines, I don't think peanut bags take up too much room and they'll re-use airline seats and so could probably fit another dozen or so in there, along with a grouchy "flight attendant".

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Coat

so many misconceptions. So little time.

Yes this does look like Orion Lite to be launched on one of the ULA launchers It will have to be lite as Orion was too heavy for either Delta IV or Atlas V. However as these EELV were developed under USAF contract for satellite launch they were designed to a safety factor of 1.25 (Flight loads can be 25% above design loads and it will not break) while NASA specifies SF of 1.4 (40% above design loads). At present *only* spaceX has a *launcher* designed to the crew rating level.

US commercial airline traffic started AFAIK in the late 20s, early 30s. Note it was one of the target markets of the DC3, which dates from roughly 1935. Even then no none commissioned a new all metal aircraft design without a substantial market expectation.

Commercial spaceflight in the US will *not* be "unregulated." In point of fact it *is* regulated already through the FAA. Passengers are *not* astronauts, they are "Spaceflight participants" so are not expected to do a 3 year training programme. That's important as NASA *could* issues a waiver on the safety factor to let humans launch on satellite launch vehicles. Weather FAA *could* or are so inclined to do so is less certain.

And then there is the single engine design of the launchers (ever noticed that no one flies a commercial scheduled single engined transatlantic passenger aircraft across the Atlantic?)

NB for a capsule with escape rocket multiple engines are belt-and-braces safety features but for a satellite launcher that single engine failure means bye bye satellite, hello insurance claim (you did get it insured didn't you?)

The situation in the UK *seems* to be linked into the CAA but it's unclear if they would green light *any* vertical launch system.

I *strongly* doubt FAA will permit children in the early stages.

Early fliers will be subject to *significant* risks. However so are people who do other *risk *holidays like climbing mount Everest (which routinely kills a few people who do it every *decade*, if not every year), bathysphere trips to several miles below the surface of the sea, and flight in Russian supersonic aircraft. Not to mention the current state of the art, a trip to the ISS.

How fast those risks stop being *real* will depend on the development road maps of the vehicles that fly. with no "engine out" designs like Atlas and Delta that crew escape system had *better* work. NB Good expendables (those whose design is *not* changed every flight) have roughly a 1 in 20 failure rate. Which begs the question if Apollo had continued would there have been a loss of crew accident. Note this failure rate is *totally* unacceptable in *any* other transport mode.

Interestingly all these vehicles have the option (for the first time since Titan) to offer *intact* abort, where a 2nd stage failure *could* be handled by 1st stage throttle down and pouring the 2nd stage propellants into it to burn them off and lower final velocity (that picked up in the fall back to Earth) before crashing back to Earth behind the mother of all air bags.

Boeing have a *perceived* pedigree in this field.

In reality predecessor company North American and Grumman built the crew carrying free flying bits of Apollo, Boeing and predecessor company Douglas built 2 of the stages.

40 years ago. How well they do depends on how well they captured the data (including the decisions as to why some things were *not* done a certain way) because *very* few senior people will still be alive from that era.

Can they develop it more like SpaceX or will it be the govt con-tractor dance? Federal Procurement Regs or commercial practice? Commercial practice got McDonald Douglas to build DC-X (circa single stage to M3 and back) in 18 months for <$65m. I won't quote SpaceX again as that is an unfair comparison. FPR gets you X33 (No flights, just parts) over $1.1Bn over most of a decade.

People have questioned an in service date of 2014. This is *not* unreasonable (actually I'd call it pretty generous), given Boeing's *heavy* involvement with Orion and the Orion crew escape rocket (the pacing item according to SpaceX for a crewed vehicle) has already been tested.

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/05/06/nasa_orion_abort_test/

However that depends on what mods to be built into Atlas or Delta (or rather their productiong lines) to bring them up to acceptable spec. IIRC LockMart said they would make dual redundant flight computers standard for *all* their launches as good business to improve reliability.

Biglows intention is to move from space *travel* to space *tourism*. He thinks big and he wants to make money at this. It's a sad fact of the human race that *very* few want to *have* an adventure, but they quite like a package holiday. Making space *less* heroic is *key* to getting more people into space and getting people to think that space is a place, *not* a programme.

When history is written perhaps Biglow will win the "DD Harriman" award. I'd be *very* surprised if his people are not talking to SpaceX on some level. Such large eggs, so few baskets.

Yes, it's anorak.

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@ravenvis

>But what do they get from going into space?

What do they get from jumping out of aeroplanes attached to giant hankies, or riding bikes into corners with their knees scrapping the ground.

ps. The FAA / CAA rules only apply if you launch from the UK/USA. Since both these countries are somewhat north of the equator, have governments with lots of red tape and an inconvenient attitude to giving visas to some of your more unconventionally entrepreneurial billionaire customers - you might be better off launching from somewhere cheaper in the Caribbean or SE Asia with a more relaxed attitude to government regulation

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Happy

@YAAC

"The FAA / CAA rules only apply if you launch from the UK/USA. Since both these countries are somewhat north of the equator, have governments with lots of red tape and an inconvenient attitude to giving visas to some of your more unconventionally entrepreneurial billionaire customers - you might be better off launching from somewhere cheaper in the Caribbean or SE Asia with a more relaxed attitude to government regulation"

You might. If you're Arianspace you are in terms of lattitude away from the equator.

You might like to also look up what happened when Beal Aerospace tried it. Kistlers efforts to use Woomera were less than entirely satisfactory.

In fact IIRC only the OTRAG organisation succeeded in non traditional launch locations.

You'll also need a shed load of infrastructure these places don't have but most of all you need to check up a little thing called ITAR. Try getting the launchers *out* of the US (and for more fun try getting the staff out).

Should you want to be the first Colombian in space I'd contact the Russians, who seem much more disposed to discussing an arrangement.

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Re:Regulation

Small point here. The launch may be regulated as may the return, however once they're up there which country's jurisdiction do they come under? Given that they're technically not even on the planet any more it is hard to imagine that one country could impose law on the vehicle irrespective of where it came from originally or returns to. Of course that hasn't stopped courts from trying...

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Happy

@Craig 28

"Small point here. The launch may be regulated as may the return, however once they're up there which country's jurisdiction do they come under? "

Not *that* small a point its about liability.

IIRC the FAA jurisdiction runs up to somewhere between 60 and 80Kft about the US. AFAIK other aviation regulators have similar limits.

One in "space" (IIRC the common definition is 100Km or 62.5 regular miles or 54.05 Nautical Miles) mishaps come under various UN treaties. The problem is it was written in 1967 and does not recognize anyone but *nations* having launch capability or satellites. Hence the launching country is liable, *not* the launching *company*. This issue came up sometime in the late 70s/early 80s with the crash of a nuclear powered cosmos satellite in Canada.

One of those dull, back room but absolutely *essential* tasks to allow commercial space travel will be to make the launch providers responsible and to *mandate* they carry some kind of insurance, at premiums worked out based on *actual* known reliabilities. This would raise the entry barrier *but* encourage reusable designs (not refurbishable ones like the Shuttle, which is virtually a new vehicle on each launch, hence throwing away *any* good statistical performance achieved in a previous launch). At present there is no *incentive* to *try* for a reusable design from day one.

"Of course that hasn't stopped courts from trying..."

And succeeding.

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