Less rockets, more Jet packs, flying cars and holodecks, please!
SpaceX, the famous upstart startup rocket company founded on PayPal hecamillionaire Elon Musk's internet fortune, has announced details of its latest and mightiest launcher - which will be the most powerful rocket in the world. “Falcon Heavy will arrive at our Vandenberg, California, launch complex by the end of next year with …
Ok, so we can put 50 tons in orbit. But we're not all going to be heading off to space until someone discovers something useful for people to do out there. The human space flight programmes at present like to pretend they're useful, but in reality they're cock-waving opportunities that simply have to find something for the astronauts to do while they're up there.
Really, we're going into space to prove that we can, which is the purest of cock-waving, of course.
But so what? Lots of us think it's cool to do and enjoy it. Even if it's just entertainment, then it's got value in that. Of course, the entertainment value is a non-excludable good, which is why you can't fund it by selling tickets - but so what, if NASA could sell tickets, they'd find plenty of buyers.
that's provided the benefits so far. Improved materials and more knowledge of existing materials, a better understanding of high speed travel and aerodynamics. A constant push to be able to process larger and larger datasets.
Actually getting into space just tells us that we were right while developing it, and lets us do things like satellite comms, GPS, proper weather prediction (ever noticed how it's much more accurate than it used to be, say, 20 years ago?).
Saying that, once we've got a cheap way of getting into deep space we can start doing all sorts of cool stuff. Asteroid mining, building colonies, etc- it spreads our race out and means we're less dependant on the Earth. If we can find a decent source of Helium-3 out there, the Earth can start using Fusion power sources (well, in '10-15 years'...). And clean, abundant fuel will revolutionise the world- we could have artificial, carbon-neutral petrol to power our cars, faster (and cleaner, and cheaper) air travel. Clean, cheap, abundant fuel will make the world speed up by almost the amount that it has since the days of our grandparents.
Once you've got people permanently settled on another body you can start exploiting it all the better- if you need to know details of something, a local researcher can just hop into a buggy and go find it out. At worst you need to launch a spacecraft from a moon or an orbital facility, drastically lowering problems with weather and getting out of gravity wells that earth-launched craft have to overcome. So the amount of research that can be carried out- so the amount of discovery that's possible in a given timeframe- increases dramatically.
We're just at the earliest of points with our space program, remember that when you're slagging it off. When the Steam Engine was created, it was derided. A hundred years later and it was becoming useful. And a hundred years after that, it was powering the Human Race across the planet faster than ever.
Our space program is what, 54 years old? That's nothing. We've got a long way to go yet, so we should start learning as soon as possible.
"Clean, cheap, abundant fuel..."
As long as "cheap" is in the equation, your vision won't happen. Money is the driving force for any of this. Columbus sailed to the "new world" to find a better TRADE ROUTE so they could make money. Until something with economics akin to "unobtainium" is found, there won't be a massive drive. Show the world that an asteroid is 50% gold, 25% titanium, and 25% platinum and you'll have scores of people trying to mine it. Heck, even if it is only half that. Oh, and with leniency for the "acceptable loss" (oh, "tragic loss" for the supporters) that is seen in coal mining. Columbus had deaths on his voyage, and we can mitigate better now, but just because someone died doesn't mean we should halt our progress for 10 years while we have a tribunal.
Back to the point: cheap. Your "Star Trek" ideal world won't happen with the driving force being capitalism. As long as it is expensive to get it, the base line cost will always be high. So, no, you won't be seeing cheap space resources until it becomes more economical to get them; which is the point of SpaceX in case you haven't noticed. Of course, the other option would be adopting the Star Trek form of government, which only works in (Science) Fiction.
Commercial--nay, all--space exploration would be going nowhere if there weren't a long line of government and commercial firms itching to put things in space to this day: Communications satellites, space station parts, imaging satellites, miscellaneous research projects, &c. What we can do in space is limited by how much it costs to put heavy things in orbit. The phrase of importance: "Cost per kilogram".
Telecommunications, materials engineering, astronomy, mining, meteorology, petroleum exploration, and even search and rescue operations have all benefited greatly from the fact that you are wrong. The real problem is that the ideas we have about what to put in space tend to reach, whether in mass or in cost, beyond our lifting capabilities, which is exactly the logistical problem that SpaceX is starting to solve.
Nothing to do for astronauts - sure, because they're in the wrong place. When I was a wide-eyed kid, watching Neil Armstrong (allegedly) walking on the moon, we were going to be all over the asteroid belt and Jupiter's Moons by now, not sniffing around in LEO and requiring a kick up the backside every couple of weeks to stop impersonating David Bowie.
The problem with space isn't so much that there's nothing to do up there, it's that we're all sat at the bottom of a deep dark gravity well... stuffing great rockets get us out of the atmosphere, and Vasimir drives get us to interesting places in sane times.
Moon colonies are probably pointless, Heinlein and most SF authors since then to the contrary, for anything other than a slightly easier launch and maybe He3 mining - Mars may be the same, though a long term plan of landing water asteroids on it could improve its atmosphere to something useful over a few hundred years. But there's loads of interesting metals out there in the asteroid belt; loads of free energy (all you need is a big mirror); and loads of water and other useful volatiles out at Saturn's rings. Though the environmentalists would probably object...
Give us a cheap way to get to orbit and beyond, and we'll find something to make a profit.
It looks as though Musk is going to have the largest cock to wave on the launchpad!!
Putting large loads in orbit is probably a prelude to building a ship in space that stands a real chance of making it to Mars with people inside, or sending advance packages ahead so a one way human habitation of Mars could be performed.
The tricky bit that SpaceX seem to have cracked isn't the launch payload, or anything like that. The truly useful part of all this is that titanic cost saving per launch. Yes, there are existing technologies for Heavy Lift, so making more is less of an issue, but SpaceX's achievement is making them much more affordable (for a given value of affordable.)
It's an urban myth.
The real problem is that the plans are all on microfiche, and would need to all be moved to CAD to be built now. That's a big job in itself (a very big job if you have ever visited KSC and seen a Saturn v in the flesh), although not as bad as redesigning from scratch.
All of the designs for Saturn V exist and can be referred to. The production lines were all closed and the jigs disassembled after the completion of the backup booster for Skylab. It was never used and now hangs out in pieces at various museums. The sobering thought is that most of the people who designed Saturn are either long retired or dead, so a lot of the expertise has gone with them.
"The sobering thought is that most of the people who designed Saturn are either long retired or dead, so a lot of the expertise has gone with them."
You forgot the supply chain for *most* of these parts.
Companies out of business.
Companies merged and records dumped.
The last estimate for a re-start on the J2 engine line was c$2Bn.
The *actual* problem with a re-start would be drawing (and *enforcing*) the line at which you make changes. Get new mfgs in? Almost certainly. Change materials because SS grade XX is so *old*? I'd suggest not. The position would likely be less clear on the telemetry and computer systems.
Spinning metal inertial driven by 200lb GN2 tanks?
BTW the "Instrumentation Unit" on the SV weighs about the *same* as the Vehicle Equipment Bay on the Ariane 5 *Despite* the A5 being just over 1/2 it's diameter, and the VEB is made in carbon fibre.(Laser gyroscopes + batteries are also substantially lighter than spinning metal + large GN2 gas canisters).
Everyone knows that the reason that they can't rebuild the Saturn V was that it never really reached orbit in the first place! (insert bit about Neil Armstrong's "one giant leap" on a soundstage at Area 51, Apollo funds diverted to spraying Agent Orange on Vietnam and paying off various Southern European/Latin American/Southeast Asian/African generals to overthrow commie-luvin' closet socialist elected governments while providing hush money to the Kennedy/King assassins!!)
If you look at it the right way (which involves mixing scotch with LSD) it all makes sense!!
Yeah, but the Saturn V was built in Metric (cause it was done by a German guy).
Now the US don't want to use Metric*, so they can't do it :)
(*) It's possible that some measurements for orbit insertion around Mars may use metric, but don't tell anyone, so that they assume they are imperial :)
Why should we use the Saturn V, with its relatively inefficient engines and other half-century-old technology, when we could get the same job done with something whose newer technology is more reliable and less expensive?
The Saturn V took the engineering prowess of the richest, most powerful, most technologically advanced empire on the planet to design, test, and build, and only the same could afford one. At the time it was built, economic feasibility wasn't even a consideration. Now, however, after decades of accumulated engineering knowledge and improvements in technology, it doesn't take an empire to build /or/ to buy a rocket, and that's what's really cool about this: That you can put a payload into space without being part of anybody's federal budget.
Elon Musk (still a name suitable for a Bondesque supervillain stroking a white Persian cat) is getting his act together big time. From an engineering point of view, his development schedule seems feasible and sensible. Developing his rockets in a modular fashion, using clusters of tested engines is smart, as the Russians have shown before.
And with an engine named "Merlin", what could go wrong?
"Developing his rockets in a modular fashion, using clusters of tested engines is smart, as the Russians have shown before."
Yes, to an extent. Not with N1 though...
30 main engines + not enough money + impossible deadlines = caboom
But, the form factor of that beauty - that's how proper rockets should look!
Going to Mars right off is not the smart thing to do. What you want to do is go to some of the Near Earth Objects (asteroids) and tug them back to Earth and lunar orbit. You use the highly efficient plasma rocket (VASIMR) to do this. From the NEOs you extract: metals and glass to build habitats, carbon for space elevator cables, and volatiles for more fuel and breathing. The leftovers become the anchor mass of a space elevator.
The Earth has too deep a gravity well for a full space elevator using known materials. But you can build a partial one with a landing platform on the bottom. By reducing the job the rocket has to do by 30%, you raise the payload from 3% to 12%, or lower the cost per kg by a factor of 4. That's if you made no changes. You can spend some of that payload gain to make the rocket fully re-used, which lowers the cost even more.
The Falcon Heavy has about the same empty weight as an Airbus A320, and not surprisingly about the same unit cost. That's because both are made of the same type of aerospace grade parts. The main cost difference for passengers and cargo is because the Falcon gets used once and tossed, while a passenger airplane gets used many thousands of times.
Once you have a cheap way to get to space, a well stocked base in Earth orbit, and efficient transportation, then you go and build space elevators for the Moon and Mars. Conveniently Mars already has two asteroids in orbit (Phobos and Deimos), saving us the trouble of dragging some into place. The Moon and Mars being smaller, full space elevators are possible for them. Now when you go to place boots on Mars, it will be something you can afford to do on a reasonable budget, and do many times.
Delta-V for rendezvous with various asteroids from LEO ranges upwards from 3.8km/sec so the delta-V required to tug one into earth orbit is probably similar:
Since F=ma, so FΔt = mΔv, and for realistic values of F and m, Δt looks rather large!
For asteroid 2000 UG11 (the smallest I could quickly find with a mass estimate), m = 5E-21*Msun = 1E10 kg. Delta-V = 6.9km/s, and a VASIMIR VF-200 has a thrust of 5.7N. Let's assume 10,000 VF-200 units (plus a 2GW power station, plus all the argon), so Δt comes to about 1.2E9 seconds - just over 38 years.
UG11 is a bit large for a first attempt. 1E10 kg = 10 million tons. Drop that to 1000 tons, which is sufficient for extracting a reasonable amount of starter materials. You can probably scoop that much debris off the surface of UG11. The return delta-V can be reduced by using the Moon for a gravity capture maneuver, and using the Earth's atmosphere for gradual aerobraking (multiple orbits).
Let's say as a rough estimate that will leave 1.0 km/s by propulsion. 5 VF-200 thrusters require 1 MW of power, and have a hardware mass estimated at 10 tons including solar array. With an exhaust velocity of 50 km/s, the mass ratio on the return trip will be 1.02. Thus 20.4 tons fuel on the return trip. Outgoing you cant use aerobraking, so assume 4 km/s, thus mass ratio of 1.083. Mass outgoing is much smaller (no cargo), so only 2.5 tons fuel needed.
Therefore per trip the return ratio is 1000 tons recovered / 22.9 tons fuel burned = 43:1, a very attractive result assuming you can extract a reasonable fraction of useful stuff from the raw asteroid rocks. The first trip you have to also launch the hardware, so an extra 10 tons penalty. Mission time will be 15 months of the engine running plus whatever coasting time is required, which depends on the details of the orbit positions. Generally space hardware lasts longer than a few years, so you should be able to make multiple trips with one vehicle. The starting mass (32.9 tons) is less than the cargo of one Falcon Heavy (55 tons), but there is no reason you have to keep to the size I used for calculations, you could go a lot smaller for a first demonstration, or larger by launching in sections.
So, precisely how are you proposing to put something into selenostationary orbit in the first place?
I do know of one object that is in such an orbit, but it's a bit impractical as the anchor of a space elevator: Earth.
Or are you planning to go and dump some angular momentum into the moon to make an elevator possible? That would be impressive amounts of energy to burn. We won't be playing pinball with moon-sized objects for a while yet.
Now Mars, sure, you can build an elevator on Mars. In fact, it's possibly the best object in the entire solar system: big mountain to put your anchor on, suitable asteroids already in orbit, reasonable rotational period to put areosynchronous orbit at a sensible height.
Your only real problem is not getting hit by Phobos.
...are not re-usable. The side boosters and first stage on the Falcon Heavy are like the ones on the space shuttle and can be used multiple times.
The Saturn V is a beauty, but single use throw away rockets are no longer on the cards because of shrinking budgets.
Even better is a Tsiolkovsky tower, but politicians are hardly known for their innovative ideas.
One thing the Moon does get you is a long-term testbed environment. Zero-G does nasty things for the body; 1/6G may be a lot better. Whilst it's too far for anyone to come over on a whim, it's close enough for regular resupply, easy comms with Earth with minimal lag, and so on. And it's close enough that an emergency craft to get you back home in case of total disaster is a possibility. (This doesn't have to be comfortable - the size of your average coffin is plenty. It just has to be survivable.) None of this is the case for anywhere further afield like Mars.
The Moon also has no protective magnetic field, so staying there for a while will produce useful info on how the human body responds to solar radiation, for when trips to Mars (and further afield) become feasible, and somewhere to try out possible solutions where it's possible to get back home if it all goes pear-shaped.
"The Moon also has no protective magnetic field, so staying there for a while will produce useful info on how the human body responds to solar radiation, "
It does however have *lots* of soil, which is what any smart moon base would be either be buried under or stuffed in a cave. Not very cool, but very practical.
I find the speed and progress of SpaceX amazing. I also find them very inspiring and I can't wait for each of their launches. They really show what's possible and in some ways they are putting the present day version of NASA to shame at how fast SpaceX are making such amazingly fast progress. But then SpaceX are a commercial company so they have bills to pay and time is money.
But its not NASA's fault. NASA for all their early glory are now unfortunately badly bogged down by politics, excessive bureaucracy and government funding cuts. (Plus lets not forget, NASA are still very much and have always been partly US military (the government PR people downplay that side of NASA, but they are very much still military) and so unfortunately that also brings with it yet more politics, delays & bureaucracy pulling them in different directions as the politicians in power change). Also in the early days of NASA, politicians backed NASA as they seeked to out compete the Russians, but now the US politicians are no where nearly so interested as they once were about rallying support behind NASA's goals.
But SpaceX are showing what's possible. So I find it sickening to think what more could be possible, if only the politicians (in many countries) were to fully back space exploration, but they don't, they have their own self-interested agendas (and now they can't for years due to them helping to fuck up the economy through their mismanagement of banks). For example, the decades of lack of political will and effort to get back to the moon after first getting there shows the failure of the politicians, not the fault of the scientists & engineers etc.. who showed it was possible. The dream of far greater space exploration is right there for us all, if only the resources and political will were made available to make it happen. Strange then how the politicians can find hundreds of billions to pour into banks to keep their real masters happy, but they have had a very patchy history of backing space exploration for decades and don't even get me started on the UK government's attitude to space exploration which makes my blood boil, especially when I see news like this about the commercial launch potential the UK could have had but our UK governments have instead obstructed.
(For example the UK could have had its own satellite launch capability. We did have a launch capability at once point, but the UK government obstructed its progress and eventually folded it up, saying its too expensive etc.. (but it would have been a lot cheaper without all the bureaucracy and government delays!) and so they said, we should instead buy from the US and Europe. But the real reason is that the politicians gain from making bargaining deals with the US and Europe to give them our money. But our politicians don't gain from our own launch capabilities. So they would sooner give our money away. The UK special relationship with the US is a perfect example of this. Oh we can't do anything to annoy the US and competing with them annoys them and so we can't compete with them, but oh we can give them our money, oh yes, here America, here's some more billions of our money to help strength our special relationship with the US. Bullshit, utter bullshit.
Want another example. Start by looking at the value of each commercial launch and imagine the UK earning that and then look at how the UK government has failed for decades to back HOTOL and its successor Skylon. The UK politicians have relentlessly obstructed it and let it die. The politicians make excuses and let it die. The politicians make life bloody complex and then let it die. Time and time again they passively obstruct progress and then when it finally does die, they stand back and say, look it would have failed anyway, we can't do it ourselves, so lets give our money away instead. (Knowing full well by giving our money away, they can then get themselves into better more favourable positions with the US and Europe).
With HOTOL and its successor Skylon, we could have had runway launch capability like a normal aircraft up into low earth orbit and do it for a fraction of the current costs!. Look at how inspiring that would be, its way beyond anything we have currently. So then look at the cost savings of that and how usable it would be for getting into space for all goals. Look also at the value of it for a commercial launch capability for the UK. Then look at how the UK government has failed to back it for decades. Why?, because the UK government have both eyes on their special relationship with the US and so they would sooner give our money to the US and Europe to make their deals, rather than back the UK engineering. Politicians play the usual hidden game of a Passive Aggressive Narcissist which is to passively obstruct and delay and let something die and then they say, look it died, it took too long etc.. etc.. all really due to their lack of support for it, plus they add complexity via bureaucracy causing ever more delays and vastly higher costs. Which is what they really want, which is to kill it. Astounding as that sounds, that is the way a Passive Aggressive Narcissist works, as they seek goals that suit themselves and basically fuck over everyone else.
Now look at SpaceX and what they keep showing is possible and look at the value of commercial launches, which we the UK could have had.
What we need is a company like Scaled Composites to work with the Skylon team to make it happen, but sadly Burt Rutan has just retired now (it looks like due to ill health, so sad news).
Between SpaceX and Scaled Composites they carry a lot of hopes and dreams so to speak, certainly my hopes and dreams and I'm sure other peoples hopes and dreams for the future of getting into space. We need companies like them to bypass the politicians because the politicians are not focused on helping us, they are only really interested in helping themselves. History shows this time and time again. The politicians money (i.e. our public money!) does help companies, but it comes with such strong strings attached because of the politicians, that it badly risks killing companies as fast as helping them (due to the changing goals of the politicians). Companies need to bypass the politicians. Don't waste time and effort on them. Find commercial goals instead like SpaceX.
So I really hope SpaceX succeed in all they try. They really are an inspiration. :)
actually, you are correct, we did have a great opertunity in the 20-30 years after the war but what you seem to forget is how crippled our country was. WW1 was a torpedo below the water line for GB, very much a listing ship, WW2 was a tall boy in the engine room. we were screwed, hell, we are still screwed. As much as i would like to kick sucessive govenments for making things worse the real damage was already done. nothing would ever be the same again.
Slightly off topic, our country still believe we have some endless pot of money but the fact is we are nothing of our former selves and we cant afford all the freebies and hand outs successive govenments have passed out to buy our votes. We are all victims of our selves, systemattically voting in govenments who openly brang about how much more of our money they are going to spend then the opersition will, your right though, if things wernt so crap then perhaps we could at least start building on something we could sell to other countries and make some money, but no, not going to happen, that would mean promoting the private sector more.
You appear to have been hitting the caffeine a bit hard there. Probably best take a few deep breaths. BTW spell check is not enough. I've usually regretted not doing a read through before posting (you might like to read my comments the Saturn V and work where my reasoning went haywire). However...
"(Plus lets not forget, NASA are still very much and have always been partly US military (the government PR people downplay that side of NASA, but they are very much still military) "
Well the "A" in NASA is for aeronautics. Actually given the trouble Shuttle gave the USAF they try to keep *well* away from most of the rocket parts.
You're right about politicians. Apollo was *all* about the proving the US could do what the USSR could not. There was *no* long term development plan after that. That's why Saturn V production shut down in 1968
".. (but it would have been a lot cheaper without all the bureaucracy and government delays!) "
Err cheaper possibly. *if* a multi-millionaire *like* Musk decided he wanted to have a go. Otherwise 100% of *all* flights that have reached orbit have been on some governments dime/centime/cent or whatever the unit for a part of a rouble the USSR used.
"Oh we can't do anything to annoy the US and competing with them annoys them and so we can't compete with them, but oh we can give them our money,"
You might like to look up the Suez crisis of 1956 to see a key item that *really* shaped US/UK/French/Israeli relations ever since. In the aerospace context you might also like to look up BAe and the Multi-Role-Capsule.
"don't even get me started on the UK government's attitude to space exploration which makes my blood boil, especially when I see news like this "
I think readers may have detected your slight dis-equilibrium on this point.
Regarding HOTOL things are changing. The senior civil servants who thought of it as "Concord 2" (you'd have pry government funding out of their cold dead hands) are mostly dead or retired and a slightly different attitude exists.The conversion of BNSC from an outfit forced to run a space theme park in Nottingham to an actual "Agency" with its own *budget* (albeit a not very big one) is actually remarkable. It's only taken 25 years but better late than never.
BTW Reaction Engines don't *want* government money and have stated *all* along that their costings are based on commercial investment and return. They want UK government *support* not cash. This is why their project is (unless you're familiar with the size of modern capital invesment projects like air liners or the Channel tunnel) *huge*.
"With HOTOL and its successor Skylon, we could have had runway launch capability like a normal aircraft up into low earth orbit and do it for a fraction of the current costs"
It still *could* happen but RE will either become the engine maker or be absorbed into an airframe maker. No one buys a Pratt & Witney or a Rolls Royce airliner. They buy Airbus or Boeing.
"Between SpaceX and Scaled Composites they carry a lot of hopes and dreams so to speak, "
You might like to include Bigalow (who want to build orbital hotels and Virgin, who want to *start* with sub orbital flight.
"We need companies like them to bypass the politicians because the politicians are not focused on helping us, they are only really interested in helping themselves"
Actually both those companies are very much in it for the money. However they believe there's *more* money from servicing a *much* bigger market that trying to get what they can out of governments as space con-tractors tend to.
Note that NASA believed there was *no* market for space tourism. Virgin Galactic took (IIRC) 5000 payments at their *full* ticket price of $200k in their first *day*.
NASA does not do market research very well.
"So I really hope SpaceX succeed in all they try. They really are an inspiration."
Then you should either join them or consider how best to earn the kind of money needed to actually *go* into space (albeit for a short time).
What Spacex, Bigelow and Virgin have in common is the view that space is a *place*, not a programme that *only* governments can do. Something to keep in mind.
So we need to get out of this gravity well to do anything with space.
I propose Project Iron Man - as in Ted Hughes not Marvel.
Because humans are soft and squishy and rely upon bulky materials like water and oxygen they aren't the ones that we shoudl be landing on the other worlds. Nice idea to send a man, spirit of adventure and all that but bloody expensive.
So we send robots, a few small ones perhaps but more importantly bigger ones because with size comes capability - able to move further, faster, carry more.
These bigger ones should be modular so that they can be sent in parts and assemble themselves on the distant planet(oid). Allowing for a few losses along the way you might have to send enough parts to make two-and-a-half robots but the left over bits would be spares.
These robots would then be the instrument by which things got done. The next generation of astronauts might have to be "telenauts" instead working at a distance in an office rather than a metal box in space.
And if we should meet any Space-bat-devil creatures......
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