27 December 2012

Jump On Board the Private Space Train

From private space tourism to asteroid mining to the Google X Prize, there is a little something for almost every space enthusiast in the upcoming private space race to orbit, to the moon, to near-Earth asteroids, and even to Mars.

Here is a quick preview of coming attractions in private space enterprise, from Wired.
“When you give these Silicon Valley guys a billion dollars,” said astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell of Harvard, who tracks rocket launches, “Their first thought is ‘Cool, now I can have my own space program.’”

“I don’t expect them all to succeed, but I don’t expect them all to fail,” said space lawyer Michael Listner, founder of Space Law & Policy Solutions. Taken together, the companies’ ambitions underscore just how much times have changed. “About 10 years ago, if you presented one of these plans, people would have looked at you like you’re crazy. Now people can say, well it’s a little crazy, but considering what’s been done, it might be possible.”

Perhaps the most important factor was the trailblazing success of SpaceX, a commercial rocket business started by entrepreneur and PayPal founder Elon Musk. This year, the company conducted two launches to the International Space Station using their Falcon 9 vehicle, with the second mission bringing supplies and helping prove that SpaceX was on the path to ferrying astronauts.

The company is already planning their next rocket, the enormous Falcon Heavy, for launch in 2013 and recently won important contracts with the U.S. military to deliver hardware to space. With all these notches on his space belt, Musk is no doubt already eyeing the perfect ridge for his retirement home on Mars.

Falcon Heavy

Though not announced this year, SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy has been a hot topic as the company prepares to launch this new rocket in 2013. Once operational, the vehicle would be the most capable existing rocket, able to bring 120,000 pounds to low-Earth orbit for as little as $1,000 per pound. The closest current spacecraft is United Launch Alliance’s Delta rocket, which can take 50,000 pounds up at a cost of $6,000 per pound.
Falcon Heavy has a number of other companies hoping to ride on its success. Both Golden Spike and Mars One plan to use the vehicle in their operation while NASA and the military are also looking forward to its capabilities. The question for SpaceX is just how soon they can get the new rocket ready.

Golden Spike Company

The most recently unveiled audacious space venture is the Golden Spike Company, which wants to take people back to the moon by 2020. For the low, low price of $1.5 billion, Golden Spike will land a two-person crew on the lunar surface and safely return them. Given the expense, the company is targeting governments without large space programs that may be looking for a little international prestige.
Golden Spike has a team with technical chops, including planetary scientist and former NASA science administrator Alan Stern and former NASA flight director Gerry Griffin. The business hopes to make use of low-cost existing rockets as much as possible to cut down on their expenses and estimates the entire scheme could cost as little as $7 billion. All of the experts we asked praised the company’s mission architecture as fairly plausible.

Planetary Resources, Inc.

Asteroid mining is a staple of science-fiction, transplanting a familiar Earth-based activity to the new frontier of space. Many of the resources we dig up from underground on our planet were in fact laid down during an asteroid impact billions of years ago. So let’s cut out the middleman and simply mine riches from the skies.
Such is the thinking behind Planetary Resources, Inc., which revealed their asteroid mining plans in April. The company hopes to extract water and precious metals, such as platinum, in order to get a return on their investment. Shortly after the unveiling, the internet reached a fever pitch about Planetary Resources, with Jon Stewart even calling in astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson just as a sanity check on the whole endeavor.
Planetary Resources' biggest strength comes from its financial backing, with founders Eric Anderson and Peter Diamandis veterans of both Silicon Valley and space technology. Other rich luminaries behind the company include Google CEO Larry Page, Microsoft chief architect Charles Simonyi, and even filmmaker James Cameron. The company’s goals are very long term, with simple plans to launch telescopes to identify and catalog near-Earth asteroids in the next few years, and the actual mining and resource extraction as much as 20 years away.

B612 Foundation

Nearly overshadowed by that other private asteroid business, the B612 Foundation’s announcement in June was nonetheless important. The nonprofit company hopes to raise money to launch an infrared telescope that will be ever vigilant for dangerous asteroids hurtling toward Earth. Though NASA is already watching for these potentially civilization destroying rocks, B612 said they would be able to more than double the near-Earth object catalog in their first month of observation.
The company has some good technical backers, including former Apollo astronaut Rusty Schweickart and former shuttle astronaut Ed Lu. As a nonprofit, B612’s approach most closely resembles a philanthropic foundation looking to build a new wing for a hospital. While donors are used to the idea of such charity on Earth, can B612 convince people that the same model works for a space telescope?

Mars One

Getting people to Mars has long been a goal of the spaceflight community. While many thought it was the next logical step after the Apollo program, the United States has never been able to commit to the necessary funding for such a mission. But now a private company named Mars One has stepped in with their own audacious plan.
Announced in May, Mars One has an extremely aggressive goal: land a crew of four on the Red Planet by 2023. The company hopes to cut costs with a radical mission. They intend to send people on a one-way trip to set up a colony, with a new set of four settlers arriving every two years after the initial touchdown. Mars One said it intends to pay for the plan by creating “the biggest media spectacle in history” with a reality TV show that will follow the astronauts.

The Google Lunar X-Prize

Intended to stimulate new ideas for exploring the moon, the Google Lunar X-Prize was announced in 2007. The goal is for a small private team to land an autonomous rover on the lunar surface, travel about 1,000 feet, and beam back high-definition images and video. The first team to do so will win $20 million, and constellation prizes are offered for other tasks.
The prize’s deadline was originally meant to expire this year but after insufficient progress was made, the foundation extended their target date to the end of 2015. While more than 20 teams are still technically in the running, very few are where they need to be right now to claim the reward and accolades. Though 2015 seems a while away, this year and next are “really a make or break period for the teams left in the competition,” said journalist Jeff Foust.

Private Space Tourism

We live in the future! You may not have a personal jet pack but, if certain schemes pan out, you couldone day afford a few minutes of spaceflight. That at least is the goal of companies like Virgin Galactic, which has allied with Scaled Composites to build SpaceShipTwo, a passenger spaceplane that will take tourists 70 miles above the Earth for short flights.
Initially affordable only for the very rich, such a jaunt will set you back about $200,000 — that is, once Virgin Galactic actually gets their machine flying and ready. Though the business hoped to get off the ground years ago, they have constantly pushed back the date of their first flights. Virgin Galactic now hopes to be ready to carry passengers by the end of 2013.

For all the neo-$billionaires of Silicon Valley and beyond, the best bet for them to become $trillionaires is to grab a piece of the virtually limitless resources of outer space, beyond the home planet.

But they had best hurry, before the kleptocrats and autocrats of the planetary governments and inter-governments decide to close that doorway to a more abundant and unlimited future.

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10 October 2012

Hope Above, Deep Concerns Below

The SpaceX Dragon capsule arrived at the International Space Station (ISS), full of ice cream and supplies. The Dragon was promptly captured by the ISS crew, who were already salivating for the treats, and eager to complete the docking procedure.

Carrying over 800 pounds of supplies for the ISS crew — including ice cream for a desert treat — SpaceX Dragon successfully docked at almost 4 AM PST this morning when Japanese astronaut Akihidko Hoshide secured the spacecraft with the station’s robotic arm.

...Dragon’s flight was not uneventful: one of the spacecraft’s nine rocket engines failed during the launch. However, the craft, which is designed to be able to launch with only seven operational engines, recalculated a new ascent profile, relieved pressure in the blocked rocket, and successfully inserted into orbit.

Building a space launch vehicle that can successfully complete missions even when things go wrong is impressive design, and SpaceX says that no other currently operational rockets have the same ability.

In addition, it’s worth noting that, while spaceflight may never be cheap, the cost for SpaceX to deliver supplies and groceries to low-earth orbit are approximately half NASA’s now-shuttered Space Shuttle. Lifting a kilogram of cargo to low earth orbit costs Spacex about $5000; the shuttle burned about $10,000 to accomplish the same feat.

The Dragon will stay at the ISS for an expected two and half weeks, and then return to earth with a cargo from the space station. _VB

Meanwhile, back on Earth, the nations of the planet are making a hash of their world. Things appear to be developing toward A Coming Anarchy -- or A Coming Global Disorder at the very least. The global economy appears to be slumping further into the swamp. The BRICS are crumbling without fanfare, and it seems that the planet may be approaching "a geopolitical phase change" similar in magnitude to that portrayed in Neil Stephenson's 1996 novel, The Diamond Age.

Of course, to achieve the level of global change that Stephenson describes, would require nanotechnological assemblers, capable of providing the basic needs of individuals -- without the need for large governments or nation states (see Eric Drexler's "Engines of Creation")

Unfortunately, we are not close to achieving the molecular assembler "age of plenty," but some of the mechanisms of global economic collapse portrayed in The Diamond Age are apt to come into play over the next decade or three. The difference will be that ordinary people are not likely to have their basic needs met so readily after the likely coming phase change.

Fortunately we do not foresee collapse from resource scarcity or climate catastrophe. What is more likely to occur is a series of local and regional collapses due to warfare, government spurred economic crises, and deadly ethnic clashes as increasing multiculturalism comes face to face with a growing economic hardship. As long as the larger powers do not allow themselves to be pulled into a global nuclear - biological - or chemical confrontation, we do not anticipate a global scale conflagration.

If advanced nations put the lion's share of their investment into the generative technologies of the future, their peoples are likely to emerge from the coming age of disruption in reasonably good condition, into a relatively abundant future.

But if they continue to waste their resources on false promises (intermittent unreliable energy sources) and false threats (carbon hysteria climate catastrophism), as well as on maintaining the status quo (a welfare state mentality), they are likely to be caught flat footed when the feces hits the high speed blower.

It is very hard to predict anything, but particularly the future.

Everything you think you know, just ain't so.

It is never too late to have a dangerous childhood.

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01 June 2012

Why All the Excitement over Successful SpaceX Mission?

The first private space flight to the International Space Station has ended with a successful splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. _Wired
The successful mission to the ISS by private space company SpaceX has been covered extensively by US and international media. In many circles, there is an excitement over the possibility of an expansion of private space activity that has not been seen since the early days of the space shuttle, or the days of the moon launches.
via Wired

... the SpaceX mission lasted 9 days, 7 hours and 58 minutes from launch to splashdown.

Elon Musk said the Dragon performed very well, exceeding expectations on some fronts, including solar panels that produced more power than expected. There were a few problems during the mission, starting with an aborted first launch attempt as the Falcon 9′s rocket engines were starting. A problem with the Dragon’s laser range-finding device that caused some unplanned maneuvers during the approach to the station was also fixed, according to Musk. He says the device was checked as Dragon moved away from the ISS this morning, and appeared to be working well.

With the success of the demonstration mission, SpaceX now needs the official confirmation from NASA, and then it will begin fulfilling cargo resupply missions to the ISS later this year. The company has a contract for 12 cargo missions while it continues to develop the manned version of Dragon for flying astronauts to the ISS and elsewhere in low Earth orbit. _Wired
Overall, the SpaceX mission is being seen as an overwhelming success, likely opening the door to further private space activity by a growing number of private space contractors. But why is private space activity -- as opposed to governmental and intergovernmental space activity -- so exciting to many?

A large scale, for-profit development of outer space resources (PDF) is seen as the best argument against the resource scarcity doom mentality of lefty-Luddite green dieoff.orgiast catastrophists who populate governments, media bureaus and corporations, and universities across the western world. It is the self-limited thinking of the dieoff.org crowd which has convinced so many leftist greens that the only way to save the Earth is by drastically reducing the human population of the planet by 90% or more.

With the coming of for-profit groups such as SpaceX, Planetary Resources, Stratolaunch, and a growing number of private space enterprises, the possibility for the movement of human enterprise -- and humans themselves -- far beyond the gravitational and resource limits of planet Earth, suddenly seems much closer and more real.

We have an open time window of about two decades in which to move ahead. If the US can eject its current government of energy starvationists and anti-private sector zealots, and re-build a solid economic infrastructure -- including safe, clean, reliable, and affordable gen III and gen IV nuclear reactor designs at all scales -- the road into the future will be much better paved than at present.

Threats to the future remain, both internal and external. Those will have to be dealt with as necessary. But if more western youth are raised with a positive and constructive vision of the future -- instead of a green dieoff indoctrination -- we will be on the right path.

It is never too late to have a dangerous childhood.

More: Interesting analysis of SpaceX success from Rand Simberg

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25 May 2012

SpaceX Dragon Hooks Up with ISS in Orbit

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

The International Space Station's crew reached out today with a robotic arm to grab SpaceX's Dragon cargo capsule and brought it in for the orbital outpost's first-ever hookup with a commercial spaceship.

It marks the station's first linkup with a U.S.-made spacecraft since last year's retirement of NASA's space shuttle fleet, and potentially opens the way for dozens of commercial cargo shipments. If the long-range plan unfolds as NASA hopes, U.S. astronauts could be shuttled back and forth on the Dragon or similar spacecraft within just a few years.

"Today, this really is the beginning of a new era in commercial spaceflight," said Alan Lindenmoyer, manager of NASA's commercial crew and cargo program. _CosmicLog

Keep watching the video through the initial ad, the news story, and subsequent ad. The actual video footage of the linkup itself is provided along with a view of the Houston control centre. More SpaceX news coverage follows after each subsequent ad.

Brian Wang has more on SpaceX : ISS hookup

New Scientist interviews SpaceX founder Elon Musk on past and future of company

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22 May 2012

Not as Easy as it Looks

Video via Telegraph Coverage at link

More from Wired

National Geographic Coverage

The planned future of NASA's collaboration with private space taxis

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21 May 2012

SpaceX Launch Time Set for 03:44 EDT 22 May 2012

If all goes as planned, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket will lift off from Cape Canaveral in Florida at 3:44 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time tomorrow. The Falcon 9 will loft the company’s Dragon space capsule into orbit. The Dragon is slated to become the first privately operated spacecraft to rendezvous with the International Space Station, delivering a payload of crew rations and other cargo to the six astronauts on the station.

If the mission unfolds smoothly, SpaceX will begin regular deliveries of supplies to the space station. The company has agreed to send 12 cargo capsules to the space station over the next few years, at a total cost to NASA of $1.6 billion. Someday, a human-rated Dragon capsule could ferry astronauts, not just cargo, to and from orbit. But first the Falcon 9 rocket must get off the ground. _Sciam
Problems with last weekend's planned launch are being blamed on a faulty valve, which allowed pressures in the #5 engine combustion chamber to climb to marginally high levels -- automatically scrubbing the closely timed launch.
SpaceX has replaced a faulty valve that led to the aborted launch attempt early Saturday morning and is currently planning a second launch attempt at 3:44 a.m. EDT Tuesday, May 22. The first launch attempt was unsuccessful after a last-half-second shutoff occurred due to higher than acceptable pressure in the combustion chamber of one of the Falcon 9′s Merlin rocket engines.

After examining the problematic engine, SpaceX engineers were able to trace the high-pressure problem to a valve that controls the flow of nitrogen used to purge the engine before ignition. Using the inert nitrogen gas to purge rocket engines is common and has been used for decades. The nitrogen displaces gases and/or liquids, effectively cleaning the engine and preventing any volatile mixtures before ignition.

A check valve that allows the nitrogen purge prior to ignition in the Merlin engine was stuck open just before launch. This stuck valve allowed “liquid oxygen to flow from the main injector [for the rocket engine itself] into the gas generator injector” that generates hot turbine gas, which drives the turbopumps, according to SpaceX. The turbopumps (pictured) are basically very high-powered fuel and oxidizer pumps that deliver the liquids to the main combustion chamber of the rocket. The result was the turbopumps were operating at a slightly higher power level, resulting in the high pressure detected in the combustion chamber on engine five. _Wired

The more moving parts an engine contains, the more potential for such problems as apparently occurred. Potential hazards tend to expand exponentially at the kinds of pressures and temperatures which are normally found in and around rocket engines such as SpaceX's Merlin.

Here is a SpaceX flashback to 2003, containing a report on early tests and plans for the Merlin engine and the company. Such looks back are likely to prove nostalgic, should SpaceX achieve tomorrow morning's launch, and succeed in this and subsequent missions.

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19 May 2012

High Combustion Chamber Pressure Reading in Engine 5 Aborts SpaceX Launch

All nine engines for the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket roared to life Saturday morning. But with a mere half-second remaining before liftoff, the onboard computers automatically shut everything down. So instead of blasting off on a delivery mission to the space station, the rocket stayed on its launch pad amid a plume of engine exhaust.

...SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell said that high combustion chamber pressure in engine No. 5 was to blame and that technicians would conduct an inspection later in the day. If the engine needs to be replaced, a spare is available.

Tuesday is the earliest that SpaceX can try again to send its cargo-laden Dragon capsule to the space station. The California-based company - formally known as Space Exploration Technologies Corp. - is targeting every few days for a launch attempt to save fuel in case of rendezvous problems at the space station. Wednesday also could be a launch option. _SeattleTimes
Over 1,000 guest observers left Cape Canaveral disappointed, early this morning. But SpaceX officials vow to persist until they achieve a successful launch and docking with the international space station (ISS).

This morning's launch required precise timing in order to achieve full mission goals. Even one second's delay in launch would have prevented the mission from proceeding to completion, thus the absolute abort and computer shutdown when the anomalous pressure reading was detected.

Saturday morning's setback is the latest in a long line of delays for the private space company. And yet, SpaceX remains on the path to set countless records for private space missions, in addition to the records it has already set. The smart money continues to bet on SpaceX.

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14 December 2011

Burt Rutan, Elon Musk, and Paul Allen Assemble Giant Stratolaunch

The plane would be capable of flying up to 1,300 nautical miles to reach its launch point. SpaceX would provide a shortened version of its Falcon 9 rocket for the next phase of Stratolaunch's route to orbit. Wentz described it as a "Falcon 4 or 5." The multistage booster would be attached to the plane using a mating and integration system developed by Dynetics, and released during the mothership's flight at high altitude. After release, the 490,000-pound rocket would light up to send commercial and government payloads weighing up to 13,500 pounds into low Earth orbit. _Alan Boyle

Seven years after winning the $10 million Ansari X Prize, software billionaire Paul Allen and aerospace guru Burt Rutan are teaming up with SpaceX and other top-flight rocketeers to create an air-launched orbital delivery system. They say the venture will require the construction of the largest aircraft ever flown.

Allen unveiled his new company, Stratolaunch Systems, at a Seattle news conference today. It marks his first space venture since the partnership with Rutan to build the prize-winning SpaceShipOne rocket plane, which became the first privately developed craft to reach outer space in 2004.

...Allen agreed that his latest venture won't come cheap. He said he'll spend "at least an order of magnitude more than I put into SpaceShipOne." Allen's investment in SpaceShipOne was estimated at $25 to $30 million, which suggests he's prepared to put at least $250 million to $300 million into Stratolaunch. _CosmicLog

This is one of the unconventional types of space launch systems that Al Fin and his friends talked about as young boys. It allows for a wide range of orbital insertions not available to a single ground launch site. And by making a significant part of the launch system completely re-usable, it should help reduce launch costs.

It never made sense that Paul Allen would simply walk away from the private space scene after his successful partnership with Rutan won the space X Prize. The new partnership involving Elon Musk's SpaceX is something of a surprise, however, and a good omen for private space enterprise.
The ship will be built at the Mojave Spaceport, New Mexico, while the rockets will be built by SpaceX in Hawthorne, California. The integration—which includes the mating system—will be built by Dynetics Space Systems in Huntsville, Alabama.

What cargo will it launch?

Initially, they will launch cargo to orbit, but not to the International Space Station. In the future, the system may launch human crews up to six people. At this point, however, they haven't decided to do this yet. _Gizmodo

h/t Next Big Future More here

More: Coverage of the press conference from Hobby Space Be sure to glance through the comments.

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09 November 2011

SpaceX Dragon: To the ISS in 2011; On to Mars in 2018?

The 368-ton Falcon 9, a sleek, 180-foot aluminum lithium alloy rocket filled with liquid oxygen and kerosene, could launch from Cape Canaveral, Fla., as early as Dec. 19. Sitting in the rocket's nose will be an unmanned spacecraft named Dragon. After liftoff, Dragon will separate, attain orbit, conduct communications and maneuverability tests, and then—upon NASA approval—dock with the International Space Station. _World
Nature Dragon on Mars

Dragon is SpaceX' cargo and crew capsule, built to ride atop the Falcon 9 rocket. The Dragon is meant to serve for ISS re-supply missions, and a range of other missions for NASA and other customers. But SpaceX has its sights on the long term, including a possible Mars shot in 2018.
Dragon, the privately built space capsule intended to haul cargo and astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), is auditioning for another high-profile role. Its maker, SpaceX of Hawthorne, California, says that the capsule, which is set to make its first test flight to the ISS later this month, could be dispatched to Mars — drastically cutting the cost of exploration on the red planet. Together with researchers at the NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, the company is working on a proposal for a first 'Red Dragon' mission. _Nature
More from PopSci
SpaceX Aims for Re-Usable Spacecraft
SpaceX is trying to reduce the cost of space launch by achieving near-total reuse of its entire space launch system.
SpaceX's approach is to convert the two stages of the Falcon 9 rocket into independent vehicles capable of making return landings at their launch site. The first stage, after separating from the rest of the rocket, would fire its engines to guide itself back to the launch site, extending a set of legs from its base to land vertically. The upper stage, outfitted with the heat shield that SpaceX developed for its Dragon spacecraft, which was designed to transport cargo and eventually crews to and from the space station, would reenter after deploying its payload in space. It would also use its engine for a powered vertical landing. _TechnologyReview
SpaceX is one of several private space companies being funded by billionaire-entrepreneurs, intent on pushing the future forward. SpaceX founder Elon Musk has been unrelenting in his support of the company and its ambitious goals.

Here is a chart listing some of Musk's fellow billionaire launchers of the future:
Opportunity societies such as the US once was, allowed large numbers of relatively young (mainly) men to achieve great wealth. Some of these young and young-at-heart men are devoting a considerable amount of their wealth to drive future-oriented enterprises such as access to outer space, advanced nuclear fission and fusion, and more. Peter Thiel, for example, is backing life extension, seasteads, and a number of other futuristic game changing technologies.

Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com has backed space launch company Blue Origin for years, and is now backing unconventional nuclear fusion startup General Fusion. Bill Gates' investment in Terrapower advanced fission reactors appears to reflect a deep commitment to advanced abundant energy.

A fair number of these billionare drivers of the future were also school dropouts. Perhaps there is something about having succeeded without receiving the official seal of approval from the educational establishment, which gives a person the courage to push ahead -- risking part of a huge fortune on ideas that are ever further out.

Billionaire Elon Musk's SpaceX is the frontrunner in the private space launch race, having successfully orbited its Falcon 9 boosted Dragon capsule. Robert Bigelow's Bigelow Aerospace is likewise the frontrunning developer of privately built space habitats. Both companies are bringing private sector performance values to the space enterprise which had been hampered by a government sector mentality up until recently.

Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic is the frontrunner for the exciting new industry of space tourism, due in large part to Branson's fortuitous partnership with pioneering aerospace engineer Burt Rutan. Billionaire Paul Allen also played an important role in that partnership. _Al Fin, the Next Level
We should also mention that the Google billionaires are putting up the Google Lunar X Prize, to motivate technology development for a return to the moon.

It is quite possible that the first individual worth over a trillion dollars will derive his wealth from space commerce and resources. Elon Musk and the rest of the list -- and others yet to declare themselves -- are hoping to be that first trillionaire.

We at the Al Fin Blog Syndicate wish them luck.

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27 July 2011

SpaceX and NASA to Move Up ISS Re-Supply Mission?


NASA and SpaceX are discussing moving directly to an ISS re-supply mission, rather than sticking to the slower schedule of flying a "mock mission" in the general vicinity of the ISS first. These talks reflect a growing confidence on the part of both NASA and SpaceX, that the private launch company has worked the bugs out of all of its systems.
Originally, SpaceX's launch to the International Space Station (which would be completed using a Dragon capsule aboard a Falcon 9 rocket) required two test demonstrations: One would include a "rendezvous" in which SpaceX flies near the ISS, and a second would include an actual docking with the ISS. If that sounds like a real mission and not a "test demonstration," you're right: SpaceX would indeed be delivering some sort of "limited cargo," according to Spaceflight Now. But it seems as though SpaceX is both ambitious and ahead of schedule, as they asked NASA, which is the public partner of the in-part publicly funded SpaceX, to approve the combining of these two missions into a single one--or, more accurately, to just ditch the first rendezvous-only flight.

There's no real rush here; the last space shuttle mission replenished the ISS's supplies to the extent that the astronauts aboard will be perfectly well-equipped through 2012. But SpaceX is evidently eager to start making regular deliveries to the ISS, which, of course, is the reason for its $1.6 billion contract with NASA. NASA, for its part, "technically have agreed" to the combination of the test flights--formal approval has yet to be given, though that seems inevitable. It's a good sign for proponents of the new private world of space travel--SpaceX seems more capable than ever. _PopSci
The first human $trillionaires may well be private space entrepreneurs, such as Elon Musk of SpaceX. It is unfortunate that SpaceX must rely on government funding and partnerships to get started in the space industry, but that is the regressive approach which humans have taken -- relying on their governments for virtually all space access and activities, up until now.

As humans learn to access space via private launch, and to develop private markets in space, much more innovation is likely to occur across the wide range of possible space activity, including space tourism, near-Earth asteroid mining, and space manufacturing.

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10 December 2010

Must We Kill All Tort Lawyers Before We Can Go Into Space?


Over at NextBigFuture, Brian Wang looks at the supply and demand economics of space colonisation. Brian points to a more extensive posting by Paul Gilster at Centauri Dreams, "The Economics of Space Infrastructure." Brian and Paul are correctly looking at the economic costs and benefits of space infrastructure and space colonies. But the topic goes far beyond mere economics.

Science Fiction author Charles Stross downplays arguments in favour of space colonies as "quasi-religious." Physicist Stephen Hawking wishes for humans to colonise Mars and Luna, as a way to preserve the human race and Terrestrial life, should Earth be destroyed by comets, asteroids, geologic catatrophe or other forms of massive upheaval. Physicist Freeman Dyson has thought along similar lines since the mid-1960s. The idea of "not having all of one's eggs in a single basket" appeals to the long term thinker who wishes the human enterprise to be ultimately successful.

Humans appear to possess an "exploratory instinct," a natural urge to explore. From the very beginning, humans have been willing to risk what they have, in order to find something more. The urge for outer space is another manifestation of this instinct.
At times it may seem that we have lost this exploratory urge, but always it returns, reshaped by current events. Why is it that we strive to understand our place in the heavens and seek other intelligences out there? _Planetary
Exploration is risky. Explorers often die. In an outward-looking, exploratory society, the acceptance of risk is so commonplace as to become second nature. Such a society will spawn many explorers, and many pioneers who are willing to follow close behind the explorer to create a more settled life in the new, risk-filled territories.

Modern affluent societies become more risk-averse, more fixed on security over time. This security-fixation often approaches pathological levels, depending upon whether it becomes accepted and codified within legal, cultural, educational, and legislative institutions.

In modern western nations -- particularly the US -- risk aversion in the form of tort is often costing societies their birthright and their future.
Economists have long understood that America's tort system acts as a serious drag on our nation's economy. Although many excellent studies have been conducted, no single work has fully captured the true total costs, both static and dynamic, of excessive litigation.

The good news: We now have some reliable figures. The bad news: The costs are far higher than anyone imagined.

Based on our estimates, and applying the best available scholarly research, we believe America's tort system imposes a total cost on the U.S. economy of $865 billion per year. This constitutes an annual "tort tax" of $9,827 on a family of four.

...litigation doesn't just transfer wealth, it also changes behavior, and often in economically unproductive ways. Any true estimate of the costs of America's tort system must also include these dynamic costs of litigation -- the impact on research and development spending, the costs of defensive medicine and the related rise in health-care spending and reduced access to health care, and the loss of output from deaths due to excess liability. _WSJ
Most recent attention to tort reform in the US has focused upon medical tort. But the economic destruction of out-of-control US tort law is felt in every part of society, industry, and the economy. In a society ruled by tyranny of tort, all risk is punished pro-actively. In other words, most great ventures are never even attempted, due to the tight noose of tort -- and other effects of excess government -- around the necks of entire societies. As of 2006, costs of tort in the US had been growing at an average rate of almost 10% annually PDF.

In order to advance, humans must take risks. The elimination of risk from society is also the elimination of growth and advancement. Eliminating risk means inevitable stagnation and decline. It is the great human dieoff by backdoor means, albeit in slow motion form -- at first. Decline has a way of accelerating, however, once it passes a certain point.

Massive -- and still growing -- bureaucracies of government shut in most possibilities of escape from this inbuilt decline. When humans are cut off from expressing their natural instincts, they tend to rebel if they can. Eventually, they grow passive, fatalistic.

It appears as if western educational, news media, and entertainment systems are dedicated to the suppression of the exploratory urge in humans. This society-wide trap appears to be closing more tightly every year, with every pseudo-cause and crusade such as carbon hysteria, or resource scarcity doom.

How can we escape this suffocating atmosphere of security-fixation and excessive risk-aversion? There are few ways to escape other than to emigrate to a less regulated nation, or to build a seastead. Every so often a few people try to start a new country, where they can set their own rules so as to allow greater personal freedoms. Of course, new countries in space -- on the moon, Mars, in the asteroid belt, and beyond -- would represent a big step up from previous efforts.

But people will die in the attempt to establish a permanent human presence and economy in space. That is inevitable. People die in hazardous environments on Earth every day, and outer space is far more hazardous than almost anywhere on Earth. Whenever there is a chance of people dying, lawyers flock like flies on excrement.

We can see in the inability of advanced societies to develop a larger, safer, cleaner nuclear power industry, how tort lawyers combined with government regulators drive up costs to the point of abandonment of multi-billion dollar enterprises and loss of future plans and possibilities.

Established powers aim to remain established powers. That is what the vast inbred and corrupt system of government and law has become in the west. Free humans are hemmed in and restricted. Economies stagnate and the human spirit dies a little with every new encroachment by government and its army of allied extortionists.

People do emigrate to Costa Rica and other small countries where there may be less intrusive regulation and more freedom of activity in many ways. Other people "go Galt" and drop out, go off the grid as it were. Expect to see more of that unless something drastic occurs to reverse the creeping strangulation of the government-legal- quasi organised crime complex.

Can SpaceX and other private space companies provide an escape from the ongoing choking of human freedom in the developed world? Even if improvements in technology allowed the costs of space launch were to come down enough to make travel to the moon economical for middle class incomes, the inbred risk-aversion of modern societies places a limit on how far the movement could progress -- without massive changes in western government and legal systems.

Must we kill all tort lawyers and their fellows in crime, before the human instinct to explore and pioneer can find an outlet in space?

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05 June 2010

Private Space Companies: The First Trillionaires?

Update 6June: Brian Wang takes a closer look at private space launch vehicles
The successful orbital launch yesterday, of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft, opens the door for the further expansion of private enterprise in space. The vast riches of outer space resources offer the best opportunity for a rejuvenated global economy, and perhaps the creation of the first human $trillionaire. Space.com takes a look at 6 likely private space companies:
The era of private spaceflight is breaking new ground with the first test launch of the new Falcon 9 rocket by the company Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), which hopes to use the booster to fly its Dragon spaceship on space station trips. And with NASA's space shuttles retiring this year, SpaceX is not alone in the bid to launch cargo and astronauts into space.

NASA has tapped SpaceX and another company – Virginia's Orbital Sciences – to build unmanned cargo ships to stock up the International Space Station after its final two shuttle missions fly later this year. SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket is poised to make its first test flight this week.

After that, the agency plans to modify the Lockheed Martin-designed Orion capsule as a space station lifeboat. Aerospace juggernaut Boeing is also hoping to compete for commercial crew capabilities.

But while giants like Lockheed Martin and Boeing duke it out, some smaller – but equally ambitious – companies have joined SpaceX in the race to build the next spacecraft to put Americans in space. Here's a look at six companies vying for the future of human spaceflight:

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX)

Company: SpaceX
Spaceship Name: Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket|
Founder(s): Elon Musk, co-founder of PayPal
Backing: $100 million of Musk's personal fortune, $20 million more from outside investors
Location: Hawthorne, California
Launched the Business: 2002
Plans to Launch into Space: Debut launch tests in 2010, first operational flights in 2011...

Orbital Sciences

Company: Orbital Sciences
Spaceship Name: Cygnus and Taurus 2 rocket
Founder(s): David W. Thompson, Bruce W. Ferguson, Scott L. Webster
Backing: Publicly traded company, $1.1 billion in revenue
Location: Dulles, Virginia
Launched the Business: 1982
Plans to Launch into Space: 2011...

Blue Origin

Company: Blue Origin
Spaceship Name: New Shepard
Founder(s): Jeff Bezos
Backing: His personal fortune as founder of Amazon.com
Location: Kent, Washington
Launched the Business: 2004
Plans to Launch into Space: Mid-2012...

Bigelow Aerospace

Company: Bigelow Aerospace
Spaceship Name: Sundancer and BA-330
Founder(s): Robert Bigelow
Backing: $180 million of his personal fortune as owner of the Budget Suites of America hotel chain.
Location: North Las Vegas, Nevada
Launched the Business: 1999
Plans to Launch into Space: 2015...

SpaceDev/Sierra Nevada Corp.

Company: SpaceDev
Spaceship Name: Dream Chaser
Founder: Jim Benson (deceased), now led by Fatih Ozmen
Backing: Sierra Nevada Corp., of Sparks, Nev.
Location: Poway, Calif.
Launched the Business: 1997
Plans to Launch into Space: Under Development...

Virgin Galactic

Company: Virgin Galactic
Spaceship Name: SpaceShipTwo
Founder(s): British Billionaire Sir Richard Branson
Backing: His personal fortune as founder of Virgin Group
Location: London, England, and Spaceport, New Mexico
Launched the Business: 2004
Plans to Launch into Space: end of 2011 or early 2012...
... _Much more at Space.com

Note that most of the 6 highlighted new space companies are founded by billionaires in their own right, independent of space activities. But here's the thing: once independent human enterprises establish a foothold in space, they will start to get ideas. Some of these ideas will include an awareness of the vast resource wealth that is sitting in space, waiting to be made good use of.
The market value for a single moderate sized asteroid is considerably more than the entire accumulated US national debt. _ SpaceExploration
Even a modest sized asteroid's mineral (and volatiles) wealth could easily create the first human $trillionaire.

Yes, there is the law of supply and demand which will impact mineral prices. But if you are so small-minded as to believe that $trillion asteroids do not exist, then you truly know nothing about real world economics.

The 1980s and 1990s boom and balloon in economic activity and technological development led to the creation of several billionaires. Many of these billionaires have turned to new ventures which have the potential to be totally disruptive to the status quo economic infrastructure. Space access and development is merely one of these activities.

As space (and other new-venture) entrepreneurs hit paydirt and achieve personal and company wealth in the hundreds of $billions range and higher, they will inevitably funnel this excess wealth into newer and even more disruptive new ventures. That is the creative destruction of capitalism, and anyone who ignores that (currently relatively latent) force has made an obsolete fool of himself. Most university academics in the social, political, and economic sciences fall into that category.

People who believe in zero growth economics assume that vast new mineral wealth from space would quickly saturate the terrestrial market for those minerals. But they neglect the sprouting up of entirely new extra-terrestrial markets that have the potential to dwarf the value of anything happening at the bottom of the gravity well.

How can that be? More on this later.

More: Take a look at Brian Wang's comparison of costs to orbit between SpaceX, the Delta IV, and Ariane 5

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04 June 2010

SpaceX Live Webcast of Debut Falcon 9 Launch

Update #2: Success! Falcon 9 has achieved orbit.
Posted June 04, 2010 11:55 Pacific Time

On behalf of everyone here at SpaceX, we thank you for joining us!

Posted June 04, 2010 11:54 Pacific Time

We want to extend special thanks to our long time supporters, and our NASA, Government, and Commercial customers. Also, special thanks to the United States Air Force and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for their excellent, ongoing support.

Posted June 04, 2010 11:54 Pacific Time

T+ 00:09:34 Please continue to check SpaceX.com for additional flight information, including photos and videos as they become available!

Posted June 04, 2010 11:54 Pacific Time

T+ 00:09:04 Falcon 9 has achieved Earth Orbit!

Posted June 04, 2010 11:54 Pacific Time

T+ 00:08:50 Second Stage Engine Shut-Down

Posted June 04, 2010 11:50 Pacific Time _SpaceX
Update #1At 11:44(?) PDT, the countdown once more passed below the 2 minute mark, and is ongoing. Cross your fingers.
The Falcon-9 is a two-stage rocket that is about 180 feet tall. The first stage consists of nine Merlin 1-C engines, the second stage has a single Merlin engine. This Falcon-9 launch plans to place into orbit a six-ton capsule known as Dragon.

...The Spacex Dragon is a free-flying, reusable spacecraft being developed by SpaceX under NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. ... If all goes the Falcon9 should launch in the next 1-5 hours. There is a second launch window for this afternoon _BrianWang
Brian Wang
As I write, the countdown for the debut Falcon 9 launch just passed the 8 minute mark. The countdown was held at T - 15 minutes for about 2 hours, but is now resumed.
The countdown is now passing the 3:30 mark....
The countdown went to zero, then entered another hold....
Posted June 04, 2010 10:58 Pacific Time

Stand by for a new T-zero time from Mission Control.

Posted June 04, 2010 10:57 Pacific Time

We still have time in today's launch window for another attempt.

Posted June 04, 2010 10:57 Pacific Time

We are hearing from Mission Control that the pad abort involved an out-of-limit startup parameter.

Posted June 04, 2010 10:30 Pacific Time

It looks as if we may have experienced a shutdown condition just after ignition. In these situations the vehicle puts itself into “safe mode”. There may be the chance to “recycle” the count and try again. _from the SpaceXLivefeed

Live webcast from SpaceX
Another live webcast site (site was removed after the end of the live webcast)
via_Brian Wang

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02 June 2010

Private Space Companies Try to Move into the Vacuum

The collapse of NASA has been ongoing ever since the 1990s. Obama merely administered the coup de grace. Private enterprises are attempting to occupy the ensuing vacuum left by the collapse of the NASA space enterprise, but they will need some help to be successful.
Seeing an opportunity, Masten Space Systems and XCOR Aerospace, two NewSpace companies based in Mojave, CA, announced plans to partner in a bid to work on proposed lander projects. Masten, which won over $1 million from NASA last year in the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge, will develop the vehicles under the partnership, while XCOR will provide engines powered by methane and liquid oxygen--the company has worked in the past with NASA to develop such engines.

"What triggered this," said XCOR president Jeff Greason at the International Space Development Conference (ISDC) in Chicago on Friday, "is that we received strong indications from a strategic customer that signaled to us that they would welcome the pairing of Masten's vehicle technology with our engine technology--that if we put those two competencies together, it would scratch an itch that they really had no way to scratch right now." The two companies, virtually next-door neighbors, already know each other well.

The work will be done in addition to, and not in place of, existing commercial work by both companies. XCOR is developing Lynx, a suborbital space plane that Greason anticipates will begin prototype flight tests in mid-2011. Masten, meanwhile, is developing suborbital vehicles using its own engine technology. By next year, said company founder Dave Masten in a separate ISDC presentation, the company will be developing Xogdor, a vehicle capable of carrying payloads (but not people) to altitudes greater than 100 kilometers.

NASA's interest in inflatable modules, meanwhile, has not escaped the notice of Bigelow Aerospace, a Las Vegas-based company that has successfully built and launched two prototypes and is currently working on larger modules. (In an ironic twist, Bigelow licensed the inflatable technology used in its modules from NASA, which had been developing a concept called TransHab that was canceled a decade ago.)

Mike Gold, director of Washington operations for Bigelow, said at ISDC that the company has been in discussions with NASA on a concept for the Bigelow Aerospace Module, a small inflatable module that could be attached to the ISS. Such a module, he said, would likely be comparable to the closet-sized Genesis prototypes the company previously launched. Gold has reservations, however, about NASA's apparent desire for a "full-scale" inflatable module. "I'm not sure whether you could safely put a full-scale inflatable on the ISS," said Gold, noting that adding even a small module to the station requires addressing issues such as structural fatigue and outgassing of module materials.

Bigelow also has an interest in an even bigger NASA initiative that involves some NewSpace companies: plans to spend $6 billion over the next five years to develop commercial systems that can transport astronauts to and from low Earth orbit. One company, SpaceX, is already developing the launch vehicle and spacecraft needed to carry that out; the rocket, the Falcon 9, is slated for its first launch from Cape Canaveral as early as this Friday. Such vehicles, besides meeting NASA's needs for access to the ISS, could serve other customers such as Bigelow. _TechnologyReview
Private space enterprises will truly arrive when they no longer need government contracts to prosper and grow. After that, it should not be long before private enterprises set up permanent outposts off-planet.

As long as governments hold space hostage, humans will be stuck on the birth planet, without hope of moving into the larger universe.

More: Carnival of Space #156 via Brian Wang's NextBigFuture

More yet:  Space X plans the debut launch of its Falcon 9 on Friday, 4 June 2010.

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29 September 2009

Private Launch Company SpaceX Set for Flight

SpaceX, the private launch company founded by Elon Musk, plans its first Falcon 9 test flight sometime after November 1, 2009.
Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), a private company based in Hawthorne, CA, announced last week that its rocket, Falcon 9, is ready for its first test flight.

Aboard the rocket will be the company's Dragon capsule, a spacecraft designed to carry both cargo and crew and is being developed under NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. Earlier this year, SpaceX won a $1.6 billion contract to provide the agency with a vehicle capable of reaching the International Space Station (ISS).

SpaceX has not set a specific launch date, but the rocket will be sent to the launch pad in Cape Canaveral, FL, in November. It could be anywhere from one to three months before it lifts off.

The initial test flight will gather valuable aerodynamic and performance data on both the rocket and the Dragon spacecraft.

Falcon 9 is part of a family of launch vehicles SpaceX is developing that could help fill a gap in U.S. space transportation. The space shuttles are expected to retire in 2010 and NASA's next launch vehicle called Ares is not scheduled to be ready for flight until 2015. The commercial vehicles could also help reduce spaceflight costs for the U.S. government.

SpaceX initially began developing its rockets for space tourism and for launching scientific and commercial satellites to orbit. While it has successfully flown a previous rocket, called Falcon 1, the maiden flight of Falcon 9 has been hit with delays (though this is not unusual for a rocket being designed from scratch).

The company's contract with NASA is for 12 flights of cargo to the space station starting at the end of 2010. Prior to that, SpaceX has to conduct three demonstration missions. This first flight is not one of the NASA demo missions.

SpaceX will deliver the cargo using its Dragon spacecraft, which the company says could be easily modified to carry crew... __TechnologyReview
Elon Musk built SpaceX using funds he earned from selling PayPal. As the frontrunner among private space launch companies, SpaceX has the potential of turning Musk into Earth's first trillionaire. He will have competition for that distinction from other space entrepreneurs such as Branson, Bigelow, and Bezos -- among others. Once private space ventures reap profit in the void, our current concepts of limitations will have to be drastically revised.

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27 March 2009

Space X Falcons To Do NASA's Job

Elon Musk's SpaceX is preparing for at least 12 launches of the Falcon9 heavy payload kerosene / liquid oxygen rockets for NASA.
Since January, SpaceX's heavy-payload Falcon 9 launch vehicle has stood 180 feet above Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral, undergoing ground-systems tests in the run-up to its first test flight. The reusable Falcon series, named for the Millennium Falcon in Star Wars, has nine engines that provide more than a million pounds of thrust. Last September, the smaller, 70-foot-tall Falcon 1 became the first privately developed liquid-fueled rocket to orbit the Earth. _PopSci
NASA is too busy chasing the global warming delusion to focus on its former primary mission: space launch. That is why NASA is contracting out the space launch business to private contractors. Now that the rocket scientists have all retired, all who remain are computer climate modelers. Like Jumping James Hansen (NASA GISS), famous inspiration for Al Gore.

The answer is not bigger government space agencies. The answer is for private enterprise to find profitable uses for space. Uses of outer space that not only support themselves, but also fund further exploration into the void.

Obama the clown wants to grow government so large that nothing else will ever become powerful enough to escape the net. The zombies call it a safety net. But any safety net that is too big to fail is also too big to allow you to be free.

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29 September 2008

First, You Have to Reach Orbit Successfully

Elon Musk's SpaceX has finally lofted a "homemade" Falcon 1 rocket to successful Earth orbit. This puts SpaceX on the fast track to space launch success--just at a time that NASA has abandoned space in favour of promoting "global warming catastrophe orthodoxy."
The Falcon 1 booster redeemed itself Sunday with an electrifying launch that put an exclamation point on six years of hard work and disappointment for SpaceX, a startup company chartered to revolutionize space travel. The 70-foot-tall rocket successfully delivered a 364-pound hunk of aluminum nicknamed "Ratsat" to orbit on the launcher's fourth flight, ending a streak of three consecutive Falcon 1 failures dating back to 2006.

"That was freakin' awesome," said Elon Musk, founder, CEO and chief technology officer of Space Technologies Corp.

Musk established SpaceX in 2002 and funded the company from the fortune he earned selling Zip2 and PayPal, his earlier startups.

...Musk estimates he has invested about $100 million of his own money into the development of the Falcon 1 rocket.

"SpaceX has designed and developed this vehicle from the ground up from a blank sheet of paper," said Max Vozoff, a mission manager with the company. "We've done all the design and testing in-house. We don't outsource." _SpaceflightNow
Space launch is incredibly expensive--largely due to the quasi-monopoly that government space agencies hold over the process. Governments are not known for meaningful innovation leading to lower costs. That is private enterprise's job. And Musk has done his job well.

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07 August 2008

"Southwest Airlines" of Space Suffers Setback--But Venture Capitalists Rush to Invest

SpaceX is on the verge of a huge commercial breakthrough. Dubbed "the Southwest Airlines of Space," the company founded by billionaire Elon Musk is just a launch or two away from putting itself in a position to profitably underbid all other space launch providers. The cause for SpaceX's third launch failure on 2 August 08 has been explained, and is said to be easily fixed. That is all venture capitalists wanted to hear.
Musk, who's invested more than $100 million in the company, was disappointed but not deterred. "On the plus side, the flight of our first stage, with the new Merlin 1C engine that will be used in Falcon 9, was picture perfect," he wrote in a message to employees. "Unfortunately, a problem occurred with stage separation, causing the stages to be held together. SpaceX will not skip a beat in execution going forward."

Indeed, just two days later, SpaceX announced that it had received a $20 million investment from the Founders Fund, a venture capital firm that is partially managed by other PayPal co-founders. Less than two months ago, one prominent VC partner insisted to PM that quick business reactions to the private space industry was "one of the big advantages" of investing in companies like SpaceX;

....the injection of cash comes at a crucial time for the company. SpaceX's original goal was to create the world's lowest cost space launcher..... SpaceX is developing more ambitious rockets such as the Falcon 9, a medium- to heavy-lift rocket whose mission will be to re-supply the International Space Station—if it beats out competitor Orbital Sciences for a NASA contract. _PopMech_via_Instapundit
Getting to heaven has never been particularly easy, but the potential profit up there is almost incalculable. A single asteroid could be worth trillions of dollars, at current mineral prices. And if you ever want to build large orbital structures, you have to get in a position where you can harness space resources and process them into building materials.

SpaceX's approach is not exactly frugal, but neither is it extravagant. The company has taken a methodical, step by step approach to developing and perfecting each component of its launch system. Neither Musk nore his backers appear to be deterred by the latest setback. In the long run, it may be better to be good than lucky.

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22 May 2007

The Man Who Sold the Moon, Part II

The title of this post comes from a book by SF author Robert Heinlein. It details the quest of a private businessman to conquer cis-lunar space, for profit and the spirit of mankind.

Something similar is happening with internet tycoon Elon Musk, and his private company SpaceX. Musk is betting the farm that he can build a better launch vehicle--one that can compete with the tax-supported dinosaurs from the US, Europe, Russia, and other large governments.
Five years ago, Musk was just another lucky young Internet lion starting a commercial space company. But he was more audacious than his peers — he wouldn't be satisfied with a quick, touristy trip to the edge of Earth's atmosphere, like the X-Prize-winning SpaceShipOne. That rocket, and the passenger version that will make up Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic fleet, goes just over 60 miles high. And still it took the aeronautical genius of Burt Rutan and $20 million from Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen to get SpaceShipOne up and down. Musk wants to fly resupply missions — with astronauts! — to the International Space Station, at 250 miles up in low Earth orbit.

...But first he's got to get the thing off the ground. At the dawn of the space age, between 1957 and 1966, the US sent 429 rockets into orbit; a quarter of them failed. Musk is 36 years old and has spent a fortune to build the world's first privately funded, orbit-capable vehicle to take passengers into space. And now it's sitting on its launchpad, going nowhere. Worse, it's already failed once.

....Before he founded SpaceX in 2002, Musk created two Internet companies: Zip2, which he sold to Compaq in 1999 for $307 million in cash, and PayPal, which went public shortly before being sold to eBay. Musk, the largest shareholder, was 30 years old, crazy rich, and "tired of the Internet."

Sitting in traffic on the Long Island Expressway in 2001, mulling the problems of the world, Musk started wondering about NASA's plans to send people to Mars. Which, he discovered when he finally reached a computer, didn't exist. Musk was horrified. A native of South Africa, he had earned physics and business degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and dropped out of a graduate program in physics at Stanford. He had always been interested in space, convinced that humans were destined to be a multiplanet species. But where were the Columbuses and da Gamas of the 21st century?

...The list of companies that have tried and failed to go orbital is long enough to have spawned a hackneyed joke: What's the fastest way to become a commercial space millionaire? Start as a commercial space billionaire. "Moore's law does not apply to rockets," says John Pike, a space analyst at GlobalSecurity.org. "Humanity has spent hundreds of billions of dollars on space exploration in the past half century, and the numbers have not changed: about $10,000 per pound to put something in low Earth orbit. Elon Musk is asserting that his future is going to be remarkably different, and that's a tall claim."

So how will Musk charge half that? "I thought it would be hard, and it's harder than I thought," he admits. "But I want to make rockets 100 times, if not 1,000 times, better. The ultimate objective is to make humanity a multiplanet species. Thirty years from now, there'll be a base on the moon and on Mars, and people will be going back and forth on SpaceX rockets."

Musk has the right attitude to make it work. In many ways, he seems like one of the heroes from a Heinlein or Ayn Rand novel. And he is spending his own money to try to reach his goal, unlike most of the space evangelists on the stump.

The internet, telecom, computer hardware/software, and consumer electronics have all launched billionaires and mega-millionaires into the financial stratosphere. Clearly, for many of these free spirits, the next big springboard to even greater things is outer space--and the potential to become the world's first trillionaire, even after adjusting for inflation.

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