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A new frontier?

Posted by: Salvage1 - Mon Dec 22, 2003 5:04 am
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A new frontier? 
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Post A new frontier?   Posted on: Mon Dec 22, 2003 5:04 am
I'm skeptical about the commercial applications for any X-prize-style venture. I see going to 330,000 ft in one of these vehicles as similar to going over Niagara Falls in a barrel. Sure, it's theoretically possible - some might even make it there and back alive - but I question what commercial potential has ever been found at the rocky bottom of Niagara Falls.

Such joyrides do nothing to advance the development of space. Nor do I understand why 100 kms even qualifies as "space". Why not 200 kms? Or 50 kms?

Small private companies and individual mavericks can not hope to open up space to the world. Even the world's biggest governments have failed at that. The only way to really advance travel into space is for major corporations to realize riches on the moon. As cynical as that sounds, I'm afraid it's true. As soon as there is oil on the moon which can be pumped profitably, an Exxon rig will be there 5 minutes later with 1000 workers, a McDonalds, and a red light district.

The promise of riches and free land was the only thing that drove the pioneering of the new frontier of the American west. It wasn't won by offering wagon rides to thrill seekers.


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Post Re: A new frontier?   Posted on: Mon Dec 22, 2003 6:07 am
Salvage1 wrote:
I'm skeptical about the commercial applications for any X-prize-style venture.

The real test of the XPRIZE is whether all of the diverse design concepts will produce real cost reductions in the construction of space vehicles and launches. So far the answer is definitely yes. But you are correct, if you mean that the market for orbital flight is more than the market for suborbital flight.

Salvage1 wrote:
Small private companies and individual mavericks can not hope to open up space to the world. Even the world's biggest governments have failed at that.

Most government failures can be traced back to a bureaucratic stagnation of creativity. Private innovative companies have proven time and time again to be able to do anything at a lower cost than government agencies. Opening up space is no different.

Salvage1 wrote:
The promise of riches and free land was the only thing that drove the pioneering of the new frontier of the American west. It wasn't won by offering wagon rides to thrill seekers.

You do make a very important point, property ownership in space, moons, planets, asteroids needs to be developed to provide incentive to establish commercial operations when the time comes.

As for the thrill seekers in the American West, the ultimate thrill seekers were Lewis and Clark.


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Post    Posted on: Mon Dec 22, 2003 1:21 pm
You do make some points. :)
It is called taking one step at a time.
This time it is a sub-orbit shot. Just to show it can be done with low cost and current technology and a little innovative. NASA and others has already laid the foundation in the research and technology they have done “you know all the tax payers money they used on research and development that the critics complained about (what use is it)” now you will see it used in the coming years. This will not be like watching a car race but in no time you will see the goals be come high and high and the cost low and low.

The next big step is to go into orbit and this will need additional equipment like heat shielding and control jets.


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Post    Posted on: Tue Dec 23, 2003 3:22 am
I see nothing in any of these designs that looks to be practical or economical for the commercialization of space, even if just as a joyride business. I've gone through all of them on this site and I found myself shaking my head at most of them. Rutan has the only craft that looks like it has a chance to give joyrides without killing the two passengers. The rest I doubt.

The biggest problem for most of these designs is likely the realiability of the guidance systems -and the software that controls them- in these various vehicles once the rockets kick in. When you have so much force pushing on a very small area, the center of thrust must be maintained perfectly. Example, take a long thin object like a pencil and try pushing it forward fast and hard while keeping it straight. Impossible. You need a computer-controlled finger to do it. Even NASA, the European Space Agency and the Chinese have lost unmanned rockets recently on the way up for this reason. To think that someone will put his body in one of these homemade cans and light the fuse, on the faith that their guidance system in going to be flawless, is something I find almost unbelievable.

Rutan's plane might make it if a myriad of small glitches don't keep it grounded. As for the rest, small glitches are the least of their concerns.


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Post    Posted on: Tue Dec 23, 2003 12:36 pm
Salvage, you make some interesting comments. Although I agree that some of the X Prize's entrants are headed for a spectacular death, I don't think the problem is as great as you might imagine. Armadillo has in fact done exactly what you suppose, created a computer controlled guidance and propulsion system. As for Rutan, the regime of supersonic winged flight is well documented and his pilots are highly experienced. I don't see any reason why his design couldn't be commercially safe and viable if the economics are there. Put some wings (or fins, or an internal gyroscope) on that pencil example of yours and stability is greatly increased.


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Post    Posted on: Tue Dec 23, 2003 2:48 pm
Adding on to what Irving said, I think that all of the frontrunners have adequate guidance systems. Rutan and Armadillo are clearly okay, as Irving pointed out. The Canadian Arrow team is using the V-2 shape and control surfaces, which are empirically proven. The da Vinci team is a bit less certain, but since they are launching from 80000 ft from a balloon, the atmosphere is not really a problem. Starchaser Industries worries me, but their subscale Nova rocket did fly straight in 2001.

In any event, though, Salvage1 brings up a good point, which is that a good guidance system is crucial.

And of course, five years from now, if there are suborbital rockets flying every day, surely there will be standardized, proven commercial guidance systems, which companies will just buy "off the shelf." Maybe Armadillo could get into that business; after all they are run by a programmer.


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Post    Posted on: Tue Dec 23, 2003 5:04 pm
The Legionnaire wrote:
And of course, five years from now, if there are suborbital rockets flying every day, surely there will be standardized, proven commercial guidance systems, which companies will just buy "off the shelf." Maybe Armadillo could get into that business; after all they are run by a programmer.


hmm... that's an interesting idea. even though some of the rockets may have to have renovations done on them for viable commercial flight (or never were going to do that in the first place), the innovations the teams are making right now may someday be standard and be sold to other rocket builders off the shelf. the two main ones i refer to, of course, are armadillo's computer guidance system and scaled's FNU.

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Post    Posted on: Tue Dec 23, 2003 8:42 pm
You forgot SpaceDev's hybrid rocket, too. Seems like if the other X Prize teams who were far behind on their propulsion systems were smart, they would use the same engines. Nothing in the rules against that.


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Post    Posted on: Wed Dec 24, 2003 1:18 am
The F-117, nicknamed the Wobbly Goblin can't even fly without a computerized flight control system. When a mis-aligned bolt can bring down an airliner, there is always risk for even the most seemingly mundane parts. Computerized flight control systems have been handling very complex control surfaces and flight regimes for a number of years now.


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