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Cost of LEO to moon race for hobbyists? :)

Posted by: BEM - Thu Jul 19, 2007 12:08 pm
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Cost of LEO to moon race for hobbyists? :) 
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Post Cost of LEO to moon race for hobbyists? :)   Posted on: Thu Jul 19, 2007 12:08 pm
Hi,

If a hundred people wanted to race solar-electric remote control craft from LEO to the moon, what sort of costs would be involved? Im assuming costs are split where possible.

For starters, how small could they be made? 1kg?

Wouldnt it be cool if you could go into a hobbyist shop and buy your off the shelf ion drive and bolt it to your off the shelf solar panels, and six months later your phone camera is emailing you very blurry pictures from 100 meters above the moon ;)


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Post    Posted on: Thu Jul 19, 2007 4:01 pm
The biggest cost would probably be launch cost. A armature radio group have launched a few satellites http://www.amsat.org/amsat-new/. Otherwise the propulsion system could be the big deal. If you don't mind long mission times then a lower voltage ion engine might do. But then it might not get there. Xe is really really expensive so you probably will want to design a engine without that. Guidance is also pretty hard and the radiation dose would make the electronics tricky. High Voltage step up systems is also expensive....So are good solar cells.

Making things smaller won't always make them cheaper either. Like the electronics.. and the cooling...

The ion engine would be the hard part.

I could be done of course, but it would not be cheap and I'm assuming that all labour is free. The moon is a very long way. 300,000km.


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Post    Posted on: Fri Jul 20, 2007 1:40 am
delt0r wrote:
The biggest cost would probably be launch cost. A armature radio group have launched a few satellites http://www.amsat.org/amsat-new/. Otherwise the propulsion system could be the big deal. If you don't mind long mission times then a lower voltage ion engine might do. But then it might not get there. Xe is really really expensive so you probably will want to design a engine without that. Guidance is also pretty hard and the radiation dose would make the electronics tricky. High Voltage step up systems is also expensive....So are good solar cells.

Making things smaller won't always make them cheaper either. Like the electronics.. and the cooling...

The ion engine would be the hard part.

I could be done of course, but it would not be cheap and I'm assuming that all labour is free. The moon is a very long way. 300,000km.


This was a slightly tongue in cheek suggestion. No need to dive into reasons why it MIGHT not be possible. That no fun! lets look at how hypothetical we have to get to make it possible.

For example, we have to assume there is some way of getting the cost down to the per/kg cost, so each compeditor only has to pay several thousand to get to the starting gate. A few ways this could happen but really im more interested in LEO to the moon rather than getting to LEO.

An ion drive is probably as expensive to design as a rocket engine, however Im guessing it would be easier to mass produce, and designs might already exist. A rocket engine has to be very carefully tested, and this is always dangerous. A mass produced ion drive could be more like an electronic component, perhaps no complicated gas delivery at all, just an evaporating solid. If the efficiency isnt good enough, well perhaps the entire 100 entries could share in the cost of an additional chemical booster.

'hobbyist' is probably optimistic. More reasonably if some people are willing to spend a million for to live weightless in a box for a few days, and a dozen companies are willing to invest billions to develop technology to put them there (space tourism) then maybe hundreds of companies would be interested in becoming 'players' by actually sending their electronics to another world.

Actually soft landing something on the moon would be much much harder, but even this to me sounds easier, safer and more interesting than sending a tourist into orbit.

Think positive people! you only have to become kneejerk nay-sayers when someone starts asking for money! ;)


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Post    Posted on: Fri Jul 20, 2007 3:02 am
I was told once that plasma etchers used in semiconductor manufacturing were a spinoff of ion engine development. I wonder if it is possible to get a surplus ion etcher and adapt parts of it as a poor man's ion engine.

And why should a rocket engine be expensive if you don't need much thrust? One pound of thrust is plenty if an ion engine would do. With a big enough fuel tank, a long enough burn, and starting in orbit, one pound thrust will take you to Pluto! I bet Armadillo could make you a 1 pound thrust engine for a reasonable price. Or you could just use the information from their web site to make your own. How dangerous could a one pound thrust engine be? Put Some sand bags around it and test it in the back yard. Or use a hybrid or solid motor.

If you hitched a ride as a secondary payload on a launch to geostationary transfer orbit, you wouldn't even need much more deltaV to reach the Moon.


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Post    Posted on: Fri Jul 20, 2007 11:01 am
I have made my own rocket engines. It cost less than 5000EU and that included the machines(Lathe/Mill etc). I didn't know that being practical was being a naysayer. What we can build and what we can build ecominicaly is the point. Small is not always better or cheaper..... You want to optimize. Also "piggy back" in a launch can mean you get a bit of weight in there aka more than 1kg.

Ion engines are really cool. But you need a vacuum chamber just to test them, with high capacity pumps. Also most out there use Xe Ce or Hg which are either really expensive or toxic and corrosive or both. You could design them to use Ar or go for a colloidal thruster. Or just use a warm gas thruster to get >1000km altitude and then solar sail it the rest of the way.


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Post    Posted on: Sat Jul 21, 2007 2:44 am
Thats really cool about the rocket building. Sorry about the naysayer comment. All I really meant is that I would like to get people in the mode of thinking about alternatives

(the solar sail idea is one, although in this case the purpose would really be about developing and competing this new technology.. or about competing a diverse range of approaches: ion, sail, solar thermal..)

for example:
Cost of getting to LEO too high? --> if enough people were interested, they could pool resources for a single mission and each pay the per kg cost only.

Iondrives too difficult? --> but there may be existing ones that could be purchased in bulk. How expensive? this could depend on many things eg how thrilled the producer is at the idea.

Cheaper ion drives not up to it? --> Everyone could pool for an additional rocket, so the starting post is not actually LEO but on the way to the moon.

Very possibly all of these can be shot down, but maybe you can come up with alternatives?

*****
Another idea, that you might consider more likely and more fun, is what if a commercial company aimed at developing a per kg cost to the moon? eg yearly drops of 100kg to different locations. They would take whatever is cheap to get into orbit, eg russian, and instead develop the technology to soft land on the moon. Im sure this is very hard, but it still feels easier than getting a human to orbit.

Only a very small number of people could afford a million dollars for space tourism, but if the per kg cost to the moon was say 20k, I would guess many people would have the money and knowhow to make something that could trundle around for a bit, and many more who might want to rent ten minutes on a tamiya car like device with a camera. You could write your name, and since following drops would be hundreds of miles away, it would last basically forever... this is on top of universities that might have more science-worthy reasons for going.

Possible reasons:
  • remote control moon buggy: Go where no man has gone before
  • ashes to moon (even if only a gram) .. this would not require soft landing
  • art or messages on the moon. The simplest method could be a roller that makes horisontal or vertical furrows. By catching the light in different ways you could build a greyscale image. Other ways could be stacking rocks.
  • insitu experiments, sorting regolith with magnets etc.


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Post    Posted on: Sat Jul 21, 2007 2:03 pm
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I'm sure this is very hard, but it still feels easier than getting a human to orbit.


You have hit the nail on the head. Humans in space at this point is stupid. I'm not trying to start a flame war here. So let me explain.

First we are still not good at space. Most of the vehicles are based on ICBM's and there failure rates are rather high...But the real problem is the "cost" of a life lost. The space shuttle is grounded for years!! Its completely stupid since even test pilot fatalities are not treated like that at all. Wikipeda states that there have been more than 450 astronauts and only 19 deaths (29 if training deaths are counted). There is some irrational fear and response with a death.

If we treated cars the same way we would never drive. However this is not going to change anytime soon.

The result of all this is that manned space flight is stupidly expensive. Its also not particularity effective. Humans are not well suited to a vacuum and we spend months or even years to train them for a single mission. Its just expensive compared to alternatives. It made sense in the 60's. But not now.
Also don't forget the large weight penalty with things like Life support systems and the like. The min size of a maned mission tends to be rather large.

So robots that do all the dirty work for you. They can be small, and its not international news when one gets left to die on the surface on the moon. (imagine if the first moon walkers got stuck there, the only thing they can do is weight until they ran out of oxygen!)

So to sum up. Robotic missions to mars is much cheaper than even the ISS.

As a side point. The web site for the current rovers on mars got enough page hits after they landed that web commercials could have paid for the mission. (~600million)


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Post    Posted on: Sat Jul 21, 2007 3:57 pm
delt0r wrote:
...there have been more than 450 astronauts and only 19 deaths (29 if training deaths are counted). There is some irrational fear and response with a death.

If we treated cars the same way we would never drive.
We DO treat cars the same way. A particular car has a record of bursting into flames or rolling over in accidents at a rate of one in every 10,000 and the government forces the manufacturer to withdraw that model from the market. If some car had a record of killing 19 out of every 450 people who drive it, the car would be off the market, the company would be out of business and the company officers would be in jail. If all cars were like that, cars would be illegal! Burt Rutan is right when he says safety improvements are more important that cost reductions. If we could have $10,000 per pound to orbit at 99.999% safety, that would be better than $100 per pound to orbit with 95.8% safety (which is what 19 deaths out of 450 is).


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Post    Posted on: Sun Jul 22, 2007 5:50 am
campbelp2002 wrote:
delt0r wrote:
...there have been more than 450 astronauts and only 19 deaths (29 if training deaths are counted). There is some irrational fear and response with a death.

If we treated cars the same way we would never drive.
We DO treat cars the same way. A particular car has a record of bursting into flames or rolling over in accidents at a rate of one in every 10,000 and the government forces the manufacturer to withdraw that model from the market. If some car had a record of killing 19 out of every 450 people who drive it, the car would be off the market, the company would be out of business and the company officers would be in jail. If all cars were like that, cars would be illegal! Burt Rutan is right when he says safety improvements are more important that cost reductions. If we could have $10,000 per pound to orbit at 99.999% safety, that would be better than $100 per pound to orbit with 95.8% safety (which is what 19 deaths out of 450 is).


To be fair 14 of those 19 deaths would be from the two shuttle failures, which were caused by terrible management, bureaucracy and poor company climate, not some inherent technology fault. I don’t think proper safety with space travel is going to be something as big as going from $100/lb to $10000/lb because it’s really not a technology thing. I think what is really required is adequate oversight by a proper regulatory body like you have with commercial aviation. Can you imagine what kind of safety record commercial jet aviation would have at this point if there was no oversight of any kind?


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Post    Posted on: Sun Jul 22, 2007 6:29 am
Hey delt0r,
What is the performance of your rocket compared to what is required to get to the moon from LEO anyway? Any guesses? Lets not worry about landing, just reaching it.


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Post    Posted on: Sun Jul 22, 2007 10:13 am
It was a mono prop H2O2 (80-90% IIRC and my hydrometer was correct)with a ISP of about 100 seconds. But I couldn't be more accurate than that. I melted it when I got cheeky with it and added some ethanol and upped the chamber pressure. It was fun. I had a LOX/RP-1 engine almost finished before shifting to Austria.

Some of the guys in the club were getting >200Secs from solids.

Is that enough? Well the Delta V from LEO to moon orbit is 4100m/s. So at 200secs you need a mass ratio of about 8. With a ION motor (need to consider drag, which I'm not) with a ISP of 5000 you need a mass ratio of ~1.1 ie 10% is fuel (but the power systems are *HEAVY*).

So It really depends. Getting a ISP of 300 from LOX/RP-1 should not be hard even with low pressure fed (Low chamber pressure reduces the thermal loads). Remember you are in space so very large expansion ratio's are possible.

I still Think some warm gas thruster up to 1000km and then solar sail has to be a winner....


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Post    Posted on: Sun Jul 22, 2007 10:25 am
Quote:
We DO treat cars the same way.


No we don't.

More people die in a month in the US than did on 9/11. Every month of every year. About 40,000 people per year. When there is a car accident, we don't ban driving in that model of car for *years* until some investigation is finished. Yet thats what happens with NASA...

Space accidents that cause death are so politically untenable, that maned space mission are much more expensive than they need to be (they will be more expensive anyway, min mass and life support system are heavy). Whats worse, is that even with this expense they are still not very reliable.

So to keep to topic. leaving the humans on the ground will make the mission much much cheaper...And you get to sleep at night when the mission goes bad...


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Post    Posted on: Sun Jul 22, 2007 5:07 pm
delt0r wrote:
No we don't.
Yes we do.

There have been models permanently withdrawn from the market because they had a slightly higher rate of rollover or fire.

If 19 out of 450 airline passengers died in crashes, airlines would be illegal. If 19 out of 450 747's crashed, the 747 fleet would be grounded.

And 40,000 deaths per year is from a population of 200 million drivers. That means the death rate is 40,000/200,000,000 = 1 in 5,000 per year, and that is with most drivers making several hundred trips per year. In comparison, space flight is less than 5 trips per year. If it was several hundred trips per year, the death rate would be over 99%! I have driven my car on thousands of trips and did not die. What do you think my chances of being alive today would be if I had taken thousands of rides into space? I can tell you. 100%. Because to get that many rides I would have to have been on every single launch, and we already know that I would be dead now if I had been on either Columbia or Challenger.


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Post    Posted on: Sun Jul 22, 2007 6:38 pm
Quote:
Whats worse, is that even with this expense they are still not very reliable.


QFT. A better comparison would perhaps be ships in the 1700's.

I think this is perhaps drifting to far off topic anyway. The point is that its a lot cheaper to leave humans on the ground.


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Post    Posted on: Mon Jul 23, 2007 12:53 am
Re robots vs people, my personal bias is that im much more interested in the possibility of colonising space than space science in general, but teleoperated ISRU could be the best way to begin this. Its a pity the moon is very poor in hydrogen and carbon, but it does have what is necessary for metals, glass, solar cells, mirrors, magnets, conductors, insulators, and simple power storage (even if just aluminum spheres holding charge)
I have a vision of the moon converted to a huge solarpowered industry by whirring clacking robots made of 99.9% primitive materials
(also, a lot of the relevant technology can be developed right here on earth, with simulated regolith)

The reason I am interested in someone at the 'hobbyist' level getting something to the moon is that it could change public perception of space exploration from something governments to something that institutions the sizes of universities regularly do, or for that matter any moderately rich individual. In other words it isnt just something that someone else does with your money, it is something you might do if you really want to.


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