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Most Commercially Feasible Route to Space

Posted by: sanman - Thu Feb 04, 2010 2:34 am
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Most Commercially Feasible Route to Space 
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Post Most Commercially Feasible Route to Space   Posted on: Thu Feb 04, 2010 2:34 am
What is the most commercially feasible route into space?

Is it tourism? Is it satellite launching? Is it servicing the ISS?

Space is by nature a high-capital business. And while govt has capital, it also has bureaucracy, lethargy and groupthink. Is some sort of public-private partnership possible, as a compromise? We see it being done with all sorts of public works and civil infrastructure projects all the time.

Is it still possible for the govt to hold up the main tentpole, while the private partners hold up their smaller poles, or pull on other ropes?

When will private launch service providers be able to stand on their own two feet? Or will they forever be unsteady, requiring bailouts and other handouts?


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Post Re: Most Commercially Feasible Route to Space   Posted on: Thu Feb 04, 2010 5:11 am
Communications and Remote Sensing. Both are already commercially lucrative and fully privatised.

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Post Re: Most Commercially Feasible Route to Space   Posted on: Thu Feb 04, 2010 12:10 pm
idiom wrote:
Communications and Remote Sensing. Both are already commercially lucrative and fully privatised.


thankfully they do have those already. and hopefully the upcomming ISS contracts will help to give them a further toehold and incentive to push foward. But the big question IMO is, will it be enough? is there enough profit to make it worthwhile to them and their investors?

Now that NASA doesn't have an actual path/plan for near term or even future manned exploration, what incentive is there to try and push out past LEO?

Maybe manned/unmanned mining missions to the asteroid belt could (eventually) be something to turn a profit?

I'm not too sure how the Commercial Spaceflight Federation is set up to work, but it really seems like a great way for the memeber companies to leverage their collective capabilities, talents, and resources. Maybe something will come of that?


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Post Re: Most Commercially Feasible Route to Space   Posted on: Thu Feb 04, 2010 3:26 pm
I've always felt that there are mainly 2 kinds of people who need to get up to high velocities - astronauts trying to achieve escape velocity, and intercontinental travelers trying to get from one side of the world to the other in a conveniently short amount of time.

That then makes me wonder if this latter market isn't the more economically attractive approach. Sure, it likely biases the selection of technology towards hypersonics and away from simpler rockets, which means more technical challenges. However, the economic path could be easier from a market demand point of view.

I'd have to say that economic viability ultimately trumps technological elegance, so that even if hypersonic travel is more technologically difficult to achieve than conventional rockets, it still wins out because of its far greater market in the near-medium future, especially given an increasingly global economy.

If you could come up with a dual-purpose design concept that could be built in 2 variants - one for rapid intercontinental transport, and the other for achieving LEO - then the spacelaunch industry could leverage the much greater market potential of intercontinental travel to fund the development of more robust space-launch systems.

What do you all think? I'm not arguing that hypersonic flight is necessarily the most technically efficient solution or even the cheapest, but rather that it's a more viable route market-wise to get to space, because it crosses through the intercontinental travel market.


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Post Re: Most Commercially Feasible Route to Space   Posted on: Thu Feb 04, 2010 7:14 pm
Well the next step, that currently has funding and a solid business and technology model is the Bigelow Space Stations.

That could create a lot of different businesses in LEO, enough to make more launch companies than just SpaceX profitable.

Both of those companies have internal plans to go to the Moon and Mars, all they need to do is build up their revenues.

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Post Re: Most Commercially Feasible Route to Space   Posted on: Thu Feb 04, 2010 8:22 pm
It depends on the launch costs. If they're low enough for a person to get into space for say $30,000, mining and supplying a fuel depot in orbit could be profitable, as well as operating cyclers between the planets. Depots probably are economical right now, anyway, to supply volatiles and such to space hotels and stations.


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Post Re: Most Commercially Feasible Route to Space   Posted on: Thu Feb 04, 2010 10:27 pm
Exactly, once the space stations start springing up a whole bouquet of new opportunities for niche operators will spring up around them because their needs are so much more complex than the 'fire and forget' comms sats.

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Post Re: Most Commercially Feasible Route to Space   Posted on: Thu Feb 04, 2010 11:27 pm
But would this blue-water market of space tourism have the legs to sustain a private space industry for a prolonged period of time, until greater opportunities open up? What do the demand projections look like for the years to come? At what point would the novelty wear off?

How long until circum-lunar trips could be offered, and at what price?


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Post Re: Most Commercially Feasible Route to Space   Posted on: Thu Feb 04, 2010 11:49 pm
Here's a related article:

http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/ar ... iBKq-7j3GA


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Post Re: Most Commercially Feasible Route to Space   Posted on: Thu Feb 04, 2010 11:53 pm
Bigelow isn't selling space tourism. He is leasing real-estate.

Another operator will have to lease from him to run a hotel, probably Hilton or similar.

Bigelow mostly expects to be leasing to industrial concerns, like research labs and tech and pharmaceutical companies. He also expects to lease to sovereign governments. There is a solid supply of countries that would like to have their own space station for whatever national interests they chose to pursue.

The important thing is to veiw each operation as not being about 'space' but about a very wide business model.

We need as many sources of revenue to develop to a mature state as possible. From that healthy economic system will grow that can support services beyond LEO.

Article wrote:
"No manufacturer of commercial orbital transportation services is currently qualified for human-rating requirements, despite some claims and beliefs to the contrary," ASAP's panel of independent experts said.


Energia is a private company now. Nasa is *already* outsourcing its flights to private industry at market rates. Energia's Soyuz system is pretty seriously human rated.

What is happening now is that Nasa is ceasing to compete with American industry.

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Post Re: Most Commercially Feasible Route to Space   Posted on: Fri Feb 05, 2010 1:30 pm
I can't help but notice that there isn't any Voyage-to-the-Bottom-of-the-Sea tourism industry, either - and that wouldn't require as sophisticated technology as for space tourism.

Nobody stays in underwater hotels, or goes on bathysphere tours.

Is tourism an adequate sustainer of a high capital cost industry?


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Post Re: Most Commercially Feasible Route to Space   Posted on: Fri Feb 05, 2010 1:40 pm
sanman wrote:
I can't help but notice that there isn't any Voyage-to-the-Bottom-of-the-Sea tourism industry, either - and that wouldn't require as sophisticated technology as for space tourism.

Nobody stays in underwater hotels, or goes on bathysphere tours.

Is tourism an adequate sustainer of a high capital cost industry?


That's a good question, but I would like to point out that there is a niche market for this stuff and the Burj Al-Arab hotel in Dubai does have a submarine to take diners to their undersea restaurant. Not exactly what you were describing, but it's on the same track.

johno


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Post Re: Most Commercially Feasible Route to Space   Posted on: Sat Feb 06, 2010 4:10 pm
johno wrote:
That's a good question, but I would like to point out that there is a niche market for this stuff and the Burj Al-Arab hotel in Dubai does have a submarine to take diners to their undersea restaurant. Not exactly what you were describing, but it's on the same track.

johno


Lol, I thought someone would cite that Dubai hotel soon enough. Well, that to me looks like some rare by-product of an oil boom investment bubble, and Dubai's economy has since crashed. Hopefully, a private space industry is not going to be a bubble-driven phenomenon, but rather something with a sustainable base that's capable of weathering downturns.

I'm still thinking that space travel has to somehow be an offshoot of a more solid market like intercontinental travel, in order to be viable.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F5075kpdIFw

I remember seeing a video for EU's LAPCAT concept, and thinking that this type of platform could be more suitable for ultimately adapting into a launch vehicle, in a market-supported way.

The govt would provide the muscle to develop the platform and its technologies, which would later be spun off into the private sector to be operated by regular airline companies. An "eco-system" of suppliers would be kept fed through normal market demand for high-speed intercontinental transit, and those suppliers would be in a position to develop the more ruggedized versions of the components for space-going variants of the vehicles. So there could be some commonality of the components, even though these would be of higher specs.

What do you all think? Instead of having a Constellation program to go to the Moon, would it be possible to have a Constellation program to achieve hypersonic travel? Because to me, once you make that breakthrough, then it's much easier to have the private sector get involved while still remaining viable. Market economic considerations have to come first, because if they don't work, then they're a show-stopper for everything else.


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Post Re: Most Commercially Feasible Route to Space   Posted on: Sat Feb 06, 2010 8:03 pm
Actually, Scuba diving is pretty huge. Deeper diving is also pretty popular, and there is a lot of commercial activity at extreme depths also.

There are also aquariums for the 'average' person.

You get a much better idea of what living under water feels like from visiting an aquarium, than you get of space by visiting a planetarium.

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Post Re: Most Commercially Feasible Route to Space   Posted on: Sun Feb 07, 2010 1:34 am
Scuba is no more a deep-sea activity than para-sailing is a high-altitude one. Scuba is an essentially sea-level activity, as much as para-sailing is.

The equivalent of going to orbit would be going to the bottom of the Marianis Trench - and there's no tourist activity to speak of around that.

Again, I would challenge people to come up with the sound market engineering and analysis that is the underpinning of any groundbreaking private endeavor.

Private space travel needs to find a "killer app" or indispensible market which can guarantee its future. I would say that rapid intercontinental travel is that market, to act as a stepping stone or jump-off point to space. Sure, it does compel a technology selection bias towards hypersonics, but the payoff is that you have a strong guaranteed market that won't fail you. You only have to worry about the technology failing, and not the market failing - and that's safer, because if the market fails, then no amount of technology will keep your business alive.


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