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Will the prize be won by the end of 2014?

Posted by: Ben - Fri May 04, 2012 7:15 pm
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Will the prize be won by the end of 2014? 

Will the prize be won by the end of 2014?
No prizes will be won. 71%  71%  [ 10 ]
Yes, at least one prize will be won. 29%  29%  [ 4 ]
Total votes : 14

Will the prize be won by the end of 2014? 
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Post Re: Will the prize be won by the end of 2014?   Posted on: Tue Jul 09, 2013 8:49 pm
For high-altitude balloons, the cost isn't the balloon itself, but rather the launch platform and other lofted. Helium is also a significant cost, but there's no reason (apart from ground-handling risks, I guess) not to use hydrogen, which is cheap.

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Post Re: Will the prize be won by the end of 2014?   Posted on: Wed Jul 10, 2013 5:22 am
AIUI, if the balloon and platform, Orbital insertion system (probably a rocket) and the satellite itself isn't recovered, the total replacement cost must not exceed the 999 Pounds budget.

Further, if you had the means to acquire raw materials, machining, propellant, buoyancy components, etc. at a substantial discount to get you in on budget, such discounts must be available to other competitors as well. Otherwise one could simply get sponsors for the expensive parts.

I have looked at several concepts by N-Prize teams that are theoretically possible but will be, IMHO, impossible to do for the allowed budget.

Something else worth mentioning is the launch location. I have been looking into viable launch locations in South Africa. We have one that has been used for space launches in the past. http://www.otb.co.za. It is owned by the Government and is available at a cost of 25000 Pounds per day (probably more now, I was there in 2006 for a project. British Aerospace uses it from time to time). Permission for a Space launch may only be obtained for this area.

What I am saying is that even if you manage to build the entire system for less than 999 Pounds, you will not be able to launch it legally, in South Africa at least, without a substantial cost in ground support. And since this will be a per launch cost, if you launch one satellite per day, the budget is blown.

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Post Re: Will the prize be won by the end of 2014?   Posted on: Wed Jul 10, 2013 7:38 am
USJay wrote:
Launching a small rocket at an altitude high enough to overcome the drag penalty is no small operation, no matter how you do it. Your choices are really either high-altitude balloon or high-altitude airplane. The more cost effective air-launch is probably from an airplane. With an airplane, theoretically, the only cost is fuel...

I've known several people who love flying that had to get rid of their aircraft because of 'non-fuel' expenses. Maintenence, insurance, etc add up really fast. One such person got a great deal but never got all that was needed to make it airworthy before having to dispose of it at great financial loss.


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Post Re: Will the prize be won by the end of 2014?   Posted on: Wed Jul 10, 2013 7:46 am
USJay wrote:
The booster of a multistage rocket is in effect a high-altitude launch platform for the upper stage(s). If the booster costs less than launching from an airplane, especially likely if the booster is recoverable, than a surface launch makes the most sense.

If the aircraft cost is $500,000 but you can make a booster for $5,000, even if it is not recoverable, you end up saving $495,000 right from the start to send the upper stages to space. If you charge $10,000 to boost the rocket you profit $5,000 but with an aircraft you are still $490,000 in the red plus operating expenses that don't go away with the aircraft. There are no operating expenses with a booster on the bottom of the ocean.

There is a reason nearly all space launches are from surface launched rockets.


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Post Re: Will the prize be won by the end of 2014?   Posted on: Wed Jul 10, 2013 10:09 am
Re. the cost of hiring launch venues - that's something I had not considered. I had assumed that launches would require, for example, insurance and permits that might be very costly, but these come under the heading of "legal compliance costs", which are excluded from the budget.

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Post Re: Will the prize be won by the end of 2014?   Posted on: Fri Jul 12, 2013 2:25 pm
Rick,

If I drive my car to a fast food place for a cheeseburger and fries, I do not consider the cost of the meal to be $25,000 because I used a car that cost me that much. The car has been used long before the meal and will continue to be used long after. Only the cost of using the car for those few minutes can be counted toward the total cost of the meal.

As I understand the rules governing this unique race, recoverable equipment, insurance, administrative fees and other operating expenses are not applicable to the cost of the flight according to the accounting practices peculiar to molecular biologists from Cambridge who instigate international spaceflight competitions. Assuming (one hopes) the airplane is recoverable, “theoretically” for using that airplane on that day for those few hours the only cost is for the irrecoverable fuel.


Last edited by USJay on Sun Jul 14, 2013 12:10 pm, edited 2 times in total.



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Post Re: Will the prize be won by the end of 2014?   Posted on: Fri Jul 12, 2013 3:05 pm
That's about right, and I tried to embody that in the rules. Basically, the guideline for *either* prize (recoverable or single-shot) is: "Having completed one successful mission, how much extra would it cost me to do it again?". If the answer is under £999.99 - whether to build, fuel and launch another complete non-reusable sytem, or to refurbish and refuel a reusable system - then it's OK.


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Post Re: Will the prize be won by the end of 2014?   Posted on: Fri Jul 12, 2013 3:50 pm
So the only difference between the SSO and RV prizes is the total cost of the launch vehicle, correct? If the launch vehicle costs less than 999.99 pounds it's in the SSO category, otherwise it's in the RV category, correct?

So if someone were to use a piloted aircraft as part of their launch vehicle they would clearly be in the RV category.


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Post Re: Will the prize be won by the end of 2014?   Posted on: Fri Jul 12, 2013 5:09 pm
Basically, yes, but please check the detailed rules for definitive answers.

So, if you used a piloted aircraft as a launch platform, then its contribution toward budget would be the cost of the flight (ie, fuel, assuming the aircraft comes back in one piece!). Be aware that the *full* cost of the flight counts - in other words, if you made three launches from the same flight, the full fuel cost would count for *each* of them, rather than being divided in three.

Technically, that would make it an entry in the "Reuseable" category, although that category was really devised for people who, for instance, use a recoverable first- or second-stage that could be re-used (taking refurbishment/refuelling costs into the budget).

But, again, the rule of thumb on which the detailed rules are based is "Could I, in theory, do a repeat performance by spending an additional £999.99?"

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Post Re: Will the prize be won by the end of 2014?   Posted on: Fri Jul 12, 2013 5:50 pm
Paul H. Dear wrote:
But, again, the rule of thumb on which the detailed rules are based is "Could I, in theory, do a repeat performance by spending an additional £999.99?"

I don't think you stated your rule of thumb exactly right. Shouldn't it be "Can I prove that I could do a repeat performance by spending an additional £999.99 on the expendable parts of the launch vehicle?"

Without the qualification of the "expendable parts" you would have to factor in the recovery costs for the boosters, which could be a significant amount. I believe the rules make that clear, but it's not so clear in the rule of thumb as you stated it.


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Post Re: Will the prize be won by the end of 2014?   Posted on: Fri Jul 12, 2013 6:01 pm
Hi Dave,

You're right, though I think the two statements are equivalent (though you rightly draw attention to the costs of recovery of any recoverable, reuseable parts):

If you use a "1 shot" system, then the question is "could I [prove that I can] build a replica for £999.99?"

If you use a recoverable, or partly recoverable system, then the question is "could I [prove that I can] recover the reuseable parts and refurbish/refuel them sufficiently for a repeat mission, and also replicate any of the non-recovered or non-reuseable parts, for £999.99".

In the case of a launch from an aircraft, the aircraft is clearly "recoverable and reuseable", and would just have to be refuelled for a repeat performance. I am assuming that aircraft doesn't need 'refurbishing' after the flight, inasmuch as only a negligible portion of its service life is used in making the flight. Equally, I don't count depreciation of ground support equipment as part of the budget except in exceptional cases such as, say, a rail gun that was good for only a handful of shots before needing rebuilding.

If there are any dubious cases or points of doubt, I'll be happy to address them at any time.

Cheers,
Paul

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Post Re: Will the prize be won by the end of 2014?   Posted on: Sat Jul 13, 2013 8:07 am
USJay wrote:
Rick,

If I drive my car to a fast food place for a cheeseburger and fries, I do not consider the cost of the meal to be $25,000 because I used a car that cost me that much.


My reference was not for a competition but for a business venture. If that car is bought and outfitted specifically for trips to a fast food place, you need to divide the cost of the car by the number of trips made to the fast food place. If at some later date the car can be sold for something other than scrap, you can then reduce the cost per fast food trip by the resale amount. If I drive somewhere, I know the cost is more than just the fuel. If you buy a new car, have no insurance and total the car on the first trip for a burger, that is one expensive burger!

When Orbital plans a Pegasus launch, I don't believe they look for an L-1011 to rent for the launch. That aircraft has been purchased and outfitted for that purpose. You cannot say they only charge the customer for the fuel used.

If using a balloon (inexpensive) or aircraft (expensive) to launch a rocket into orbit compared to using a booster from the ground, obviously, a balloon or aircraft is not going to put anything substantial into orbit, for that you need a large chemical booster rocket. What orbital payload does an aircraft launched rocket equal or exceed the profitability over launching the rocket from a ground booster? And what payload makes sense from an economic standpoint by launching from a balloon instead of an aircraft or ground launched booster?

If some group wins the N-Prize, and I hope it's done, I don't think you will see them in a profitable business launching 20 gram payloads for people for a cost equal to the N-Prize amount. People that don't account for all costs involved in their business usually don't last long. It would be cool if Virgin Galactic would fly people to space for the cost of the fuel and oxidizer...sign me up!


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Post Re: Will the prize be won by the end of 2014?   Posted on: Sat Jul 13, 2013 9:28 am
I agree completely. The accounting for a viable spaceflight business is utterly different than the accounting according to the N-Prize rules. Paul has been very generous by allowing essentially only the immediate and irrecoverable material costs to be counted as the cost of the flight. For a going business concern, my guess is the asking price for a flight would be at least four or five times the N-Prize limit, which is still a great bargain compared to present commercial spaceflight costs. My estimate is roughly analogous to the difference between a manufacturer’s (zero profit) cost to produce an item and a reasonably profitable retail price for the same item.

I also agree (and have felt since the beginning) that a surface-launched rocket-only system would be the least expensive way to go and therefore the most likely way to win the race, as well as the best system for profitable spaceflight operations.

The entrepreneurs at Virgin Galactic disagree with me and seem to think that launching from a custom built airplane is the most profitable approach. There are some very smart people at Virgin Galactic, but if they start basing their ticket prices on the cost of fuel and oxidizer alone, sign me up too and quickly, before they go out of business!


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Post Re: Will the prize be won by the end of 2014?   Posted on: Sat Jul 13, 2013 10:14 am
I agree with all that's been said, and the aim of the N-Prize was not - directly - to foster a profit-making launch business. That said, the thinking and technology that wins the N-Prize is likely, I think, to have wider applications. If nothing else, imagine the headline "Amateur Team launches £1000 Satellite"! I think it would change the thinking about spaceflight, in the same way that the first home-built computers did about computing.

Sure, those computers weren't the world's most powerful, but they brought computing into the hands and minds of people who had previously seen computers as big machines owned by big companies. In the long run, they drove the development of computing in directions that it might not otherwise have taken.

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Post Re: Will the prize be won by the end of 2014?   Posted on: Mon Jul 29, 2013 9:13 pm
Guy's the cost of the rocket is insignificant. You have to use donated components and materials to construct it to get within the rules. ALL of the components can be scrounged or donated.
In our case we pay for the first launch (a test or two maybe) Then once you have a working launcher you scrounge and get donations for what you need.
Doing a Hail Mary is completely out of the question anyway if your in the US get far enough in the legal process and you'll find that out.

The cost of a ground launch of any rocket to space is going to be significant more likely beyond scrounging range even if you scrounge up the propellant finding scoungeable materials on that scale? I doubt it.

If you can get a ride on an aircraft to high altitude (donated) who can say anything about that? I have a friend with a Mig 29 right now that could do it IF we had the hardware ready and we don't YET.

You guy's have very little imagination is seems when it comes to cost.

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