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Why the private sector won't cut it in space

Posted by: Cadet - Mon Aug 09, 2004 10:25 pm
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Why the private sector won't cut it in space 
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Post Why the private sector won't cut it in space   Posted on: Mon Aug 09, 2004 10:25 pm
From my lurkings on this board it seems to me that many posters here believe that the private sector will rule space if it is simply unencumbered by the government, who should only have minimal regulation of space. Quite frankly, this is idealistic, and simply won't happen.

1. The private sector can and will work for simple profit-making meaures. LEO will end up dominated by the private sector, focusing mainly in hotels and microgravity research. In adition, lunar transits and landings will be for-profit ventures, as enormously expensive hotels (with nuclear powered ships going from LEO to lunar orbit is the only way this will make money imho, relying on any other known technology is simply too expensive).
2. Outside of Earth orbit, private flights will be few and far between. The only possiblity of a successful commercial venture relies in asteroid mining. This is only going to be possible with nuclear powered vessels (the amount of cargo required for this to be cost effective requires extremely large ships, solar panels aren't going to cut it) and some sort of smelting process at the mining site itself. Unless space steel (Ssteel) has some fantastic property that cannot be duplicated on Earth or is prohibitively expensive to duplicating on Earth though easily done in space it will always be more expensive to purchase and use Ssteel on Earth. While some multimillionaires will use it as a novelty and status symbol, it will not be used by corporations (who must keep costs down) and that is where the real money is. However, it will be cheaper to use Ssteel in space construction rather than spending a five thousand dollar premium per pound of steel manufactured on Earth. Why smelt it at the asteroid itself? Simple economics. Steel is more valuable than the ore used to make steel and you'll make more money transporting a cargo hold of steel than you can transporting a cargo hold that is full of raw material that will make a lesser amount of steel.
3. Colonization of the moon and Mars isn't going to happen, at least not within the next century. There is no economic reason for colonizing either of them (H3 is not present in a form that could be economically mined on Luna). Whatever raw materials we may want or need are going to come from asteroids. It's cheaper to go to them, mine them, and ship the stuff back to Earth than it is to do the same to Mars (as Mars has gravity). In addition, a large scale Martian or Lunar colony would require the resources of asteroid mines. There are also the physiological effects of long-term colonization. Once a colony is started (where the population stays), they are never going to be able to come home, nor will their descendants be able to. Martian and Lunar gravity is simply too low. Finally, there is the cost of it all. To establish a true colony (which does not depend on resources from the mother country) will cost an exorbitant amount, likely in the trillions of dollars. No private organization has this kind of resources and so any colony would be founded by a government, most likely for reasons of national prestige or defense of trade.
4. Probably the biggest boon to private industry in space will be military vessels. Civilian shipyards will be required for their construction as well as way stations along their patrol routes. This represents a steady source of income and innovation for space stations and shipyards. Space will have it's navies, that cannot be helped. As soon as any other nation builds a spaceship the US Navy will build a warship (the US Navy is the most logical choice, as they are the ones with experience with ships and long deployments, furthermore boarding parties would be required, and since the US Coast Guard isn't going to space, that's limited to the US Navy and Marine Corps).
5. Bit of a tangent here, but all launches are going to take place using rockets. A space elevator simply isn't going to work, for several reasons. First off, it requires a small asteroid placed into Earth orbit. The amount of energy it'll take to move a several billion ton asteroid into a precise orbit quite likely exceeds the amount of energy the world has ever produced. Furthermore, a space elevator is extremely vulnerable to terrorism, if I remember correctly even a small jet could snap the cable. It doesn't have to cause any damage upon reentry to do great harm. That's 500-billion dollars straight down the drain.

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Post    Posted on: Mon Aug 09, 2004 10:40 pm
Forgot to mention space tethers: They'll never happen either. The complexities of a carrier landing, multiplied a hundred-fold.

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Post    Posted on: Tue Aug 10, 2004 5:38 am
You sound like those who said their would never be competition in telephone service. The truth is that even NASA realizes that private industry is more flexible and cost effective than an overblown bureacracy.

It has not escaped notice, that Scaled Composites can put a man into space, but NASA can't for the moment. :wink:

But ultimately, it is the multiple paths of development by private firms, which will accelerate the development of a for profit space industry.
_______________________________________________________________________

Why Hasn't Space Flight Developed As Rapidly As Aviation?
by Edward L. Hudgins

Edward L. Hudgins is director of regulatory studies at the Cato Institute and senior editor of Regulation magazine

As the U.S. approaches the second century of air travel, there is much to be proud of. Each day, more than 1.5 million Americans wing their way around the country and the world for business and pleasure. But missing from the early 21st century are equivalent achievements in space flight. Yes, men have walked on the Moon. But where are the lunar bases and giant pinwheel space stations envisioned 30 years ago in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey?

The explanation lies in the different development paths of civil aviation and civilian space. The Wright brothers were the first to fly, in 1903, acting as private individuals, pursuing their own vision and using their own money. Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic in 1927, trying to win the privately offered $ 25,000 Orteig Prize. By the late 1930s the first commercially viable aircraft, the Douglas DC-3, was flying. Much of early civil aviation was funded privately. The government, of course, was interested in aircraft for defense. But often it simply offered a prize to whatever private provider could make a wing or fuselage to best meet its needs.

World War II and the Cold War saw the government pump billions of dollars into defense aircraft. But civil aviation remained in private hands. And since the airline industry was deregulated 20 years ago, the average cost of flying has dropped 30% in real terms and the number of trips in the skies Americans take annually has jumped from 275 million to 600 million.

The saga of space flight started much like civil aviation did. Dr. Robert Goddard launched the first liquid-fuel rocket in 1926. In the 1930s, his funding, which Lindbergh helped secure, came principally from the private Guggenheim Foundation. But after World War II, it became a government effort entirely. The Pentagon brought Wernher von Braun and a team of scientists from Germany to the U.S. to develop more advanced designs of their V-2 rockets.

When the Soviets orbited Sputnik in October 1957, American space policy went in two directions. The Pentagon sought intercontinental ballistic missiles to carry nuclear warheads. And the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was established to put satellites into orbit and men into space. Unlike the history of aviation, development of military and civilian space efforts were government-run.

The landings on the Moon were great human and technological achievements. But the government's Manhattan Project approach to lunar missions (throw lots of money at the task) was not sustainable. In the early 1970s NASA, like any government bureaucracy, sought to maintain its staffs and budgets. Its partially reusable shuttle was meant to reduce the costs of putting payloads into orbit. Over the decades, the costs in fact went up. Furthermore, NASA systematically stifled competing private space enterprises, turning down many offers of those providers to launch rockets and stations. A raft of regulations and government-to-government treaties hampered private space efforts as well.

But a series of small, hard-won reforms after the Challenger and Columbia disasters has allowed the private sector to struggle for its place in space. For example, Lockheed Martin's Atlas launch vehicles already carry more private commercial satellites than government cargoes.

But what is really needed in the 21st century is a strategy to back the government out of civilian space activities and allow imaginative private sector ideas to flourish. For example, the shuttle's 17-story-tall external fuel tanks currently are flown 98% of the distance into orbit before they are pushed back toward the ocean and break up as they reenter the atmosphere. But the external tanks could be put into orbit. With nearly 100 shuttle flights to date, 100 platforms -- with some 27 acres of total interior space, as much as the Pentagon -- could have been in orbit today, ready to be homesteaded by entrepreneurs for hotels or honeymoon suites.

Of special significance, private firms are beginning to develop a space tourism industry. For example, the X Prize Foundation of St. Louis is raising $ 10 million to award to the first entrepreneur who sends a craft capable of carrying three persons at least 100 km. (62 mi.) into space and returning it to Earth twice in a two-week period. The first contender to test a vehicle that could go for the gold is Burt Rutan. He designed the first plane to fly around the world nonstop without refueling, in 1986.

But ultimately, space enthusiasts will have to address the future of NASA's shuttles and space station. Governments never will deliver services as well as the private sector, reacting to the needs of paying private customers. A transition could involve NASA purchasing data from the private sector rather than building more hardware. The private contractor now in charge of shuttle launch preparations could be allowed to rent the shuttle for private missions. It ultimately will involve selling off the shuttle as well as the station.

The technical skills of many who work for NASA are formidable. The ability of private entrepreneurs to offer new and ever-improving services at ever-falling costs is seen in the information revolution and U.S. history. The sooner the government allows the former to join the latter and frees the latter from regulatory restrictions, the sooner the U.S. will have a space sector appropriate for the 21st Century.

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Post    Posted on: Tue Aug 10, 2004 7:01 am
Hello, Cadet,

some of your points are thoughts I myself worked out too a few years ago.

But they are mixed with thoughts I cannot agree to. The points don't be obstacles in general - they are obstacles now and today. They are break-even-points that cannot be reached now but perhaps within fifty years some of them, within a hundred years others and within 500 years the rest.

a) Because of increasing requirements of propellant and time when goals and distances are increased there will have to be allocated an increasing amount of ressources - financial as well as material - and worked out the economical advantages of each higher goal and distance. So once a goal is reached privately this will mean that it is refinancing itself to a certain degree.

b) Space will prove to have its own economical qualities. Consider Mining asteroids. On earth all Mining products have to be borught to fabrics and the output of the fabric have to be brought to other firms. The mine cannot move to the fabrics and the fabrics cannot move to the other fabrics. But asteroids are moving themselves. Some of them have extremely elliptical orbits crossing the earthian orbit. So in principle it is possible to send mining equipment to such an asteroid and to send equipment of a fabric producing on the mining products as input too. Additionaly at least the fabric might be a spacecraft taking the mining products from the asteroid and producing something other out of that after launching to earth. That's nearly impossible on earth - something like this is applied by the fishing industry only I suppose. The required technology is to be developed yet but it won't be very different from fabrics in LEO.

c) Despite gravity the moon and the mars have location advantages. For example Mars has a 95% carbondioxyde atmosphere - this is a location advantage that might be used by carbondioxyde emitting industries. Their emission are not desired on earth and the investment to prevent these emissions are expensive. And there are products of these industries that are requiring gravity.

d) Production on moon or Mars because of location advantages etc. might require colonization. This means there really may be an economical reason for colonization (a base on the moon to launch for Mars is a reason in the near future too!). And medical science is researching medicines required at Mars missions to compensate the effects of absence of gravity etc. This will provide ways to prevent physiological effects meaning the people to be anable to go to earth from their lunar home. Science will detect more ways - for example the people might be forced to spend a couple of years on earth and another cuouple of years on Mars etc. The might be laws requiring children to grow up on earth - for example.

e) Concerning the space elevator read the posts of Herman Desmedt. He said that on other bodies in space space elevators don't require nanocarbontubes because of lower gravity. And private spacecrafts as well as private space industry might experiment with elements and principles of space elevators using them for other purposes.

All this and its details is linked together forming a difficult complexity like worldwide economy on earth. This complexity provides cost reduction opportunities we cannot see now - they will be detected doing each next step. And this will effect lunar transits and landing to become much cheaper than you think now and today. It will effect the costs of interplanetary flights to decrease too.

There is a fundamental thing mostly overseen too - production on earth and living on earth to is going to become more expensive and more difficult too - there is not only reduction of costs in space but additionaly increasing cost on earth. The reason is the exhaustion of oil and other raw materials. So there will be two effects assisting one another. This might lead to the effect that colonization of other planets and private interplanetary flights one day will lead to decreasing costs in general - regardless wether the level of costs will be higher that day than today or not.





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Post    Posted on: Thu Aug 12, 2004 4:41 pm
cadet-you seem to think that science/technology will never advance up to the point where a spacecraft will be as cheap to own and operate as an aircraft is today.
At the pace at which new scientific and engineering breakthroughs are made in fields related to space travel, I foresee that within 50 years a second space age will be in full swing, one dominated by private industry, in which mankind will finally spread and colonize the solar system.

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Post    Posted on: Thu Aug 12, 2004 4:56 pm
109Ace wrote:
cadet-you seem to think that science/technology will never advance up to the point where a spacecraft will be as cheap to own and operate as an aircraft is today.


A dedicated spacecraft perhaps, but not one capable of ground-to-orbit operations. Aircraft rely on aerodynamics, of using the air to lift them. GO craft rely on brute force to push them into orbit. Unless some mystical sci-fi idea comes to reality we are not going to be able to go into space on a price comparable to that of an aircraft. Think about it. A plane ticket costs about a dollar per pound. Do you really think you can get to orbit that cheaply?

Quote:
At the pace at which new scientific and engineering breakthroughs are made in fields related to space travel, I foresee that within 50 years a second space age will be in full swing, one dominated by private industry, in which mankind will finally spread and colonize the solar system.


Yes, and fifty years ago not only did the same thing, but they promised flying cars, world peace, and no taxes.

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Post    Posted on: Thu Aug 12, 2004 8:44 pm
Cadet wrote:
[Yes, and fifty years ago not only did the same thing, but they promised flying cars, world peace, and no taxes.


yeah but if you add my 50 years to 'theirs' that would make 100years of anticipation. something is bound to happen-100 years ago we had barely lifted off the ground and now private individuals blast off into space.
50 more years and a fully reusable SSTO craft will be making comercial flights, or I lose all faith in the humanoid race :lol:

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Post    Posted on: Fri Aug 13, 2004 3:36 pm
Cadet, how much power was available for use in propulsion by private enterprises 100 years ago? How much today? Don't mistake the feature-bloated Space Shuttle for the only way to make reusable space vehicles capable of orbit. It can be done far smaller if you forego some of the requirements the Shuttle was developed to meet - such as the ability to launch into polar orbit. Also, to start with, smaller payloads might do the job.

As for the space elevator, I also don't think the ground to GEO hellevator will be feasible any time soon. But an elevator from somewhere just outside the atmosphere (like 120 km altitude?) to an orbit much further out, which circles around the planet at a sedate pace (like a few hundred km/h for the lowest end). The lower end would be easy to ascend to and descend from, without most of the troubles of orbital reentry. The upper end would be a good spot to launch from to achieve most orbits, or even complete escape from Earth. I don't agree with you about the 'carrier landing' idea. An incoming vehicle matches orbit with the centre platform of the elevator, which is located at the balance point of the tether: Where the orbital altitude and velocity match up. Here, the ship can then slowly drift to mate up with the platform, much like you see spacecraft doing already. From here, then, it can be raised or lowered as it please. The only real trouble would be at the lower station, but once a ship has actual surplus thrust at 120km altitude, it should be able to make a landing there as well.

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Post    Posted on: Sat Aug 14, 2004 8:11 am
Hello, Cadet,

the costs of an ground-to-orbit spacecraft are depending to a huge degree on the same factor, the costs of an aircraft and a car are depending: the number of vehicle produced.

Consider what Burt Rtan is reported to have said. At first invreasing the number of passengers cuases significant decreases in flight costs - that's not the valid argument here but this decrease to the larger amount is due to costs per seat decreasing by the number of seats.

The valid argument here is the second statement he made - by building a second SpaceShipOne having the same number of seats the costs per flight are reduced nearly by 50% if i remember right - this means, that the costs per vehicle are decresing to a huge amount by number of vehicles.

Next it hase to be taken into account that private orbital activities providing economical advantages and profits wil cause an increasing number of vehicles to be produced. This might reduce the costs per vehicle down to 10% of todays costs at least. But additionaly the equipment required for vehicle production will become cheaper the same way when a certain number of vehicles is reached.

Its all ecnomics of scale (mass production advantages). These only keep car prices as low as required for the people to be able to pay them.

Aircrafts are built in differnet degrees of size - and their engines are different too. three-passenger-aircrafts with a proeppler-engine are sold at a price german aircraft clubs can pay. Aircrafts might be sold at prices of luxury cars if they could be used like luxury cars: to drive to the bureau each day, to do a short journey only 200 km awy from home and the like. private ships often are much more expensive than private propeller-aircrafts - for the same reason: they cannot be used like a car.

But in the case of space vehicles like SpaceShipOne this might be quite different one day: there may be a future a lot of people are doing work in orbit. In this case a private space vehicle is providing the same service as on urfce a car. The vehicle is required to get to orbit then and it will be required to move from orbit to orbit or within the same orbit then.

To me it seems that hybrid vehicles might be constructed - crafts usable as aircraft as well as spaccraft. All oncepts based on aircrafts follwed by XPRIZE teams are idicating that.

Last there is the NIAC concept of a spaccraft able to dive into the atmosphere from orbit, catch something from an aircraft and leaving the atmosphere again. The same way vehicles may make theier way down to the surface.

There are chances spacecrafts to become as cheap as luxury cars I suppose.



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Post    Posted on: Sat Aug 14, 2004 1:13 pm
Ekkehard Augustin wrote:
There is a fundamental thing mostly overseen too - production on earth and living on earth to is going to become more expensive and more difficult too - there is not only reduction of costs in space but additionaly increasing cost on earth. The reason is the exhaustion of oil and other raw materials. So there will be two effects assisting one another. This might lead to the effect that colonization of other planets and private interplanetary flights one day will lead to decreasing costs in general - regardless wether the level of costs will be higher that day than today or not.



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These reasons are what I believe will be some the real driving forces for pushing into space. The issue of oil alone is most likely going to be the primary catalyst for the rising costs of just about everything. If you really read up on it it's pretty obvious that the days of cheap oil (and everything that goes along with it) are numbered, especially with China truly entering the scene of oil consumption. When the price of all oil based/related things here on earth rise high enough people both government and private industry will turn to the resources of space in order to not only maintain the higher standards of living ejoyed by many on the planet but to also extend that higher standard to everyone else.

Additionally issues of pollution could very well be a driving force to push all dirty industries off of earth if launch costs become low enough. Either to LEO or to the lunar surface depending on a lot of different factors. One more Chernobyl accident and you could very well see a push to get all power generation off the planet as well.

As for colonies I don't see the moon becoming much of a colony. I'm sure there will be plenty of people living there sometime within the next 50 years but those people will more likely be transients, like the people living in antarctica or on oil platforms. Possibly a tourist hotel as well but I just don't see anyone staying there for more than a tour of duty, six months to a year max. Mars on the other hand may be a different story. I think if launch costs become low enough there will be a few thousand people willing to make an attempt to pull off a small colony. That will probably depend on the property rights in space issue though.

As for the asteroid anchored space elevator, I thought that concept was abandoned along with the 'solid frame' elevator ideas. Last I read the most promising elevator concept was going to use the construction climbers as the counter weight. An asteroid anchor may very well happen someday but the first elevators will not be using one. Possibly the first 50 elevators will not either.


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Post    Posted on: Mon Aug 16, 2004 10:19 am
There's an additional source of success of the private sector.

The current german government plans to abandon participation in manned spaceflights.

But Germany has at least three astronauts having been in space: Ulf Merbold, Ulrich Walter and Messerschmidt. There a more trained german astronauts I suppose but I don't know further names.

This three and the others and the institutes they are working in might look on private efforts for space if the government really abandons participation in manned spaceflights. May be in other european countries it will be similar.

But they will be looking on those privates only that are struggling for the orbit.



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Post    Posted on: Mon Aug 16, 2004 5:37 pm
if i'd been here when this thread was posted, i'd have done a thorough response, but as is, i'll only respond to the one aspect i don't think a point has been made about yet: asteroid mining. YOU DON'T NEED TO CARRY CARGO TO MINE ONE! or to refine the metals there for that matter. asteroids (at least some) are very highly metallic (read ferrous). you should be able to just cut chunks of stuff off a metallic asteroid and, using an admittedly very powerful magnet, shoot it off towards a collection point either in a high orbit, or out towards one of the L points close to the moon. admittedly that would require very tricky engineering, and alot of money to set up, but when you consider that a several megaton asteroid (very small) is worth something like $3 billion in current metal values on earth, it would pay off very quickly. nuclear drives would probably still be very attractive due to increased range and decreased travel time, but they wouldn't be necessary, and they wouldn't have to carry either refining equipment or cargo.

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Post    Posted on: Tue Aug 17, 2004 6:40 am
I don't know right wether I myself have been talking of refining. If I did so I did it to have an example.

Based on your information, TerraMrs, I would propose that while making its way from the asteroid to the moon or a Lagrange Point something is made of the metal. This would mean to reduce waste of time. Iron has to be melt to form it and to make steel of it etc - all this might take place on the way to another place. What really is needed that time might be informed on by radio.



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Post    Posted on: Tue Aug 17, 2004 2:21 pm
The mass-driver/mass-catcher concept has been well discussed in scientific circles, and is regarded as completely possible given current technology. So even pretty wild dreams can become reality, given that materials are 'easily' available up there. Why lift 80 tons of steel to orbit, when you can cut a chunk off an asteroid, refine it in place, and then shoot the steel block back to Earth orbit, to be caught and put into steady orbit there, and then use it to build a space station. Or, for that matter, you could move resources to L4 and L5, and build larger stations there - like the O'Niell Island cylinders.

Lastly, you could put thermal shielding on it, and land the block somewhere suitable, (remembering that an 80-ton block of steel that lands at maybe 500 km/h in an unpopulated area will deform and crack up, but still be steel) and use it on Earth? The question then is, will it be cheaper than earth-mined steel? Maybe not at first. But Earth's steel resources aren't infinity either, and Earth's gold, platinum and palladium resources certainly aren't!

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Post    Posted on: Tue Aug 17, 2004 3:52 pm
I don't know wether your'e answering to my post or in general.

I was thinking of using the time of transportaiton for fabrication and of using advantages space is providing for fabrication purposes. This would reduce the costs.





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