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ISDC 2k5: Day 1

Published by Elliot on Sat May 21, 2005 6:25 am
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Since it is late and I am tired I will keep this relatively brief. It’s been a very exciting first two days, started off by a wonderful speech by the great Burt Rutan. Basically, he slammed NASA some, calling on them to take more risks and stop wasting money on projects that aren’t inspiring or necessary. Then, he talked some about his own program, mentioning in the process that they were currently working on the “important step”, which could be referring to SS2, but also could be refering to orbital as well, some uncertainty here. He then closed with a prediction that there would be widespread commercial suborbital activity within five years, and widespread orbital activity by around 2020. Pretty exciting stuff.

After Rutan’s speech, the head of Centennial Challenges came out and announced a new prize, the “MoonROx” Prize. It’s $250,000 for the first team to build a lightweight system that can extract so many kilograms of fairly pure oxygen gas from a simulated moon regolith, and expires in 2008. If you’re into the resource extraction stuff, you should compete for this, as it is a much better prize than the first two space elevator focused ones. Not that those are bad, they just are too long term for first prizes.

The lunch speaker for yesterday was Rear Adm. Steidle, who gave a good if disagreeable speech basically applauding NASA. He does have good ideas about private sector cooperation, but other than that he seemed to be spouting policy almost.

After lunch I went to see Tim Pickens’ presentation on Orion Propulsion and his history with the X-Prize. It was really interesting and I learned a ton of stuff that I hadn’t known before. He started out doing hybrid rocket engines with the HAL-5 group way back in the ’90s. They launched several fairly large rockets, and then started the company HARC, which was the only team to actually attempt a launch for the CATS prize. After that, Tim became the propulsion engineer at Scaled Composites. While this was going on, HARC also bidded for the contract for Scaled’s motor, seeing as they had more experience than any other group in the field of hybrids. Alas, due to a lack of full-time employees, Burt didn’t take them. Tim left Scaled before the X-Prize flights to found Orion Propulsion, and that’s when HARC joined the X Prize with the Liberator, but they didn’t get the money to build it in time to compete for the prize.

After this, there was the second biggest speaker session of the day- the entrepreneur plenary. Such distinguished people as Bahn of TGV Rockets and Benson of SpaceDev were on this panel. Brian Feeney was supposed to be on it, but he didn’t show, leading to Benson’s presence. In a way this was good, since Benson is by far the better entrepreneur, but in a way it was bad too, since those of us in the audience didn’t get a chance to rip Not-So-Flyin’ Brian in the question session.

Robert Zubrin followed this magnificently with his schpiel on Mars Direct, which I thought was awesome since I hadn’t heard it before. I won’t get into the details since it’s easy enough to find out about it elsewhere. He was selling signed copies of his book after the speech too, so of course I got one. There wasn’t anything interesting going on after dinner and I didn’t have a ticket, and just went back to where I’m staying.

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