Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Friday, June 11, 2010
The following was posted by Jim Davidson to the CommercialSpacePlace YahooGroup. It reads like a letter, but it is posted for all to see there, so it is a public letter and there should be no legal issues with republishing it here. What he had to say has a direct bearing on the current end-to-Constellation debate.
Well, Jackie DeWayne Reynolds asks "What's wrong with this idea?" so it occurs to me to answer.
> Unfortunately for advocates of commercial space
> development, however, the market for access to space is
> being met at the current price of launch.
This comment supposes that there is no unmet demand that is not permitted to have access to space. There are plenty of examples of companies that have been shut down (Walt Anderson's MirCorp, Gary Hudson's Rotary Rocket, my own Space Travel Services, to name just three of dozens that come to mind) which suggest a substantial unmet demand. Certainly Reynolds has not examined the requests for export licences and other government permits that have been refused to all and sundry who request them. So I regard this claim that the market is being met to be amusing in the extreme, to the extent that it is not horrifyingly sad.
In December 1990 and January 1991, Space Travel Services demonstrated an unmet demand of over 650,000 people who would be eager to have a *chance* to travel in space for $2.99. Since Reynolds hasn't found any way to meet that demand, at any price, we'll have to dismiss the claim of the market being met.
Between 2004 and 2007, Virgin Galactic found tens of thousands of persons interested in flying in space on suborbital rides with at least dozens of these making down payment deposits on such rides. Again, this demand has not been met. Reynolds is not only wrong, but seems out of touch with current events.
> In a mixed/free
> market economy like ours, price is determined by the market
> (oligopolies and monopolies excepted, of course).
No, it isn't. The United States is not a free market economy and has not been since at least the formation of the Interstate Commerce Commission in 1887. You cannot be "just a little bit pregnant" and you cannot have "just a bit of a command economy." Really, this claim that there is any relationship between the USA economy and a free market economy is the dictionary definition of fatuous: "Foolish or silly, especially in a smug or self-satisfied way" http://thefreedictionary.com/fatuous
One can be satisfied of anything if you refuse to examine even the most basic of premises.
> greater demand for access to space, there is no impetus for
> the market to lower launch costs.
Well, gosh, we may never know. I can certainly remember when there was enough demand for re-supplying the space station with cargo flights to stimulate Andrew Beal to put up $300 million of his own money to develop cheap access to space and multiple launch sites for his big dumb boosters. And I can also remember when NASA chose to betray its previous commitments and screw Beal to the wall with a moly bolt. The fact that there was an impetus for the market to lower launch costs and that NASA then decided, in its evil and bureau-rat fashion, to force fit the "contracts" to existing aerospace giant companies only for the benefit of those companies and for the degradation of the market for cheap access to space certainly speaks volumes about how we got into this mess.
> But what if launch costs could be lowered indirectly?
What if launch costs aren't the door that you have to get through? What if space is not difficult, dangerous, expensive, and risky? What if everything you've been told about space by NASA has been a lie? What if the government lies through stolen teeth, and lies easily?
You want to open the space frontier to human exploration and settlement. The problems you face are not economic problems - there is a huge market for space tourism, there are huge markets for materials processing in space, there are huge markets for additional communications technologies, there are huge markets for energy. It is raining soup out there, all you need is the ability to get there with a bucket.
The problems you face are not technological problems. Two men landed on the surface of the Moon in 1969. Their electronics were amazingly ancient. Their communications systems were utterly bereft of TDRSS. They had no global positioning satellites. Not much more computing power than my pocket calculator. Really, please, don't talk to me about technological impediments to space achievement until you read every single one of Robert Goddard's patent applications. Especially the ones von Braun filched.
The problems are legal, bureaucratic, and political. All of the problems you face are in these areas. Now, admittedly, none of them are so complex that they couldn't be resolved fully with the use of twenty tonnes of iron returning from a 90 minute orbit and striking Washington, DC. But if you aren't that much of an extremist, then your focus has to be on finding, or founding, a free country, or more than one.
Friday, June 04, 2010
Today SpaceX launched the Falcon 9 into orbit on its first test flight. The rocket is capable of carrying up to seven people to orbit in the Dragon capsule. SpaceX is a private company that didn't even exist eight years ago and in a couple years they will be delivering people to the international space station - and the Bigelow stations due to be launched in the next few years. It's a pretty good day.