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Space Science Technology

Cambridge N-Prize Team To Build Balloon-Assisted Rockets 93

Posted by timothy
from the view-is-great-from-up-here dept.
Rob Goldsmith writes "Earlier this week we heard that Cambridge University Spaceflight would be entering the N-Prize competition. The N-Prize is a competition to stimulate innovation directed towards obtaining cheap access to space. Most importantly, the launch budget must be within £999.99. Cambridge University Spaceflight plan to win the prize using a balloon and a rocket. They have now opened up an official forum where the public can track their progress." The linked story has images from a test flight of July 23, and an interview with a member of the team, Ed Moore.
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Cambridge N-Prize Team To Build Balloon-Assisted Rockets

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  • Inflation (Score:3, Insightful)

    by circlingthesun (1327623) on Sunday July 27, 2008 @04:29PM (#24360825)
    What if someone did it for just under £999.99 but then the price of say rocket fuel goes up?
    • Re:Inflation (Score:5, Informative)

      by dvice_null (981029) on Sunday July 27, 2008 @04:38PM (#24360885)

      "Receipts must be produced, if requested, for all items or services purchased which fall within the ã999.99 budget"
      http://www.n-prize.com/rules_in_full.html [n-prize.com]

      So if you get a receipt from the fuel you used in the winning flight, it doesn't matter if the price goes up. If however you fail and you need to buy more fuel to try again, then the increase in price would be a problem to you.

    • Re:Inflation (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 27, 2008 @04:46PM (#24360933)
      What if someone did it for just under ã999.99 but then the price of say rocket fuel goes up?

      The price of fuel hasn't really gone up very much, if at all. What's happened is that the money supply has increased, causing major inflation. The "War on Terror" in Afghanistan and Iraq and federal government bailouts of large banks were financed by "printing" (most of it is electronic actually) money from NOTHING and then spending it, which the Federal Reserve is more than capable of doing (so are other banks; see Fractional Reserve Banking [wikipedia.org]). When you keep doing that with hundreds of billions of dollars, it devalues the currency because there is X amount of wealth represented by Y amount of dollars in circulation. If Y increases while X does not increase or increases more slowly than Y, then each dollar is worth less than it was previously. Yes they are a cartel, yes they control the market by carefully adjusting how much oil they produce, but for the recent oil price hikes we keep hearing about in the media, OPEC is merely adjusting their prices to match the current value of the American dollar.

      By the way, the Federal Reserve is a private corporation, which means that allowing them to print money and control our currency is UNCONSTITUTIONAL because only the federal government has this power. They are one part of a worldwide organization known as the World Bankers which controls the currency of almost every "industrialized nation" on the planet. Like most threats we face today, the founding fathers warned us about this one:

      "I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around [the banks] will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered. The issuing power should be taken from the banks and restored to the people, to whom it properly belongs." -- Thomas Jefferson

      "Deprive the people of all property". Sound familiar? How's that mortgage market doing these days?

      Basically, if you can create economic crises and social unrest, if you can bankrupt a nation anytime you want, you can take over that country without having to fire a single shot.

      • Re:Inflation (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 27, 2008 @05:07PM (#24361077)
        To mod as Insightful the person who mentions "What if fuel prices increase?" while modding down as "Offtopic" the person who discusses why they have and might increase is contradictory, at best. They are either both offtopic or both insightful. I think sometimes moderators forget that "Offtopic" and "Troll" are not synonymous with "I disagree" and "I don't like what that guy said but I won't try to refute it".
        • Re:Inflation (Score:5, Insightful)

          by causality (777677) on Sunday July 27, 2008 @05:28PM (#24361223)

          To mod as Insightful the person who mentions "What if fuel prices increase?" while modding down as "Offtopic" the person who discusses why they have and might increase is contradictory, at best. They are either both offtopic or both insightful. I think sometimes moderators forget that "Offtopic" and "Troll" are not synonymous with "I disagree" and "I don't like what that guy said but I won't try to refute it".

          This was a politely worded post. You worded this in a non-inflammatory manner and explained why you feel the way that you do, did not use invectives or name-calling and did not even take a very controversial position, and yet you were still modded as Troll. This is one of the better statements on the recent quality of Slashdot moderation that I've seen in a while. You point out that they were not applying the moderating guidelines and they respond by failing to apply them some more, without ever explaining why they disagree with you because they probably realize they would not have a leg to stand on. I'm fully expecting to get modded to -1 myself for pointing this out, but that's okay. I have karma to burn and I'll feel better for having done it since I believe this sort of bullshit needs to be called out wherever it occurs.

          • by evilviper (135110)

            The grandparent was perhaps not a troll, but it certainly was an extremely off-topic rant, and it's more than appropriate that it get modded down.

            The parent was just complaining about moderation, which is almost always off-topic, and is generally modded as such.

            Your post, too, is just a pointless complaint about one random bit of moderation that has no real significance.

            • by causality (777677)

              Your post, too, is just a pointless complaint about one random bit of moderation that has no real significance.

              It is only our self-importance that would lead us to think that anything discussed here has real significance. By contrast to what is "out there" and available to be experienced by the human perception in this mysterious universe, all topics on Slashdot are quite mundane. The real value of the site is that there are a lot of people here who have good sense and take relatively wise positions on q

          • by dfn_deux (535506)

            You point out that they were not applying the moderating guidelines and they respond by failing to apply them some more, without ever explaining why they disagree with you because they probably realize they would not have a leg to stand on.

            I agree with the essence of what you are saying, but must point out that Slashdot's moderation system does not allow one to both comment an article AND moderate in the same comments section without nullifying their moderations. Thusly it a person who issues a dissenting

          • I understand your frustration with moderation abuse. But it certainly seems to me that a reasonable moderator could, in a story about the N-Prize, consider a question about the rules on topic and a rant about the Federal reserve offtopic.
        • by jeiler (1106393)
          The first was an honest question. The second was modded offtopic because it was a false-to-fact political screed that did not provide an accurate or honest answer to the question.
          • by hvm2hvm (1208954)
            That doesn't make it a troll. Just uninformed. If you want to show that he's wrong, then come up with better, more reliable information, don't just mod it down like he's a ranter.

            To get to the first level of offtopic, I think he may have a point but the problem with claims like that is proving them which is impossible because if the government can print money to fight a war, they can cover it up in bureaucracy until not even they know who is cheating and who is not.

            And on topic, they should market this
            • by jeiler (1106393)

              That doesn't make it a troll.

              The "World Banker" rant was not moderated troll--it was moderated offtopic. However, deliberately giving blatantly false information certainly qualifies a poster as "troll-kin" in my book.

      • Re:Inflation (Score:4, Informative)

        by jeiler (1106393) <<go.bugger.off> <at> <gmail.com>> on Sunday July 27, 2008 @05:37PM (#24361277) Journal

        By the way, the Federal Reserve is a private corporation....

        The Federal reserve is a government institution--your assertions to the contrary are false (and the "World Bankers" drivel is sheerest bullshit). (Cite [wikipedia.org])

        • Really?

          Its a govt entity? then where is its SEC filings and members who make profits?

          They are granted legal right to print money, ie, legal counterfeiting as such. They are still goons.

          Anyone, I dont care, since you will be stuck in the waste land. Its all of americas corporates and bankers who have already stolen trillions and are in the caymen islands.

          Enjoy paying of the loans for decades.

  • by nasor (690345) on Sunday July 27, 2008 @04:56PM (#24361009)
    I'm not really sure what the point of this is...what is anyone going to do with 10-20 grams in orbit? Can you even make a transmitter + power supply that small that would still be powerful enough to communicate with the ground? Or are you just supposed to send up 20 grams of foil or something that can be tracked with ground radar?

    The X-prize was about getting people into space, which I think most people can see uses for (even if it was sub-orbital). I'm not really sure about this. Although I guess it's a great way to get a lot of free publicity, especially since the odds of anyone actually claiming the prize money are very low.
    • by Squarewav (241189) on Sunday July 27, 2008 @05:39PM (#24361305)

      I think the point, if there is one, is they wanted the rockets to have a payload and not just be a cylinder filled with rocket fuel. As for the size, I'm assuming its low to not only make it easier to achieve but to avoid people being accused of making missiles. Governments have a tendency to take notice when people build rockets large enough to carry explosives

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Governments have a tendency to take notice when people build rockets large enough to carry explosives

        It was apparently big enough to take pictures, and Governments notice that too. [slashdot.org]
      • E=MC^2.
        40 lbs coming in the RIGHT fashion from orbit, can do a LOT of damage.
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          E=mc^2 would only be relevant if the payload consisted of antimatter. And producing antimatter on that scale is far beyond our current capabilities.

          I think the formula you're looking for is (1/2)mv^2 [wikipedia.org], with a high value for v.

    • by evilviper (135110) on Sunday July 27, 2008 @07:52PM (#24362313) Journal

      Can you even make a transmitter + power supply that small that would still be powerful enough to communicate with the ground?

      When you have a 2+ meter dish with high-gain LNBF properly aimed, you can pick-up a radio signal from a wrist watch...

      Or are you just supposed to send up 20 grams of foil or something that can be tracked with ground radar?

      It wouldn't be a bad idea to send up something like a concave sheet of metal (aimed towards the planet) to use as a simple signal reflector. I'm sure hams and DXers would love the idea. It would be a lot easier and more consistent than bouncing signals off the moon.

      It would be a very interesting world if we had a significant number of those in orbit. From the comfort of your living room, you could listen-in to any radio signals, being broadcast anywhere in the entire world, provided only that you have equipment that is sensitive enough to pick the weak incidentally reflected signal you want, out of the background noise.

      • by mikael (484)

        Good job satellites don't have satellite dishes mounted to face the earth...

        Couldn'tthe surface of a satellite (cylindrical or spherical) reflect radio waves ....

        • by evilviper (135110)

          Good job satellites don't have satellite dishes mounted to face the earth...

          Umm... What?

          Couldn'tthe surface of a satellite (cylindrical or spherical) reflect radio waves ....

          It potentially could... IF it didn't have an LNBF directly at the focal point of the dish, designed specifically to block (or "collect") all signals received. Also, it really isn't the ideal shape for a signal reflector.

    • by famebait (450028)

      Can you even make a transmitter + power supply that small that would still be powerful enough to communicate with the ground

      Yes.
      And even if you couldn't:

      I'm not really sure what the point of this is

      This really ought to get you barred, you know.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Candid88 (1292486)

      "I'm not really sure what the point of this is...what is anyone going to do with 10-20 grams in orbit?"

      I couldn't disagree more. Getting anything into orbit for less than 1000 GBP has a great number of uses. Several "pico-satellites" have been put in orbit, of which the various CubeSats http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CubeSat [wikipedia.org] are good examples. These use relatively inexpensive equipment and the lightest of them are only a few hundred grams so I do not think it ridiculous to envisage someone developing a 20 gra

  • Are there any rocket scientists here who could enlighten us about how much the balloon would really help with getting something into orbit? As I understand it, the problem with getting into orbit is that you have to get going really really fast - it's not just a matter of being up really high.
    • by TimeTraveler1884 (832874) on Sunday July 27, 2008 @05:07PM (#24361079)
      I might have answered your question in another post [slashdot.org].
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      One advantage I might imagine is that pulling a rocket up even a few kilometers and launching from there puts you above a large part of the atmosphere. Atmospheric density decreases exponentially height (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barometric_formula), so for example, at 5 km, the rocket only has to cross half the atmosphere, reducing drag a great deal. Naturally, the rocket must still accelerate above escape velocity (which is not significantly changed at 5 km above sea).

    • I'm even remotely qualified to answer this but it's Slashdot so what the hell. I always thought that the way orbit worked was that you got far enough away that you could equalize the reduced pull of the earths gravity with your forward momentum to achieve a stable relationship. Wouldn't getting essentially free altitude reduce the amount of fuel necessary to achieve that, resulting in reduced costs? I believe launching closer to the equator has a similar benefit where the added rotational velocity of the
      • by TimeTraveler1884 (832874) on Sunday July 27, 2008 @05:41PM (#24361329)

        I always thought that the way orbit worked was that you got far enough away that you could equalize the reduced pull of the earths gravity with your forward momentum to achieve a stable relationship.

        Achieving orbit is not about how far away you are away, it's all about your angular velocity. You could theoretically achieve orbit at sea level, but atmospheric drag keeps that from happening on earth.
        As satellite orbits the Earth, it is constantly accelerating, not because its speed is increasing, rather because it is constantly changing direction (speed + direction = velocity, change in velocity = acceleration).

        The acceleration of gravity is 9.8m/s, so if you can achieve an acceleration of 9.8m/s in the opposite direction, you will be in constant free fall and establish an orbit.

        It takes a lot of energy (32MJ/kg) to sustain this acceleration on Earth and maintain an orbit. However, you are correct that it takes less energy to enter into a geo-synchronous orbit than other types of orbits from different latitudes. Sorry I can't find a reference for it at the moment though.

        • by tehcyder (746570)
          How do you know all this stuff if you're a time traveller from 1884?

          I call shenanigans.

  • Good luck (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TimeTraveler1884 (832874) on Sunday July 27, 2008 @05:02PM (#24361057)
    I'll admit, I don't know what the N-Prize is and I did not RTFA; I am assuming the goal is to reach some kind of sub-orbital or LEO flight. I've looked in to this for my own balloon projects. The energy savings from using a balloon are only a small percentage of the overall energy required to achieve orbit.

    It takes about 20 times the amount of energy [wikipedia.org] to reach LEO than it does to just reach the same altitude. When you compare this energy requirement to the savings of launching from the ceiling height of a weather balloon [wikipedia.org] (40km) it is not much; especially considering you still have to get to the Karman Line [wikipedia.org] (100km) plus the weight of fuel required, which must then be lifted by even larger balloons. Therefore, it's more economical and efficient to burn the fuel as close to ground as possible [wikipedia.org].

    I'm only an armchair rocket scientist though, so I might have this all wrong. In any case, I certainly wish them good luck - Maybe I'll go read the article now.
    • Re:Good luck (Score:5, Informative)

      by GameMaster (148118) on Sunday July 27, 2008 @05:31PM (#24361235)

      The idea behind balloon launched rockets has nothing to do with escape velocity/gravity. It has to do with aerodynamic drag. Aerodynamic drag plays a big role in eating up launch fuel at lower altitudes where the atmosphere is dense. A balloon launch bypasses that drag with a low cost, and disposable, balloon filled with hydrogen/helium without having to use expensive/heavy rocket fuel. The concept was developed and first implemented in 1949 and has been done a number of times since for high altitude experimentation and hobbiest projects. Wikipedia has a basic article inder the, somewhat archaic, name "rockoon" (mixture of rocket and balloon).

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by DerekLyons (302214)

        The idea behind balloon launched rockets has nothing to do with escape velocity/gravity. It has to do with aerodynamic drag. Aerodynamic drag plays a big role in eating up launch fuel at lower altitudes where the atmosphere is dense. A balloon launch bypasses that drag with a low cost, and disposable, balloon filled with hydrogen/helium without having to use expensive/heavy rocket fuel.

        There's two problems with this scheme

        1. The Hindenburg would just barely be able to lift John Glenn's Atlas booster.
        2. A disposa
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by sjames (1099)

          A disposable Hindenburg would cost tens of millions of dollars - while the few thousand gallons of fuel and oxidizer it replaced would cost a few thousand dollars.

          Not necessarily. Being disposable, it wouldn't require much structure or external protection. It'll be destroyed long before damage can accumulate. It would mostly resemble weather balloons. The Hindenburg cost more, in part, because it was expected to see years in service.

          • A disposable Hindenburg would cost tens of millions of dollars - while the few thousand gallons of fuel and oxidizer it replaced would cost a few thousand dollars.

            Not necessarily. Being disposable, it wouldn't require much structure or external protection.

            Yes necessarily. Being hundreds of thousands of tons of lifting force, it will require considerable (fairly heavy) structure to distribute that force across the lifting envelope and transfer it to the payload.

            It would mostly resemble weather ballo

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by sjames (1099)

              Yes necessarily. Being hundreds of thousands of tons of lifting force, it will require considerable (fairly heavy) structure to distribute that force across the lifting envelope and transfer it to the payload.

              It would require a support rail to attach the rocket. That part would be recoverable if desired. It would not require the outer skin (certainly not the iron oxide and aluminum paint!) control surfaces, engines, passenger gondola, etc.

              Sure. In the same way my pocket calculator resembles a Cray supercomputer.

              The computer I'm using now is much more powerful than a Cray from the '80s :-)

              • Yes necessarily. Being hundreds of thousands of tons of lifting force, it will require considerable (fairly heavy) structure to distribute that force across the lifting envelope and transfer it to the payload.

                It would require a support rail to attach the rocket. That part would be recoverable if desired. It would not require the outer skin (certainly not the iron oxide and aluminum paint!) control surfaces, engines, passenger gondola, etc.

                The individual cells or balloonets that contain the lift gas aren't c

                • by sjames (1099)

                  Also, thanks for reminding me of a weight penalty I forgot - the necessarily increased structure of the booster to account for the fact that it can't simply use structure to carry the loads lengthwise and in the same direction as flight loads.

                  Actually, I can easily imagine a setup where the structural load from listing actually is similar from the thrust load. I can even envision a cabling system where the lifting force is applied at the tail so that essentially if the rocket can support it's own weight, it can handle the balloon lift phase of the flight.

                  The load transfer could be as simple as a net. (allowing the use of weather balloons).

                  The balloon lift phase can be quite gentle since neither engine gimboling nor flight surfaces are needed to

        • There's two problems with this scheme

          The Hindenburg would just barely be able to lift John Glenn's Atlas booster.
          A disposable Hindenburg would cost tens of millions of dollars - while the few thousand gallons of fuel and oxidizer it replaced would cost a few thousand dollars.

          No one here has suggested trying to lift Atlas boosters with weather baloons (although the other response to your post suggests that it might, theoretically, be possible). Whats is being suggested here is no different than what was tri

          • Whats is being suggested here is no different than what was tried, and proven, in the 1940's and 50's with the original Rockoons. Existing, mass produced, weather balloon technology does just fine at lifting small rockets (as used in the n-prize and upper atmosphere experimentation) above the atmosphere's denser layers.

            Did it ever occur to you there's a reason why Rockoon was abandoned? Rockoons were attractive in the 40's and 50's when producing the rockets with the needed performance was difficult, but t

            • Did it ever occur to you there's a reason why Rockoon was abandoned?

              Who ever said Rockoons were abandoned? As far as I know, the technology is still being researched and has continued to be used for upper atmospheric research. One example is the Japanese rocket listed at the bottom of this page http://www.astronautix.com/lvs/rockoon.htm [astronautix.com] that was launched in 1992. I've seen others as well.

              The thing is, Rockoons (or balloon launched rockets as they tend to be referred to in modern times) fill a niche. Eve

    • by viking80 (697716) on Sunday July 27, 2008 @05:38PM (#24361289) Journal

      You are correct in your energy estimates, but a high altitude balloon launch has other significant advantages:
      1. Your rocket engine can be an engine with vacuum geometry meant to work well in space. This differs from an engine meant to operate at low altitude.
      2. Your rocket design does not need to include complicated supersonic flight in dense air, so your vehicle can be more optimized for the mission at hand rather than aerodynamic.

    • by MarkusQ (450076) on Sunday July 27, 2008 @07:18PM (#24362021) Journal

      The "burn most your fuel close to the ground" only applies to big rockets that are having to use early fuel to get later fuel up to altitude.

      In the present case both those assumptions are violated, making their approach more sensible than it sounds. First off, for a big rocket most of the energy required will be used to 1) get up to speed and 2) gain altitude, with 1) being the biggest concern. For a small rocket, both of these will initially be swamped by 3) friction. The higher you are when you start, the less of your fuel you will waste just overcoming drag.

      Secondly, the rule only applies when you are gaining the altitude by burning fuel in the first place. When you aren't having to burn fuel to get up there, you'd always come out ahead launching from a balloon (or even a mountain top) provided you could figure out how to make it work. Heck, with a tall enough tower (hint: think GEO) based on the equator, you could launch a satellite by hand!

      --MarkusQ

    • "...The energy savings from using a balloon are only a small percentage of the overall energy required to achieve orbit..."

      You are looking at this from a university "Physics 101" perspective. If you were an engineer you would not be allowed to "neglect the effects of the atmosphere" These effects are...

      1) There is a huge amount a friction drag. You have to fly through many tens of miles at high mach numbers, this require a lot of power.

      2) Because of #1 above the vehicle must be quite strong with a struct

  • The requirements ask for lifting a 20g "satellite" (I'd call it a "space junk" instead). What could be the value of such a construct? More importantly, what value the humanity can obtain from building a super-cheap and super-unreliable launch vehicle that has a 20g payload? This N-Prize should be seen as a joke [wikipedia.org].
    • by MagdJTK (1275470)
      What value can humanity obtain from you posting on Slashdot?
    • What can be done in 20g?

      What can't?

      There are obvious limits.

      You're not going to get a nice big lens on there for a decent camera. But a cellphone cam might just work.

      You can't get active control of your orientation. Though with the above camera, and a couple of magnetic field sensors, combined with software, you can tell which way you're pointed.

      You won't be able to send back large amounts of data - but a small pic or two per orbit, commanded by the ground should barely be possible.

      As to what can be done in

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by tftp (111690)

        But a cellphone cam might just work.

        A cell phone CCD will be about 20 grams. But you also need the decoder, the DSP, and the transmitter, and the battery. If you still manage to do all that, then what's the use of a low-res image from 400 km? I understand that it might be cool once or twice, but that's what amateur satellites are for (this includes ham [amsat.org] and non-ham [stanford.edu] ones.) These satellites don't weigh 20 grams - they are larger, but they actually work.

        Usually amateur satellites hitch a ride on some oth

        • But a cellphone cam might just work.

          A cell phone CCD will be about 20 grams.

          No it won't.
          The ST VS6555R0H9 for example. VGA, 4.5*4.5*2.5mm, I'd guess .25g tops.

          There are slightly larger cameras going up to a couple of megapixels.

          But you also need the decoder, the DSP, and the transmitter, and the battery.

          Decoder, DSP, and micro I can directly address, as I have a board using a similar (but 2MP) cam about to go for production that is now about 4 grams, 5 including the microSD.

          If I put maybe $400 into weight reduction, and build them by hand I can drop that to around 3.5 grams, including an 8GB microSD.

          If you still manage to do all that, then what's the use of a low-res image from 400 km?

          I'm tempted to drag out the famous quote 'What's the use of a newborn baby' - with regards to electricity, but that's way overstating the case.

          At the moment, it's complex and hard for small organisations (say a medium sized electronics department in a university) to get anything launched.

          I hope by vastly reducing the entry burden that more people will start innovating - where there is little at risk, there can be lots of risk-taking, much as the computer industry only exploded when computers got cheap enough that innovation in software got cheap.

          Yes, you can beg for a ride-along, but this is not cheap in terms of effort you need to put in to it. (and that time costs money too).

          Besides, rocketry is not a safe hobby when you deal with enough propellant to lift something to an LEO. When you try to do it on the cheap things only get scarier.

          This is of course an issue.

          However, constraining the rocket element to perhaps 10Kg, with a thrust profile meaning that it cannot hit the ground under power, selecting appropriate launch sites, and ensuring a low burnout weight will all greatly mitigate risks.

          On the subject of mass budgets, which you raise.

          • Camera - 1g
          • Solar panel -4g (2*26cm^2 emcore) (3W peak, 0.5W average per orbit)
          • CPU+RAM+SD+power managment - 4g
          • Battery - 4g 150mAh Lion.
          • Magnetometers and IR heat sensors - 1g
          • Radio 2g - 10mW 433MHz
          • Structure - 4g
  • Cost per kilogram (Score:3, Informative)

    by 32771 (906153) on Sunday July 27, 2008 @05:20PM (#24361175) Journal

    This wouldn't even make too much sense since
    with that kind of money a kilogram in orbit would cost around 50000 pound. There are much cheaper means of getting to orbit:

    http://www.futron.com/pdf/resource_center/white_papers/FutronLaunchCostWP.pdf [futron.com]

    Interestingly small launchers seem to be less efficient than larger ones on average.

    Maybe one should just try to hitch a ride.

    On the other hand this seems to be a fun project.
    I hope they are successful.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by GameMaster (148118)

      It seems to be an attempt to open up space launch capability to the little guy. Sure, when you look at the numbers, those big launch vehicles seem to be down-right cheap per lb., but good luck getting your 1lb. hobby project onto one of those launches. The organizations responsible for launching those rockets are, most likely, working exclusively with companies and fellow governments that need to launch 100lb+ payloads. Even if they'd work with an individual/small business, the red-tape and per-project o

    • Re:Cost per kilogram (Score:4, Interesting)

      by queazocotal (915608) on Sunday July 27, 2008 @08:07PM (#24362383)

      Cost per kilo is somewhat missing the point.

      Firstly, you can't buy a kilo to orbit. You simply can't.

      You may be able to beg a ride-along if you have the right political connections, but otherwise it's impossible.

      Secondly, it's unlikely that if 20g to orbit is $2000, 200g to orbit will be $20000.

      Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly.

      20g to orbit can't do much. You can put a bad camera, a radio, a solar panel, and a magnetometer on it, and maybe if you push the envelope really hard a 3-axis gyro. (to calculate your orbit)

      200g however, even if it was $10000 per flight is in the realm where universities with modest physics, aerospace, or electronics facilities might consider it interesting to put up a small test sat.

      Your cellphone weighs under 200g, even if it has GPS, GSM, accellerometers, wifi, camera, ...

      With 200g in a small satellite, you've got a good shot at a reasonable camera, stabilisation using the earths magnetic field, GPS, a much better radio, solar panels, batteries to keep it alive during dark.

      It's even reasonable that you could have a small part of it - say 50g - as a single-shot rocket able to optimise the trajectory.

      I note that http://www.rcgroups.com/forums/showthread.php?t=814157 [rcgroups.com] there are amateur build fully remote controlled planes at under half a gram.

      • by 32771 (906153)

        >Secondly, it's unlikely that if 20g to orbit is $2000, 200g to orbit will be $20000.

        My assumption was that this rocket is either your only means to space and you have to assemble in orbit (I don't know how), or that for comparison you hitch a ride and pay by weight. Then having the Kg to orbit price helps comparing your options. However I doubt that you can get away with only paying for the weight, probably they let you pay for a part of the launch service and that won't be cheap.

        Also I just read somewh

  • By making sure there's no American [slashdot.org] onboard.
  • I love the open source ethos of this project, but I wonder about the wisdom of letting every Tom, Dick, and Harry shoot stuff into space. In most places there would at least be laws against some yo-yo shooting up trash on purpose, I also have to wonder about a bunch of pseudo-terrorists of the Luddite variety wanting to crap-up space just because they hate technology, spy satellites, etc.

    The obvious problems are a) Some people probably said the same thing about the Wright brothers and b) People are going t

    • The chances of them all being on the same orbit as satellites, etc, is so remote when it comes to the possibility of things colliding with one other it's not really worth considering.

      Also, most if not all of the things being shot up into space aren't going to stay in a stable orbit, and will likely burn up on re-entry so they should be "self-disposing".

  • in how you use the heat. Focus the suns rays on a pipe with water running through it and then what? I built a solar air heater using popcans for $80 and use it during the summer to heat water and during the winter it heats and recirculates air in the house. Here is a solar heater someone else built (same thing here) http://www.fieldlines.com/story/2007/8/20/124818/249 [fieldlines.com]
  • If the budget is 999 pounds (which is, what, 2000 bucks I think?) to access space, then now is the time to release the warp field technology I've been perfecting in my lab. I'll be the dude who changes the world when some folks from the planet Vulcan pass by Saturn and notice my warp-speed ship flying towards some darn place or another. I think 999 pounds is a typo. There's no possible way, hot air balloon or not.
  • Just as we're making some progress with the atmosphere, the N-Prize comes along to encourage any idiot with 1k quid to fire an unguided projectile into the same part of space where multi-billion-dollar satellites are passing by at relative speeds of over 20,000 mph.

    If a major satellite exploded and much of the shrapnel remained in orbit, in time it would collide with another major satellite, creating more shrapnel, before you know it satellites become unfeasible, and we step back several decades in a few hu

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      "And here's the 2-2 pitch, oooh boy, Johnson's been decapitated by a fallen solar panel, drat the luck. Leiter steps in in relief. Brought to you in ultra-low def by Comcast."

  • by harlows_monkeys (106428) on Sunday July 27, 2008 @08:38PM (#24362653) Homepage
    How about rocket-assisted balloons? That would probably be a lot of fun, too.
  • In his short story, "Red Star, Winter Orbit" William Gibson writes,

    Korolev stared at the man, who had the blundering, careless look of someone drunk on freedom since birth. "But you don't even have a launchpad," he said.
    "Launchpad?" the man said, laughing. "What we do, we haul these surplus booster engines up the cables to the balloons, drop 'em, and fire 'em in midair."
    "That's insane," Korolev said.
    "Fot us here didn't it?"
    Korolev nodded. If this was all a dream, it was a very

  • Didn't he use it to get out of that building in China?

    Fine, you want content? Seesh.

    Cheap access to space is good, but maybe this is too cheap. We don't just let any dude buy and fly a plane, a car, or even a boat. Except space is different: you're so high up that if you fuck up it can affect people literally halfway around the world.

    Just look at the pain it is to travel between countries by plane. Governments will be foaming at the mouth if this ever turns into something useful (OMG MISSLES) and we can bar

  • Hydrogen is strange stuff, you can use it as a fuel and in a balloon.

    So get an enormous hydrogen balloon and use it to lift another balloon of oxygen plus a rocket engine.

    Use the rocket engine to increase the orbital velocity of the rockoon, as the orbital velocity increases, the whole kit and caboodle would spiral outwards.

    I am not a rocket scientist nor a mathematician, so I would ask all those far cleverer than me, how big would the hydrogen balloon have to be, to get the whole thing to geostation

  •       More precisely "Songs from the Stars" by Norman Spinrad.

          Any earlier reference?

    --
    El Guerrero del Interfaz

"Let every man teach his son, teach his daughter, that labor is honorable." -- Robert G. Ingersoll

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