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Space Technology

Can Commercial Space Tech Get Off the Ground? 133

Posted by Soulskill
from the better-question-will-it-stay-off-the-ground dept.
coondoggie writes "While NASA's commercial partners such as SpaceX and Orbital have made steady progress in developing space cargo transportation technology, they have recently fallen behind their development schedules. Combine that with the fact that the most critical steps lie ahead, including successfully launching new vehicles and completing integration with the space station, and you have a hole that will be tough to climb out of. Those were the two main conclusions of a Government Accountability Office report (PDF) on the status of the commercial space world this week. The GAO went on to say that after the planned retirement of the space shuttle in 2010, NASA will face a cargo resupply shortfall for the International Space Station of approximately 40 metric tons between 2010 and 2015." Speaking of SpaceX, reader Matt_dk sends along an update on the company's Falcon 9 flight efforts. "Six of the nine first stage flight engines have completed acceptance testing and all nine flight engines are on schedule to complete acceptance testing by mid-July."
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Can Commercial Space Tech Get Off the Ground?

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  • Answer: (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @08:34AM (#28360707)

    Yes.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Get all of your dumb space puns out of the way here

      It depends. Can the Commercial Space Technology get enough momentum to support the project? Can the companies behind these projects meet the orbiting budgets required to fund such a task? One needs to fuel the explosive innovation of space travel. Setting up commercial space technology is exactly rocket science, you know. Only dedication and large amounts of money can get these projects off of the launch pad.

      I think part of the limitation is the atmosphere

    • If you believe that, I have an asteroid belt you may be interested in purchasing.

      (Said entirely for comic effect... I actually think commercial space tech will do just fine. So. How about $70 trillion for that asteroid belt? It's hardly used and only a few billion years old.)

      • No, it's a logically impeccable statement to say that commercial space tech. can get off the ground. If it doesn't then it must be something else entirely.

    • Ah, but for more than 37 seconds? And about that great ball of fire....

  • The problems... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Darkness404 (1287218) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @08:34AM (#28360711)
    The main problems are that NASA because of "security reasons" can't give out a lot of the taxpayer funded research that would help these companies get off the ground. So, what took NASA many years to do doesn't have to be reinvented by a private company. Really, the fact that any private craft could get into space would have been a remarkable feat just thirty or forty years ago.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Your quotes around security reasons are probably unwarranted. The research in question could probably also be used to create ICBMs. At least that's the only reason that would seem justified.

      • by Bakkster (1529253)

        Your quotes around security reasons are probably unwarranted. The research in question could probably also be used to create ICBMs. At least that's the only reason that would seem justified.

        ICBMs, spy satellites, and anti-satellite weapons will all have similar launch systems, exactly what we use to get humans into space. Filtering down, the individual propulsion techniques could be used in nearly any missile or rocket, as well as adapted for general explosives. Not something we'd want falling into the hands of a rogue state, especially one with nuclear capabilities. Imagine if North Korea's missile launch hadn't been a failure; that's why we don't want this kind of information getting out.

      • But if it's clear that civilians have the ability to engineer their own craft given time anyway, that would also mean they could develop ICBMs too. So really, in the end, this is only a delay tactic, and as I see it the con's outweigh the pro's.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      So, what you're saying is private industry can't work without government assistance. Forget the ideological orgasms over these projects. The fact is they're riding on some long coat tails to get into space, and we all know how exponentially difficult it is to progress to the next steps in their grand plans. I'm waiting for the day the US "licenses" the Space Shuttle to a private company, gives them subsidies as large as our Space Shuttle budget, then having to listen to the "I drink your milkshake" ranti
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by MightyYar (622222)

        So, what you're saying is private industry can't work without government assistance.

        That's not what he said... I only saw him imply that we are entitled to the knowledge that NASA spends our money to acquire.

        I'm not sure I agree with that, but that's all I get out of his comment.

        • And, that knowledge is a national security asset as we have plenty of enemies out there with nukes but without the rocket technology to deploy them intercontinentally. My point is, free marketers should follow their ideology and expect private industry to figure it out without government intervention.
          • by MightyYar (622222)

            I think I agree with you, and that certain NASA assets should be treated exactly like their equivalent DOD assets. We buy security with taxpayer dollars as well as knowledge.

            I just think you are barking up the wrong tree with the free market stuff in this particular thread... the parent wasn't even alluding to that.

      • by Korin43 (881732)
        It would hardly be private industry if they're receiving money from the government.
    • Re:The problems... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by FleaPlus (6935) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @11:37AM (#28362847) Journal

      The main problems are that NASA because of "security reasons" can't give out a lot of the taxpayer funded research that would help these companies get off the ground. So, what took NASA many years to do doesn't have to be reinvented by a private company.

      The bigger problem with "security reasons" that commercial companies like SpaceX has is with things like ITAR export restrictions; these are the same regulations older slashdotter might remember from the late 90s, where strong encryption was regarded as a munition as people were tattooing encryption code to themselves along with the text "this man is a munition." [treachery.net] A recent example is with SpaceX's delayed launch of Malaysia's RazakSat satellite [hobbyspace.com]:

      Technicians discovered the satellite and the Falcon 1 upper stage rocket share a nearly identical vibrational mode, which could set up a damaging resonance. SpaceX is bound by ITAR restrictions from assisting with any technical problems on the foreign-owned payload, so the company delayed the launch to add some vibration isolation equipment between the rocketâ(TM)s upper stage and the payload adapter.

      "The easiest thing would actually be to make some adjustment to the satellite . . . but that's not allowed," Musk says.

      Also, if anything, reinventing from the ground up is a big part of why SpaceX has been able to get costs as low as they have. Instead of designing their rockets to satisfy the politicians' fetish for spreading assembly over key congressional districts across the country and the engineers' fetish for maximizing performance at the cost of all else, SpaceX has been able to design their system from the get-go to minimize production costs, minimize the size of their ground crew (SpaceX Falcon I just needs something like 20 personnel at the launch site, instead of the 100 or so needed for EELVs), and maximize potential reusability.

  • I really hope so (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mc1138 (718275) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @08:42AM (#28360789) Homepage
    Ultimately it's going to be commercial factors that help drive human space exploration. While a "Star Trek" universe where the sole mission is to go out and explore is a great idea, right now economic factors will need to be behind the wheel, and getting some commercial ventures off the ground will help drive up space flight.
    • by NewbieProgrammerMan (558327) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @09:08AM (#28361061)

      "You wanna know my vision? Dollar signs! Money! You think i want to go to the stars? I don't even like to fly!" - Zefram Cochrane

    • If it's one thing I know about the monetization of space its that the end result involves a xenomorph in your gullet and some son-of-a-bitch named Burke getting away with it by sabotaging certain freezers on the way home.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Itchyeyes (908311)

      Very true. The thing to keep in mind though, is that economic issues are more or less a proxy for where society needs resources and skills the most. There are a lot of people who would like to see private space flight succeed for no other reason than "because it's cool". But society doesn't really place much value on "because it's cool", at least not enough to send things like engineers who might otherwise have been working on projects like climate change or new energy sources to go work somewhere else.

      T

    • by syousef (465911)

      Ultimately it's going to be commercial factors that help drive human space exploration. While a "Star Trek" universe where the sole mission is to go out and explore is a great idea, right now economic factors will need to be behind the wheel, and getting some commercial ventures off the ground will help drive up space flight.

      How appropriate this comment should be made the same morning I was watching an episode of Enterprise from season 1 called Acquisition, in which the Ferengi knock out the crew and try to

  • by cinnamon colbert (732724) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @08:42AM (#28360793) Journal

    You have to get to very high velocity - that implies a lot of fuel, and very exspensive craft that can survive the high velocity
    It's hard to do repair, so you have to spend a lot for high reliability equipment
    Space is a harsh environment - you have temperature extremes, radiation, vacumn welding

    many people get the low gravity equivalent of car sickness

    although it is not publicized by nasa, in low gravity, liquid containment - like when you go to the bathroom - is difficult;' as a result, there is a lot of intestinal illness in space (think about that !)

    The take home is that space is, and always will be, very $ relative to ground; therefore there has to be some compelling reason to go to space.
    Sadly, there are few compelling reasons.

    I have been doing biotech high technology startups for 20+years, and aside from the .dom boom era, there is very little money or enthusiasm for gee wiz technology

    • You have to get to very high velocity

      Not for all purposes. You only need fuel for acceleration, plus some missions might not be particularly time critical. Robotic mineral mining for example.

      • Here we go again (Score:3, Insightful)

        by sean.peters (568334)

        Geez, here we go again.

        • What are you going to mine in space that you can't get more cheaply on earth? Asteroids, the moon, etc, are made of iron, nickel and silicates. So is the earth.
        • "Robotic mining"? Well, then we only have to figure out how to build robotic miners. And ore processors. And transportation back to the earth (that doesn't burn up the cargo). And get all that into space for less cost than we can just dig up the same thing on earth.

        Yes, the bottom line is that getting to space is really, REAL

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by LWATCDR (28044)

          Helium 3.
          If it actually works well as a fuel for fusion then it would be valuable and light enough to be worth mining on the moon.
          Un less the Polywell Fusor works then we will just use Boron.

          • by Abcd1234 (188840)

            Helium 3.
            If it actually works well as a fuel for fusion

            So... *if* it can be used... in a mythical device that has yet to be invented (no one is doing He3 fusion), *then* space travel will be economically feasible.

            Uhuh.

            Let's just say I won't be holding my breath.

            • by LWATCDR (28044)

              "So... *if* it can be used... in a mythical device that has yet to be invented (no one is doing He3 fusion), *then* space travel will be economically feasible."
              No mining will be. Many activities are all ready economically feasible. Remote sensing, communications and so on.
              But yes there are a lot of ifs when it comes to He3 that is why I put them in.

              • by Rei (128717)

                I really don't get the notion of He3 mining on the moon.

                Let's just ignore for the moment that we have no practical way of burning it. Is it really useful to mine something from the freaking moon just to reduce a neutron flux? And if we can burn He3, we can probably scale all the way up to burn boron, which is a better fuel and readily available here on Earth. And even on the moon, He3 is rare -- tens of parts per billion, overwhelmed orders of magnitude over by regular helium. And, we can make He3 right

                • by djp928 (516044)

                  Radio telescopes on the lunar far side are shielded from the radio background noise from the Earth. Among other things, it's probably the best place in the solar system to listen for messages from E.T.

                  • by Rei (128717)

                    Radio telescopes on the lunar far side are shielded from the radio background noise from the Earth.

                    So are orbiting radio telescopes at the Earth-Moon L2 point. Care to try again?

                    • by djp928 (516044)

                      Actually, it's unclear whether the Earth-Moon L2 is within the moon's cone of "radio silence". And anyway, L2 is unstable and requires constant station keeping. The moon is a big hunk of rock. Part of the attraction is that you can set up large arrays on the surface and they don't ever drift apart from each other or have any need of constant course correction to keep them a known distance apart. Plus, the lunar far side is also blocked from the Sun for two solid weeks at a time, which also eliminates an

                    • by Rei (128717)

                      And anyway, L2 is unstable and requires constant station keeping.

                      Minimal.

                      they don't ever drift apart from each other

                      Flying in formation is a solved problem.

                      The moon is a big hunk of rock.

                      Comprising a gravity well covered in nasty electrostatic dust and exerting a force on any structures, requiring them to have dramatically greater structural integrity.

                      Plus, the lunar far side is also blocked from the Sun for two solid weeks at a time, which also eliminates another big source of radio noise.

                      This can also be

                    • by djp928 (516044)

                      You didn't even read that whole paper, did you?

                      It talks almost exclusively about optical and infrared telescopes, and concludes that the lunar surface is not optimal for them, for the reasons you cited. But I was never arguing for optical 'scopes there. You do know the difference between an optical telescope and a radio telescope, right?

                      But near the end, it asks the question of what kind of astronomy WOULD benefit from lunar surface siting:

                      "One exciting idea reviewed in the workshop is the use of the Moon

                    • by Rei (128717)

                      The paper talked about optical, infrared, *and* radio telescopes. Most of the discussion was about scopes in general -- thermal deformation, gravity deformation, field of view, difficulty of aiming, etc -- things which you refuse to comment on. You've also refused to comment on the insidious nature of moon dust on machinery and the moon's ionosphere.

                      And no, it did not say that the *only* free-space alternative is to send a scope far away; it said that was a possibility.. And what is wrong with spacecraft

                    • by djp928 (516044)

                      Why are you so butt-hurt over this, anyway? Your own evidence supports the idea of putting radio telescopes on the lunar far side. Why do I have to continue to convince you?

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Yvanhoe (564877)
          Space based solar power is, in my opinion, the valuable resource that is up there. Always on, no weather problems, no geopolitical troubles.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Rei (128717)

            If you'll pardon the pun, I wouldn't hold my breath. On earth, space for solar power means practically free desert land. In orbit, it means thousands of dollars per kilogram of launch costs, and correspondingly (pardon the pun again) astronomical installation and maintenance costs. I don't see how it'd be remotely possible to make up for that extreme difference simply because you get more sunlight. And this isn't even counting the transmission challenges and losses, micrometeorite/radiation damage (cell

            • by Yvanhoe (564877)
              Well pardon the pun as well, but maintenance will be possible remotely. If I remember correctly we have 4 times more solar power for the same area in orbit vs equatorial illumination. I am not sure the challenges of bringing a megawatt from the Sahara to Europe are smaller than bringing it from orbit.

              Note as well that a kilogram of solar cells is a lot of surface, that micrometeorite and radiation damage are on par with desert storms and that a huge advantage of an orbit-based power plant is its ability
              • by Rei (128717)

                Well pardon the pun as well, but maintenance will be possible remotely.

                So you think NASA sends billion dollar service missions to Hubble for the fun of it? You think they put the ISS crew's lives on the lines with spacewalks because they get a kick out of it?

                Note as well that a kilogram of solar cells is a lot of surface

                Space-rated solar panels produce about 300W/kg. Not a lot. Even if you 10x it, that's nowhere close to enough. And the bigger you make it, the more you increase your other problems, like

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by hardburn (141468)

          There are metals that are very rare in the Earth's crust, but are extremely useful, like Platinum and Palladium. Any realistic plan for a hydrogen economy is going to need a lot of at least one of those metals, and those two are useful as catalysts in a lot of other chemical reactions, too.

          Say the hydrogen economy is a pipe dream and we should be making better Lithium batteries instead? Well, you've only just moved the problem around. Lithium production is unlikely to meet future demands for electric vehicl [meridian-int-res.com]

          • by Rei (128717)

            Say the hydrogen economy is a pipe dream and we should be making better Lithium batteries instead? Well, you've only just moved the problem around. Lithium production is unlikely to meet future demands for electric vehicles, even though it has an atomic number of 3 and is therefore fairly abundant in the universe at large.

            Nonsense [gas2.org].

            • by hardburn (141468)

              In short, the upper limit on most mineral resources is, for all practical purposes, unbounded, and more importantly, the scaling factor on such resources is toward geometric growth of reserves . . . This is the great lie of reserves figures; reserves figures for a resource reflect only upon the amount of that resource that can be produced at current prices with current technology.

              At some point, the amount of useful reserves in the Earth's crust is so low that it makes economic sense to go to an asteroid to get it instead. This can theoretically happen without any further development in robotics or launch costs.

              • by Rei (128717)

                Okay, I'll make you a deal: once we've exhausted all of the 238 trillion kilograms of lithium in our oceans -- or even, say, 10% of it -- I'll support going to asteroids to mine it. ;)

                • by hardburn (141468)

                  Can you go through that supply without killing the rest of the planet? There are externalities to consider here.

                  • by Rei (128717)

                    You think the world would notice if 10% of the lithium went missing from the oceans? Fine -- how about 1% of it?

                    It's essentially an inexhaustible source no matter how you cut it.

                    • by hardburn (141468)

                      The report I linked earlier [meridian-int-res.com] considers lithium processing from seawater. It concluded that if the flow rate of sea water were equivilient to the amount of world wide oil production and extract 100% of the lithium in the water, you could build the batteries for 45,000 GM Volts per year. That's not even an within an order of magnitude of GM's total sales. If we're going to see EVs take over, we're either going to need a lot better battery capacity or a much larger source of lithium.

                    • by Rei (128717)

                      It concluded that if the flow rate of sea water were equivilient to the amount of world wide oil production

                      Why on Earth would you make that ridiculous assumption? The flow rate of oil is to the flow rate of the world's oceans as a bacteria is to a blue whale.

                      They're setting up a straw man. Nobody is proposing to process lithium via oil refineries. Here's a random example for you: a first generation seawater lithium extraction process that costs $22-$32/kg [osti.gov] of lithium (versus $5-8/kg lithium carbonate from

            • by savuporo (658486)

              Counterpoint all you want, but look at how Japanese, Chinese and French auto- and battery makers are flocking to Bolivia to get a hold of their lithium salt fields.
              ( google news, bolivia, lithium )
              The thing is, while some resources may be abundant here or there ( like desert area in some parts of the world, or lithium fields in another ), nations and corporations would still be very glad to open up supplies of these resources that are not dependent on foreign governments, not controlled by anyone else and s

              • by Rei (128717)

                Counterpoint all you want, but look at how Japanese, Chinese and French auto- and battery makers are flocking to Bolivia to get a hold of their lithium salt fields.
                ( google news, bolivia, lithium )

                What, you think they'd rather get lithium for $25/kg from seawater than $5/kg from Bolivian brines? Duh they're going to go for the cheapest sources first. ;) The issue is not where it's cheapest; the issue is whether prices could ever rise high enough to make li-ion batteries unrealistic. And the answer to tha

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Dripdry (1062282)

          What can we get more easily?

          Let me count the ways:

          Hafnium, gallium, indium, dysprosium, neodymium, terbium... shall I go on? All the things that are running out *fast* (try 10 year supply left) which we need for things like cell phones, LCD monitors, and semiconductors.

          Many rare earth metals are contained in Near Earth Orbit asteroids. At least one of objects has been visited and was not terribly hard to land on.
          Robotic mining might not be *easy*, but we've landed and controlled a number of craft on Mars. I

        • You don't mine stuff in space to send to Earth. You mine stuff in space to build more stuff in space. If we can start building spacecraft and habitats without having to worry about pushing them out of a huge gravity well we have the potential to greatly expand our exploration and habitation of space.

          If we want intelligent life from Earth to survive in the long run, inevitably we need to move towards self-sufficient space colonies.

        • "Yes, the bottom line is that getting to space is really, REALLY expensive."

          .

          And getting stuff back to ground is fairly cheap. And doing stuff in space is even chaper. And the abundance of a. materials (mining as much have mentioned), b. energy (imagine 100% collection eff., 20% transport loss), and c. efficiency (compared to 10yrs from now when we'll need the advanced HVAC/Smart grid tech to keep us alive from Global Warming & pollution on the ground).

          .

          It's all about scale. Remember the costs arg

        • by savuporo (658486)

          Read up on the current fight between Japan and China for rare earth metals, also the rush for Bolivian lithium salt fields. Or look up on who is controlling the supply of most of platinum group metals.
          There are things called "strategic resources", and great economic powers sometime desire independent access to these, even at great cost.
          Chinese get that by the way, and securing access to new resources off earth is one of their main stated goals of space program.
          They are looking at the moon as a new continent

      • Just getting into low orbit requires ~24kmph, which (for me, anyway) seems very fast.

        • by MightyYar (622222)

          Love kilomiles, by the way :)

        • Just getting into low orbit requires ~24kmph, which (for me, anyway) seems very fast.

          Getting into orbit requires a lot more speed than 24 km/h. That's the speed of your average cyclist. To get into orbit you need to be getting into the 27,000 km/h range.
          • by MightyYar (622222)

            I believe the parent was using the delightful unit kilo-miles per hour :)

            In my experience, kilometers per hour is usually expressed as kph.

            Personally, I think it's bad form that he didn't say 8klph. That's 8 kilo-leagues per hour.

    • by hardburn (141468) <hardburn@@@wumpus-cave...net> on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @09:16AM (#28361153)

      The take home is that space is, and always will be, very $ relative to ground; therefore there has to be some compelling reason to go to space. Sadly, there are few compelling reasons.

      Next time you want to get a weather report, try doing it without relying on a source that bases it on satellite imagery. Next time you watch TV, do it on a channel that doesn't link to a satellite somewhere along the way. At least as far as unmanned space projects go, the economic debate was over a long time ago.

      Manned space flight is a different matter. Manned space flight is about the advancement of the species rather than any strictly economic viewpoint.

      • by geekoid (135745)

        Yes, you named the one compelling reason to go to space.
        This is why he said "there are few compelling reasons." and not "There are no compelling reasons"

        And Satellites are barely in space.

        Can you name any other economic reason besides Communication?

        Since the article is about commercial space flight, and not technological or advancement reasons, the poster is right. At this moment there are very few reasons to go into space.

        As for exploration, pushing technology, advancement od the species then , yes there a

    • by icebrain (944107) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @09:25AM (#28361277)

      The take home is that space is, and always will be, very $ relative to ground; therefore there has to be some compelling reason to go to space.
      Sadly, there are few compelling reasons.

      I am compelled to disagree with this.

      There are plenty of compelling reasons to go into space:

      Growth of the species - Humanity is expanding in population very quickly. Eventually, assuming that holds, the planet will reach the point where sustaining that population is impossible, even with advances in technology. Your choices, then, are either to limit/reduce the population (sterilization, limitations on childbearing, war, disease, organized extermination, etc) or expand off the planet. The second option seems a little more friendly and ethical.

      Survival of the species - There are several things which can cause the population to be essentially wiped out. Asteroid impacts, war, deadly pandemics, biowarfare (which I personally consider the greatest threat at the moment), and so on. It's possible that some may survive these things by digging deep underground, but I doubt enough infrastructure and population will survive to maintain society as we know it. The best long-term solution I can see is to expand off-planet and establish self-sustaining colonies. You don't keep all of your company's data and server hardware in one location, do you? The same should hold with humanity as a whole.

      Additional resources - This fits with the first point. There is only so much stuff available to us on this planet. Whether we use it all up, or decide to preserve it, we will eventually reach the point where we can't use any more. What are we to do at that point? Well, I see a whole bunch of stuff sitting up in space just waiting to be used. Now before anyone starts, I am not promoting the "strip earth bare and trash it, then move on" approach. Instead, I'm promoting the "let's make use of all those barren rocks out there so we don't have to trash earth" approach.

      Overall, unless we're going to take that self-ridiculing, defeatist position that humanity should draw down into a little ball and live the remainder of its existence shut in from the universe as a whole, like a pathetic and sick individual afraid to even get out of bed*, we will have to go into space eventually. It's just a matter of time. The only question is "when?"

      Some will argue that it's too expensive, that we should wait until we have better technology. But how will we get that technology in the first place? It doesn't just fall into your lap one afternoon; you have to work for it. Imagine if we'd decided 100 years ago that trying to develop airplanes was stupid, that airplanes at the time were too dangerous and impractical, and that we should wait until we had technology like the 777 oir A380... I'll tell you right now, we probably wouldn't be to that point for a couple hundred more years. You don't learn how to build entirely new stuff or do new things by sitting around dreaming about it or making powerpoint charts... you learn by doing that stuff as best you can, learning from your mistakes, and doing it again. Lather, rinse, repeat.

      Yes, doing it is expensive. But it's worth it. The only reason it seems like it's not is that the payoff takes a little longer to come. Corporations don't undertake it because the shareholders probably won't see the benefit within their lifetimes. Governments don't do it because they don't think beyond the next election. Joe Public doesn't think about it because his attention span lasts for 20 seconds and all he's interested in is what keeps him entertained. The benefit is there, but it might be a few generations before it's realized.

      Remember, too, that money spent on developing this stuff isn't just launched away into the sun or something. It stays on earth, paying the engineers and mechanics and managagers (spit) that work on it. It fosters a need for more engineers and mechanics, driving bet

      • The "growth" argument is deeply flawed. The problem... is the birthrate. A .4% annual growth rate implies 4000+ more people being born then dying every *hour* when there's 10 billion people on the planet. To use space expansion to alleviate growth, therefor, you'd have to send thousands of people off every hour of every day... and I don't ever see that happening.

        The other two are better, of course.
        • by hardburn (141468)

          It's probably irrelevent, anyway. Developed nations are having trouble keeping their birthrates above the replacement rate. This is probably a good thing in the long run, but there are problems with this in the short run, such as caring for an ageing population.

          The harsh reality of undeveloped nations is that if they can't keep their birthrates under control, then they'll see a population explosion, followed by a crash due to starvation, disease, and wars over limited resources.

      • by geekoid (135745)

        None of which is a compelling reason for commercial space flight.

        You do remember what this thread is about, right?
          Ironically you list would constitute as 'few'; which is what he said.
        Space flight will not help with population growth unless you have away to move people off the planet as fast as it is growing.

    • by FleaPlus (6935)

      You have to get to very high velocity - that implies a lot of fuel, and very exspensive craft that can survive the high velocity

      Although most people believe (somewhat reasonably) that the price of fuel is a big part of the cost of spaceflight, but in actuality it's just about 1% of the total cost. The cost of the hardware itself also tends to be minor compared to the cost of paying all the personnel on the ground to put together and maintain the spacecraft.

      • it is not the relative cost that matters, but the aboslute cost.
        If space is (on some scale) 1,000X as costly as ground, then if fuel is only 1% it is a huge cost,relative to ground

  • by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @08:59AM (#28360975)

    If the government sees the gravity of the situation, the industry might get a boost.

    The problem is that the analysts make it sounds like industry is shooting for the moon, and that makes financiers look at the private industry folks like they're from Mars.

    Heaven forbid that multiple governments are needed to fund a private endeavor. It could force the executives into shuttle diplomacy.

  • by Fished (574624) <amphigory AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @09:36AM (#28361383)

    Just to clarify, if you RTFA you will find that SpaceX has completed all the milestones so far on time, and they are looking at a 2-4 month schedule slip on future milestones. Now, obviously we'd much rather not have the schedule slip, but in the world of NASA contracting that is like... totally nothing. I have to say that, as a confirmed space nut, SpaceX really impresses me. If they manage to deliver on a third of what they're talking about, they'll completely change the game--and they've done enough truly innovative stuff already that I think they might actually deliver on most of it in the long run.

    Imagine a fully reusable launch vehicle, and a mostly reusable orbiter, making access to LEO or GTO cost in the hundreds of dollars per lb., instead of thousands... that's what Elon Musk is talking about in the long run, and I think he just might actually pull it off.

    • by Fished (574624)
      Just a point of clarification--on reviewing my wording, it appeared that I might have made it sound like I was affiliate with SpaceX. I'm not affiliated with them in any way (I'm a part-time pastor and full-time technology consultant in Virginia.)
    • Just to clarify, if you RTFA you will find that SpaceX has completed all the milestones so far on time

      Actually, if you study the history of their programs, they are years behind where they originally planned to be.

      Space fans in general have *very* selective memories. Jam yesterday, and jam tommorow - but the lack of jam today goes unnoticed.

      I have to say that, as a confirmed space nut, SpaceX really impresses me.

      No offense, but after decades of watching the space 'nut' community, many are i

      • by Fished (574624)
        I was referring specifically to the COTS contract when I made reference to milestones. As for the rest... look, it's impressive for a privately funded vehicle to launch at all. Yes, getting to space is hard, but SpaceX is actually doing it, and if you compare their record to the record of the "traditional" space contractors they're doing it very well. So chill out with the relentless negativity.
        • As for the rest... look, it's impressive for a privately funded vehicle to launch at all.

          Why? It's not like the engineering is different for government vs. privately funded. The only difference is who pays the bills (and taxpayers have footed a non trivial amount of SpaceX's bills).

          Yes, getting to space is hard, but SpaceX is actually doing it

          No, SpaceX is not actually 'doing it', they've done it - *once*. You can't draw a curve through a single point. The long road to space is already littered

          • Huh? No currently flying booster has a success rate as abysmal as the Falcon I. The only thing SpaceX is doing as well as the "traditional" contractors is putting a bright face on an ongoing series of delays and failures. And you, like most of the rest of the space fanboi community, have swallowed the spin, hook, line, and sinker.

            Usually accidents in a new launch vehicle happen at its inception, or when there are vehicle upgrades. This was indeed the issue with the Falcon 1 launches. In the last failure t

      • They haven't even delivered on their simplest of vehicles.

        Wrong. The contract called for a successful flight. There was a successful flight. The contract delivery occurred. It's pretty simple.

        Their flight record is abysmal...

        Wrong. One partially successful flight and one completely successful flight in three launches of a brand new vehicle is completely normal, historically. Looking at actual flight statistics for inexperienced manufacturers reveals 70% experienced a failure in the first two flights. Even an experienced manufacturer that has built rockets before has a 20% failure rate in t

        • You're either stupid, a liar, or both.

          No, I'm someone who is actually conversant with the facts and comfortable with facing the truth. You are neither of those.

          For example, you confuse 'full flight fidelity' with 'flight article'. They are not synonyms. In fact, attaching the word 'fidelity' (or 'qualification') is an explicit statement that it is *not* flight hardware.

          Your word choices are overwhelmingly negative in connotation. I smell either a Lockheed/Boeing shill or a NASA Constellation part

          • by rmstar (114746)

            I heard somewhere that the Merlin engine was the first of this size to be build and designed from scratch in, like, 40 years. Is that not true either? (I don't want to take part in this heated debate - I am really just wondering :-) )

            On another note, and since you actually seem to know this stuff: why is it so damn hard to build big rockets that work reliably?

            • I heard somewhere that the Merlin engine was the first of this size to be build and designed from scratch in, like, 40 years. Is that not true either?

              I think that's the case.

              On another note, and since you actually seem to know this stuff: why is it so damn hard to build big rockets that work reliably?

              It really boils down to two things; a) engineering conservatism - what we've done so fat mostly works and nobody really raises a stink, and b) the extremely low total number of design generation

          • Hi guys...just had to pop in on this lively discussion. How about some actual references to temper things a bit?
            Link to the wayback machine for spacex's website in 2004ish http://web.archive.org/web/20040520043224/http://spacex.com/ [archive.org] If you compare that with the actual launch dates on the current version of the website, you will see that their time line did slip by about 2 years along the way. So Mr. Negative does have some ground to stand on.
            On the other hand, 2 years slippage of the schedule does no
            • So Mr. Negative does have some ground to stand on.

              That's "Mr. Factual" to you mate.

              On the other hand, 2 years slippage of the schedule does not a death of an industry make.

              I've never claimed it does - merely pointed out that the optimism of many space 'fans' is unsupported by the record to date. Unlike them, I predict the future based on facts rather than wishful thinking. In the space fanboi community, willingness to address the facts is a rare quality and doesn't fit into their 'cheerlea

    • by FleaPlus (6935)

      Just to clarify, if you RTFA you will find that SpaceX has completed all the milestones so far on time, and they are looking at a 2-4 month schedule slip on future milestones. Now, obviously we'd much rather not have the schedule slip, but in the world of NASA contracting that is like... totally nothing. I have to say that, as a confirmed space nut, SpaceX really impresses me.

      It's also worth comparing to something like NASA's Ares I launcher, which has projected costs upwards of $40 billion and just recently announced a schedule slip of 18 months; many are doubtful that even limitless funding and time would enable it to work around its fundamental design faults.

      By comparison, the entire COTS program (both SpaceX and Orbital combined) has a total budget of less than $500 million (yes, almost 100x less than the Ares I despite having similar capabilities). Having a schedule slip of

  • Over the decades eleven countries [wikipedia.org] have built rockets and orbited satellites. Private companies capabilities must be approaching the smaller countries by now.
  • Scaled Composites (Score:3, Interesting)

    by secondhand_Buddah (906643) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {haddub.dnahdnoces}> on Wednesday June 17, 2009 @10:45AM (#28362189) Homepage Journal
    In this TED talk http://www.ted.com/talks/burt_rutan_sees_the_future_of_space.html [ted.com] , Burt Rutan makes a very compelling argument for the Commercialised space industry.
    • by QuantumG (50515) *

      1. TED Talk == 99% bullshit.
      2. Burt Rutan == 99% bullshit.
      3. Virgin Galactic == schedule slips and creeping featurism..
      4. The X-Prize, he stole it.

      It has been almost 5 years.. SpaceShipTwo hasn't even been drop tested. Virgin Galactic is quickly approaching "bad investment" status. No paying customer has flown in a sub-orbital vehicle. Passengers are asking for the booking fees back. This is not what the X-Prize was for.

      And all this for a vehicle that has worse performance than the X-15.. which was reti

      • You obviously didn't bother to watch the talk. Sure Burt is a bit of a cowboy, but so what. The point of the talk was that there has been no innovation in this for about 30 years, and that private industry is having to do all of this research so that they can own it.
        They don't have the limitless budget that NASA had during the cold war, and it isn't about waving dicks at each other either - its about building re-usable vehicles that are commercially viable (for some of the companies anyway).
        • by QuantumG (50515) *

          I watched the video when it was posted dude.. it's over 3 years old. This stuff might be new to you but it's all the same old bullshit to the rest of us.

          It's about Rutan getting money out of investors so he can play with his planes.

          • Yeah I watched it a while ago too. The content is still relevant and that doesn't change the fact that these are the guys that are shaping commercial space flight.
            • by QuantumG (50515) *

              hehe.. you're on crack.. seriously. Do you not know the difference between suborbital and orbital? Rutan isn't shaping shit.. 'cept maybe his own ego.

              Bigelow has flown more impressive hardware.

              • I'm not specifically talking about Rutan - I am talking about the industry as a whole. I agree that Bigelow has done some pretty impressive stuff. I particularly like his concept of inflatable spaceships/space platforms.
                Maybe realistically re-usable orbital ships are still 20 years away? Who really knows. The point is however that unless these companies actually do, we won't actually progress.
  • The article subject line is misleading. One thing is certain, the commercial space business will not go back to where it came from, the blossoming has passed the point of no return. Given time, it will get off the ground. Given time, pigs will fly too, and birds will breathe nitrogen.

  • It's rare to see people in business with a passion for doing something -- something other than making obscene piles of cash, that is. In this environment, it's all about the fast buck and fuck the rest. Complain all you want about government inefficiency and waste, they seem to be the only ones with pockets deep enough and time-frames long enough to contemplate truly big projects. Something like the Panama Canal, it needed a government to make it happen; it also needed a government's military resources to k

  • by J05H (5625)

    Yes, new.space can succeed. It will require more than just NASA's cash to happen. It will require new payloads and new businesses to utilize these launchers.

    Commercial/semi-commercial launchers such as Ariane, Proton, Delta, Atlas, Zenit, Pegasus etc have been flying commercial communications and imaging satellites for decades. The question is whether new types of businesses can emerge to create new markets for more launches.

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