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Space Transportation Technology

Spaceport America Begins Construction 95

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the scum-and-villainy-to-be-added-later dept.
eldavojohn writes "While a lot of people are wondering if commercial spaceflight will ever make it, Spaceport America is holding its groundbreaking ceremony today. You can watch it live at their site at 11am MST. The spaceport is aiming for a diverse clientele, including the delivery of small national security purpose satellites into Earth orbit as well as research and development for scientific purposes. After getting their FAA license and securing funding, the 27 square mile development project has officially begun. The target date for completion is the end of 2010 — let's all hope for success in the milestone goal!"
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Spaceport America Begins Construction

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  • by vertinox (846076) on Friday June 19, 2009 @03:37PM (#28394263)

    Personally, I have only seen one satellite launch as a kid when visiting Florida and I wouldn't mind coming by to gawk at any launches they may have. ;)

    • by Chris Burke (6130)

      Well I've never seen a rocket launch in person, but I'd imagine that even if they won't let you inside you could still park on public property near enough to get a decent view.

      But hey publicity is a good thing so I would bet they have an official visitor's viewing area.

      • and hey, if the rocket thing falls through, they can still build roller coasters and turn it into a space themed tourist draw!

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Dr. Zim (21278)

        Considering that I can see the shuttle launch and I live in Tampa (~100 miles from KSC) and they only have 27 square miles, which if the pad were in the center would put you 5.something miles from the pad, you'll probably get a pretty good show.

        • by Chris Burke (6130)

          I've never seen a shuttle launch (Busch Gardens is nice though :), but I once drove past the "Future Location of Spaceport America!". The highway in NM was raised up above the large flat valley with mountains on the other side. Anywhere in that valley they put the pads, you could park on the side of the highway and watch easily.

          On the topic of shuttle launches, a friend of mine is going to Florida specifically to see a shuttle launch (since there won't be many more). This got me thinking about something

    • by rwade (131726) on Friday June 19, 2009 @03:47PM (#28394425)

      The State of New Mexico did provide public funding (not just financing, but funding) to the Spaceport, so I would presume that it would be a pretty big deal to wall it off. Then again, it is not unprecedented for projects to be funded with public funds with no or limited free or cheap access to the public:

      -- convention centers
      -- ports
      -- federal buildings
      -- city hall

      I'm not saying it's wrong to not provide access, but such limitations may be difficult to defend.

      • by SydShamino (547793) on Friday June 19, 2009 @04:37PM (#28395341)

        They aren't that stupid. Most officials recognize that people like to view major equipment like this.

        The restriction of non-travelers in airports has made it difficult to spend time watching airplanes land and take off. Rather than ignore this, airports (like DFW) have been adding viewing decks available to those outside security. You may have to watch through glass or through a screen fence, but you'll be able to sit and enjoy your pasttime.

        If they do it for airplanes, they'll do it for rockets and spaceships.

      • All of those items are "necessary" for the country to function, with the exception of the convention center, though that is more accessible than the others. Most people don't expect to gain all access to a courthouse or federal building.

        A Spaceport is really pushing that line of "necessary" spending by the government, though I can see the argument for it. It's better to make something like that a little more accessible so the taxpayers don't whine as much.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mcgrew (92797)

      I saw every one of the shuttle launches until Challenger blew up. I'd moved back to Illinois by then.

      I loved watching those things take off, especially if I could drive to the cape and see it close up. Man, but those things are LOUD. I thought I was going to miss one as I was visiting my mom in Tampa, but it was a night liftoff and it was still visible.

      Seeing rocket launches is one of the things I miss about Florida. If anyone reading this gets a chance to see one, do so! Damned impressive.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I'm opening the first transdimensionalpanuniversalparallelworlds ... port.

      Now you don't have to muck about with all the tedious travel preparations when visiting "New-Earth 4.59" - you can just sit back and let us do the hard work for you. BTW - can I petition the govt for some of that shovel-ready money for this project? I'm going to need to borrow California's National Ignition Facility too. And a roll of duct tape.

  • Back in the 1990s, one of the most realistic-seeming depictions of the rise of private spacefaring was Michael Fynn's future history beginning with Firestar [amazon.com] . Flynn made it seem as if the biggest obstacle towards getting into space was not gravity and fuel costs as much as government hassles. If Spaceport America has successfully dealt with the FAA, then I would like to think that things are looking up from here (though Flynn suggested companies like FedEx would massively support the endeavour, which seems unlikely now in the age of the internet).
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Yvan256 (722131)

      In the age of the commercial internet, we need shipping companies such as FedEx more than ever.

      • by CRCulver (715279)
        While shipping companies are important, there's no real need for them to expand into space. Who is willing to pay the enormous costs of getting a package delivered anywhere on Earth in a few hours by going into orbit, when they could just wait a bit longer and get it for remarkably cheap?
        • by Tangent128 (1112197) on Friday June 19, 2009 @04:14PM (#28394927)
          They used the same reasoning to explain why nobody would ever pay for airplane-facilitated overnight delivery. People are impatient.
        • by camperdave (969942) on Friday June 19, 2009 @04:37PM (#28395343) Journal
          Who is willing to pay the enormous costs of getting a package delivered anywhere on Earth in a few hours by going into orbit, when they could just wait a bit longer and get it for remarkably cheap?

          There's a compatible donor heart for your daughter, but it's on the other side of the planet. We need to start surgery in four hours, or she'll die. We could have the heart here in two hours by rocket, or we could save you a bundle by using our overnight air service.
          • by Hogwash McFly (678207) on Friday June 19, 2009 @04:53PM (#28395585)

            You forgot the rest:

            Doctor: "But oh, wait, I forgot, this is the future where we deliver stuff by space rockets. What does your daughter prefer, sir, this ultra-reliable robotic heart, or the genetically-compatible one growing in the vat next door?"

            • by Chris Burke (6130)

              Good lord! What kind of future-doctor forgets they live in the future?! That doctor should be investigated; they might be on the sauce.

              Oh, and ultra-reliable is not good enough. I have platinum card club member insurance -- get my daughter the Ludicrous-Reliable robot heart!

              And laser eyes. I know insurance doesn't cover it, I've got the cash. Better for both of us if Uncle Sam doesn't know, capiche?

          • by dwywit (1109409)
            It'd be interesting to see just what affect a multi-G launch and flaming re-entry would do to that donor heart :-)
            • If you immerse the heart in water (or a saline solution), then the buoyant effects should counter the g forces. Also, a sub-orbital re-entry is a lot less strenuous than a re-entry from orbit. You don't have to shed nearly as much momentum because you're not getting anywhere near orbital speeds.
          • So organ harvesting and trafficking will flourish?

    • by qortra (591818) on Friday June 19, 2009 @03:55PM (#28394575)

      Flynn made it seem as if the biggest obstacle towards getting into space was not gravity and fuel costs as much as government hassles.

      That was probably an excellent prediction, and with a publication date of 1997, he didn't even access to the largest hassle precipitating event of all time - 9.11. Think of all the hassle that you have to go through for sub-orbital vessels these days, and multiply that by 10. I bet that spacecraft will be seen by many politicians as profoundly dangerous.

      • by seramar (655396)

        I bet that spacecraft will be seen by many politicians as profoundly dangerous.

        And therefore, profitable.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Chris Burke (6130)

      Flynn made it seem as if the biggest obstacle towards getting into space was not gravity and fuel costs as much as government hassles.

      While there is surely some insight to the idea, ultimately governments can and do change (for a wide variety of meanings of the word) over the course of only a few years, while the minimum energy required to reach orbit is unlikely to change on any practical time scale. So sure, when you aren't even allowed to get off the ground the government seems like the biggest obstacle

      • by icebrain (944107)

        Getting enough energy to achieve orbit is merely a matter of money and engineering. You know it's solvable, it just takes work.

        Government red tape is another matter, because governments (particularly bureaucracies like the FAA and elected officials) tend to act in irrational ways. Convincing them to allow $activity can be quite hard, if not impossible.

        I'd argue that, even bigger than government, humanity's shortsightedness is probably an obstacle. Nobody wants to invest in space, because they aren't goin

        • by Chris Burke (6130)

          "Matter of the money" is exactly the problem. Sure we know how to get to orbit. Done it plenty of times. It's getting there economically that's the problem, and one that isn't going to go away because even as the FAA changes and starts licensing various privately funded space companies, the PE + KE needed to orbit the earth aren't going to change barring big chunks of the earth going missing.

          Red Tape may seem like the "impossible" obstacle, but once you've cut it, once the system has changed, then the ob

          • by FleaPlus (6935)

            It's getting there economically that's the problem, and one that isn't going to go away because even as the FAA changes and starts licensing various privately funded space companies, the PE + KE needed to orbit the earth aren't going to change barring big chunks of the earth going missing.

            As I've mentioned in another comment, that PE+KE cost is just about 1% of the total cost of getting to orbit on a contemporary rocket.

            • by Chris Burke (6130)

              I'm not talking about just the energy itself I'm also talking about the mechanism by which to impart that energy to the spacecraft. Rockets are not cheap ways to lift humans or large amounts of cargo. Going into space is a tough and still expensive problem even with no interference from the government.

          • by khallow (566160)

            Red Tape may seem like the "impossible" obstacle, but once you've cut it, once the system has changed, then the obstacle is gone. The "regulations" of orbital mechanics aren't going to change, and they say getting to space is expensive no matter what the government says.

            Nobody has figured out how to "cut" the bureaucracy or regulations. Most of the real regulatory problems like ITAR, treating perchlorate as an explosive that requires ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms) monitoring, and the inability to own property in space still exist.

            The "regulations" of orbital mechanics just aren't that strict. If cost to low Earth orbit (LEO) was solely a function of the chemical fuel and oxidizer required to get into space it'd be around $100 per kg of payload. If cost to LEO was

            • by Chris Burke (6130)

              Nobody has figured out how to "cut" the bureaucracy or regulations.

              If you don't count Scaled Composites and SpaceX and similar ventures in other countries.

              Governments change. The laws of physics don't (probably).

              The "regulations" of orbital mechanics just aren't that strict. If cost to low Earth orbit (LEO) was solely a function of the chemical fuel and oxidizer required to get into space it'd be around $100 per kg of payload. If cost to LEO was solely a function of the energy required to get into space it

              • by khallow (566160)

                If you don't count Scaled Composites and SpaceX and similar ventures in other countries.

                Even if you do count Scaled Composites and SpaceX. The red tape isn't eliminated. They just figure out how to work with that in place. Bureacracy is a cost that doesn't go away merely because one "cuts" (or more accurately just says they do) the red tape.

                The "regulations" of orbital mechanics just aren't that strict. If cost to low Earth orbit (LEO) was solely a function of the chemical fuel and oxidizer required to get into space it'd be around $100 per kg of payload. If cost to LEO was solely a function of the energy required to get into space it'd be around $10 per kg.

                But obviously it isn't, because that fuel and oxidizer is going to spontaneously change itself into kinetic energy directed towards orbit. Access to space wouldn't be anywhere near that cheap with zero government regulations, because it's the laws of physics that make rocket science rocket science.

                Actually, that's pretty much what happens in a properly working chemical engine on a rocket heading to orbit. There are various other considerations that drive up cost. For example, a considerable portion, if not all, of your rocket hardware is thrown away

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by jollyreaper (513215)

      Back in the 1990s, one of the most realistic-seeming depictions of the rise of private spacefaring was Michael Fynn's future history beginning with Firestar [amazon.com] . Flynn made it seem as if the biggest obstacle towards getting into space was not gravity and fuel costs as much as government hassles. If Spaceport America has successfully dealt with the FAA, then I would like to think that things are looking up from here (though Flynn suggested companies like FedEx would massively support the endeavour, which seems unlikely now in the age of the internet).

      Scifi tends to attract people with a diverse libertarian bent. Socially liberal with dirty minds (looking at you, Heinlein), but also a lot of support for Randian concepts of scientific supermen who could work miracles if only they weren't held down by governments and the mediocre.

      Spaceflight is hard. While FAA red tape can be daunting, the science is still the hard part. And just remember when you hear people arguing about government red tape, inspection and regulation is supposed to protect the public. If

      • by FleaPlus (6935) on Friday June 19, 2009 @05:30PM (#28396083) Journal

        And just remember when you hear people arguing about government red tape, inspection and regulation is supposed to protect the public.

        Could you elaborate on how burdensome over-regulation like this helps protect the public?

        http://hobbyspace.com/nucleus/?itemid=13078 [hobbyspace.com]

        The other article - SpaceX Cuts Cost By Battling Bureaucracy (subscription required) - gives a lengthy report on SpaceX and its efforts to keep costs down. It begins with an example of a crane needed for their Cape Canaveral pad for which bids came back in the $2M range. Investigating why they were so high, they found the contractors were working according to "requirements for fail-safe redundancies and safety controls" from 30 years that were now made obsolete by smart systems instrumentation and other technologies. Working with the contractors and the range safety office eventually resulted in a $300k crane.

        Pushing for these sorts of cost savings across the board add up. Also, Elon Musk cites design choices, such as using the same propellants for both stages (and not using expensive hydrogen) for making the vehicle competitive even with Indian and Chinese launchers.

        At the end of the article, there is a brief report on the upcoming Falcon I launch of the Malaysian RazakSAT imaging satellite. Turns out that ITAR rules were a major factor in the recent delay.
        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.

        âoeThe easiest thing would actually be to make some adjustment to the satellite . . . but thatâ(TM)s not allowed,â Musk says.

        http://rescommunis.wordpress.com/2008/04/28/interview-mike-gold-corporate-counsel-bigelow-aerospace/ [wordpress.com]

        Gold: Absolutely. For example, if you look specifically at the provisos that are written into technical assistance agreements, if the licensing officers were instructed by the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC) to discern between sensitive, military technologies, and those that are widely available in the commercial marketplace, and not request monitoring and Technology Transfer Control Plans in those instances, that alone could go a long way toward resolving many of these problems. An example is the Genesis test stand. It was a round metal sheet that had several legs sticking out from the bottom. If it was flipped upside down, had a tablecloth and some cups placed on it, the stand would be indistinguishable from a coffee tableâ"it was literally a metal coffee table. Yet, this coffee table was subject to the ITAR. It had to be monitored. We were required to have not one, but two guards to keep an eye on this "vital" technology. I can only imagine the national security repercussions if this technology should leak to the Chinese or the Iranians. They could serve coffeeâ"or in a worst case scenarioâ"even tea on it. The inability to distinguish metal coffee tables from actual militarily sensitive space technology that does deserve protection, demonstrates the broken and counterproductive nature of our export control process. If the system and implementation of the United States Munitions List is so overly broad that it canâ(TM)t distinguish a table from sensitive technology, then I think it is obvious that there is a problem here.

    • You know, Firestar was ... um, I'm not sure how to break this to you, so I'll just come right out and say it ... fiction.

      I enjoyed the novel, and there are a lot of interesting ideas in it (as well as some things Flynn got so wrong it was almost hilarious) but it is not, and should not be taken as, a realistic study of the way large-scale commercialized space flight will eventually work.

      • by CRCulver (715279)
        Science fiction is speculative fiction. Comparing classic works of times passed to how things turned out is a popular pastime, and the possibility that all that dreaming about new gadgetry and godlike powers might come true inspires all nerds.
        • I completely agree. But OP and many of the responders sounded to me like they were uncritically accepting Flynn's thesis, and that's just silly. While it's perfectly reasonable to say, "There's a really cool idea in this story and it would be great if we could make it happen," it's absurd to say, "The way things work in this story provide valid assumptions about the real world." If you're basing your ideas about economics on Atlas Shrugged, your ideas about genetic engineering on Gattaca and Jurassic Par

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Flynn made it seem as if the biggest obstacle towards getting into space was not gravity and fuel costs as much as government hassles.

      The simple reason for that is that any organization capable of launching a payload into space is - by extension - capable of delivering a nuclear warhead anywhere on the planet.
      And that tends to complicate things...

      • by Ifandbut (1328775)

        Any organization capable of launching a payload into space is - by extension - capable of delivering that mass anywhere on the planet.

        It dies not have to be nuclear to cause large amounts of damage.

  • The Artist Concept (Score:5, Interesting)

    by qortra (591818) on Friday June 19, 2009 @03:48PM (#28394435)
    The Artist Concept of the spaceport [space.com] is really quite stunning.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by timpdx (1473923)
      Foster & Partners usually does a good job. The Millau Bridge is Foster, as is the Gherkin in London other Foster projects http://www.pixelmap.com/dma_foster.html [pixelmap.com] I think the thing is quite stunning myself.
    • I absolutely love the artist's concept, but I sincerely doubt it will look much like that by the time the engineers and builders get finished with it. It doesn't look very cost effective.

      Midday and different angle of spaceport concept art [space.com]
      • by asc99c (938635)

        I think they are already considering practical issues in the current design. Not long ago, my brother was extremely excited to be working on a siphonic drainage system for this place, and the plans looked just like this concept. So already this isn't pure concept but has plenty of realism behind the design.

      • by bar-agent (698856)

        Reminds me of the UESC Marathon emblem [bungie.org]. Or a little bit like the mark of Tzeentch [wikia.com].

    • by boris111 (837756)

      Looks like they owe Blizzard some money. Does this say Protoss to anyone? Wonder where they'll get enough Vespene gas to build it.

    • by 5of0 (935391)
      Wow, that is stunning. And it reminds me of Larry Niven's description of the Tanith spaceport from Brenda. I was just reading N-Space the other day, and the picture reminded me of this passage:

      The wrecked ships that had haloed the planet after the Battle of Tanith were long gone. Shuttle #1 descended through a sky that seemed curiously empty. What had been the Tanith spaceport still glared like a polished steel dish. Seen from low angle the crater became a glowing eye with a bright pupil. ... A new port

  • Posted: Friday June 19, @03:34PM (I'm in EDT)

    Story was posted to the front page about an hour and a half AFTER the 11AM live broadcast. Whoops.

  • Will Republic credits be accepted for passage aboard space vessels in such a deserted region as Mohave?
  • So something I've been wondering for a while. Why haven't space planes been developed? Is it just lack of an engine?
    - Rotary = efficient at low altitudes
    - Jet = efficient at medium
    - ?? = high to orbital?

    Couldn't we just use a Scramjet until it becomes inefficient and then a rocket for the rest of the way? It would still get us up to 25% of the way there and that is a large amount of rocket fuel (and cost) you've just saved. It would have a weight associated with it but it might still

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ravenspear (756059)
      Problem is you have to be at speeds greater than mach 5-6 to ignite a scramjet engine. And the current prototypes have achieved that speed with, you guessed it, rockets.

      So you aren't really saving that much rocket fuel unless we build some kind of super powerful regular jet capable of getting to that speed. At that point though you have a vehicle with a very complex jet, scramjet, and rocket which would probably be so elaborate to design and construct that it would be prohibitively expensive.
      • by Chris Burke (6130) on Friday June 19, 2009 @07:11PM (#28397229) Homepage

        The SR-71 Blackbird had a combination jet/ramjet engine, where the turbines were used at lower speeds, and then once it broke supersonic it became a ramjet using bypasses that directed the air (compressed by the cones on front of the engine) around the turbines which comprise most of the volume of the huge engine cylinders.

        Not only is the SR-71 anything but an economical bird, it was also terribly complex to design, ridiculously inefficient while using the turbine (without even accounting for the fact that until air friction caused its panels to expand and seal it leaked fuel literally like a sieve), and very heavy. Tacking a rocket onto that kind of system to reach space sounds all kind of inefficient and uneconomical. I'm no aerospace engineer, but I wouldn't be surprised if designing the engine to seal off the front and use an internal oxidizer was infeasible and the rockets had to essentially be a whole separate system.

        Frankly as far as hybrid systems go, I still like the Spaceship One/White Knight approach. A separate carrier vehicle can take the spacecraft up to high-ish altitudes, and then when the space craft takes ignites its rockets and takes off, it doesn't have to carry the carrier vehicle's jet engines with it. But who knows if that can be scaled up to something capable of carrying an orbit-capable vehicle plus a significant payload? Well, Burt Rutan I'd imagine.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by diskofish (1037768)
      A space plane is basically what the White Knight [wikipedia.org] is.

      My guess for the reason why they designed it this way is that combining everything into one package would increase the weight of the space vessel, so splitting it up into two separate "stages" if you will, makes good sense.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by chaim79 (898507)

      That's what Virgin Galactic is doing with White Knight and Spaceship One. White Knight is jet propelled and carries Spaceship One to a high altitude, at that point Spaceship One drops, ignites it's rocket, and heads up to the stars.

    • by Yetihehe (971185)
      Maybe we could even make this part with low altitude engine separate just before launching main rocket? Something like SpaceKnightTwo...
    • by toppavak (943659)
      I'm sure someone else can explain this better than I, but I believe it has a great deal to do with the weight of redundancy. Every additional propulsion modality adds weight not just from the hardware itself but from the different fuels that each modality would require and, even if the fuel is the same, providing the differing fuel pressures required by the different modalities (jet engine vs liquid-fueled rocket motor). I imagine its still cheaper to use a propulsion method that is highly efficient across
    • by wowbagger (69688) on Friday June 19, 2009 @04:27PM (#28395145) Homepage Journal

      "...Why haven't space planes been developed?...Couldn't we just use a Scramjet until it becomes inefficient and then a rocket for the rest of the way?...."

      First of all: we really don't have a production ready scramjet yet. There have been a few prototypes, but nothing that is ready to be built and bolted onto an aircraft carrying people. Making an engine that can "burn" fuel while that fuel-air mix is moving at speeds above the speed of sound relative to the engine, without blowing out, is not yet something we have mastered well enough to rely upon.

      And that's the biggie right there: making a man-rated craft is HARD. You cannot tolerate any failures that can lead to loss of crew - look at how much crap NASA has taken (and justifiably so, to an extent) over the loss of 2 shuttles. You have to design EVERYTHING so that when it fails ("when", not "if") it fails in a way that allows the crew to make it home. Much of the design decisions on Orion vs. the Shuttle - the decisions that have many people crying "WE ARE GOING BACKWARDS! ORION IS TEH FAIL!" - are because the Shuttle way of doing things is a fail-unsafe and the Orion way is fail-safe.

      Now, to address your question of "why not use jets, then scramjets, then rockets" - that is being discussed, but keep in mind that an engine you aren't using RIGHT NOW is just dead weight where cargo could be. There are good reasons to drop of the bits of the craft you aren't going to use anymore - hauling them the rest of the way up is just wasting fuel.

      Then there is the problem that getting into "space" is only "hard", but getting into orbit is REALLY HARD. It takes roughly an order of magnitude more delta-V to get to a stable orbit than to just "get into space" like SpaceShip1 did.

      That's why the idea of using a reusable vehicle (let alone a MAN RATED reusable vehicle) just to launch cargo is about as stupid as using a Lamborghini to move cattle - IMHO NASA should have built 2 systems: a man-rated shuttle just for moving people and a disposable cargo vehicle that shared many of the components of the shuttle to move freight - yes, you might have been "throwing away" big chunks of your cargo vehicle every launch, but the cost (in terms of "weight-that-isn't-cargo" as well as in terms of money) of re-usability vs. the cost of throwing it away is such that throwing it away makes more sense. I don't try to "re-use" snot-filled facial tissues as it doesn't make fiscal sense - same thing for ships.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by recharged95 (782975)
        I don't know, but the Russians cared more about their vehicles than the people/crew. And for some reason they don't have the problems we do with vehicles breaking apart from foam. And their stuff lasts almost forever, and no one gets hurt as a result.

        .

        NASA and the general US/EU space communities are playing too much PR and public opinion vs. getting the job done. Should they're using public money, but how many wars have we had or been involved in since 1960?

      • by khallow (566160)

        It takes roughly an order of magnitude more delta-V to get to a stable orbit than to just "get into space" like SpaceShip1 did.

        I ran the calculation [transterrestrial.com] some time ago. SpaceShipOne had roughly a quarter (for motor alone) to a third (for motor and launch from vehicle traveling almost at the speed of sound) of the necessary delta v. The final speed at the peak is only part of it. You also needed delta v to reach that height and some delta v was lost due to gravity losses.

        That's why the idea of using a reusable vehicle (let alone a MAN RATED reusable vehicle) just to launch cargo is about as stupid as using a Lamborghini to move cattle - IMHO NASA should have built 2 systems: a man-rated shuttle just for moving people and a disposable cargo vehicle that shared many of the components of the shuttle to move freight - yes, you might have been "throwing away" big chunks of your cargo vehicle every launch, but the cost (in terms of "weight-that-isn't-cargo" as well as in terms of money) of re-usability vs. the cost of throwing it away is such that throwing it away makes more sense. I don't try to "re-use" snot-filled facial tissues as it doesn't make fiscal sense - same thing for ships.

        While this has a lot of appeal, it's worth remembering that a lot of payloads are higher value and more delicate than human passengers. What that means is that "man-rati

      • by hcdejong (561314)

        ...is about as stupid as using a Lamborghini to move cattle

        Ahem [lamborghini-tractors.com]

    • I don't want to see space planes. Or, more accurately, I don't want to see time, research, money, and blood, sweat and tears, spent on space planes, that could be spent on outer space. The space elevator idea seems to be much more appropriate, IMHO. http://science.slashdot.org/story/09/06/08/1924233/Inflatable-Tower-Could-Climb-To-the-Edge-of-Space?art_pos=1 [slashdot.org]

      The goal is not to waste energy transporting junk from one point on earth to another point on earth, rather the goal should be to put men "out there"

    • Please google Dyna-Soar.

      We had space planes in the 60's, and we had space planes on the drawing boards that would have essentially been the forerunners of the Space Shuttle. But then the Russians launched Sputnik and the game changed on the Air Force. Suddenly the government wanted spam in a can, monkey in a missle. yadda yadda garbage.

      See "The Right Stuff" If we had continued the X-plane research, we would have gotten to pure space planes alright. But the pentagon switched gears suddenly, and everything be

      • by bitrex (859228)
        As amazing the X program accomplishments were, they were a long way from getting into orbit. It's relatively trivial to just get into space, but getting the tangential velocity to achieve orbit is a whole other matter. Single-stage to orbit is a really hard problem from an aerospace design point because, at least with chemical rocket technology where you have to carry your fuel with you, you're running up against the limits of the famous Tsiolkovsky "ideal rocket" differential equation. The problem is th
      • No, the X-15 did not beat Mercury to space. For that matter, Mercury was in orbit monthes before the first X-15 flight to the US definition of space (50 miles vs the international 100 km). In fact, the X-15 only had a grand totla of two flights beyond 100 km. In any case, Alan Sheppard flew suborbitally in May '61 and John Glenn made three orbits in Feb '62, Robert White got an X-15 to ~60 miles in July '62, and Joe Walker exceeded 100km in July '63 while the Mercury program ended in May '63. All in all
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by FleaPlus (6935)

      Couldn't we just use a Scramjet until it becomes inefficient and then a rocket for the rest of the way? It would still get us up to 25% of the way there and that is a large amount of rocket fuel (and cost) you've just saved.

      You'd save money on fuel, but contrary to popular belief, fuel (even though there's quite a bit of it) is just ~1% of the total cost of flying a rocket. So you've basically ended up taking a chunk out of that tiny 1%, while in turn significantly increasing engine and production costs, which are a far larger chunk of the total cost.

      • by funkboy (71672)

        You'd save money on fuel, but contrary to popular belief, fuel (even though there's quite a bit of it) is just ~1% of the total cost of flying a rocket. So you've basically ended up taking a chunk out of that tiny 1%, while in turn significantly increasing engine and production costs, which are a far larger chunk of the total cost.

        You got some stats on that? All the different fuels in the Shuttle ain't cheap...

        • by FleaPlus (6935) on Friday June 19, 2009 @10:38PM (#28398645) Journal

          You got some stats on that? All the different fuels in the Shuttle ain't cheap...

          They're pretty darned cheap compared to the overall cost of the shuttle. According to this NASA publication [74.125.155.132], the Space Shuttle main external tank uses 141,750 gallons of liquid oxygen ("LOX") and 384,071 gallons of liquid hydrogen ("LH2") as propellant. The price of LOX is $0.67/gallon, and the price of LH2 is $0.98/gallon (at least in 2001). Putting the numbers together gives a LOX+LH2 cost of $471,362.08 per launch.

          That's half a million dollars for the liquid fuels, compared to (depending on how you calculate it) the 0.5-2 billion dollars required for each shuttle launch.

  • The spaceport has been replaced by a hyperspace bypass...

  • I saw the location earlier this year (drove right by the exit), and while New Mexico is possibly my favorite state especially for it's scenery- I wasn't real impressed with the location. Maybe once they build the facilities, but I enjoyed the look of the spaceport in Iowa in the new startrek film much more (yes, i know is fictional).
  • "Spaceport America" is such a dull name. What, would Lucas have threatened to sue if they named it something like "Mos Eisley". I mean, just think of the T-Shirt potential in the duty-free zone!

    • by bitrex (859228)
      Name it "Verizon Spaceport We've Got A Goddamned Spaceport, Bitches, What've You Got Fuck Yeah Go America!
  • ... to be old and grizzled, sitting down at a dimly lit table hugging a filthy glass of Tekravian whiskey and retelling my horrific experiences as a crew member aboard the the first Durnigan-class commercial cruiser, and how we ended up stranded in the Telmos sector. AFTER it had been declared a red zone due to the 100 year long Dar'mra mating cycle. Let me tell you... there's a whole lot of them in that sector and boy do they mean business!

    Yeah, that story always gets me at least a drink and a girl
  • The size of the market for commercial spaceflight is limited by the lack of destinations.
  • Nice euphemism for "military".

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