Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
NASA Space Science Technology

How Far and Fast Can the Commercial Space World Grow? 159

Posted by Soulskill
from the in-direct-proportion-to-the-benjamins dept.
coondoggie writes "The development of the commercial space industry has in the past been slow and deliberate, but that seems like it's about to change with a whirlwind of developments that could shape or break its immediate future. Today the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics is holding a hearing to go over the Federal Aviation Administration's 2012 budget request, which includes close to $27 million — nearly a 75% increase over 2010 — in the budget for the group tasked with overseeing commercial space development. They're also evaluating the need for a longer regulatory ban. Also this week the Government Accountability Office issued a review of the issues the commercial space industry and the FAA face (PDF) going forward "
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

How Far and Fast Can the Commercial Space World Grow?

Comments Filter:
  • by W1sdOm_tOOth (1152881) on Friday May 06, 2011 @06:17PM (#36052444)

    Oh, wait....

  • by petes_PoV (912422) on Friday May 06, 2011 @06:18PM (#36052450)
    So far the only areas commercial space outfits have been able to turn a profit is communications and TV satellites. There's not a whole lot in the way of raw materials they've been able to exploit. Not that much in terms of tourism/leisure - apart from a few bored billionaires. And no space-based manufacturing or processes that would come close to break even.

    So the speed of development seems to be limited by companies' ability to find things in or about space that can be commercially exploited. It's still not clear what else there is out there that would be a profitable venture.

    • I think navigation and weather satellites are paying the rent as well. Your argument is still very valid with those included, however.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Commercial communication satellites have been very marginal in terms of profit for years. There is a glut of manufacturing capability compared to the demand.

      (AC because I work in the industry)

    • by jafac (1449)

      Yes. This was a hard-sell item to Queen Isabella, too.

      Nor was Spain able to monopolize all the profits. Can you imagine how to even calculate what the "value" of those profits is? We're talking about the "New World".

      Now - this is not going to happen in our "Isabella" lifetimes. Whether we ever break Faster Than Light travel or not.
      But multiply that above "value" times tens, or hundreds of thousands of worlds.

      The word "Profit" seems trite.

      • by khallow (566160)

        The word "Profit" seems trite.

        It means you get more out of an activity than you put in. The moral connotation is just a distraction.

        • by ArsonSmith (13997)

          you have a pretty liberal, brain washed, view of profit. It means you have added value to something. whether you've taken raw materials and refined them into something of more value and sold it, or you brokered a deal that allowed someone else to get something they wanted.

          investment + labor = value add = profit

          With your line of thought then everybody in the world is ripping off companies every day because they get more in their paycheck than they put into the company ie ~$0.

          • by khallow (566160)
            Value add isn't profit. They can be and usually are different. For example, rent seekers traditionally have profit that exceeds their value add (their value add can actually be negative BTW) while businesses in competitive markets fall the other way.

            With your line of thought then everybody in the world is ripping off companies every day because they get more in their paycheck than they put into the company ie ~$0.

            That's where the concept of trade comes in: voluntary, mutually advantageous transactions.

      • by Kjella (173770)

        Yes. This was a hard-sell item to Queen Isabella, too. Nor was Spain able to monopolize all the profits. Can you imagine how to even calculate what the "value" of those profits is? We're talking about the "New World".

        No, just no. Didn't they teach you this in school? America is where they ended up, but that wasn't where they thought they were going. They were looking for an alternative to the Silk Road, the land route to India and China. The goods to be traded were luxuries such as silk, satin, hemp and other fine fabrics, musk, other perfumes, spices, medicines, jewels, glassware and rhubarb. They thought they knew approximately how long the sea route would be based on Earth's circumference, it was only a matter of fin

        • They thought they knew approximately how long the sea route would be based on Earth's circumference

          Yes, they did. Which is why everyone thought Columbus was a crackpot - everyone knew that the distance from Europe west to China was close 15000 miles.

          Note that Columbus was a distinct minority in thinking that China was close enough to reach with the ships of the day.

          Note also that Flemish fishermen had been drying fish in Newfoundland before Columbus ever sailed. And that Columbus probably knew this, sin

    • by khallow (566160)
      It's worth noting that both SpaceX and Scaled Composites both earned profit on designing and flying new launch vehicles. There's also a growing imaging satellite market.
    • by Teancum (67324)

      In addition to navigation, and telecommunications, reconnaissance is also a huge field (of which weather satellites are only a very small part). Google Earth is but another example of this kind of survey system that absolutely depends upon satellites to function, not to mention how businesses like farmers or mineral exploration companies use satellite information to map the surface of the Earth to find mineral composition and "mass concentrations" in the Earth that might yield profitable mining operations.

    • by rtb61 (674572)

      Yes, not much out there at all, just the rest of the universe. Columbus, Cook and Marco Polo all had a hard time at getting funding too. You know what, we all have very little idea about what we can do up there, basically because we aren't really up there yet but, given time people just like you will use hind sight to claim credit for all the things eventually done up there.

      Why would you live in a colony in space, well assuming your life in measured in hundreds of years and not tens, you avoid all the in

    • by houghi (78078)

      Commercial spaceflight? I can see it now. 3 weeks between a fat guy and a crying kid on your way to Mars.

    • Asteroids worth trillions in minerals and a ready source of free energy to process them?

  • But why? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MrQuacker (1938262) on Friday May 06, 2011 @06:18PM (#36052452)
    The real question is why do we need to go up there in the first place?

    Communication and physics research satellites seem to be the only thing people are launching. Until more tech that is space-only is developed, we really have no reason to go up there.

    Supply and demand. We have no demand, so therefore there is no supply.

    What we should be focusing on is how to create the demand.

    • Re:But why? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by h4rr4r (612664) on Friday May 06, 2011 @06:22PM (#36052486)

      Tourism is a huge demand. You get it down to $10k and I will take a ticket right now. Lots of other folks would be buying at $100k.

      • Re:But why? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by 0123456 (636235) on Friday May 06, 2011 @06:34PM (#36052568)

        Tourism is a huge demand. You get it down to $10k and I will take a ticket right now. Lots of other folks would be buying at $100k.

        One of the space tourism guys was saying recently that there's a surprising amount of demand for spaceflight in the million-dollar range, where people who could afford to fly on Soyuz can't afford the time required for the training (AFAIR Soyuz passengers have to train as crew, whereas a true tourist flight would only take a small amount of training).

      • If 10,000 people go at $10K each, you've almost recovered the costs of development. Personally, I don't think the market is that big, since the tourism guys aren't really talking about going to "space", just to 100 kilometers sub-orbital. Coincidentally, the first American sub-orbital flight was 50 years ago yesterday. Not exactly a cutting edge accomplishment.
        • by youn (1516637)

          I think it is actually that big... they are just creaming the market... why charge 10k when you have enough people willing to pay 200k to get you started and test out the system... when you have grown enough, decrease price gradually... it is a more sound business plan... if you ask me though, if they can get the price to $100, it is even is better :)

        • by Teancum (67324)

          So far, the only "space tourists" that have gone up past the Kármán line have all been customers of Space Adventures.... and they've all gone orbital. Every single last one of them, including docking at the International Space Station.

          While I think there will be more sub-orbital tourists than the orbital variety, and that is where the talk is coming from, where the action is happening instead of the talk it is all orbital spaceflight.

          That sort of blows your whole point away, and it will be severa

      • by Americano (920576)

        "Space tourism" is not a sustainable market. Once you've shot your wad and everybody with the money and interest to pay 10k for a couple hours in space has gone (and I think you'll find that the number of people both interested & wealthy enough to do this are much smaller than you seem to think)... what then?

        There's still nowhere to go up there, it's a joyride. Yay, you went WAY UP IN THE AIR, got a couple lovely panoramic views as the craft inverted, and then came back down. Now what? How many peop

        • by khallow (566160)

          "Space tourism" is not a sustainable market. Once you've shot your wad and everybody with the money and interest to pay 10k for a couple hours in space has gone (and I think you'll find that the number of people both interested & wealthy enough to do this are much smaller than you seem to think)... what then?

          Well, how do you explain the enduring popularity of tourism markets in general? After all, if you've spent a couple of hours on Mount Everest or Paris, does that mean you've "shot your wad?" I imagine that space tourism operators would vary their routines, come up with new trips, build interesting destinations, and do all the other tricks that normal tourism operators employ to create repeat business.

          • Re:But why? (Score:4, Interesting)

            by Americano (920576) on Saturday May 07, 2011 @01:28AM (#36054698)

            The enduring popularity of tourism markets in general is the fact that there are things to do and see once you get there. There is none of that in space, and we are long, long years away from any sort of "cruise ship in space" experience. If you have no destination to go to, and nothing to do while you're there, "space tourism" is simply not sustainable. Even if-and-when there are "private space stations" the economics of building living facilities in space will keep it a novelty experience for the ultra-rich. Just like you and I don't get to stay in the penthouse of the Trump Tower for 3 months at a time when we visit New York, we'll find that "2 hours of flight with 15 minutes of zero g and the opportunity to take some photos of the earth from orbit" are the tourism experiences that will be within reach of the "common man" - and by "common man," I mean upper middle class.

            • by khallow (566160)

              The enduring popularity of tourism markets in general is the fact that there are things to do and see once you get there.

              Gee, I guess space tourism will have to do that then.

              Even if-and-when there are "private space stations" the economics of building living facilities in space will keep it a novelty experience for the ultra-rich.

              Until it's cheap enough for the not-so-ultra-rich. Present conditions will not continue.

              we'll find that "2 hours of flight with 15 minutes of zero g and the opportunity to take some photos of the earth from orbit" are the tourism experiences that will be within reach of the "common man" - and by "common man," I mean upper middle class.

              For the next few years, sure.

              • by Americano (920576)

                The founder of SpaceX, who has every reason to talk up his chosen industry, expects that they'll be able to ship cargo to space for $1100 per kilogram - eventually.

                Do the math, and figure out why shipping a 75kg human being, with all of the food, water, oxygen, and hell, 30 kg of luggage too, is never going to be anything more than a dream for anybody who is not in the "fuck-you money" bracket of the idle rich.

                Here, I'll help: a 75kg person (that's ~165 pounds) will need to spend $82,500 just to ship the

                • by khallow (566160)

                  Here, I'll help: a 75kg person (that's ~165 pounds) will need to spend $82,500 just to ship themselves up.

                  So? Now we're talking high end tourism not mission Apollo costs. There are a lot of people in the so-called "fuck-you money" bracket.

                  to spend a week up in space in a tin can with... absolutely fuck-all to do - quite literally.

                  Just like all those other tourist destinations. Oh right, they have weather to talk about.

                  I know this is just crazy talk, but maybe the same people who can figure out how to put an operating hotel in space will also use a small bit of that brain power to figure out how to entertain tourists in the most unique environment mankind has yet created.

                  This notion that someday we're going to hope in a personal space craft in our backyard and fly to the moon is a fantasy.

                  Things change. You still igno

                  • by Americano (920576)

                    There are a lot of people in the so-called "fuck-you money" bracket.

                    No, there really aren't. Because those people would have to both *have the money to afford this trip,* and *have any interest in going.* When you are talking about a plane ticket that costs more than the household income of 75% of the households in the United States, you have a VERY small potential market. Realistically, your target market is people making well over a million dollars a year, and they're a fraction of 1% of the population

            • Do you have any numbers to back up your assertion? I've read multiple blog posts, news releases, and analyst papers addressing the market for space tourism. Most of them tend to focus around the idea that once launch prices come down and launch frequency goes up, the cost of sustaining permanent living habitats in space drops dramatically. As an analyst in the launch vehicle industry, I can tell you that this assumption is derived from hard data. If you look at any space project, orbital or suborbital, the
              • by Americano (920576)

                See some of my other posts throughout this thread. The founder of SpaceX expects that the price-per-kilogram to orbit will "eventually" reach $1100, from roughly $4000 today.

                Yes, that's a dramatic reduction. Yes, that means that it's cheaper to get there. It still means that a 75kg human being is paying $82,500 for a ride into space, and that's just the launch - the costs for all of the other stuff need to be factored in as well - building & maintaining & staffing a safe, livable habitat in space

            • People do pay to use the rides at funfairs though. This would be similar, I would imagine.

              • by Americano (920576)

                And if it cost hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars to ride the ferris wheel, people wouldn't do that, either.

        • by Teancum (67324)

          What happens if you stay in orbit for a week? A month? A year? Are you sure that you can't do that again?

          How many people do you think would like to be part of the first hundred folks who have gone past the Moon in a circum-lunar flight (re-creating Apollo 8)? How about being named the "first person in the 21st Century to orbit the Moon"? There certainly are some folks have egos that large, and even bank accounts to afford it.

          It is far more than simply a joy-ride up into the sky, hanging around for a co

          • Re:But why? (Score:4, Interesting)

            by Americano (920576) on Saturday May 07, 2011 @01:48AM (#36054760)

            What happens if you stay in orbit for a week? A month? A year? Are you sure that you can't do that again?

            Pray tell, what will you do in orbit for a week? A month? A year? What wonderful sights and experiences will you have while you're there, and where will you have these wonderful experiences - on your launch vehicle? For a month? I'm really hard-pressed to think of anybody who would consider a year floating in circles above the earth in a single seat in the space shuttle to be much of a "vacation".

            How many people do you think would like to be part of the first hundred folks who have gone past the Moon

            Not enough to make it a sustainable market.

            How about being named the "first person in the 21st Century to orbit the Moon"?

            Not enough to make it a sustainable market.

            There certainly are some folks have egos that large, and even bank accounts to afford it.

            Exactly, there are some folks with egos & bank accounts. Those folks will never be numerous enough to make "space tourism" a sustainable venture for regular folks. "Space tourism" is, and will continue to be - barring signficant advances in the economics of survival in space - a novelty marketed to the very wealthy. The ONLY "space tourism" that will be within reach of the "regular" people (i.e. upper middle class, nobody below that will ever be able to afford it) will be the couple-hour joyride with some photos and a few minutes of zero gravity.

            Folks have been into orbit through purely private efforts (non-subsidized by government agencies) and it will continue. It won't be just for the view.

            Yes, it will be just for the view. What else is there to do up there, for a "tourist"? Float around in zero-g for a month? That would appeal to about 30 Slashdotters, and I'm pretty sure that doesn't make a sustainable market. Space tourism is simply a big "Observation Deck," and unless you make significant changes in the economics of survival in space, that's all it will be. And as I said, if the Observation Deck at the Empire State Building was literally the ONLY THING you could do in New York City as a tourist, then NYC would have a lot fewer tourists.

            I get the feeling reading these comments that people think we're going to be launching to some massive space station in earth orbit which is some sort of Battlestar Galactica-style pleasure ship, complete with blue-skinned Alpha Centaurian courtesans. There IS NO facility in space for tourism to be anything more than "up, look around, down." Anything else will have to be built, i.e. launched from earth and assembled in space, and constantly resupplied and operated for YEARS with perfect safety while handling a steady stream of cargo & human traffic moving to it from the earth's surface.

            The ISS, designed for a crew of 6, has an estimated cost of between 35 and 160 billion dollars. How many tens or hundreds of trillions of dollars will it take to build something that could handle an operational crew of 20, and 20-30 guests at a time? And you think this is somehow a feasible economic reality within the reach of a large market of people?

            • by drinkypoo (153816)

              The ISS, designed for a crew of 6, has an estimated cost of between 35 and 160 billion dollars.

              The ISS was not remotely designed for minimum cost, it was a technology demonstrator platform. Ask Bigelow how much these structures need to cost. Ask SpaceX how much it will cost to get them there. Don't talk to me about bullshit political constructs made real like the ISS.

              • by Americano (920576)

                So let's assume that it's TEN TIMES more expensive than it needed to be. That means to create a livable environment for six humans, it'd cost between 3.5 and 16 billion dollars. Let's assume cost scales perfectly with occupancy, and housing for a single new person costs 580 million to add: Suddenly your 40-person luxury space hotel costs 23 billion at the low end, or 107 billion at the high end. And that's *if the tech can be built for one tenth of the cost it reportedly took to build the ISS,* which is

                • by drinkypoo (153816)

                  And... with all this, you think that any sort of "space tourism" besides a brief launch-photos-return experience will ever be anything but the domain of the idle rich with more money than sense?

                  I'm trying to see the problem here, and it's just not coming to me. In what way does this impede the validity of the business model in today's world of golden parachutes, subsidies, and tax cuts for the rich?

                  • by Americano (920576)

                    Well, I'm sure political snark will make the business model MUCH more sustainable.

                    Thanks for trolling!

                    • by drinkypoo (153816)

                      You're a stupid ass. I was making the entirely valid point that there are a bunch of people who will pay for such an experience, so there is money to be made there. If you want to argue about whether there's enough we can do that but there's plenty of people for whom that is chump change.

            • Pray tell, what will you do in orbit for a week? A month? A year? What wonderful sights and experiences will you have while you're there, and where will you have these wonderful experiences - on your launch vehicle? For a month? I'm really hard-pressed to think of anybody who would consider a year floating in circles above the earth in a single seat in the space shuttle to be much of a "vacation".

              Ya, I think the same thing about the beach. I mean, it might be good for a day trip, but how much time can you r

            • If you're going to comment on the viability of space tourism you probably should familiarize yourself with the companies producing hardware that is intended for use in the industry. No, nobody is planning on hanging out on a launch vehicle for a week. Most folks are planning on trying their first zero-g experiment with their girlfriend on one of the space stations made by these guys:

              Bigelow Aerospace [bigelowaerospace.com]

              And before you start ranting about, "Promises, promises...." you should know that Bigelow has multiple
    • Re:But why? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by c0d3g33k (102699) on Friday May 06, 2011 @06:43PM (#36052672)

      The real question is why you don't have enough imagination to figure out reasons why we might want to go up there. We wouldn't have those satellites in orbit at all if people approached things with your attitude. The opportunities always seem obvious in hindsight, but it takes a pioneering spirit to seek new ones out and make them real.

      • This, though in my opinion the biggest tech advances to come out of Space exploration are right here on earth.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by DerekLyons (302214)

        The real question is why you don't have enough imagination to figure out reasons why we might want to go up there.

        No, the real question is why buzzword filled drivel like yours gets modded insightful. The OP made a valid point - which you failed to address at all.

        Jingoism is no substitute to actual thought.

        The opportunities always seem obvious in hindsight, but it takes a pioneering spirit to seek new ones out and make them real.

        Hogwash. LEO is a physical place just like Manhattan or Des M

        • I think the problem is in trying to see LEO as a destination. It's not, it's just a stepping stone to juicier pickings further out.

    • Re:But why? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by VortexCortex (1117377) <VortexCortex@NOs ... t-retrograde.com> on Friday May 06, 2011 @07:01PM (#36052834) Homepage
      http://xkcd.com/893/ [xkcd.com] -- note especially the alt text:

      The universe is probably littered with the one-planet graves of cultures which made the sensible economic decision that there's no good reason to go into space--each discovered, studied, and remembered by the ones who made the irrational decision.

      I mean -- its not like our space faring civilization will ever just build itself us.

      I mean -- It's not like theres ever been another dominant life form that's now utterly extinct due to one or two slightly above average asteroids striking the Earth -- You can be complacent because you're ancestors were not dinosaurs... I suppose you believe Mammals are impervious to extinction events since we're so prevalent and adaptable (tell that to the anaerobic life that was killed off in the great origination catastrophe --- hint: our oxygen levels drop a bit more, we won't be having this discussion, it'll be the anaerobes' turn again).

      In short: Life on Earth finally got decent brains! Let's not flippin' waste them due to insignificant BS and artificially important economic issues -- Anything less than advocating space exploration is burying your head in the sand (and ignoring the fossil record found there).

      Those that don't know their history are doomed; There is no second chance to repeat it for some species.

      • Right on. Keep preaching, I'll sit here in the choir!

      • by CRCulver (715279)
        You're assuming that the longterm survival of the species is a strong motivator for the average person. While an catastrophic asteroid is a possibility, the probability of it happening in our lifetime, our children's lifetime, or our great grandchildren's lifetime is small. Beyond the immediate next few generations, I don't think people care so much. What matters is our immediate happiness. So why is space so urgent? Slashdotters often speak as if the conquest of space is inevitable, as does much of the sc
        • The problem with all of this might be a lack of imagination and might be simple arrogance. Who's to say that a creature that had some desire or need to go into space wouldn't find a way to make it trivial? My own problem with sci-fi in general is that it assumes too much. "We did things this way, therefore any sentient being would do things this way."

          Of course, maybe they are all oxygen-breathing humanoids with fucked up foreheads who speak English. It's possible.

          You're assuming that the longterm survival of the species is a strong motivator for the average person.

          It doesn't need to be. The average pers

          • by CRCulver (715279)
            We live in a democracy. The purpose of leaders is not to "think intellectually" but to carry out the will of the people. If voters feel that space exploration is not an important issue, then government cannot pursue. Private industry cannot bring humanity into space yet -- or possibly ever -- so massive government subsidy is the only option, and society just doesn't want it. Comparing space exploration to humans leaving Africa is risible. Slowly following game through a succession of same or similar climat
            • You missed my point. If I expected our leaders to "think intellectually", I'd be shit out of luck on this planet. The will of the people, like it or not, will always go with further exploration unless they're convinced otherwise and that will always be for a short time. You yourself might feel it's unimportant, and that opinion is just as important as the opposite in keeping things within the realms of reality, I suppose, but the tendency for people to say, "Society is against this," simply because they are
              • by CRCulver (715279)
                After the first couple of moon landings, public support for space exploration fell quickly. Any ample history of the Apollo program will note how the last missions drew very little attention from the public. I disagree that humanity as a group wants space exploration. In a democracy, pubic support would mean real progress, but NASA has drawn less and less funding as time goes by, and polls regularly show that Americans would rather their tax dollars be spent on something else. You personally may be all ra
                • You say the public is against space exploration, I say the public is for it. I think one of us [slashdot.org] should come up with figures to back up what we say [spaceref.com] to prove we are not simply making it up [urbandictionary.com].
                  • by CRCulver (715279)
                    The public is for space exploration only as long as a negligible amount of tax revenue is spent on it. Saying "Yeah, space is cool" but then complaining about NASA as if it is a Big Government monster instead of an underfunded wreck doesn't really seem supportive.
                    • Similarly, the public wants roads, drainage systems, sewer maintenance, garbage pickup, police service, a local fire department, and still complain about the taxes they have to pay for these. The politicians play it like pool hustlers.

                      As in the previous case, I bet a majority would say they support these things, but would prefer not to pay for them. Would you say that "doesn't seem supportive"? Furthermore, would you support getting rid of these public services?
                    • by CRCulver (715279)

                      The public may want those things, but they also might feel that too much of their tax money is lost in wasteful spending. Keep the programs, cut the fat, they'd say. With NASA, the public is unwilling to fund NASA adequately for its goals -- people know that space exploration would require considerably more funding, but are unwilling to provide it (the study cited above gives a mere 1% of budget as a ceiling). No, that doesn't seem supportive, and as long as these attitudes persist, then I don't think it li

                    • Gosh, you know a lot about what the public wants. As I showed figures from which I could derive my statement and you've showed nothing to support what you say, you must surely have your finger on the pulse of America, man!

                      1% sounds like a little and you seem to be counting on that. 1% of the United States budget is fairly impressive to me, however.

                      And how are people not "putting their money where their mouth is in voting"? Seriously. How? The results of those polls are fairly well known and discussed.
                    • by CRCulver (715279)

                      1% is indeed little. The article linked above notes that NASA's current budget approaches that ceiling, and the organization is unable to really further man's leap into space. For years now the longterm focus on been on unmanned missions and mere circling around in orbit.

                      No, no one is running on a platform of cutting NASA entirely, but no one is running on a platform to massively up its funding to a level where humanity would truly move out into the solar system. Government-run space exploration is thus in

                    • One could argue that every initiative since Kennedy's time was massively unprofitable. One could also argue the complete opposite. I'm not an accountant or market historian, so I won't even try to go into it. However, that sort of informed discussion is very common and easy to find. But if you're unaware, there have been actual, real-world benefits from the space program during its entire existence. Even up until this point.

                      Increasing the funding of NASA with the specific purpose of "[moving] out into th
        • You're assuming that the longterm survival of the species is a strong motivator for the average person. [...] What matters is our immediate happiness. [...] I increasingly suspect that an intelligent race would more likely not go into space. Interesting possibilities I've heard speculated are that it would ultimately commit mass suicide, feeling existence is pointless, or withdraw into a virtual reality world on its own planet [...]

          Geoffrey Miller's take on Fermi's Paradox:

          I suggest a different, even darker solution to the Paradox. Basically, I think the aliens don’t blow themselves up; they just get addicted to computer games. They forget to send radio signals or colonize space because they’re too busy with runaway consumerism and virtual-reality narcissism. They don’t need Sentinels to enslave them in a Matrix; they do it to themselves, just as we are doing today. Once they turn inwards to chase their shiny pennies of pleasure, they lose the cosmic plot. They become like a self-stimulating rat, pressing a bar to deliver electricity to its brain’s ventral tegmental area, which stimulates its nucleus accumbens to release dopamine, which feels... ever so good.

          Why We Haven’t Met Any Aliens [seedmagazine.com]
          Geoffrey Miller [wikipedia.org]

      • I mean -- It's not like theres ever been another dominant life form that's now utterly extinct due to one or two slightly above average asteroids striking the Earth -- You can be complacent because you're ancestors were not dinosaurs..

        I'm not complacent - but I'm also not ignorant. Going into space today to escape a dinosaur killer is like walking into an auto body shop to buy a pizza. It's not only pointless, it's stupidly silly - because it's going to be centuries at best before anything off planet has

    • Launch costs are the killer right now. Com sats and government funded programs are the only things that can afford to get there right now. If SpaceX and others like it really manage to cut launch costs down to $1,000/lb, it opens the doors for a LOT of interesting uses that never would've been funded at today's costs to orbit.
    • I think there's a critical mass of technology that is required before we can effectively create the demand, and that is what these companies are working on (launching satellites to pay the bills in the meantime). Working backwards here: I don't think that we're going to be able to do much in space manufacturing (etc) until we close the life support loop; sending supplies up constantly is just too expensive. Bigelow is working on that problem, but are currently constrained by launch costs. SpaceX, Virgin,

    • by argStyopa (232550)

      Raw materials and energy.

      One of the caps on human expansion is the limit of raw materials and energy.

      Energy: just under 100 million miles from our planet is a massive fusion reactor, putting out 3x10^20 megawatts of power PER SECOND. Never needs refuelling, can't melt down.

      Raw materials: at 1997 prices (it's the metric wiki used), a sub-1-mile-diameter metallic asteroid is believed to contain more than $20 trillion in gold, cobalt, iron, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, osmium, palladium, platinum, rhenium

  • by Colourspace (563895) on Friday May 06, 2011 @06:38PM (#36052622)
    I have worked in the electronics (and space qualified electronics) industry for some time, from the component to the system manufacturer level, for some time now. I have seen a lot of progress in the FPGA sector in particular. Silicon now seems to be running 'out of steam', though I don't doubt Intel and the like will continue to squeeze the tech for some time and continue to amaze us. On a personal level I wonder how close I am to my (hypothetical granddads) level when steam was close to its dying days, I don't know. But space really seems to be on an upward curve now. Only yesterday I sent my closest friends links to the Virgin Galactic site as although I have been no fan to date, the pictures I saw yesterday actually made me think that our long promised space age might finally be getting here. I hope so, we need to get off this rock. (and nuke it from space, it's the only way....)
  • How about asteroid mining with solar pumped lasers, or gas mining the gas giants for hydrogen (or maybe helium if we ever figure out fusion). There is a lot of possibilities but we are lacking some very fundamental things to really make space exploration viable. Like a better propulsion system to leave the gravity well of a planet.
    • by Americano (920576)

      Why would we mine asteroids, or gas giants, when we have the technology to mine all those same elements right back here on earth?

      You realize that the elements available here are pretty much the same as you'd find anywhere, right? Like, Hydrogen here on earth is the same as Hydrogen on Jupiter? Considering that 70% of the earth's surface is covered, in some places miles deep, with a compound of hydrogen and oxygen, I'd say extracting hydrogen and oxygen right here on earth would be a lot more economical th

      • Agreed. I'd also point out that, as you increase the supply, the price goes down so it has to be even cheaper than you think.

        Imagine running across a solid gold asteroid. You'd be rich! But when you brought it back to Earth and started to sell lots of it in order to pay off the costs of actually getting it, you'd end up making less money because you'd drive the price of gold down. That would be true for anything that's available on Earth.

        The real reason for mining astroids, etc. is to provide an infrast

        • by Teancum (67324)

          When the California Gold Rush happened in 1849, there were hoards of people who traveled to San Francisco (or overland) for the chance to "make it rich". Some fairly wealthy people spent the modern equivalent of a million dollars or more to make the trip too. Furthermore, in spite of being able to claim they were rich (and many did become quite wealthy), the price of gold did drop considerably compared to almost all currencies world-wide because that hoard of gold ended up flooding the world commodity mar

          • by Americano (920576)

            Here's the problem with your comparison to the Gold Rush: San Francisco isn't millions of miles away in a vacuum that is completely inhospitable to human life, which requires hundreds of millions of dollars just to reach, much less extract minerals from, and ship them back to earth.

            By contrast, during the gold rush, a few tens of dollars would get you set up to prospect. Some chisels & hammers, sifting pans, shovels, and pickaxes were sufficient. And yet, about half of the miners [wikipedia.org] ended up losing mone

            • by Teancum (67324)

              I think you forget just how remote San Francisco was in the 1850's. It was quite literally on the frontier of European civilization and required expeditions that did indeed cost in today's dollars the equivalent of millions of dollars to travel to that destination from places like Germany or England. For some of the sailing ships, it was close to hundreds of millions of dollars in today's "inflation adjusted" money.

              Not only that, but it took the better part of a year or more to get there, as they had to s

              • by Americano (920576)

                If people do become successful in establishing a permanent presence in space

                They will not, at least not on any scale that would be commercially viable, and your vapid wishful thinking will not change one iota of the economic reasons for that. There is *no place to go* and there is *nothing to do,* in the "tourism" sense. And from the "exploiting raw materials" perspective, there is no resource on Jupiter that would be cheaper to produce there and ship back to earth that wouldn't be cheaper to simply find

  • by wcrowe (94389) on Friday May 06, 2011 @07:52PM (#36053286)

    As someone pointed out recently, our brightest minds in computer science are laboring at ways to get more people to click on links. Similarly, the commercial space industry will develop quickly, but it will be focused on putting enormous ads in the sky, or something equally useless.

  • Chemical rockets are the limiting factor, the tech is so marginal that only extreme efforts allow spaceflight with such poor tech- and that means tiny safety margins and huge flight cost. Human space travel will never be more than a curiosity until we advance our to orbit launch capability. Guns of one sort or another (gun powder, rail gun, electromagnetic catapult) are the only available tech that will give us affordable space flight within our lifetime.
    • by cbhacking (979169)

      Space elevators are theoretically possible with modern material science, and that science is still advancing. There are other problems to be worked out, of course, but they are *being* worked out already.

      I'm not saying I'm sure we'll see a space elevator in my lifetime, but I wouldn't bet against it. There's a huge technological advantage to having one; every other option requires either lifting all the power to get out of the gravity well with you (and nothing short of nuclear energy will do that with suff

  • Space will be settled by the impatient.

Arithmetic is being able to count up to twenty without taking off your shoes. -- Mickey Mouse

Working...