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Space Transportation Technology

Spaceport America Begins Construction 95

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 rwade ( 131726 ) on Friday June 19, 2009 @02:47PM (#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 timpdx ( 1473923 ) on Friday June 19, 2009 @02:56PM (#28394613)
    Foster & Partners usually does a good job. The Millau Bridge is Foster, as is the Gherkin in London other Foster projects [] I think the thing is quite stunning myself.
  • by diskofish ( 1037768 ) on Friday June 19, 2009 @03:19PM (#28395023)
    A space plane is basically what the White Knight [] 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.
  • by chaim79 ( 898507 ) on Friday June 19, 2009 @03:19PM (#28395027) Homepage

    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 wowbagger ( 69688 ) on Friday June 19, 2009 @03:27PM (#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.

  • by TurboNed ( 1370389 ) on Friday June 19, 2009 @03:53PM (#28395583)
    Mach is a measurement of speed relative to the speed of sound - thus Mach 1 is different (in terms of miles per hour) at sea level than it is at 50,000 feet. Escape velocity isn't a relative speed though. So - what are you referring to? Mach 34 at sea level? Then it's meaningless because nobody accelerates to that velocity in atmosphere that dense. Mach 34 at 50 miles up? Well now the atmosphere is so thin that Mach 34 is pretty darn slow (in terms of miles per hour thanks to slow speed of sound) and achievable (thanks to less drag because of less atmosphere).
  • by FleaPlus ( 6935 ) on Friday June 19, 2009 @04:30PM (#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? []

    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. []

    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.

  • by Dr. Zim ( 21278 ) on Friday June 19, 2009 @08:51PM (#28398393) Homepage

    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 FleaPlus ( 6935 ) on Friday June 19, 2009 @09:38PM (#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 [], 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.

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