Orbital Access Cat Skinning Methodologies

In order to discuss the business, finance, and policy approaches for creating low cost and reliable space transportation, it helps to have an understanding of the underlying technology, in order to provide context for those discussions. It also happens to be a lot easier for one trained primarily as an engineer (and whose business experience mostly comes from a couple of classes that I was able to sneak in during my formal schooling, listening to people who know more than I do, and a little bit of firsthand experience at the whole entrepreneurism thing) to discuss the technological part of the problem.

Last week, I was asked to do a remote guest lecture for a university course on space development (being run by Dr Livingston). It was somewhat flattering to be grouped in the same category as much more experienced space technologists, pundits, and businessmen such as Dennis Wingo, Michael Kelly, Jeff Foust, and others. As part of the presentation on developing reusable orbital transportation, I discussed a short list of orbital space transportation approaches that I felt were the most promising directions for development.

So, over the next several weeks, I want to take a little bit of time to introduce and discuss some of those proposed approaches for reusable orbital transportation. Now, a lot of this may be a boring rehash for fellow engineers and technologists, but hopefully I can provide some useful discussion for those coming to this industry from non-engineering backgrounds. I’m planning on discussing the basic concept behind each approach, the potential pros and cons, the unknowns that need resolving for said approaches, and some thoughts on incremental development methods for resolving those unknowns. I may also go into some of the other topics I discussed such as my ideas on reusable transportation markets.

My goal is to provide a basic understanding of where we are, what we think some potential solutions might look like, and an understanding of some of the more probable paths that could take us from here to there (technologically). With that information as a background, it will hopefully make it easier to discuss how business, financing, and government policy issues tie in with the technological situation.

Hopefully I’m not biting off more than I can chew.

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Jonathan Goff

Jonathan Goff

President/CEO at Altius Space Machines
Jonathan Goff is a space technologist, inventor, and serial space entrepreneur who created the Selenian Boondocks blog. Jon was a co-founder of Masten Space Systems, and is the founder and CEO of Altius Space Machines, a space robotics startup in Broomfield, CO. His family includes his wife, Tiffany, and five boys: Jarom (deceased), Jonathan, James, Peter, and Andrew. Jon has a BS in Manufacturing Engineering (1999) and an MS in Mechanical Engineering (2007) from Brigham Young University, and served an LDS proselytizing mission in Olongapo, Philippines from 2000-2002.
This entry was posted in Business, Economics, Launch Vehicles, Orbital Access Methodologies, Space Development, Space Policy, Space Transportation, Technology. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Orbital Access Cat Skinning Methodologies

  1. meiza says:

    It’s nice as you’re one of the guys who has been involved in building actual hardware. It isn’t flying yet, but has probably already given a lot of experience and changed many personal views. This is probably something many are interested in hearing.
    I assume remote lecture means internet video? Will it be taped? 🙂

  2. Jon Goff says:

    The remote lecture was held a week ago via the phone (like how Dr Livingston runs The Space Show).

    As for gaining experience even though we haven’t gotten to stable flight yet, yeah I agree with that. For instance, as Ian has pointed out on several occasions, we’ve actually put a lot of firing time onto these engines and igniters (in fact our current engine design has more firing time on it than any engine design XCOR has built–they’ve built more designs though), and we’ve learned a lot of lessons. Little by little we’re fixing all of the nagging reliability and maintenance issues. The engines are getting a lot more robust.

    Also, we picked a somewhat harder first problem than Armadillo or XCOR did. While this has kept us so far from getting a good stable flight, it has also helped us learn a lot more about vehicle dynamics and control, as well as the dynamic response of the individual components. I think we’re a lot better prepared for our future vehicles than we would’ve been had we taken the easy-out and gone with a single engine vehicle to start.

    And the reality is that even without yet having a succesfully stable flight, we’re still learning a lot of the operational issues with flying–we still go through all the same steps that you would for a succesful flight, right up to takeoff….

    Anyhow, yeah it’s been a fun learning experience.

    More importantly though for the topic at hand, I’ve also spoken with several experts in some of these other approaches, and am leaning on their experience for some of the discussion.

    Hopefully I can get the first installation of this series written later today.


  3. David Livingston says:

    Jon and others, The UND Space Studies class where you were a guest lecture was recorded live for UND students, distant learning students and UND alumni. It is not available to the general public as it is a UND class for UND graduate students. At times I have sought permission to place some guest lectures on my Space Show website with the clear notice that the copyright belongs to Space Studies, that it is not a Space Show program, and that its placed on the archives with the permission of the Space Studies Department. It is not a given that a particular lecture is permitted on the website because it is an actual class that students pay for, etc. Jon, if you would like, I will see if I can obtain permission to place your talk to my class on the Space Show website. If you are OK with that, please email me or otherwise let me know and I will see if I can obtain permission. If so, it will be an audio file only involving only students, Jon, and me. UND students actually can listen to it off my class website either as an mp3 or they can see the class video through Real Video. If anyone reading this is a student at UND, either graduate or undergraduate, or an alumni, please log into my class, SpSt 570 Barriers To Space Commerce and I will grant you access permission to the site. Again, only UND students et al can access a UND class website. Jon and others, if Jon wants me to archive it if possible and I am able to do so, I will post a note here and let Jon know so he can direct people to his class talk. Thanks. David L.

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