Another Fun Comment

Here’s another fun, somewhat provocative comment, made by a member of aRocket:

All of this discussion assumes that space exploration is, of itself, a valuable goal.  As I see it, the only real deliverable of space exploration is that it keeps that VERY SMALL percentage of the population not content with beer and football entertained.

I would argue that the only demonstrated net social value from space has come from defense and communication and for that, “going round in circles” is fine.

While space exploration is something that I find personally very fascinating, I’m definitely a member of the “not content with beer and football” crowd. I know that a lot of unmanned space exploration sorts like talking about how “you can get so much more science for the buck with robots”, but at the end of the day, even unmanned exploration is just a form of edutainment for most people. Sure, there are occasional side benefits that come up from these programs, but at the end of the day, it leaves you wondering why space exploration for exploration’s sake really deserves so much more government support than say exploration of oceans, or other National Geographic-like expeditions.

Now, I think that exploration could be done in a way that it was more meaningful to society than just another, rather expensive form of edutainment. Which was the point that Marburger made a few years ago:

If we are serious about this, then our objective must be more than a disconnected series of missions, each conducted at huge expense and risk, and none building a lasting infrastructure to reduce the expense and risk of future operations. If we are serious, we will build capability, not just on the ground but in space. And our objective must be to make the use of space for human purposes a routine function.

Exploration that is not in support of something else strikes me as somehow selfish and unsatisfying, and not consistent with the fact that we are using public funds for this enterprise, no matter how small a fraction of the total budget they may be.

If the architecture of the exploration phase is not crafted with sustainability in mind, we will look back on a century or more of huge expenditures with nothing more to show for them than a litter of ritual monuments scattered across the planets and their moons.

I just bring this up, because I’ve seen time and time again a lot of the wasteful decisions NASA makes is due to being myopically overfocused on maximizing the specific mission they are trying to carry out, without putting any thought into the big picture of how to make this relevant to the rest of us. In many ways this ties back to my first real blog post on this blog–your focus really does determine your path.

If your aim is to help humanity incorporate more and more of the solar system into its economic sphere, and to make space beyond communications, GPS, and weather satellites meaningful beyond mere edutainment, you’ll make decisions differently than if your only goal is to optimize some narrowly defined mission.

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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.
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44 Responses to Another Fun Comment

  1. FC says:

    I won’t be satisfied until I can have beer and football IN SPAAAACE!

  2. If I was planning to go to space, my beer and football loving mates would be the first I’d approach for help.. and they’d be the most helpful and supportive too.

    The reason why they’re interesting in football and not interested in space is because football (and beer I suppose) is _something they can actually do_. It’s the same reason they’re interested in cars and boats, but not so interested in planes.. but give them some fireworks or an Estes motor and they’ll happily tinker with it or at least offer you a ride out to the launch site.

    This is no mistake.. it’s not an oversight.. there’s a reason why space fans are reduced to being spectators. It’s the same reason why we give so much kudos to those in our community who get their hands dirty.

  3. Bill White says:

    Jon writes:

    If your aim is to help humanity incorporate more and more of the solar system into its economic sphere, and to make space beyond communications, GPS, and weather satellites meaningful beyond mere edutainment, you’ll make decisions differently than if your only goal is to optimize some narrowly defined mission.

    Who is the unspecified “you” in this paragraph? Who is the audience you are addressing?

    For example, I desire to see humanity incorporate more and more of the solar system into its economic sphere but I very much doubt many in the US Congress share this goal (to the extent they think about this at all) and therefore (IMHO) they (i.e. Congress) shall not be persuaded by arguments such as these, even if I am.

  4. Bill White says:

    PS – Most NASA decisions are indeed wasteful from the perspective you describe however what if the US Congress (and thus NASA) is not interested in the objective of helping humanity incorporate more and more of the solar system into its economic sphere?

    Then what?

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  6. mike shupp says:

    Umm.. from roughly 1990 up till George Bush’s VSE, NASA was explicitly forbidden by Congress from considering human habitability and economic use of solar sytem resources. (Think of it as a way for Congress to say “No, no, no!” to George H. W. Bush’s plans). You’re taking this into account when castigating NASA, aren’t you?

    Similarly, NASA spent most of the 1970’s and 1980’s being told it could have funds for building the space shuttle but not for leaving earth orbit, and most of the 1990’s being told it could build a space station but only if it behaved itself and played nicely with the other aerospace-capable nations. Do you suppose, just maybe, just concievably, that this might have something to do with NASA’s inability to do much of interest?

  7. Mike,
    I should clarify that what triggered this for me as a lot of the anti-depot sentiment coming out of the flight ops groups at JSC. Some of the arguments while legitimate, have ready answers (that I’ll soon be writing about), but in the end a lot boils down to obsession with a mission that isn’t by itself worth the cost. A NEO mission on the scale of LM’s Plymouth Rock idea might be worth it even without depots, but at the cost that HEFT anticipates, doing it just for its own sake makes no sense, so doing it in a way that actually enables more space activity by other actors, even if it makes the core mission a little more sensible seems in order.


  8. Bill,
    I was directing my comments at NASA. Yes, I understand that Congress is unlikely to intentionally do the right thing, but they’re even less likely to do so if people yield the rhetorical high ground. Tilting at windmills does sometimes pay off a little, and with the size of NASA’s budget compared to the commercial spaceflight industry, getting even a little course change in the right direction can be well worth the effort.

    That said, you know I’ve got my own space company, and I’m actively focusing on trying to do the things that can be done now, even without the main part of NASA exploration heading in the right direction. I think it’s perfectly legit to spend most of my time working on the small incremental progress I know I can make, while spending a tiny fraction of my time fighting the long odds to try and make a difference in the big picture. It may look to a blog reader like most of my energy is being focused on trying to change the unchangeable, but that’s just because I don’t or can’t talk about most of what I’m actually doing.


  9. Andrew W says:

    Though it’s a huge improvement on the “Americans spend a zillion dollars each year on beer and football each year, so we should spend much more on space ‘cos it’s more important” meme, with respect, it’s still no different to dozens of other posts on the same theme on various forums over the last few years.

    The next line is “we need to get politics out of space”, then the debate dies as we move onto something else.

    Perhaps space enthusiasts need to get together and put up their own money to develop systems beyond todays disintegrating totem poles.

  10. Jonathan Goff Jonathan Goff says:

    As I was telling Bill, space enthusiasts are to some extent “getting together putting their own money into developing systems”. It’s just that with NASA’s budget as big as it is, even tiny improvements to the status quo can make a huge difference. It’s worth working both paths simultaneously.


  11. JohnHunt says:

    My feeling is that the public can decide how they want their money spent. And my feeling is that they are comfortable with the amount and results of the robotic exploration missions. For example, in the early part of the Spirit an Opportunity missions, their activities were pretty newsworthy – indicating that the public was satisfied with the spending. Allow the scientists to add on experiments which are meaningful to the scientific community – I’m fine with that too.

    I do think that there is a decent amount if dissatisfaction with HSF and there us a widely held view that we aren’t getting our money’s worth in that department. I think that the majority of that comes from the sense of stagnation of being stuck in LEO. So I view as appropriate efforts such as the VSE, the Flexible Path, a Plymouth Rock mission, and even a Mars Semi-Direct.

    However, I would have to agree with Marburger. The public (whose money it is) may be satisfied with a successful manned Mars mission. But those of us who understand the bigger picture know that we need to be building capacity which makes future exploration and development less expensive. Yet developing a fuel depot will probably not be valued as much as landing a cute, big-eyed rover on Mars looking for evidence of ancient life! Yet a fuel depot makes such missions more doable. So, just like robotic mission designers add instrument of interests to scientists only, likewise we should advocate for efforts towards sustainability.

  12. I’ve seen both sides of the Congress/NASA incompetence. Yes, Congress does tell NASA to do stupid things. Yes, NASA does choose to ignore Congressional direction sometimes even when they actually get it right. I’m sure I’ve been guilty of it’s-not-NASA-it’s-Congress moaning but it’s really not – it’s both of them. NASA is a government agency, trying to hold them blameless of the legislative process is impossible.

  13. A_M_Swallow says:

    As Jonathan Goff says a manned trip to a Near Earth Object (NEO) is pretty useless, any science can be performed using a robot. However a test drive of the Mars Transfer Vehicle before it goes to Mars will be worth while. The test needs a destination, such as an asteroid. The astronauts can make themselves useful whilst that are docked to the NEO.

  14. AM,
    You seem to be missing my point. My point was that most of the robotics science missions aren’t really worth the edutainment value they produce either. Most of these missions are only really economically justifiable if they’re doing things in support of an actual valuable long-term goal.


  15. Andrew W says:

    There’s a hurdle humans have to get over to progress in the economics of space, that hurdle is much cheaper access to space, we all know that, and we all know that’s not going to happen through tinkering with the methods we use now.

    We have to actually do something like rotovators or EM launchers, or space fountains. Without a big change in how we approach the problem, we’re just stuck in a hole congratulating ourselves on being able to throw rocks out.

  16. Karl Hallowell says:

    There’s a hurdle humans have to get over to progress in the economics of space, that hurdle is much cheaper access to space, we all know that, and we all know that’s not going to happen through tinkering with the methods we use now.

    There are significant economies of scale from launch frequency even with the methods we use now.

  17. Andrew, that’s not how economics works. You need *competition* to lower prices and to get competition you need a *market*.

  18. Andrew W says:

    “You need *competition* to lower prices and to get competition you need a *market*.”

    To get competition you need multiple vendors in a free market.

    What we need to change the economics of space transport is more than just the business as usual we’ve seen over the last 50 years, we need a revolutionary change. In a market that means people sticking their necks out and taking a punt on their own ideas, at their own risk, for their own profit, and that’s not something we can expect from the (by nature) conservative state controlled organisations that now control space flight. SpaceX and similar outfits are encouraging but, realistically, they’re still tied to what NASA expects, perhaps in 20 years when we’ve got 2nd generation private companies competing as launch service providers with NASA having less of a strangle hold we’ll see a Henry Ford or Howard Hughes of space.

    “competition” can certainly lower prices, but to see prices cut to say 1/20th or 1/50th (which is what needs to happen for lunar mining and SPS’s to be economical) of previous levels you will almost certainly need to employ different technology, not just have better organisation using the same technology.

  19. Andrew W says:

    I said: “To get competition you need multiple vendors in a free market.”

    Change that to: “To get competition you need multiple vendors in a market, To get the best results from competition you need multiple vendors in a Free market.”

  20. A_M_Swallow says:


    I accept that NASA needs to devise a long term aim and a strategy to achieve it.

  21. Paul says:

    Karl Hallowell,
    “There are significant economies of scale from launch frequency even with the methods we use now.”

    How much, though?

    Not being snarky, I mean that as a genuine question. It seems to me that amortising development and infrastructure costs is the only area where economies of scale lower prices. How big a share of current launch prices is infrastructure? 10% 50% 90%?

  22. Karl Hallowell says:

    Paul, there’s also “learning curve” effects, where the process of building and launching a vehicle gets cheaper over the lifetime of the product just due to the growing experience of the parties involved. It’s usually expressed as a doubling of volume results in a drop in marginal unit price (something like 10-15% decline for aerospace projects).

    Second, there’s reliability. A frequently launched vehicle simply is better tested and has fewer upgrades and changes per launch than an infrequently launched vehicle. This can translate into considerably increased profits. For example, most space projects have between 10-20% of their cost in putting things in orbit. If you can drop the LOM rate from 2% to 1% while keeping your launch plus insurance costs the same, then you’ve increased the effective revenue of the launch vehicle by 5-10%.

  23. Paul Roberts says:

    You also have to look at the fact that current launch vehicles simply aren’t built as cheaply as they could be. Elon’s Falcon 9 goes a good distance down the road, by using less than cutting edge technologies, but, even then, there are further savings that could be achieved by strictly designing to recurring cost. Accepting a payload fraction so crappy that you can use reasonably common welded steels and aluminum. Using a pressure fed engine with storable propellants (or at least storable fuel, using LOX is pretty cheap). Things like that. The aerospace industry has gotten the mindset that to launch anything into space, you need bleeding edge tech & razor thin margins. In my heart, I believe it can be done for a lot less if a design team was put together and managed with an absolute directive to build to a set recurring cost.

    You’d need a program where that made sense, something like 50+ or 200 + launches of exactly the same thing. You have to be able to accept a small, but actual failure rate. A good deal of NASA’s costs are build upon the falacy that failure is not an option. Of course it’s an option. It’s always an option, but they have fooled themselves (and the American public) into thinking that they are never allowed to fail. That kind of risk adversion is really, really expensive.

    You need to have a program that can afford to lose 1 in 20 or 1 in 40 launches over the life of a long program. Being able to apply statistical process control to rocket building alone would save a bucket of money. Right now every part is almost unique and needs an army of quality & safety people to ensure each rivet is correctly placed & tested.

    Being able to survive a business case where 20% of the first 10, 10% of the next 20 and then 2% of the following launches ended up in the drink and still make money would revolutionise how we design & build rockets. By the time you got to the 50th and later examples, you’d likely be able to prove that the possibility of failure was less than the current shuttle and then you’d be happy to fly people on them.

    It’s all about flight rate and risk tolerance. Cost is inversely proportional to one and directly proportional to the other. I’d probably put a couple of exponents in there as well.


  24. ken anthony says:

    This is a classic case of needing to work the problem backwards. You start with the solution ‘enlarging the human economic sphere’ then you focus on just that and cut away all the distractions.
    Let’s start big. We want to fill the universe with humans. Well you really can’t do that without humans having lot’s of experience living in space. Ok, so where in the solar system can they get that experience?
    The moon, an O’Neal colony or Mars.
    The problem with the moon? Too easy to abandon or put a half hearted effort that never progresses.
    The I.S.S. is an analog for an O’Neal colony. How that’s working? (as to pushing us forward?)
    Now, put a dozen people on Mars. What’s that do? Not that easy to end the program, especially if we provide no ascent vehicle. Let some private company work on a mar SSTO instead. They are there to stay and as they develop habitable space we add more people.
    This colony would demand develop of space assets while those other two destinations would be trivial to abandon.
    They will have a continual need for supplies for decades which will eventually develop into two-way trade and will provide the economic incentive to lower costs with higher flight rates (required because we are not going to let those people die and we can’t just withdraw them.)

  25. Andrew W says:

    That’s an interesting idea Ken, as another technique for attracting settlers how about we rename Mars ‘Greenplanet’? This would lead people into imagining a land of rolling hills covered with lush vegetation.
    Finding a good name for whatever it is your selling is a well proven strategy, it been used by people at least as far back as Eric The Red, over a thousand years ago.

  26. ken anthony says:

    No Andrew, Mars will name itself greenplanet once it’s been terraformed. No need for any sarcasm now.

    NASA sends mass to the mars surface for about $2b/ton. Using currently existing products it could be done for about $50m/ton. Assuming no ISRU we could keep a dozen people alive on mars for less than $2b per year. All with existing technology and no heavy lift.

    But ISRU is the point. With it we can grow the martian population with earlier settlers preparing for those that follow, until mars is self sustaining with it’s own economy. This is part of the definition of expanding the economic sphere of humanity.

    Moon and O’Neal colonies assume exports to earth to grow. Mars doesn’t need to do that if we make a minimum investment to get a colony going there. Mars can resupply ISRU rather than from earth after an initial start (although it will always import it will not need it to sustain life.)

    Not doing it is not just short sighted. It may be the stupidest blunder the human race ever made.

  27. Andrew W says:

    My point Ken is that you’re suggesting we send 12 people to Mars with no way to retrieve them if things don’t go to plan, in fact you see this survive or die strategy as the main strength of a Mars colonization effort compared to a lunar or O’Neill colonization effort because you see the ability to repatriate in an emergency as a weakness. In case you missed It, I was drawing parallels with the Viking colonization of Greenland, in the end those colonists also had no way to return home and as a result they all died.

    I’m left wondering who exactly you would have these colonists be, perhaps naive idealistic fools, or perhaps you would force criminals to do the “colonizing”? Either of those options I’m sure would result in the death of the colonists even if Mars were no more inhospitable than the middle of the Antarctic ice cape, when in reality Mars would be a far tougher environment to survive than that.

  28. ken anthony says:

    you see this survive or die strategy as the main strength of a Mars colonization effort
    Yes I do. Do you have any curiosity regarding why?
    parallels with the Viking colonization of Greenland
    Yes, there are. Do you know which one’s are important?
    who exactly you would have these colonists be
    Entirely volunteers.

    Yes, it is a tough environment. It would require a certain type of character to take on such a challenge. It is certainly not a death sentence as you seem to imply although some may die on such a worthy ambition. This is why it should have sufficient support, not two or three people on a flags and footprints mission (even if they stay for a few years, then come back that’s all it is.)

  29. Andrew W says:

    “Entirely volunteers.”

    Naive idealistic fools then.

    I don’t think you’ve got the faintest idea of just how challenging establishing a colony on Mars would be, to feed just 12 people would require a couple of thousand square metres of greenhouse, and that’s a greenhouse that will need to be pressurized, and heated, it’s not going to be built out of indigenous laminated hardened glass in a hurry, and keeping it from freezing during the Martian night will require a substantial heat storage system with a substantial solar collection system supplying it with energy. The whole system would need maintaining which with such a massive system would mean a major and ongoing commitment to parts supply from Earth.

    So I think even for 12 people, if they’re feeding themselves you would be looking at a couple more zeros on the cost you’re guessing at.

  30. Paul Roberts says:

    As interesting and ultimately forward-thinking as a colony anywhere off planet would be, at the moment there’s no justification for _anything_ human off earth’s surface. At least no justification that will hold up under the scrutiny of a parsimonious public/congress or profit oriented corporations.

    The return of knowledge is simply not enough any more. People are not in a mood to explore and certainly not in a mood to support multi- tens of billion dollar efforts to explore space with people.

    Opening up or colonising or even exploring space has to return a profit. There. I said it. Space exploration and colonisation has to be profitable in the long term or it simply isn’t going to happen. We can bemoan it all we like, but nobody is going to be put on Mars or the Moon or even the something like the ISS for any length of time (like a generation) without it turning a profit.

    We can see what’s happening now as the US Congress issues innane declarations of design & schedule from one mouth while denying the funding to proceed and denying the freedom to make program changes with two other mouths all in an order to save jobs while not spending money. As if there is no link between the two. I will bet any amount of money that unless something spectacular happens the ISS will not be replaced. Both the ISS and Apollo were based on political necessities and both of those necessities have been fulfilled. If there are no repeats of those necessities, then there will be no repeats of those programs.

    There is no driving vision or need for human presence in space. Sure, we space geeks can come up with a number of really valid reasons but they simply do not resonate with a short attention span public and their even shorter attention span politicians.

    When a corporation figures out a way to make real and sustained money that absolutely requires humans in space, then that is when we will go there in a sustainable way. And not before. The search to maximise profit will ensure that said corporation will not use NASA at all and will ignore anything that resembles NASA’s human rating criteria. They’ll do just enough to do the job and nothing more. They’ll take risks that NASA simple isn’t allowed to even contemplate and, in doing so, will decrease their flight costs by an order of magnitude. They’ll also increase their failure rate by at least an order of magnitude, but they will take that risk and profit from it. Once that day happens, NASA will finally be out of the launch business and whatever remains of it will be in the exploration and technology development business as it should be. A NACA reborn.

    As things are, the cadre of space state politicians, and the very large space corporations that heavily support & influence them, simply make things more difficult by stifling the possible changes that could create the new technologies that might make space travel cheap enough to allow companies to make a buck in space. Forever building more ATK/Boeing/Lockmart rockets is not how costs will come down. Business cases will not be made at $10,000 a kilo and substantially less than $10,000 a kilo is not going to happen unless there are some fundamental changes to how things are done getting to orbit.

  31. Andrew W says:

    nice comment Paul, a couple of points though:
    “When a corporation figures out a way to make real and sustained money that absolutely requires humans in space, then that is when we will go there in a sustainable way. And not before.”
    Almost sounds like a definition of space tourism.

    “They’ll also increase their failure rate by at least an order of magnitude”
    I doubt it, an order of magnitude sounds like more that a 50% failure rate. I’d bet on a steady decline in launch failures with experience who ever is the launch operator.

  32. ken anthony says:

    a couple more zeros on the cost
    Actually, since mars has water that cuts the cost down to $500m per year from $2b.

    Paul, I absolutely agree that space has to return a profit.
    I expand my answer two both questions on my blog.

  33. ken anthony says:

    Andrew, I want to address your point about a great deal of mass in the initial set up…
    They need equipment that gives them capability, but not necessarily massive. They don’t need to start with industrial era levels of productivity. What they do need are the tools and equipment that would allow them to build up to that level over time. We need to give them abundant energy. Cast iron they can get from martian dust.

    Before anyone goes, a lot of thought should be spent considering what they can do for themselves and what they really need in supplies. We should definitely oversupply them. But we have to realize the limit of what we can anticipate.

    Don’t count out what people can do when focused on survival. We need to give them that chance… then be amazed.

    My brother is an example. What he can build with his hands from nothing is astounding. But that’s the human race in a nutshell.

  34. Paul Roberts says:

    >>Almost sounds like a definition of space tourism.

    It sounds like the definition of any industry that turns a profit. Space tourism, unless the prices can come down by two orders of magnitude is a very limited customer pool. But, if you can get it down top the point where tourism pays, believe me, a LOT of other industries will pay as well.

    Rememeber, while tourists certainly were amongst the first commercial flyers, the bulk of early commercial flyers were those who had a business need to get from A to B faster than a train and were willing to spend a lot of money and risk a not-uncommon crash to do so.

    Once the costs hit a certain point the same rationale will resurface. Corporations will always have a need to get more people to places faster than the general public. Only the rich dilettante types will be able to fly alongside the business traveller to space. Just like in the 20’s & 30’s. The business travellers will outnumber them 20 to 1.

    That’s when you know you have a sustainable space travel infrastructure business model.


  35. Mike Lorrey says:

    the beer and football excuse to downplay space exploration is the same exact crap that people said about aviation in the teens and twenties.

  36. Paul says:

    Andrew W, Re:29
    “greenhouse […] and keeping it from freezing during the Martian night will require a substantial heat storage system

    Hmmm, interesting. The Martian atmosphere is less than 1% of Earth’s, so thermal transfer will be slow. Radiated heat is the main issue. Has anyone done the math/experiments on this type of structure? How much heat input do you need to replace the heat lost in a not-quite-vacuum?

    ken anthony,
    “What they do need are the tools and equipment that would allow them to build up to that level over time. […] Cast iron they can get from martian dust.”

    This is an old argument on SB, but you have to think of the time it takes to do these things. Every resource that you have to extract is another n-manhours out of their work-week. Your colonists are extremely labour restricted.

    I know there’s a lot of ISRU/fab research being done, but “possible” does not mean “practical”. Not if the required labour exceeds the labour pool by several times. We need numbers on how long it takes for one (or two or three) people to make a necessary part (a bulk structural element, for example) from raw materials including maintenance/repair of the equipment used.

  37. Paul Roberts says:

    >>Has anyone done the math/experiments on this type of structure?

    If you mean for greenhouses, then “probably yes” in a university or “blue sky” sort of way. If you mean specific heat transfer on the Martian surface, then, “definitely yes”; all of the Mars mission teams have done it.

    Having worked on the Mars Phoenix Lander program, I can tell you that heat transfer is serious issue. The absolute amount of heat transfer per degree C of temp difference is generally a lot lower on Mars than on Earth certainly due to the lower atmospheric pressure, however the delta Ts are significantly larger thus driving the total heat loading quite high. Another factor is the existance of a Martian atmosphere and its winds. The winds are generally not significantly higher than on Earth but even in standing Martian air, the existance of even a 1% atmosphere sets up convection currents that multiply the vacuum heat transfer by several times. Add any wind to that and the convective heat transfer becomes, by far, the dominant heat transfer mode, not radiative.

    We were forced on the Phoenix MET station to employ actual insulation material as opposed to the normal vacuum thermal control of MLI (multi layer insulation) which a purely radiation restrictive system. If we could have structurally managed a 2 cm gap between layers, a purely radiation system could have been used under a wind shield, but there was no way to actually construct such a thing and have it survive launch & landing.

    For a green house where, presumably, you need relatively clear access to the limited solar energy provided, adding layers of insulation isn’t going to be simple, if even possible. In that case you are likely to be stuck with a relatively high heat energy demand from the greenhouse “glass” areas. If you can shutter them at night you provide significant benefits as, like any desert, the temperature swings from day to night are quite significant and the real heat demand would be at night. Of course this adds significant mass and complexity to the whole greenhouse effort, but it’s very likely unavoidable unless there is simply “power to burn” on heating.


  38. A_M_Swallow says:

    The heat and light gathering area can be a much larger area than the growing area. Only the growing area needs oxygen and in gravity heat goes uphill better than downhill.

  39. Paul Roberts says:

    Conduction is so much more efficient than convection or radiation that exposed surface area has to be minimised to limit the amount of heat transfer.


  40. ken anthony says:

    Your colonists are extremely labour restricted
    People are labor restricted. So what else is new? They need to sleep, eat, etc. This is why…
    1) You over supply them.
    2) You get more of them there.

    You can work someone to death anywhere.

  41. Paul says:

    Paul Roberts.
    “Having worked on the Mars Phoenix Lander program, I can tell you that heat transfer is serious issue.”

    Oh, of course that would be an issue for the probes. Thanks for the info. (I hadn’t even considered that gap insulation would particularly help reduce radiative loss in a vacuum.)

    “adding layers of insulation isn’t going to be simple,”

    Unless you shove the whole thing underground and use solar collectors (with “ducts” to channel it) on the surface, which turns a simple greenhouse into a major facility.

    Otherwise… Water between two transparent skins? Increase the thermal mass of the “walls” without decreasing translucence. Molten salt heat storage? Still doesn’t exactly make it an easy construction for 12 people. Especially when they aren’t benefiting from the greenhouse (which might be intended to be part of their life-support, not just food supply) until it’s done. Layers on layers of tasks. Time kills complex ISRU for the pioneers, IMO. It may be the hard thing that they do to make it easier for the next wave, but not for their own benefit.

  42. Paul says:

    ken anthony,
    “Your colonists are extremely labour restricted”
    “People are labor restricted. So what else is new? They need to sleep, eat, etc.”

    Worse than that. Every time they go outside, they have hours of suit maintenance (you want to do the mission on the cheap, which is how I read your comments, you aren’t buying next gen, you’re buying last.)

    12 people (**), 16-18 hours a day. That’s not a big number.

    (** though I think that was Andrew’s number, not yours)

    “This is why…1) You over supply them.
    2) You get more of them there.”

    If you are using ISRU to lower the costs of your pioneering mission, you need it to work for the pioneers. If they are doing it for the benefit of the second wave, it doesn’t reduce their own costs, it increases it (because you (the mission planner/funder) have to make sure their time is focused solely on setting up for that second wave, not themselves. And that “over-supply” increases your costs. Not just food/air/water, but all of their equipment has to be massively reliable to prevent it sucking up their time. ISS needs three crew just to maintain it. A permanent Mars colony…?)

    “You can work someone to death anywhere.”

    You’re a harsh man, Captain Bligh, a harsh man.

  43. Paul Roberts says:

    >>(I hadn’t even considered that gap insulation would particularly help reduce radiative loss in a vacuum.)

    In a vacuum, it doesn’t. In a 1% atmosphere, it does by a large amount.

    “Near vacuum” and “vacuum” are significantly different on Mars. While you can’t breathe it, the 1% on Mars is more than enough for you to get almost all the thermal effects of operating on Earth as opposed to operating in deep space.


  44. ken anthony says:

    you need it to work for the pioneers
    Absolutely agree and here’s how it does…

    People, correctly for the most part, say it’s the economics stupid but then totally focus on exports… but nothing is really worth that much AND with a new colony they aren’t going to have the ability to make anything (which is really part of your argument.) So instead of focusing on exports that aren’t going to happen for a hundred years or more from now if ever. Focus on a source of income that can happen immediately and continuously and doesn’t require any exports.

    Immigration can be a source of income!

    A hectare for sale, prepared for habitation, to incoming colonist for just 1% of travel costs means one sq. km. pays for what they paid themselves. This could be prepaid by the buyer as part of the ticket price before they even leave earth. That hectare should include a habitat and enough garden to provide more food than the new owner needs (an acre or more.) This would allow for growth to over a million people before any other method of income is required (but other methods will develop long before then.)

    So if a dozen have continuous sustainable life support from earth and then have ISRU water, they can now sustain four dozen at the same rate of support providing more hands to ease the workload. Then they focus on researching agriculture. Every hectare they get into agricultural production allows for a dozen more colonists (and the income that provides.)

    They focus like a laser on ISRU for agriculture and habitats, but are not really under pressure because a sustainable level of support from earth can continue at a reasonably low level. They grow at whatever rate they put an effort into doing it and have the economic incentive to do it.

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