A Personal Space Program

Assuming that I reached the point of controlling enough resources to do a serious space effort, how would I do it? Note that the question is, “how would I do it?” Enough resources to me means that I either own a billion dollars in disposable wealth, or have a combination of personal wealth and targeted investments that I control.

The first thing I would do is invest most of the money in a relatively safe place while investigating what to do, how to do it, and who to do it with. There are hundreds of ideas per good idea, and hundreds of good ideas per idea that would be useful to whatever I came up with. First hire would be a librarian/researcher or several to search prior art on any avenue I happened to find interesting.

I would downplay information about my available resources as much as possible. I was at a conference in the early 2000s talking to somebody when he looked over and saw John Carmack. Instantly our discussion was over as he headed that way like a dog after a rabbit. There is a reason that many wealthy people stealth their net worth. I would have no problem being quite rude to people demanding that I follow their particular dream instead of creating my own. Many of the bad decisions I have made in business and life are because I assumed that some adviser knew what they were talking about.

I would start by having the librarians look for every potential revenue source that anybody has ever suggested. Everything from helium 3 mining, to tourism, to SPS, to interstellar probes, everything. Initial investment only lasts until it runs out, then revenue is required. Sorting the possible wheat from the probable chaff would start immediately and continue as long as the program lasted. Some seemingly lucrative concepts would be duds, while some stupid schemes would be winners. Keep a constant lookout for good and bad directions. Business steering is more important than technical steering.

Second would be research into potential suppliers, partners, and organizations with similar goals. The idea is that some things will need to be done in house while some thing are better outsourced. The criteria for dealing with an outsource would be integrity as well as technical competency. An outsource that has lived on phase one SBRs for decades with never a follow up is likely to be a bad one to deal with, not definitely, but likely. On the other hand, one that has been very productive but has a reputation for shady dealing could be even worse with them using a minor variant to compete against me and possibly destroying my portion of that market.

Third would be looking into technical solutions with  the cheapest methods possible. Obviously I would prioritize my own ideas, but would attempt to be open to other concepts. On this blog I have suggested several compensating nozzle ideas, several rocket pump concepts with novel engine layouts, and a bunch of ideas with tethers, airframes, and other stuff I have little or no real world experience with. Research into prior art would be critical to this step with many ideas either busted in concept or patented  by others, either of which would be a show stopper.

Moving to hardware, I would look for the least expensive ways possible to verify concepts. It may be that I would need to hire experienced people, or it may be that it would be better to partner with a group that is already up and running. An XCOR or Masten class connection would possibly be more cost effective than starting from scratch. Modest R&D money plus a percentage of ownership would prove or disprove a lot of concepts in a short period of time. It is my opinion that a compensating nozzle would be easy and fast while boosting payload by several percent and easing combustion chamber requirements. I also believe that a very high pressure engine is possible with some of the integrated pump concepts I have suggested over the years. The idea is to find out on the cheap without committing to risky tech ideas. Several airframe ideas could be checked out with the home built aircraft community. I supply materials including engines and they build the experimental aircraft that they own after I get my information.

After getting the information from the engine and airframe people a decision is made whether to build in house or buy launches. What destinations and business opportunities exist in LEO and beyond would influence the decision as well as costs and availability of transportation. Buy from ULA or SpaceX may or may not be a good business decision. It’s not a slam dunk either way unless internal capabilities are known. My opinions about engine and airframe design may give a major advantage, or they may be the ignorant fantasies of a dreamer. It is important to know first. Beal, Branson, and Allen come to mind at the moment as smart people that have spent large sums on questionable decisions.

If everything has been done properly to this point, expenditures  should have been under $10M. The invested money should have returned more interest than that during this initial phase. The librarian/researchers should have a suite of possibilities worth looking into. Now the heavy investing starts.

Wherever the goals may be in LEO and beyond, humans will eventually be involved. On the ground, a high RPM test rig determines ability to adapt under various arm lengths, RPMs, and restraints to prevent head turns that tumble the inner ear. A partial gravity primate test rig in LEO should be early on the list of things to build. It is important to know if health can be maintained at 0.16 or 0.38 gee without an intensive exercise program. This has been neglected for far too long. If a short arm and low gee section could maintain health, it would make no sense to make bigger and riskier centrifuge wheels, and even less to crap shoot microgravity conditions for long trips. A probe to the moon with a drill and radiation detectors to determine the regolith shielding depth required for various duration missions. The drill hits a depth of ten meters with radiation detectors every few centimeters. Several locations to characterize  dosage at various depths, sun/GCR angles, and materials.  This information would be useful on Mars and LEOs as well. A greenhouse in LEO for intensive study of plants for food, oxygen, and recycling is needed.

There are a number of possibilities for in space propulsion that could save fortunes compared to current options. Depots, tethers, beams, pellet streams, and high ISP options all need to be checked out before the next steps are taken.

By now, it should be obvious which are the best available options for launch to LEO. The best available way to keep people healthy. Methods of travel beyond LEO have been narrowed down to more economical methods than conventionally available. Probes to Luna or NEOs or other planets have found useful and profitable reasons to go. It would be interesting to see what would have appeared by this time.

It is my opinion that Lunar development would be early on the list. A farside radio telescope is on several wish lists. Boots in dust tourism and exploration. Mining for volatiles and minerals useful in space.  NEOs for many reasons. Check out a few competing SPS concepts. A rotovator slinging hundreds of small probes to every destination of interest. it could be interesting.


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I do construction for a living and aerospace as an occasional hobby. I am an inventor and a bit of an entrepreneur. I've been self employed since the 1980s and working in concrete since the 1970s. When I grow up, I want to work with rockets and spacecraft. I did a stupid rocket trick a few decades back and decided not to try another hot fire without adult supervision. Haven't located much of that as we are all big kids when working with our passions.

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10 Responses to A Personal Space Program

  1. Pingback: A Personal Space Program – MeasurementDataBases for Industry & Science

  2. Peter M says:

    I would hope that exospheric air scoops would be on your list of concepts to investigate. I would love to read a future blog post with your take on the challenges and usefulness of air scoops when paired with electric propulsion.

  3. johnhare johnhare says:

    Never really gave air scoops much thought. I seem to recall that Jon has though I wouldn’t bet on it.

  4. ken anthony says:

    As I sit here listening to ‘Nights in White Satin’ I can muse about my personal space program. Being old and feeble I can’t take youthful risks. My program would require $100m to $150m per year. So a one time diversified investment of $3b at 5% would cover it. That’s about one year of Bezos’ pocket change. Normally that’s a thought that sticks a pin in my balloon, but suppose it happened (it certainly wouldn’t harm Bezos.) Assuming some of my sub-goals are revenue generators the initial amount can be reduced or even close to eliminated.

    First, I would not invest in anything new because there is absolutely no need. I don’t need to find the optimum strategy. All I need to do is plod forward turtle fashion while accomplishing my sub-goals all of which are related to my overall goal.

    It is unlikely that my goal is anyone else’s. That’s the beauty of personal goals. I’m going to put 100 permanent completely independent colonists on mars in less than twenty years. Independent does not mean no support from earth. It means they will survive and thrive at whatever level of support earth provides. They will not be beholding to any but themselves. They will be chosen by their dedication to defending each others liberty.

    A BA330, with life support for six, could be put in orbit for less than $300m. This would be my first action because in orbit it become a profit center. It doesn’t matter that transportation to and from is not ready. Having a destination already in orbit provides the incentive (forcing function in Elon’s terms) to finish the transportation system (which is already close to completion.) Choosing the right docking ports (2) is important, but also not new.

    Then I would contract with SpaceX to put a Red Dragon near the mars equator for max solar (somewhere geologically diverse but known to have water in the regolith.) If the BA330 has about 33% rental occupancy per year that should completely pay for each lander which would become my property supplying storage (water, power, methane) and emergency shelter to later colonists. Later I would transfer ownership to existing colonists (otherwise they’d just scrap it anyway. The point is to establish a certain lawfulness and commitment to free enterprise.)

    If that location proves able to produce consumables at a sufficient rate other supplies will be sent to the same location (within 10 km) at a rate depending on the orbiting BA330’s income.

    A minimum of 10,000 kg for each colonist in the first wave of landings will be prepositioned and be the personal property of that colonist. A minimum of a dozen colonists will be in the first wave with at least two having each of various skill sets. Land is claimed by those that prove able to process it’s resources which should be trivial since mars dust is valuable (just add power and clay utensils) and every where.

    New colonists after that will have 1,000 kg of personal property. They will have no expense for the trip, but will select and pay for their supplies (which includes 2,000 kg to each for transport to mars. This is well within the capacity of a FH/Dragon including inflated volume to make the trip bearable.

    It is expected that technology will improve and costs go down because we’ve established an existing and growing market. We will simply use whatever is best as it becomes available. NO NEW TECH IS REQUIRED beyond what is already in near development.

    Now listening to ‘Wild Thang.”

    Actually there is one new thing… a mars suit for $100k or less.

  5. Jonathan Goff Jonathan Goff says:

    Peter, John,

    I’m very interested in atmospheric harvesting. There’s a decent amount of research in the area, and I think I have solutions for two of the missing pieces. I just have to convince someone with more money of that fact to see if I’m right…


  6. Paul451 says:

    For a king-for-a-day topic, this didn’t get much love.

    What I would want to try would depend on my level of “rich”.

    If I could burn a few tens of millions per year on a space hobby, I would create a Challenge Prize similar to the Ansari X-Prize, except that the prize would repeat at a set interval, hopefully preventing the long lag and then once-and-done aspect of the Ansari prize.

    Depending on development in the sub-orbital market, I might include a duplicate of the Ansari x-prize: $10m offered perhaps every second year, for the highest manned flight above 50km, repeatable & reusable. I’d set a narrow period each prize-year for the contest, a particular week of the year, make it a regular spectacle. If the prize goes unwon, it jackpots each biennial until someone claims it.

    I’d have small challenges for other goals: Smart materials for future MCP skin-suits (electro-“muscle” fabrics, for example). Instruments for life-detection. Student “lunar races”, human controlled robotic rovers (on Earth) over terrible terrain with simulated Earth-moon delays on both control and video; lots of age & mass classes. Robotic deployment down a simulated “skylight”. That sort of thing.

    But if I could afford it, I’d really like to have some serious in-space robotic challenges, with prizes around $50-100m, repeating once every 4-10 years. The main three would be: A quadrennial robotic solar sail race around the moon. Two ISRU challenges, increasing in difficulty as challenges are met; one focused on building structures from regolith on the moon, the other on returning water, then fuel, from any non-terrestrial source.

    The next level of wealth: I’d create a company to develop mission payloads that make use of heavy-lift capacity, like FH. Basically, the aim would be to find order-of-magnitude cost savings, for double or triple the launch mass. Use bulk to reduce development cost. Additionally (and as test payloads), I’d look at developing payloads such as: a giant junk-yard space telescope; a series of lunar polar sample return missions; and a series of asteroid missions focusing on suspected former comets.

    If I were a Bezos-level billionaire, in addition to the above, I’d follow up on the idea I’ve thrown around here previously: Whether a TSTO version of the “Black Horse” concept would work. Aerial fuelling of a fully reusable HTHL rocket-plane first stage, carrying an expendable second stage. It should mean the carrier/first-stage is much smaller than Stratolaunch’s Roc, but capable of a much greater payload capacity. (Developing fully automated aerial refuelling would be an obvious side-product. And on-demand launch would lead to an obvious interest from that same client.)

  7. Andrew Swallow says:

    > with prizes around $50-100m,

    That is the sort of prize needed if you have to buy the rocket. $300,000 will pay for a cubesat ride.

    10 people * 5 years * $200,000 wages = $10,000,000

  8. johnhare john hare says:

    I think it didn’t get that much play because of all the caveats I put in without specifics that lead to good argument. You are particularly good at finding holes in my concepts, which hopefully heads off some of those that go chasing the last thing they heard of. The closest thing to argument on this one was Ken insisting that nothing new is needed.

  9. Paul451 says:

    Re: 50-100m vs $300k

    I look at Google’s X-prize, $20m and they’re struggling. For the kind of things I’d like to see, a cubesat isn’t enough. I’d like to stimulate real work.

  10. Andrew Swallow says:

    So the biggest problem you have got is how to develop and test new products for the money available.

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