Scenerio Seven

guest blogger john hare

Most concepts for the opening of space seem to fall into a few scenarios, most of which invoke the major infusions of cash and risk from one source. Some seem to be so focused on one object, be it Mars, Moon, or SPS  that they are willing to risk everything (that somebody else has) to get to that one destination. The idea seems to be that if that one big objective is reached everything else will fall into place.  These are a few of the scenarios I notice regularly.

1. The government must invest massive amounts of cash in a new launch system and then hand it over for almost nothing to stimulate exploration and settlement.

2. Some rich fool investor must invest (see#1).

3. SPS is the future of the worlds energy and it is only the short sighted that don’t want to spend whatever it takes to make it happen.

4. Helium 3 is the (see#3).

5. PGMs will repay any investment made to get to the moon or NEOs.

6. Tourism is the only market that justifies the new RLVs that we must have.

7. A large number of short term goals for by a large variety of players working for their own reasons or a reasonable profit will open the solar system.

I happen to hold the philosophy that a single goal hits the whack a mole problem. Any single goal or business plan is vulnerable to a single point failure. 1 through 6 of the scenarios has this problem. Tourism could easily be regulated to death or the government could go broke for a couple of possibilities that don’t pan out.

If you are on the beach in California and your single goal is Hawaii, you might sell everything you have for a one way ticket. If you do that though, you will have to figure out how to have all that fun when you arrive broke and with no return ticket. A smart person is more likely to get a job so they can afford round trip tickets, spending money, and a furnished house to return to. The second person would also be able to go to Acapulco, Japan, and Tahiti on later vacations while the first one is starving in Honolulu.

For the purpose of this post, the assumption is that no investments will be made by any entity without some expectation of a return on investment. Also, the assumption is that no major  products will ever be found that can be returned to Earth for a profit. Several people I respect believe that man will never expand into the solar system for these reasons. I want to see if I can do an honest scenario of settlement and expansion under those conditions. A century ago it would have been just as hard to believe that professional sports  would be a trillion dollar industry today. Can anyone make the claim that pro sports returns a product to the economy other than entertainment?

In 2010 there are at least four companies developing a credible suborbital vehicle for tourism or research. These vehicles are all looking at flight rates of several times per week per vehicle. Some at multiple flights per day. The current price per seat for a suborbital flight seems to be in the $200,000.00 range. All the players know that can’t last long. If just two of the companies are successful and keep just two vehicles in service each , then the annual flight rate will be at least  500 flights. This is clearly on the low side at revenues of $100M per year. With the vehicles developed and proven though, additional tail numbers are relatively cheap and you can expect a minimum of fifty vehicles flying in ten years, if the market warrants. With 10,000 or more customers per year though, you can reasonably project that the price will come down to $25,000.00 or less.  For now, the assumption is that the market peaks here at $250M per year for this service.

Other suborbital vehicles are going after the research market, or reconnaissance. These markets may be bigger or smaller than the tourism market. Time will tell.

If in 2020, there are several dozen suborbital vehicles in service, it is certain that some of them will be idle much of the time just as check out lanes at the market are frequently idle. Some operators are going to be looking for more markets. With the operational experience some of them will have built up, it seems reasonable that one of them will be able to get financing for orbital vehicles. If SpaceX, ULA and company are still using ELVs, a suborbital company might think in terms of making a profit from a higher flight rate vehicle that doesn’t have to be built or rebuilt after each flight. If ISS passenger seats are still in the $50M range, then $200,000.00 per pound of delivered astronaut should give a good ROI if the space transport company can deliver. These vehicles could be flying in the 2025 time frame.

By 2030, space transports could be flying each airframe at least once per week and cutting prices to keep those seats and cargo bays filled. If prices get down to 100 times propellant costs,  then $500 a pound for cargo, and $150,000.00 per passenger to LEO becomes possible, even allowing forinflation and high RLV structural masses. At this point the inflatable hotels and research stations should really take off. Massive GEO birds could be completely assembled and checked out at in LEO a fraction of today’s prices for smaller satellites. Many things become possible at this price point combined with convenient transportation on demand.

By 2030, Lunar cyclers will be a likely new market using excess capacity from the launch transportation companies. A flight around the moon should cost about what a Soyuz did several years ago to ISS. At $20M for a Lunar orbiting experience, several dozen people would probably go for it. Researchers would fill many of those seats.

By 2035 Lunar orbiting experiences could be in the $1M range with surface stays at perhaps $5M for a couple of weeks.

All this is technically and financially feasible given a reasonable flight rate from a good customer base. In my opinion though, the Lunar surface is close to the end of the line for conventional tourism. A few NEOs might be made attractive, but Mars or Venus and beyond requires either a very large time commitment from the tourist, or very high performance transportation systems that are not in reasonable view at this time.

With short Lunar surface stays increasing in quantity in  the mid 2030s, it is reasonable to assume that researchers, prospectors, and resort staff will increase in both number and duration on the moon. When this happens, there will be a small market for anything that can be made on the moon for local use. If water can be extracted, it can be sold to astronomers and other permanent residents if it is cheaper than lifting it from Earth. Construction people that can figure out how to build with local materials will compete with the inflatables and solid modules from Earth. Greenhouses should be an early profit business, or at least hydroponics. If the permanent residents can reduce the imports required to live they will, if it makes economic sense. A few tourists per year and research data from a variety of groups provide the  money for the required imports.

Some of those prospectors will be looking for PGMs or concentrations of helium 3. Some of the residents will be figuring out how to do solar power with local materials. The possibilities of finding a profitable export rise in proportion to the cost of searching for them. The more the residents can produce locally, the less support they need from Earth, and the more likely it is that they will find a variety of legitimate exports.

By 2040 or so, there could be excess capacity in the LEO to Luna ships with prices dropping to a marginally profitable level. With the experience gained in Lunar living and frequent spaceflight, it seems likely that National Geographic or Elon Musk could afford to take a modified Lunar cycler to Mars because they wanted to. Lunar companies might well be in a position to sell them their consumables by this time.  At this point, it seems likely that many groups could go to many places through the inner solar system for their own reasons, on their own dollar. Once they reach these places, a natural progression of build, prospect, and recycle could hold the permanent resident costs down to something they or their sponsoring groups could afford.

Self supporting off Earth settlements will happen eventually. We won’t make them happen faster by concentrating on one destination on some one else’s money that may have other priorities. The true settlements will happen in their own good time for their own good reasons. Many of the early settlements on North America were wiped out because the people were unprepared. Lets go prepared even if it takes longer.

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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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About johnhare

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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72 Responses to Scenerio Seven

  1. Nice. Ya know what would be better? A version of this article without dates in it. Please tend to dismiss any vision of space development as soon as it reaches its expiration date.

  2. john hare says:

    You are right about the dates. I really shouldn’t write these things because I’m annoyed.

  3. Steverman says:

    Does this all come down to Richard Nixon shutting down Apollo when the last three landings were all paid for? We could have been on the moon for decades, and not going through this crappy restart. All the stuff that’s been found in the past few years- minerals, water, all would have been found while we had crews there to use them? The time it will take to exploit this stuff now is too damned long.

  4. Steverman, if funding of Apollo had continued until today, I expect NASA would have sent hundreds of missions to the Moon.. perhaps even moving beyond the equator. But more likely they would have built a base at the equator. Assembled it and occupied it.. “permanently”. And I’d expect by now there would be a massive block of NASA screaming for more advanced vehicle development. There would be continual calls for moving beyond the Saturn/CM/LM toolset but no available funds to support that development. I also doubt there would be any more commercial development than there is now.. probably a lot less I would imagine.. such a big program like that wouldn’t tolerate anything that competes with it.

  5. john hare says:

    The time it will take to exploit this stuff now is too damned long.

    Too long for what exactly? An unsustainable Lunar base is like an unsustainable ISS. It wouldn’t help the rest of us to the moon any more than ISS is helping us open up LEO.

  6. googaw says:

    I certainly applaud scenarios that, like historical technology and frontier development, pay for themselves at each step rather than taking grand speculative leaps with billions of OPM (other people’s money) at a time. Alas, despite the laudable goal at the start of the post, I’m afraid it falls very far short of achieving its objective. It ignores the biggest and fastest growing space market, communications, which will likely be over $10 billion per year worth of satellites and launches by 2025 at recent and current subscriber growth rates, in favor of a grand speculative leap from suborbital to orbital tourism, for which the annual demand has already been shown to most likely be $20-$40 million per year at $20 million per ticket, which falls far short of what is needed to be viable without massive subsidies such as the over 99% subsidy from taxpayer’s money HSF gets now.

    The post further states an assumption that we will discover no resources but then talks about people going to the moon to look for He3 and PGMs. (Not to mention that methodical spacecraft and robots are far more cost-efficient than astronauts as a way to prospect for such resources). Sorry, but it’s nowhere close to adding up. It’s orders of magnitude away from satisfying the goal of paying for itself at each step.

    If you want this kind of scenario to succeed, do it with real space commerce that has already for decades paid for itself at each step, for example communications. Here’s a much more economically realistic, albeit technologically speculative, proposal to greatly expand space commerce by (so it is claimed) lowering the cost of solar power in space, and thus increasing the transmission power of comsats, by two orders of magnitude, using some of Ivan Bekey’s design principles (e.g. replace structure with information):

    I’d love to hear engineers explain why this will or won’t work.

  7. A_M_Swallow says:

    To Googaw

    Putting satellites in orbit costs around $4,000 per kilogram. That is more than the annual electricity bill for my home, so saving that much money by using space solar power is going to be difficult.

  8. Tom D says:

    googaw, trash-talking John Hare’s fairly reasonable (if somewhat depressing) scenario with one breath and then proposing a very outlandish satellite design with the next is pretty funny.

    I am an engineer and I can’t even begin to list the enormous design challenges that would have to be overcome to build a light-sailing comsat on a gallium-arsenide wafer. Fortunately, the website lists some of them. There are many, many more out there. It looks like a fun senior design project. Are you working on it?

    Here is one challenge I can see (again, there are many more). What kind of antenna(s) can be printed on the wafer? Will they do the job? How are they steered? What signal strength will be received on the ground? What kind of antennas will be needed on the ground? Will on-orbit relays be needed? What kind of communication delays will result? What implications does this have on what they can be used for?

  9. googaw says:

    I thought I was clear about this, but in case I wasn’t: I’m not proposing or promoting Lofstrom’s satellite designs or any particular futuristic satellite design, and I share the skepticism at the TRL or perhaps even the possibility of achieving the ambitious technical objectives. I’m just using it as an example of somebody who is thinking about the future of space in terms of real markets, things people have a well-demonstrated desire to use and pay for (e.g. communications), rather than wishful thinking that depends on demand for space tourism growing orders of magnitude greater than what has actually been demonstrated.

  10. john hare says:

    This was not meant to be a depressing post. It was meant to point out that true space development is not dependant on the government subsidies or some perfect killer app like googaw wants. If one of those killer apps shows up, then the timelines short circuit just as in the Apollo race, though hopefully with better results.

    The current white house direction is the best in decades on the face of it. However, it could easily backlash and go up in a puff of smoke, figuratively speaking. If it does, then the scenerio here could still operate. There could easily be Lunar bases and Martian outposts in the next thirty years even if the government spaceflight programs were to be as stagnant as the last thirty years. They just won’t be “ours”. They will be Bigalow’s, or Musk’s, or perhaps Ramada/Lockheeds places. But even if some of them are owned by Stavinsky or Chan, you can still go if you have a good checkbook.

  11. Pete says:

    Missiles did not lead to space settlement, nor did rocket planes, satellites, robotic exploration missions or the NASA HSP. I have to be a little nervous that sub orbital tourism will not automatically directly lead to space settlement either. At some point the focus will have to become low cost orbital launch vehicles and space infrastructure – economically sustainable space settlement.

    The launch vehicle that I would design for orbital would be very different to the one that I would design for sub orbital. For example, I would likely start with an electric aircraft air launched one or two stage micro launcher that could not carry people. Get many thousand paying orbital delivery flights clocked up, get design convergence (many prototypes), then scale up to carry people. The vehicle that I might design for sub orbital would be heavy, robust, single stage, low performance, and it would carry people – necessary for the sub orbital tourist market. There is some cross over here, but each is a largely separate ten year development program. The performance requirements are so different, so much more extreme in the case of the orbital vehicle (nothing but rocket), that I doubt any two components would be the same.

    The real emphasis to me should be on reducing the up front development cost. Prototype cost needs to get down below a few million dollars and six months, then one can do some serious prototyping. I suspect this is now possible, someone with a spare fifty million could probably now develop their own low cost reusable launch vehicle. Finding a few hundred million to scale it up to carry people should then be relatively straight forward – but prove the design first my launching thousands of micro payloads, build up the flight number. Orbitally assemble them into depots, tugs, satellites or whatever, failure is not very expensive when you can redesign, build, launch and test a replacement component in a couple of days. It is not just the low cost orbital launch vehicle that needs to be developed, but the low cost space infrastructure market as well – this needs to happen somewhat concurrently.

    Once one scales up, the pace of development will slow down dramatically – Moore’s Law in reverse.

  12. googaw says:

    or some perfect killer app like googaw wants.

    Where do people come up with this stuff? When I talk about real markets rather than imaginary ones, how does this indicate that I want the “perfect killer app”? Sheesh. No, I simply want from space development what john originally said his goal was: to pay for itself step by step without big interventions using OPM (other people’s money). Real commerce such as communications satellites does that.

    Indeed, to pay for itself step by step is practically my definition of real commerce. HSF does not come anywhere close to being able to do this. After nearly fifty years of government space agencies, who launch astronauts for the sake of launching astronauts, not even for a useful government function like national security, spending well over 99% of the money on HSF, and still doing so, orbital HSF is still orders of magnitude away from being able to pay for itself without overwhelming government intervention, and there’s no magic bullet coming along that is going to change this anytime soon. I’m sorry that this is bad news for people who get utterly bored with space unless it involves astronauts, but the facts about people’s demands for various goods and services are what they are. Don’t shoot the messenger. Meanwhile, real space commerce is growing relentlessly regardless of the travails of astronauts and their fans.

  13. googaw says:

    The real emphasis to me should be on reducing the up front development cost.

    Quite right — I’ve said it before and it will deserve saying many times more before it sinks into the people who think they can justify large development costs with fantasy markets that they proclaim will give them the extraordinary flight rates they will need to return the investors’ money.

  14. Mike Lorrey says:

    Personally I think Johns being a bit too pessimistic about private spaceflight. As soon as the first company starts proving the market (be it Virgin Galactic or XCOR) for suborbital, you’ll see a rush of capital coming to would be competitors.

    As soon as SpaceX starts proving its market for inexpensive orbital launch, you’ll see a similar rush of capital to potential competitors, and even for concepts that are more advanced.

    Projections from the depths of a recession is no place to bet. You’re at the bottom of a hole and you think the edge of the hole is the peak of how far you can go. I personally would not be surprised to see a private reusable orbital launcher start getting capitalized in the 2015 timeframe, and both WK2 and Lynx Mk II will be launching small orbital upper stages.

    By 2020 I would not be surprised to see suborbital launch ticket prices starting to drop significantly, down to sub-50k prices, with relatively full schedules. The dorsal launched upperstage envisioned for Lynx could carry enough CubeSats to drop the cost per kg for those down to heavy lift price ranges. Same for WKII

  15. googaw says:

    Personally I think Johns being a bit too pessimistic about private spaceflight.

    That’s the fun thing about fantasies, there are never any so fantastic that they can’t be topped with even bigger whoppers.

  16. Mike, I for one welcome our suborbital overloads…. and have been since 2004 when the Ansari X-Prize was won and *nothing happened*. 5.5 years and counting. It’d be nice if this supposed “race” would heat up a little. It really does seem that everyone assumes VG is so far ahead that they can never be caught.. *despite all the evidence to the contrary*.

    Did you happen to catch the Armadillo Aerospace yearly video? Did you think the same thing as me: “That’s it?” This is last year’s video: Rocket Racing League. Methane/LOX engines for NASA. Lunar Lander Challenge. So the only new thing is the low altitude hops. (Speaking of which, break the DC-X altitude record of 3.14km already!) At Space Access, after the grumblings about being trumped on the LLC, Carmack made the pledge that this year they’ll be doing something new. Here’s hoping it involves *people*.

    And while I’m being critical.. which, I know, I do too much.. What’s next for Masten? More hops? Can we count on you to beat Armadillo to that DC-X altitude record?

    And yes, XCOR.. smart about their “don’t talk until you have something to report” policy, but unfortunately they still don’t have anything to report. Back at the start of the year Greason suggested that there would be something to report this year.. and so we wait.

    I think it is fair to say that no suborbital tourism will be flying this year, or next year. We might see some interesting test flights, but that’s about it. Maybe 2012?

    My point, (sorry, did I forget I had one? /rant) is that this stuff seems to be hard.. it seems to be a long bet.. so you can’t really crystal ball it. For all we know suborbital tourism will die out, perhaps with a bang, perhaps with a whimper. But we can hope, so long as you can stand googaw’s ridicule. (btw, is that you Jeff Bell?)

  17. Tom D says:

    John, The sequence of development events you laid out here looks reasonable to me. It’s just depressing to us space cadets who wanted to get out there sooner :-). On the other hand I do think there is a chance of it speeding up a great deal, if good reason are discovered or developed for doing so. For now though I don’t see a really good reason to expect faster progress, unless there are technology breakthroughs that greatly reduce the cost of development.

    Googaw, I’m sorry if my comment seemed harsh. I thought that you were excited about those outlandish satellites. I didn’t notice your sarcasm. However, I do think that your continual putting down of human spaceflight is not justified. Just because government programs have not yet led to a vibrant human spaceflight market doesn’t mean that such a market cannot be created or will forever remain beyond our reach. Government spaceflight (at least in the US) has never been about efficiency and profit.

    It does look to me like enough things are coming together now for real commerce a chance. It may be that the Great Recession will suck all the life out of this market before it really develops, but I wouldn’t give up hope yet. It looks like the best chance that the NASA bureaucracy has of doing real human exploration anytime soon is to foster commercial space access.

    At the same time a real market for tourism is developing. Enough people have been willing to spend huge sums of money and time that I have a hard time believing that many more people won’t jump at the chance to go if the price were lowered, you didn’t have to learn Russian, and didn’t have to have 6 months of training. I really think this market has not been fully served yet. There appears to be good money to be earned there and, if the same companies can serve a government market too, then good for them.

  18. kert says:

    These are a few of the scenarios I notice regularly.

    You completely forgot the “invest in this magic technology and everything will work itself out” camp. Its not too popular these days, but people are still preaching rotovators or maglev launchers, SSTOs, hypersonics, beanstalks and yes, even HLVs as the silver bullet, that will somehow address all the economics and everything else.

  19. Pete says:

    The Lynx seems to be the best of the suborbital tourist vehicles, but even at $20k a flight its cost component for orbital launch would still be in excess of $1k/kg – not really in the game. So I am not sure suborbital tourism is the stepping stone many people think it is.

    Small scale is required for fast low cost development, that necessitates an efficient (low aero and ISP losses) and very low cost way of dealing with the atmospheric part of the trip (which is only a small part of the total delta v) – hence probably not rockets.

    Once launching from above the compromising part of the atmosphere a small SSTO like vehicle is probably favored. The majority of the dry mass plus payload has to be able to go all the way to orbit and back again anyway (TPS, landing systems, etc.), so staging actually saves little (engines and tanks are proportionately light weight, though small scale has its challenges). Probably better to go assisted SSTO and keep things much simpler, even if the margins are a little bit tighter. So again a suborbital rocket vehicle would have little relevance here, as the dry mass ratio requirements are in a different league.

    The best way I can come up with to bring down the entry barrier to space is not sub orbital tourism but to launch thousands of 10kg payloads from a cheap RC VTOL electric aircraft platform (~$200k) and do highly responsive orbital assembly with them – fail cheaply and kick start a Moore’s Law. Start with some micro satellite launches and a couple of 10kg tugs, then 10kg propellant depot and satellite modularized parts – then start assembling and selling satellites and what not. Maybe go open source to increase uptake and standardization, get students/individuals to make their own components. Some people might also want to make their own rockets (say 50kg dry mass and $500k each). Maybe ten million or so entry barrier – I wish I could come up with something cheaper.

    Humanity is getting wealthier and the cost of space development work is coming down. At some point in time disposable income will hopefully match the cost of space, and interesting things will happen. Hopefully it is just a matter of time.

  20. john hare says:

    I thought the ‘magic tech’ was covered under the massive investment scenerio, but maybe not. It’s a valid objection.

    Any or none of the technical transportation and market options discussed here might apply. The point is that one group might send microsats at the same time that another pursues SSTO. With many players trying many many ways, the odds of a market breakthrough increase dramatically.

    I was not advocating any particular technical resource approach in this post. Some people might do robots for prospecting and others might do remote sensing for the same purpose. Yet others might use boots on the ground. Some might look for He3 while others consider it a dead end and work on Lunar built solar energy. Some might consider the moon a dead end location and use the same transport base to reach NEOs.

    Some will think this is all a waste of time and money and stay home. That is ok too as a true free enterprise approach will not be reaching into their pockets or asking for their votes on the matter.

    I read an article the other day about a yacht that cost over $300M. I think that is dumb, but it is neither my money nor my decision. The owner of that ship would be perfectly justified in telling me where to go if I started telling him what he should have done with his money. We need to reach that point in spaceflight with each company, government, or individual spending only on what they believe in for only that portion that they benefit from.

  21. Roderick Reilly says:


    “Scenerio?” What are that? Ha Ha.

    No, seriously, I do have a question which is just barely relevant to this thread: Are Masten, Armadillo, and Blue Origin VTVL vehicles good test beds for testing out other contractors’ rocket engines?

    What I’m talking about is flight-testing of engines, where the engine(s) in question is the “experimental payload” (plus diagnostic equipment). The VTVL craft’s own vernier and retrorockets would be used in the descent, while the ascent would be primarily done by the engine being tested, with possible assist by the VTVL vehicle’s verniers for steering (unless the test also includes gimbaling testing). These vehicles — I think — would be ideal testbeds for scaled-down version of aerospikes, TAN’s, pulsed engines, you name it.

    Sorry to interrupt the flow of this discussion, as these are scenarios that you and Goff have probably eplored extensively. I do think the relevance here is that that are many uses for the smaller suborbital concepts, and that plays into “Scenario Seven” in that it is part of the diversification of space-related efforts.

  22. Karl Hallowell says:

    To be honest, I’m not sure what you’re trying to say here. It sounds like there’s really three strategies for massive space development with inherent assumptions here:

    1) The assumption is that risk is the major obstacle. Hence, get some big pockets to handle the risk and development follows.

    2) The assumption is that there is a huge killer app that will in itself drive further markets. Hence, focus on the killer app and the rest will follow.

    3) The assumption is that incremental development can get us there. At each stage we can find further niche markets to profit from.

    To this, I’d add a fourth strategy.

    4) The assumption is that technology development on Earth will eventually vastly lower the obstacles to space, rendering this problem obsolete. This is the “In twenty years, nanotech will fix everything” solution to the problem.

    My view is that all of them are right to some degree.

    NASA and large private investors have helped to reduce the risk and cost of activities in space. While there might not be “killer apps” in space, it remains that a focused business on Earth is more likely to “whack the mole” than a business needing from the start to milk a variety of revenue sources. I see that probably continuing in space businesses as well. Once you’ve established a profit, then it makes sense to figure out how to expand that profit through secondary avenues.

    Incremental development has worked well to expand existing profitable enterprise in satellite markets. At any given stage, it requires less investment and risk exposure. But it is slow, since generally you prove a business opportunity and generate some cash flow before you go on to further related activities.

    Finally, Earth-side technology development has helped. A part of the reason SpaceX and Scaled Composites are less expensive now is due to superior material, manufacture, and design technologies compared to the efforts of decades ago.

  23. Roderick Reilly says:

    4) The assumption is that technology development on Earth will eventually vastly lower the obstacles to space, rendering this problem obsolete. This is the “In twenty years, nanotech will fix everything” solution to the problem.

    Karl, on that note I think I can offer some specifics: carbon-nanotube reinforced alloys could siginificantly reduce the structural weight of RLVs, increasing the possibility of SSTO or near-SSTO (with modest off-the-pad boost) with conventional rocket propulsion. The other “outlier” is what might be termed “super propellants,” or near-term HEDM propellants. Quadricyclane comes to mind. “Super Kerosens” like Quadricyclane, perhaps mixed with JP-10 (a very dense kerosene variant) for a smoother burn would be both more energetic and denser than RP-1. Combined with structural weight savings from the nanotube alloys and the additional small weight savings from containing the denser propellant, this could give RLVs near-SSTO capability (I think) with conventional rocket engines. Add an ejectable nozzle insert that narrows the expansion ratio for the boost phase, and you have a seriously capable RLV.

  24. googaw says:

    John and Tom D, yes, the example I gave was not very straightforward as they are only talking about big ambitious futuristic applications rather than smaller incremental applications of their technology that it would actually make sense to invest in. I was reading between the lines: if the basic idea of building satellites like that works (a big if) there are many humbler, incremental applications for it. It would greatly improve the delivery of communications services that private sector customers are already paying big money for.

    I do quite agree with John’s basic point that those who want to develop space need to think more incrementally. The “big pockets”, “huge killer app”, and “radically lower launch cost” strategies have been pursued with vast amounts of effort and money and have failed miserably. Real progress in history proceeds incrementally.

    Unfortunately, even increments don’t help if you’re light-years away from doing real commerce. Incremental only works if your starting point is stuff that private sector customers are already paying for without overwhelming subsidies, or at least that is of substantial practical use to some and could straightforwardly be made of substantial practical use to many.

  25. Chris (Robotbeat) says:

    You know, googaw actually has a point about telecommunications.

    The big killer app in the last decade, at least as much as the internet, is cellphones (basically part of the internet, anyway). Already, there are enough mobile subscriptions for half the world’s population. We are already in the logistical growth part where we are running out of humans to use the mobile phones. As time progresses, everyone will want smartphones (with internet access), everyone will want more bandwidth and more coverage. Providing coverage over the whole Earth provides enormous logistical difficulties. Just the diesel used to run generators to provide reliable electricity for the cell towers will soon approach NASA’s budget (about $1.4 billion for diesel for India’s cell towers, alone). Bandwidth is related to power because of basic information theory, so power usage will increase. At about 2000 subscribers per cell tower (and that number will decrease as more coverage is demanded), and 4 billion subscribers (something we’ll surpass within 5 years), that’s about 2 million cell towers. Cell towers aren’t cheap, especially if you need a generator to run it (like in much of the developing world) or for continuous operation during power outages. I’ve heard estimates of about $150,000 per cell tower, and I think that this cost may be a little low, but it’s usable for now. That means that there’s about $300 billion JUST IN CELL TOWERS within a few years. And we still don’t have world-wide coverage even then. As people around the world come closer to middle-class status, the amount spent on mobile phones will increase, as the technology needed for practical satellite phones improves (currently about 10 or 15 years behind cell phones when it comes to phone size, bitrate). Eventually, it will be cheaper for the cell providers just to have arrays of LEO satellites than to maintain millions of cell towers.

    That’s a lot of growth space for commercial communication satellites. As people demand more bandwidth and more coverage, this will increase even more. This will especially increase investment in LEO because of the inherently shorter “ping times,” which typically has been a much smaller segment compared to GSO. With billions of subscribers wanting 3G service all over the world, I wouldn’t be surprised if the telecom satellite industry grows into a trillion-dollar industry in the next two or three decades. This won’t happen unless and until a satellite phone can be as small and as long battery life and as high bandwidth as a typical 3g phone is today.

  26. Robert Horning says:

    That is an interesting scenario, that telecommunications devices will be the next major driver of LEO satellite launches, and that the era of sat constellations was merely premature rather than something proven as only a niche market.

    Satellite constellations like Iridium were supposedly going to be the savior of the commercial launcher market, and in fact several companies geared up to provide vehicles for that emerging market…. only to see it go bust and have the entire commercial launcher market fall flat on its face due to massive over capacity on the launcher manufacturing side. Times have been quite lean for commercial launchers in part because of this previous boom/bust cycle and there is a good reason why some of the “old space” companies are a bit gun shy. There is a sound fiscal reason for why most financial analysts were trying to discourage Elon Musk from getting into the space launcher business…. because at the time he started SpaceX there really wasn’t much of a market for launchers.

    Most people forget that electronics that are hardened for spaceflight tend to be a generation or two behind what they can find at a consumer electronics store, and that is when the project is originally proposed and the chip sets for the equipment are selected. For example, the New Dawn probe that is on its way to Pluto uses essentially the same CPU that is used in a Sony Playstation 2. I am not kidding here either, and that was “state of the art” and one of the most advanced spaceworthy CPUs available. For the Voyager spacecraft, they used positively ancient computer hardware, and the memory storage was actually core memory. I argue that Voyager 2 spacecraft has one of the last computers using core memory in active use anywhere in the Solar System, where the rest of the computers with that technology have long ago been placed in museums or landfills.

    That was ultimately the problem with Iridium, where the computers onboard the satellites simply lacked the computing power to do much of anything useful, and that the bandwidth that they were capable of coping with was so pitifully low that even if there was a huge demand for that form of communication, the satellites couldn’t cope with much more than the current military applications that are using Iridium right now. Supposedly the next generation of Iridium sats might be able to have much more bandwidth, but it remains to be seen if the whole network can be upgraded to that level.

    The other thing that is killing the commercial telecom market is that the fibre optic networks that run the backbones of the major internet links are able to carry so much bandwidth that essentially the major radio licensing agencies would have to allocate nearly the entire RF spectrum just for telecom to compete. In other words, it is cheaper in terms of cost per megabyte of data transferred to lay a cable on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean between Los Angeles and Hong Kong than it is to launch a satellite that would be able to carry the same bandwidth, much less get the regulatory bodies involved that would grant the necessary bandwidth. When cell phone towers in the areas near these hubs can tap into such phenomenal bandwidth, that is what is driving the cost of cell phone fees down to pennies per minute… or rates cheaper than even the traditional “land lines” for local telephone service and making a mockery of long distance telephone fees altogether.

    There is a need for areas far outside of the range of a typical cell tower, but by definition those are areas either so rural that the number of users per square mile is too low to support a new tower, or in places where the population is too poor to support the costs of operating that tower.

    There still is demand for international television broadcasts via satellite, and certainly remote news feeds are happening via satellite due to the constraints of the news gathering process, but that still costs quite a bit of money to do and not a typical consumer application. At best satellites would end up taking over what little remains in terms of microwave transmissions, particularly when relay stations are involved.

  27. Warren Platts says:

    Speaking of potential killer apps, one not mentioned above is the fact that the polar regions of the Moon are loaded with craters containing layers of relatively pure ice. The most recent surveys indicate that these layers are at least 2 meters thick. One crater that’s 2 km across would thus have at least 6 million tons of water. That represents a resource worth millions of USD per ton in bulldozable quantities. Combine that with reusable SSTO technology in the one place where it can actually work, and it’s hard to see how you can go wrong.

  28. googaw says:

    If you want to see your communications tied up by bureaucracy, try stringing cable in the middle of a city. There are good reasons, bureaucracy not being the only one, that you will see many apartment dwellers in the middle of the richest cities in the world with ugly satellite dishes taking up valuable room on their porches, despite the great bandwidth superiority of fiber. In much of the world it’s far worse: the local officials are so corrupt that stringing cable and keeping it working is a hopeless task.

    Not that we will normally see satellites replacing existing fiber — that’s not the point. The point is that for most, but by no means all, purposes it costs far less to deploy satellites to solve customer problems than to try to lay thousands of kilometers of fiber. Besides the problems with the bureaucracy of cables, most people want to be mobile. They’d like to have their HD channels and everything else they have at home on the road if they could. They want satellite radio and emergency communications from their cars. The biggest problem with the mobile phone system is not its enormous energy consumption, as bad as that is, it is its user hostility: it is a pain in the ass when wireless Internet stops working or one’s phone not working just because one has moved out of range of some invisible radio station. And people don’t like being stuck with the local cable monopoly, which is probably the biggest reason you will see so many satellite dishes even in the most fiber-strung cities.

    The vast majority of people want these things far more than they want greater bandwidth in a fixed location. Look at the stats on teenagers texting. It’s the lowest bandwidth app imaginable and it’s booming. And most of the world’s population isn’t served by fiber in the first place because of political problems. It’s astronomically easier in most of the world to get permission from a national government once to provide satellite service than to keep trying to get permission and protection for one’s cables from myriads of corrupt local officials and thieves who dig up cables in order to fence the metal.

  29. Chris (Robotbeat) says:

    With a big enough synthetic aperture and enough elements operating at a high enough frequency, you can focus reception on very specific areas (and to some extent, focus transmission, though it kind of needs to be a filled array). If you can cooperatively receive from multiple LEO sats to a single user on the ground, sat phone transmission power and bandwidth can be increased. This is not possible really now, but can be possible with better electronics.

    I’m not saying this will happen tomorrow, but as technology progresses and digitally combining tens of thousands of individual broadband microwave signals (with dozens of gigasamples per second per channel allowing full software radio) become possible, the shear logistical simplicity of using one satellite to serve as hundreds of virtual towers may bend the market in favor of satellite. Even just the real estate costs may cause this. This sort of thing isn’t feasible now (it is in the low megahertz range for synthetic aperture sonar), but this is one area where Moore’s law can bend the economics in favor of satellites, especially, as you mention, in low-density areas. And if you can focus all your cell towers only on high-density cities where they can be quickly serviced by only a few individuals, then you’re much better off. Also, you could forego backup power for some of your cell towers by using satellites to make up virtual cell towers in case of a power outage. Also, it allows your capacity in a certain location to be elastic, with satellites pitching in if bandwidth or call volume exceeds the capacity of local towers.

    And, it probably isn’t going to be a trillion-dollar industry, but it certainly could be dozens of billions, far more than the satellite phone market today. Logistics, logistics.

    And you’re right on about fibre communications greatly decreasing the demand for traditional satellite bandwidth links, which is why I was skeptical of googaw.

  30. john hare says:


    My point is that we are not dependant on Washington for space to be developed. I’ve seen just too many doomsday posts if HLV/Ares/Shuttle/Whatever is not funded right now. As in your points 3&4, a little brains and patience will beat the desperation megaprojects that some seem to demand.


    I don’t see why that wouldn’t be a legitamate market if someone is set up for it. They could shield the unknown quantity engine with kevlar as XCOR does in case of a bang with the regular propulsion available in reserve.

    Communications could easily be the initial driver instead of tourists. A space transport vehicle with a weekly flight schedule could place 50 comsats a year all in different orbits, and still take time for the holidays. When the market reaches saturation, companies with underutilized tail numbers will start looking for new markets and probably find them as the price drops.

  31. Pete says:

    carbon-nanotube reinforced alloys could siginificantly reduce the structural weight of RLVs

    Better materials would help, but structural mass need not actually be that significant, what is really needed is just preemptive weight avoidance. For example, inflatable external tanks can weigh less than 1%, and be structurally independent. Engines, landing systems, cabin spaces, etc., have similar room for dramatic weight reduction, I am not so sure about TPS.

  32. Mike Lorrey says:

    “I for one welcome our suborbital overloads…. and have been since 2004 when the Ansari X-Prize was won and *nothing happened*. 5.5 years and counting. It’d be nice if this supposed “race” would heat up a little.”

    While it would have been nice if Rutan had put SS1 into production immediately and started flying two passengers at a time, truth was there was the roll control problem in the design due to the mid-fuselage wing and insufficient dihedral. So, that plus the Virgin desire for more passenger capacity mandated entirely new larger vehicles be designed and built.

    According to Wikipedia, Rutan says the Tier One program began in 1996, eight years prior to the flights in 2004. So 5.5 years to build wholly new, larger, designs, with more complexity, higher performance and safer engines *while* at the same time enduring a major rocket testing accident that killed several Scaled employees, frankly I’m impressed at the improved productivity.

    Meanwhile, XCOR, which never was an XPrize contestant, has quietly worked at their propulsion technology and spacecraft designs, and is now regarded to be in number two position (possibly with Blue Origin tied with them for second but its hard to tell with so little info coming out of BO), with Masten, and Armadillo tied for third.

    In orbital launch, theres the race going on between Orbital Sciences and SpaceX for NewSpace title. There’s a number of other companies out there (AirLaunch, Kistler, whoever is doing OTRAG now in Tonga, Andrews, etc) that remind me of all the bar/garage bands that used to play around Seattle in the early 90’s that got scooped up by record company agents with lots of money to burn once the craze about the Seattle Sound got going.

    I really shouldn’t have to reiterate all this here.

    So there’s plenty of competition going on at the moment, just that most companies aren’t nearly as transparent as govspace tends to be. Newspace companies don’t have a legal obligation to schmooze politicians and teach sixth graders in videoconferences, so the PR footprint is much smaller.

  33. Mike Lorrey says:

    “And yes, XCOR.. smart about their “don’t talk until you have something to report” policy, but unfortunately they still don’t have anything to report. Back at the start of the year Greason suggested that there would be something to report this year.. and so we wait.”

    Evidently you’ve not been paying attention. XCOR got a $30 million contract to build a Mark II version of Lynx for a south korean space center. I don’t know what else they could report that would be bigger than that.

  34. Jim Davis says:

    John, this was a very thoughtful and interesting post.

    In my opinion space advocates should focus on the short term and stop worrying about “becoming a space faring civilization” or other long term fantasies. The overriding interest should be “What can be done right now?” Suborbital tourism? Rocket racing? Reusable sounding rockets? Great, go to it. When you see how that works out *then* plan your next move. Stop worrying about where this will ultimately lead. No one can predict how any of this will ultimately pan out. Maybe in a hundred years there will be colonies in space. Maybe in a hundred years colonies in space will seem as hopelessly naive as a Jules Verne moon gun. Don’t worry about any of that. Worry about the present.

    Call it the “Que sera, sera” approach.

  35. Roderick Reilly says:

    #30 Pete:

    Interesting observations. Thanks.

  36. Mike Lorrey says:

    I agree that Lynx is probably the best of the suborbital vehicles, and if you read XCOR’s download about it, they’ve even got plans for it to carry an orbital upper stage on the dorsal side to orbit a small payload. So they’ve got growth and expansion in the plans.

    I personally have been thinking about designing a Lynx type vehicle, only build it to endure orbital reentry, double the number of engines and put vacuum nozzles on them, and use that as an Air Launched Sortie Vehicle concept, mounted it on the dorsal side of an external tank to release either from a commercial transport aircraft, or from a WK2.

  37. Roderick Reilly says:

    Communications could easily be the initial driver instead of tourists. A space transport vehicle with a weekly flight schedule could place 50 comsats a year all in different orbits, and still take time for the holidays.

    Years ago there was an article in Popular Science about the idea of creating carbon filament reflective antennas that were propelled into the upper stratosphere by microwaves. The assumption was that these ultralight reflectors would stay up there for quite some time, and would provide an intermediary comm network. I wonder if suborbital VTVLs could put even larger ones up even higher via a pop-up mission?

  38. Roderick Reilly says:

    One more use for VTVLs — and probably already discussed at length: a multi-purpose first-stage booster. It would be fitted with adapters for different types of upper stages.

    I had always wondered why the idea of utility flyback boosters was never pursued seriously. Whether winged or VTVL, I would think there would a use/market for the concept.

  39. ht says:

    Hello, did this blog start as something favoring getting to and establishing a presence on the moon? I know there are differing opinions on the new NASA plans, but some of us still have a strong desire to just go for the moon. I think the long semi-poem on this site is interesting, mostly the bottom of it:
    Anyway, it’s great seeing predictions for the future in space. Always risky, but great. I especially like the idea of the 2030s bringing $1 million flights to the moon and then $5 million stays there. Then other questions come, for instance, would lunar tourist astronauts just have the lander for accomodations, or perhaps some other modules will be placed? That’s another wonderful area for speculating and forecasting as well — just what kind of development will have taken place on the moon, etc.

  40. ht says:

    woops, skimmed and missed the middle and some other comments, the good parts. In the semi-poem at wechoosethemoon1, it mentions a modest nasa base as a beachhead and catalyst. Does anyone think that pushing now to get there, that having some people there in a modest nasa bigelow mod and lander mods will perhaps change our consciousness on earth, change everyone’s outlook, as they look up at the moon and know there’s a presence up there and beginnings of new things. As the crew starts doing some of the basic research mentioned in the piece here. If so, then a huge push to get there is worth it.

  41. john hare says:


    I agree that people should focus on what they can do right now. I also think they should have an idea of possible futures to strive toward. That doesn’t mean sacrificing my taxes for their vision though.

    Some commenters on various blogs seem to have a serious problem with the idea that we do not know exactly how everything is going to turn out, and they are quite vocal about demanding some long term plan with some exact big goal. One problem with exclusively focusing on the distant stars is that you can trip on the rocks.

  42. Mike, how about a flying vehicle?


  43. Pete says:

    Traditional markets lead to traditional launch vehicles.

    A high flight rate market is required to get costs down, if one can not be found, then it will have to be directly funded, greatly increasing the up front cost.

    The cube satellite market is a little tricky because one large expendable launch vehicle could launch a lot of them in one go at relatively low price. As for conventional communications satellites, expendable launch vehicles are already well tuned to this market.

    The type of market that might disfavor payload bundling is one favoring fast response. A market that favors lead times of weeks not years, but which also requires a high flight rate.

    Communications satellites that can have their hardware upgraded on a yearly basis? Earth monitoring/reconnaissance satellites are another potentially large market. It would also be nice to be able to do new experiments in space on a monthly basis – might fit better into the educational market.

    Providing cell phone coverage beyond the range of cell phone towers could be a very significant market – if a relatively standard cell phone could be used. Most of the Earth’s surface is covered by water, where fiber optic cable and cell phone towers are not typically practical. But I have heard that doing so from LEO requires big antennas with a lot of power (or perhaps a cell phone with a big antenna and a lot of power – a standard cell phone booster?). Are there any such markets that might favor a network of thousands of small satellites instead of a few big ones? A market for close in real time coverage of all the world’s surface?

  44. googaw says:

    A high flight rate market is required to get costs down

    Now we’re back to the high flight rate fantasy. The key to lowering launch costs is getting over this NASA contractor begging strategy — give me just a few more billion dollars and I really will lower launch costs this time, I promise! — and actually lowering the development costs where most of the costs lie. If you can’t launch comsats at lower cost than Ariane or ILS, at 10 satellites per year to GEO (the market share of each of those two), you haven’t actually made a launch cost breakthrough, your rocket sucks, and you should go back to whatever it is you were doing before you started pretending to be a rocket engineer.

  45. Googaw…

    That’s a nice strawman, but high flight rates don’t have to have anything to do with NASA, billions of dollars, and are unlikely to have anything to do with GEO satellites or even payloads in that size class.


  46. googaw says:

    That said, expanding the comms market, starting from its already thriving state and helping it grow much larger still, is the best main strategy for progress in space development. Chris, Pete, and others have some good ideas here. There is not one single “killer app”, but there are many kinds of communications, many of which people would like to do on the go or in other ways besides the cable monopolies and cell phone companies with their limited area and often unreliable coverage: TV, radio, phone, texting, emergency communications, and much more.

    The key is not to try to have the Super Satellite or Super Constellation to take the world over, but to develop new, better, more functional, more universally accessible ways of interacting with fellow humans and online services by using satellites. OnStar is a good familiar example of this in emergency communications. OmniTracs is a great example in the trucking industry. Satellite TV competes quite well even in many city apartment complexes with cable despite the theoretical bandwidth superiority of fiber. Fiber is great for bulk transmissions but the last few kilometers or even meters to the customer are often a killer given the bureaucratic and logistical realities of the world. What popular uses of the Internet, or things many people would like to do on the Internet, would work better mobile without having to worry about whether one is within range of a wireless router that will give you permission to connect? How can satellites help customers to avoid having to pay or be bothered by local monopolies and bureaucracies? There are endless possibilities.

    Technologically, goals with the biggest potential economic payoffs include: keep designing better satellites that send and receive bits at ever lower costs. Keep decreasing the size of the ground terminals. Costs in the comms industry are dominated by logistics — stringing cable, getting permissions to string cable, hauling around equipment, billing customers, getting within range of a radio, etc.

    Especially crucial to boosting demand is shrinking the ground terminal. As ground terminal sizes shrink and become less directional, the terminal can become embedded in everyday devices and demand skyrockets. Our ambition should be to have satellite receivers, and often transmitters too, in our laptops, in our iPads, in our cars, in every conceivable consumer and office device that might benefit from cutting out the cable company, cutting out the cell phone company, or having access to the same service anywhere.

    That means we need to keep increasing the receiving and transmission abilities of comsats without increasing the mass launched. I’d look at some of Ivan Bekey’s design principles, especially replacing structure with information and using gossamer structures when structures are necessary, for ways in which technology advances can produce the biggest economic wins. An example of this is using phased array transmitters to break up a monolithic transmitter into several smaller transmitters which, not having to hang together, may require much less structure. That would give us more powerful solar cells and transmitters on orbit for less cost and allow us to decrease the size of ground terminals to the point where we can embed them in more everyday devices.

  47. googaw says:

    Jon, the fantasy of high flight rates has everything to do with NASA contracting — it’s how the Shuttle, the National Aerospace Plane, X-33, and other such boondoggles were sold to NASA by contractors and by NASA and said contractors to politicians. The fantasy of high flight rates has basically become hard-coded mythos among the NASA contractor set and people they influence. It is sheer economic illusion, good only for landing more fat NASA contracts to build rockets to nowhere. Like I said, if you can’t make a machine that will lower the costs of real commercial launches below those of Ariane and ILS, matching their flight rates of 10 per year each, you haven’t really lowered launch costs, and you’re just another pretender trolling for a NASA contract.

    Excepting of course rockets designed for niche applications, such as suborbital, and I’m not making a personal comment here, I hope.

  48. Pete says:

    Here is a possible business model – redesign a satellite system in a very modular fashion and then sell a service contract. That is, the capacity to refill the propellant tanks, swap out faulty components, upgrade old components, add new capabilities, etc., at a couple of weeks notice using a small high flight rate RLV. Maybe eventually develop a LEO propellant and parts depot with tug to service higher orbits.

    This would add a great deal of flexibility to satellites, it would greatly ease the business decision making as one would not have to predict the world twenty years ahead. The satellites could be cheaper, lighter, easier to design (they would not have to last twenty years with very high confidence), much more adaptable, and have far more of a deferred cost. One would have the capacity to give the customer what they wanted, when they wanted it, at low cost, and with the option of changing their mind. I doubt the conventional satellite suppliers could compete.

  49. Chris (Robotbeat) says:

    If we us gossamer structures and never increase mass to orbit, all we’ve done is provide better service to those on Earth without getting us off this rock.

    Power transmission capability and array size (antenna and solar) all need to increase, or satellite phones won’t replace cell towers. I need to be able to use a sat phone indoors, which isn’t possible now without repeaters (sort of missing the point of not having merely a cell phone, logistics-wise). And phased array antennas that are sparse will not increase power transmitted (Google: curse of the sparse array). It needs to be a full array, which is not lighter than a conventional dish.

    My idea was to compete with cell phone providers primarily on price. As the mobile phone market matures, profits will decrease (assuming no monopoly) and costs will approach what is required by logistics. The only way satellite phone companies can compete would be to increase power and array size and robustness until you can call from indoors and decrease the latency to that of modern cellphones (possible in LEO). And then, you need to sell to everyone in the entire world at the same time in order to get the economies of scale required for this to work (it wouldn’t work for “just” America or “just” Europe). It basically requires some huge, already-existing cell phone company to sell satellite-compatible phones as standard to all their customers for years beforehand and then get rid of all their cell towers that are expensive to maintain.

    Right now, there are already small sat phones, even smartphones, that can switch easily (seemlessly?) between cell and satellite. There are multiple companies starting this hybrid service and launching satellites into GSO. But they will not be able to replace the cell market to compete on price because they are at GSO and therefore cannot provide the low latency and high power and bandwidth needed to supplant the cell towers.

    And one more thing: yes, a high launch rate is required, for both launch vehicles and spacecraft, to get price down. It’s not just a myth. Motorola, who produced the 72+ Iridium satellites (680kg each), got the price-per-satellite down to $5 million because of the streamlined production made possible by the high volume. That’s probably close to one-tenth what one-off satellites cost per-kilogram.

    I don’t think it’s a good idea to design satellites to last only a few years. Modern satellites are essentially “reusable” since they can last 20 years, surviving multiple changes in ownership while still providing service. It’s better to design your satellite to be very flexible, so it can update its software on-the-fly, etc.

  50. ht says:

    Alright, there’s debate on flight rates and the best ways of kickstarting. But Mr Hare’s writing in paragraph 10 is exciting (“By 2030, lunar cyclers…”), and parag 13 even more so.

    Lunar tourism is inevitable. Your thoughts about the $20 million for circumlunar tickets at the beginning of 2030 and then lunar stays being more affordable after that are exciting to think about. But I would think your saying that only several dozen circumlunar purchasers at 20 million actually would be conservative.

    The writing in your parag 13 (“With short Lunar surface stays increasing…”) is the real excitement, to think about these things happening, and it is the heart of the matter for me

    “When this happens…small market…local use…water.. astronomers.. other permanent residents.. Construction.. figure out how to build.. local materials.. inflatables.. solid modules from Earth.. Greenhouses should be an early profit business, or at least hydroponics.. tourists.. research data.. prospectors.. PGMs.. helium 3.. solar power with local materials.. legitimate exports.” At my friends’ coming website (it was changed to — but I told them it looks good in IE (explorer) but terrible in Moz Firefox!) it speaks of this:

    A small NASA outpost being a “beachhead” for all this and a “catalyst” to help get it all going. And John, some of the writing above in your thoughtful writing sounds like the research and development and pure science that many feel NASA should do.

    Whatever the case, I wish more writers and thinkers on the web would be doing the kind of thoughtfull forward thinking that you’re doing, thanks.

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