SpaceX is great. But Mars needs more than SpaceX.

With the death of Mars One, there are no high-profile companies looking to settle Mars besides SpaceX.

Mars settlement future is currently single-string. Reliant on a single company. What can we do to change that?

Am I missing someone?

On a second note, I’m really missing XCOR. They had something special. SpaceX is doing very well. Has the right architecture for launch (reusability) and wants humans space settlement. And they have a drive to get it done quickly and execute. Blue Origin has only the first two (right architecture and wanting settlement), although hopefully the others will follow… someday?
XCOR had that (although their execution was well beyond concept phase, it did end up lacking a bit). They unfortunately did not have the financial backing of the other two. But they had something more, that’s kind of special: a sort of egalitarian sensibility. They were often fairly right-libertarian in spoken philosophy (as was common among early New Space companies), but they weren’t founded by charismatic billionaires or near-billionaires and so were more worker-focused. They offered free space rides (as part of the shakedown process for Lynx, as I understand it) to all their employees who wished it. That is something special.

So even beyond Mars, we basically have just two companies with the right mix of backing, vision, execution, and technology, and only one is really executing right now (Virgin Galactic seems too small right now… and with the split, seems less likely to be pursuing orbital anytime soon). It’d really be nice if we had a third or a fourth, particularly if they had an XCOR-like egalitarian esprit de corps. Perhaps Musk could eventually be persuaded to transition SpaceX in that direction? Or Bezos/Blue? (I wouldn’t hold my breath for either, but it is a possibility… You can’t have Musk’s democracy on Mars without, you know, democracy… but power is seductive.)

Additionally, I have some ideas for space commerce that require the ability to launch one or two people to Earth orbit (with recovery) for less than a million dollars (ideally <$100k). But on a dedicated launch. XCOR had that, see here: https://spacenews.com/34930xcor-aerospace-makes-plans-for-reusable-orbital-vehicle/

https://spacenews.com/34930xcor-aerospace-makes-plans-for-reusable-orbital-vehicle/

 

 

…but neither SpaceX nor Blue appear to be offering anything close to that now or in the future.

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17 Responses to SpaceX is great. But Mars needs more than SpaceX.

  1. johnhare john hare says:

    The link didn’t work for me.

  2. Chris Stelter says:

    John Hare: fixed it.

  3. Jim Davis says:

    What can we do to change that?

    Make a compelling argument that Mars is a place where humanity can live and thrive. Mars enthusiasts (including Musk) just assume that to be the case. Indeed, space settlement advocates of all stripes do so.

  4. gbaikie says:

    –Jim Davis says:
    January 23, 2020 at 12:02 pm
    What can we do to change that?

    Make a compelling argument that Mars is a place where humanity can live and thrive.–

    You find cheap water on Mars. Cheap water is $1 per kg {or less}. Or $1000 per ton.
    Or 1 billion dollar per million tonnes.
    Assume a settler would buy 10,000 tons at minimum or 100 settlers buy million tons for 1 billion dollars, 10 million dollar per settler for the water they could use over near term future- next decade or so.

    So this converts to real estate with a lake. 100 settler are buying real estate for 10 million dollars and real estate come with lake with 1 million tonnes of water on it which 100 plots of land have 1/100th of share of the water.
    Now person could choose to buy less water. One of 100 settler could sell land further from the lake and get say 100 tons, so their real estate cost $100,000 and perhaps it’s less than 1 mile from the lake.

    If you buy drinkable water for $1 per kg. That a good start. Next question can you buy electrical power for $1 per kw hour {or about 3 times the price paid some Europeans}.
    Well, if you had a lake, it could make easier to make electrical power from nuclear energy. And you sell electrical power and warmed water {hot water cleaning purposes and hot water to warm a house}.

    It seems if water cost more than $10 per kg and electrical costs more than $10 per kw hour, Mars settlements would be less viable.
    But if had lake on Mars, it could be good place for a settlement. And with more water and cheaper water, would be a lot better.

  5. James says:

    gbaikie, surely by your figures Greenland is prime real estate? The ice is closer to melting point, won’t sublimate, and isn’t covered in dry ice. That’s leaving aside all of the other ways that Greenland is more habitable than Mars.

  6. gbaikie says:

    –gbaikie, surely by your figures Greenland is prime real estate? The ice is closer to melting point, won’t sublimate, and isn’t covered in dry ice. That’s leaving aside all of the other ways that Greenland is more habitable than Mars.–

    Greenland doesn’t have a 1/3 of Earth’s gravity. If did, “everything” would be in Greenland.
    But with Greenland not having that advantage, Greenland could be prime real estate if was governed in the right way. But as it is, there many people are happy living in Greenland.
    One down side of Greenland is tends to cloudy and doesn’t get much sunlight. It’s very bad place to harvest solar energy, and Mars would be better. Or since Mars gets more solar energy, one can use sunlight to grow crops, and would be much better in this respect than Greenland.
    The habitable land on Greenland is near the ocean, and affords advantage in regards to fishing in the Ocean that Mars lacks. But if not using boats, transportation is fairly limited in Greenland and tends isolate the settlements, but if had good internet connection this limitation might be overcome.

  7. gbaikie says:

    Taking another bite at “–gbaikie, surely by your figures Greenland is prime real estate?”
    Greenland obviously has prime real estate. And defining aspect, of prime real estate is being able to buy it and it “likely” being a higher value in the future. Or someone defines it: “Anyone in the property industry will tell you the key to property investment is “location, location, location”. This is generally interpreted as the property being in a “prime” location for it to be highly rated.”

    And what I said is one make real estate on Mars valuable by making a lake. Or how you can get prime real estate on Mars. And all prime real estate is always, made and the natural locations and their relationship to existing “infrastructure” are factors.

    So with Mars, if have lake, it makes it prime real estate. And making more lake on Mars would make more prime real estate, but having more lakes doesn’t necessarily lower the value of prime real estate of the first Mars lake. And having prime real estate around lakes increases value of Mars land not near a lake.

    And making a lake is way to be able to sell Mars real estate, because one sell the water which is on the land. The land can be assigned a right to have access to certain amount future water use.
    Or say there was already a huge lake on Mars, one could have an argument about who owns the land around the lake and who has the water rights. And it might be decided who owns lake by military force. But if make a lake, there should less argument about ownership, particularly, if one can make other lakes on Mars in other regions. Or it’s not the sole location on Mars which one could make a lake.

    I would say there is a national value to finding the best place to make a lake on Mars.
    One value, is other parties or nations might want to find a better place to make a lake or find other natural resources which can make prime real estate on Mars- underground areas on Mars could another example.
    There is also personal value for some billionaire to start a settlement on Mars {or start a nation on Mars}.

    But aspect of prime real estate is one can immediately buy some real estate, and I am not saying this is a present option, but rather I am indicating what could be done, in general, that could make it an option in the future.
    And it seems to me, the Mars is best place in terms real estate, available in space. Or it seems the first place, one could have a real estate market in Space.
    As general thing, I think lunar polar regions would have the higher value of real estate per acre in Space, but I don’t see the Moon as a place for settlements {towns} in the near term.
    Or the Moon could be a super power in terms of industry, but not a super power in terms of food production, whereas Mars could be the super power in terms of food production in space.
    Mars will probably not produce more “farm products”, than Earth, even within centuries or a thousand years but Moon could produce more iron {steel} than Earth within a few centuries.

    The Moon has the “advantage” of being able to sell electrical power and water at higher price, but also has advantage getting to far lower prices of electrical power and water within decades. Or at the moment, lunar water at $500 per kg is good price, as one make lunar rocket fuel at low price. But about 10,000 tons of water is worth about $500,000 per ton and 10,000 times $500,000 is 5 billion dollars. But 1 million tons of lunar water is not worth 500 billion dollars. Instead it closer to 50 billion dollars or average of $50 per kg or less. And 10 million tons might closer to average of $10 per ton.
    And Mars is sort of the opposite, more water, make water worth “something”.
    10,000 tons of water on Mars might be worth $1000 per kg or more, and buyer would be NASA. If NASA only spends 10 billion dollars for all the water it needs on Mars for it’s exploration program, that would be pretty cheap- or NASA could spend more trying get 1000 tons of water on Mars. Or 10,000 tons of Mars water is more than NASA exploration program needs and 10,000 tons is no where near enough water for human settlements on Mars and if Mars water costs $1000 per kg, any cheap cost of a seat to Mars doesn’t matter.
    So for lunar water mining a site with 10,000 tons of water is enough.
    For Mars settlement a site must have a lot more water near it- and first 10,000 tons
    must be a lot cheaper than $500,000 per ton.
    Or price of Mars water, is not significant to NASA- it’s major costs is the thousands of people on Earth needed to run a Mars program and costs of getting anything off Earth.
    And same applies to electrical power, NASA probably spend more than $100 per kw hour of electrical power on Mars.
    And lunar water mining and making rocket fuel probably start paying $75 per Kw hour- and that would be cheap. And low enough electrical cost to sell cheap rocket fuel if water is only $500 per kg.
    So lunar rocket at $10,000 per kg, is cheaper than you can get now. And cheap lunar rocket fuel is $2,000 per kg or less. Having cheap lunar rocket makes the Moon a viable destination for wide variety of activity. And having cheap lunar rocket fuel will cause even cheaper lunar rocket fuel, and could eventually cause one to not need rocket fuel to leave the Moon {or launch cost less than $1 per kg of payload/people shipped from the Moon.
    So Moon could start with paying $75 per kW hour of electrical and billion dollars worth of electrical at that price, and decades later, Lunar electrical power could about $1 per kW hour or possibly cheaper than electrical power on Earth.
    And before Lunar electrical power is less than $1 per Kw hour, the Moon or some other location in Earth orbit, will making and providing Space Power Satellites for Earth {or Mars surface}. SPS for Mars surface because Martians probably paying more for electrical power than Earthlings at that time {2070 AD or later }.
    And by time lunar water and power is $10 per Kg or Kw/h there will hundreds of people staying on Moon- but on average probably living there for less than 1 or 2 years or perhaps, on average as little as 1 or 2 months.
    And most food is probably imported to the Moon.

  8. Jim Davis says:

    You find cheap water on Mars.

    Assume a settler would buy 10,000 tons at minimum or 100 settlers buy million tons for 1 billion dollars, 10 million dollar per settler for the water they could use over near term future- next decade or so.

    This is why space advocacy is considered part of the fringe.

  9. Rather than a third or fourth launch services / transportation company, I’d much rather see somebody drink the Kool-Aid on 470-800 m³ payloads, and start developing the on-orbit and surface components for a full-up architecture, rather than this “if you build it, they will come” attitude that seems prevalent with a lot of New Glenn and Starship aficionados.

    I’ve been counting on NASA to build those payloads, because the early days of either lunar or martian bases simply aren’t something that can be sustained by private enterprise. It’s going to take a government that’s willing to offer a public good to defray the risk enough for the private folks to get capitalized enough to make a difference. But after last week’s NASA authorization draft, I’m beginning to lose hope that Congress is going to let NASA perform that role.

    I really don’t know who can perform that role if not NASA. I suspect that if somebody starts building the right components, NASA will scramble to use them, simply to save face. But until this stuff exists, there are going to be precious few BEO missions for either Starship or New Glenn.

    The list of components is quite long:

    – Multi-megawatt power systems, for both the Moon and Mars.
    – Rover chassis to handle multiple payloads.
    – Water collection systems.
    – Electrolysis systems.
    – LH2 and LOX tankage for long-term storage.
    – Water ferries to cis-lunar.
    – Orbital versions of multi-MW power, electrolysis, and tankage.
    – SPSS beamed power for exploration expeditions.
    – Habitat modules with long-term ECLSS.
    – Rotating on-orbit habs. (Tethered, rings… who knows? Microgravity is bad for you.)
    – Digging systems for metals.
    – Robotic fab and maintenance systems.
    – About a zillion things I either haven’t thought of or can’t remember right now.

    All of this stuff is way more interesting than Yet Another Rocket Company. Without it, the heavy-lift guys are going to be all dressed up with no place to go.

  10. johnhare john hare says:

    More interesting to you, fair enough. Also straight forward enough to be built rapidly when the need and capabilities arise.

  11. Think of each of those components as a Flagship-class mission to get some idea of the amount of work required to get a base infrastructure in place. They may be slightly more “straightforward” to build when you have 3-6x more volume to build them in, and 5x more mass, but we really have no idea how well “bigger” translates to “cheaper” in terms of spacecraft (and each one is indeed a spacecraft).

    I’m almost certain that the bulk of mission cost will be in payload development and manufacturing, not in launch. And without those payloads, there’s simply no point in flying missions.

  12. gbaikie says:

    –TheRadicalModerate says:
    February 1, 2020 at 11:45 pm
    Rather than a third or fourth launch services / transportation company, I’d much rather see somebody drink the Kool-Aid on 470-800 m³ payloads, and start developing the on-orbit and surface components for a full-up architecture, rather than this “if you build it, they will come” attitude that seems prevalent with a lot of New Glenn and Starship aficionados.–

    I like term, RadicalModerate, I like would to be associated with the term.
    Anyhow, being interested in New Glenn and Starship has the advantage of either or both being launched before SLS. And zero up front public/tax payer money invested is also yummy.

    But a fundamental problem is the lack information about whether lunar water is mineable. And if there was more certainty regarding aspect of whether there could be mineable lunar water, it could take awhile, to organize the effort needed to mine lunar water and in terms of analogy, “the stars have to be properly aligned” or “timing” is aspect of it.
    And we have been dithering over this for about 2 decades from time it discovered there could be mineable water at the polar region of the Moon. Or we need some “ground truth” on the topic. One could say the orbiting and impacting the Moon has made quite clear, that we should explore the Moon determine whether there a place to mine lunar on the Moon, though some places would better than a place. But if a place could be discovered, then maybe company will form with objective of finding the best place for that mining company to mine lunar water. Meaning they might spend a billion dollars to explore the Moon because NASA had only found “a place” to mine lunar water.
    Now, it’s quite possible that NASA is utterly clueless to terms of how to find a place to commercially mine lunar water {and might even want to deny that such a thing is even doable or desirable for a space agency to do}, but there is zero doubt it’s failed to do any thing like this- yet.
    Now, we could dream, that NASA will do a professional survey of Moon in order to find potential sites to mine lunar water AND it does not cost decades of more time and tens [or hundreds} of billions of dollars. But I am saying it would be improvement, if they could find one {or wow, perhaps two} places in lunar polar region- and of course bring back lunar samples.
    Lacking such exploration, it seem one can not do much with the Moon.
    And lacking such exploration, it’s hard to imagine NASA doing any useful exploration of Mars.
    Once we gain such discovery, and once start mining lunar water, it can’t resemble the development of SLS, instead it has resemble something like the development of the Starship- not a lot money, but progress in short term, and probably take several years before making 1000 tons of rocket fuel per year. And then the effort to get to 2000 ton of lunar rocket fuel per year. Etc.
    Once 100 tons of lunar rocket fuel is made, with plans of making much more in the future, then the Moon is actually destination to go to, and get space agencies trying to catch up with having lunar bases and big money invested on various lunar stuff.
    But one could argue that “on-orbit” stuff, could begin before lunar surface water mining begins. But whatever the sequence, that lunar water could be mined, is an element, that one needs to know about which could be done.

  13. @gbaikie:

    I think of myself as a Starship and New Glenn aficionado as well. But a super-heavy launcher isn’t any good without super-heavy payloads that go to the places that only super-heavy launchers can send them.

    It’s a fair point about not knowing the extractability (and therefore economics) of lunar water. That’s why we should find out now. I see they’ve deferred VIPER as a result of that hideous NASA authorization bill that popped up in Congress. That’s exactly the wrong thing to do if you want an answer to this question ASAP.

    Even if there weren’t extractable water, I still think that you can learn an awful lot about operating on Mars by operating on the Moon first. But there’s no doubt that the Moon isn’t interesting in the medium- to long-term if you can’t do ISRU there, and ISRU almost certainly starts with water.

  14. gbaikie says:

    “Even if there weren’t extractable water, I still think that you can learn an awful lot about operating on Mars by operating on the Moon first.”

    I think it’s a good result, if you can determine there wasn’t extractable water on the Moon. One would not want to start gold mining where there is not enough gold to mine economically. And seems if it’s not extractable lunar water, one could have potential of “finding a way” to extract it, economically.

    As general note, I think NASA should find mineable water in Space. If not the Moon, then where else?
    Mars of course has lot’s of water, but just because it has lots of water, it doesn’t necessary mean, what I mean by mineable water in space.
    I am sort of a Earth centrist, I want rocket fuel made in space available to Earth orbit.
    Lunar rocket fuel makes the Moon a destination, but it leads eventually to Lunar rocket fuel available in Earth Low orbit. Lunar rocket fuel doesn’t start with lunar rocket fuel in LEO, because the higher price rocket fuel would be in High earth orbit, and Lunar low orbit {and Mars orbits, if exploring or settling Mars}.
    So what I mean by mineable space water is or would start with water or rocket fuel made in space which available to High Earth orbit.
    So if the Moon doesn’t have mineable water, NASA should continue with the basic plan of exploring Mars, BUT it should also look for other mineable water in space.
    Or mineable water in space is probably a needed path way to get Mars settlements, which a reason NASA should explore Mars- is Mars a viable place for human settlements {Martian towns and cities}.

    It seems one value of exploring the Moon before exploring Mars, it to provide evidence that NASA has ability to explore Mars. Moon is easy, exploring Mars is going to be hard to do {for many reasons}. So, US tax payers need to know if NASA has “the right stuff’.

  15. gbaikie says:

    re: “So, US tax payers need to know if NASA has “the right stuff’.”

    Btw, this also applies to Musk { and/or Bezos or others}.
    Musk seems to skip over idea of the need to explore Mars.
    An extreme characterization, is Musk “plan” seems to be to just dump a lot people
    on Mars, and “let them figure it out”.
    That is not a good sales pitch.
    Musk does seems to be shifting some of his attention to Lunar exploration,
    but he should realize to fastest way to Mars settlement, is “going thru the Moon”
    rather than “looks like he has to be involved but he would like to start with Mars.”
    Or same “rule” that applies to NASA also applies to Musk.
    Part of this rule, is NASA lunar exploration, proves NASA could have the “right stuff”.
    And is testbed for how to explore Mars {people focus on “testbed” in terms of technology- but also {and always is} about politics and economics.
    To summarize, Musk could prove he can be part of exploring Mars, by showing he can explore the Moon.
    Or exploring the Moon is how you can explore Mars and getting to having Mars settlements, and it is fastest way, or it is a direct and shortest pathway {for a number of reasons}.

  16. peterh says:

    “Assume a settler would buy 10,000 tons (of water) at minimum”
    Why would a settler be interested in that much water?

  17. gbaikie says:

    “peterh says:
    February 9, 2020 at 8:42 pm
    “Assume a settler would buy 10,000 tons (of water) at minimum”
    Why would a settler be interested in that much water?”

    Assume one can buy Martian land and it’s connected to a water lines.
    And you can buy Martian land without being connected to water lines.

    Would pay more for Mars land connected to water line as compared not having water lines.
    If you had water lines to your property, how water do you want to flow thru the waterlines?
    The normal way is you pay for water on monthly basis if living on Earth, but I am talking about with Mars is that one sells water that goes with the land.
    Your land is near a lake and you can chose to buy whatever portion of the lake’s water and that is the amount you are allowed to take, whenever you want it.
    Or if land is bought with 10,000 tons of water, after that property uses 10,000 tons of water, the property doesn’t get any more water from the Lake.
    And of course, if sell the property that you bought, at a later time, the remaining amount water, goes with the property. Or the rights to water is transferable with the land.
    One is also allowed to divide your property and assign whatever portion of the water to the divided property or if buy an acre of land with 10,000 tons of water, you then you can divide it into two 1/2 acre lots with 5,000 tons of water each.

    So say there is one lake on Mars, and you can buy property near the lake. And say there is 1 million tons of water in Lake. Assume there is some kind of bidding process, which is one can get higher share of the water the the closer to Lake that you choose the property to be.
    Assume you can choose to not to buy water, though if you want, perhaps you buy some grey water from land owners which get water from the lake.
    Or maybe one get land within miles of lake which probably has well water, that could be drill for. Or perhaps there seems a better place to drill a well, a hundred miles from the Lake. Or there is another area hundreds miles away with surface permafrost which is 60% water to 40% dirt. Or you mine water from the Mars air.
    In any case one can get land for free, or for insignificant cost, but land with water, power, sewage, roads, spaceports, etc would tend cost a bit more.

    Another thing with Lake, is one might be able to get cold and/or hot water.
    So say 10,000 tons of cold water is same cost as 5000 tons of hot water.
    Or instead of 10,000 tons of cold water, one could get 8000 tons of cold water and 1000 tons of hot water. And if that is an option, one probably be able to buy electricity created by nuclear reactor.
    So you buy pretty cheap land somewhere around the land settlement- which you don’t get any water from the lake, and perhaps one could buy grey and/or sewage water
    from lake residents. Or you might rent land, and owner could sell you water you want.

    But if want to live next to lake, what portion of lake would you choose to buy?

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