Thursday, August 20, 2009

Private Space CAN Do It!

I got into a debate with someone who thinks private space is not suited for the task of taking over space. Of course, I disagree, so I broke down his points bit by bit. Enjoy. :)

HIM: How do you propose that private space enterprise will do the exploring and colonizing? It takes hundreds of billions of dollars to venture outside of Earth's orbit. Where is that money going to come from? How will those that invested in that venture get there money back?

ME: Privates don't do the initial exploring, that is the only role the government should have. NASA is the Lewis and Clark and private business are the settlers on their heels. You start off by letting private industry take over ISS, which is a plan under consideration by the Augustine Commission, and one I fully support. This basically lines up with COTS, but should be allowed to go further where we lease ISS space to scientists. Now it's a profit center.

Get the ISS off the NASA books as much as possible, save for OPS and Mission Control, but then again private companies can provide the bodies to man those existing facilities, thereby relieving the burden further. The money comes from investors who see the potential in space. You act as though no rich people in our history have every taken a risk and invested in something that was unknown or overtly risky. Which leads me too...

HIM: Doing things in space is difficult, dangerous and, full of failure. Does the private sector have the patience and stamina to see through those kinds of odds?

ME: Yes, the private sector has more balls than people seem to give them credit for. Do you think settling the old west was easy? Do you think traveling over thousands of miles of crappy terrain, loaded with hostile weather, bugs, critters and pissed Native Americans was non-risky? However, businesses did it anyway, people went there, and they've profited. The gold rush...special one of the driving factors that fueled the expansion of the old west, and special resources will also play a key role in the profitability of the Moon and asteroids.

The problem has always been the heavy federal restrictions placed on the private industry, making it virtually impossible for them to get into space on their own. The government has maintained a nice monopoly on space travel, thinking they are the only ones capable of doing it. ITAR prevents international cooperation on many levels, old FAA restrictions made life difficult, and it was generally ridiculous to try and fight that uphill battle. However, in recent years, these restrictions have been lifted, or are currently being looked at for overhaul so that private businesses CAN get into space more readily.

HIM: What is there to make money on in space?

ME: LEO orbiting hotels. GEO orbiting hotels. Resource mining of the Moon (precious metals and especially Helium 3). Resource mining of asteroids, loaded with all kinds of materials we can use away from and on Earth, all acquired without damaging one single thing on Earth to get it.

HIM: No one is going to invest in Asteroid mining without a customer. No one is going to invest in Helium 3 mining without a functioning fusion reactor design that is commercially viable. No one is going to fund the colonization of Mars especially when there would be such heated debate about the possibilities of life and its destruction especially when we don't even know if there is any.

ME: All of this will happen, but you have to do it in the right order. It's stupid to think we'll be going from LEO to mining asteroids right away.

Step 1 - Privatize the ISS, giving private companies (of the world) significant experience in everyday space operations. At the same time, let the governments of the world press for developing systems and technologies for the Moon.

Step 2 - Once seasoned (10 yrs max I believe), private companies will take on the larger risks, and the greater rewards, of going to the Moon for 2 major reasons: Lunar tourism and mining operations.

Step 3 - It's not much of a leap after that for asteroid mining, considering how fast technology develops and that by exposing ourselves to the moon on a consistent basis, we will learn more about what technologies we need and can use.

Your lack of faith in the private sector is astounding to me. It's the private sector that represents the backbone of this nation, not the government. It's the private sector that represents the drive and desire to turn nothing into something, or at least give it a shot. Exploring space is no different that exploring new continents was 500 years ago. If you did an actual cost analysis of how much it cost Columbus to finally discover...well...South America, you'd be amazed at how much in today's dollars it would be. But Chris was backed by the Crown, so that's not a fair comparison, just food for thought. If you want to look at a private entity that assumed the risk and bore the costs, the East India Company is better suited for the logic argument.

Point being, to undercut the drive and desire of private space development is just as ridiculous as assuming the government will do any better.


Marcel F. Williams said...

So far, I don't see the billions of dollars of investment from private industry for sending humans into space. I do see companies asking for guaranteed contracts from the government for their space programs, however. But I don't consider that free enterprise. I consider that corporate welfare.

Folks want to retire the Space Shuttle as too risky to continue even though it has only had two fatal accidents in its 28 year history (2 failures in 127 flights). Space X's Falcon 1 has had 2 failures in just 5 flights. So I think people a jumping the gun when they say that all NASA needs to do is turn over manned flight to LEO to private industry.

However, NASA does need to focus on developing a simple people shuttle that will be useful for NASA, the military and private industry. In fact, a simple shuttle derived expendable SSTO vehicle utilizing the SSME and the ET(DIRECT-lite)would be perfect for launching an Orion space craft and satellites into orbit and with an LAS would probably be the safest manned vehicle ever created (perfect for private industry and space tourism).

Douglas Mallette said...

Marcel - So far, the private industry has not had the backing to support large scale investments. The laws and rules of the game were quite restrictive and prohibitive. The game is changing, and finally private companies have a fair shake at space.

Why do we need billions of dollars anyway? Isn't the point to make space CHEAPER, and more affordable? I honestly don't want BILLIONS of dollars of investment. Look what Richard Branson has done with under 500 million. Lower investment numbers mean lower payback costs, which means the flights and the opportunities are cheaper.

SpaceX is following nearly the exact same success path for a new rocket system development project. The Delta and Atlas testings during development were comparable AND they spent a hell of a lot more money developing those systems than SpaceX has spent developing theirs. You have to compare apples to apples if you're going to try and make that argument. SpaceX is doing just fine and will be abl to take a large bit of the load off of NASA within the next 2 years.

I would love for NASA to develop a next gen shuttle, but they seem to be fix on a damn capsule. This sucks, I hate it, and I want my space plane that launches and lands like a jet. :)

Norman Copeland said...

Well, gentleman, from what I can tell, your still really judging the market based upon zero programme development opinions.

My personal view is that the power and industry sector probably represents the most realistic sector of commerce to be involved with space development sociology.

Power and industry is positioned with more than enough resources for investment into space programmes and it is not subject to any economic recessive principles.

I percieve that power and industry moguls may at some stage need to be involved with space development programmes for the sake of their companies survival, but, I guess the question is ''why'' would they?

Because as many have correctly envisioned, colonies or limited numbers of people will need power sources to supply the regions and concentrations of people and again, as you have correctly predicted it will be an obvious choice of ''will new colony power be free of charge, in effect the development of communism on other planets, or will it be charged at a monetary cost?''.

You can talk about hotels on the moon, but, who will they pay for power?


Marcel F. Williams said...

If private industry can do it with minimal funding then I can't wait to see it happen!

The problem with the current space shuttle, IMO, is that its too large to be an efficient people shuttle, yet carries too little payload to be an efficient heavy lift vehicle.

Although I favored the development of the Delta
Clipper over the wing-like Venture Star, I would rather have seen NASA invest its billions in developing these reusable shuttle replacements back in the 1990's rather than spend it on the ISS.

Evan Schrantz said...

I feel the same exact way. I'm currently going to start my sophomore year at Virginia Tech as an aerospace engineer and I plan to hit the ground running when it comes to space exploration. I have no faith in NASA or government regulation of any kind when it comes to space, especially as it seems to be that our Glorious Leader, who I regretably voted for, has destroyed all funding to NASA.

Instead of gunning for NASA, I intend to find myself (or create for myself) a company that deals exclusively in exo-Earth exploration. LEO hotels are nice and all, but I see myself shooting for something far greater- I plan to be involved in, when the time comes, working on the project that will allow humans to leave this solar system all together.

Maybe I'm all wide-eyed from too much Star Trek and video games, but isn't that what this world needs? A visionary, an engineer that doesn't allow himself to work for the governments of the world, but forces the governments of the world to work for him. And maybe I can even establish my own nation entirely in space. All in good time...

Marcel F. Williams said...

Doug- would you object if Obama turned over the Space Shuttle program over to the US military? They've always wanted their own manned space program. And that could save NASA $3 billion annually which they could use for the Constellation program.

There was a Space Shuttle launch scheduled from Vandeburg Air Force Base in California back in 1986, but it was canceled after the Challenger accident. The space shuttle program might seem a little less dangerous to the public under military control since danger is their business. 32 soldiers died in total during the development of the V22-Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft. President Obama flew in one when he was in Iraq

The US military space program is already larger than NASA's. The military seems to like winged space vehicles. Plus the trillion dollar a year military industrial complex in America has plenty of cash to burn.

Douglas Mallette said...

However, I do feel that there is a market for space tourism, starting with orbiting "hotels" that hold 6 or so people in their own rooms. That's not too far fetched really, especially if SpaceX, Orbital, or anyone else can get launch costs way down by mass producing the rockets.

You have initial costs, but then relatively low recurring costs for something as simple as a tube with a few small amenities. Not like you have pools, bars, beds, furniture, or any of that. You go to the hotel to float around and see the Earth...and probably have sex in space. You KNOW there are a crap load of couples that would love to try that.

As far as colonies go, and power, as long as we get over this stupid anti-nuclear reactor thing and just power the bases with nuclear technology, then power is not an issue. Same goes for space stations as far as I'm concerned.

Marcel - I agree that the Shuttle was over-designed. The family doesn't drive semi-truck to the store, so why design a craft in the same manner? We need a personnel carrier shuttle, small and light, like a compact car. We need a cargo carrier, bigger, but completely automated and light to carry stuff. Easy enough if you think about it, but I want BOTH to be winged and capable of landing on a runway, dammit. None of this capsule nonsense.

The ISS was important in building international space relations. I think that's very important for Lunar and Martian future bases, because no one nation should really foot the bill for that stuff. It's far too expensive and everyone can reap the benefits. What I don't like is how much of the ISS we paid for vs. everyone else. It's a joke of how much of the tab we picked up. Any future projects, like the Moon, need to be more equally shared, or the other countries can go piss off. :)

Evan - About Obama...glad you've seen the error of your ways. lol. I like your enthusiasm! Go for it! Good luck getting the funding for such a large leap, but why the hell not...try! :)

Marcel - The problem with Military control of the Shuttle is the perception of turning space into a military infrastructure instead of a civilian (ergo peaceful) infrastructure. Other nations of the world might frown upon that, and I strongly believe that global cooperation is key for serious space advancement.

I have always believed that one of the best ways to get the world to play nice together (for the most part) is to have the planet focused on one huge project, and space exploration and development is about as big as it gets. :)

Marcel F. Williams said...

Doug- I believe the US spent $55 billion on the ISS and our international partners have spent $15-- even though the collective GDP of our international partners in Europe, Russia, Japan, and Canada exceed that of the US. Nothing wrong with a little international cooperation in space. But international competition in space, or anything else for that matter, usually generates a lot more progress. Check out the Spunik moment documentary at:

NASA is spending about $10 billion annually for the manned space component of our space program (about as much as we spend occupying Iraq for about a month). We spend up to $60 billion a year protection the Persian Gulf Oil, a fuel that is killing our planet and our economy. So I just don't see the NASA budget as expensive.

Thanks to NASA, the world has a $100 billion a year satellite based telecommunications industry. I think the manned space program will be equally as lucrative for the economy of the world as long as NASA focuses on pioneering, colonization, and helping to develop the space vehicles and infrastructure that will allow a lot more people easy access to the New Frontier.

Norman Copeland said...

An explanation.

Marcel F. Williams said...

Doug- If the US military also used the Space Shuttle as a crew rescue vehicle for the ISS and other manned mishaps in space, I think that there would be less objection.

But the Pentagon should also clearly state that the Space Shuttle would not be used to transport-- weapons-- into orbit (they could always do that with their other launch vehicle anyway:-)

Douglas Mallette said...

Good luck convincing the international community that the military will undergo anything benign. lol.

Wars always cost more than anything else. Such is the nature of war. Accept the reasons for the conflict or not, there's nothing any of us can do about it.

The best was can do is take the government out of the equation as much as possible and start using private investment, and not misspent tax dollars.

cory said...

Ok, I'm confused as to what these federal restrictions are; can't find them anywhere. I'm sure that if I was part of the private space industry I would know all about them, but I'm not.

Douglas Mallette said...

Cory - ITAR is by far the biggest restriction. It governs who you can hire, who you can work with, etc. Also, how federal funds are distributed within NASA have certain restrictions, so as departmental shifts, which is ridiculous. No company hamstrings itself like that, but the government does.

There are probably more, but ITAR is my biggest concern.