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Boeing flags its intentions in commercial space

Jonathan Amos | 08:00 UK time, Friday, 23 July 2010

I entrust my life to the Boeing corporation every year; as do the many millions who board planes to fly around the globe. The Chicago-based company has been in business for almost 100 years. Safety is everything.

CST100 cutaway with crewSo when I got to meet a group of its space executives this week at the Farnborough Air Show, I wanted to know how a company of its pedigree reacted when it heard US senators talk of commercial space as being too soon, and "too big a risk".

If it hadn't been for a Eurofighter screaming above the Boeing chalet at the time, you might have been able to hear a pin drop. These are delicate times politically, and no-one wants to speak too soon just in case anything they say comes out in a way that could be misinterpreted.

It was a slightly cheeky question, because much of the sniping at commercial space that has come from Congress these past few months has not really been directed at the likes of Boeing; it's directed at wannabes like SpaceX, new kids on the block who can't trace their heritage to an early 20th Century timber merchant.

But the point is well made: many of the companies who would like to lead the new age of commercial space are actually the same companies who built the old "space age" under government contract over the past 50 years - and none is bigger than Boeing itself.

The company's John Elbon eventually ventured a response to my question thus:

"We have not been as outspoken and as public about being involved in commercial up until this point; I think we will in the future. I think as those folks understand that all the spacecraft that have flown humans up until this point have been built by contractors - and they've been safe and reliable. We build a lot of aeroplanes that fly a lot of people, and they're safe and reliable. So this is really about a different approach to procurement as opposed to different people building the spaceships. I think as that is better understood, that opinion [about the riskiness of commercial space] will change."

Elbon is the project manager on Boeing's Crew Space Transportation (CST) 100 craft. The ship is its proposal for a commercial space taxi to take astronauts to and from low-Earth orbit.

It would launch most likely on an Atlas 5, although it is being designed in such a way that you could stick it atop a Delta 4 or even a Falcon 9.

The capsule is bigger than Apollo, and Boeing showed off new artist renderings at Farnborough that had up to seven astronauts sitting across two decks.

Boeing is "maturing the design" with money it has received from Nasa's CCDev (Crew development) programme - the same pot of money Congress is now looking to squeeze as it reshapes President Obama's new "vision" for space exploration.

Boeing believes it can have a certified launch concept - and that includes a man-worthy Atlas with a crew escape system - ready for operation in 2015.

A Bigelow station with arriving CST 100To make it pay its way, Boeing needs the CST-100 to fly, and to fly often - which is why the executives at Farnborough were standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the hotel entrepreneur Bob Bigelow.

For a decade, Bigelow has been investigating the possibilities offered by inflatable space structures, and he says his company is now ready to put its first inflatable space station in orbit for 2015.

Because Bigelow made his fortune in the hotel business, people assume he is merely trying to extend his Earthly operations into space. But as he explained to me, his company - Bigelow Aerospace - would merely provide the "office space" and it would be down to those who rented the modules to decide how to use them.

"Our customers are principally two major groups. The first group is sovereign clients - other countries that do not have the kind of access to the ISS that they would like to have, and that want to shape their own space futures. We hope to play a role in being able to offer them facilities in which they can do that. The other category is corporations. These would be companies connected to materials science, perhaps nano development or pharmaceutical development. Then there will be theoretically other categories. Folks may want to produce movies and maybe Sir Richard Branson may want to have one as a hotel."

You can hear an extended version of our chat by clicking on the audio below.

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We've all become accustomed to the "tin cans" that make up the International space Station and so our first reaction on seeing a Bigelow module might be to question their flight worthiness purely on the basis of "they're different".

Artist rendering of CST 100But these inflatables are based on a Nasa design. Their hulls are more than 40cm thick and incorporate layers of Vectran, one of those super-strength polymers you find in the protective gear that prevents lumberjacks from accidentally chopping off a leg with a misplaced chainsaw. Tough stuff.

If you want to rent one of Bigelow's big inflatables (his 330-cu-metre module) for four years, he is currently quoting $95m a year. Seats on the CST-100 to get your astronauts up there are being quoted at $24,950,000 per person.

Some three-quarters of all the monies collected are expected to end up in the hands of the transportation company - Boeing (See a video here of the CST-100 visiting a Bigelow station).

But the comments of Roger Krone, president of Network and Space Systems at Boeing, bring home just how marginal the economics are going to be on all of this, and the politicians on Capitol Hill may want to reflect on them as they work to frame Nasa's future budget and the cash it will have to support a fledgling commercial astronaut taxi service:

"For [a] commercial crew transportation system to work there has to be more than just ISS. The businesses cases won't close on just supporting ISS. I think that is universally understood within the industry; there needs to be other places to go. And frankly it is going to take entrepreneurial spirits like Bob and others to think about where those other places might be and to create those destinations."

Watch this space.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Jonathan Amos.

    sorry to be a spoil-sport but even a seven astronauts at a time "taxi service" is not going to help us develop a burgeoning space ecology, at the very least we'd need reliable 'bus services' and 'trucks'.

    the problem is of course still in the lifting -- would we actually want tens or hundreds of rockets to take off every month??

    no Jonathan, until we've 'real' sci-fi technology like a space elevator or anti-gravity devices, most of Bigelow's "office space" will remain unused.

  • Comment number 2.

    Jonathan, an excellent and very informative report. Well done! And excellent news that Boeing is taking it seriously.

    jr4412 seems to think that a wildly new technology is needed in order to get started. I disagree. What we will see will be a relatively boring step by step evolution, in which technologies improve incrementally and are used incrementally more efficiently, costs fall incrementally, passenger traffic gradually rises, and the proportion of that traffic paying its own way gradually overtakes government usage.

    The next step is to get beyond the current level of only one private passenger per year and only one destination, and to improve the reusability and shorten the turnaround time of the transport system.

    Would we want to see hundreds of rocket launches per month? Well, London Heathrow airport had about 466,000 traffic movements last year (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World%27s_busiest_airports_by_traffic_movements), and the busiest airport (Atlanta, Georgia) almost a million (much of it using Boeing hardware). A thousand rocket launches per year, each one consuming about 100 times the energy (pure guess -- I've probably got some more accurate figures for this somewhere) would then make a worldwide traffic level equivalent that wouldn't even make it onto the list of the 30 busiest individual airports. The main point here is that by the time we see that level of Earth to orbit activity, the transport system will be much more aeroplane-like and less rocket-like -- think Skylon / Spacebus / Saenger. And the cost per seat will have to fall, as it has with air travel.

    Stephen
    Oxford

  • Comment number 3.

    The first question that pops into my mind is should space travel be commercialized?
    There are several legal issues that need addressing.
    The United Nations treaties are certainly trailing in advancing appropriate legislation.
    e.g. In the United States alone, there are potential conflicts involving
    - NASA,
    - the FAA,
    - Department of Transportation,
    - Department of Defense,
    - FCC and
    - likely some agencies I’ve not thought about.
    In short, there is confusion.
    Remember the first private space launch of the Conestoga?
    President Reagan then created the Office of Commercial Space Transportation (OCST) within the Department of Transportation (DOT).
    By 1986, the OCST was already issuing regulations to control launches by private companies. All of the launches remain subject to FAA regulations in American airspace. Eventually, the OCST was mandated as the agency to supervise private launches. No sooner was the OCST created than a dozen or more federal bureaus & districts were identified as having some jurisdiction in regulating space activities.
    The field is now congested with legislation like The Commercial Space Launch Act of 1984; this Act notes that the "authority of States to regulate space launch activities within their jurisdiction, or that affect their jurisdictions, is affected by this Act."
    As you can see, commercialized space is a concept that is not without controversy.
    Already we have the concept of a Space Development Bank – an American Development Bank to help overcome the lack of financing for large commercial space ventures. Financed by the sale of specific space bonds issued by the federal government, a low cost source of long-term funding would be available to businesses. The capital markets would assign a low risk to the bonds since they would be backed by the US Government.
    What about the market? There are many challenges to overcome, especially getting the cost down to a reasonable level (@ $10,000 per person). There are already adventure travel companies selling tickets for sub-orbital flights, ranging from $3500 per person to approximately $100,000 per person. None of the companies have vehicles yet, but believe their vehicles will be available within five years. There appears to be little doubt that that the elite will soon find thmselves with real opportunities for playing in space.
    Result: a widening of the gap between the rich and the poor. When we talk about commercializing space, about the mega-profits we are most certainly not talking about the working poor, which leads me to my final statement: the elite will have settlements on the moon, Mars and likely other planets or asteroids, but those of us left behind will have poverty and this sad little brown planet – riddled with its own commercialism in the form of drilling holes and bomb blasts and water shortages and polution. Do you think the space community will care about the little brown planet and its woebegone survivors?
    What space commercialization suggests to me about the present and the future is truly ominous, even evil. Why should the elite care for an earth that you will inevitably leave behind?

  • Comment number 4.

    Stephen Ashworth #2.

    while I do appreciate your 'incremental' argument, I think your comparison between rockets and airplanes isn't well thought through -- airplanes are re-useable!!

  • Comment number 5.

    jr4412 #4

    I hate to ruin your statement, but yes, there are re-usable spacecraft out there (NASA Space Shuttle) and in regards to rockets? There a dozens of re-usable rocket concepts. Silver Dart, Falcon 9, Skylon, Spacecab/Spacebus and my favourite, the old USSR Energia concept rocket.

  • Comment number 6.

    AnAngryMan #5.

    "..there are re-usable spacecraft out there (NASA Space Shuttle).."

    "It lifts off under the power of its two solid rocket boosters (SRBs) and its three main engines (SSMEs), the latter fueled by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen from the external tank" -- neither the rocket boosters nor the external tank survive the trip.

    "There a dozens of re-usable rocket concepts."

    the keyword here appears to be concept.

    "I hate to ruin your statement.."

    you didn't, relax ;). my main point is that we do not have the lifting technology required to develop a worthwhile space ecology; at present, putting half a dozen people into orbit stretches our ingenuity and our resources to the limits, and significant (and expensive!!) parts are lost irretrievably during each launch.

  • Comment number 7.

    jr4412 wrote:

    my main point is that we do not have the lifting technology required to develop a worthwhile space ecology; at present, putting half a dozen people into orbit stretches our ingenuity and our resources to the limits, and significant (and expensive!!) parts are lost irretrievably during each launch.

    You appear to have done very little research into this subject before offering an opinion. SpaceX are already planning to substantially increase the degree of recycling of parts by recovering the first stage of the the Falcon 9. Others are working on schemes that will create fully reusable craft. Try looking up Reaction Engines Skylon project.
    The technology exists, it's just a matter of the time and money to turn it into practical reality, they are well past the concept stage.
    We don't need magic technologies, just a steady approach to bring down the cost per kilo of launching payloads into orbit. It frankly appears other people's ingenuity stretches rather further then your's jr4412.

  • Comment number 8.

    jr4412 wrote:

    neither the rocket boosters nor the external tank survive the trip.

    ------------------------------------------------------


    I'm afraid this again shows up your shoddy research. The boosters are recovered, reloaded, and reused.

  • Comment number 9.

    Mike Mullen #7, #8.

    "SpaceX are already planning to substantially increase the degree of recycling of parts.." and "..it's just a matter of the time and money to turn it into practical reality.."

    you're making my point for me, better than I could -- thank you.

    "The boosters are recovered, reloaded, and reused."

    references, links, please.

  • Comment number 10.

    jr4412 wrote:

    Mike Mullen #7, #8.

    "SpaceX are already planning to substantially increase the degree of recycling of parts.." and "..it's just a matter of the time and money to turn it into practical reality.."

    you're making my point for me, better than I could -- thank you.

    "The boosters are recovered, reloaded, and reused."

    references, links, please.

    =========================================

    I'm afraid I'm not going to fall into the trap of being outraged by your claim that something that flatly contradicts your point somehow supports it. And frankly I think you should be able to do your own research into what is after all common knowledge amongst those with a real interest in space matters but here's the HTML for a wikipedia page on the subject.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Shuttle_Solid_Rocket_Booster

  • Comment number 11.

    Mike Mullen #10.

    "..what is after all common knowledge amongst those with a real interest in space matters.."

    while I'm interested, I haven't the time to earn my 'anorak'.

    you are correct on the boosters, apparently some have been used up to six (!!) times (what if the world's airlines had to replace key parts of their craft after half a dozen flights? LOL).

    I am heartened to know that you think that all we need is a "steady approach to bring down the cost per kilo of launching payloads into orbit"(#7).

    of course, that does in no way invalidate my original point that developing "a burgeoning space ecology"(#1) is currently, and for the foreseeable future, unachievable.

  • Comment number 12.

    Having read the comments made, I like to put my tuppence worth in if I may!

    While I cannot disagree with jr4412 I think the idea of waiting for the SF technologies of space elevators and anti-gravity - if you really want to go sci-fi how about a matter transporter - is like the aviation industry being told they must wait until they have perfected supersonic flight before offering any kind of passenger aircraft. The development of the technology needed would not be forthcoming because the returns on investment would not be their because no one will be flying passenger aircraft.

    But the point he made about the commercialisation of LEO is a valid until you consider who, what and why. Who would want to put commercial interests into LEO, for what reason and for why?

    The who could be large organisations who traditionally have deep research pockets, drugs companies for instance who might be prepared to put a research facility into space to see if it could yield interesting research results; computer chip manufacturers for the same reasons, universities… reasons are obvious. The building of such facilities in orbit could bring in the traditional (Boeing, EADS, etc) as well as the new. (How about the construction industry who have experience of handling materials like concrete? Just a thought.) And the why! Money of course. For the ability to develop expensive goodies for us left on mother earth to buy.

    Stephen Ashworth's remarks about the number of movements from airports like Heathrow and Atlanta (BTW the tag biggest depends on what you are measuring; you're right about the highest number of movements per annum, but if you want to measure international flights, which could be considered closer to the idea of taking off up to LEO then the airport with the largest number of movements is Heathrow, but I digress.) but what he seems to be ignoring is the fact that the infrastructure is not built for such high usage, we shall certainly needs multiple daily launches and I can see that causing all kinds of headaches, not least from the anti-air (space) port lobby or from the environment lobby.

    The one re-usable proposal you've all seem to have forgotten is BAe's HOTEL, which was much more recent than those mentioned.

    LEO's commercialisation has to start somewhere, and personally (and I'm an enthusiast not an anorak) I cannot see Governments continue to fund near Earth spaceflight when maybe other priorities here (climate change, etc) take priority. So well done Boeing for taking President Obama's plan seriously and lets hope other companies can see a future in space. But yes, we do need more than just the ISS as a destination and yes we need a better means to get there and a better reason for going.

  • Comment number 13.

    #12 EssexinYorkshire

    Hi EssexinYorkshire et al, SF extrapolations are one of my specialties-

    Space Elevator - the difficulties look extreme and at first almost insurpassable but today space elevators are already almost within reach. In fact there are already solutions out there pretty much read to go, all they would need is the funding. About £10 billion and the world could have a working elevator by 2020 or 2025.
    Gravity Manipulation - done a lot or research in this area myself. There's nothing fundamentally impossible about gravity drive the problems are all about the scales of energy or mass needed to interact with gravity. The principle thing needed to even BEGIN gravity engine research is ultra dense materials like condensed neutronium matter or small singularities. The difficulties with either are so extreme that I would put it at least 20 to 50 years away.
    Matter Teleportation - There are a lot of potential routes to teleportation but none of them look particularly easy. Gravity engines, 'FTL' drive, and matter teleportation form a kind of three cornered hat and are all basically the same fundamental machine, crack one and in theory the others should be easy. Of course the little joke is that they are all still very impossible, at least today. "With the power of a thousand atom bombs"... :)

    Todays Tomorrows Space
    Reuseable Shuttles - a la Skylon/Hotol etc. Yes with development costs of 2 to 10 billion there are probably a dozen semi-viable Shuttle systems lurking around the edges of the acceptable space in-crowd. For me the best contenders might be a reawakening of the Buran or the NASA replacement Shuttle program closed in 2001.
    Constellation - back to the 50's. In essence the Constellation system looked/looks very like Von Braun's original 1950's sketch that led to the Apollo program. I love the joke but Apollo (and NASA) literally started as a science fiction story of mans adventures in space written by Von Braun and Willy Ley in the early 50's.
    "Big Dumb Rockets" - a strange name given to the true and only route to the real commercialization of space. In essence the idea is very simple, it costs roughly two to three times more to develop and fly a rocket 10 to 20 times bigger. Its the theory behind the giant jet liners like the Boeing 747 but its a lesson the space industry is adamantly trying to refuse to learn. The best example is one I have gone on about before, the Sea Dragon with a 500 ton LEO payload capacity. Then there is the nuclear powered Liberty rocket design with a payload of 1000 tons to LEO. Both designs are intended to be reusable and on cost are probably comparable to todays rockets.
    Nuclear Rockets - the final solution is perhaps the best of all. at least that is on cost, safety, reliability, simplicity, efficiency, capability, reusability, and payload capacity. It is only the paranoia and fear engendered by the techno-hate groups that keeps us from real space exploration. Like it says "Promoting Climate Change by banning Nuclear Power." I consider myself a deep green but that green has a definite bluey glow. (from the Cherenkov radiation) :)

  • Comment number 14.

    Note to EssexinYorkshire (post 12): the Hotol study was undertaken in 1985 to 1988. It has since metamorphosed into the much improved Skylon design, under development from 1989 thanks to both private and more recently govt support.

    http://www.reactionengines.co.uk/bkgrnd.html

    Response to BluesBerry (post 3): I do not accept your pessimistic view of space colonisation. Gerard O'Neil's fundamental point in his book "The High Frontier" (one of the key texts on the strategic value of space to civilisation) was that our society must continue to grow while so many still live in poverty. Now is not the time to try to halt economic growth and achieve a zero-growth society. On the contrary, we must continue to grow until everybody has a tolerable level of material wealth, and the only way this can be done is by drawing space resources into our economic sphere. The key resource he proposed was solar power for transmission from orbiting power satellites to the ground, and I think this concept needs to be tried with an actual prototype before it can be dismissed as unpractical.

    In the meantime, you ask why the space elite should care for an Earth they have left behind. In the first place, it will take many centuries for them to leave Earth behind -- for a long time to come, any space or planetary colonies will be critically dependent upon material support from Earth, and intellectual cross-fertilisation will clearly continue indefinitely, even when the first interstellar colonies are founded, perhaps a millennium in the future.

    In the long run, I would argue that we need to colonise space in order to ensure the survival of our civilisation (and in the longer term, of a few million years, of our species). We know that the terrestrial climate will change, whether through the anthropogenic influence of carbon dioxide emissions, or the return of ice-age conditions, or changes in the Sun (which have been known to influence climate since Herschel's time). In space we can create living-space which is not subject to the vicissitudes of climate and is sufficiently widely spread to survive any conflict or disturbance. But we do need to get on with it while we can, and space commercialisation is the next step!

    Finally, I would ask you whether the European colonists of the Americas, Africa and Australia left an impoverished society behind them. Obviously not: Britain and Europe were immensely enriched by globalisation. We now have the opportunity to repeat this process on a far vaster scale over the coming millennium, and with no native inhabitants to inconvenience. This can only enrich everyone in our society, be they rich or poor -- in the first place, just think of the amount of work that has to be done to achieve this vision, in terms of its job-creation potential!

    Stephen
    27 July

  • Comment number 15.

    Stephen Ashworth #14.

    "I would ask you whether the European colonists of the Americas, Africa and Australia left an impoverished society behind them. Obviously not: Britain and Europe were immensely enriched by globalisation."

    that example is in exceptionally poor taste; yes, "Britain and Europe" benefitted but native Americans, native Africans, and native Australians most certainly did not.

    besides, do you really think that leaving Earth to escape oppression and intolerance (the reason many left for the 'new world') would work? I suppose there would be new opportunities too -- best enjoyed in climate controlled environments though.

  • Comment number 16.

    Stephen Ashworth #14 - Yep! I realised my mistake after I posted.

    I"ve read O'Neil's book too and I'm surprised that a test prototype of the SSPS hasn't been built and launched yet. I understand they've tested the power transmission system in the US years ago? I should have mentioned it in my post of course, as I do feel that this is how LEO will be exploited in its first instance.

    Robert Lucian #13 - I admire your optimism but I don't really see any the SF technologies you mention becoming a reality in my lifetime, if ever. (BTW - I am as old as space exploration) Yet, I'd be happy to be proven wrong. Until then I think we shall have to rely on rockets of one description or another. One space plane I didn't mention was ESA's Hermes and it's a pity they didn't continue to develop it. The one type of engine that will NEVER be used in Earth's atmosphere will be the nuclear engine. There will be opposition from every quarter imaginable, even from those who think human spaceflight is important like me, if that option is selected.

    I see the Astronomer Royal has now said that in his opinion the future of human spaceflight will be in the hands of private adventurers, so perhaps Richard Branson is just the first of many? But the costs would be horrendous and I'm not sure if it will ever be truly in the hands of private individuals like the most of us. This obviously takes me to jr4412 #15. I agree European empire building is not a model we should repeat but neither should we follow the American empire model. To be honest, I don't have the answer to that question but I'm sure cleverer minds than mine will work it out eventually.

    TTFN
    Reg
    27 July 2010

  • Comment number 17.

    jr4412 (#15): As I may have mentioned, the other planets and asteroids in our Solar System are uninhabited. Furthermore, attitudes towards native species have changed radically over the past few centuries. Therefore I don't see the relevance of your claim that my argument is in poor taste.

    Regarding your comment in #1 that we need a space elevator or antigravity device: someone actually raised this point at the first BIS conference on space tourism in November 2005. Alan Bond (managing director of the company developing Skylon) responded that if we had the materials strong enough to build a space elevator, those same materials would make an even better spaceplane (which would also be able to access orbits at any inclination, and do so much faster than an elevator car).

    Stephen
    Oxford

  • Comment number 18.

    Stephen Ashworth #17.

    "Therefore I don't see the relevance of your claim that my argument is in poor taste."

    (#14)"..with no native inhabitants to inconvenience."

    reducing centuries of genocide and wholesale cultural eradication to a 'mere' inconvenience is the kind of sanitised euphemism one'd expect to read in some white supremacist 'literature'. exceptionally poor taste!!

    "..if we had the materials strong enough to build a space elevator, those same materials would make an even better spaceplane (which would also be able to access orbits at any inclination, and do so much faster than an elevator car)."

    a good argument, excepting fuel requirements (and consequent pollution); apparently, carbon nanotubes can now be grown to inches in length, I think that once we learn to manufacture to any length, we'd have the basis for a space elevator (which could be constructed like a paternoster -- steady and continuous) to complement the spaceplanes.

  • Comment number 19.

    @13 Robert Lucien

    Not sure what planet (or universe) you think you are living on, but 'gravity manipulation' and 'matter teleportation' are entirely science fiction, and bad science fiction at that. I'm not sure what kind of research you've conducted but usually people spouting on about anti-gravity tend to spend a lot of time on psuedo-science websites, and when they aren't talking about floating cars and government conspiracies, they are making up stories about zero-point energy. Sorry, I don't mean to troll, but it annoys me when people mention these things seriously.

    The space elevator idea is a bit less far-fetched, Arthur C Clarke wrote a compelling story about the construction of one. Give it a few-hundred years and it's conceivable. I agree with the rest of your points too, the point about resurrecting Buran especially; it does seem like such a waste of spacecraft research and development. And yes, I'm sure nuclear power is the eventual way forward, the thinkers behind Project Daedalus certainly thought so.

  • Comment number 20.

    #19 mark-dj wrote:

    @13 Robert Lucien

    Not sure what planet (or universe) you think you are living on, but 'gravity manipulation' and 'matter teleportation' are entirely science fiction, and bad science fiction at that. I'm not sure what kind of research you've conducted but usually people spouting on about an...


    If you had learned to read properly you would have noted that I called them 'science fiction' (SF) extrapolations. And by the way gravity engines are almost certainly not impossible just very very difficult. (the whole gravity engines are 'impossible' thing is more Victorian science and pre relativity and quantum mechanics-) If I was going to pick minutiae I could point out that even traditional rocket engines can in fact be classified as a type of gravity engine, abeit one that does not recycle its reaction mass.
    You mention zero point fields well they might be in vogue with the 'alternative' science people but they are actually a pretty central part of the definition of the speed of light in relativity. In context of gravity engines gravity can even be described as distortions in the zero point.

    As for space elevators I have read some of the scientific literature on them and they are basically possible now. The most efficient types still require materials that don't yet quite exist but they are pretty close. And saying all that I don't even believe in elevators, they are possible but they are not a good idea. Steven Ashworth's point in #17 is a very good one and space planes are one of the routes that I think we should be taking.

  • Comment number 21.

    Sorry that last letter came out wrongly, I had rewritten it a little to be un-rude but I must have reverted the edit somehow. :( Sorry.

    " you would have noted that I called them 'science fiction' (SF) extrapolations. "

  • Comment number 22.

    I think that this is a good idea because people could benifit alot from discoveries made in space. Since there are 6 people going out into space, they could make some really big inventions and discoveries. Technology could be advancing to reveal things that could help in medical places.

    Dean Tan

  • Comment number 23.

    Robert Lucien #20.

    "And saying all that I don't even believe in elevators, they are possible but they are not a good idea."

    why not? please elaborate.

  • Comment number 24.

    jr4412 its all about the numbers. Elevators tend to have low and very strict mass (payload) limits and building one with a very high limit is very difficult and could take decades.
    The other BIG problem about elevators is time. - The trip into orbit from an elevator is 22,000 miles long so either the car goes slowly taking days or weeks to reach orbit or runs more quickly with much higher complexities and dangers and not so much more benefit than an ordinary rocket.
    Of course passengers could get off early before orbital height but then they won't have orbital momentum. What people don't appreciate is that its not getting into space thats difficult its reaching the high velocities needed for stable orbital trajectories. (and thats a problem that introduces other problems with elevators- like transferring sideways momentum)

    There is a method of going into space that works like an elevator but solves most of these difficulties called a 'Kinetic Tower', one such is the Lofstrom Loop or http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Launch_loop . But like all methods it has its own difficulties and would be a little like riding the blade of a running chainsaw. If it fails it could send pieces of high speed shrapnel over an area of thousands of square kilometers. If you read the WP article though you will see that it can achieve launch costs of hundreds of dollars per kilogram cheap enough for genuine mass space colonization.

  • Comment number 25.

    Robert Lucien #24.

    my principle point is about making space (exploration) feasible and worthwhile (see #1), that means more than half a dozen people in LEO.

    to develop and maintain an ecology comprising of manufacturing and research facilities, a transfer hub for scheduled lunar traffic, hotels, and so on, cannot be done with rockets and spaceplanes alone; spaceplanes for fast(er) transfers of personnel, by all means, but for significant tonnages of freight an elevator will be indispensible.

    a 'paternoster' type contraption, with 'slot-in' container-like cars would do this job nicely. use different standardised containers for food, construction materials, fuel, ore, travellers, what have you; the time constraints you refer to do not (generally) apply to such items.

  • Comment number 26.

    I have heard some people expressing a degree of negativity here on recent developments. It shouldn't surprise me, but I think commmercial space has gone a long way to proving the critics wrong. Companies like SpaceX and Bigelow are the future and doubts from overseas on whether their plans will actually work financially, whether it will be seen as "green" to be launching so many rockets or whether their efforts will start manned commercialisation of LEO are to them, irrelevant. That's the one good thing about the american spirit, they get things done while other stand by and criticise. Falcon 9, Bigelow space habitats plans, SpaceShipTwo are just the start of something big!

  • Comment number 27.

    Maybe some British company can learn from Boeing the way Boeing learnt from the demise of the Dehavilland Comet - the world's first commercial passenger jet. Or maybe if their new craft too noisy, the British government should complain on grounds of "noise pollution" the same way that the US objected to Concorde after Boeing's failure to produce a competitor. I prefer the former personally.

  • Comment number 28.

    @Andrew2070 (#27):

    Brilliant response indeed.

  • Comment number 29.

    "Watch this space."

    Oh, very good.

  • Comment number 30.

    Until the scientist pull their fingers out and develop a new drive system we will never have a cheap way into space. Considering they were talking about anti-gravity tech as far back as the fifties why haven't they developed a drive based around this yet?

  • Comment number 31.

    Fred the reason is very simple - gravity engines are very very difficult. Gravity is a very complex force but it is governed by a big constant called the G constant which is 6x10^-11 (0.00000000006). That makes gravity incredibly slippery, so slippery that ordinary matter (or energy) on human scales simply isn't heavy or dense enough to do anything useful. If you could compare it the full energy from a nuclear explosion might hold an apple weightless for about a second.

    Saying all that gravity engines are not totally impossible, a theoretical material called a neutron condensate which is millions or billions times denser then normal matter could be used to make one quite easily if we could make it. Another method would be if we could build the sci-fi technology of force fields. More down to earth methods might just be possible for instance using high energy plasmas or if we could amplify the effects of quantum superpositions.

    Of course the biggest problem is that we still don't fully understand gravity itself. There are loads of theories, General Relativity is the best known, but there is a quantum mechanics version - quantum gravity, then there is string theory, Heim theory, Super Symmetry, m-theory, quantum loop gravity, etc. One I myself am involved with is 'hyperspace mediated gravity' which sounds weird but is basically a version of General relativity modified to cope with FTL interactions and phenomena.
    ----

    In short other methods capable of carrying loads can be developed far more easily and cheaply - in a number of different ways the best is probably nuclear rocket engines. (even chemical rockets could do it though :) )

  • Comment number 32.

    Andrew2070 wrote:

    "Or maybe if their new craft too noisy, the British government should complain on grounds of "noise pollution" the same way that the US objected to Concorde after Boeing's failure to produce a competitor. I prefer the former personally."

    Sorry to break it to you but many of us Americans still have issues with aircraft noise as we certainly did back then, which would explain route restrictions imposed on the Concorde in America remaining in place all the way up to its demise.

    America had far more advanced aircraft flying at the time of Concorde so don't act like a "competitor" was beyond its capabilities because that is nonsense. Concorde was not the product a company would build to maximize profits. Boeing realized that and good for them.

  • Comment number 33.

    What, no mention of the X33 ?

    While it was cancelled as a NASA funded project, Lockheed Martin have continued development with further successes through till 2009.

    Realistically it is the closest we have go to SSTO so far. Interesting that it looks like MUSTARD "Multi-Unit Space Transport And Recovery Device", perhaps Lockheed should consider that approach. Virgin Atlantic are already - sort of - going down the MUSTARD route.

  • Comment number 34.

    Simonm, thanks for that info. I looked it up and it does appear to be a successor to the X-33 program, rather than a straight continuation. Lockheed seem to be going down the same incremental route as Reaction Engines, rather than trying to do everything at once as NASA pushed for with the X-33.

 

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