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Visions of space separated by 22 miles

Jonathan Amos | 15:00 UK time, Thursday, 24 March 2011

Wednesday presented an excellent example of the challenges faced by science-based industries in the UK; and, in particular, the space sector.

In its Budget announcement, the London government singled out space as one of the key areas of commercial endeavour that would help pull the country out of its current economic woes.

Space is a fast growing sector – both in terms of value (10% annually) and in terms of employment (15% annually).

The Chancellor George Osborne wanted to support this vibrant performer, so he unveiled a package of regulatory reform and gave it a small sum of money to start a national Space Technology Programme (UKSTP).

This programme will be primed with £10m from the Treasury and £10m from private industry.

It will fund R&D projects to make sure British labs and companies keep coming up with innovative products and services that can win exports.

All in the space industry applauded. “We welcome the fact that the government recognises the importance of space to growth”, was the common message I was hearing yesterday.

But here’s the thing. As George Osborne was making his Budget announcements in the House of Commons, across the Channel in France the government there was also unveiling a package of support for its space sector.

The value of this package? 500 million euros.

I’m going to write that again so no-one thinks I’ve added an extra nought by mistake. Yes, France’s space sector got an uplift in its government support on Wednesday of 500 million euros (£440m).

It is part of Le Grand Emprunt (“The Big Loan”), a colossal bond-financed investment in a variety of fields, but principally in those related to research and education.

The money on offer to space is so large the French haven’t decided yet where to spend it all.

The largest chunk – 82.5 million euros initially, to be followed by a further 167 million - is going on the project to develop the successor to the Ariane 5 rocket.

This will be a multi-billion-euro endeavour that will eventually require the input of other European nations, but the French intend to lead it.

There are tens of millions of euros also for a new spacecraft to map ocean surface height, for the development of a new class of small satellite platforms, and for new technologies to put on telecommunications spacecraft of the type that route our calls, relay our TV programmes and stream the net.

At this point, I’m reminded of Formula One motor racing, that most hi-tech of sports.

I, like many I’m sure, still miss the BBC’s legendry commentator Murray Walker. Talking about investment and development in F1, Murray used to say: “To stand still in this business is to go backwards.” And this is the problem now faced by the British government.

It’s in a race, also, and the country in the next garage is currently out-investing it on a large scale. And that’s true in a number of garages down the pit lane. OK, metaphor over, but this is the challenge.

The government says the state of the nation’s finances simply cannot allow the type of spending that’s going on in France. So, how does the UK respond?

Richard Peckham is the chairman of UK Space, the umbrella group representing British space companies. He couldn’t avoid the obvious comparison between events in London and Paris on Wednesday either, but he remains very positive about the future.  He told me:

“All the things that were mentioned in the Budget were the things we had requested in our Innovation and Growth Strategy that we published last year. Yes, even the £10m of new money gives a good message, given the austerity times and how difficult it is to get any money out of Treasury.
"In the light of announcements from Paris, this might all seem rather small; but I do see this as a road. We asked for a National Technology Programme. We want it to grow to something like a £100m budget, co-funded with industry, and this is the start. I am positive.
"Obviously, we have a long way to go before we get the same view of space as France, Germany and Italy. And in truth, we will always be a bit different because we will always be focussed more on the commercial aspects, on being smarter with our money, whereas they will always be more public-sector-focussed, retaining the large national programmes they have in the past.
"We’re not going to outspend them, not in my lifetime; but we can be innovative and outsmart them. We can bring out the entrepreneur. Look at Virgin Galactic, Surrey Satellite Technology Limited and Avanti Communications. These all came out of brilliant ideas.”

 

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    The really sad thing is that 500 million in this country would end up going a lot further than in France and achieve a lot more in space in the long term, where over a fifth of the French money alone is tide up in a new Arian rocket development programme, run by a company which have proven to be very unprofitable and is currently making losses for a 2 year in a row.

    I would love the BBC do a article where its asks British space scientists where they would spend 500 million pounds.

    I think in the enviroment we are seeing at the moment, the frantic pace of develope of private space crafts in the US, a Space development bank similar to the one we are setting up for green technologies would be a good idea.

    This would act as either seed money for new technology or guarantors to investors in private industry. We need to drive home the fact Britain probably gets more out of every pound spent on space technology than just about any other country.

    So what my fellow readers spend 500 millions pounds on in space.

    I would invest at least some of it into Skylon,. An tranche of money would go towards setting up a space port for virgin Galactic in this country.

  • Comment number 2.

    Knowles2 has laid down the challenge. If the the UK had an additional 500 million euros/pounds to put into space, where should that money go?

  • Comment number 3.

    I would spend 488 mill on going to Mars, and take the final million, in five pound notes, to Mars with me, just becuase I could

  • Comment number 4.

    What people forget is that the "French" Ariane rocket is derived from the British Blue Streak ICBM. Britain pulled out of the Program and gave the designs to France after continued failure of the French 2nd and German 3rd Stages of the rocket.

    Perhaps we should offer France a cheaper, more reliable British alternative...

  • Comment number 5.

    I have a question. Where are the entrepreneurs?

    This is a sector that is growing 10% every year. You'd think they be running in with their millions already and wouldn't need any government assistance as an incentive to get involved. If we look at Virgin Galactic we see that has nothing to do with the UK Space Industry, the only link with Britain is the guy who owns Virgin Galactic is British.... but he took his cash to America.

    But this has always been the case with Britain, we never seem to create enough entrepreneurs willing to spend in our own backyard even if there is a huge opportunity to take advantage of a very thinly populated business sector. And the British Space Industry is as thinly populated as you can get in business. There are more people making rubber chickens than space related ventures.

    I still think Skylon is the future and the government has recently given it a boost, but it seems more of a goodwill gesture than anything concrete. Why does the government not see that rockets are not the future, while rich entrepreneus avoid it with a barge pole? The science is there but not the cash, the UK is not well known for it's home grown billionaires but with the business schools we have here it should be a world leader.

    As usual, UK business is stifled by both it's government and it's businessmen.

  • Comment number 6.

    Forgot to add... with Skylon we have reusable space plane, that uses runways. It is probably cheaper to retrofit a Gatwick runway than to maintain a space port around the equator with a rocket that cost many many millions and never gets used ever again.

    Not mention a combination of 3 Skylons can remove redundant satalites in orbit in what all governments are apparently concerned about.

    Skylon 1 launches and waits in orbit with fuel. Skylon 2 launches and transfers some fuel to Skylon 1. Skylon 3 launches and waits in orbit. Skylon 2 return to the runway and refuels. Skylon 1.... already in orbit.... uses the fuel to catch up and grab several satalites into it HUGE payload bay. Skylon 1 returns to runaway. Skylon 2 launches again and transfers fuel to Skylon 3. Skylon 2 returns to runway. Skylon 3 catches up with more satalites. Skylon 1 re-launches and waits in orbit. etc ect

    Skylon 2 is the refueller, Skylon 1 and Skylon 3 are the satalite extractors. There must be money in that, and international law could be introduced to force companies and governments to securely dispose of their litter just floating around in space in a quick and safe manner.

    Although there are satalites now put into crash and burn trajectories, there are far more up there without that capability. There is a lot of work up there and it could generate billions for the UK economy.... remember what happened when the two satalites collided? That was a lot of rubble that is still spreading out and one of those fragments will damage another satalite in time. The old ones need to come down.

  • Comment number 7.

    @ 6, The Realist

    ... with Skylon we have reusable space plane, that uses runways. It is probably cheaper to retrofit a Gatwick runway than to maintain a space port around the equator with a rocket that cost many many millions and never gets used ever again.....

    A couple of points, firstly Skylon is a fairly cutting edge proposal and it will probably be a good decade or more before it flies, if indeed it ever does fly. There are several major technical hurdles its designers still need to overcome (and a need a good few billion to develop which currently doesn't seem to be forthcoming).

    If it does fly, it will almost certainly need to launch from Equatorial regions as that where it can achieve the lowest DV's and maximise payload. There'd be no sense in launching from the UK unless you're aiming for a small number of Polar orbits.

    You certainly won't operate out of Gatwick anyway as the H&S lot would no doubt object to 700-500 tonnes of rocket fuel being potentially flown over the heads of several million people. You want a base as far away from people as possible, preferably near a coastline. Also, the small matter of noise, NIMBY's kick up a fuss over the noise a 747 makes, I'd love to see they're face when they hear Skylon's engines firing up!

    But the wider point, is it cheaper to operate a runway based spaceplane or a launch platform? I suspect the answer depends on the turn around time and levels of usage. If a runway based spaceplane can launch regularly with minimum maintainance then it would probably be cheaper. If it can't do that (and to be honest I personally doubt if Skylon could, at least anytime soon) then I suspect the "big dumb booster" touted by SpaceX could well win out.

  • Comment number 8.

    This country needs something a national program we can look up to and be proud of. Its a sad fact that successive Governments have choked our nations investment in Space to the 'joke' levels they are these days. Proper investment in the British Space industries is one glimmer of hope for the future, but as usual we are way behind the rest of the world. We have some of the best minds and talent in the world shackled by underinvestment and narrow minded policies. Only 22 miles away there are people who recognise the importance of this industry for their national pride and as something to encourage young people to work hard at school with the knowledge that they too could be part of a national program that is truly on the cutting edge of human endeavour....and they all speak French.

  • Comment number 9.

    We must shout louder.This goverment has just launched cruise missiles at libya,millions of pounds up in smoke.If the money spent on these weapons was spent on space,just think were we could go.80 billion on trident replacement, more waste and a weapon that is immoral.If i had to wake up after nuclear war,as a surviver i would hunt down as war criminals and hang the politicians and sub captains who press the nuclear button.
    We need a space tech future,moving away from these stupid waste full wars that other smart nations keep well away from.I can see the war mongers of the MOD dancing to gilbert and sullivans, "HMS pinafore", every time we set off on one of these crazy wars.The thinking at the moment is victorian.The arms industry is`nt totally private considering the tax payer under writes every foreign sale.So a match in goverment spending to the french.or more when it comes to space study and exploration.Not just communication sats but pure resaerch and education by asking more questions on the cosmos.Exploration for the hell of it,because tit`s there.

  • Comment number 10.

    The extra 500 million could be spent on space exploration. We are good at making satellites and instruments and we could give the space industry a boost by funding a modest research effort. Universities and others could submit proposals, and designing and building the probe(s) would encourage the development of useful technologies. Buying rides on existing launch vehicles, especially piggy-backing other missions, is much more cost effective than developing our own launcher. My proposal would be to build an efficient solar sail which could be used as an economical engine for a small interplanetary probe. The project would involve the development of new materials, and ultra lightweight control and communication systems which could have significant spin-offs, and the sail would have an ongoing market in future missions from all nations.

  • Comment number 11.

    If I was to make a list of inventions and technology Britain has given away that list would be shocking, why? Perhaps were stupid, clearly that is not the case. Punitive tax system? probable.

  • Comment number 12.

    I like Galileo solar sail plan.

    An it always seems romantic to me taking to the stars in a sailing ship.

  • Comment number 13.

    2. At 19:59pm on 24th Mar 2011, Jonathan Amos wrote:

    "Knowles2 has laid down the challenge. If the the UK had an additional 500 million euros/pounds to put into space, where should that money go?"

    I, personally, would allocate about 20 million of the 500 million to wining, dining and generally glad-handing every "Briton" with more than a few million. I would treat them to copies of nice, short, SF stories like ""The Martian Way" by the brilliant Dr Asimov, then I would have gentle discussions, over fifty-course lunches, about how money expended in skiffy, nerdy, buckrojjers robots-and-deathrays stuff was not the idiotic dream of a few near-blind geeks with social inadequacies, but was actually backed by the hard engineering of people like Gerard K. O'Neill.
    I would point out Mr.Robinson's "Stardancer" to people like Mr. Paul McCartney. New art modes *always* make money. Ask any Rock guitarist. I would point out the link between research into lasers and DVD's. The link between academics inventing email and Twitter and Facebook. The link between CERN needing a document formatting tool and the HTML that drives Google. And the rather nebulous linkages between "Star Treck" communicators, "Dick Tracy" wrist-phones and Vodaphone's assets.
    Science *always* pays off. Research *always* pays off. Exploration *always* pays off. With the technology base we have now, the only way these can pay off is *Big Time*.
    The successor to fibre-optic cable will make its inventor millions of millions of pounds. The successor to the silver disc, CD's to Blu-Ray, the stable, easy to use and dirt cheap successor - crystals or whatever - will make billiards of pounds for many companies and individuals. Both of these, and more, will *inevitably* come out of offworld activity; either because the "Berners-Lee" of the time needs a faster link, or because some other research drops them out as unintended byproducts - like radar ovens, microwave ovens.
    I would use another twenty million pounds on a massive electioneering campaign - helped by those I'd just converted to the cause - ousting all the lawyers from Parliament and filling it with those who see The Dream of Stars as the only truly important mission of Mankind. Sure, take care of all the other trivial things, but as *secondary* annoyances. The first and most important job of England is getting an English footfall on the moons of Neptune.
    Convincing the "Big Brother" watching masses to support spaceships and robots might seem to be an impossibly difficult task, but there is always this: in Space no one can stop the cameras from going *everywhere*!
    Nor are there "monopolies Commisions" nor restrictive "Departments of Justice".
    I would use the remainder to start-up lifter companies and a Star-Port on St, Helena., with maybe a few pounds reserved for a couple of those EU space-trucks to take a kit-form base to Farside.
    Everything, from mapping galactic dust to SETI would be revolutionised were we to have just a couple of kilometric antennae shielded from the cacophony of Earth by four million metres of Moon rock. It might not give us the Next Big Thing, but it would be good. And we could always take some aluminium foil to make a truly huge optical telescope. Or, better, just a smelter, for the Moon has plenty of its own aluminium.
    Of course, I will never be able to spend anything like that amount of money. It could well be a good thing that I can't, for the present well-being of our fellow subjects.

  • Comment number 14.

    Sorry to say I don't see a bright future for the UK Space Industry.

    The repeated mis-steps by successive UK governments is too numerous to list off hand. The refusal of recent UK governments to fund any space program substantially means the UK is a bit player in the Space business with very little say in any programs. It's too little too late. The UK companies got a short period of time before they get undercut in price from companies in emerging Space Business nations.

    The Skylon project appears interesting. But who is going to fund the development and production? Just for comparison SpaceX's Elon Musk claims that he can developed the Falcon XX 140 metric tonnes capacity single core rocket for about 2.5 Billion dollars in about 5 years versus the Skylon's projected 12 Billion dollars cost in about a decade for the initial prototype units. Think most investors would look more favorably on Mr Musk's proposal.

  • Comment number 15.

    RevJohn has the right idea.

    I short we need to change the mindset of people in this country.

  • Comment number 16.

    The sad fact is that Britain will never get the chance to compete or develop while the 'get rich quick merchants' of the city of London control investment. If you add to that the bias brought in by the public school educated elite now running the country Britain and anything involving long term and high tech have no chance.
    The wealthy of Britain like rapid returns and gambling, they like to be Lloyd's names where they can earn money twice at a high rate not invest in long term technology projects.
    The rich in Britain have been selling Britain down the river for the last 50 years, and that is not going to change any time soon.

  • Comment number 17.

    @7 Daryan

    I can assure you it would substantially less than 500-700 tonnes of rocket fuel and I can assure you the "rocket" fuel would not be any more dangerous than the air fuel used in planes.

    Skylons designs means it can launch from anywhere and achieve what is needed here from here in the UK or on the equator.

    The NIMBY's shouldn't have much a say in the matter, they complain just for the sake of it because if they wanted a quiet life then they shouldn't have moved next to an international airport.

    Several billion british pound sterling is extremely modest considering the returns will be a multitude amount higher given that there is no other craft even being designed by the Space-X you mention, the only other serious competitor I can think of is a design being drafted in Germany. It would be very British to let the lead slip.

    With a turnaround of two days and minimal maintenance demand, yep... it would work out far cheaper than a launch pad and rocket flung off in a far away land.


    And if people are really that worried, then they can always build a runway here in Wales where the population is sparce.

    The only thing holding back Skylon is short sightedness, so if the Government is serious about generating new revenue then it needs to make a new industry. This design is exactly that.

  • Comment number 18.

    I love RevJohn's ideas; getting the business community behind the idea could convert £500m to a billion or more. Changing the mindset is definitely the key. Thinking back a century or so, the energy behind Jackie Fisher's "we want eight and we won't wait" campaign showed how a galvanised public can drive policy.

    Perhaps a little of the money could be used to create TV shows and films portraying heroic but realistic exploits in space to help generate public buy-in. Using the talents of the British film industry (famous for it's low budget but successful films) would help generate British jobs.

    The British entrepreneurial spirit is (in my humble opinion) significantly better than the French or American approach to space when it comes to doing a lot with very little money.

    My own personal belief is that the key factor to making the space effort work better is to reduce the cost per kilo of getting payload into orbit. That is where I suggest the bulk of the money should go. It shouldn't just be research, either; we need to aim for an end product which is a cheap (therefore preferably re-usable), simple, and reliable system to lifting mass to orbit. This end result should be something we can repeat cheaply as often as we want to, in order to generate economies of scale. Think of a fleet of Airbuses rather than a mere 5 complex and high maintenance space shuttles.

    One final point. The UK has some of the best inventors in the world, but we have a terrible record of letting others buy our inventions up cheaply and make them their own. I firmly believe that if this investment were (by some miracle) to materialise, it should only be made available to genuinely British companies, and with a firm condition that all patents generated must remain British. That way, if a foreign company or country wishes to use the technology generated by the use of UK taxpayer's money, we can generate ongoing revenue by allowing them to pay for licensed use rather than just having them buy the patents for a pittance.

  • Comment number 19.

    Great challenge. Given that for me like many others the far vision thing is the big thing, I would put the money into basic rocket engine and lifter research as this is the big step that is still needed. Say 50% into more conventional programs and 50% into fringe programs.
    Fringe areas might include laser lifters, railgun lifters, space elevators - or space fountains, Lofstrum Loops, or orbital rings, or even gravity engines. Most or all have had so little money put into them that even a few million can make a huge difference.
    Around 2005 I spent some time looking at all the different alternatives. Among the best contenders I looked at were pulse nuclear propulsion and inertial confinement fusion.
    Fusion powered lifters might become practical but only at Weights on the order of hundreds of thousands of tons. The big problem with them is the size and complexity of the energy system needed to drive the fusion reaction. The hypersonic plasma stream of an ordinary rocket exhaust already provides the perfect containment and transfer environment making the design potentially much simpler than for things like power generation.
    A while later I spent a while looking at high velocity electrically powered railguns as a method of lifter propulsion, in the end I abandoned the idea because the electrical demands and the weight of the switchgear made it impractical. Very annoying since I had spent a year on it and had solved all kinds of little problems like keeping the end of the gun evacuated while in the atmosphere.
    Also admit to looking at gravity engines in detail, partly as curiosity and partly as 'just if..' The main focus was on Newtonian engines like the Laithwaite gyro and others, and Relativistic methods, and so called capacitive verses inertialess verses
    radio verses momentum hammer verses mass recyclers etc. A large part of this ended up just trying to categorize different theories of gravity.. it might be a largely useless piece of work but it was a very fascinating thing to do. Imagine as a scientist studying electricity with the knowledge of the 17 century, much more interesting than fields that are already almost complete.

  • Comment number 20.

    The Skylon precooler testing will be underway by the summer and the UKSA's SKYLON System Requirements Review will have been published at which point the government has committed to considering the project's future.
    If the government has already decided to be an anchor investor the UKSTP would seem a sensible vehicle from which to do so but until an actual decision is made the fund merely needs to exist and so 20 million pounds is plenty to set up the programme and put everything into place in order to support such a decision.

  • Comment number 21.

    17. @ The Realist

    You're forgetting a few vital points:

    - Skylon would need to burn alot more fuel to reach orbit from the UK mainland, and thus its payload delivered would thus only be a fraction (or zero!) v's what would be achieved from an Equatorial based launch site. Even once it got into orbit (from the UK) it would need to expend further bursts of fuel to change its orbital plane to one intersecting with any redundant sat’s (or for that matter the Space station), further reducing payload and endangering safety (as it could then find itself in the wrong orbital plane to undertake an emergency landing).

    - The reliability of any spaceplane will be nowhere near that of a modern jet airliner, 1:50million probability of launch failure (at worst!) v's 1:10,000 for skylon (at best!). And the combination of lox/lh2 (my calc's suggest you'd need at least 500 tons of propellant with Skylon for a 10-15 ton cargo load) which basically turns a crashing Skylon into a potentially very large bomb if it all goes up on impact. The consequences of something like that coming down in London or on top of any SE UK town are too awful to contemplate.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intelsat_708
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2003_Alc%C3%A2ntara_VLS_accident
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nedelin_catastrophe

    - The NIMBY's views and H&S have to be taken into account as they run the country! Like I said, they’d never approve of such an operation, period. The noise issue alone (never mind H&S) would rule that out, t he flak over the 2nd runway for Heathrow should tell you that. Wales would not be an option, as most takeoffs would be East over populated areas in England. It would only be useful for, as I noted earlier, a few polar orbits options...and there are already better sites for that in Sweden and the US.

    - Skylon is currently a paper project, we don't yet even know if the concept will actually work, as key technical parts of the vehicle still need to be developed. As I noted in a previous post its engines need to develop a thrust to weight ratio of 1:14, which is a fairly tall order and even then they'll need to use a whole bunch of weight saving tricks to squeeze a working space vehicle into the 18-22% mass fraction allowed by the rocket equation (i.e 82-78% of its takeoff weight will be fuel!)
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/jonathanamos/2010/09/it-is-one-of-those.shtml?postid=101089661#comment_101089661
    Personally I reckon its likely impossible for a SSTO version of Skylon to work (with present technology) anyway. I won't rule out a 2 stage to orbit vehicle (based on essentially the same concept), thought this would not have the sort of quick turnaround you assume. Either way let’s not count are chickens before they've hatched!

    - Even an SSTO version of Skylon would I suspect struggle to operate the sort of schedule you mention. A one launch a week (or fortnightly) is more realistic. Also, note that the Venture star in the US was (in part) cancelled because Lockmart weren't convinced a sufficiently large market existed to justify the enormous expense of developing the vehicle. I suspect the same applies to Skylon to this day.

    - Also remember the Shuttle was supposed to operate on a very ambitious schedule at low cost, but never did. Indeed the drive to operate a rapid schedule led in part to the Challenger disaster. And the huge maintenance costs of shuttle largely negated the benefits of its reusability. It’s possible this might also apply to Skylon, which is why I reckon Musk plumbed for the "big dumb booster" concept from day one.

    - Why use a multi-billion pound launch vehicle to dispose of redundant sat's? A ion drive or Electrodynamic tether driven reusable vehicle could be sent off on its merry way (by existing launchers) and deorbit satellites quite safely one after the other. It would take awhile but a small fleet of them could do it. Alternatively, how about some sort of cheap throwaway “kill vehicle”. It latches onto a dead sat and then safely deorbits both of them. This would be equally effective, not least because we could easily launch these on our existing inventory of ex-cold war ICBM's. Either way, makes much more sense than Skylon (which doesn't yet exist!), particularly when you consider the sat's we're really worried about are in higher orbits that Skylon (if it ever flies) would struggle to reach.

  • Comment number 22.

    Hi, sorry about the previous letter #19, its so mangled that its almost unreadable. My only excuse was that I was in a total rush and just sent it without realizing how much more work it needed. And sadly - the moderators don't give you a button to allow you to remove your own letter. Here it is again, slightly less mangled. :)
    (have been trying to publish this all day)
    -------------------------------------

    Great challenge. What should we do with the money? Given that for me (like many others) the far vision thing is the big thing, I would put it into basic rocket engine and orbital lifter research as this is still the big step that is needed for everything else we want to do in space. A basic goal might be aiming towards lifters capable of lifting 1000 tons into LEO. - As this is the kind of mass you need for most of the more ambitious further goals including mass tourism setting up permanent outposts things like Lunar colonization and manned missions to Mars and beyond. In comparison to NASA say 500 million isn't a lot of money but it is more than enough to do a great deal of more basic research. I would divide the total between say 50% into conventional rocket programs and 50% into more fringe programs.

    Fringe areas might include laser lifters, railgun lifters, space elevators - or space fountains, Lofstrum Loops, orbital rings, or even gravity engines. Most or all have had so little money put into them that even a few million could make a huge difference.

    Around 2005 I spent some time looking at a number of the different alternatives. Among the best contenders I looked at were pulse nuclear propulsion, railguns, and inertial confinement fusion. -

    Pulse engines I have mentioned before here - (micro nuclear bomb propulsion).

    Fusion powered lifters might become practical one day, but their big issue apart from the other technical hurdles still ahead is weight. The big problem is the size and complexity of the energy system needed to drive the fusion reaction and the size and weight of the containment system, for a fusion powered lifter the minimum launch weight is probably be on the order of 100,000 tons or more. However one of the things I discovered-realized was that the hypersonic plasma stream of an ordinary rocket exhaust already provides a nearly perfect containment and transfer environment for the fusion reaction. Apart from the more general weight issue a rocket design is potentially much simpler than current fusion projects like power generation.

    Another system I spent a while looking at was using a high velocity electrically powered railgun as a method of lifter propulsion, with an exit velocity of upto 100 km/s. In many ways this design was very promising and I got quite a way with it, but then it hit a tiny snag and for now its an abandoned project - mainly due to the electrical demands being much higher than originally calculated. Very annoying since I had spent over a year on it off and on and had solved a lot of the little problems on the way - like keeping the vacuum inside the gun while in the atmosphere.

    Will also admit to looking at gravity engines in detail, partly as curiosity and partly as 'just if..' and was-am also writing a detailed scientific analysis of them. The main focus was on basic categorization and on several main routes to a working engine. Many various routes to a potential working system exist -'Newtonian' engines like the Laithwaite gyro and others, Relativistic approaches - quantum approaches, most theories of gravity create their own approaches. Then there are capacitive engines verses inertialess / massless / mass shielding. Radio interference, zero point manipulation, momentum teleportation, momentum hammer, mass recycler, etc. Then there are all the methods I excluded, 'Estheric' energy, electro-mag lifters, etc. A large part of the project ended up being just trying to categorize gravity and the different theories of gravity more evenly..
    It might seem highly abstract but it was very fascinating and it taught me a great deal about gravity that I had not previously known. - For instance the shape of gravity fields, that gravity cannot be shielded even by a wall of total space time curvature. Also that whether possible or not, the subjects of FTL travel and gravity manipulation are very intimately connected and solve one and you basically solve the other.
    - - -
    Back down on Earth the other half of that money should be going towards and promoting the idea of bigger lifters and the engines associated with them. 250 - 500 million is no where near enough to complete such a project (or even a full prototype) but it is enough to bring it within measurable distance of being useful to bring in more money. Just try promoting the idea of 1000 ton payloads to space scientists and specialists, and once they are over their skepticism and have thought about it a while they will be screaming for it.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_Dragon_(rocket)
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Launch_loop
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_fountain
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orbital_ring
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inertial_confinement_fusion
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-gravity

  • Comment number 23.

    @21. At 15:49pm on 28th Mar 2011, daryan wrote:

    "17. @ The Realist wrote :

    You're forgetting a few vital points:

    - Skylon would need to burn alot more fuel to reach orbit from the UK mainland, "

    Which is why, @ 13. At 11:52am on 26th Mar 2011, RevJohn wrote:

    ""I would use the remainder to start-up lifter companies and a Star-Port on St, Helena., with maybe a few pounds reserved for a couple of those EU space-trucks to take a kit-form base to Farside."

    St. Helena is ideally situated for a StarPort. True, it has limited solid ground, but humans have experience in building runways out into the ocean. The Dutch even have experience in reclaiming land from the ocean. True, it's a little easier where they live than it would be around a large, pointy, undersea mountain, but it could be done.
    And it would be *ours*!

    @18. At 00:28am on 27th Mar 2011, I Didnt Vote For Him wrote:

    "I love RevJohn's ideas"

    Why, thank you, Sir. I'm rather fond of a lot of them, myself. However, much of what I typed is just regurgitated G. K. O' Neill and other visionaries.
    The Russians have a couple of guys in a tank pretending to simulate a journey to Mars and back. That is not only idiotic, it is a complete waste of time, effort and money. We *know* people can survive for a year in a stinky tin can miles from the nearest shower and sports-bar. MIR showed us that. We know there are people ("hi, guys!!") who would give their left n.... eye-tooth to get to Mars, even if it were one-way, maybe *especially* if it were one-way, and even if they had to do it alone in a tin can not much bigger than their couch. There are *millions* of people who would offer up their first-born for a ticket to go. Everyone who ever dreamed of riding a thoat (or a banth! That would be fun.)or meeting a Minervan or just climbing what is often called "the biggest volcano in the Solar System". Many of us would go just for the chance to experience low gravity.
    None of that is news. Nor are the facts that Science, research and exploration always pay off, that new art forms are always created as part of new technologies. People like Lucas and Spielberg and even the Attenboroughs shoud be pouring their monies and support into getting Man offworld. They might have been doing so already were it not that science, engineering and even mathematics are sneered at in England as "boffin stuff".

    'I Didnt Vote For Him' said "Changing the mindset is definitely the key."
    Yes, but it is the mindsets of the people who think Arts are important, the people who think Olympics matter, the people who think it matters a jot which bunch of laws and religious strictures hold temporary, localised sway over a bit of dirt and a few people, the people who think money matters that we need to alter. Not a lot. We don't need to tell football watching Joe Suggs that chugging beer and watching "Tycho Under" play "HK-on-Luna" is a daft waste of his time. We only have to suggest that football on Luna is *exciting*. Better than on Earth, where the balls don't move right. Insulting the mundanes is the wrong strategy. Making their mundane little lives *better*, faster, more colourful and more exciting is what we need to do. Imagine a "World Cup" without satellites and undersea cables.Now, picture a "Many-Worlds Cup" in freely-falling conditions with teams of dozens, wings, multiple goal points and other complications. Imagine the sheer fun of arguing that last sequence of moves.
    We only need point out that ballet can *truly* only work in low gee. Ask the toes of any ballet dancer.
    We need only point out that films made with Saturn as a backdrop, or on the ice-fields of Miranda will save *millions* in the SFX budgets. Probably more on casting. Locals tend to be cheap.
    Did I mention no monopolies commissions, and no rules about where the cameras can go?
    And that's only for staid, boring, terrrestrial arts and sports. Wait till the stardancers and freely-falling liquid artists get into the game.

    @15. At 18:10pm on 26th Mar 2011, Lord_Fish wrote:

    "RevJohn has the right idea.

    I[n] short we need to change the mindset of people in this country."

    Yes, but not a lot.
    I am old enough to have been in the IT industry when everyone saw computers as huge, noisy, expensive lumps of uselessness. I was an early adopter of home PC's. I needed to learn to use them, program them, break them and fix them. One of the questions I was then asked was:"why would *I* ever need a computer in my house?" Being in at the beginning, I saw the coming ubiquity of machines. I saw them allowing us to communicate, to share stuff, to do all the things we take for *essential* today. No, I wasn't a lone voice crying in the wilderness, I was part of a new industry, a whole new series of industries. I *knew* we would soon be carrying computers in our pockets. All it would take would be for sports-fans and busy business-men and chatting girls to *need* them.
    All it took was the mobile phone. [Oversimplification, I know.]
    Email, web-browsing,, shopping,, banking,, this Blog, and a host of other activities we think of as part of our "lifestyle", are suddenly not the province of nerds, geeks and buck-rodgers. They are tools like TV, telephone, the microwave and toilet roll.
    Offworld would be the same.
    All it takes is one little push.
    To the "hard-headed, practical" men, who are really the petty, tiny-minded, soul-less, timid, limited and myopic among us, getting offworld is expensive, difficult, dangerous and not really worth doing. We need to vote out such retarding forces in our backwards-looking "leadership" and to replace them with O'Neills and others who can see over the lip of our grave.
    I think it was BookWyrm who said something to the effect of: "those who Dream Of Stars see Earth as our cradle, those who do not see it only as our grave."
    We need more dreamers.
    We need to spread the dream.
    And we need to show Joe Sixpack why having a burger-joint on Europa is a damned good move for Wimpy.
    Oh, last thought: No, I am *not* available. "If elected, I shall resign, if crowned, I shall abdicate". I just thought I would stomp on that before anyone was daft enough to think it a good idea. Not that many would, but it doesn't *take* many.

  • Comment number 24.

    Launch from the Azores. A small- 1 person- automated re-usable space plane- ie a mini Virgin with a much bigger fuel load to get to orbit. Modular construction. Good luck.

  • Comment number 25.

    RevJohn - You're a genius. But if offworld was that attractive / lucrative / exciting, it would have happened already.

    The big question for me is how we get the "yoof" to want to be engineers, computer scientists, innovators etc. instead of wasting their time kidding themselves that they're the next 50 Cent / eminem / Shakira etc. Achieve that and we're already half way there (living on a prayer)...

  • Comment number 26.

    The Realist wrote:

    "If we look at Virgin Galactic we see that has nothing to do with the UK Space Industry, the only link with Britain is the guy who owns Virgin Galactic is British.... but he took his cash to America."

    He took his cash to America because that is where the know how and the companies exist to make his wish come true.

  • Comment number 27.

    I Didnt Vote For Him wrote:

    "The British entrepreneurial spirit is (in my humble opinion) significantly better than the French or American approach to space when it comes to doing a lot with very little money."

    How so?

    If that were the case the X prize would have been won buy a British company. If that were the case you would have many small aerospace and space firms throughout your country as is the case with America.


    "One final point. The UK has some of the best inventors in the world, but we have a terrible record of letting others buy our inventions up cheaply and make them their own. I firmly believe that if this investment were (by some miracle) to materialise, it should only be made available to genuinely British companies, and with a firm condition that all patents generated must remain British."

    When I as an American say the same thing about America's space industry your fellow Brits starting attacking me. It will be amusing to see the predictable silence on their part when it comes to you.

 

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