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Can Commercial Space Tech Get Off the Ground?

Soulskill posted more than 5 years ago | from the better-question-will-it-stay-off-the-ground dept.

Space 133

coondoggie writes "While NASA's commercial partners such as SpaceX and Orbital have made steady progress in developing space cargo transportation technology, they have recently fallen behind their development schedules. Combine that with the fact that the most critical steps lie ahead, including successfully launching new vehicles and completing integration with the space station, and you have a hole that will be tough to climb out of. Those were the two main conclusions of a Government Accountability Office report (PDF) on the status of the commercial space world this week. The GAO went on to say that after the planned retirement of the space shuttle in 2010, NASA will face a cargo resupply shortfall for the International Space Station of approximately 40 metric tons between 2010 and 2015." Speaking of SpaceX, reader Matt_dk sends along an update on the company's Falcon 9 flight efforts. "Six of the nine first stage flight engines have completed acceptance testing and all nine flight engines are on schedule to complete acceptance testing by mid-July."

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133 comments

Answer: (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28360707)

Yes.

I disagree. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28360733)

The answer is no.

Stupid space puns dumped here (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28360869)

Get all of your dumb space puns out of the way here

It depends. Can the Commercial Space Technology get enough momentum to support the project? Can the companies behind these projects meet the orbiting budgets required to fund such a task? One needs to fuel the explosive innovation of space travel. Setting up commercial space technology is exactly rocket science, you know. Only dedication and large amounts of money can get these projects off of the launch pad.

I think part of the limitation is the atmosphere in high schools about space and space travel. In the 60's, children dreamed about space travel; warp to today: it's almost as if we've headed with an incredible velocity to escape assignments and discussion about the space program.

Re:Stupid space puns dumped here (0, Offtopic)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 5 years ago | (#28361067)

It depends.

You missed the pun [wikipedia.org] .

If you believe that... (1)

Toe, The (545098) | more than 5 years ago | (#28361171)

If you believe that, I have an asteroid belt you may be interested in purchasing.

(Said entirely for comic effect... I actually think commercial space tech will do just fine. So. How about $70 trillion for that asteroid belt? It's hardly used and only a few billion years old.)

Definitions (1)

pjt33 (739471) | more than 5 years ago | (#28362021)

No, it's a logically impeccable statement to say that commercial space tech. can get off the ground. If it doesn't then it must be something else entirely.

Re:Answer: ...for how long? (1)

sammyo (166904) | more than 5 years ago | (#28361319)

Ah, but for more than 37 seconds? And about that great ball of fire....

The problems... (3, Interesting)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 5 years ago | (#28360711)

The main problems are that NASA because of "security reasons" can't give out a lot of the taxpayer funded research that would help these companies get off the ground. So, what took NASA many years to do doesn't have to be reinvented by a private company. Really, the fact that any private craft could get into space would have been a remarkable feat just thirty or forty years ago.

Re:The problems... (2, Insightful)

divisionbyzero (300681) | more than 5 years ago | (#28361107)

Your quotes around security reasons are probably unwarranted. The research in question could probably also be used to create ICBMs. At least that's the only reason that would seem justified.

Re:The problems... (1)

Bakkster (1529253) | more than 5 years ago | (#28361327)

Your quotes around security reasons are probably unwarranted. The research in question could probably also be used to create ICBMs. At least that's the only reason that would seem justified.

ICBMs, spy satellites, and anti-satellite weapons will all have similar launch systems, exactly what we use to get humans into space. Filtering down, the individual propulsion techniques could be used in nearly any missile or rocket, as well as adapted for general explosives. Not something we'd want falling into the hands of a rogue state, especially one with nuclear capabilities. Imagine if North Korea's missile launch hadn't been a failure; that's why we don't want this kind of information getting out.

Re:The problems... (0)

vlm (69642) | more than 5 years ago | (#28361577)

Imagine if North Korea's missile launch hadn't been a failure; that's why we don't want this kind of information getting out.

Why bother?

Its senseless to claim that NK will never figure it out without help. They will, and much faster and cheaper than USA private industry ever could, due to staggering disparity in labor costs and coercion (fellow korean komrades, you will make this work or your kids don't eat this month, especially since we assigned ten of you for each US scientist, etc etc). Not even a fair race, more like an absolute rout of the US private industry.

If space-X can do it in a couple years, NK will do it in a couple months, tops.

If NK launches on July 3rd instead of July 4th, is that a heroic victory for the US government? No. Pushing out the problem deadline a very short amount of time does not by any means make it go away, plus it adds the problem of destroying your own industry to your plate of problems. Since NK with missiles is a big problem, why not let your own industry succeed, so you don't have to worry about that problem in addition to the MK missile problem at the same time?

Sort of like, you can "only" take a .45 cal to the head, or you can help someone else out and take a .50 cal to the head. Which shot is better?

Re:The problems... (1)

rjhubs (929158) | more than 5 years ago | (#28362621)

I disagree. Sure they have sheer manpower, but they aren't building the Great Wall. The US space program was built upon rocketry expertise from the US, German and other rocket scientists. North Korea I feel lacks the ability to attract quality outside talent. Granted they could throw gobs of money at some scientists but I still doubt they could assemble an equivalent knowledgable workforce as Space-X simply because anyone with rocket expertise could find a great job in many other countries, without having to worry about the oppressive NK regime. The only option is for them to develop this internally, and NK isn't really known for its high literacy rates, let alone good University system.

Granted they do have some advantages, they have seen what works and can buy/steal plans from countries that have successful rockets (China or Russia). but I still think its a stretch to say that they have a huge advantage over the private industry.

Re:The problems... (1)

Bakkster (1529253) | more than 5 years ago | (#28363617)

Granted they could throw gobs of money at some scientists but I still doubt they could assemble an equivalent knowledgable workforce as Space-X simply because anyone with rocket expertise could find a great job in many other countries, without having to worry about the oppressive NK regime.

Thing is, their current strategy will be to throw money at multiple test launches. By preventing them from getting advanced rocketry knowledge, they will need to learn by doing. This means more failed rockets, more wasted time, and more material costs. This will work against their limited monetary resources, as well as give the international community more time to actually decide to do something about it.

Re:The problems... (2, Interesting)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | more than 5 years ago | (#28361203)

So, what you're saying is private industry can't work without government assistance. Forget the ideological orgasms over these projects. The fact is they're riding on some long coat tails to get into space, and we all know how exponentially difficult it is to progress to the next steps in their grand plans. I'm waiting for the day the US "licenses" the Space Shuttle to a private company, gives them subsidies as large as our Space Shuttle budget, then having to listen to the "I drink your milkshake" ranting of free marketers about how private industry knows how to do it better and more efficiently.

Re:The problems... (1, Interesting)

MightyYar (622222) | more than 5 years ago | (#28361273)

So, what you're saying is private industry can't work without government assistance.

That's not what he said... I only saw him imply that we are entitled to the knowledge that NASA spends our money to acquire.

I'm not sure I agree with that, but that's all I get out of his comment.

Re:The problems... (1)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | more than 5 years ago | (#28361439)

And, that knowledge is a national security asset as we have plenty of enemies out there with nukes but without the rocket technology to deploy them intercontinentally. My point is, free marketers should follow their ideology and expect private industry to figure it out without government intervention.

Re:The problems... (1)

MightyYar (622222) | more than 5 years ago | (#28361753)

I think I agree with you, and that certain NASA assets should be treated exactly like their equivalent DOD assets. We buy security with taxpayer dollars as well as knowledge.

I just think you are barking up the wrong tree with the free market stuff in this particular thread... the parent wasn't even alluding to that.

Re:The problems... (1)

Korin43 (881732) | more than 5 years ago | (#28364159)

It would hardly be private industry if they're receiving money from the government.

Re:The problems... (0, Flamebait)

cthulu_mt (1124113) | more than 5 years ago | (#28361789)

The Clintons sold all that tech to China a decade ago. There shouldn't be any new security concerns.

Re:The problems... (4, Insightful)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 5 years ago | (#28362847)

The main problems are that NASA because of "security reasons" can't give out a lot of the taxpayer funded research that would help these companies get off the ground. So, what took NASA many years to do doesn't have to be reinvented by a private company.

The bigger problem with "security reasons" that commercial companies like SpaceX has is with things like ITAR export restrictions; these are the same regulations older slashdotter might remember from the late 90s, where strong encryption was regarded as a munition as people were tattooing encryption code to themselves along with the text "this man is a munition." [treachery.net] A recent example is with SpaceX's delayed launch of Malaysia's RazakSat satellite [hobbyspace.com] :

Technicians discovered the satellite and the Falcon 1 upper stage rocket share a nearly identical vibrational mode, which could set up a damaging resonance. SpaceX is bound by ITAR restrictions from assisting with any technical problems on the foreign-owned payload, so the company delayed the launch to add some vibration isolation equipment between the rocketâ(TM)s upper stage and the payload adapter.

"The easiest thing would actually be to make some adjustment to the satellite . . . but that's not allowed," Musk says.

Also, if anything, reinventing from the ground up is a big part of why SpaceX has been able to get costs as low as they have. Instead of designing their rockets to satisfy the politicians' fetish for spreading assembly over key congressional districts across the country and the engineers' fetish for maximizing performance at the cost of all else, SpaceX has been able to design their system from the get-go to minimize production costs, minimize the size of their ground crew (SpaceX Falcon I just needs something like 20 personnel at the launch site, instead of the 100 or so needed for EELVs), and maximize potential reusability.

Can /. Mods be Less Retarded? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28360745)

I doubt it.

I really hope so (4, Insightful)

mc1138 (718275) | more than 5 years ago | (#28360789)

Ultimately it's going to be commercial factors that help drive human space exploration. While a "Star Trek" universe where the sole mission is to go out and explore is a great idea, right now economic factors will need to be behind the wheel, and getting some commercial ventures off the ground will help drive up space flight.

Re:I really hope so (4, Funny)

NewbieProgrammerMan (558327) | more than 5 years ago | (#28361061)

"You wanna know my vision? Dollar signs! Money! You think i want to go to the stars? I don't even like to fly!" - Zefram Cochrane

Re:I really hope so (1)

emocomputerjock (1099941) | more than 5 years ago | (#28361163)

If it's one thing I know about the monetization of space its that the end result involves a xenomorph in your gullet and some son-of-a-bitch named Burke getting away with it by sabotaging certain freezers on the way home.

Re:I really hope so (2, Insightful)

Itchyeyes (908311) | more than 5 years ago | (#28361213)

Very true. The thing to keep in mind though, is that economic issues are more or less a proxy for where society needs resources and skills the most. There are a lot of people who would like to see private space flight succeed for no other reason than "because it's cool". But society doesn't really place much value on "because it's cool", at least not enough to send things like engineers who might otherwise have been working on projects like climate change or new energy sources to go work somewhere else.

The one real reason to be funding space exploration right now is mainly because there are a lot of potential benefits that we can;t really quantify yet. However, private enterprise is not very good at working towards potential breakthroughs in the distant future. Sure every once in a while a company takes a leap of faith on something big that pays off in the long run, but more often than not private investment is on a much shorter time frame than we're talking about here with much less risk. That doesn't mean that such research isn't worthwhile, just that most of the time it's more suitable for governments to undertake than the private sector.

Re:I really hope so (1)

syousef (465911) | more than 5 years ago | (#28366371)

Ultimately it's going to be commercial factors that help drive human space exploration. While a "Star Trek" universe where the sole mission is to go out and explore is a great idea, right now economic factors will need to be behind the wheel, and getting some commercial ventures off the ground will help drive up space flight.

How appropriate this comment should be made the same morning I was watching an episode of Enterprise from season 1 called Acquisition, in which the Ferengi knock out the crew and try to steal everything valuable on the ship.

Isn't space like really exspensive ? (4, Informative)

cinnamon colbert (732724) | more than 5 years ago | (#28360793)

You have to get to very high velocity - that implies a lot of fuel, and very exspensive craft that can survive the high velocity
It's hard to do repair, so you have to spend a lot for high reliability equipment
Space is a harsh environment - you have temperature extremes, radiation, vacumn welding

many people get the low gravity equivalent of car sickness

although it is not publicized by nasa, in low gravity, liquid containment - like when you go to the bathroom - is difficult;' as a result, there is a lot of intestinal illness in space (think about that !)

The take home is that space is, and always will be, very $ relative to ground; therefore there has to be some compelling reason to go to space.
Sadly, there are few compelling reasons.

I have been doing biotech high technology startups for 20+years, and aside from the .dom boom era, there is very little money or enthusiasm for gee wiz technology

Re:Isn't space like really exspensive ? (1)

key.aaron (1422339) | more than 5 years ago | (#28360979)

... what the hell?

Re:Isn't space like really exspensive ? (1)

sakdoctor (1087155) | more than 5 years ago | (#28360995)

You have to get to very high velocity

Not for all purposes. You only need fuel for acceleration, plus some missions might not be particularly time critical. Robotic mineral mining for example.

Here we go again (2, Insightful)

sean.peters (568334) | more than 5 years ago | (#28361079)

Geez, here we go again.

  • What are you going to mine in space that you can't get more cheaply on earth? Asteroids, the moon, etc, are made of iron, nickel and silicates. So is the earth.
  • "Robotic mining"? Well, then we only have to figure out how to build robotic miners. And ore processors. And transportation back to the earth (that doesn't burn up the cargo). And get all that into space for less cost than we can just dig up the same thing on earth.

Yes, the bottom line is that getting to space is really, REALLY expensive. Which in turn means that exploiting resources up there is almost certainly not going to be economically feasible for the foreseeable future.

Re:Here we go again (2, Interesting)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 5 years ago | (#28361119)

Helium 3.
If it actually works well as a fuel for fusion then it would be valuable and light enough to be worth mining on the moon.
Un less the Polywell Fusor works then we will just use Boron.

Re:Here we go again (1)

Abcd1234 (188840) | more than 5 years ago | (#28361167)

Helium 3.
If it actually works well as a fuel for fusion

So... *if* it can be used... in a mythical device that has yet to be invented (no one is doing He3 fusion), *then* space travel will be economically feasible.

Uhuh.

Let's just say I won't be holding my breath.

Re:Here we go again (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 5 years ago | (#28361359)

"So... *if* it can be used... in a mythical device that has yet to be invented (no one is doing He3 fusion), *then* space travel will be economically feasible."
No mining will be. Many activities are all ready economically feasible. Remote sensing, communications and so on.
But yes there are a lot of ifs when it comes to He3 that is why I put them in.

Re:Here we go again (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 5 years ago | (#28362815)

I really don't get the notion of He3 mining on the moon.

Let's just ignore for the moment that we have no practical way of burning it. Is it really useful to mine something from the freaking moon just to reduce a neutron flux? And if we can burn He3, we can probably scale all the way up to burn boron, which is a better fuel and readily available here on Earth. And even on the moon, He3 is rare -- tens of parts per billion, overwhelmed orders of magnitude over by regular helium. And, we can make He3 right here on Earth. It's a decay product of tritium, which is in turn produced by Li blankets exposed to a neutron flux.

It's just a really illogical thing to bank space travel on. Comes across as more of a contrived excuse to go to the moon than anything. Same with lunar telescopes. Tell me again why it's better to have your telescopes stuck in a gravity well that's expensive to get in and out of, where they'll be constantly exposed to electrostatic lunar dust and not able to readily angle in any direction, rather than just in orbit?

Re:Here we go again (1)

icebrain (944107) | more than 5 years ago | (#28364071)

Tell me again why it's better to have your telescopes stuck in a gravity well that's expensive to get in and out of, where they'll be constantly exposed to electrostatic lunar dust and not able to readily angle in any direction, rather than just in orbit?

For one thing, maintenance is easier with gravity. And if you can seal off the area and add atmosphere, your techs can work in shirtsleeves instead of bulky, restrictive suits. They'll work faster, longer, and more comfortably, and can respond quickly in case of problems, rather than having to schedule and launch a flight each time something breaks. Data storage and relay will also probably have higher bandwith because you have better computing and power resources. One telescope alone might not justify a lunar base, but several might. And if you already have a base, adding a telescope is rather trivial at that point.

Perhaps the biggest benefit would come in the field of radio astronomy. On the back side of the moon, you're essentially isolated from all the radio noise emanating from earth and low orbit.

Re:Here we go again (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365197)

For one thing, maintenance is easier with gravity.

Not when you're having to haul people and gear up and down into a gravity well. That's adding a great deal of cost and complexity.

And if you can seal off the area and add atmosphere, your techs can work in shirtsleeves instead of bulky, restrictive suits.

And the same wouldn't apply to orbit why?

and can respond quickly in case of problems, rather than having to schedule and launch a flight each time something breaks.

Why does this only apply to being on the surface? That's an issue of having a base/station, not an issue of being in a gravity well versus not being in a gravity well.

Data storage and relay will also probably have higher bandwith because you have better computing and power resources.

Why does this only apply to being on the surface? That's an issue of having a base/station, not an issue of being in a gravity well versus not being in a gravity well.

Perhaps the biggest benefit would come in the field of radio astronomy. On the back side of the moon, you're essentially isolated from all the radio noise emanating from earth and low orbit.

So is the Earth-Moon L2 point. And it's not located in a costly gravity well, nor full of hugely problematic dust problems. Lunar dust gets into almost everything. It'd be a nightmare for long-term structures that have to move a lot. And airborne lunar dust could interfere with observations. And I didn't even go into all of the issues with it. Just as another example: being in a gravity well equals far, far greater structural support requirements and makes it a lot harder to rotate to arbitrary angles. Or how about another one -- moonquakes. Want another? Except in very limited locations at the poles (which aren't radio-shielded), it's 2 weeks of darkness followed by two weeks of light. I can keep going if you want.

It just makes no sense to put it in a problematic gravity well when you can get better results by just staying in space.

Re:Here we go again (1)

djp928 (516044) | more than 5 years ago | (#28364831)

Radio telescopes on the lunar far side are shielded from the radio background noise from the Earth. Among other things, it's probably the best place in the solar system to listen for messages from E.T.

Re:Here we go again (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365397)

Radio telescopes on the lunar far side are shielded from the radio background noise from the Earth.

So are orbiting radio telescopes at the Earth-Moon L2 point. Care to try again?

Re:Here we go again (1)

djp928 (516044) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365935)

Actually, it's unclear whether the Earth-Moon L2 is within the moon's cone of "radio silence". And anyway, L2 is unstable and requires constant station keeping. The moon is a big hunk of rock. Part of the attraction is that you can set up large arrays on the surface and they don't ever drift apart from each other or have any need of constant course correction to keep them a known distance apart. Plus, the lunar far side is also blocked from the Sun for two solid weeks at a time, which also eliminates another big source of radio noise.

Here's some dudes at Caltech laying out the arguments: http://www.ugcs.caltech.edu/~yukimoon/RALF/ [caltech.edu]

Re:Here we go again (2, Interesting)

Yvanhoe (564877) | more than 5 years ago | (#28361817)

Space based solar power is, in my opinion, the valuable resource that is up there. Always on, no weather problems, no geopolitical troubles.

Re:Here we go again (2, Informative)

Rei (128717) | more than 5 years ago | (#28363119)

If you'll pardon the pun, I wouldn't hold my breath. On earth, space for solar power means practically free desert land. In orbit, it means thousands of dollars per kilogram of launch costs, and correspondingly (pardon the pun again) astronomical installation and maintenance costs. I don't see how it'd be remotely possible to make up for that extreme difference simply because you get more sunlight. And this isn't even counting the transmission challenges and losses, micrometeorite/radiation damage (cells die a lot faster in space than on the surface), stationkeeping, the risk of catastrophic failure, and so forth.

Re:Here we go again (2, Interesting)

hardburn (141468) | more than 5 years ago | (#28362241)

There are metals that are very rare in the Earth's crust, but are extremely useful, like Platinum and Palladium. Any realistic plan for a hydrogen economy is going to need a lot of at least one of those metals, and those two are useful as catalysts in a lot of other chemical reactions, too.

Say the hydrogen economy is a pipe dream and we should be making better Lithium batteries instead? Well, you've only just moved the problem around. Lithium production is unlikely to meet future demands for electric vehicles [meridian-int-res.com] , even though it has an atomic number of 3 and is therefore fairly abundant in the universe at large.

Further, mining of any kind has a lot of hidden costs in terms of human lives and environmental damage.

But you can strip mine an asteroid without damaging a fragile ecosystem, and with sufficient advances in automation, you can eliminate nearly all costs in human lives. Further, strip mining is relatively easy to automate (pick up chunk of rock, move it to processing station).

If you want to limit economic feasibility to what only shows up on a corporate balance sheet, then asteroid mining makes a lot more sense in terms of building out other space infrastructure, e.g. O'Neill Cylinders, nuclear pulse rockets built in space, Martian colonies, etc.

Re:Here we go again (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 5 years ago | (#28362757)

Say the hydrogen economy is a pipe dream and we should be making better Lithium batteries instead? Well, you've only just moved the problem around. Lithium production is unlikely to meet future demands for electric vehicles, even though it has an atomic number of 3 and is therefore fairly abundant in the universe at large.

Nonsense [gas2.org] .

Re:Here we go again (1)

hardburn (141468) | more than 5 years ago | (#28363103)

In short, the upper limit on most mineral resources is, for all practical purposes, unbounded, and more importantly, the scaling factor on such resources is toward geometric growth of reserves . . . This is the great lie of reserves figures; reserves figures for a resource reflect only upon the amount of that resource that can be produced at current prices with current technology.

At some point, the amount of useful reserves in the Earth's crust is so low that it makes economic sense to go to an asteroid to get it instead. This can theoretically happen without any further development in robotics or launch costs.

Re:Here we go again (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 5 years ago | (#28363277)

Okay, I'll make you a deal: once we've exhausted all of the 238 trillion kilograms of lithium in our oceans -- or even, say, 10% of it -- I'll support going to asteroids to mine it. ;)

Re:Here we go again (1)

hardburn (141468) | more than 5 years ago | (#28364497)

Can you go through that supply without killing the rest of the planet? There are externalities to consider here.

Re:Here we go again (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365027)

You think the world would notice if 10% of the lithium went missing from the oceans? Fine -- how about 1% of it?

It's essentially an inexhaustible source no matter how you cut it.

Re:Here we go again (1)

hardburn (141468) | more than 5 years ago | (#28366061)

The report I linked earlier [meridian-int-res.com] considers lithium processing from seawater. It concluded that if the flow rate of sea water were equivilient to the amount of world wide oil production and extract 100% of the lithium in the water, you could build the batteries for 45,000 GM Volts per year. That's not even an within an order of magnitude of GM's total sales. If we're going to see EVs take over, we're either going to need a lot better battery capacity or a much larger source of lithium.

Re:Here we go again (1)

Nautical Insanity (1190003) | more than 5 years ago | (#28364735)

even though it has an atomic number of 3 and is therefore fairly abundant in the universe at large.

This may be off-topic, but, in fact, for having such a small atomic number, lithium is incredibly rare in the universe. Pretty much all of it was produced shortly after the big bang, with there being effectively no process by which it is produced in stars.

According to Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithium#Natural_occurrence [wikipedia.org] , lithium is about as common as krypton.

Even more interesting is that fusion processes no longer yield energy when elements heavier than iron are produced, hence why heavier elements are so rare.

So while asteroids may be a good source of rare elements, they too are finite. It's possible to imagine a super-civilization considering heavy elements and lithium to be rare and valuable.

Re:Here we go again (2, Insightful)

Dripdry (1062282) | more than 5 years ago | (#28362473)

What can we get more easily?

Let me count the ways:

Hafnium, gallium, indium, dysprosium, neodymium, terbium... shall I go on? All the things that are running out *fast* (try 10 year supply left) which we need for things like cell phones, LCD monitors, and semiconductors.

Many rare earth metals are contained in Near Earth Orbit asteroids. At least one of objects has been visited and was not terribly hard to land on.
Robotic mining might not be *easy*, but we've landed and controlled a number of craft on Mars. It doesn't seem like a terribly far cry to send larger, more robust equipment to asteroids to mine them.

Now, finding those rare earths may be a bit dicey. Getting to them could be a challenge on an asteroid. However, with all those resources out there and our supplies dwindling somewhat one has to believe that someone will want to get to those.

Re:Here we go again (1)

WillDraven (760005) | more than 5 years ago | (#28363841)

You don't mine stuff in space to send to Earth. You mine stuff in space to build more stuff in space. If we can start building spacecraft and habitats without having to worry about pushing them out of a huge gravity well we have the potential to greatly expand our exploration and habitation of space.

If we want intelligent life from Earth to survive in the long run, inevitably we need to move towards self-sufficient space colonies.

Re:Here we go again (1)

Dripdry (1062282) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365651)

Also, that's "cheaply" for now. China is buying up commodities at a break-neck pace. If they get a hold of many of those resources it could become much more palatable to get the stuff from asteroids instead.

Re:Isn't space like really exspensive ? (1)

NewbieProgrammerMan (558327) | more than 5 years ago | (#28361101)

Just getting into low orbit requires ~24kmph, which (for me, anyway) seems very fast.

Re:Isn't space like really exspensive ? (1)

MightyYar (622222) | more than 5 years ago | (#28361303)

Love kilomiles, by the way :)

Re:Isn't space like really exspensive ? (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 5 years ago | (#28361479)

Just getting into low orbit requires ~24kmph, which (for me, anyway) seems very fast.

Getting into orbit requires a lot more speed than 24 km/h. That's the speed of your average cyclist. To get into orbit you need to be getting into the 27,000 km/h range.

Re:Isn't space like really exspensive ? (1)

icebrain (944107) | more than 5 years ago | (#28361631)

I think GP meant 24k MPH, as in 24,000. Really, the answer is closer to 17,000mph. 24,000 better approximates escape velocity.

Re:Isn't space like really exspensive ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28361637)

24 kilometers per second km/s?

Re:Isn't space like really exspensive ? (1)

MightyYar (622222) | more than 5 years ago | (#28361685)

I believe the parent was using the delightful unit kilo-miles per hour :)

In my experience, kilometers per hour is usually expressed as kph.

Personally, I think it's bad form that he didn't say 8klph. That's 8 kilo-leagues per hour.

Re:Isn't space like really exspensive ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28363659)

Bonus points for using kilo-leagues per fortnight.

Re:Isn't space like really exspensive ? (1)

MightyYar (622222) | more than 5 years ago | (#28363779)

Surely you mean centi-fortnight?

Re:Isn't space like really exspensive ? (3, Interesting)

hardburn (141468) | more than 5 years ago | (#28361153)

The take home is that space is, and always will be, very $ relative to ground; therefore there has to be some compelling reason to go to space. Sadly, there are few compelling reasons.

Next time you want to get a weather report, try doing it without relying on a source that bases it on satellite imagery. Next time you watch TV, do it on a channel that doesn't link to a satellite somewhere along the way. At least as far as unmanned space projects go, the economic debate was over a long time ago.

Manned space flight is a different matter. Manned space flight is about the advancement of the species rather than any strictly economic viewpoint.

Re:Isn't space like really exspensive ? (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 5 years ago | (#28363809)

Yes, you named the one compelling reason to go to space.
This is why he said "there are few compelling reasons." and not "There are no compelling reasons"

And Satellites are barely in space.

Can you name any other economic reason besides Communication?

Since the article is about commercial space flight, and not technological or advancement reasons, the poster is right. At this moment there are very few reasons to go into space.

As for exploration, pushing technology, advancement od the species then , yes there are many compelling reasons.

Yeah, but it's worth it. (5, Insightful)

icebrain (944107) | more than 5 years ago | (#28361277)

The take home is that space is, and always will be, very $ relative to ground; therefore there has to be some compelling reason to go to space.
Sadly, there are few compelling reasons.

I am compelled to disagree with this.

There are plenty of compelling reasons to go into space:

Growth of the species - Humanity is expanding in population very quickly. Eventually, assuming that holds, the planet will reach the point where sustaining that population is impossible, even with advances in technology. Your choices, then, are either to limit/reduce the population (sterilization, limitations on childbearing, war, disease, organized extermination, etc) or expand off the planet. The second option seems a little more friendly and ethical.

Survival of the species - There are several things which can cause the population to be essentially wiped out. Asteroid impacts, war, deadly pandemics, biowarfare (which I personally consider the greatest threat at the moment), and so on. It's possible that some may survive these things by digging deep underground, but I doubt enough infrastructure and population will survive to maintain society as we know it. The best long-term solution I can see is to expand off-planet and establish self-sustaining colonies. You don't keep all of your company's data and server hardware in one location, do you? The same should hold with humanity as a whole.

Additional resources - This fits with the first point. There is only so much stuff available to us on this planet. Whether we use it all up, or decide to preserve it, we will eventually reach the point where we can't use any more. What are we to do at that point? Well, I see a whole bunch of stuff sitting up in space just waiting to be used. Now before anyone starts, I am not promoting the "strip earth bare and trash it, then move on" approach. Instead, I'm promoting the "let's make use of all those barren rocks out there so we don't have to trash earth" approach.

Overall, unless we're going to take that self-ridiculing, defeatist position that humanity should draw down into a little ball and live the remainder of its existence shut in from the universe as a whole, like a pathetic and sick individual afraid to even get out of bed*, we will have to go into space eventually. It's just a matter of time. The only question is "when?"

Some will argue that it's too expensive, that we should wait until we have better technology. But how will we get that technology in the first place? It doesn't just fall into your lap one afternoon; you have to work for it. Imagine if we'd decided 100 years ago that trying to develop airplanes was stupid, that airplanes at the time were too dangerous and impractical, and that we should wait until we had technology like the 777 oir A380... I'll tell you right now, we probably wouldn't be to that point for a couple hundred more years. You don't learn how to build entirely new stuff or do new things by sitting around dreaming about it or making powerpoint charts... you learn by doing that stuff as best you can, learning from your mistakes, and doing it again. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Yes, doing it is expensive. But it's worth it. The only reason it seems like it's not is that the payoff takes a little longer to come. Corporations don't undertake it because the shareholders probably won't see the benefit within their lifetimes. Governments don't do it because they don't think beyond the next election. Joe Public doesn't think about it because his attention span lasts for 20 seconds and all he's interested in is what keeps him entertained. The benefit is there, but it might be a few generations before it's realized.

Remember, too, that money spent on developing this stuff isn't just launched away into the sun or something. It stays on earth, paying the engineers and mechanics and managagers (spit) that work on it. It fosters a need for more engineers and mechanics, driving better education standards and inspiring people to maybe do something besides push paper and watch Survivor.

We as a society spend billions on inconsequential things like Hollywood blockbusters and professional sports. So why are we so scared of actually doing something useful with that kind of money?

*I have no respect for the "hide on earth and live out our lives within this self-imposed barrier" position. Anyone who espouses it stands little higher than the "voluntary human extinction" types, who should just lead by example and off themselves already.

Re:Yeah, but it's worth it. (1)

PieSquared (867490) | more than 5 years ago | (#28361729)

The "growth" argument is deeply flawed. The problem... is the birthrate. A .4% annual growth rate implies 4000+ more people being born then dying every *hour* when there's 10 billion people on the planet. To use space expansion to alleviate growth, therefor, you'd have to send thousands of people off every hour of every day... and I don't ever see that happening.

The other two are better, of course.

Re:Yeah, but it's worth it. (1)

hardburn (141468) | more than 5 years ago | (#28362349)

It's probably irrelevent, anyway. Developed nations are having trouble keeping their birthrates above the replacement rate. This is probably a good thing in the long run, but there are problems with this in the short run, such as caring for an ageing population.

The harsh reality of undeveloped nations is that if they can't keep their birthrates under control, then they'll see a population explosion, followed by a crash due to starvation, disease, and wars over limited resources.

Re:Yeah, but it's worth it. (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 5 years ago | (#28363849)

None of which is a compelling reason for commercial space flight.

You do remember what this thread is about, right?
  Ironically you list would constitute as 'few'; which is what he said.
Space flight will not help with population growth unless you have away to move people off the planet as fast as it is growing.

Re:Isn't space like really exspensive ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28361845)

We really need to find a new way of propulsion. LH/LOX, which is the fuel with the highest specific impulse has been around since what, the 60s?

Needing 1000 tons of fuel to put 5 tons of payload into earth escape velocity isn't going to cut it. Chemical propulsion be damned.

Re:Isn't space like really exspensive ? (1)

Big Boss (7354) | more than 5 years ago | (#28363963)

Nuclear rocket motors were built in the 60s but got canned because of the fear of radiation and materials of the time.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_Thermal_Rocket [wikipedia.org]

With modern materials, we could probably build one now. The best thing is, a nuclear lightbulb design would probably pollute less than the byproducts of the chemical propellants we use now. But, of course, it's nuclear, and therefore bad. *sigh*

Re:Isn't space like really exspensive ? (1)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 5 years ago | (#28362905)

You have to get to very high velocity - that implies a lot of fuel, and very exspensive craft that can survive the high velocity

Although most people believe (somewhat reasonably) that the price of fuel is a big part of the cost of spaceflight, but in actuality it's just about 1% of the total cost. The cost of the hardware itself also tends to be minor compared to the cost of paying all the personnel on the ground to put together and maintain the spacecraft.

Re:Isn't space like really exspensive ? (1)

cinnamon colbert (732724) | more than 5 years ago | (#28363755)

it is not the relative cost that matters, but the aboslute cost.
If space is (on some scale) 1,000X as costly as ground, then if fuel is only 1% it is a huge cost,relative to ground

Re:Isn't space like really exspensive ? (1)

icebrain (944107) | more than 5 years ago | (#28363989)

Fuel itself isn't expensive... but the fallout from having to carry a lot of it is. Your vehicle gets bigger, you need more exotic materials, you spend a lot of effort trying to trim off every ounce of unneeded mass, because everything snowballs. Carrying more weight? Well, you need more fuel. More fuel requires a bigger structure, which means more weight, which means more powerful engines, which means more weight, which means more fuel... and so on.

If not then.. (1)

GeorgeStone22 (1532191) | more than 5 years ago | (#28360813)

If not then it's never going to be space tech, is it. It will be tech tech.

If Andy Griffith can do it in the 70s (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28360901)

Why can't we do it now?

Salvage 1 - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0078681/

Only with government help (2, Funny)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 5 years ago | (#28360975)

If the government sees the gravity of the situation, the industry might get a boost.

The problem is that the analysts make it sounds like industry is shooting for the moon, and that makes financiers look at the private industry folks like they're from Mars.

Heaven forbid that multiple governments are needed to fund a private endeavor. It could force the executives into shuttle diplomacy.

The main problem... (1)

ATestR (1060586) | more than 5 years ago | (#28361063)

The US Government, and especially NASA (and other agencies who have an interest in space), don't really have a strong imperative to see commercial space succeed. These ventures are often seen as intruding into areas that are rightfully NASA's. For get about national interests... its all about power for those in power.

The subject is unnecessarily alarmist (5, Informative)

Fished (574624) | more than 5 years ago | (#28361383)

Just to clarify, if you RTFA you will find that SpaceX has completed all the milestones so far on time, and they are looking at a 2-4 month schedule slip on future milestones. Now, obviously we'd much rather not have the schedule slip, but in the world of NASA contracting that is like... totally nothing. I have to say that, as a confirmed space nut, SpaceX really impresses me. If they manage to deliver on a third of what they're talking about, they'll completely change the game--and they've done enough truly innovative stuff already that I think they might actually deliver on most of it in the long run.

Imagine a fully reusable launch vehicle, and a mostly reusable orbiter, making access to LEO or GTO cost in the hundreds of dollars per lb., instead of thousands... that's what Elon Musk is talking about in the long run, and I think he just might actually pull it off.

Re:The subject is unnecessarily alarmist (1)

Fished (574624) | more than 5 years ago | (#28361593)

Just a point of clarification--on reviewing my wording, it appeared that I might have made it sound like I was affiliate with SpaceX. I'm not affiliated with them in any way (I'm a part-time pastor and full-time technology consultant in Virginia.)

Re:The subject is unnecessarily alarmist (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 5 years ago | (#28361893)

Just to clarify, if you RTFA you will find that SpaceX has completed all the milestones so far on time

Actually, if you study the history of their programs, they are years behind where they originally planned to be.
 
Space fans in general have *very* selective memories. Jam yesterday, and jam tommorow - but the lack of jam today goes unnoticed.
 

I have to say that, as a confirmed space nut, SpaceX really impresses me.

No offense, but after decades of watching the space 'nut' community, many are impressed with SpaceX because it doesn't really take all that much to impress them. Witness the outpouring of wonderment anytime the Russians ship yet another PowerPoint of their brave and glorious future - without taking a moment to wonder what happened to the last 27 such plans.
 

If they manage to deliver on a third of what they're talking about, they'll completely change the game--and they've done enough truly innovative stuff already that I think they might actually deliver on most of it in the long run.

Which is kinda my point - they haven't actually *done* anything innovative yet. They haven't even delivered on their simplest of vehicles. Their flight record is abysmal and both the Falcon 1 and 9 are years behind schedule. The Dragon is nothing but a mockup. It's easy to innovate on paper, but let's wait for actual accomplishments before showering them with praise.
 

Imagine a fully reusable launch vehicle, and a mostly reusable orbiter, making access to LEO or GTO cost in the hundreds of dollars per lb., instead of thousands...

Such things are easy to imagine - but as the X-Prize contenders discovered and now Elon Musk is discovering, real world engineering is much, *much* harder than power point engineering.

Re:The subject is unnecessarily alarmist (1)

Fished (574624) | more than 5 years ago | (#28362131)

I was referring specifically to the COTS contract when I made reference to milestones. As for the rest... look, it's impressive for a privately funded vehicle to launch at all. Yes, getting to space is hard, but SpaceX is actually doing it, and if you compare their record to the record of the "traditional" space contractors they're doing it very well. So chill out with the relentless negativity.

Re:The subject is unnecessarily alarmist (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 5 years ago | (#28362427)

As for the rest... look, it's impressive for a privately funded vehicle to launch at all.

Why? It's not like the engineering is different for government vs. privately funded. The only difference is who pays the bills (and taxpayers have footed a non trivial amount of SpaceX's bills).
 

Yes, getting to space is hard, but SpaceX is actually doing it

No, SpaceX is not actually 'doing it', they've done it - *once*. You can't draw a curve through a single point. The long road to space is already littered with the bones of private companies with a few achievements and a glittering record of powerpoints.
 

if you compare their record to the record of the "traditional" space contractors they're doing it very well.

Huh? No currently flying booster has a success rate as abysmal as the Falcon I. The only thing SpaceX is doing as well as the "traditional" contractors is putting a bright face on an ongoing series of delays and failures. And you, like most of the rest of the space fanboi community, have swallowed the spin, hook, line, and sinker.
 

So chill out with the relentless negativity.

It's not negativity - it's facts. That you can't handle facts isn't my problem.

Re:The subject is unnecessarily alarmist (1)

cheesybagel (670288) | more than 5 years ago | (#28364487)

Huh? No currently flying booster has a success rate as abysmal as the Falcon I. The only thing SpaceX is doing as well as the "traditional" contractors is putting a bright face on an ongoing series of delays and failures. And you, like most of the rest of the space fanboi community, have swallowed the spin, hook, line, and sinker.

Usually accidents in a new launch vehicle happen at its inception, or when there are vehicle upgrades. This was indeed the issue with the Falcon 1 launches. In the last failure they decided to replace the first stage engine and forgot to change a piece of software to match the new vehicle characteristics (not too unlike the issue Arianespace had when trying to shoehorn the Ariane 4 flight software into Ariane 5). Hopefully they will get better at the game now, which is why the next launches are critical. Even companies which should know better manage to produce crap on ocasion. Remember Delta III?

Re:The subject is unnecessarily alarmist (1)

Areyoukiddingme (1289470) | more than 5 years ago | (#28362989)

They haven't even delivered on their simplest of vehicles.

Wrong. The contract called for a successful flight. There was a successful flight. The contract delivery occurred. It's pretty simple.

Their flight record is abysmal...

Wrong. One partially successful flight and one completely successful flight in three launches of a brand new vehicle is completely normal, historically. Looking at actual flight statistics for inexperienced manufacturers reveals 70% experienced a failure in the first two flights. Even an experienced manufacturer that has built rockets before has a 20% failure rate in the first two flights. SpaceX's flight record is not abysmal; it's bog standard.

...and both the Falcon 1 and 9 are years behind schedule.

Whose schedule? The company was founded in 2002. In just 7 years, they've built one rocket that successfully reached orbit and have nearly finished building a second much larger one. Possibly Elon Musk stated desired ready dates when he founded the company, but those are wishes, not schedules. The contract with an actual schedule, COTS resupply for NASA, has met every milestone on time. That's not years behind schedule. That's not behind schedule at all. That's on time. Claiming years behind schedule is plain stupid.

The Dragon is nothing but a mockup.

Wrong. From the SpaceX website:

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

It's been an incredibly busy year so far at SpaceX and we continue to move full steam ahead. Of particular note are recent developments with respect to the Dragon spacecraft.

The image below shows the first joining of a full flight fidelity Dragon capsule and trunk section earlier this year on the manufacturing floor at our Hawthorne headquarters.

Maybe you just don't understand what "full flight fidelity" means. It's ok. It is rocket science, after all.

It's easy to innovate on paper, but let's wait for actual accomplishments before showering them with praise.

One rocket, to orbit, development funded entirely from private money. They didn't have NASA contracts, starting out. I call that an actual accomplishment. Launches of that rocket for sale for millions of dollars less than their competition. I call that an actual accomplishment.

You're either stupid, a liar, or both. Your statements concerning SpaceX are blatantly, provably false. Your word choices are overwhelmingly negative in connotation. I smell either a Lockheed/Boeing shill or a NASA Constellation partisan.

Re:The subject is unnecessarily alarmist (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 5 years ago | (#28363397)

You're either stupid, a liar, or both.

No, I'm someone who is actually conversant with the facts and comfortable with facing the truth. You are neither of those.

For example, you confuse 'full flight fidelity' with 'flight article'. They are not synonyms. In fact, attaching the word 'fidelity' (or 'qualification') is an explicit statement that it is *not* flight hardware.
 

Your word choices are overwhelmingly negative in connotation. I smell either a Lockheed/Boeing shill or a NASA Constellation partisan.

They are only negative in connotation to people who are unacquainted with the facts, or at least unwilling to face the unpleasant ones, and who mistakenly believe the world is a black and white place.
 

Wrong. One partially successful flight and one completely successful flight in three launches of a brand new vehicle is completely normal, historically.

This is an example of being unwilling to face the facts, or to handwave away the unpleasant ones - because you try to blow a smokescreen to make two flights cover four... Completely ignoring the complete failure and the other partial 'sucess' because they blow your comforting little fantasy world into dull lifeless shards. (You also fail to acknowledge the current launch campaign has been scrubbed, *twice*, for problems that should have been detected months ago.) Four flights - one payload delivered on orbit. That's a cold hard fact.
 
You play the same shell game as the OP by pointing towards the COTS program being on track and claiming that indicates that they are on schedule, and ignoring the uncomfortable facts that both the Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 are years behind schedule.
 

One rocket, to orbit, development funded entirely from private money. They didn't have NASA contracts, starting out.

More ignorance of facts - because there are other people other than NASA who pay for booster development and who invest in launch contracts on unproven vehicles. (Hint: Look who paid for the first two payloads the Falcon I dropped into the ocean.)

Re:The subject is unnecessarily alarmist (1)

rmstar (114746) | more than 5 years ago | (#28363877)

I heard somewhere that the Merlin engine was the first of this size to be build and designed from scratch in, like, 40 years. Is that not true either? (I don't want to take part in this heated debate - I am really just wondering :-) )

On another note, and since you actually seem to know this stuff: why is it so damn hard to build big rockets that work reliably?

Reasons (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365367)

I heard somewhere that the Merlin engine was the first of this size to be build and designed from scratch in, like, 40 years. Is that not true either?

I think that's the case.
 
 

On another note, and since you actually seem to know this stuff: why is it so damn hard to build big rockets that work reliably?

It really boils down to two things; a) engineering conservatism - what we've done so fat mostly works and nobody really raises a stink, and b) the extremely low total number of design generations and flight hours - making it hard to get valid statistics.

Re:The subject is unnecessarily alarmist (1)

bobcat7677 (561727) | more than 5 years ago | (#28364555)

Hi guys...just had to pop in on this lively discussion. How about some actual references to temper things a bit?
Link to the wayback machine for spacex's website in 2004ish http://web.archive.org/web/20040520043224/http://spacex.com/ [archive.org] If you compare that with the actual launch dates on the current version of the website, you will see that their time line did slip by about 2 years along the way. So Mr. Negative does have some ground to stand on.
On the other hand, 2 years slippage of the schedule does not a death of an industry make. Further, having a couple failures is bad and discouraging, but they have had a success now. Edison had to go through thousands of light bulb failures before he finally got a viable one. Progress is rarely easy, fast or cheap. Proof of the overall reliability of the Falcon rockets good or bad will come with more launches. A couple of test launches tells you little about what the finished product will be like. And frankly I would expect at least one failure of the Falcon 9 design before it's fully ready to fly regular cargo. You can do all the sims you want, but the real tests are in the real world (or real space as the case may be). Oh, and also looking back at SpaceX's history, you will find that they purposely put the Dragon project on a back burner for a while because it was not their main focus. So part of the delay there was simply a business decision and nothing to do with technology hurdles or the like.

bottom line: SpaceX has had some setbacks, but they are still working at it and making admirable progress. Just because their schedule isn't matching up with what the US needs to keep the ISS on schedule doesn't mean they won't "get off the ground" in general. The smaller Falcon rockets were not even meant for that duty anyway...they are for launching commercial and military sats. Anyway, Congress already authorized some $$$ to extend the Shuttle program a few extra missions so SpaceX will have that much more chance to get in there and get the job done.

Re:The subject is unnecessarily alarmist (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365425)

So Mr. Negative does have some ground to stand on.

That's "Mr. Factual" to you mate.
 
 

On the other hand, 2 years slippage of the schedule does not a death of an industry make.

I've never claimed it does - merely pointed out that the optimism of many space 'fans' is unsupported by the record to date. Unlike them, I predict the future based on facts rather than wishful thinking. In the space fanboi community, willingness to address the facts is a rare quality and doesn't fit into their 'cheerleader or detractor' black and white mindset. (Hell, being fully cognizant of the facts is a rare commodity.)

Re:The subject is unnecessarily alarmist (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28366205)

Disclosure: I am a Lockheed Constellation contractor.

I agree that the subject is somewhat more alarmist than it should be. There are concerns about SpaceX's aggressive schedule, but the to-date 2-4 month slip is natural. Shift happens. They are simply discovering that the devil is in the details, and, believe me, there are a lot of details. Of course NASA is going to be concerned about their supply needs on ISS, but it is far too early to start questioning SpaceX's ability to deliver.

To the "NASA is evil and wants to suppress the space industry" conspiracy buffs: That is stupid. It's akin to suggesting that the air force is trying to squash the airliner industry. NASA wants affordable and reliable space transport more than anyone. It is a serious pain in the ass to drag millions of dollars out of congress, and they would much rather put those hard fought dollars to work in science and exploration rather than cargo hauling. NASA has even been criticized for not capitalizing on commercial space launch opportunities as Russia and China have done. I, however, applaud them for staying out of the way. NASA's goal is "to pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery, and aeronautics research." No part of that statement involves commercial interests.

As such, there is no competition between Constellation and SpaceX even though their capabilities overlap. Of course NASA needs their own project to get to the ISS. Considering their massive investment in ISS, it would be woefully irresponsible for NASA to put all of their faith in a budding industry. However, putting the two in competition is - again - like comparing an airliner and a hurricane hunter. The two projects have very different long term goals. Constellation's success is not going to put SpaceX out of business, and SpaceX's success is not going to cancel Constellation.

Personally, I hope the space industry thrives, and everyone I work with does as well. I know it's hard to believe, but people at NASA and their evil, teat-suckling, bloated-tick contractors are space fanbois... We love the idea of cheap spaceflight.

Re:The subject is unnecessarily alarmist (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28364265)

Won't happen.
First off, rockets don't burn money, they burn fuel. The price per pound is just an example of overall costs. It cost the exact same to launch an empty shuttle as a full one, becasue they use the same amount of fuel, maintenance, and employee costs.

So, this means that you need to have some combination of strong fuel and lighter vehicles so someone cut the cost by 100.
Does he ahve a fuel that's 1000 times more powerful? Materials that are 1000 times light and the same strength?

hundreds per pound is marketing to get investors.

You're missing the point (1)

Fished (574624) | more than 5 years ago | (#28365813)

The cost of the fuel itself is a vanishingly small proportion of the actual cost of launching a rocket. Most of the cost of a launch is tied up in two things: the very expensive hardware that you're throwing away because it's not at all reusable, and the incredibly ponderous administrative and logistical hassles that go into getting a rocket assembled and ready for launch. SpaceX plans to make the Falcon-9 fully reusable eventually, and they already have significantly less administrative overhead than "traditional" launch operations. Whether $300/lb. to orbit is obtainable is, of course, questionable. But I don't think you can say that it's flat impossible, and you certainly can't say it's flat impossible because of fuel costs. That just demonstrates ignorance.

Re:The subject is unnecessarily alarmist (1)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 5 years ago | (#28367237)

Just to clarify, if you RTFA you will find that SpaceX has completed all the milestones so far on time, and they are looking at a 2-4 month schedule slip on future milestones. Now, obviously we'd much rather not have the schedule slip, but in the world of NASA contracting that is like... totally nothing. I have to say that, as a confirmed space nut, SpaceX really impresses me.

It's also worth comparing to something like NASA's Ares I launcher, which has projected costs upwards of $40 billion and just recently announced a schedule slip of 18 months; many are doubtful that even limitless funding and time would enable it to work around its fundamental design faults.

By comparison, the entire COTS program (both SpaceX and Orbital combined) has a total budget of less than $500 million (yes, almost 100x less than the Ares I despite having similar capabilities). Having a schedule slip of just 2-4 months is pretty unprecedented for a program like that.

the southern hemisphere (0, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28361531)

a billion objects?? That's WAY more than the northern hemisphere. Why is all the cool shit always in the southern hemisphere? Plus the toilets flush in the other direction.

Stairway to heaven (1)

JobyOne (1578377) | more than 5 years ago | (#28361591)

Until getting into space becomes cheap enough to be used for more than big industry satellite ventures and adventures for the stupidly rich, no. Until then there will not be much commercial space flight, at least in the sense the headline implies. Once we have a way to get to space that doesn't involve immense cost and burning insane amounts of fuel, yes, we'll have awesome space tech.

Where's the damn space elevator already? Stupid sci-fi books getting my hopes up.

11 countries have orbital launch capability (1)

peter303 (12292) | more than 5 years ago | (#28362007)

Over the decades eleven countries [wikipedia.org] have built rockets and orbited satellites. Private companies capabilities must be approaching the smaller countries by now.

Misleading caption (1)

amn108 (1231606) | more than 5 years ago | (#28362195)

The article subject line is misleading. One thing is certain, the commercial space business will not go back to where it came from, the blossoming has passed the point of no return. Given time, it will get off the ground. Given time, pigs will fly too, and birds will breathe nitrogen.

Private enterprise not in it for the long haul (1)

jollyreaper (513215) | more than 5 years ago | (#28362239)

It's rare to see people in business with a passion for doing something -- something other than making obscene piles of cash, that is. In this environment, it's all about the fast buck and fuck the rest. Complain all you want about government inefficiency and waste, they seem to be the only ones with pockets deep enough and time-frames long enough to contemplate truly big projects. Something like the Panama Canal, it needed a government to make it happen; it also needed a government's military resources to knock together the right heads. Look at how many rockets we had to blow up with the early space program just to get the failure rate down to something approaching acceptable? If this were a purely private project, it would have been canceled years before success.

Companies are very good at addressing short-term concerns for short-term gain. Want paperclips? Companies can make you paperclips. Want fashion? Ipods? Flatscreen tv's? Companies can do that. Want a green economy? Government is going to have to lead the march and drag private industry along kicking and screaming.

Industry's only interest is self-interest. Maximize shareholder wealth, that's the imperative. Government's role is to do the people's will and make sure that social concerns are met. Companies doesn't care about pollution, doesn't care about poisoning the water and the sky. Any efforts by government to address these concerns will be actively lobbied against and subverted.

Now to be fair, there are exceptions out there like SpaceX and Scaled Composites but they only underline how difficult it is to go it alone on such huge projects. Of course, when government sponsors things you end up getting defense conglomerates sucking at the teat and disasters like this new Constellation manned launch vehicle boondoggle. I hope they can pull it together but things sound pretty grim. It'd be nice if SpaceX can prove they have the chops and government can reinforce that success by steering business their way.

Yes! (1)

J05H (5625) | more than 5 years ago | (#28363121)

Yes, new.space can succeed. It will require more than just NASA's cash to happen. It will require new payloads and new businesses to utilize these launchers.

Commercial/semi-commercial launchers such as Ariane, Proton, Delta, Atlas, Zenit, Pegasus etc have been flying commercial communications and imaging satellites for decades. The question is whether new types of businesses can emerge to create new markets for more launches.

One word-Arianespace (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28366547)

One word-Arianespace
http://www.arianespace.com/index/index.asp

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