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What does it all mean?

With the ship back on the ground and the speechifying in progress, I now have a bit of time to pontificate on the importance of this event.

Some of you understand intuitively. Few outside a small circle of friends fully comprehend the magnitude of the breakthrough. Getting into space is not about technology. It is about money. It is about risk, markets, business plans, insurance, and raising capital. It is about the metacontext. The metacontext which died in the desert sun this morning carried built in assumptions that space is for governments; space is expensive; space is too risky for business.

Now we know differently. Paul Allen funded Rutan’s two craft from concept to suborbital space flight for around $20 million. In the aerospace world this is pocket change. Design studies cost that much, let alone TWO working vehicles.

The media came. The coverage has been beyond my wildest expectations. This is the second element required. Not only has the metacontext been smashed; everyone knows it.

Two more flights are required to collect the X-Prize. Today’s did not carry the extra weight to simulate two passengers, at least not to my knowledge, so this flight does not count for the prize. Scaled Composites has said they will give the media 60 days notice. If true, that is August at the earliest. This makes the Apollo Landing anniversary of July 20th an unlikely date.

SpaceShipOne is not a Commercial tourist spaceship. It is the pre-cursor. The success we have seen today makes it clear to the investment community that the regulatory problems are manageable; the risk is manageable… Most importantly they now know we are not all stark raving bonkers. We really can do this.

The investors will come now. The decades of the Pyramid builders is nearly at an end. Linear growth via government funding will now be replaced by the exponential power of the market.

This is indeed what free men and women can do.

22 comments to What does it all mean?

  • This is a great event. However let’s remember they have only got about 10% of the energy needed to get to orbit. getting that extra 90% is going to be hard, but if they make money on the way I’, sure they can do it.

    At the NASA Advisory Council meeting two weeks ago Fred Gregory (NASA #2) made it quite slear that they are getting our of the earth to orbit business, leaving room for the private sector to get it.

    Space abhors a vacum so its up to the capitalists to fill it.

    Good Luck

  • zmollusc

    Yay! Watched it all on cable telly! Really good stuff. Thanks to spacer for the comparison with orbital energy, I was going to ask the same question. How does the takeoff weight compare with the first nasa manned suborbital flight? And are they similar heights?

  • Pete (Detroit)

    The meek shall inherit the earth, when the rest of us have gone to the stars..

  • Alan Shepard’s flight made it to 187.45 kilometers altitude. and 486 km downrange.

    He did it in a capsule and left most of the hardware he took off with on the bottom of the atlantic. What makes this craft so great is the reusability.

    Lets hear it for the whole Rutan team, and for Peter Diamandis who got the X Prize going.

  • “Today’s did not carry the extra weight to simulate two passengers, or at least not to my knowledge”

    That is correct.

    Like you said it is a very important day for proving that space is commercially viable. I think the private sector is the most exciting area of space development – as the political willpower to further explore space has significantly deteriorated since the Space Race and the landings on the moon back in the 60s and 70s.

    Its only the commercial sector which has the drive and the creativity in which to really grasp space.

  • David Gillies

    Remember today’s date: 21st June 2004. This is one of those days when the world changed..

    The figures on orbital insertion energy are interesting. I wonder how long it will be before the first private SSTO craft is developed. My guess would be three to five years.

  • I feel three to five years is probably a bit too optimistic, but within the next decade I’d say is a fair guess.

  • lucklucky

    I think the grand development will be to get commercial flights (not only tourist cruising) between say NewYork-Tokio outside atmosphere in 2-3 hours.

  • The BBC, on their 24 hour TV news channel, gave this event enthusiastic coverage. My guess is that millions of people in Britain are learning today about private sector space travel for the first time in their lives. I expect lots of pictures, and a serious increase in media buzz to the effect that those vulgar Americans mustn’t be allowed to pollute space with their ghastly money-making schemes.

    Although, with Wayne Rooney, even as I comment, scoring his second goal and England’s third against mighty Croatia, most of the news here tomorrow morning will be of other things.

  • I’ve spent my whole life looking up at the stars.

    Tonight, they will be a whole lot closer.

  • Usually I hate Mondays, but I spent all day anticipating this flight. This is a great achievement and hopefully Scaled will be just the first of several companies to get their X-Prize class vehicles flying in the next year or two. Finally the real Space Age is starting!

  • Joe

    Did anyone see the Channel 4 news with Peter Snow?
    It was unbelievable – Snow kept trying to talk some “expert” into trying to say that only governments should be able to build space craft and that anything else was doomed to failure… he asked over and over again leading question along the lines of: “but surely only governments will be able to really make this happen?”…. “this is only putting a toe in space- Private spaceflight will never be able to do what the shuttle is doing?”…etc etc…. Even the expert (who’s name I missed) seemed to be embarrassed at the overwhelming attempt by Snow to detract from a successful event!

  • Today’s did not carry the extra weight to simulate two passengers, or at least not to my knowledge, so this flight does not count for the prize.

    Does the prize allow Spaceship One to carry actual passengers? If so, I’d love to be ‘extra weight’.

  • The Prize rules do allow for weight to substitute for passengers. We’ll have to see if Rutan gets some live humans or not. The windows on the craft are designed to give the crew a fantastic view. It seems a shame to was the chance.

  • Susan

    I expect lots of pictures, and a serious increase in media buzz to the effect that those vulgar Americans mustn’t be allowed to pollute space with their ghastly money-making schemes

    I feel a (Don’t) Have Your Say BBC Online topic coming up soon — perhaps several of them?

    Sample topics:

    “Space Travel: Should it Be Brought Under U.N. Control?”

    “Privatizing Space Travel: Will it Increase Global Warming?”

    “Privatizing Space Travel: Will it Spread GM Crops?”

    “Privatizing Space Travel: Is it Another American Plot for Global Control?”

  • Brian,

    serious increase in media buzz to the effect that those vulgar Americans mustn’t be allowed to pollute space with their ghastly money-making schemes.

    You mean like this old article from Democrats.com (enter Transorbital in their search field):

    While Nation Looks the Other Way on 9/11 Anniversary, Bush Gives Moon to Private Corporation for ‘Industrial Development’
    10-Sep-02
    Space

    Like all the other international laws, Bush is now ignoring those pertaining to space. As America is distracted by 9/11 remembrances and warnings of new threats, His Heinous has turned the moon over to a private, for-profit corporation called TransOrbital that has a far-reaching, frigthening agenda for the corporate domination of space. All TransOrbital had to do was promise not to contaminate and pollute the moon – yeah, right. That’s what the oil companies say about ANWR. There was no Congressional vote – not even any consultation. Bush simply acted as if the moon were his to give away. The TransOrbital venture could be disastrous for the globe – no scientist today could predict yet how adding mass to the moon via human infrastructure or removing mass, via mining, will impact the delicate gravitational interplay between Earth and its only satellite. The moon belongs to all the people of the Earth – not to George. W. Bush or his friends at TransOrbital. (emphasis added)

    I don’t doubt that the moonbats will come out with a conspiracy theory about the great accomplishment today.

  • Sandy P

    –Paul Allen funded Rutan’s two craft from concept to suborbital space flight for around $20 million. In the aerospace world this is pocket change.–

    In Allen’s world it’s pocket change.

  • I doubt there will be any difficulty finding volunteers to be the two passengers for the X-Prize flights–but just in case they need to save a pound or two, I’m really skinny! :-)

  • Dave

    Sadly mixed feelings about this.

    After 30+ years wanting this to actually happen, my time working in civil aviation lovers my expectations of what comes next. We have a civil Sub-Orbital vehicle, and through X-cor and others hopefully more. However, some of the glee at the prospect of SSTO’s is misplaced. A decade could be optimistic, the engineering challenges alone are significant and we should not delude ourselves that Space Ship 1 is an evolution…

    Anyway, all that pesimism aside, today IS a day for rejoicing. A good thing happened, a significant one, and one that was seriously over due.

  • Marcus Lindroos

    After 30+ years wanting this to actually happen, my time working in civil aviation lovers my expectations of what comes next. We have a civil Sub-Orbital vehicle, and through X-cor and others hopefully more. However, some of the glee at the prospect of SSTO’s is misplaced. A decade could be optimistic, the engineering challenges alone are significant and we should not delude ourselves that Space Ship 1 is an evolution…

    I second that. It’s a great accomplishment and Burt Rutan, Paul Allen and the other designers and financial backers have every reason to be proud of what they have done. But the significance of this in a wider context depends 100% on whether space tourism can be a money-making proposition or not. Remember: SpaceShipOne is actually a great deal simpler and less capable than the old USAF/NASA X-15 suborbital rocketplane of the 1950s and 60s! SpaceShipOne would have built decades ago, if suborbital human spaceflight had been deemed economically profitable.

    I suspect the real development we have been seeing in recent years isn’t related to technological advances or improving market prospects for space tourism. Rather, it’s a case of key people becoming wealthy enough to invest a few ten million dollars in ventures that continue to look iffy as a money making scheme… SpaceShipOne is a case in point: Allen is spending $20 million+ to win a 10-million prize! Elon Musk’s “Falcon” semireusable satellite launch vehicle is a similar story — the near-to-mid term prospects for recovering his investment in the small satellite launch business are small and Musk knows it. It’s just that he can afford the $50-100 million price tag.

    Looking further ahead and extrapolating from this, I would not expect to see fully reusable orbital “spaceliners” before the likely investors have grown wealthy enough to pursue the project as a mere hobby. Looking at Kistler’s current bare-bones design for a two-stage parachute recovered rocket, it seems the price tag will be in $1 billion+ range.

    MARCU$

  • Johnathan

    I watched the Channel 4 broadcast, and I thought that the basic message – commercially viable spaceflight – came through despite the slightly condescending tone of Snow. The BBC coverage was pretty enthusiastic, overall. Their science coverage tends to be pretty good, such as their recent treatment of the Mars landings, the Hubble telescope, etc. Even the BBC has its good points!

  • Jason

    Remember: SpaceShipOne is actually a great deal simpler and less capable than the old USAF/NASA X-15 suborbital rocketplane of the 1950s and 60s! SpaceShipOne would have built decades ago, if suborbital human spaceflight had been deemed economically profitable.

    Economically ptofitable or not, I don’t think Space Ship One or the White Knight would have been possible without the composite materials they used that were not available decades ago.