We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Commercial Space round up

Some of you may have heard of the Google X-Prize for the first private lunar mission. There seem to be quite a number of teams lining up for the prize, including one based on the Isle of Wight.

Sir Richard Branson’s US company had a ‘do’ in New York yesterday at which they were to unveil the design of SpaceShipTwo. This is slated to be the first commercial suborbital tourist spaceship. I asked a friend who works for them to get some photos to me but nothing has shown up so I presume I will have to look for the official photos like everyone else. As they are making this public, one would presume they have finalized the propulsion system and will be using the hybrid engine as originally planned.

Mojave Spaceport’s license may still be up in the air due to the fatal industrial accident at Scaled Composites test rig last summer. I have been hearing flip flops on this for the last several months but despite assurances from Patty Grace Smith at the FAA it appears there is something behind the rumor. Last summer we all thought the accident, in which a pressurized tank blew up and killed three engineers, would be a matter for OSHA and Cal-OSHA only. If FAA enforcement on such accidents is indeed forthcoming, I predict the unintended consequence will be all non-flight related spacecraft development operations move off FAA controlled spaceports.

Elon Musk’s company, SpaceX, is due for their third launch attempt some time soon. Not much information is floating around about an exact date. Somewhere between January and April is about the best I can guess. Given the switchover to the much more sophisticated and re-usable regeneratively cooled engine I think they will be moving very deliberately towards the next flight. Pretty much everyone expects them to make orbit this time.

For the last year a venture I am in has been slowly spooling up. I am now under so many Non-Disclosures that I hardly know what I can and cannot talk about in commercial Space so I have been erring on the side of silence as I have been too busy to check.

I have some nice photos from an old Atlas missile complex turned rocket test stand out in the Wyoming outback which I took last summer during a business visit. Someday I will get around to publishing some of them.

The International Space Development Conference is in Washington DC this year and we (at the National Space Society) have another good one lined up. Pretty much anyone who is anyone in the commercial Space industry will be there.

I imagine everyone knows that Messenger did the first flyby of Mercury in 33 years just a few days ago and the photos are still being downloaded to Earth. While not commercial in itself, the imagery will certainly be useful to future mining interests. It’s a great place to get the materials to build the close-in solar power satellites we’ll use to beam energy around the solar system and manufacture anti-matter fuel in the 22nd Century.

Oh, and I believe June this year is the 100th anniversary of the Tunguska asteroid explosion in Siberia. For a while many of us thought we would see Mars get pasted this February as part of the anniversary ‘celebration’ but the orbit of that rock is now known well enough to say it is a definite miss.

13 comments to Commercial Space round up

  • CountingCats


    Just because I haven’t commented on this doesn’t mean I am not fascinated by your reports. I guess the same may be true of others as well.

  • Actually, Dale, Mercury is probably about the last place that we would go to get material resources. Other than the sun, it’s the most expensive place to get to in the solar system. In fact, it’s cheaper to leave the solar system than to go to Mercury. There may be useful pure science to be done there, but prospecting it’s not.

  • What CC said.

    Rand: why is it so expensive to go to Mercury?

  • Anomenat

    This is fascinating stuff. Can I find out more about the Isle of Wight team anywhere?

  • newscaper

    Being so much deeper in the Sun’s gravity well than the Earth, tons of energy must be dumped so a vehicle can “fall” inward toward Mercury. The climb back out is correspondingly nasty too.

    That is much more of an issue than sheer distance.

  • What CC said.

    Rand Simburg: I got the impression Dale was talking about using materials on Mercury to build stuff *on Mercury*. Which would presumably be cheaper than moving materials from elsewhere to Mercury. You just send some robots. Tiny self-replicating ones if I get my way.

  • Dale Amon

    Close. I was talking about using stuff from Mercury to build solar power satellites even closer to the Sun. This is part of the Robert Forward idea for manufacturer of anti-matter and/or beaming power to interstellar probes or for use elsewhere in the solar system.

    This is not going to happen any time soon, where soon is anything less than 50-100 years.

    The energy density per m^2 at Mercury’s orbit is far higher than at Earth and increases rapidly as you go inside that orbit.

    So Rand is wrong on this one, although primarily because he did not grok what I said. It would of course be silly to ship Mercurial materials to Earth. It is not at all silly to ship them inside Mercury’s orbit.

    Rand’s statement also is a correct reason *why* you would use Mercury resources to do this. It is indeed very costly to ship materials from Earth down to Mercury. To get there you have to kill a helluva lot of deltaV: a big part of the Earth’s orbital velocity in fact.

  • Silly goose! Wyoming doesn’t have an outback (there’s a severe shortage of kangaroos) all we’ve got is miles and miles of desert.. and antelope. Lotsa antelope. Sorry I missed you during your visit!

    Regarding your time frames — anti-matter fuel in the 22nd Century, solar power from Mercury in 50-100 years — I’m hoping the Singularity will speed that along somewhat. Not to mention the possibility that we’ll be here to see it! Of course, if NASA has their way we’ll still be launching space shuttles into near earth orbit 200 years from now, for reasons long forgotten.

  • Dale Amon

    Actually I should have said Earth’s orbital energy. I won’t go into great detail as this is not a place for an Orbital Mechanic Primer, but the an object at Earth is ‘higher’ above the Sun has more Potential Energy than at Mercury, in addition to it’s Kinetic Energy due to the speed of it’s orbit, which is actually lower since orbital Velocity at the Earth is less than at Mercury.

    If you subtract from the velocity at Earth orbit, you go into an ellipse where one side is ‘lower’ to the Sun and one side is still at Earth orbit. You have to change velocity so that ellipse drops all the way to Mercury (or uses Venus or some other planet to remove some ‘forward’ velocity.

    Then you have to circularize by some means… all told this requires a great deal of energy. We usually speak in terms of delta V because it is a useful way to think of it… but behind it hides the mass of the probe and the fuel and the rocket equation…

    If none of this makes sense to you it is because I’m not at all sure how to explain this to a non-Physics trained audience… and they would already know it anyway!

  • Dale Amon

    I kinda like ‘outback’ as a descriptive term. Why let the Aussies have a monopoly on it?

    I too hope the singularity will happen around 2040 and hope that the interrum developments will keep me around to see it.

    I tend not to base all prognostications on it though… my guess is 1-2 centuries of development separate us from Forward’s plans. Those centuries might of course be ‘Kurzeil Centuries’, in which case we’ll have seen the necessary developments before 2030.

    Although a singulatarian at heart, I am at heart a skeptical man.

  • If that’s what you had in mind, then there’s no particular rush to be prospecting Mercury. It will be much cheaper and more effective to do it after we’ve actually become truly space faring. Either way, the only justification for a Mercury probe right now is pretty much purely scientific. Which is why I’ve had little (which is to say) nothing to say about it on my own blog.

  • Dale Amon

    There are things about Mercury I would like to know now though, which are scientific questions but have future commercial benefit. Which model of formation is correct? Is the core so large and dense because a planetismal blasted the crust and much of the mantle off or was it because of heavy metals being more selected that close to the sun? What sorts of materials are available there?

    It is not too soon to get a general and superficial inventory of resources and some idea of what else might be there.

  • You can try out Dale’s orbital mechanics and try and get to mercury yourself with the free simulator Orbiter.