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The Frontier

A number of persons placed comments about my recent article on SpaceShipTwo which showed they did not have a great deal of knowledge about the revolution in space affairs now taking place. Rather than write a long survey article I have decided to simply give you a reading list. The following is not complete by any means. These are just the names which came easily and immediately to mind on a Sunday afternoon and all are building serious hardware or providing services:


SpaceX
Blue Origin
Virgin Galactic
XCOR Aerospace
Armadillo Aerospace
Bigelow Aerospace
Masten Space
TGV Rockets
Rocketplane and Rocketplane-Kistler
Scaled Composites
Space Adventures
Orbital Outfitters
tSpace
Zero G
Starchaser Industries
Orion Propulsion
Spacedev
HMX
X-Prize
Videos about settling the Moon
National Space Society
Frontier Aerospace
Wyoming Space and Information Systems

Enjoy!

Ed: I may add more over the course of the day if the urge strikes. I know I have left out entire categories like spaceports and should probably fill in that gap if I have the time.

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25 comments to The Frontier

  • Nick M

    Mr Amon is giving us homework now!

    When is due sir?

    PS. I’m guessing that WS&IS is you. Not got a website are you merely being modest?

  • Dale Amon

    As the wascally wabbit said: “errr… Could be…”

  • Freddy

    Dale, thank you.

  • In the interests of balance people should also take a look at Space Cynics(Link).

    I’m in their camp myself. I’ll pay for a flight, as I did to go on Concorde. I just don’t expect there to be anything like enough of us to make enough money to settle the High Frontier based on Tourism alone.

    I’m looking forward to being dead wrong, but I’m not expecting it.

  • Dale Amon

    Dave, you are in the position of playing cynic the day before the Wright’s flew. Not to mention which, the cynic crowd is always there and always doing the Three Stooges comedy routine “cross this line then” routine, always drawing a new line just a little bit further along and pretending that we didn’t just cross all the previous lines…

    New Space is a vibrant and now reasonably funded activity. There a billions behind it now. And there are companies making money and selling products. The ball game has changed.

  • Nick M

    Daveon,
    Who said “New Space” was all about tourism? Sure that’s the high-profile thang at the mo but there’s plenty of other stuff going on…

  • APL

    Dale, what chance do you think the Bussard IEC fusion reactor has of producing net energy?

    That would be a useful tool for space travel.

  • Dale – the “ball game” may have changed, but it’s still little leagues in terms of funding, commercial (read: not government subsidized) activity.

    Now “Real” space, which is a $100Billion plus marketplace, has virtually no interest in NewSpace or the dreams of the tragics. As for moving the line – if I recall correctly, over the past dozen years the alt.spacers have been loudly proclaiming their impending success (from the early days of Roton and Pioneer in the mid 90s) without anything materializing beyond some stunt hardware and a LOT of powerpoint slides trying to sucker in the latest investor.

  • Dale Amon

    Where you are wrong is that through 1980, 1990, and 2000’s the business has grown at an exponential rate. It is now at the edge of takeoff financially.

    Hell, I’m even making a good chunk of my living off it these days.

  • One of my blogs is Space Feeds; on that page near the bottom is a Big List O’ Space Links. That list has more than 80 space companies, 200 space blogs, 37 space associations and interest groups, and 45 government space agencies.

  • Tom Billings

    “Dale, what chance do you think the Bussard IEC fusion reactor has of producing net energy?

    That would be a useful tool for space travel.”

    The “Polywell” fusion concept may have excellent space propulsion possibilities.

    The EMC2 team just got “first glow” on the WB-7 machine in the middle of January. As good engineers do, they have started holding the negatively charged central plasma in a low voltage potential well at first, with planned incremental buildup to fusion conditions over the next several months. The WB-7 is the “robust” version of the hastily built WB-6 machine that reached such high numbers in 2005, before work was stopped by lack of funds.

    Their plan is to gain all the data needed to prove the ability of the Polywell’s Magrid containment system to hold the electrons in the center of the device at fusion conditions with the WB-7. They intend to finish that sometime from April onwards. Then the data will be given to a group of experts to evaluate as to whether fusion conditions have been sustained sufficiently. If they have, then the Navy is committed to funding EMC2 with $200 million for a working fusion reactor prototype in 5-6 years from the start of that effort. Assigning betting numbers before we get data from the WB-7 is a game of wish and hope and maybe.

    Bussard had 3 concepts for rockets using this “Polywell” reactor. The first was using the direct current output to power “the arc-jet from Hell” as a high-thrust device. Then, he had a “Controlled Space Radiation (CSR) concept, that used the arc-jet to make a plasma, and then superheated it with a relativistic electron beam, in one version, and an ion beam in another. Finally, he had a concept for a “Propellant Diluent Fusion” (PDF) engine that
    would actually mix reaction mass with the alpha particle fusion products, using their energy directly to accelerate the reaction mass.

    Each of these concepts has a range of thrust ratios, and exhaust velocities. Generally, the higher the thrust ratio a concept is optimized for, the lower the exhaust velocity, for the same power output from the Polywell reactor. Likewise, the higher the exhaust velocity optimized for, the lower the thrust to mass ratio, and the lower the acceleration.

    The low-end exhaust velocity for the arc-jet concept is believed to be around 2,000 X 9.81=19,620m/sec. The high-end for the PDF concept is around 1.2 million X 9.81= 11,772,000m/sec. The exhaust velocity for the space shuttle engine, in vacuum, is 450 X 9.81=4,415m/sec.

    *If* Polywell works, it can give us the rest of the Solar System, all the way into the Oort Cloud, at a minimum.

    Regards,

    Tom Billings

  • I’m curious why Orbital Sciences wasn’t included. It may be that they aren’t “pure” because they do so much with the government. But until Space Tourism takes off that’s a game everyone will have to play if they want to grow.

    Maybe Bigelow should hire Orbital to fly them and we could have some pure private space development.

  • Frederick Davies

    Rather than write a long survey article…

    Someone got there first:

    “Rocketeers: How a Visionary Band of Business Leaders, Engineers, and Pilots Is Boldly Privatizing Space” by Michael P. Belfiore.

    It only covers the main players, but it is quite readable.

  • Frederick Davies

    To all you cynics in here: these ones are for you…

    “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”
    -Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943

    “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”
    -Ken Olson, president/founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977

  • Dave, you are in the position of playing cynic the day before the Wright’s flew.

    I don’t agree with the analogy. We know people can get into space and live and work there, been done. We know the prices can be brought down. The real question is can the prices be brought down enough to find a valid commercial reason for doing stuff in space?

    The Wright’s demonstrated _controllable_ heavier than air flight and within a couple of years a lot of people working pretty much out of their garages were copying it and improving on it, Bleriot for example. The military were interested and commercial applications literally leaped up from all over the place. The trouble is, we have lots of commercial applications for space that make lots of money, we have lots of military applications for space that are well funded.

    What you’re hoping for is that there’s a way to do this cheaper and that the price elasticity will be such that when you find a cheaper way there will be a bootstrapping effect which will create business opportunities about which we don’t currently know.

    NickM – the reason I picked Space Tourism is it’s currently the only one that really adds up if your goal is the commercial manned development of space. None of the others really work any better than Space Based Power Sats did back in my namesakes time in the 70s.

    The problem is I still don’t see the cost base coming down by anything like enough to make it practical, and nor, based on my reading of the Futron and other studies, do I see the mass market there to really catapult this into something that will allow for space to be opened up _purely_ on the back of commercial endeavours.

    I’ll go, I’ll buy a ticket (once I’m satisfied it works ok) and I’ll enjoy it. I’m also planning to take a jet fighter flight to 65,000 feet and a few other things because I’m an aviation and space fan. I have a small number of friends who are equally nuts about it.

    I have a much larger number who don’t really care.

  • Fredrik Davies: all good examples.

    Of course, the alternative position, from Carl Sagan also applies.

    They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright Brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.

  • The trouble is, we have lots of commercial applications for space that make lots of money, we have lots of military applications for space that are well funded.

    As I commented once: these are not _space_ applications. This are near-earth applications. They are Earth-centered applications.
    It’s real space – getting away from Earth – that I, too, am skeptic about.

  • Frederick Davies

    But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.

    I know Richard Banson looks funny, but Bozo never had a multi-million enterprise like he does.

  • I know Richard Banson looks funny, but Bozo never had a multi-million enterprise like he does.

    So? Seriously, so?

    Branson is the absolute king of throwing mud at walls and seeing what sticks. He’s also pretty good at walking out on things which don’t return or deliver what he expected them to. So, while it’s nice that he’s involved, I wouldn’t get deliriously happy about it myself.

    Fancy a Virgin Cola?

  • Frederick Davies

    The fact that there is a wall to throw mud at is what is different now; previous attempts at “making space pay” did even get off the ground, while now they are 100 miles high.

    Fancy a trip on Virgin Atlantic? Or do you fly BA?

    Besides, Virgin Trains has not been a glowing success, and we have not heard of Branson pulling out yet. Your characterization is not fair.

    On top of that, it is not only Branson who is in; there is also Elon Musk. Do you laugh at him too?

  • James

    Fancy a Virgin Cola?

    I saw a Virgin Cola machine around somewhere recently and I do fancy one even though I can’t remember what it’s like.

    On top of that, it is not only Branson who is in; there is also Elon Musk. Do you laugh at him too?

    Elon Musk? He sounds like an overpriced aftershave.

  • Frederick Davies

    Elon Musk? He sounds like an overpriced aftershave.

    Don’t know about that; ask his parents. He is South African and she is Canadian, so God knows what they were thinking.

    Mr Musk is one of the founders of PayPal, and got several hundred million dollars when he sold his share to Ebay. Now he is using said millions to fund SpaceX and other tech concerns.

  • The fact that there is a wall to throw mud at is what is different now; previous attempts at “making space pay” did even get off the ground, while now they are 100 miles high.

    Well, commercial organisations have managed to repeat a feat from the 60s, excellent. Not only that they were able to spend $20M to win $10M – good job Paul Allen’s not all that interested in actually making money eh?

    The wall has always been there and been collecting mud for as long as I’ve been tracking space activities. Metal has even been bent and vehicles “launched”. Of course, the good thing now is we have a small number of super rich people who don’t care about losing fortunes.

    Fancy a trip on Virgin Atlantic? Or do you fly BA?

    I fly BA. Virgin’s frequent flyer plan is utter sh1te, their flight crews are amazing to look at (really, WOW!) but lousy on the job. I recall hitting mild turbulence on approach to SFO back in 2001 and I thought the flight attendant was going to burst into tears. Virgin Upper class also only just caught up with BA Club World.

    Apart from the trains and the colas there are other examples of bad business decisions – his mobile companies have a very uneven record, as do Virgin Weddings.

    The man’s good at marketing though I’ll give you that.

    Musk. Good on him. I wish him well. Of course, I believe he said in an interview he can only afford 6 failures. He’s on 2 at the moment. I hope that they get the next Falcon flight right.

    But even there – he’s brining the costs down, but only by an order of magnitude (or slightly less) – which is excellent, but it still makes the costs exorbitant rather than obscene. To really open space up in the way that most people want it (prospectors in conestoga’s to the asteroids, a Heinelinian future out there etc…) it’s going to need more than that and a more radically different paradigm for launching stuff and I don’t see that myself unless I really squint through some rose tinted glasses.

  • Frederick Davies

    Well, commercial organisations have managed to repeat a feat from the 60s, excellent.

    Yes, and for a fraction of the price the governments paid for their 60’s feats.

    Apart from the trains and the colas there are other examples of bad business decisions…

    Your original accusation was the Branson was “pretty good at walking out on things which don’t return or deliver what he expected them to”; are you now admitting that Branson knows how to stick it out if needed? And if so, may it not be because there is something worthwhile behind it?

    He’s on 2 at the moment. I hope that they get the next Falcon flight right.

    I wonder how many test flights were needed in the 50’s and 60’s to get to the same stage Falcon is right now.

    …he’s brining the costs down, but only by an order of magnitude…

    What do you mean “only by an order of magnitude”? It takes NASA and ESA around $10000 to put a Kg in LEO, and $3500 for the Russians. If SpaceX can do it for $1000 per Kg, they are going to make a fortune! If it took $10M to put a metric ton of satellite in LEO, it will now take $1M; that will mean much more than a tenthfold increase in the number of organizations that could access Space.

  • Yes, and for a fraction of the price the governments paid for their 60’s feats.

    Irrelevant to the point made, as is the number of failures in the 50s and 60s. Actually, there are some interesting things to look up about vehicle failure rate statistics if you want to. It’s a surprisingly constant number over time.

    Your original accusation was the Branson was “pretty good at walking out on things which don’t return or deliver what he expected them to”; are you now admitting that Branson knows how to stick it out if needed?

    No, Branson walks away from mistakes. I actually don’t think Virgin Galactic will be a “mistake” actually. I just don’t think it’ll be anymore significant than http://www.thundercity.com at the end of the day.

    … If it took $10M to put a metric ton of satellite in LEO, it will now take $1M; that will mean much more than a tenthfold increase in the number of organizations that could access Space.

    I assume you mean _tenfold_ and not _tenthfold_, unless you’re coming around to my point of view 🙂

    Ok, so firstly, the $10,000/kg(ish) number is NASA and ESA it’s Arianespace and other commercial companies who build space launch systems which they sell the services for on the open market. They make quite a lot of money at it and have very full order books looking a lot into the future.

    The real question you should be asking is whether or not demand for launch services is that elastic that if you could offer services at $1000/kg you’ll see 10x the number of potential customers.

    So what are these extra customers going to be wanting to launch?

    We thought we had an answer a decade ago with the constellation communication satellites, except GSM roaming pretty much killed that dead. I’m a serious cynic about tourism, besides, at $1000/kg orbital tourism will be still born – at least as a mass market proposition.

    So what are all these launch companies going to be putting up there that isn’t already catered for?

    If you have an answer, let me know, I’m looking for a new start up, but I think I’ll stick in Mobile Communications.