Countdown For Rocket Planes

from the alternatives dept

With the Columbia disaster last weekend, MIT’s Tech Review has an article looking at the various players involved in attempts to create reusable rocket planes. The really interesting part isn’t necessarily the technology, but the fact that it’s private players who are ahead of NASA in this game. NASA is still working on their own plans, but the private operations seem to be moving much faster. Also interesting is that much of the focus is on pushing “space tourism” forward – though, I wonder if last weekend’s accident will slow down the enthusiasm for space tourists.

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Comments on “Countdown For Rocket Planes”

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dorpus says:

Pipe Dream

Where are the economics? Few rich people were interested in the Concord supersonic plane, even before the recent accident. A rickety rocket that merely sends people 100km up for temporary low-G is not going to have much tourist potential.

Lots of designs sound good on paper, but rigorous testing has a way of weeding out most of them. Rockets/jet engines must function well in very diverse parameters of pressure, temperature, speed, and weather. Most metals turn as brittle as glass when exposed to -40C temperature; highly specialized metals, along with highly skilled labor and equipment, is required to make metals rugged enough.

rax (user link) says:

Re: Pipe Dream

There is a larger problem. NASA has access to the best scientist and materials; yet any space vehicle they create will still be enormously dangerous. In order to achieve the goal of cheap, reusable and safe space travel, we need to make enormous leaps in the overall science of space travel. The idea that private individuals can make these leaps alone is ignores the fact that space travel is still inherently dangerous.

I see the Columbia disaster from a different perspective. While some may see it as evidence of inefficiencies of NASA, I see it as a reminder of the complexities of space travel. While we have the ability to achieve spectacular success, we must not forget that these successes are sometimes interjected by horrific failures. It may be a long time before space travel achieves the safety record that will ultimately build public confidence in the commercial benefits of space travel.

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