DailyDirt: Who Wants To Go To Space?

from the urls-we-dig-up dept

Reusable rocket technology has been a 'holy grail' of sorts for space exploration. Building reusable components is supposed to make space travel more affordable, but the Space Shuttle is the prime example of how that's not necessarily true, as it cost over an order of magnitude more than originally planned. Still, it should be possible to make reusable rockets that are cheaper to operate, and some private companies are figuring out how to do it. SpaceX hasn't quite gotten reusable rockets perfected yet (though, it has done it more than a few times with its Grasshopper vehicle). And depending on how you define a "rocket" -- Virgin Galactic & Scaled Composites have also developed reusable space vehicles. After you've finished checking out those links, check out this holiday gift guide for some awesome deals at the Techdirt deals store.

Filed Under: elon musk, grasshopper, jeff bezos, jules verne, kennedy space center, konstantin tsiolkovsky, new shepard, re-usable rockets, robert goddard, rockets, space, space exploration, suborbital, william leitch
Companies: blue origin, nasa, spacex


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Nov 2015 @ 6:15pm

    the space shuttle was a boondoggle!

    Seriously. We didn't need the shuttle, and we could have accomplished much more, more cheaply! For the cost of the shuttle, a couple hundred BILLION! We could have just junked the original Hubble telescope and launched one that worked correctly. Dangerous space walks risked the lives of human astronauts!

    Even The Russians ditched their copycat shuttle program.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 25 Nov 2015 @ 7:02pm

      Re: the space shuttle was a boondoggle!

      There's nothing fundamentally wrong with a horizontally landing space plane. Originally it was just suppose to be a pickup truck to space.

      After it got out of committee it was an over-priced moving van, the engines and fuel tank had to be proportionally bigger and more powerful and it even needed solid-state boosters just to get off the pad.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 25 Nov 2015 @ 7:54pm

        Re: Re: the space shuttle was a boondoggle!

        Part of it was tech of the time. It was probably the best they could do with given what they had. The landing rockets that blue origin and spacex have been working on we're not practical the . There were some serious design issues such as placing the shuttle not on top of the rocket. This lead to multiple issues and the last shuttle disintegration.

        The shuttle was supposed to be the cargo craft for a major space station in the 70s but Nixon killed it leaving the shuttle. This left a space cargo truck with nothing to really haul.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 25 Nov 2015 @ 7:57pm

        Re: Re: the space shuttle was a boondoggle!

        Part of it was tech of the time. It was probably the best they could do with given what they had. The landing rockets that blue origin and spacex have been working on we're not practical then.

        However, even with that There were some serious design issues with the shuttle such as placing the shuttle not on top of the rocket. This lead to multiple issues with protective tiles being damaged and caused the last shuttle disintegration

        The shuttle was supposed to be the cargo craft for a major space station in the 70s but Nixon killed it leaving the shuttle. This left a space cargo truck with nothing to really haul.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 26 Nov 2015 @ 7:57am

          Re: Re: Re: the space shuttle was a boondoggle!

          The decisions behind the choice of the space shuttle -- like the vast majority of government projects -- were much more political than rational. For instance, the companies building ICBMs, which used solid instead of liquid rocket engines, were naturally eager to extend their technology (and bank accounts) to accomodate the shuttle. Basically, the Pentagon trumped NASA. The space shuttle, already a flawed concept from the start, turned out to be a Frankenstein monster cobbled together from pieces of influencial military contractors who all wanted their hand in the till.

          It was only after the Challenger Shuttle blew up that the "powers that be" realized that, unlike conventional rockets, there was no separate escape pod and no way to incorporate one, other than scrapping the whole thing and re-designing the shuttle from the ground up. And when it became painfully obvious that the cost to repair and re-launch existing satellites (which was the primary selling point of the shuttle in the first place) was more expensive than simply replacing the satellites whenever they broke or fell to Earth, then the whole rationale the space shuttle program was based on was essentially a massive fraud. Just like the Iraq war, the space shuttle was another huge waste of taxpayer money that should never have happened.

          The decision to abandon the space shuttle and instead base the US space program on surplus (and dirt-cheap) Russian rockets was one of the very few common-sense, cost-saving desisions that ever came out of Washington. But once again, politics is now in the process of overruling that logic.

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          • identicon
            Lawrence D’Oliveiro, 26 Nov 2015 @ 12:31pm

            Re: much more political than rational

            One big one was, in order to get the Pentagon to support it, they insisted on the ability for it to change course during re-entry. This was in case it was carrying a classified payload, it would still have a better chance of beihg able to choose a more secure landing field, in spite of weather conditions.

            This is why the Shuttle has such big wings, for atmospheric maneouvring. A capability which was never used once in its operational lifetime.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Roger Strong (profile), 25 Nov 2015 @ 7:32pm

      Re: the space shuttle was a boondoggle!

      Hubble's initial problem would have just as easily happened on a space telescope launched on a conventional disposable rocket.

      The difference is that Hubble was designed to be serviced in space by the Shuttle. And so the Shuttle essentially did it's first mission early and repaired Hubble. In your non-shuttle world it would have been a write-off.

      Later servicing missions not only greatly extended Hubble's life, but gave it capabilities far beyond the original design.

      No space walks means no space station, no missions beyond Low Earth Orbit, and virtually no repair or recovery missions.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Rekrul, 26 Nov 2015 @ 6:40pm

      Re: the space shuttle was a boondoggle!

      Seriously. We didn't need the shuttle, and we could have accomplished much more, more cheaply!

      Personally, I always saw the shuttle as the first step toward making space travel routine rather than making each trip into space a project that needed to be specially built just for that mission.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    stephen schwendener (profile), 26 Nov 2015 @ 4:16am

    Everyone will!

    Thanks for the holiday wishes. I heard that once we have located the proper metals on the moon and found abundant chemical resources on various worlds in our solar system, were going to have the problem of deciding who to send where and in what order.

    Startram and maglev leo vehicles work, but were going to have to build that large space ship in low gravity before we can send millions of people to mars, triton, or europa.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Rekrul, 30 Nov 2015 @ 11:25am

      Re: Everyone will!

      I heard that once we have located the proper metals on the moon and found abundant chemical resources on various worlds in our solar system, were going to have the problem of deciding who to send where and in what order.

      No, the real problem will be deciding which corporation gets to strip-mine it...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Derek Kerton (profile), 28 Nov 2015 @ 12:14pm

    The Space Race

    The shuttle was not really a re-usable space vessel, because the boosters (what really provides the motion) were discarded in stages. What SpaceX and Blue Origin are working on are vessels where 100% of the vessel is re-usable, and only fuel is expended. Very different.

    Also, Blue Origin and SpaceX are doing VERY different kinds of trips into space:

    - Blue Origin is basically a bottle rocket: it goes straight up, enters the edge of "space", then falls back down.

    - SpaceX does the same as Blue Origin, but then ALSO accelerates the craft horizontally to a speed of 8 Km/s or about 18,000 miles per hour. That's 18,000 miles per hour FASTER than Blue Origin - not an insignificant difference when it comes to how much energy is needed. The energy is a factor of about 30x.

    Blue Origin, in it's current model, does not and cannot launch anything into an orbit. It's more like this:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kK62tfoCmuQ
    Which is cool for a brief space travel with a short period of weightlessness. At the top of the flight, the force of gravity is still about the same as on earth's surface, and speed is 0. Free fall down occurs.

    In contrast, in a Low Earth Orbit from SpaceX vessels, the force of gravity remains about the same as on earth, but the free fall is never-ending because the 8km/s lateral speed means that the upward component of your lateral motion exactly offsets the downward motion of your free fall. aka orbit.

    So, while Blue Origin may someday also do LEO flights, for now they are dealing with a challenge that is 30x less energy intensive, as compared to SpaceX.

    And, yeah, I'm a total Musk fanboy. 100%. I've never fanboyed anyone in five decades, and I've chosen him to start. Totes better than Bieber.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Michael Ho (profile), 30 Nov 2015 @ 4:25pm

      Re: The Space Race

      The space shuttle's solid rocket boosters were actually reused, too, so the only part that was junked was that big unpainted external fuel tank under the shuttle at liftoff.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Shuttle

      So the "cost savings" of reusing parts existed, but they were negated by the refurbishing costs of replacing all the heat shield tiles on the shuttle, etc, etc.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    SpacePilotDummy, 29 Nov 2015 @ 11:05am

    here's how your trip is going to go down. . .

    Your going to be selected from a group of tech's who used to have a lot of friends and business but now have nothing but tools and a little spirit left.

    Your going to pack your "toolkit" basically everything you ever did to whatever microprocessor you loved into digital files, you can keep your custom stuff you use, as your own stuff IS the most productive. But the data will get compressed and cloned and backed up and did I mention made light weight.

    You can bring XX LBS of stuff.

    The day of your leaving they send your stuff ahead.
    Then you go.

    For awhile everything seems normal, then suddenly the spaceship makes a hard right, and heads to a slave mining planet, where they dump you out and keep and sell all your prized stuff.

    Since you signed a contract, your done.

    So Just Remember
    In space, Nobody can hear you scream

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Nov 2015 @ 11:11am

    Who wants to go to space?

    More like who can afford it. Even airline tickets are priced out of reach for a growing number of us these days. As with seemingly everything that at one point in time might not have broken the banks of middle-class families and individuals (I know... what middle class?), travel is getting increasingly unaffordable. Even by car, when you consider the fact that there are loads of people who have to choose between groceries, rent or filling up the tank (and when that's the case, who's going to be able to save up for one of Musk's Teslamobiles).

    More and more the future is looking like a combination of Elysium and Soylent Green. Country living, fresh air, and now space travel for the upper-crust; sardine-can urban misery and homelessness here on Earth for the rest of us.

    At least time travel has been proven possible, DeLorean not required. #ItsTheCurrentYear and yet we're somewhere in the middle between the Dickens era and the Gilded Age. So much for a Star Trek post-scarcity society. Bah humbug indeed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    M. Report, 29 Nov 2015 @ 12:34pm

    Going to Space in Style

    Almost all of the cost of operating the Shuttle is for the payroll for the army of workers needed to refurbish the Shuttle after it has landed. The fuel used is orders of magnitude cheaper, and, if a single stage to orbit design SSTO avoided some of this refurbishment, costs would drop, although this could require more repairs.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tripropellant_rocket

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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