Cheap Access to Space
Subtitled, "Join Space Access Society now!"
What can I say...I want to GO! Which, I suppose, means I'll have to scrape together the cash to buy a ticket into space. I can't do that YET, of course, but I am, right here, staking out the position that things won't stay that way. The barriers to space tourism are not technological...the pieces needed are all more or less in place. The barriers are, instead, regulatory, conceptual...and, of course, economic. As it happens, though, space tourism may well be the "killer app" which makes cheap space flight pay off. There are only a few communications satellites, but there are lots and lots of people....
Eric F. Lipton says it better than I could, and in the process points out how silly NASA is being during l'affaire Tito. I can't believe I'm linking a Salon.com article!
. Herewith, a page on the subject. There are many fine news and opinion and history pages out there; I will not attempt to displace any of them. Instead, this page will link you to a few, as well as a few papers and missives of my own. Have fun!
Why Cheap Access?
It almost doesn't matter; there's so much to do, we can do any of it in any order. Provided only that we can get there at a reasonable cost. As I've already stated, my primary motivation is serfish; I want to GO!
But it doesn't hurt that, once there, you and I can make loads of money, beam down power, mine the moon instead of your neighborhood, defend the nation and the planet, explore the universe, and change man from a planetbound creature with no future to a starfaring creature with a limitless future.
None of which will ever happen while men and machines are hurtled into orbit atop superannuated artillery shells that literally cost more than their weight in gold.
The "exploration" phase of Earth orbit and cislunar space is over. We know space is there; we have an idea what we want to do with it. But getting there is every bit as hard as it was 30 years ago. Until it gets easier, the "exploitation" phase will be stillborn. Space will be a place we can talk about, but never ever visit or utilize.
Note that space is a PLACE to go, not a program. There IS NO SPACE PROGRAM. There's a space agency, NASA; it's just like HUD, only with booster rockets. If you think NASA will ever send tourists into space, I urge you to hold your breath while waiting. Really, go ahead, hold your breath; anoxia cannot possibly cause further brain damage.
So, with the realization that NASA is for our purposes at best irrelevant, and more often an obstacle, we learn that space has to be cheap enough that it can be reached by corporations and individuals, not governments. It needs to be cheap enough that it can be used to make money.
There are as many ideas as to how to get there affordably as there are people, but for my money, the best (read: easiest) is with a VTOVL SSTO rocket, with continuous intact abort allowing incremental test.
Why? Strap in and hang on...that'll take some explaining.
While we're at it, let's face facts: we need a better name for this idea than "VTOVL SSTO rocket with continuous intact abort allowing incremental test." We tried calling just an "SSTO".... the end result was the X-33 debacle. I'll go into more detail on the X-33 later, but the Cliff's Notes version is that NASA focused on technology for SSTO and completely ignored continuous intact abort and incremental test, thus foregoing every bit of operational advantage. Like reusability, SSTO key a key part of getting into space cheap...but it's only a part.
By fiat, henceforth, "VTOVL SSTO rocket with continuous intact abort allowing incremental test" will be abbreviated SSX. It's short for "Space Ship Experimental," and of course I didn't make it up. It was coined by Max Hunter, popularized by Jerry Porunelle, and explained very well in a few essays on his site, Chaos Manor. Go to the Space and Space Power section.
Some of my favorites:
Access to Space: SSX
The SSX Concept
How to Get to Space
Why Have NASA?
VTOVL SSTO rockets are hardly a new idea. Gary Hudson's history of them in History of the Phoenix VTOL SSTO and Recent Developments in Single-Stage Launch Systems
Nor are they necessarily very difficult to do technologically. For example, see A Single-Stage-to-Orbit Thought Experiment
Space Ship "Tourism"
While I was stationed in Japan, I had the privilege of belonging to the Japanese Rocket Society. I participated in an design study for a passenger-carrying SSTO rocket called Kankoh-Maru (literally, "S.S. Tourism"). Most of my modest contribution was a set of flight-manual procedures for the studied rocket. Because the Kankoh-Maru doesn't actually exist, there's a certain fanciful aspect involved, but the idea was to attempt to map out some normal and emergency procedures to be used in flying the vehicle. It's also an important illustration of what makes a properly designed SSTO rocket so cheap and reliable; it HAS emergency procedures that are more elaborate than just destructing the vehicle....
Pilot Procedures for Kankoh-Maru Operations
Kankoh Maru Flight Manual
Some Kankoh-Maru papers I DIDN'T help write:
Vehicle Design for Space Tourism
Design Study on Propulsion Systems for Space Tourist Carrier Vehicle
Space Future, a comprehensive page with news, papers, and editorials on the subject of space tourism and Solar Power Satellites. I've cross-linked to it extensively.
People who are building spaceships (!):
XCOR Aerospace is an exciting small company working a couple of fronts. The first is to develop reliable small rockets as a mass-production item...the kind you might eventually trust to bolt into your airplane. The other prong in their fork is to develop a market for those engines...such as an airplane to bolt that engine into. The XCOR Me-163B Komet replica is the ultimate warbird...I want one!
Pioneer Rocketplane is working on securing financing for their small launcher, a suborbital airplane which loads oxidizer from a tanker before lighting the rockets, and kicks out the payload with kick motor at the top of its trajectory. Continuous intact abort and incremental test lead to extremely inexpensive operation.
Kelly Space and Technology is building a rather large towed rocket aircraft, which ejects its two- or three-motor stack and payload at apogee.
Universal Space Lines intends to operate the first cheap vehicle, becoming in effect the United Airlines to someone else's Boeing. Alas, the Boeing of space liners doesn't seem to be here just yet, so USL is working on a number of projects, such as the Intrepid light launcher.
TGV Rockets is securing financing for the MICHELLE-B, a small suborbital VTOVL rocket aimed to take over the sounding-rocket and short-duration microgravity market.
Rotary Rocket is effectively dead, and will not build their VTOVL SSTO, with continuous intact abort and incremental test. Lack of financing, naturally, is the reason.
There are also a number of entrants in the suborbital X-Prize; they are too numerous to list here.
Space Access Society, a lean, effective advocacy group for cheap space access. If you ever want to go into space yourself, you really ought to have SAS membership.
Space Frontier Foundation, a larger outfit which also gets involved in debates on the space station and similar "third-rail" topics.
National Space Society has largely devolved into a cheerleading session for bigger NASA budgets. Since NASA has become the problem and not the solution, my NSS membership has lapsed.
The Planetary Society has very little to do with cheap access to space, but is certainly of interest.
NASA Watch is a must-have window on the space agency you're paying far too much for
ERPS, the Experimental Rocket Propulsion Society
Even More Links:
Clark S. Lindsey's Favorite Space Links
A word about the background picture...it's BETA, a German-designed SSTO rocket design dating from the early 1970's. It's instructive, because it shows you don't need high technology or fancy structures to do SSTO, and the knowledge isn't confined to the U.S. either, so we may one day be buying our rides to space from someone else. Alas, what you DO need is considerably more financial commitment than the German government was willing to provide; BETA remained a paper study.
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