Rocketplane, one of the NewSpace companies that tried to offer suborbital space tourism, quietly filed for liquidation in June, unnoticed until it was reported in an informative article in the Oklahoma Gazette on July 7. An excellent article in today’s Space Review analyses the decline of Rocketplane and its implications for other NewSpace companies.
While the Obama commercial space policy is the news, SpaceX continues to move forward toward the initial launch of its Falcon 9 rocket within the next 1 to 3 months. The latest milestone was getting the rocket vertical on the pad.
In December 2008, NASA announced the selection of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon Spacecraft to resupply the International Space Station (ISS) when the Space Shuttle retires in 2010. The Falcon 9 is designed to carry 23,000 pounds to Low Earth Orbit.
The Dragon Spacecraft, initially for cargo only, is later planned to carry astronauts as depicted in this SpaceX video.
Rocket ships and outer space conjure up images of shuttle launches, moon landings, and the wonders of the unknown beyond Earth’s atmosphere. But for about 130 attendees of the Space Investment Summit yesterday at the Hynes Convention Center, these things are just business as usual.
Now that the station is nearly complete, this might be an optimal time to open space to entrepreneurs. Many companies claim they possess the capacity to transport humans and payloads into space; the review committee found their reports convincing enough to suggest that these space entrepreneurs could take over the transport of astronauts and supplies to the space station after the shuttle program ends.
I’ve recently finished a paper on space settlement called “Paths to Space Settlement.” Here’s the abstract:
A number of ﬁrms are developing commercial sub-orbital launch vehicles to carry tourists into space. Let’s assume they attract many customers and become proﬁtable. The next, much more diﬃcult, step is to develop orbital tourist vehicles and space hotels to go with them. These hotels will require maids, cooks, waiters, concierges and so forth, some of which may decide to stay, becoming the ﬁrst permanent residents in space. At some point a bright entrepreneur may notice the large numbers of wealthy elderly people in wheel chairs willing to pay well to get out of them. Add good medical facilities to an orbital hotel and those people could be living in the ﬁrst zero-g retirement home.
In the meantime, we could choose to solve, once and for all, our energy and global warming problems by developing space solar power, i.e., putting up enormous satellites to gather energy in space and beam it to Earth with no atmospheric emissions at all. To supply a substantial fraction of civilization’s 15 tw energy habit would require huge numbers of launches, not to mention developing the ability to build extremely large structures in orbit, and eventually tapping the moon and asteroids for materials to avoid the environmental cost of mining, manufacturing, and launch from Earth.
The best asteroids to mine would be known if Earth’s people realize we are in a cosmic shooting gallery and build telescopes to ﬁnd the thousands of deadly asteroids crossing Earth’s orbit. Most of these won’t hit us for millions of years, but there could be one heading our way at any time. Exploiting these Near Earth Ob jects (NEOs) could be made even easier if we take the eminently sensible step of changing the path of a few completely non dangerous NEOs, just for practice in case one is found to be heading our way without much time to develop deﬂection techniques.
If we do all this, each step of which is justiﬁed in it’s own right, we’ll have excellent launch, small orbital living facilities, the ability to build large objects in orbit, and access to extra-terrestrial materials – most of what we need to realize Gerard O’Neill’s space settlement vision. At that point, expect some extremely wealthy religious fanatics to build themselves a small orbital habitat so they don’t have to live with any ’unbelievers.’ Since the ﬁrst space settlement is by far the hardest to build, from there on it’s just a matter of time until we have an orbital civilization with trillions of inhabitants.
These are paths to space settlement.
By Al Globus
Behind the Scenes With the World’s Most Ambitious Rocket Makers– An improbable partnership between an Internet mogul and an engineer could revolutionize the way NASA conducts missions—and, if these iconoclasts are successful, send paying customers into space.
by early 2002 Mueller had moved his operations to a friend’s rented warehouse and was putting the finishing touches on the world’s largest amateur liquid-fuel rocket engine, an 80-pounder designed to produce 13,000 pounds of thrust.
Mueller’s ambitious moonlighting caught the attention of Internet multimillionaire Elon Musk, who met the engineer at the warehouse in January 2002 as Mueller was trying to attach his homemade engine to an airframe. Fresh from the $1.5 billion sale of PayPal to eBay, Musk was seeking staff for a new space company, soon to be called Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX. He eyed the rocket engine and asked a simple question: “Can you build something bigger?”
Mueller never fired that engine. He took it back to his garage, where it still sits. Instead, he took up Musk’s offer to join the nascent private space venture.
Ramin Khadem, a veteran of the telecom satellite industry, thinks there’s definitely money to be made on the moon. That’s not surprising: As chairman of Odyssey Moon Limited, he’s in charge of one of the ventures planning to deliver commercial payloads to the moon – not 40 years from now, but sometime in the next five years.
“The moon is almost like an eighth continent,” Khadem told me. “It’s within the planet Earth’s own economic sphere … Our approach has been to explore this eighth continent. Just as explorers went to the new world and found all sorts of great things, we think there are opportunities there.”