Space

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Another company is getting into the space tourism race, so would-be recreational astronauts will now be able to squabble about which experience of weightlessness is better over beers.

Xcor Aerospace Inc. announced Wednesday that it would enter the space tourism market with a rocket plane that would carry passengers for about $100,000 a ride. The Lynx will take off under its own power, carrying just a pilot and a single passenger, the Mojave, Calif., company said at a news conference in Beverly Hills. Each flight will reach an altitude of 200,000 feet, close enough to space that passengers will experience about 90 seconds of weightlessness. Flight testing of the Lynx is expected to begin in 2010.

The competition, a collaboration between British billionaire Richard Branson and aircraft designer Burt Rutan's Scaled Composites (also Mojave-based) is SpaceShipTwo, a bigger ship selling tickets at $200,000 a pop. Of course, customers stand to benefit as competition drives prices down out of the stratosphere more quickly.

The Lynx is planning to do up to four trips a day, to make up for the small capacity, so there will be plenty of chances to catch a flight on either spaceline.

More on the wacky, wacky world of space travel for fun and profit.

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  1. There’s only room for one on my rocket, but at least the ride is free.

  2. “close enough to space” and “90 seconds of weightlessness” for $100K?

    A few shots of absynthe and some B.C. bud will do the same thing. For about $10.

  3. …would-be recreational astronauts will now be able to squabble about which experience of weightlessness is better over beers.

    Possibly, but I suspect they’re more likely to squabble over a glass of Pinot Noir.

  4. Seems to me that the scarcity of flights will keep this a rich man’s sport for decades to come, competition or not. Hardly the same as catching a Jet Blue flight to JFK, though I doubt the space flight delays would be that long, and you’ll probably get better fare than blue chips and Dunkin Donuts coffee.

  5. ed,

    Tourism alone will never push for cheaper fares. It will take incentive, like discovering Gold and Diamonds on the moon to push the drive for commercial space flight.

    Any of you physicists out there know whether there are prospects for profitable resources on the moon? I remember something about abundant HE 3 ions, but I think that came from an Alex Jones-type website…

  6. Indeed, at a tiny fraction of this cost, ordinary folks can puke their guts out the traditional way, on a version of the Vomit Comet that would-be astronauts train in.

  7. Taktix,

    You are right. Air travel didn’t really take off until mail started paying the freight. Space is a really tough nut to crack. Sci fi writers and futurists never think about the economics of space. The fact is that you have to be able to make a living wherever you go; meaning you have to produce something of value that is greater than the cost of keeping you alive somewhere. Right now the only value produced by putting humans in space is the wow factor and a few scientific benefits. That is not enough to justify anything but a few people going there. If you think long term about colonizing a place like the moon or Mars, what will the colonist do to justify the incredible expense of puting them there? I honestly can’t think of a justification for anything beyond having a few scientific outposts like we have right now in Antarctica. Mining might be an option but it is difficult to see how mining something 2 billion miles away and shipping it back to earth would ever be economiclly competetive.

  8. I’ve also heard about He3 on the moon, but I’m very skeptical that it would be enough to make lunar travel profitable.

    Look at the north pole: Quite possibly a lot of oil and minerals there, but serious interest in the place has only flared up in the last few years with changes in ice coverage. If even the north pole is low priority for commercial interests, I don’t see how the moon would ever be profitable.

  9. If you think long term about colonizing a place like the moon or Mars, what will the colonist do to justify the incredible expense of puting them there?

    I don’t know about Mars, but I’d say a base on the moon offers a distinct military advantage. Military uses themselves tend not to be profitable, but then, plenty of commercial technology was originally developed for military purposes.

  10. The moon probably won’t be anything but a parking lot for spacecraft that go on to do more profitable things.

  11. Taktix(r),

    IANAP, but keep up with this sort of thing. There is some potential for profitable resources, but nothing proven as yet.

    Currently, they aren’t even sure if there is any water (ice) there — which would be necessary to support large-scale, long-term human presence.

  12. Right now the only value produced by putting humans in space is the wow factor and a few scientific benefits.

    I don’t want to mitigate the scientific benefits of space. For example, lens technology discovered in the repair of the Hubble telescope was used to create breast cancer detection systems that probably saved (or will save) millions of lives.

    However, for space travel to begin on a mass scale, some economic activity must be present…

  13. Sci fi writers and futurists never think about the economics of space

    Neither does NASA, apparently. What, exactly, are they doing on the International Space Station and Truck Stop? Anybody know? I hope the hell our billions are going for more than the entertainment value of watching space mice throw up.

  14. Well, if we want to stimulate space travel and commerce, we can either (1) implement the Lunar Sex Prize or (2) forcibly move a few thousand people to a moonbase and inform them that they better starting mining and/or manufacturing something.

  15. Also to be considered: Lunar Disney, Lunar golf, Space P0rn.

  16. Look at the north pole: Quite possibly a lot of oil and minerals there, but serious interest in the place has only flared up in the last few years with changes in ice coverage.

    I thought there were international treaties not to loot that area.

  17. Right now the only value produced by putting humans in space is the wow factor and a few scientific benefits. That is not enough to justify anything but a few people going there.

    What value do you assign to the “few scientific benefits,” and which specific discoveries did you have in mind?

    If you think long term about colonizing a place like the moon or Mars, what will the colonist do to justify the incredible expense of puting them there?

    Spoken like a befuddled English or Spanish monarch, circa 1500-1600.

    The mere presence of a self-sustaining offworld human colony is insurance against our extinction as a species. Impact of one VW-sized asteroid would render the Earth uninhabitable.

    Sci fi writers and futurists never think about the economics of space.

    Neither does NASA, apparently. What, exactly, are they doing on the International Space Station and Truck Stop? Anybody know? I hope the hell our billions are going for more than the entertainment value of watching space mice throw up.

    This information doesn’t hide. If you don’t know, you haven’t looked.

    http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/index.html

    Don’t remember any space mice throwing up. When did that happen?

    ISS isn’t even complete, yet there’s research going on all the time.

    Also, the security benefit of finding useful employment for ex-soviet space scientists can’t be overlooked.

  18. Look at the north pole: Quite possibly a lot of oil and minerals there, but serious interest in the place has only flared up in the last few years with changes in ice coverage.

    Er, you are aware that there is no land anywhere near the north pole, right? It’s just ice…

  19. “What value do you assign to the “few scientific benefits,” and which specific discoveries did you have in mind?”

    Even if there are lots of scientific benefits, you don’t need many people in space to achieve those benefits. Science alone does not pay the freight for a large scale conolonization of space.

    “Spoken like a befuddled English or Spanish monarch, circa 1500-1600.”

    Mars is not North America. If Mars were a planet of untouched primeval forests and habitable land, we would probably have colonies there now. The fact is that it is a baren rock with a thin atmosphere and no surface water and maybe some unknown amount of ground water. You could take a few hundred people to North America in the 1500 and manage to eek out a living. With our current state of technology, that is not happening.

  20. Whatever treaties there are concerning the North Pole, interest in the place has increased as the ice coverage has changed.

    And yes, I’m aware that there’s no land there. Still, any effort to extract resources will either involve robotic vehicles or people in underwater facilities, where they’ll have to bring their own air, food, and fresh water. Now, what’s cheaper: Getting people, equipment, and supplies to the North Pole, or getting people, equipment, and at least as many supplies to the moon? I’d bet that the North Pole is cheaper, and yet we’re only just now seeing the stirrings of commercial interest in the place.

    I very much doubt we’ll see significant commercial interest in the moon. It’s even harder to work there than it is to work at the North Pole, and it’s far more difficult to move the extracted resources from the moon to markets.

  21. This information doesn’t hide. If you don’t know, you haven’t looked.

    Of course I haven’t looked. I’m waiting for my MSM overlords to tire of Obama’s priest and that blond who went missing and probably got hacked into little pieces and get back to real reporting. And yeah, I know there’s “research” going on all the time. Let’s just say I’m skeptical that the enormous cost will justify it. Seems like a mission in search of a purpose to me.

  22. From what I have read, commercial exploitation of space will probably revolve around harvesting asteroids which have extremely high concentrations of valuable metals. However, the limiting factor is getting out past Mars and back. So Moon and Mars colonies would mostly just be supply-chains for outgoing necessities and preproccessing facilities for incoming raw materials.

    I don’t expect to see this happen in my life, but it has certainly been broached by sci-fi writers and real-life scientists already.

  23. I very much doubt we’ll see significant commercial interest in the moon. It’s even harder to work there than it is to work at the North Pole, and it’s far more difficult to move the extracted resources from the moon to markets.

    Just as it was not profitable to exploit the North Pole 100 years ago, so too will the planets be viable in the future.

    I don’t need to tell you that science moves at an exponential rate and in time, given the law of scarcity of resources, I think interplanetary industry will eventually become economically viable.

    Now? No, obviously not. But like the late Sir Clarke, I look to the future…

  24. I want my vacation home on the moon or in orbit as much as the next guy. I am just skeptical that it will hapen in my lifetime. One of the great shames of our existance is that there are no other habitable planets in the solar system.

  25. VW sized? I think we can withstand more than one of those. Or does VW mean something other than Volkswagen?

    thoreau,

    The commercial interest will lag behind the sheer desire to go. If the last forty years had been a little different, we might very well have established a permanent presence in space. I still think we will, and no, I don’t mean the ISS or anything like it.

    I think the new “yacht club” that is private spacecraft development will yield some interesting rewards. Maybe even cheap access to space, which would change everything. Frankly, if I called the shots and were to elevate space exploration above my libertarian values, I’d advocate NASA dropping everything in manned spaceflight but developing low-cost access to space. Do that, and the rest will be relatively easy.

  26. I don’t expect to see this happen in my life, but it has certainly been broached by sci-fi writers and real-life scientists already.

    Dammit! Stop shattering my Fireflyian fantasies!

  27. Climbing out of the gravity well is a huge problem, but once you are out there it’s only a matter of having enough patience to get where you want to go.

    A commercially-viable space enterprise would have to account for a decade-long lead times for harvesting raw materials and delivering refined materials (or even final products to the surface). However, who thinks they can figure what the market wants and/or needs 10 years from now.

  28. Dr T,

    I very much doubt we’ll see significant commercial interest in the moon. It’s even harder to work there than it is to work at the North Pole, and it’s far more difficult to move the extracted resources from the moon to markets.

    Well, AFAIK there’s not much difference between suiting up in a spacesuit versus a deepdive rig. The moon is more difficult to reach, but it’s at the top of the earth-moon gravity well so transport from is much less expensive than transport to.

    Also, I don’t want the PRC to have the only permanent human offworld colony. They seem to be headed that way.

  29. Before you can go to the stars you have to go to orbit. I would shut NASA down completely. I would then take the money budgeted for it, about 13 billion dollars a year I think, and divide it in half. One half would go into escrow and provide various new X prizes for companies that develop ways to put cargo into orbit at cheaper and cheaper levels. The other half I would give in grants to companies with promising ideas for technology. Have a blud ribbon committee of six or seven smart reasonable people to give out the awards every year.

  30. PL,

    VW sized? I think we can withstand more than one of those. Or does VW mean something other than Volkswagen?

    Volkswagen Beetle. If it lands in the desert, a big problem, but survivable (maybe). If it lands in the ocean, the resulting tsunamis would do major coastal damage, and the steam would at the least cause a fairly immediate big ice age.

  31. Look, maybe some day they’ll find profitable resources in space. I suspect that if we ever find a source of cheap, clean, renewable energy then it will suddenly become a lot more viable to move people and equipment out of earth’s gravity well. Until then, I stand by my curmudgeonly predictions. And if the Chinese want to waste their money on a moon base, hey, go for it.

  32. John,

    We’re already in orbit.

    NASA does stuff other than manned spaceflight. Satellites, space probes, basic aeronautical research, love-sick, diaper-clad, bb-gun totin’ astronautettes…

    NASA is doing lots more granting to develop private space industry than they ever did before. This is progress.

  33. The purpose of the I.S.S. is to keep Russian rocket scientists from emigrating to China, Pakistan, North Korea, Iran and Iraq.

    It’s a giant workfare program for aerospace engineers left unemployed by the end of that other great workfare program known as the cold war arms race.

    We would be far better off is Nasa didn’t exist. The money spent on building Nasa would instead have been invested in ventures that satisfied a more pressing consumer demand.

    Can you imagine how much better off we would be if all those guys who wasted their time building Saturn V rockets had instead been working on new automobiles or private aircraft?

    Yes, we often get new advances from the spin-offs from military research. That is more the function of how research on military matters crowds out other forms of R & D than some uniquely beneficial property of military research.

  34. Until then, I stand by my curmudgeonly predictions.

    I’m doing my absolute, level best to refrain from posting a link to that “Mean Scientists…” article that appeared in The Onion a couple of years ago.

  35. And I took the liberty of running the online impact simulator at the U of Az. I fed in the numbers for an impact involving a solid iron mass weighing as much as a VW bug traveling at the highest speed an object orbiting the sun could hit the earth with.

    The result:

    Your Inputs:
    Distance from Impact: 10.00 km = 6.21 miles
    Projectile Diameter: 0.34 m = 1.12 ft = 0.00 miles
    Distance from Impact: 10.00 km = 6.21 miles
    Projectile Diameter: 0.68 m = 2.23 ft = 0.00 miles
    Projectile Density: 8000 kg/m3
    Impact Velocity: 71.00 km/s = 44.09 miles/s
    Impact Angle: 90 degrees
    Target Density: 1000 kg/m3
    Target Type: Ice

    Energy:
    Energy before atmospheric entry: 3.32 x 1012 Joules = 0.79 x 10-3 MegaTons TNT
    The average interval between impacts of this size somewhere on Earth is 0.5 years

    Atmospheric Entry:
    The projectile begins to breakup at an altitude of 36700 meters = 120000 ft
    The projectile bursts into a cloud of fragments at an altitude of 34000 meters = 112000 ft
    The residual velocity of the projectile fragments after the burst is 59.2 km/s = 36.8 miles/s
    The energy of the airburst is 1.01 x 1012 Joules = 0.24 x 10-3 MegaTons.
    Large fragments strike the surface and may create a crater strewn field. A more careful treatment of atmospheric entry is required to accurately estimate the size-frequency distribution of meteoroid fragments and predict the number and size of craters formed.

    Major Global Changes:
    The Earth is not strongly disturbed by the impact and loses negligible mass.
    The impact does not make a noticeable change in the Earth’s rotation period or the tilt of its axis.
    The impact does not shift the Earth’s orbit noticeably.

    Air Blast:
    What does this mean?

    The air blast at this location would not be noticed. (The overpressure is less than 1 Pa)

    I got the vw bug numbers from VW’s website.

    Notice that two iron meteors with the mass of a VW bug hit the earth every year, and most humans don’t even notice.

  36. Impact of one VW-sized asteroid would render the Earth uninhabitable.

    Maybe if it’s made of solid plutonium…

    A swift change from VW to WV could have saved you. But then you had to come out and say that, yes, you meant a Volkswagen…

  37. Maybe if it’s made of solid plutonium…

    By the way, the mechanism of disaster would be neither the kinetic or fissile energy of the plutonium Beetle, but simple toxicity from breathing the resultant aerosol.

    However, upon further reading, I see that this wouldn’t be that bad either.

  38. What if the VW hit the Earth traveling at, say, 10% the speed of light?

  39. I don’t know if it considers the negligible relativistic effects, but the cool site that tarran found says that the result would be an air blast of 2.33 megatons. Hardly planet killing. Hardly noticeable unless you are near it. Happens every 3100 years.

    Incidentally, the energy of the VW hitting the atmosphere at one-tenth the speed of light is only a little less than the energy of the sunlight that hits the atmosphere at the speed of light every 2 seconds.

  40. If they ever figure out how to make reliable energy out of hydrogen, it’ll take a long time mining before Jupiter gets tapped out.

  41. Luna will be free!

  42. Pig Mannix: “a base on the moon offers a distinct military advantage.”

    In what way? The ability to launch missiles that would take several days to reach their targets? Or to conduct surveillance from 10x to 1000x as far away as existing spysats?

    The “moon as military base” meme is as old as Heinlein’s 1947 Rocket Ship Galileo, which put a Nazi V-something base there. It has about as much substance today as it did then.

  43. MikeP,

    Well, then, we’d better just accelerate that VW to 99% of the speed of light.

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