Wednesday, July 16, 2014

This is what they'll find...

...because mars hasn't been picked over for thousands of years by people.

...and my friend Thomas thinks they'll have trouble with resources!!!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Case for Boeing's CST-100

I know that many here are SpaceX fans, but I think it's time to take a cold, hard look at the upcoming Commercial Crew downselect. Though I personally believe that we should not downselect to one, the powers that be seem to have dictated otherwise, so I'll lay out the case.  

Currently, there are three contenders in the NASA commercial crew program.
#1, SpaceX, with its Dragon 2 capsule
#2, Boeing, with the CST-100 capsule 
#3, Sierra Nevada Corporation, with its Dreamchaser spaceplane. 

The Dragon would launch on the Falcon 9 v1.1 launch vehicle, while the other two selected the Atlas 5. All three plan on a maximum crew of 7. The CST-100 and Dreamchaser claim to have launch vehicle flexibility, in that they could Delta IV or Falcon 9 as the launch vehicle, but this would of course take some engineering work. A further issue with Delta IV is it is not human rated, and doing so would be a very expensive and time consuming job. Falcon 9 is an option, though IMHO an unlikely one; SpaceX has said it is going ahead with Dragon2 whether it wins the commercial crew contract or not, so they would most likely, if excluded from commercial crew, be unwilling to spend the engineering time and eat the gall needed to launch their competitor with the F9. They'd surely prefer to say "Here's Dragon, ready to go. Take it or leave it".

That, realistically, leaves Dreamchaser and CST-100 relying on Atlas5, a launch vehicle with a great record.

Time is a constraint here. Dreamchaser is probably the furthest from flight capability, and further, it has a major issue; alone among the contenders, it does not have, and due to its design cannot have, a launch abort system; it can't do a pad abort or an abort in the first seconds of flight (Historically, these are far the most likley emergency abort situations) because it cannot boost free of the launch vehicle (It lacks the thrust) unless the launch vehichle ceases thrusting and there's no significant aerodynamic pressure. Further, Dreamchaser, due to its mass, would need boosters on the Atlas 5, Thus, Dreamchaser needs major waivers of the NASA human-rating guidelines. Due to these issues and others (Namely, Sierra Nevada Corporation doesn't have any political clut, whereas Boeing has massive amounts) I'm going to say that Dreamchaser has no chance of surviving the dowselect.         

That leaves two; Boeing and SpaceX. SpaceX's Dragon is the closest to flight capability, plus they have plenty of flight experience with the  cargo version of Dragon, which has now flown five times (Including 4 to ISS). The Falcon 9 is human-rated, but it while it has a fine record, it doesn't yet have the long history of Atlas5. Dragon would offer greater flexibility and is the more advanced design. It also offers propulsive landings, which offers many benefits, especially in an emergency. For example, if a crew member on ISS (The Commercial crew vehicles will also serve the "space lifeboat" role via having one or more docked to ISS at all times) was in need of urgent medical help (Such as the near drowning we saw during a recent spacewalk due to water filling the helmet - had he inhaled it, he'd have needed hospitalization fast) the Dragon could, via propulsive landing, get the astronaut to a hospital far faster, because it could quite literally land on the hospitals' helipad helicopter pad half an hour after leaving ISS. A capsule that has to land in the ocean would extend the time by many hours.  

However... Dragon has its downsides: It's far cheaper per flight and per seat than CST-100, it's capable of reentry at beyond-LEO return velocities (and is thus, via having similar capabilities, is a direct threat to Lockmart's vastly more expensive Orion spacecraft) and, most importantly, SpaceX lacks the political clout (and thus pork capacity) of Boeing.

We also need to take a cold, hard look at the launch vehicle issue; Falcon 9 vs. Atlas 5. Falcon 9 was designed from the start to be human-rated, whereas Atlas 5 requires modifications (though less than Delta IV). Further, the mass of the CST-100 (when fueled and crewed) is expected to be at least 13,000 kg. Even without the performance penalties of human-rating, the Atlas 5 402 version (the most capable version without solid rocket boosters) is 12,500 kg to LEO. So, CST-100 would have to fly with SRB boosters on the Atlas 5.

Fortunately, however, The Atlas 5 has a feature that will make the solid rocket boosters unnecessary; its embargoed Russian engine, the RD-180. The Russians, who produce the RD-180, have refused to sell more to the US, and the current stockpile in the US is down to no more than 14. There are 5 Atlas 5 launches scheduled for the remainder of this year, so we can, at any time now, expect the Department of Defense to reserve the remaining engines for its own use, leaving zero for Atlas 5 commercial crew launches.

The use of this Russian engine on the Atlas 5 is an enormous benefit for the CST-100, for it simplifies things enormously. Let's look at the design impacts (which will also speed up availability). For example, life support; instead of a complex and expensive cabin air system, they could just make the windows open and let in outside air – a far cheaper option, and easy to do as they’d no longer have to worry about operating in a vacuum. There would be no need to design things to work in 0 G, and the heat shield wouldn’t be needed, nor would the Launch Abort System (They could avoid any need of the pad abort system by not fueling the Atlas, thus rendering it safe while having no impact on its performance Vs fueled but still with no engine). Communications could be via wire instead of radio. Toilet facilities could be provided simply by emplacing a porta-potty on the gantry crew access platform. Food aboard would improve dramatically; the crew, instead of making do with packaged food, could simply phone to have a pizza delivered at any point during the mission.

What's not to like?

Friday, May 23, 2014

Major alteration in the global balance of power

Decline is a choice. It’s the one area where [Obama] can be said to be succeeding splendidly.

This has huge long term implications. None good for us.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

What changes after first landng?

Imagine we have a dozen colonists living on mars at whatever cost it took to get them there. Suppose the cost to get more gets close to $5m per person.

The Russians charge us $71m per astronaut to LEO and will stop in 2020. Dragon should cost $20m per person the same as it cost Dennis Tito to take his little vacation.

$5m to mars would be a game changer but having people living on mars also puts enormous political pressure to support them. So even if selling land pays for many new colonists, low cost will mean that many others will simply pay the ticket price to ride along with the permanent colonists. This would include govt. and university employees looking to do research.

That first landing will change two worlds.

Update: Another thing that changes a lot is my revised plan (see previous post) which now unties each colonist from 1000 sq. km. of land. Instead after any arrive on mars they can do all the claiming (in the name of the Mars Colony Trust) to provide land for all future colonists. Get just one colonist to mars would do this (but more are recommended for other reasons.)

While a standard plot is 2000 sq. m. (40m x 50m); 100 sq. m. (10m x 10m) for $35 ($25 + $10 under 1000 sq. m. fee. because utility goes below 86.4% below 1000.)

27 sections (100m x 320m) will fit in a single sq. km. with 10m wide perimeter and interior roads.

A single colonist should be able to claim 100 sq. km. (four corners at a time) in a single day (assuming the procedure is simple enough and why I continue to argue for the boot print method.)

Friday, May 16, 2014

Legally, it works!

Apparently, my hope that a trust would solve my chicken and egg problem was correct. Frankly, I was shocked. I fully expected the attorney I met with yesterday to raise legal objections to my plan (or laugh me out of his office.) Instead he raised two minor issues that allowed me to revise and actually simplify my plan.

The first was that a 1000 sq. km. claim was 'problematic,' but that any number of one sq. km. claims was fine. The second was that the claim requires 'use' and a single boot mark would not do the job. I didn't argue. I just listened. 'Use' would be a procedure included in the trust document. It doesn't have to be much but would require a colonist to visit each claim. The simplification is that I don't have to have each colonist make a certain amount of claims. One person could make all the claims or all of them in any proportion with no definite number required other than to meet the needs of those expecting property. This raises a couple of other issues we'll get to in a moment.

Personally I think a boot mark should be enough and 1000 sq. km. is justified by the situation. I'm just stubborn. But I'm willing to be flexible if it gets the job done.

I like this guy. He put off a good vibe. His dad just retired a week or two ago. They even have a street in town named after their family name (this is not unusual in small towns.)

The one show stopper is that the trust document would be more complicated than the type he usually handles. He's going to refer me to someone that does such things which will take a few months. When he said, "'One day' we will certainly colonize mars" he made it clear he didn't think today was that day and had no enthusiasm to be the guy making it possible. How much would this document cost to produce? $5000 to $10,000 with the $5000 magically being dropped in the continuation of that conversation (I will magically bring back less when I talked to the next attorney.) He did read Rand's homesteading pdf that I printed out for him before our meeting which I thought was a good sign.

The implementation of the plan is straight forward if I had the money. Get the trust document written. Get a website so people could add funds to the trust. For $25 you get 100 sq. meters and could purchase up to a whole section (100x320 sq. m. for $8k) or set up a subscription (monthly, quarterly or yearly) to add 100 sq. m. to the amount you already applied for. The money is held in trust to pay the ticket price to mars. Once the colonist makes a claim, which is also held in trust, everyone gets title conveyed which is the first link in the chain of title. After that they can do whatever they want with their property. Labor would be in short supply, but that's their issue. It's an investment in the future. Buy a plot for your grand kids.

I though I'd lower the price per sq. meter as the cost of transportation goes down but realize now that, that would be a mistake. It doesn't matter if others trade away their properties at a lower cost. Eventually they wouldn't go any lower and the only new property available would be that held in trust for 25 cents per sq. meter..

Because of the need of land to claim around the landing site subsequent landings would have to be around 200 km. apart but that would be reduced as transportation costs go down. Trading posts would naturally be developed somewhere between the colonies. This actually facilitates exploration so it's not all bad. I envision a monorail running between settlements. No, not like Disneyland or Seattle center. This monorail would have a much simpler car. The rail is just to keep it guided in the right direction and cost less than two rails. The car and trailer doesn't have to follow the rail.

I also don't see why the 'use' requirement can't at least partially be met by rovers controlled by colonists (rovers controlled by anyone off world could not make claims.)

I didn't ask all the questions I wanted to. I should have made a list of questions before the meeting. I've been quite stressed about this meeting for several days which interferes with my brain. I did mentioned the 26 mo. launch window and 8 mo. travel times.

I was impressed that he answered a number of questions without my needing to ask. I did ask about trusting a trust. He said the document would have a mechanism to prevent embezzlement (not sure prevent is the right word. Crooks are very creative!) There could be compensation for the trustees (hey, I want that job!) The trust could exist indefinitely but obviously would include a provision for its dissolution at some point in the future. New trustees would replace older ones over time.

The assumption I'm going with is that travel costs will start at $250m per colonist and drop to $5m per once MCT is implemented (reuse could get it close to Elon's magic $500k per.) This would allow the trust to pay for a dozen on the first mission and 100 per vehicle down the road.

With each colonist having 1000 kg of personal provisions everyone would arrive with wealth in trade goods that would negate any need for separate costly resupply missions.

I could go on. We met for 45 minutes (no reduction in my consultation fee.) I left elated. The issues are not legal, technical or economic (other than my lack of personal funds to press on.) If I had those personal funds it would be pretty much a done deal. I may have to make a personal visit to Elon Musk since this plan benefits him the most (that should be easy since he's a billionaire and I'm a bum, right?)

Hey Elon, can we do lunch in Hawthorne?