15 May 2001
Reports - Tourism (None)
Cheap Access to Space
How the Nazis Won World War II and What To Do About It
by Carol Pinchefsky
Essay by Rory Lindsay

Before great endeavours are mounted they are first imagined. Nineteenth century science fiction writers such as Jules Verne and H.G. Wells and visionaries as Russian Konstantin Tsiolkovski inspired rocket pioneers like American Robert Goddard, Russian Sergei Korelev, and Germans Werner von Braun and Kraft Ehricke. The dream of journeying to space using rocket-based vehicles became reality through their determined and inspired work.

After World War II, rocket development in Russia and America proceeded rapidly using German technology as a foundation. Space flight was developed using expendable vehicles for military purposes, a technically challenging feat with mid-20th century materials: The higher a rocket was sent, the more fuel it required, therefore the more it weighed; consequently, it required bigger tanks, engines, and even more fuel. The escalating weight-growth problem was solved by a process called staging--a vehicle dropped off spent fuel tanks and engines as it sped upwards on its journey. Heavier payloads could also be sent if landing gear, wings, and other reusable characteristics were deleted in favour of staging and expendability. So because of technical limitations and military artillery origins, space flight developed a high-cost throwaway culture for a small limited market: nuclear missiles.

The space race between Russia and America adapted these rockets further to deliver satellites and people. This enabled relatively quick development, because reusable rocket planes could be shelved in favour of iterations of the throwaway rocket paradigm. However, this resulted in high flight cost, and it limited the space flight market to the military, space agencies, and satellite manufacturers.

But the Americans didn't just use German technical expertise...they also borrowed their non-commercial National Socialist paradigm. Space flight did not evolve naturally for private citizens as affordable, routine high flight rate transportation. It came from a centrally planned, military government programme open to a small technical and scientific elite for very specific military and propaganda purposes. The Nazi government monopolised and controlled industry in Germany. They removed their competition, just as NASA has done.

In terms of space flight development, the Nazis won World War II. Although government space programs delivered the goods at the time they were needed, they did so at tremendous cost and created a bureaucracy that has stifled large-scale human space transportation ever since.

The real obstacle to commercial spaceflight is competition from non-commercial, taxpayer-subsidized, government space agencies. These space agencies prefer the less risky status quo because they are sensitive to criticism that could curtail their budgets. They then swallow their allotted budget entirely so that they can get an equal or bigger budget slice in the following year. They can create innovative technologies but they cannot reduce costs because that would reduce next year's budget. Government-run agencies thus have a tendency to become bloated, risk-averse, public relations machines that promise great things in the distant future and deliver little in the present. This is precisely why the bulk of taxpaying humanity is still saddled to theatre seats watching space operas instead of strapped to real space seats while participating in them.

Commercial businesses that can perform the same human transport and operations activities more cheaply and thus threaten the legitimacy of those government-run agencies. Commercial businesses streamline operations and innovate gradually to maximize profit while at the same time maximizing the value to their customers. Businesses have to innovate to keep their customers, but government agencies have to spend and use spin doctors to keep their budgets.

Not only do space agencies have an interest in curtailing commercial spaceflight. Large aerospace firms that are drip-fed space agency contracts have become almost as risk-averse as the agencies that they depend on. Aerospace workers complain bitterly of their management's lack of vision and consequent lack of innovation, which engenders boredom. Meanwhile their declining pay compared to IT employees alienates them even further. Instead of taking risks, the space transportation industry still continues to feed off a small government plate, even as the largest driver for competition and contracts, the Cold War, has vanished.

As government programmes are not designed to make a profit, competitive commercial businesses can evolve space transportation systems as driven by the market. Vehicles could be designed from the outset for high flight rate. With the right kind of vehicle, the market will respond in kind? Space tourism offers such a market to make this work.

And while aerospace agencies stagnate, the commercial satellite industry continues to evolve. However, this does not necessarily mean an increase in the number of launch vehicles required. In many cases, multiple satellites are launched from one large rocket. Nowadays, satellites are more powerful, with longer service lives, which will eventually lead to a contraction in the traditional satellite launch vehicle market. After the Chapter 11 bankruptcy of the Iridium, Orbcom, and Globalstar LEO and MEO satellite constellations, there appears to be an oversupply of rocket vehicles for this limited market. The main point is that launch vehicle development is dictated by the market it services. Only a new market will lead to dramatically lower costs using high flight-rate, reusable technologies. Space tourism offers such a market.

On November 5, 1990, President George Bush signed the Launch Services Purchase Act. This act enabled the private sector to launch satellites on a commercial basis using existing expendable launchers, that is, old missile technology. It also barred NASA from doing so. There was a great deal of institutional resistance within NASA to this act--NASA was previously legislated as the sole provider of satellite transportation. This was the spur that the private sector needed to start evolving cheaper space transportation.

Although as of this writing there are no cheap private RLVs available yet, a number of ELVs could be adapted for manned launch. Although there has also been a gradual decrease in the cost of ELVs, there is no technical reason why RLVs cannot be created.

Unfortunately even if you are a wealthy Angel from a planet called 'nvest in RLV Start Ups' you would not invest in RLVs, not in a million years. This visionary space angel/alien may have lots of disposable wealth, RLV technology, and ray guns, but it won't bankroll an RLV company. Our space angel/alien would be advised not to compete head-on with a tax-payer subsidized government agency. NASA discourages investement through its actions, essentially a bluff that relies on their position as the experts in the field. As a result, Pioneer Rocket Plane, Kelly Space, Roton, and Kistler have not received funding to develop their RLV designs.

Something must be done--indeed, something can be done. Space tourism provides a large new market for RLVs that will give engineers and investors something worthwhile to get their collective teeth into. It will revitalize and revolutionize the space transport industry and turn the throwaway missile paradigm on its head via high flight rate, piloted reusability, high growth, and ultimately higher profits. Although only a few RLVs could launch all the annual satellite constellations on the drawing boards, there will be a need for many RLVs to move tourists to and from space as the market develops and costs gradually come down. The development of these RLVs may be accelerated by space agency endorsement, tax breaks, and business plans that identify a large new market for high-frequency launch and landings. Only space tourism provides such a market, as NASA has already admitted in its 1998 General Public Space Travel and Tourism report.

Reusable space transportation is the next logical step for the aerospace business. A good example of the potential of RLV start-ups is the PC revolution of the 1980s, which removed the hegemony that traditional mainframe computer systems enjoyed. The PC revolution actually enlarged the computer market rather than gobble up the small pie occupied by the mainframes. The PC revolution was a paradigm shift that changed the world. The same will occur in the space launch vehicle market once space tourism-optimised RLV systems are developed.

The Federal Aviation Authority's Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation (AST) has developed draft regulations on behalf of the nascent RLV industry. It is working through many of the legislative and vehicle-certification requirements to grease the wheels of these new private space enterprises. Its budget is increasing. It is a government agency that does not run space as a programme but rather assists private enterprise by setting up the right legislative environment, a level and fare playing field for all.

This has been coupled with an increase in deliverable payload. With a new upper-stage, the Ariane V will soon be able to deliver between 12-13 tons to geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO) and much more to the ISS. A new breed of evolving Atlas and Delta ELVs will be in service in the United States and elsewhere. These will match or exceed Ariane V's payload capability. Even the Russians are developing a follow up to the venerable Proton vehicle called Angara, which has a modular design like the US Airforce ELVs. It also uses environmentally friendly rocket fuel and oxidisers, unlike the Proton. One version of the Angara rocket may even have a fold out wing for fly-back reuse. See Angara Lauch Vehicle System and the Angara launch family.

A space taxi evolved from the X-38 crew return vehicle (CRV) will be able to use these ELVs to reach the ISS. However, with the exception of the NASA X33/Venturestar, the majority of privately designed RLVs are actually designed for manned launch in the first place--they do not need to be adapted. In addition, some of them are directed specifically at space tourism (BSL's Ascender)

Private enterprise can develop platforms for agency use. Meanwhile the public will have access to commercial LEO space stations using commercial RLVs, thus gaining some value from the billions of tax dollars spent on government space boondoggles.

As commercial space station operations become routine and rocket performance increases the moon will begin to fall within the grasp of commercial launch vehicles and robotic devices. The moon will be the next step for resources and industrialisation once human operations in LEO has been established. Lunar bases and resource will become more attractive as the depth and breadth of space activities increases. Next-generation space-based astronomical platforms will be in development to search for earth-like planets. The moon may be a good location for such observatories. Cheap access to space to these destinations will accelerate activities. As the moon is developed in conjunction with LEO over the coming years the human settlement of the inner solar system can begin in earnest.

Eventually as the intensity and scope of human space activity increases, high-occupancy orbital facilities will force space access costs downward. Space transportation costs will gradually lower as any other mode of transportation has--in an evolutionary market-driven manner. As cheaper 'high flight rate' reusable vehicles come online the race will begin in earnest.

As Robert A. Heinlein once extolled, "Reach low orbit and you're halfway to anywhere in the Solar System". As we push through the first few years of the 21st century, we will have crossed a new threshold of possibilities and will be truly halfway to anywhere. We are on our way to becoming a spacefaring, interplanetary civilisation.

Rory Lindsay resides in New Zealand.
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Carol Pinchefsky 15 May 2001
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