Thursday, August 04, 2005

The Final Frontier

Will people be living on the moon in our lifetime? Better yet, can Americans do what they do best -- exploit a resource for all its money-making potential -- on the moon? If those at last week's Las Vegas Space Conference have their way, the answers to those questions is a resounding yes. [...]
Bring it on!
[...] Many at the conference said the government's purely science-driven missions to the moon has led to antiquated shuttle technology and delays in capitalizing on lunar possibilities.

"If the purpose of going to the moon is just science, it doesn't necessarily justify the government expenditure," [Jeff] Feige said. [...]
Many will (choose one: point out / complain / warn / gloat) that government involvment is purely scientific only because of potential military usage. The theme of this conference was, however, commercial.
[Charles E.] Miller's company [Constellation Services International, Inc] focuses on moving cargo between the earth and the space station, with the long-term goal of moving freight between earth and moon.

"Tourism is the biggest industry in the world. Just orbiting the earth can be a big tourist industry. You could justify that alone," Miller said, adding that optimistically space tourism could take off in as little as 10 years using existing technology.
Some people are excited about the WHAT to do once in space, and others are concentrating on the HOW. What is going to replace the shuttle? That is still up in the air. NASA is looking at a new system based on the current shuttle system.
NASA has decided that its next launch vehicle for getting humans into space will be based on the space shuttle system, including its main engines, solid rocket boosters and external tank. There will be one big difference, though, instead of riding along the side of the new rocket, astronauts in the future will be riding on top on top of their next launcher -- above any debris that might fall off.
Although the shuttle system has proven its capabilities, each launch is still very expensive. Private companies are exploring different means to boost payloads into orbits that may prove to be less expensive. For instance, this press release from Virgin Galactic:
27th July 2005

Today at the EAA Oshkosh air show in Wisconsin, Sir Richard Branson and Burt Rutan announced their signing of an agreement to form The Spaceship Company — jointly owned by Virgin and Scaled.

This new aerospace production company will manufacture launch aircraft, spaceships and support equipment and market them to spaceline operators, including the launch customer, Virgin Galactic.

Virgin Galactic has placed orders for five spaceships and two launch aircraft with options on further systems, thus securing the exclusive use of the systems for the initial 18 months of commercial passenger operations.

The Spaceship Company plan to make spaceflight affordable for the masses and to demonstrate the commercial viability of manned space exploration.

Burt Rutan commented “I am very excited to have agreed terms on which we can now move forward to develop the world’s first commercial, passenger-carrying spaceships. Richard and I share a vision that commercially-viable and safe space tourism will provide the foundation for the human colonisation of space. I’m looking forward to working together with Richard on this next exciting phase.”

Sir Richard added “I couldn’t be more delighted to announce the formation of this joint venture at the biggest private aviation event in the world. I never dreamed that one day I would form with Burt, the company which will build the world’s first commercial passenger spacecraft.”
Back to the Las Vegas Space Conference:

Conference participants brought their ideas with them, too. At one point a wide-eyed [Jeff} Feige ran up to [William] McGuire and said, "Get this: Space spring break! Can you imagine?"

Yes, I can imagine. Can you?

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UPDATE: (12:08 PM CDT) The New York Times has an article on NASA's redesign of the shuttle, which I will call Shuttle II.

For its next generation of space vehicles, NASA has decided to abandon the design principles that went into the aging space shuttle, agency officials and private experts say.

Instead, they say, the new vehicles will rearrange the shuttle's components into a safer, more powerful family of traditional rockets.
They have an impressive graphic displaying the relative sizes of the current and redesigned shuttle in launch configuration. Check it out.

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