67 thoughts on “Getting Their Own Ride”

  1. “They should be focusing on getting around in space with their own vehicles, not getting there.”

    They have worried so much about how to get to space and their identity as EU that they never contemplated what to do in space that would earn them the status they think they deserve.

  2. Are we talking about the European Union or are we talking about supporting the French Government-Aerospace Complex?

      1. Heh. That no actual present-day European would ever say anything remotely like that is an index of just how much Europe has become a permanent backmarker. A continent of betas living off the seed corn of their departed ancestors.

        1. Whad’ya mean?

          Thems the words to the French National Anthem.

          And the French, at least, or especially the French, still believe in them, it is just that they take a longer view.

          What do you think the Airbus is all about. Yeah, yeah, pan-European, but it is really French. OK, the Brits with their world-spanning seafaring traditions contribute the wing, and the engines are from GE or Pratt and Whitney, but you get the idea.

          And the Ariane? And the new nuke plants? And the TGV train?

          I know it was some while ago, but what other country would continue open-air testing of hydrogen bombs and tell the enviros to get stuffed by sinking a Greenpeace boat?

          1. And the German national anthem says, “Germany over all” but, okay, point taken. The French still design their own SLBMs and ICBMs and, with the Legion still very much a thing and getting far more than parade duty on a regular basis, the French are the closest thing Europe still has on offer to the Huns the Germans formerly were. And, who knows? Perhaps they can cozen their beta neighbors into chipping in for a new heavily-Gallic manned spaceship. Stranger things have happened.

            But I remain dubious.

        2. They kind of do say that when speaking of creating European identity and rising up to take the status their ego demands but goes unrecognized by the other filthy countries.

          1. I don’t get the impression that the lords of the EU, despite much effort, have made any real progress on that “European identity” thing since I lived and worked in several European countries back in the late 70s. There was certainly no “European identity” then.

    1. The French government asks, What’s the difference?

      By the time they get hardware launched (I’m thinking 2045 at the earliest?) Space-X will have a dozen launches a day onto earth orbit, and two to Mars. But the ESA project will be underpowered (literally and in terms of what it can accomplish), delayed, and well over budget while demanding the rest of the world accommodate their efforts.

  3. This will all be quietly canceled a few years in just like every other European feint at building an independent manned spaceflight capability.

    Not that there seems much sense of urgency on offer anyway. The next big-deal meeting where the Euros can talk some more about this is in Nov. They don’t seem inclined to actually get a program rolling for at least another year – by which time they will, perhaps, have at least picked a name for this future ex-effort. So by the time Project X – whatever it winds up being called – is quietly allowed to die, all that is likely to have been accomplished are some CGI renders and a few preliminary engineering studies.

    The Euros are going to remain sulky backseat drivers indefinitely, except for the Euro astronauts who actually want to fly. Those folks will defect to SpaceX.

  4. Whatever they come up with should prove interesting, economical, and much much easier to park at the ISS.

    If you look at the range of vehicles by diameter, we have:
    16.5′ – Orion crew capsule
    15.9′ – CST-100 Starliner
    13.0′ – Crew Dragon
    12.8′ – Apollo CM
    10.0′ – Gemini capsule
    8.9′ – Soyuz MS
    7.5′ – Vostok
    6.2′ – Mercury capsule
    6.0′ – BMW X2
    5.8′ – Mini Paceman
    5.7′ – Renault Laguna
    5.3′ – Fiat 595

    The last four are of course European cars, but you get the idea.

  5. What would be the earliest expected initial operational date for this ESA crew taxi to ISS, and how many years after ISS’s de-orbit would this date be?

    1. It’s just hard to believe they could develop and deploy a crew vehicle by 2030 – when ISS is scheduled to end now – even if the word was given tomorrow.

      Even SpaceX needed almost a decade to get Crew Dragon to orbit, admittedly partly due to early underfunding and some NASA kibitzing; and who here imagines that the ESA could do it in a quicker and more agile way than SpaceX?

      1. Exactly. My guess is a 10 year minimum, in part because they’ve never done this before. I’m also of the opinion that 2022 to 2030 is 8 years, which IMHO is less than 10 years. So, would ESA’s goal be to achieve initial operational capability of their ISS taxi 2 years after ISS splashes, or would they be okay with 5 years after?

        This does, however, present opportunities for ESA. Developing a manned vehicle to reach ISS becomes easier for them once ISS is in the Pacific. They could at least get close with a rowboat, and that’s something they could probably develop within a few years.

  6. Europe or Japan should just license Dreamchaser from SNC.

    They could work out an arrangement to make part of it in Europe ala the F-35.

  7. Essentially the fact that no single European entrepreneur has stepped up with a coherent vision for why people (Europeans) in space in all we need to know. Perhaps the regulatory environment precludes it. Regardless, the concept that it is beyond the ability of an individual and requires a consortium of EU participant committees who of course cannot agree to a common reason to reach into Space is enough to know why the EU will never lead in Space.

    1. More reasons are better than A reason but what is the space industry like in Europe for entrepreneurs? I mean, launch companies are exciting and get lots of press but what about the rest of the industry?

  8. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for the Europeans to want an indigenous crew access capability to space, even if it happens not to be as robust as Starship.

    But they really do need to start with asking just want they want to accomplish there. What is the mission, or missions? Because right now, it looks like “tag along on whatever it is NASA ends up deciding to do, and shoehorn something useful into that if we can.”

    But once they have a compelling answer for a mission, they can then actually figure out the best means to accomplish it.

    The structural problems, however, just work so hard against that. Achieving consensus is so hard for the ESA, almost as hard as getting adequate funding from member states; and their regulatory, capital, and cultural frameworks so badly inhibit the growth of any vibrant genuinely commercial space sector. The result is, if they end up doing this at all, it will take years of wrangling between members, forced sharing out of work across a dozen member states, and a small, minimally capable capsule or minature space plane launching on Ariane 6 that won’t be ready until the late 2030’s, that’s only good for taxiing to and from U.S. commercial LEO stations which might or might not have an ESA-built science module attached.

    (I should add that ESA is doing better on robotic science missions, which are actually showing growing coherency and capabilities.)

    1. Bingo. The leisurely and bureaucratic start to this latest notional project means everything you say is already true. With time, it is only likely to get worse.

    2. They could get something going like Rocketlab or SNC want to do, just suck it up and launch it with SpaceX and save a decade and tens of billions of dollars.

  9. I would think that one inhibitor to the EU being a Great Space Power is the fact that they don’t have a shoreline up against an ocean to the east and so they have to ship their rockets to another hemisphere to launch them.

    And they don’t have endless square miles of wasteland like Russia where they can build a launch range.

    Now if they are willing to launch from some Mediterranean island, perhaps, they might make suborbital hops of their components from Europe to South America where they might be joined and launched into space. But it’s hard to see how this is economical.

    1. And yet they “launch” huge multi ton flying vehicles loaded with huge quantities of fuel, cargo and humans out across their populated landscapes in every direction multiple times per day….

      1. Hey if launch over populated land becomes a thing then that would be fine.

        But just remember that to the East of France and Germany is Russia and I don’t think you’d want some booster crashing on and Russian ‘grad.

        Also for reusable boosters there would have to be landing pads East of, day, France in position to recieve the boostr. I don’t offhand know how far East the Space-x barges are but it would have to be something along that distance.

        i also don’t know how critical the off-flight-path distance is – for flyback….are the barges directly in line with the flight path?

        If they have to be in line with the flight path, then there might be something in the way.

        1. A quick glance at a globe and/or Wiki shows the Azores are 870 miles west of Portugal. That’s about twice as far as a Falcon 9 first stage goes, and France is more than a thousand miles from the Azores, Russia more than 2,000 miles. Anything launched in that direction would be in orbit before it crossed the coast. The SpaceX barges are off the coast of North Carolina, a few hundred miles down range. In fact, a launch to ISS from the Azores would pass west of Ireland and up the coast of Norway.

  10. A couple of comments:

    The simplest way to get an “indigenous” crewed spaceflight capability is to buy Soyuz MS spacecraft from Russia and launch them on Soyuz ST rockets from Kourou. The infrastructure to do this is already in place. From there, they could reach Tiangong and Axiom (post ISS splash) with a Soyuz ST-A and even ROSS using Soyuz ST-B. I guess maybe they’d want to print up stickers for the controls in various languages.

    If they wanted a space station of their own, they could buy modules from Thales Alenia and use Ariane VI to put it in an equatorial oebit.

    Finally, if they inisted on launching from continental Europse, they could put a launch complex on the coast of southern Spain and launch east across the Mediterranean. It’d be in orbit long before it got to Israel (and have contingency landing sites in Sicily, Crete, and Cyprus, if necessary).

    1. The Russians have already floated a trial balloon along the initial lines you suggest. The French didn’t seem enthused, probably, in part, because of insufficient pork opportunities for their aerospace sector. And, with France deciding to resume its former drive toward an essentially all-nuke power infrastructure – in significant part, one assumes, to avoid future dependence on Russian gas – it hardly seems likely that more dependence on Russia for space access is in the cards. There’s also the non-trivial matter of Russia’s space-industrial complex continuing down its already very evident path toward extinction.

      The launch-from-Spain thing is interesting. Spain even has one commercial smallsat launcher start-up, PLD Space, so that would be a plus from a local politics standpoint. And if the Spanish are reluctant to give up any of their lucrative resort coast to build a launch site, perhaps the Brits could be prevailed upon to host it at Gibraltar in return for flight rights for their own indigenous space vehicles. The only space vehicle slated to operate from U.K. soil that can do equatorial launches is Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne. Orbex and Skyrora could potentially operate out of Gibraltar.

      1. That trial balloon was just the Russians try to bilk them. Now it’s them wanting to be fleeced, a different matter entirely! I do think people who say the Russian space program is in irreversible decline are probably just drinking the Neocon Kool-Ade, since the Soyuz 2.1/ST factory is still building 12+ launchers a year and the Progress/Soyuz factory is still building 6+ spacecraft a year. But we’ll see soon enough. If Soyuz GVK and Soyuz V “Irtysh” fly within 18 months then their space program is healthier than ours (not counting SpaceX, of course).

        Then again, given the Ukraine thing, maybe we’ll find out a lot sooner. Maybe the Neocons are right and the Ukrainians will wipe the mat with the Russians, but I believe Blinken, Nod, and Thoroughly Modern Milley will piss their pants and run for cover, screaming, “No fair, Putin cheated!!” and Putin will win without firing a shot.

      2. Almost forgot: no reason a European launch complex can’t operate out of the Azores. What is it? 800 miles west of Gibraltar, and the then whole lenth of the Med before you get to Israel. Plus due north and south without obstruction. I think they picked French Guiana because its French, while the Azores are Portuguese.

          1. That’s what was said at the time, but I really question the pragmatic value of that rotational advantage. Ariane V has turned out to be more powerful than it needed to be, as witness the limited success of the dual manifest paradigm. Then again, the first test flight of Angara 5 used a Briz-M transstage to do GEO direct injection from Plesetsk, above the Arctic Circle. I think the rotational advantage really only counted early on, when you had things like Vanguard and Jupiter-C trying to orbit satallites you could carry under your arm. Meanwhile, in that era, R-7 could orbit 1.5 tons from a launch site as far north as Boston.

            Looked at pragmatically, Tenerife has a runway capable of handling jumbo jets and infrastructure adequate to manufacture liquified gases. It’s under a thousand miles from France, and has clear launch ranges in all directions except northeast. Israel is a long ways from the Azores, the east coast of the US just as far away to the west. North and South? Nothing (unless you accidentally hit Reykjavik). Probably, once you were confident in your rocket, you could launch across Europe and count on the destruct system to blitz your LV if something went wrong. As compared to carving a launch complex out of a nearly uninhabitable patch of jungle that happened to be owned by France. It’s closer than Borneo but otherwise not a whole lot better.

          2. It’s not just the rotational advantage, which isn’t all that big. It’s about eliminating the plane change to geostationary orbit, which was where they saw the market at the time.

            And I think, in the future, we’ll see a lot more launches, perhaps most, from the equator, that that equatorial LEO will be the primary destination.

          3. How much is the plane change worth, since it’s done at apogee? I mean, if Angara 5 can do a direct injection to GEO with a Briz-M transstage, you have to consider Angara 5 is no more capable than an expendable Falcon 9. and Briz-M is not much of a transstage (hypergolic, with 5 tons of fuel).

            You’ve talked about equatorial LEO before and I don’t know that I have much faith in it. But what do I know? The problems I see are the comsat constellations and the land sites are in places you don’t really want to go (Somalia, Sumatra, Borneo, etc.). That leaves sea launch. What’s it worth?

          4. I plan to read your paper with great interest. I can see the value for fuel depot location (multiple flight opportunities per day) but I believe that to be short term. I think the future is with bigger rockets (an 18m diameter reusable TSTO should be able to put a fully fuelled 9m Starship with all its cargo in LEO. And there’s no destination beyond GEO that orbits above Earth’s equator. So short term, money to be made (provided the constellations don’t consume all of LEO), but I doubt the long term (more than a decade or so).

          5. GEO is a minor part of the benefit. ELEO has no launch windows, unless you want single-orbit rendezvous, in which case there’s one every hour and a half. It maximizes payload, and has the most benign radiation environment. The best way to manage traffic is to move as much as possible into a single orbit plane, and ELEO fits the bill perfectly. Ultimately, everything going to and from the surface will be going through it.

          6. Putting aside the LEO constellations issue (they are not going to be confined to ELEO, and so, obviously replenishment launches will not be going through ELEO), it’s hard to see what you think will be in ELEO. Fuel depots, obviously, but I’ve talked here and there about the depot scaling problem. If a thousand Starships head for Mars every synod, then that means a thousand accummulation tankers (and six thousand tanker launches per synod). All in ELEO? Maybe, but that’s near term and short term. Eventually you have to confront bladders the size of Manhattan in ELEO and tens of thousands of replenishment tankers. All using an infrastructure that has to be built up by the seaside of tropical jungles and the occasional desert (or on ocean platforms that themselves must be replenished from somewhere). That’s one of the reason I say the secret will be bigger rockets. So your Mars rocket leaves from Jackass Flats (90 mi from Las Vegas) and heads directly to its destination, no stopoevers or parking orbits. You could put a spaceport anywhere you could get away with setting off a small nuke without any complaints from the neighbors.

            Besides depots, what else are you going to put in ELEO? A zero gee hotel with a nice view of clouds and water? A Battlestar Galactica theme park? I also think the trafic management issue is a red herring. It will have to be solved before there are 100,000 comsats in LEO going every which way (and why stop there? What if its eight million comsats?).

          7. obviously replenishment launches will not be going through ELEO

            They will. If propellant in ELEO is twenty bucks a pound, it will be cheaper to do the plane change than to launch direct on an expensive rocket. Most of the depots in cislunar space for solar-system trips won’t be in ELEO; they’ll probably be at Lagrange points. Everything that doesn’t need to be in a different orbit (i.e., sun-synch, or tourist resorts for high inclination) will be in ELEO. Habitats, factories, assembly facilities, transportation hubs…

          8. That’s an interesting take. I agree with you about the stuff sited at Lagrange points. In some of my books and stories, there’s an enormous industrial facility called “Stardock” situated at L1SE (at that point so it won’t be easily visible from Earth).

            Where are you visualizing this cheap fuel comes from? Fuel is already so cheap it almost doesn’t matter, and once rockets are overtly reusable, the expensive bit getting all the wear and tear is the engines, which cost the same no matter where they’re run. It might never be cheaper to make that plane change in orbit compared to on the ground.

            I don’t know that I picture much industrial infrastructure in LEO beyond the very near term (more or less on the same scale as Starship refueling there). Even vacation hotels might not work well there (I imagine at maybe the same scale as the percentage of hotels with in-room pools).

          9. Where are you visualizing this cheap fuel comes from?

            Ummmmm…from Earth? Imagine a steady pipeline of material (and people) going to/from ELEO on regularly scheduled flights, multiple flights per day, at $20/lbm. Some of that material will be propellant.

            A Falcon 9 costs sixty million to deliver 20 tons to ISS. At $20/lb, you could do the plane change of that tonnage for a few million dollars worth of propellant with a space-based tug. Less if you do a bi-elliptic. Even less if you do it electrically and you’re not in a hurry.

            ELEO hotels will be way stations for other destinations, like an airport hotel, or for people who just want to experience free fall, or screw or gamble in orbit. For those who live at higher latitudes, and want a view of their homes, there will be higher-inclination resorts that they can do a plane change to for an added charge. For space manufacturing of goods to be delivered to Earth, ELEO is the ideal location. As I said, ELEO is Earth’s natural harbor.

          10. It seems to me all you’re accomplishing by launching the fuel into ELEO from Earth is re-creating the Manahattan-sized fuel bladders in orbit problem. I was actually hoping you’d found an esoteric off-earth fuel source! As far as I can see, plane changes in robit will always be more expensive than going to the correct plane from the ground. because you’re going to involve “expensive rockets’ one way or another. Launching a spacecraft to a 51deg orbit from Florida is going to be cheaper than carrying it to Borneo, launching it to ELEO, then changing the plane to 51deg with a space tug.

            So what is an “expensive rocket,” anyway? The figures you cited for Falcon 9 aren’t really right. $60mln is the price of a brand new Falcon 9. Twenty tons is its payload as an expendable rocket. In fact, SpaceX charges NASA $150mln to bring 6 tons to ISS, and most of that price is rental of Falcon 9 first stage and Cargo Dragon, plus the $20mln purchase of a second stage. The *cost* of a Starship launch will be around $2mln, the *price* whatever Musk can coax you into paying. Man’s gotta eat, and his meals are on Mars.

            To a certain extent, Falcon 9 recapitulates the big mistakes oldspace (ie., Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex) made a half century ago. Von Braun wanted stainless steel rockets, we already *had* stainless steel rockets (Atlas, Centaur) and the MIC went with aircraft aluminum because why? Is it because the MIC contractors were already invested in aluminum fabrication? It’s edifying to think about Blue’s Jarvis project. You picture Bezos scratching his dome and saying, “Tell me again why we’re building this fucking thing out of aluminum?”

            Final question: what scale are you envisioning this ELEO thing as? And over what time frame? The ground infrastructure alone seems to rule it out. Brazil. Somalia. Sumatra. Malaya. Borneo. I’ve got old books from the 1950s claiming the first manned spacecraft would launch from Johnston Island. And Sea Launch didn’t exactly work out, either.

            Picture a continental spaceport at Las Vegas. Picture a 25,000 ton TSTO vehicle putting 5,000 tones into any LEO inclination you wanted. If it’s ELEO, it’s not going to be more expensive to burn that fuel making that plane change in reverse. And instead of some ELEO hotel, you can waste time gambling in a casino that’s already built.

          11. You clearly don’t appreciate the economies of scale that come from launching everything to and from ELEO.

            Last time I checked, sixty million is the price for a Falcon 9 launch. If it’s less than twenty tons, that makes the case for a plane change even more compelling.

            Elon knows that the key to getting costs down is flight rate, and he’ll get a bigger flight rate by charging a low amount per flight, while still making a profit.

            You can’t get to any inclination you want from Vegas. The only places you can do that are on the equator.

          12. Unless the main subject is calculus, it’s not a good bet that I don’t understand something, which is why I asked about the scale of what you’re visualizing. Like everything else, efficiency of scale is subject to the law of diminishing returns, as well as return to scale, which is a pretty different thing. It’s my thought that the law of diminishing returns will hit your ELEO idea (probably in the form of traffic congestion) long before it hits “bigger rockets” in the form of physical constraints on engineering. It’s also my thought that the infrastructure necessary for a large number of large scale equatorial launch sites is much farther away than the technology of very large rockets, which is manifestly to hand. For example, a 5-core “Hyperheavy” would be a 25,000 ton LV that could put a 2,000ish ton payload in LEO.

            Your point that an equatorial launch site can reach any orbit but one at Las Vegas can’t is one of those things that’s trivially true but didactically false. It’s true if you’re talking a Neutron, for example, but a Falcon Heavy launching from Vandenberg could put a Dragon spacecraft in ELEO, launching the payload to GTO, changing planes at apogee, then using the residual delta-v of the upper stage and whatever was needed from the Dragon to lower the apogee to circular. With the right rocket, you can reach any orbit from any point on the Earth’s surface (with the didactic caveat that it’d be hard to set up a launch complex at the north pole…). Even then, if we were just talking launch sites to orbits, I’d agree equatorial was better, but we’re not. Your ELEO concept argues that it’s better to put every payload into ELEO first. It’s secondary assumption is that there will be destinations in ELEO that will make primary destinations for a large enpugh percentage of all launches to be preemptive. For example, your suggestion that LEO comsat constellations will be replenished from ELEO by space tugs or electric propulsion. As far as I can see, it will always be cheaper to use your fuel from the Earth’s surface to lift your payload to its destination orbit, rather than shipping fuel and payload to ELEO and then burning the fuel to make a plane change. I’ll be happy to be shown different.

            Incidentally, the $62mln price in the capabilities&services.pdf on the SpaceX website is for 5.5 tons to GTO, which is 2/3 of the maximum capability. Apply the same ratio to the LEO capabilty of 22 tons gives you 14.5 tons. That includes no paylaod services, so it’s a way to get 14.5 tons of lead into a 28deg LEO from Florida. Currently on the website, Cargo Dragon can take 6 tons to ISS. I think the price NASA pays for that is a secret, but I’ve heard well north of $150mln. Crew is supposedly around $220mln. You could talk to SpaceX PAO about it. I’ve found them friendly and helpful in the past (I needed to know what infrastructure they found on the ground at Omlek for a story I was writing. They sent me a t-shirt!). Anyways, you charge all the market will bear, no more. And the lower bound is where a lower price gets you no additional business.

          13. As far as I can see, it will always be cheaper to use your fuel from the Earth’s surface to lift your payload to its destination orbit, rather than shipping fuel and payload to ELEO and then burning the fuel to make a plane change. I’ll be happy to be shown different.

            I already showed you different. If propellant is available in ELEO at $20/lbm, there is no rocket that can put a payload directly into a higher inclination at a lower cost than the plane change (other than perhaps Starship itself), particularly if it’s done low thrust.

            The scale I’m talking about is hundreds of thousands of tons per year. This could be done from a single ocean platform with a few flights per day.

          14. I hope you understand that I’m trying to help, not just aggravate you. So, no offense coming from someone who doesn’t know calculus, but I don’t think you’ve got the arithmetic right on this.

            First of all, there’s no value-added schema that can make a product cheaper when you move it from Earth’s surface to LEO. It’s price in LEO will be its price on Earth plus the cost of lifting it to LEO. Regardless of launch site or target orbit, you’ve got to lift it to space, then move it to its target orbit. (This is why people have pipe dreams about space elevators.)

            Second, the scale you describe is a tiny one. Look at it this way: LAX, a single large airport, burns through almost 4 million tons of Jet-A a year. 200,000 tons of fuel and oxydizer lifted to orbit 200 tons at a time (what you described) requires that you burn 6,500,000 tons of fuel and oxydizer a year to get it aloft. Which is exactly the same as lifting 1,000 non-fuel customer payloads of 200 tons apiece to their target orbit (and it could be many payloads combined that are going to different planes, distributed by orbital precession). Either way, you’re talking the equivalent of a single large airport opereration.

            Am I missing something? If so, what?

            As far as being able to launch from any point on Earth to any target orbit, there is a minimum size, which I think I pointed out. Falcon Heavy is probably just below the minimum size (63 tons payload to LEO), and Starship (450 tons to LEO, of which 200 tons is cargo, the rest reusable rocket) is probably some ways above it. Starship is around 3 times the payload of Falcon Heavy. The rocket I described in my example is sort of a Starship version of Angara A5, 4 SuperHeavy boosters surrounding a Superheavy core (which counts as the second stage) with a Starship on top, weighing in at close to 2,000 tons, most of which is fuel. It really could do what I said. Or, it could just proceed to Mars without refueling. And that’s my point about big rockets. You’ll need them to support you ELEO idea, if nothing else.

          15. I assume that ELEO will be using big rockets. If you can deliver payload to ELEO on a regularly scheduled basis with Starship, that payload will cost on the order of $20/lbm plus its terrestrial cost (in the case of water, from which propellant can be manufactured on orbit, the terrestrial cost is close to zero), so propellant will cost $20/lbm plus the energy cost to crack it. Even if you deliver it as propellant, the cost of propellant is on the order of a buck a pound on Earth, so it’s still negligible compared to the transportation cost.

            For the payload, the cost of getting, say, ten tons to ELEO orbit will be about half a million bucks. For cryo, it would take on the order of ten to the fifth pounds of propellant to do the plane change to ISS inclination, so the cost would be 20 times ten to the fifth, or about a million bucks. So total mission cost, including transporting the payload to the equator, is a couple million bucks. Name me the rocket that can deliver ten tons directly to ISS for that amount of money.

          16. According to Musk, Starship can deliver 180 tons to ISS for two million dollars. That’s the deadlift cost. The actual price would depend on the payload.

            The cost of water is not nonzero, unless you’re talking about pumping seawater, fish and all (in which case, you might have a market for the fish and dissolved minerals?). Anyways, the electricity to operate my groundwater well pump is the base cost of hard water. To crack it, the energy infrastructure in space would cost a lot, but it’d still be cheaper than Moonwater (if any). I assume solar, which has to be fabricated and lifted, and then will wear out and have to be replaced on a regular basis. Nuclear’s not going to happen in ELEO unless the world changes a lot.

            Thinking about this in terms of Musk’s proposed Mars fleet, I see each thousand ship synodic departure will require around 7,000 tanker launches. It’d make sense to do that in ELEO, though the ground infrastructure would be pretty big (operations of around 7x LAX per year). This is probably why Musk keeps mentioning a Starship 2.0 with an 18m stage diameter. It’d be about equivalent to the Hyperheavy I described.

          17. I think you mean the cost of water is non-zero, not not non-zero. In any event it’s a trivial part of the propellant cost, which on orbit is dominated by the transportation costs. Same with actual propellant (though with hydrogen, the bulk density is an issue). If a LEO reactor is politically possible at all, ELEO would be the ideal orbit for it, because it minimizes the ground track in terms of what/who it overflies.

            Basically, what you’re missing is that for conventional rocket launches, propellant is a trivial part of the cost. For plane changes from ELEO with a reusable tug, it’s dominant. And the (already low) propellant cost can be reduced further with a bi-elliptic transfer, or low-thrust.

          18. Yep, oopsie double-negative there! Rand, I don’t think I’m missing anything, per se. I think there’s a disagreement at the level of basic data. Can you define the factor you’re calling “transportation costs?” Because that’s where I think it is.

            Propellant costs are only trivial in the context of expendable or largely expendable vehicles. Reusable vehicles over time (as the vehicle cost is amortized) come to be dominated by fuel costs. Even cars, whose price is inflated enormously by aesthetics and regulatory compliance are dominated by fuel costs over time. I typically drive a vehicle for more than ten years, so if I paid $20k (including taxes) for my Impreza, I may put $40k worth of gasoline in it over that time. And my car cost close to ten times what it should have. There’s $1800 worth of catalytic converter in it, as an example of regulatory compliance. You could build a Model T equivalent with a steel pipe frame and plastic body panels, a flat four engine and three-speed planetary gear transmission for about $2k in today’s money. Throw in tires, safety plate (because we’re not stupid), maybe even airbags, and you might hit $5k. But you’d still be putting all that gas in it. The same thing is true with airplanes, as the cost of a jumbo jet amortizes over the years, but every time it takes off, someone had loaded 80,000 gallons of JetA aboard.

            In that context, a space tug is operating under the same economic constraints as a rocket launched from the surface, so the one is not cheaper than the other within a certain amount of guesstimate slop. A Falcon 9 does not *cost* $62mln to launch. That’s its base *price.* The world is full of people who believe Musk is lying through his teeth and SpaceX is a scam, including statements made by European officials just the other day. But the fact is, Falcon 9 may be operating at up to a 40% profit on average launches. A brand new Falcon 9 may cost $60mln, but Musk’s statement is reuse is profitable starting with the second launch. So a new second stage costs $20mln. Everything else is recovered and refurbished. How much that costs is unknown, but the refurbishment is visibly limited. The big refurbishment cost is chemically decoking the engines and then drying the cleaning chemical out of every nook and cranny (a Falcon 9 was lost when a little bit of cleaning fluid was left in a sensor fitting, causing a braking engine to fail). Rumor is, that cost is around $10mln. Throw in $5mln for everything else (including launch operations costs) and you have $35mln. And people forget payload handling costs are borne by the customer.

            As I said earlier, Falcon 9 is a poor exemplar for reusable space transportation costs. It’s a hybrid rocket, built as a conventional expendable and then converted to partial reusability. Currently, reuse of first stages is up to 11, with every evidence it will go much higher. But Starship is so much cheaper ($2mln per launch), with so much more payload (around 10x) that fuel costs will predominate (and methane is cheaper than RP-1).

            That’s why I think the only things that will go through ELEO are things that need to go there, with likely candidates being big GEO comsats and the Mars colonial fleet, with its huge, rapid refueling needs. I don’t know how many launch sites will eventually appear. Probably depends on future history I’ll miss out on.

  11. If the goal is to waste taxpayer money and enrich bureaucrats, without ever having to actually do anything, then a European crew launcher is perfect.

  12. “Released publicly on Wednesday, the document says that European leaders must soon decide whether the continent will accelerate its efforts to remain in the “leading ranks” of spacefaring nations.”

    I think a continental choice could include Azores as location of spaceport.
    One can sort of see it as connecting to their existing space port and as way of bringing in Azores as part of continent. And got lots of islands, and islands could agree or not.
    It’s more of sub-orbital type thing. Or sub-orbital hub to rest of Europe.

    1. I should’ve read the rest of the thread before posting! Why suborbital? It’s pretty much a clear shot due east, and most other directions a long ways to the nearest land mass.

  13. In centuries past, Europe discovered the world.

    Now days, the solar system is way too big for them.

    Taking a break from the hard stuff is not easy to recover from.

    It lets us upstarts to take the lead.

  14. So my opinion of Eric Berger is what it is. I’m glad he got to deploy the word “preposterous,” which I’m sure made him kvell. As for his commenters: a wonderful ongoing confirmation of my theory that the world is populated by simpletons and jackasses.

    [NB: my own comment was meant as a sort of humour-shaped object, for anyone who didn’t “get it,” the clause about the Europeans’ contribution being to print up a bunch of stick-on labels in various languages.]

  15. “Second, Rogozin is making this suggestion at a time when Russia is on the verge of invading Ukraine. The geopolitics of the issue are complex, but this Russian gambit represents the greatest threat to European stability since World War II.”

    Does it? Do any of the people who consume DNC propaganda ever perform a reality check?

    All of the sensational hype are coming from the same groups of snakes and liars that told us all for years Trump was a Russian agent. So, did anyone who got suckered stop and wonder if they were being suckered again?

    To me, it looks like a shakedown in a couple senses of the word. Putin got to practice and he made the USA and Europe pay.

    Then the idiots will say Biden stopped a war that was never going to happen anyway and no examination of the horrible deals will take place.

      1. As we all know, Trump already conducted mass executions of homosexuals and set up concentration camps. And since Trump was Putin’s cock-holster according to the best information available, we’re faced with Russel’s Paradox, since Trump must have executed himself. When Putin executes the homosexuals, he’ll have to execute himself as well, since he allowed Trump to be his cock-holster. That gets rid of them both! Now the homosexuals can all come home from Canada and France! Except I bet they’re happier where they are…

  16. Eric Berger’s linked piece is good, but it leaves out a lot.

    For example, I’m guessing that if Europeans launched in Soyuz, they’d also like to be able to land in it. The problem there is that Soyuz needs a vast area of open land in which to land. The EU does not have this.

    Another issue; Launching Soyuz over water is problematic; it’s designed to land on land, including during aborts. It’s landed in water once (a lake) and that was barely survivable. In open ocean, it likely would not end well.

    The Russian “proposal”, rather clearly, is just a sham.

    1. A couple of points:

      Soyuz 23 landed in Lake Tengiz in 1976, 45 years ago, in the winter. Landing in central Asia in the winter has always been “barely survivable.” And there have been a few improvements in Soyuz since then. And I’m pretty sure the French Navy could deal with an over water abort.

      The other point is, Soyuz does not need “a vast area of open land” for recovery. The landing elipse for the current Soyuz model is 25 miles in diameter, and it usually comes down in sight of the recovery team. I’m pretty sure you could bring one down in France or Spain, they’re not that crowded, compared to, say, the Netherlands.

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