Category Archives: Space History

Chinese Space Riddle

Rand, Jeff and Dwayne are treating a 40-year delayed entry into the “US-Soviet space race” (or perhaps the Chinese would prefer “space era”) as newsworthy. For its military threat or for its ability to shed light on perceptions and the press. I think the interesting story that no one is telling is why the Chinese mimic the dead end space programs of the US and the USSR. It’s some kind of misguided nostalgia or timewarped hero worship. It is captured well by Ursula Le Guin’s The Telling. What does China think it will get out of a space program other than some more confidence from its neighbors that its missiles can hit their targets? Spinoffs? National prestige? This kind of grand challenge from yesteryear is weird nostalgia like the Space Cowboys movie. (I hinted at this last year, but no one seemed to pick up on it.)

The trick is to harness this misguided lunacy to use it to improve international relations and lower the cost of space access.

I wonder if the same people who discount SpaceShipOne’s and Falcon’s cheap space access are playing up China’s old tired expensive space access as a worrisome game changer. Maybe it’s the same reason we dissed China’s currency policy–to get them to keep doing it to waste their money.

Saturn V a Cost Barrier?

Alan Wasser and I think that space property rights are the main thing holding back development of the Moon. Dwayne Day says (last paragraph) that launch cost is the main thing that is holding us back. I don’t think that was true when Saturn Vs were in production.

While high launch costs as a barrier may be temporarily true today, I think that cheap access would be developed to the Moon if it could be claimed legally and the property rights enforced (and may anyway if Elon Musk is to be believed).

The Saturn V Wikipedia entry cites these cost numbers. They add up to $6.42B peaking in 1966-7. The launch cost estimate in Astronautix of $431M is just $6.42B/15. While they list a bunch of R&D contracts that precede the Saturn V line item, they were sunk costs at the time of Saturn V deployment. If someone has a better number please comment. A summary of Schmitt comes up with $3B per launch including $500M in capital costs. Those costs should be written off as sunk (i.e., a company that incurred them would declare bankruptcy and emerge with no debt). The $2.5B remaining is the 2005 price of $431M in 1967 dollars.

Am I missing something? Is pad construction, tooling, design and so on not included in the original $6.4 billion? If non-recurring costs made up a good fraction, then it’s a way overestimate.

puts the marginal cost at $100M in 1970 dollars or about $500M today. That would give us $2000/lb to LEO. If we had continued to put $15B/year in current dollars into Lunar development, that would be about 87.5 million pounds to LEO in the last 35 years if 1/3 of the money was spent on launches or over 15 million pounds to the Moon assuming no improvement over 1960s technology (and to be fair no bureaucratic price inflation beyond the consumer price index). That is about 75 international space stations worth of mass.

No, I think the main reason we abandoned the Moon was lack of national will, not price. The price point for colonization can be achieved if the national (or subnational or even rich guy) will comes back. My proposition is that Lunar property rights would be the impetus to set these wheels back in motion. I dare you to prove me wrong.

Changed Tone at Space Access

Space access last year was an excellent conference. I met Jeff Foust and have been writing for the Space Review ever since. I met David Livingston and was since on his show twice, signed his corporate space ethics pledge and have co-authored a paper with him. I met Thomas Olson and now I am on the Colony Fund’s board of advisors.

But comparing last year’s program to this year’s there are several differences.

There are more political and regulatory discussions this year. Last year we praised Tim Hughes, who was pivotal in getting 5382 passed. This year, he is presenting. Last year political priorities was part of “open mike” time. This year there is a panel. Last year there was one presentation from AST. This year there are two. Last year there was an informal workshop on the FAA AST license process. This year there is a panel discussion on policy.

I am part of the change. On Friday night, I am co-presenting a paper first posted here. (Look for an update as soon as I can get it uploaded.) There is also a new panel discussion about what venture capitalists are looking for. These two additions really focus on calibrated business-goal setting, and filtering and tempering the pro-space rhetoric to enhance credibility.

The community will be taken more seriously if it graduates from being a victim to being proactive about removing alleged barriers, upholding standards of ethics and the professionalism on the business side of space access. This change was already underway last year, but perhaps in the next few years Space Access may yet become the kind of tacky commercial conference that Esther Dyson prefers.

A Space Laser Battle Station

…that almost flew in the mid-1980s. From behind the veil of the Cold War, some previously unseen pictures have emerged. Note that this was while the Soviets were complaining about Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative.

Via email from Jim Oberg, who notes:

This was the bird that the Soviet’s military built and planned to launch without telling Gorbachev — he found out, and ordered the rocket test to proceed but the payload to not be activated.

Conveniently — and I suspect, not accidentally — the orbit circularization burn at first apogee failed. May 1987, I recall.

Had it gone into orbit, while Reagan was president, it would likely have sparked a major ‘Stars Wars’ space military race with potentially dreadful consequences.

“In The Beginning”

Thirty-five years ago, on another Christmas Eve, men first rounded our nearest planetary neighbor. They were in radio silence on the far side, for a few minutes the loneliest men in existence.

The reentered the world of humans as they emerged from the shadow of the moon, and read from Genesis. At that time, despite the government funding, the ACLU had no complaints, as far as I know.