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« Blow Me To The Moon | Main | My Heros »

Space Technology And Business Misperceptions

Dave Perron has been engaged in an ongoing discussion with me (and others, but primarily me) in the comments section for this post, which has scrolled off the page, being now over a week old. But he raises some points that are worth discussing, because they contain a number of what I believe to be misperceptions about the space program, space technology, private enterprise, and XCOR in particular, and many people probably share them with Dave.

I appreciate his tenacity, because it actually helps hone arguments for more than one chapter of a book on which I'm laboring, in my copious free time.

He claims not to understand how there is any value of XCOR's current plans to build a suborbital vehicle, in terms of building an orbital vehicle, particularly if there's no actual hardware legacy from one to the other (if I'm misstating his view, I'm sure he'll correct me in the comments).

Once the vehicle is done (provided it can reach 65 km, which I'm not at all convinced that it can given the design constraints)

I don't understand why he believes that this is a technical challenge, in this day and age. Given smart designers, modern computer-aided design and manufacturing tools, and adequate funding, this is a relatively trivial accomplishment. That it hasn't been done up to now is only because no one has bothered to fund it (for previous lack of interest in the goal).

then what you have is a carnival ride attempting to raise money to build pretty much the same thing NASA has been trying to build, only on lower cashflow.

The use of the term "carnival ride" is, to me, needlessly denigrating. But even if that's a good analogy, a lot of people pay money to ride on carnival rides--it's a thriving business, so I'm not sure what the point is here. If someone can build aerospace hardware, and learn how to routinely operate rocket-powered vehicles (something that NASA has never done, or even seriously attempted to do), and generate revenue from it, building a business to go on to the next step, I don't understand what's wrong with that as a market.

And as to the point about building "pretty much the same thing that NASA has been trying to build," I don't understand the reference. NASA has never attempted to build anything like this, precisely because it's viewed by them (and people like them, such as Dave) as a "carnival ride," having no value, and being beneath them.

Sure, the money is private sector. I want to make it clear that I couldn't possibly contain any more approval for private-sector space exploration.

Here's another example of a flawed paradigm. This has nothing to do with "exploration." As long as we continue to think space=exploration, we'll make little progress in actually developing it and putting it on a paying basis.

Let's be clear. This is about space business, and space exploitation. That many think this a bad thing is one of the many flawed perceptions that remain long after the end of the Cold War. If we want to open up the frontier, we're going to have to think of space as just a place to do business, and if one of those businesses is "carnival rides," fine. At least we're doing something, and developing useful technology, which NASA, sadly, is for the most part not.

But we're talking gigantic sums of money here. Has XCOR shown that it can raise money in these quantities with a carnival ride? I'm curious how many $100k rides there are to sell.

Space Adventures seems to think that there are a lot. And the amount of money that XCOR is talking is a few million, at most. There are many people who have that kind of money, and in fact, some of them would be able to pay a million or three for their own rocketplane (these are the same people who buy their own Gulfstream IVs and Vs, which cost many tens of millions).

Normally when you see someone attempting to attract investors in the attempt to reach a goal, you at least see some level of initial design that's on a path to meet that goal. I've seen nothing of the kind from XCOR, so I'm a little sceptical they have done much other than make and test some rocket engines and fly a rocket-powered subsonic aircraft around for a while.

The Xerus design is exactly that.

Not to denigrate those accomplishments, but they are a small fraction of what needst to be done. I have been unable to obtain so much as a back-of-the- envelope analysis that says "here's our vehicle; it has X amount of maximum thrust and carries Y kilograms of fuel/oxidizer. Here's our notional trajectory to 35 km."

I'm sure they'll be happy to show you if you're a qualified, interested investor. They have no obligation to do so if you're not, since they're doing it with private funding--not taxpayers'. Knowing the individuals involved closely, there is no doubt in my mind that they have worked out those numbers to agonizing detail.

BTW I'm not affiliated with any part of Lockheed Martin that's involved with space exploration or payload delivery. My current assignment is a targeting pod for the Air Force. But I have gained some passing familiarity with rocketry, orbital mechanics and aerodynamics, so whenever someone claims to be able to do for a buck and a quarter something that's not been possible,

Why do you claim that it's "not been possible"? Can you show me some kind of history of failed attempts to build suborbital passenger vehicles?


The only failure has been in raising money for them.

and do it with rudimentary technology, I have to stop and examine it to see if there's something squirrely being done.

What does "rudimentary technology" mean? They are using whatever technology level is required to get the job done. The fact that they have a small team says nothing about the level of technology that they're using.

And why do you think that, in the year 2002, building such a vehicle is an intrinsically high-technology endeavor?

I can't say that about XCOR because I have been unable to obtain sufficient detail about what's being planned. But neither can I be satisfied that it's all on the up- and-up.

"Squirrely." "All on the up and up." Just what are you accusing them of? And on what basis? That they don't publicly disclose their privately-developed and proprietary detailed designs?

Do you believe that Burt (and Dick) Rutan are charlatans, too? They make similar claims.

Dave, space just isn't as hard as you think it is. But a culture has developed in the aerospace industry over the past fifty years to make it seem hard, and even to believe themselves that it is (because it's easier to convince others, and to sleep at night, if you believe the same things that you're telling other people), because the environment has rewarded them for believing that.

After all, if something is hard, it makes it a lot easier to justify large budgets for it, and it provides an excuse if it doesn't succeed. And because the incentives are in place to create jobs, rather than useful space hardware, it often doesn't succeed. And then the failure is used as a proof--"See? We told you it was hard!" which becomes an excuse for even more funding in the future.

But this game doesn't work with private money. Investors (as opposed to politicians who are rewarded by jobs in their districts) expect results.

XCOR has done something that many didn't believe possible, at least not for the shoestring funding that they've received. They've developed a safe, reliable, reusable rocket engine, that can be integrated into an existing aircraft, flown repeatedly in a single day.

On the basis of that achievement, they've built credibility for the next thing--a suborbital airplane (with a different rocket engine in it). There will be little legacy, in terms of hardware, from EZ-Rocket, to Xerus. But their experience will translate to the new project. This will require a few million dollars.

If they succeed at that, (and succeeding includes not just building the vehicle, but repaying their investors), they'll have even more credibility for their next goal, which will likely be a higher-performance suborbital vehicle, or an actual orbital vehicle. Will any of Xerus hardware find its way into that vehicle? Maybe, maybe not, but they'll have the cash flow and track record they need to raise the money for it.

And they will have gotten into space the right way. Instead of making grandiose promises about high technology, and asking for billions of dollars up front, to be spread around to various congressional districts, they'll have done it step by step, learning as they go, and providing confidence for the next.

The way we might have done it forty years ago if the X-15 program hadn't been derailed by Apollo...

Posted by Rand Simberg at August 03, 2002 12:12 PM
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I've known many of the XCOR folks form for years and was introduced to them by friends who'd known them and aerospace for decades. I have every reason to believe they're both competent and serious.

I'm at a complete loss to understand what problem DAve has seeing the basic flaw in NASA's approach of taking stuff design to work once and trying to get reuse out of it. This is why we have the ridiculous and extremely expensive shuttle instead of a variety of more mission specific vehicles with greatly lower operating costs.

XCOR is doing the groundwork to make reusable orbital access vehicles a reality. Getting the technology right means thet getting to orbit is nowhere near an immediate goal. It tooks decade to reach orbit for the first time in undependable one-shot rockets. Dependability has improved but little else has changed.

We know how to get to orbit. That in of itself is no great accomplishment any more. Making it reliable, inexpensive, and frequent is the next great achievement. What we have now reminds me of a villain on the 'Get Smart' series. Called Leadside, IIRC, he was a parody of Raymond Burr's wheelchair bound Ironside character. Leadside's secret was that he could actually run but not walk. This made it possible to do nasty things and have an alibi.

NASA is like that. Once in a while, with a lot of planning, the right weather, and a whole lot of our money, NASA can get its vehicles to go out for a run. But most of the time they're in the hangar/wheelchair working up steam for the next sprint.

What we need is something that is always prepared to move, even at a slow pace, so long as it gets the job done often and for a price that opens up space to the masses.

Posted by Eric Pobirs at August 3, 2002 05:02 PM

Having watched the failure of VentureStar at Lockheed (and heard a LOT of critiques by aerospace engineers working on other projects within the company about why the thing was a non-flyer from the start) I'm tempted to agree that starting small and cheap (Like with EZ-Rocket) is a better plan than going for large, exotic and expensive stuff like the VentureStar. A hundred-yard distance is 300 feet or 3600 inches - and it's a lot easier to walk an inch or a foot than make a gigantic leap of 300 feet.

From what I gathered, and please bear in mind that this is from a layman's perspective after talking to folks fairly knowledgeable in the field, the VentureStar had possibilities to begin with, but it got turned into a high-tech test bed where EVERYTHING had to work just right in order for the design to work. Aerospike engines? Sure! We can do that. Lightweight design? Sure! there's plenty of ways to cut weight. Advanced materials for the fuel tank? Ummmm... we can't make the fuel tank - SORRY!

*KA-boom as project implodes*

And there goes the whole program after a billion or more is spent. EVERYTHING had to be right - or the project was doomed. But it DID provide a lot of jobs for a while, so that's probably the important thing - right?

The DC-X as a test-bed worked. It didn't use anything really esoteric, it used a lot of off-the-shelf hardware, and more importantly - as a proof-of-concept vehicle it did what it was supposed to do. It was a rocket which took off, flew a programmed flight, and landed under control. It was a step - and it worked.

It wasn't expensive (comparatively) and it wasn't sexy (in that there wasn't a lot of new stuff that needed to be developed) and it didn't provide a lot of jobs. It was like the old triange of "cheap, right, and fast" - pick any two and it might have survived. Expensive and sexy, expensive and jobs, sexy and jobs - and it might have gotten support. As it was... well, you know what happened. (Or if you don't, you can guess.)

The thing that gets overlooked sometimes with the big projects is that the end result has to actually work. Too often, I think, the project takes on a life of it's own. Look at the ISS - how much was spent on design studies before they even started building the thing? $10 billion? $20? Great googly-moogly - at what point do you go "Okay, let's stop making drawings and actually bend the tin to build this beast and see what needs to be revised and redesigned?" The revision process took on a life of it's own, and was hard to kill.

It's expensive. It's sexy. It's job-intensive - relatively. It'll be around for a while.

And only a very select few will ever get to orbit and visit it.



Posted by JLawson at August 4, 2002 06:03 AM

It's exciting to see that technology has finally progressed to the point where it's feasible for private businesses to start serious work on a suborbital transport of some kind. If it begins with baby steps like XCOR, so what? At least they're making progress and perfecting basic concepts (like inflight restarts) that will have to be repeatedly demonstrated before making any kind of commercial space transport.
Because the looming issue no one's talking about is regulation. A for-hire space transport won't be operating in a vacuum (pun intended). No way will the FAA allow someone to form a business that involves the regular carriage of paying passengers without first certifying the "aerospacecraft" and business operation. It'll likely have to get an FAA charter certificate. So the spacecraft will have to demonstrate system redundancy, onboard safety equipment, navigation capability, etc (remember, it'll be operating in normal airspace on the way up & down). The business itself will have to adopt FAA-approved programs for flight crew training, maintenance, safety, and operational control. In effect, it becomes a "spaceline" once the first ticket is sold.
Not that that's a bad thing. But the FAA & DOT certification requirements will likely drive the development costs way up, as they do now with traditional civil aircraft. As it is, you can't carry paying passengers in an "experimental" aircraft. Who knows, they may grant waivers for something this revolutionary but I wouldn't count on it for very long.

Posted by Patrick at August 4, 2002 12:40 PM

Actually, the FAA currently does not require certification for space passenger vehicles, and have no statutory authority to do so. The lobbying in Washington is intense to keep it that way, for now, for exactly the reason that we recognize that aircraft-equivalent requirements could strangle the fledgling industry in the cradle.

The fact that the vehicle doesn't have to be certified is one of the reasons that it can be developed and produced much more cheaply than can, say, a business jet.

Posted by Rand Simberg at August 4, 2002 02:52 PM


I'm not going to attempt a detailed response right now. I haven't the time now, and I have to go visit my grandmother in a couple of days. She almost died last weekend and at 90, she has little time left.

First, I think you are, intentionally or otherwise, not getting the point.

1) I keep seeing this suborbital flight characterized as a "trivial accomplishment", that we are merely picking up where the rocket plane experiments of the '60s left off. Finally, that basically the X-15 did these things in the '60s and they weren't a technical challenge then; therefore why should they be now? In response, they WERE technical challenges then. It took expensive technology to address them. Why is that technology any cheaper now? I encourage you to visit the X-15 pages and see just how many problems NASA ran into while attempting to get into space with a rocket plane.

2) "carnival ride" wasn't intended to belittle what XCOR is attempting to do. I apologize if I ever gave that impression. In case I have failed to make it crystal clear, I love the idea of a suborbital carnival ride. I'd be fighting for first in line if I could afford the ticket price.

3) Exploration vs. exploitation: good point. I agree totally. In fact, I'd like to make the claim that exploitation is what I really meant.

4) No, I don't claim Rutan, etc are "charlatans". If you go back and read what I actually said, you'll note that I said nothing of the sort. Other than what you seem to want to read into it.

5) The idea that making low earth orbit is actually very easy has yet to be substantiated. Rand, you accuse NASA of deliberately overstating the difficulties involved, and then turn right around and make some unsubstantiated claims to the contrary. To me, one unsubstantiated claim is as bad as another.

Let's look a bit at the X-15 as an example of how easy it is to make it into space. The X-15:

- Is released from a B-52 at 45000 ft.
- Is 50% fuel by mass.
- Is about 80% propulsion by volume.
- Has a payload ratio of about .01.

In comparison, Xerus appears to have about 50% propulsion by volume. To achieve the maximum altitude Xerus claims to be able to hit, X-15 had to launch from a LARGE aircraft high in the atmosphere and also carry large strapon fuel tanks.

Again, I nowhere said this couldn't be done. I merely asked what's new, that this can be done cheaply and easily (with a much larger payload ratio, to boot)? There are laws of physics that describe what's required. One parameter is specific impulse, which I chose as a starting point in my inquiry. For doing this, I was attacked as having insufficient vision. When this happens, my level of concern goes up. There seems to be a lot of defensiveness here, without any actual...defense. Other than the statements to the effect that "it's really not all that hard", which I seem to have a hard time swallowing.

Maybe more later. Unless you just tell me to take a hike.


Posted by David Perron at August 5, 2002 09:31 AM

Sorry to hear about your grandmother, Dave.

I do want to continue the discussion because, as I said, I find it useful. I'll respond upstream.

Posted by Rand Simberg at August 5, 2002 10:27 AM

David & Co.,
We certainly are well aware of the X-15 and similar vehicles. Some of our consultants are old Dryden retirees who were around in those days. Doing our mission requires a propellant fraction of about 70-75% by mass. The
Xerus design is wet wing, so the volume available for propellant storage internally is a bit higher than might at first be apparent.
We don't release most of the details of what we're doing not because we don't know them, but because we're well aware that the details will
change during development. We don't want to fall in to the all-too-common trap of feeling that we can't change things because of PR pressure.
Certainly when we are approached by a serious investment prospect, we go through a due diligence process where our estimates on vehicle performance, subsystem masses, etc. are challenged. We believe we have good answers for those questions.
To pick one example, if you look at the X-15 structural weight, the high heat load caused by lengthy maximum heating flights at relatively
low altitude, combined with a heat-sink TPS approach, required a high structural weight just to keep from melting. Initial results for a
more modern insulating TPS approach for suborbital vehicles look more promising.
As for going to orbit -- that's a lot further down the road. I think it's far more important for space startups to demonstrate *profit* than any particular level of performance. Private space development is seriously starved for capital -- and the way you improve that is by establishing a track record of investors making money by investing in space companies.
Lastly, we are *well* aware of the regulatory issues raised by one of the posters above. One of the reasons for doing the EZ-Rocket demonstrator was to put some urgency behind some of the regulatory development we and others are working with the FAA. Lots to do yet, but so far, so good.

Posted by Jeff Greason at August 5, 2002 03:08 PM

I saw the DC-X fly at White Sands in New Mexico. It was an awesome thing to see something done for the first time anywhere (what Larry Niven called the death swoop) but it had a sense of unreality about it. Here was a government sponsored program that was getting real practical research and development for a cost lower than NASA spends of toilet paper in any year. Yet there it was.

Unfortunately that was the same day the Air Force handed it over to NASA. Not long after NASA toasted and swept the whole thing under the rug.

Gosh, why we think we can do better than the X-15?

1) The X-15 itself. It's already been done once, the hard way. We learned a lot and can move to better things, which leads us to #2

2) It's been a hell of a long time since the X-15 and technology has moved in leaps and bounds where capital has been available to support R&D. These advances make an immense difference in not only the vehicle itself but in the development process to do as much useful work as possible before bending metal or setting spark to fuel. A trip to the local Best Buy or Circuit City can produce more computing power than was possessed on the entire planet when the X-15 was a going concern. This is a non-trivial item for bringing serious aeronautic R&D into the realm of small private groups. (The DC-X had the brains out of an F-15 and was controlled on the ground by a Mac. Amazing what can be done for cheap when what was once world-changing technology is done at the local mall.)

Posted by Eric Pobirs at August 5, 2002 07:12 PM


Thanks for the kind words. Pneumococcus almost did her in; next morning she's asking for brownies. Today she ripped all her IVs out, crusty old woman that she is. So I think she's out of the woods. Nevertheless, I'll be heading up to central Wisconsin for a visit. Nothing like a near-death experience to wake you up to what's important.

I'm now much less stressed. I have a little time to chat about this tonight and I'll do my best to cover as much as I can.

First, sorry about the rather snippy-sounding remarks above. I felt like I was getting clipped instead of answered, and it annoyed me a bit. I'm over it.

- Venture Star: Prior to returning to Lockheed Martin (I've worked for two different companies that are now part of LMC but weren't at the time) I knew a guy who worked on the Venture Star fuel tank. What I understand from him is that the composite fuel tank failed under cryo temperatures and had to be redesigned or replaced by a more conventional tank. From what I understand this was not a program-breaker in terms of operability but was rather the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back.

-DC-X was awesome. It raised the hairs on the back of my neck to see that thing take off and land like that.

-Brains: what DC-X used for a brain is really WAY behind what's currently available.

-Good points on the X-15, Jeff Gleason. I had neglected this, but one of its primary purposed was to collect data on hypersonic aerodynamics, which dictated a certain amount of time at low altitude. Some flights did in fact result in limited melt-through. And the wet-wing bit did throw me.

This is the sort of thing that I was looking for. Yes, (per Mr. Gleason) Xerus is designed to achieve 100km apogee without exceeding Mach 4 at altitudes where heat soak would be a problem. No, there's no direct design path at present from Xerus to a vehicle capable of making LEO, and returning. I'm pretty sure that's what Mr. Gleason said, in so many words.

This is exactly what I was looking for when I initially posted to your string on XCOR. Thanks Rand, Jeff Gleason and others for being patient with me. I hope you continue to post updates on XCOR and Xerus. Again, let me make it very clear (in case it's not already extremely so) that I have no credentials in the area of rocket-powered airplanes, although I do have some passing familiarity with rocketry and orbital mechanics. It was never my intention to represent myself as an authority on this topic.


David Perron

Posted by David Perron at August 5, 2002 08:34 PM

Apparently I'm no good at spelling Jeff Greason's name properly. Apologies and a squandered wish to go back and fix it.


Posted by David Perron at August 5, 2002 08:37 PM

Interesting how the Air Force considered these ventures worthy of further review in studies for the DARPA RASCAL project. The resulting teams offer a lot of talent focused on creative new solutions to these problems discovered by the X-15 and later space vehicles. The X-Prize seems to be provoking what may be the only growth area in aerospace research in the present economy.

Some of the X-Prize teams are watching commercial services other than passenger service. They still support the premise of the contest, and it's potential benifits. There are plenty of professionals with experience from Air Force and NASA programs in their ranks.

Prior to the Orbital Science Pegasus, no major aerospace firm used wings to launch payloads to space. If I understand correctly, this team started with a few college students and is now larger than the more traditional Aerojet.


Posted by at August 6, 2002 05:55 AM

Just for completeness, I believe Eric Pobirs has attributed a point of view to me that is inaccurate.

"I'm at a complete loss to understand what problem DAve has seeing the basic flaw in NASA's approach of taking stuff design to work once and trying to get reuse out of it. This is why we have the ridiculous and extremely expensive shuttle instead of a variety of more mission specific vehicles with greatly lower operating costs."

Your premise is incorrect. If you can point to a specific statement I made that can be interpreted as you did, please do so and I'll clarify or offer a retraction. I've always regarded the reusable SRB as a waste of money. And it introduces needless additional risk into subsequent missions.



Posted by David Perron at August 6, 2002 07:15 AM

To examine more regulatory concerns, I would like to focus on National Security. I highly recommend that the teams involved examine the possiblity that if the technology of the vehicle isn't protected in a manner sufficient for DoD standards, then the gambit may turn sour.

In FAA more specifically AST regulations exist the cavet for national security halting all launches and purpose for seizure.

Vehicles of XPRIZE and similar type will exceed sufficiently the current ability of intercept of USAF conventions (flight envelope). Of course, why would you consider this? I believe there was one particular date in the history of the world that may make this statement extraordinarily relevant. So, protect the technology and unfortunately the cost increases dramatically. It may be of best interest to lobby for monies of this type. Particuluarly because the technology of the X-15 and subsequent vehicles was used to aid in space programs. Currently only 2 countries and soon 3 will have this capablity of launching humans into space. Without a doubt in my mind, it is seen as the pinnacle of human development the ability to leave and return to the planet at will. Has XCOR made any specific considerations in this area?

Posted by J. S. McFarland at August 6, 2002 02:03 PM

It's difficult to see what you are getting at, J.S. First, Xerus isn't developed under DoD funding. As long as they have obtained the proper licensing (no idea what's involved there) for handling of LOX and large quantities of isopropanol (if that's still the fuel/ox of choice) then they're fine. DoD has nothing to say about it. The only current potential governmental intercession would be in the area of export control, which is another area that I know little about. Since no one is currently discussing export of Xerus technology or hardware, that issue is moot. In any event, it would be Commerce that would have regulatory authority, not Defense. Rand seems to have addressed the AST issues elsewhere.

Now let's look at your other point, which I believe is related to Sept. 11. An empty vehicle similar to Xerus could do some damage, true. But it can't exactly knock down a building like a WTC tower. Probably Xerus won't be operating (at least in the near term) near dense centers of population, so a fully loaded Xerus isn't likely to be doing a close flyby of the Sears Tower anytime soon.

Posted by David Perron at August 6, 2002 02:44 PM

Actually, it's the Department of Transportation rather than Commerce (specifically, for now, the FAA, though that's not required by the statute, and it was originally in an office of its own--the Clinton Administration put it under FAA).

There may be a time in the future that we worry about terrorists hijacking space transports, but it's long in the future. Xerus represents no threat at all. Very few people will even know how to fly or operate it, and it's unlikely that XCOR will be training any Saudis, with or without landing lessons...

Of course, just because it doesn't represent a realistic threat doesn't mean that some idiot in the government won't attempt to shut it down anyway. After all, the sub-room-temperature IQs that are managing the current policy, in which GI Joe's toy rifle and nose-hair trimmers are confiscated, are capable of almost any conceivable stupidity (and probably quite a few that aren't conceivable, at least by me).

Posted by Rand Simberg at August 6, 2002 04:14 PM

My particular reasons for bringing this subject to light are not for reasons of terrorist hijackings. It would maintain that various gains from US aerospace companies during the Clinton era were exposed for advancing China's space program. I don't want any of the teams involved in a private space race to be shut down on a technicality that their security perimeters were not within requirements. XCOR's experience with the Rotary Rocket may provide insight into this matter, and I'm merely suggesting that this is yet another area to examine, one that certainly is not obvious.

We're dealing with a whole other ballgame than building another general aviation aircraft here. This is the equivalent to X series research. Fortunately XCOR and others still can 'tap' the information of the X-15, X-20 and other programs.

I'm actually all for keeping the press in the dark for as long as it is compelling to do so, thus agreeing with Mr. Greason's PR statements, you can rather surprise people with a nice show and take your competitors by surprise.

Posted by J. S. McFarland at August 6, 2002 04:47 PM

Rand, J.S.:

It is indeed the Department of Commerce that has authority over export of technology. I think we're getting our wires crossed here. I believe J.S. is talking about technology getting out, not hijacking.

The Clinton/PRC thing involved giving export-restricted technology to the PRC through inadequate protection of the technology. Basically we allowed a Long March to launch one or more Loral satellites (through presidential waiver) and after one of them crashed we could not recover the board in question from the wreckage. In all probability this was a violation of export control laws rather than DoD security. However, some tried to make the case that the "dual-use" of military technology for commercial purposes also violated national security.

Posted by David Perron at August 7, 2002 07:39 AM

When you said "regulatory authority," I thought you were talking about launch regulations, not tech transfer. And isn't the State Department still responsible for that, or did they give it back to Commerce?

Posted by Rand Simberg at August 7, 2002 12:39 PM

It's these kinds of vague problems that make the job of externalities to design difficult.

Basically my proposed "costly" solution to this is:

1) Have extensive background checks of all personnel, contractors, and visitors. You're not on the 'cleared list' you cannot see the vehicle.

The vehicles during operation will be under various states of tear down for preventative maintenance solutions, so the inner workings will be distributed across the floors of the hangar and repair facilities.

2) Have extensive background checks of all passengers.

3) Put up some security features such as multiband electromagnetic cameras, your standard thumbprint pad, and some security guards.

This will triple the cost of operation and make it extraordinarily difficult for media.

Alternatives include making the design almost public domain in such the design is patented people can look at all the fun parts and widgets. Relying on the legal system to prosecute for this and that infrigment forcing the company to continue to innovate to keep its edge.

From the CIA, it's basically along these lines:
If you aren't under a DoD contract it isn't classified and no secrets are revealed.

If public money was used things can be construed in such ways that secrets can exist and security becomes an issue. That's the most general gist to my understanding.

It's this externality as aforementioned that could increase operations cost significantly and change the numbers of the profit equation thus dramatically altering the payback function to investors... which is their motivation for investment into the project.

Posted by J. S. McFarland at August 7, 2002 01:17 PM

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