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Space Policy Advice to the Obama Transition Team

Block grants.

It’s time for the Federal Government to pass the baton. California’s current GDP is approaching the GDP of the US in 1958 of a bit more than $2 trillion in current dollars. All NASA money should be distributed to States according to Congress’s favorite formula for use “To provide for research into problems of flight within and outside the [E]arth’s atmosphere, and for other purposes.” The States would then have a chance to further freedom as a laboratory of aeronautics and space policy just as they have been a laboratory of democracy.

Fishing for the Future

…Soylent green. The miracle food of high-energy plankton gathered from the oceans of the world.

Soylent Green, 1973

The New York Times predicts that “if current fishing practices continue, the world’s major commercial stocks will collapse by 2048.” Their solution: lower energy content by eating sardines instead of feeding them to farm-raised salmon.

Mistaking energy content for price is a common mistake. Chew on this: organic lettuce is more expensive than a hamburger.

Wild fish will be eclipsed by farm-raised fish just as farm-raised beef has eclipsed free-range beef. Get used to it, perhaps by preparing to pay an extreme premium for free-range fish. Don’t expect the Chinese middle class to prefer wild cod once a year to farm-raised salmon once a month. Expect the coastal waters to be fenced into fish farms just as the Great Plains was fenced in during the 19th century.

It’s time to manage the pollution and reserve the wild fish parks upcurrent. This tide isn’t going to be turned back by pondering how the old days were until we’re eaten up.

Space Power Beaming Concept Proof

On p.38 of this presentation, there’s a breakdown of the contributions to the cost of Space Solar Power (SSP). Not surprisingly, the installation is more than half of the cost and another 20% is manufacturing cost of the solar array.

If we extract out the solar generation from SSP and instead of an antenna, have a passive microwave reflector, we can potentially get the cost of the reflector down to less than $1 billion. Let’s say it’s a flat spinning <8 gram per square meter perforated mylar single-mission heavy payload to GEO straw man. If we spend $1 billion on a ground-based microwave antenna and another $1 billion on a rectenna, we have a 1 GW system that can function as transmission for a 40-year straight-line cost of 1.5 cents/kwh which is about 30% of the cost of SSP per watt with the viable scale of capital needed much smaller. (If you need a VC return, the price must be closer to ten cents per kwh.) The reflector would not be at capacity so additional transmission can be achieved for 2/3 of that. 1 GW beaming for $3 billion would be a pretty satisfying proof of concept. There's plenty of power on the ground to beam to space that's cheap so the proof of concept can be economically viable at this scale. At Hawaii's buy price of more than $0.30/kwh and New Mexico's sell price of less than $0.10/kwh it would pay for itself pretty fast. Space power beaming would therefore be shown to be economically viable without the space generation and thus be valuable as a proof of concept for transmission alone.

Presidential Stock Market Response to VP Debate

Obama is still trading as a 2-1 favorite on Intrade after the debate and has even moved up a point since yesterday’s close to 66 cents (for a security that pays one dollar if he wins) as of press time. But Palin has earned her stripes. The “Palin to be withdrawn from the ticket” security has dropped from ten cents yesterday to 4 which is a penny less than “Biden to be withdrawn from the ticket”. My opinion? Palin’s the best of the four and should have been thrown to the media wolves so they could patronize her and have it backfire, so she could continue framing the debate, and so she could dominate the late-night talk shows and comedy shows. It’s not too late for her to make a circuit of the late night TV shows. Parody is a high form of praise. CNN reported that she did less than five interviews to Biden’s 100+. I don’t see McCain changing that now. I hope she runs in 2012 and if necessary 2016.

J-Vator? Probably Not

Leo Lewis notes that boosters at the Japan Space Elevator Association are psyched. Unfortunately, material science problems are still a challenge, albeit one that has potential to be solved quickly (say in the next 10-30 years) and economically–but it’s still only potential at this point. Kevlar is still king of industrial cabling, body armor, etc. so super strong materials will be a laboratory curiosity for some years before they will be available for Earthbound uses, much less space uses.

One oddity: electric power delivered by the elevator. That would be an electric line that would stretch around the world. Probably better to stick with power beaming by laser. With solar energy very popular, that should not have any laugh test to pass. Another oddity. They stick with the far counterweight popularized by Edwards; this may be OK for initial deployment, but once mass is coming up the cable, the counterweight should be closer and heavier and the cable shorter.

Palin Turnaround

My father, Dr. Dinkin Sr. author of Election Day: a Documentary History says that there has never been a VP who had this big an effect on the election–the most is about 5%. Further, that the last time a Party won that was behind in the polls after the second convention is 1964. Pressed he said 60-40 McCain. At intrade, McCain is trading at $0.52 for a security that pays $1 if he wins. Here’s what he’s trading at now (GMT):

If you smear lipstick on a pig, perhaps you have too much on.

Scaled Brings in SpaceDev Again

SpaceDev has announced Scaled Composites has selected them to develop a hybrid motor for SpaceShipTwo in a $15 million contract. The point that SpaceDev was selected (not down-selected) in SpaceShipOne development was 3.25 years before winning the Ansari X-Prize. This is consistent with the duration announced for the development contract for SpaceShipTwo’s rocket motor of “through 2012” with work “primarily completed over the next two years”. SpaceShipTwo will likely burn rubber getting to suborbital space.