Combination Launch Systems, Presentation

For those of you who live in or around Monterey, California, I will be giving a presentation on Combination Launch Systems at the Starship Congress  August 7-9, 2017, at the Hyatt Monterey Regency.

If you can make it, stop by even if only for an afternoon!  It will be great fun!

Eagle Sarmont

_______________________________________

August 18,2017

The Starship Congress was great fun with lots of interesting ideas, projects, and people.  Unfortunately, no one presented a working prototype of either a warp drive or an anti-gravity drive, which means we are stuck with reusable rockets and combination launch systems for the forseeable future.

On the plus side, my presentation on Combination Launch Systems received rave reviews from just about everyone who saw it, both at the conference and on the live feed that was broadcast on the internet.  Here are two tweets that were forwarded to me as a result of that presentation.

It has not been easy to figure out how to communicate the combination launch system and non-rotating skyhook concepts to non-aerospace people due to both of these ideas being so different from other launch vehicle concepts.  It usually takes a good understanding of basic orbital mechanics and Tsiolkovsky’s rocket equation before the significance of these concepts becomes clear.  The high percentage of very favorable responses to this presentation tells me that I am finally on the right path for communicating that.  Even so, based on a couple of after conference comments, there were still at least two people at the conference who did not get the significance of what $100 per pound to orbit launch costs will mean to the opening of the high frontier for settlement and development.

Currently, it costs over $22,000 per pound to launch supplies and cargo to the International Space Station using the Falcon 9 rocket and unmanned Dragon spacecraft.  That number comes from the NASA/SpaceX Commercial Resupply Services contract that consists of NASA paying SpaceX $1.6 billion for 12 cargo resupply flights to the International Space Station.  That works out to $133.3 million per flight.  The maximum useful payload delivered by one of those flights was reported to be 2,708 kilograms or 5,970 pounds.  That comes out to $22,200 per pound of useful payload delivered.

Even if the $62 million per flight cost of flying a basic Falcon 9 rocket without the Dragon spacecraft is used, the cost of flying to the International Space Station would still be $10,300 per pound.

Now think of that cost in terms of your everyday activities such as the food you eat, the water you drink, and the air you breathe.

Now think of it in terms of the cost of launching the computer you are using to read this, of the cost of launching a spacesuit should you need to go on an EVA, and of the cost of launching a habitation module for you to stay in and work in while you are at the International Space Station.

Now think of that cost it in terms of building a spacecraft for going to the Moon, or building the pieces of a modular Moon Base that will need to be lifted into Earth orbit and then sent to Lunar orbit and finally soft landed on the Moon.  How many tons of materials will be needed in Earth orbit to do that?  Now multiply that figure by $10,000 per pound.

If you think $10,000 per pound to orbit is too much, use $5,000 per pound or $3,000 per pound, the total cost will still be way too much to allow us to start building a spacefaring civilization.

This is why we do not have a base on the Moon.  This is why we have not built a spaceship for going to Mars.  This is why we have not built space colonies or satellite solar power stations.  This is why we do not have space hotels and spaceplanes for carrying tourists into Earth orbit.

For someone to say that the cost of spaceflight is not the single most important issue limiting our activities in space tells me that that person does not understand the problem.

Yes, there are other issues that need to be solved such as closed loop life support systems, and how to deal with the long term effects of either reduced gravity or zero gravity.  There are also questions about how to protect astronauts from solar and cosmic radiation, and developing the technology for using lunar and asteroidal materials in order to live off the land, but solving all of these problems won’t matter if we can’t get the cost of getting off planet down to an amount that people can afford to pay.

In closing, I would like to say a special thanks to those of you who “liked” those two tweets.  The amount of work that has gone into developing and validating the combination launch system and non-rotating skyhook concepts has been huge and it is very gratifying to see people starting to see the value of them.

Thank you.

 

To read the conference paper “Combination Launch Systems” that went with my presentation, go here.

One last thing.  The people who put together the Starship Congress are currently processing the videos for all the presentations and will start uploading them to the internet as soon as they are completed.  I will include a link here to my presentation and to all the others as soon as they are available.

Ad Astra

The Moon or Mars?

There have been a lot of articles in the news about either returning to the Moon or going to Mars of late.  I think they are great.  Either destination is fine as long as we build the infrastructure that will make spaceflight affordable to everyone in the process.

My reasons for this are simple; whichever program we choose, I don’t want it to be canceled after a handful of missions due to excessive cost like the Apollo program was.  If we make spaceflight really affordable the program will continue and people will find a way to make money in space.  Once that happens we will be on our way towards building a spacefaring civilization and there will be no turning back.

Returning to the Moon or going to Mars without building the infrastructure to make spaceflight affordable will only result in another canceled program and another 40 to 50-year wait before we try again.  The reason for this is simple.  Currently, it costs over $12,000 per pound to go to the International Space Station.  You can check this yourself by going to the SpaceX website and looking up the cost of flying the Falcon 9 launch vehicle.  It is $62 million per flight.  If you look up the amount of useful payload that it can deliver to the International Space Station, the answer is 5,000 pounds.  $62 million divided by 5,000 equals $12,400 per pound.

Another example is the Space Launch System, NASA’s new heavy-lift rocket that is currently in the process of being developed.  The Block 1 version of this rocket is supposed to be able to lift 150,000 pounds into low Earth orbit.  The cost per flight is estimated to be $1.86 billion.  That also comes out to $12,400 per pound.

The Saturn V rocket that was used to go to the Moon in the 1960s would launch 3 astronauts and 140,000 kilograms into low Earth orbit for each Moon mission.  That is a little over 300,000 pounds or 100,000 pounds per astronaut.  100,000 times 12,400 equals $1.24 billion per astronaut in today’s dollars to go to the Moon.  You can be sure that sending an astronaut to Mars will cost more than that.  Even if the reusable first stage rocket technology that is being developed by SpaceX and Blue Origin is able to reduce the cost of getting into Earth orbit by half, the cost per astronaut for going to either the Moon or Mars will still be in excess of $600 million per person.  That is a lot of money.  So much money that no one has been able to come up with a commercial activity in space that can make enough money to justify the expense of manned spaceflight.

As much as I want to see us build a spacefaring civilization, it just isn’t going to happen with launch costs this high.  Anyone who tells you otherwise is either living in a fantasy world or expects to make money on it via government contracts.

So what can we do?

There are 3 things we need to do to make spaceflight affordable if we want to build a spacefaring civilization.

First, build a combination launch system that includes either an air-launched reusable first stage rocket for flying to the lower end of a non-rotating Skyhook or build a 600 MPH ground accelerator for launching a reusable first stage rocket to a non-rotating Skyhook.

Second, build a reusable spacecraft for launching from the upper end of the Skyhook for going either to the Moon or to Mars, as well as single stage reusable lander for the Moon or Mars.

Third, build outpost space stations with local sources of propellant for refueling those spacecraft and landers.

It doesn’t all have to be built at once.  It can be built a piece at a time with jointly funded government/industry programs.  SpaceX and Blue Origin are working on reusable rockets.  Vulcan Inc. is developing the Stratolaunch carrier aircraft for air-launching launch vehicles.  Bigelow Aerospace is developing inflatable space stations.  NASA is building the Orion spacecraft for cis-lunar spaceflight and possibly for going to Mars.  And finally, the US Air Force is developing a Maglev test track that could be used to accelerate a launch vehicle up to 600 MPH.

What else do we need?

Vulcan Inc. needs to develop a horizontal landing reusable first stage launch vehicle for its Stratolaunch carrier aircraft, and either NASA or Bigelow Aerospace needs to add a 200-kilometer long tether to the International Space Station or to a Bigelow space station along the lines of the one shown in this video.

Air-launching and the 200-kilometer long Skyhook will reduce the cost to orbit to 1/3 of what it is today, from $12,000 per pound to $4,000 per pound.  Making the air-launched first stage reusable should reduce the cost to $2,000 per pound.  Increase the length of the Skyhook to 380 kilometers and the cost will drop to $1,500 per pound.  Continue making the Skyhook longer and the price drops even more.  Once the Skyhook is long enough that the upper end is moving at close to Earth escape velocity it becomes possible to place an Orion spacecraft on a free-return orbit to the Moon without the need for an expendable upper stage.  Add a single stage reusable lunar lander and an outpost space station in lunar orbit and now we have an affordable transportation system for going to the Moon.

Before the Space Shuttle was retired we had the beginnings of a space tourism industry with people like Dennis Tito flying to the International Space Station.  The cost for such a flight was $20 million.  An air-launched reusable first stage launch vehicle flying to the lower end of a 380-kilometer long Skyhook equipped space station would cost 1/8th of that, or approximately $2.5 million.  Obviously, there will be more people wanting to go into space at that price than for what Dennis Tito paid.  Increased demand for flights will justify additional investment in the Skyhook to make it longer as a longer Skyhook will decrease the price even more.  Every time the price goes down the demand for flights will increase.  The increased demand will lead to further increases in the length of the Skyhook.  Eventually, it will reduce the cost of a ride to orbit to $20,000 per person.  That is what I call affordable to everyone spaceflight.

As the number of people in orbit increases, it will eventually become economically worthwhile to develop an off-planet source of consumables such as water and oxygen.  No matter how affordable the combination launch system becomes, it will always be more affordable to get basics such as water, oxygen, and shielding materials from either the Moon or an asteroid due to the lower energy requirements for going to those places.  Once we have access to those materials, building farm modules for growing food in space will also become worthwhile.

Having a NASA program for returning to the Moon or going to Mars will speed up the development of the combination launch system due to the increased demand for flights.  This will speed up the pace of development in commercial manned spaceflight as well as reduce the cost of the NASA program.  It is a win-win combination that will propel us into the solar system and kickstart the building of a spacefaring civilization.

We are that close to making it all happen.

Ad Astra

 

Index of Articles

  1. Opening the High Frontier
  2. Skyhook, a Journey to Orbit and Beyond
  3. In the Beginning . . .
  4. Why do Rockets Cost so Much?
  5. Combination Launch Systems
  6. It’s All About Speed!
  7. Visions of the Future
  8. The Call of an Unlimited Future
  9. Combination Launch Systems, part 2
  10. Outward Bound: Beyond Low Earth Orbit
  11. and someday . . . Starships!
  12. Mars: how to get there
  13. Outpost Space Stations
  14. Dreams of Space
  15. The Moon or Mars?
  16. Skyhooks and Space Elevators
  17. Stratolaunch and the X-15

Other websites

Dreams of Space

What are your dreams of space?

People have dreamed about building cities on the Moon and Mars for years.

Some people even dream of making Mars into an earthlike planet – a true second home for mankind.

Others want to go asteroid mining so as to bring home the wealth of the solar system.

There are others who want to build cities in the stars, O’Neill style space colonies scattered throughout the solar system, to develop a truly space based civilization.

They are all worthy and wonderful dreams.  Yet none of them will happen until a way is found to make space travel affordable to everyone.  Affordable to the individual spaceflight is the foundation of all these dreams if any of them are ever to be made real.

Affordable to everyone spaceflight is not just about the big dreams, it is also about the personal dreams of every person who has the courage to dream.  For some, that personal dream might be to spend a week or two in an orbiting hotel watching the Earth pass by underneath.

For others, it might be to get a job in one of the orbiting factories or research stations so as to become part of the new frontier.

Then there are those who dream of starting their own business in space such as a repair and refueling service for satellites that orbit the Earth or to build a farm module where they can make a living growing food for the people who live and work in space.

Other still might dream of getting a job in space so they can use their spare time to build a small spaceship that will allow them to homestead an asteroid.

The possibilities are endless.  The only limitation is your imagination and how hard you are willing to work.

Whatever your dreams of space are, affordable to everyone spaceflight is what will make them possible.  Without it, all these dreams, both large and small, will remain forever unattainable.

Isn’t it time we built a combination launch system that will make all this possible?

 

Index of Articles

  1. Opening the High Frontier
  2. Skyhook, a Journey to Orbit and Beyond
  3. In the Beginning . . .
  4. Why do Rockets Cost so Much?
  5. Combination Launch Systems
  6. It’s All About Speed!
  7. Visions of the Future
  8. The Call of an Unlimited Future
  9. Combination Launch Systems, part 2
  10. Outward Bound: Beyond Low Earth Orbit
  11. and someday . . . Starships!
  12. Mars: how to get there
  13. Outpost Space Stations
  14. Dreams of Space
  15. The Moon or Mars?
  16. Skyhooks and Space Elevators
  17. Stratolaunch and the X-15

Other websites

and someday . . . Starships

Look at what has happened to aviation since the Wright brothers made their first powered flight.  Look at how it has changed the world.

Imagine what will happen over the next 100 years once spaceflight becomes affordable to everyone.  Imagine how that will change the world.

Will we return to the Moon and go to Mars?

Will we mine the asteroids and build space colonies?

Without a doubt.

Will there be starships?

I think so.  Unmanned probes on one-way missions at first, and maybe crewed ships sometime after that assuming the EmDrive really does work.

oosgudestinydeck

If the EmDrive does work, imagine a space colony equipped with a nuclear electric EmDrive that is capable of accelerating to 20% of light speed.  Such a ship could make the trip to Alpha Centauri in 20 to 25 years.

It will be awhile before that happens.  First, we will need to build the affordable to everyone combination launch system followed by developing the infrastructure for building space colonies.  That will take some time.  But once that happens, star travel won’t be far behind.

Between now and then, we will have to make do with watching videos like these.  Obviously not the same as the real thing, but it sure is fun to think about what the future might be like as we watch them.

 

Index of Articles

  1. Opening the High Frontier
  2. Skyhook, a Journey to Orbit and Beyond
  3. In the Beginning . . .
  4. Why do Rockets Cost so Much?
  5. Combination Launch Systems
  6. It’s All About Speed!
  7. Visions of the Future
  8. The Call of an Unlimited Future
  9. Combination Launch Systems, part 2
  10. Outward Bound: Beyond Low Earth Orbit
  11. and someday . . . Starships!
  12. Mars: how to get there
  13. Outpost Space Stations
  14. Dreams of Space
  15. The Moon or Mars?
  16. Skyhooks and Space Elevators
  17. Stratolaunch and the X-15

Other websites

Outward Bound: Beyond Low Earth Orbit

Once a combination launch system that includes a Skyhook has been built and orbiting hotels and factories are in the process of being built, where do we go next?  Low Earth orbit is only two hundred to three hundred miles up, and some astronauts have described low Earth orbit spaceflight as “skimming the cloud tops.”  By comparison, the Moon is 240,000 miles away and Mars is measured in many millions of miles.  Based on this, low Earth orbit is the equivalent of standing on our doorstep.

So again, where do we go next in our outward bound journey?

s93_45585

Some people want to return to the Moon to mine it for water, oxygen, minerals, helium 3, and as practice before going to Mars.

1024px-artist_concept_-_astronaut_performs_tethering_maneuvers_at_asteroid

Some people want to explore the near-Earth asteroids with the idea of either mining them or moving them closer to the Earth where they could be processed.

EM6

Others want to build an outpost space station near the Moon that would serve as a jumping off point for trips to the Moon, the near-Earth asteroids, and eventually to Mars.

pressurized_rovers_on_mars

Some people want to go directly to Mars,

and some want to build space colonies and satellite solar power stations.

The one thing that all of these ideas have in common is the need to go from low Earth orbit velocity to escape velocity.  It takes a lot of change in velocity to do that.  Change in velocity that requires an upper stage and a lot of propellant.  Building an upper stage, filling it with propellant and lifting it into low Earth orbit costs a lot of money even when using a combination launch system.  Even if you make the upper stage reusable you would still have to launch another load of propellant to refill it and use it again, and the propellant would still have to be contained in tanks.  Bottom line, making the upper stage reusable doesn’t save you very much.  So how do we make going from low Earth orbit to escape velocity as affordable as going from the surface of the Earth to orbit on a combination launch system?

The answer to this is the Skyhook that was built for the combination launch system.

In the same way that the lower end of the Skyhook cable is moving at less than orbital velocity for its altitude, the upper end of the Skyhook cable is moving faster than orbital velocity for its altitude.  Once the Skyhook is long enough, the upper end of the skyhook cable will be moving at escape velocity.  That means that a spacecraft that releases from the upper end of the skyhook cable can be placed on a free return orbit to the Moon, on a path to an outpost space station at L-2, or on an escape trajectory to a near-Earth asteroid without the need to use an upper stage or any of its onboard propellant.  In other words, the upper end of the Skyhook will make low Earth orbit to escape velocity spaceflight affordable to everyone.

Once we have this we won’t need to choose between the Moon, Mars, or the asteroids as we will be able to afford all of them all on a commercial basis as profit making ventures.

 

Index of Articles

  1. Opening the High Frontier
  2. Skyhook, a Journey to Orbit and Beyond
  3. In the Beginning . . .
  4. Why do Rockets Cost so Much?
  5. Combination Launch Systems
  6. It’s All About Speed!
  7. Visions of the Future
  8. The Call of an Unlimited Future
  9. Combination Launch Systems, part 2
  10. Outward Bound: Beyond Low Earth Orbit
  11. and someday . . . Starships!
  12. Mars: how to get there
  13. Outpost Space Stations
  14. Dreams of Space
  15. The Moon or Mars?
  16. Skyhooks and Space Elevators
  17. Stratolaunch and the X-15

Other websites

The Call of an Unlimited Future

In 2014, Erik Wernquist released a short film about his vision of our future called “Wanderers”.  It shows an incredible and wondrous future that sets no limits on what we can do and on what we might become.  Every bit of it is within our reach.  The only thing that is missing is the vision on how to make that first step, the step from the surface of the Earth to orbit and to escape velocity, affordable to everyone.

Think about that as you watch it.

All it will take to make this happen in the real world are the four components of a combination launch system.  Components that can be affordably built right now with existing materials and technology.  Four components that will give us an unlimited future.

In the closing lines of the film, it says,

“Maybe it’s a little early, maybe the time is not quite yet, but those are the worlds promising untold opportunity.  [They] beckon.  Silently they orbit the sun . . . . waiting.”

Why are we waiting?

 

Index of Articles

  1. Opening the High Frontier
  2. Skyhook, a Journey to Orbit and Beyond
  3. In the Beginning . . .
  4. Why do Rockets Cost so Much?
  5. Combination Launch Systems
  6. It’s All About Speed!
  7. Visions of the Future
  8. The Call of an Unlimited Future
  9. Combination Launch Systems, part 2
  10. Outward Bound: Beyond Low Earth Orbit
  11. and someday . . . Starships!
  12. Mars: how to get there
  13. Outpost Space Stations
  14. Dreams of Space
  15. The Moon or Mars?
  16. Skyhooks and Space Elevators
  17. Stratolaunch and the X-15

Other websites

Visions of the Future

Where are we headed, as individuals, as a civilization?

What does the future hold in store for all of us?

Will we destroy ourselves in a nuclear war?

Will our civilization collapse due to overpopulation?

Will we muddle on with an ever growing divide between the haves and the have-nots?

Or will we take the next step and build a spacefaring civilization that sets no limits on what we might become?

We have been exploring space on a limited basis for over 50 years.  Limited because of the cost.  All the dreams and visions of large commercial passenger-carrying spaceships traveling between the planets, of cities on the Moon and Mars, of asteroid mining, and of space colonies scattered throughout the solar system, have remained dreams due to the high cost of spaceflight.  Isn’t it time we came up with a workable vision on how to make spaceflight affordable to everyone?  A vision that can be affordably built right now with existing technology?

Lunar City

Building a space transportation system that is affordable to everyone will allow us to make all of these dreams into reality.

cloud-city

Seriously, what other choice do we have?

The ideas and technologies that will make spaceflight affordable to everyone have existed for a long time.

The first component consists of choosing between air assisted launch or a ground assisted launch.  Two ideas that have been around for a long time.

The second component is making the launch vehicle reusable.

The third component is some form of a combination air-breathing and rocket motor propulsion system.

The fourth component is a non-rotating Skyhook with an ion propulsion system.

These four components, when used together, will reduce the cost of going to orbit from the current price of over $20 million per person to $20,000 per person.  And the best part of all this is that all four of these components can be affordably built with currently existing materials and technology, right now, today, no waiting.

 

Index of Articles

  1. Opening the High Frontier
  2. Skyhook, a Journey to Orbit and Beyond
  3. In the Beginning . . .
  4. Why do Rockets Cost so Much?
  5. Combination Launch Systems
  6. It’s All About Speed!
  7. Visions of the Future
  8. The Call of an Unlimited Future
  9. Combination Launch Systems, part 2
  10. Outward Bound: Beyond Low Earth Orbit
  11. and someday . . . Starships!
  12. Mars: how to get there
  13. Outpost Space Stations
  14. Dreams of Space
  15. The Moon or Mars?
  16. Skyhooks and Space Elevators
  17. Stratolaunch and the X-15

Other websites