If you can make it, stop by even if only for an afternoon! It will be great fun!
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.
— Juan Díaz Infante (@JuanDiazInfante) August 10, 2017
Good to know for people looking for designers who design for space 🚀 Eagle's lunar elevator presentation won over entire conference🙌 https://t.co/GMR4yYrIkT
— Starship Congress (@StarshipCongrss) August 10, 2017
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.
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 as soon as it is available.