Another falcon's frustration... yet space continues to call
SpaceX's Falcon I
's launch, scheduled for saturday, was scrubbed for a week due to excessive boiloff of helium and oxygen
in the tropic heat.
I understood that the atoll was kind of remote but I was kind of shocked that the fuel making equipment was not based on the island.
Anyway, as Elon Musk cautioned all, delays in this first launch were inevitable
, and I retain high hopes that SpaceX can deliver small payloads to LEO at a cost per pound previously unthinkable.
remember... If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.
It's going to be a wonderful decade for private space flight, what with Mike Griffin publically advocating that the alt.space community get into the fuel transport biz. Griffin gets it:
In order that we may devote as much of NASA's budget as possible to the cutting edge of space exploration, we must seek to reduce the cost of all things routine. Here in 2005, the definition of "routine" certainly should include robust, reliable, and cost effective access to space for at least small and medium class payloads. Unfortunately, it does not, and frankly, this is not an area where it is reasonable to expect government to excel. Within the boundaries of available technology, when we want an activity to be performed reliably and efficiently, we in our society look to the competitive pressures of the free market to achieve these goals. In space, these pressures have been notably lacking, in part because the space "market" has historically been both specialized and small. [...] We will put about a half-billion dollars in play over the five years to promote competition that is good for the private sector and good for the public interest. I'm confident that this kind of financial incentive, on different terms than are usual with NASA, or indeed with any government entity, will result in the emergence of substantial commercial providers. Such successes will, in their turn, serve as a justification for even greater use of such "non-traditional" acquisition methods. [...] if there were a fuel depot available on orbit, one capable of being replenished at any time, the Earth departure stage could after refueling carry significantly more payload to the Moon, maximizing the utility of the inherently expensive SDHLV for carrying high-value cargo.
But NASA's architecture does not feature a fuel depot. Even if it could be afforded within the budget constraints which we will likely face – and it cannot – it is philosophically the wrong thing for the government to be doing. It is not "necessary"; it is not on the critical path of things we "must do" to return astronauts to the Moon. It is a highly valuable enhancement, but the mission is not hostage to its availability. It is exactly the type of enterprise which should be left to industry and to the marketplace.
So let us look forward ten or more years, to a time when we are closer to resuming human exploration of the Moon. The value of such a commercially operated fuel depot in low Earth orbit at that time is easy to estimate. Such a depot would support at least two planned missions to the Moon each year. The architecture which we have advanced places about 150 metric tons in LEO, 25 MT on the Crew Launch Vehicle and 125 MT on the heavy-lifter. Of the total, about half will be propellant in the form of liquid oxygen and hydrogen, required for the translunar injection to the Moon. If the Earth departure stage could be refueled on-orbit, the crew and all high-value hardware could be launched using a single SDHLV, and all of this could be sent to the Moon.
There are several ways in which the value of this extra capability might be calculated, but at a conservatively low government price of $10,000/kg for payload in LEO, 250 MT of fuel for two missions per year is worth $2.5 B, at government rates. If a commercial provider can supply fuel at a lower cost, both the government and the contractor will benefit. This is a non-trivial market, and it will only grow as we continue to fly. The value of fuel for a single Mars mission may be several billion dollars by itself. Once industry becomes fully convinced that the United States, in company with its international partners, is headed out into the solar system for good, I believe that the economics of such a business will attract multiple competitors, to the benefit of both stockholders and taxpayers.
Bonus Link: Dr Ron Sugar (CEO of Northrop/Grumman) speaks:
History is clear. Far from being a drag on a nation's progress, exploration often accelerates a nation's progress.
Every age has its governing commodity, and the fortunes of nations wax and wane in correlation to their mastery of it. In past millennia it was the mastery of tools and weapons - first of stone then bronze, and finally iron. Centuries ago the governing commodity was precious metals. More recently it has been trade and finance, steel and oil.
But the ultimate governing commodity of our age is intellectual capital. Just think about that. As a nation, we are preeminent in the world because we dominate that commodity. It is the basis of our leadership in pharmaceuticals and medicine; communications and computer technology; aerospace, genetic engineering, national security, and many other categories.
If we ever lose our dominance in intellectual capital, we will lose our position of leadership in the world. And the world - not just America - will be far the worse for it.