This is going to be the killer [NPI] feature of using automated rather than manned systems. Aiming for just-reliable-enough + spares, rather than Failure Is Not An Option is going to impact just about every single part of it, and reduce costs massively.
Using automated systems rather than manned systems is a necessary but not sufficient condition to allow for relaxed reliability requirements in spacecraft. Another necessary condition is reduced cost. It's common for a single mission to cost hundreds of millions of dollars, which makes many spacecraft designers very risk-adverse.
When I was in college, I worked at PolySat  where I wrote embedded software for CubeSat-class satellites. CubeSats are fairly revolutionary in the spacecraft business, because they can be launched for less than one million dollars (including development costs). The cost of the hardware was less than $10k for a single satellite and the launch costs are around $40k per kilogram (which is the maximum weight of a 1U CubeSat). Those costs are low enough that we built backup flight units in addition to engineering units. In one case, we were able to launch a backup flight unit of a satellite that was destroyed in a launch failure. (CP2 was on the crashed Dnepr-1 of July 2006 . We relaunched the backup flight model as CP4.) That was only possible because the cost was so low. $50k to relaunch a satellite is unheard of.
Let's target rational exuberance.
I'd be more pessimistic on the grounds that there isn't a huge market for space-based factories. Making the best parts requires heavy machinery (whether or not it's automated), which you can't affordably launch into space.
Good match for space fabrication, too. Zero-g makes it much easier for an air nozzle to dislodge debris. Feed it big ingots of metal straight from the asteroid smelters. Not sure if you could do the milling in a vacuum, but it would be worth a shot. Downside, greatly limits cooling. Upside, easier recovery/purification/recycling of shavings. A big electrostatic charge on the ingot and tools should make the shavings literally fly off of the work to a collection plate.
Unless you are trying to obliquely refer to casting, which should be pretty much identical with or without gravity/air. And still needs tooling to make the molds.
(And please don't say that the molten metal could be a feedstock for a printer. That would be a circular discussion.)
Not saying it would necessarily be cost-effective, but it's an interesting idea.
I guess you meant something more like blacksmithing. Chamber could add heat by microwave induction. No air to oxidize the surface so you might be able to work trickier metals. We already have power hammers, we already have 6DOF manipulation tables. I'm not entirely convinced that a power hammer could do the work accurately enough, might want to use a milling machine for the final fitting.
I think you're right that automated factories in space will reduce the actual launch costs (just the cost of getting your junk into space). The rest of the cost reduction has to come from reducing the cost of manufacturing. Accepting additional risk can certainly help here. That's a big change of mindset for the aerospace industry.
In my example, the cost of materials and manufacturing was a fraction of the actual launch cost. I don't think that's typically the case for traditional spacecraft, but I'm not positive about that. Adding more or heavier parts increases the mass, which requires more energy from the launch vehicle to reach orbit. I find it entirely plausible that adding redundancy increases launch costs as well as manufacturing costs, but I don't know how the big boys arrange their launch costs. (At PolySat, our satellites were so small that we paid per kilogram. Other satellites can be the size of a van or even a school bus.)
I think 20 years is a bit optimistic for space-based factories to reach the point where we can dramatically lower the costs of launching a spacecraft. I think a kilogram of aluminum mined in space and a kilogram of aluminum mined on Earth would not be fungible, and would thus have very different costs. Initially, I think the aluminum available at the space-based factory would cost significantly more than ground-based aluminum. (The company that builds the factories will have to recoup their costs, as will the companies that mine the raw materials. And at least initially, they're going to be paying to launch those spacecraft from Earth.) Eventually, we could reach a scale that the cost of materials in space is low enough to seriously discount traditional launch costs. I just think there's a lot more than 20 years of work to get there.
They're going to make a movie about this starring Bruce Willis. Throw in Ben Affleck for comic relief. They're going to call it "Armageddon" and it's going to be a blockbuster.
The sad part is that, since they already planned on a high failure rate, they would still be OK. It is just everyone else who would be hosed.
I can think of a whole bunch of things that could go wrong which leave them unable to perform their primary objective, but still serve 'light duties' doing something else.
In addition, I don't know how well we have the current debris identified and tracked, but to my entirely uneducated mind, a bunch of cheap mini-telescope sats might be quite useful in actually figuring out what we have to deal with.
And, should they happen to be completely successful in their long term goals, I like to think that $20E12 in materials just waiting to be collected from a lagrange point or whatever would provide some serious impetus for solving the debris issue. :)
NASA has an interesting website, with facts about how much stuff is up there, and images of what damage can occur.
> More than 21,000 orbital debris larger than 10 cm are known to exist. The estimated population of particles between 1 and 10 cm in diameter is approximately 500,000. The number of particles smaller than 1 cm exceeds 100 million.
They need something similar to UNCLOS, but with Space instead of Sea.
For the Antarctica do waste removal agreements already exist.
When you think about it, for almost every case we have something comparable on earth.
Those are "normal" jobs.
High-altitude mountaineering: "23 deaths among 535 mountaineers beween 1968 and 1987", which is 4% or 214/100K per year. Roughly 450 people have flown into space or, like Challenger, tried to. Some 34+ have died. That's 7.5% (over the 5% you say is "politically unfeasible for NASA"), and scales to 151/100K per year.
About 375 American soldiers have died per year for the last few years in Afghanistan, out of 43,000 in the country. That's about 870/100K per year.
23 out of 535 Mountaineers is indeed 4%, but its over the course of 1968-1987. So that's an actual rate of 0.2% per year (1.2 deaths per year).
You need to do the same math with space travel---dividing the # of deaths by the # of years space travel has been in existance.
But to apply a notion from finance, space travel is such a small 'market' that its liable to fall prey to black swan events---e.g. maybe space travel is very very safe or very very dangerous, but the data set we have is non-typical and we'll start seeing 'typical' data once we ramp up to 100,000+ people per year travelling in space.
Similarly, with 50 years of human space travel, 35 deaths/450 people/ 50 years * 100000 people = 156 deaths / 100,000 per year. I don't know why I wrote "151/100K", I meant to write "150/100K" and not be so precise. In any case, it looks like the source I used wasn't that accurate. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_spaceflight-related_acc... for better details. I quote from there:
"About two percent of the manned launch/reentry attempts have killed their crew, with Soyuz and the Shuttle having almost the same death percentage rates. Except for the X-15 (which is a suborbital rocket plane), other launchers have not launched sufficiently often for reasonable safety comparisons to be made."
That implies that there is enough statistics.
In any case, I recall Feynman's essay about the Challenger explosion. He recounts how one person estimated Shuttle disasters as being about 10x safer than the more common unmanned ones, which works out to something like 1 out of every 50-100 Shuttle launches. Thus, other observations help strengthen the possibility that this isn't a black swan event.
This is suspicious similar to the 1/50 (or 1/100) crash probability that Feynman gets in his report about the Challenger disaster. If 1 in 50 of the ships explodes, you have a 1 in 50 chance to die.
The 60 yeas space flight period cancels out , if we suppose that none of them flied twice the same year. We have and average of 25 space travel seats per year and .55 dead per year.
You get a 7.7% = 7700 per 100K, but didn't take in account that most astronauts flight many times.
So I don't know where how that "34" I quoted earlier is justified, since I'm coming up with 29.
29 fatalities per 554 is 5% of the population, over 50 years of space flight. My hand-wavy calculation to get to "deaths per 100,000 per year is 29 fatalities / 554 people / 50 years * 100000 = 105/100K. (Previously I did it as 34 / 450 / 50 * 100000 =
The numbers I'm computing are the effective deaths per 100,000 per year. That's different than the number you are calculating, which is the number of fatal launches per year, I think.
Let's suppose that the active period of an astronaut is 10 years. The number of astronaut selected in the last 10 years is approximately 70 (counting by hand from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_astronauts_by_year_of_s... ). Approximately only one half of them fly each year (~30 in 2009, ~25 in 2010 : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_human_spaceflights,_200... )
So, there are approximately 30 / 50 dead per year, from a population of 70 active astronauts, that is ~1%, or using a population of 30 flying astronauts we get a 2%.
"only 339 candidates have been selected to date", but a couple of those candidates finished the program but did not go on with a career as an astronaut (one went into nuclear medicine instead).
"Twelve members of the Astronaut Corps were killed during spaceflight, Space Shuttle missions STS-51-L and STS-107. An additional seven were killed in training accidents. Sonny Carter died in a plane crash while traveling on NASA business."
So another way to reckon this is as 19 dead total from a total population of 339. 19/339 = 5.6% for the US program.
Assuming an average of 10 years, (1-p)10=(1-0.056) gives the probability of a person per year, which is 0.57%, or 580/100K/year.
I have no doubt there are some people who would accept that risk, but the political problems with it don't end just because they're not government employees.
That said, I am curious why people think that space travel is safe or that space casualties are unacceptable. Without implying anything, if we seem to think it's good and honorable to die fighting for your country, then it should be just as honorable to die fighting for you country's scientific advancement.
That's about 0.02 %
I understand the sentiment, but people are not rational when it comes to risk. See, for example, the number of people who die in road traffic accidents because they're avoiding "dangerous" air travel after terrorist atrocities.
EDIT: So politically it's very hard to give any suggestion that your programme of scientific exploration will have anyone dying, even though that's a very real risk.
(I may have horribly botched this; I've just woken up.)
Anywhere from 1000-5000 people reside on Antarctica at any given time. No more than a handful die in any given year.
The very goal is death. The situations are utterly incomparable.
DanBC has already addressed the faulty assumption you made as to police.
> I am curious why people think that space travel is safe or that space casualties are unacceptable.
Nobody made or remotely implied either statement. This is a scale, not an absolute. I would find a mortality rate of 1 in 20 to be unacceptable. I would find a mortality rate of 1 in 1000 entirely acceptable. Somewhere in between is a number I would be prepared to reluctantly accept.
> if we seem to think it's good and honorable to die fighting for your country
Through a system of intense indoctrination and mass delusion, powerful people have managed to embed such sentiments in the psyche of the masses. That has nothing to do with "thinking" anything.
Are you saying that the goal of soldiers is to die? I assure you that, in reality, it's quite the opposite. Please read nknight's parent post to which I replied. I brought up police officers and soldiers as examples with higher mortality rates than what nknight mentioned. Dan just provided some numbers.
>Nobody made or remotely implied either statement
It seems the confusion is that you believe I'm talking about other HN posters. In reality I am referring to the American public and Government agencies seem to be making this statement due to their reluctance of embracing risk that's inherent in space exploration. I appreciate that you provided information on what you find acceptable.
Are you implying that this is a new phenomenon? The expression "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori" has been around since Rome. I would just have us apply the same pride in defending our country to expanding our national scientific advancement. Imagine the day our scientists and researches attain awards and recognition similar to what we offer our military heroes.
Making a spectacular but unprovable and therefore undeniable goal is an effective way of announcing and positioning your company to the world through public relations.
Nothing wrong with that. People love to dream and back the dreamers.
Surely that kind of approach would backfire quite badly on them as it would be fairly obvious whether they are bullshitting or not in less than three years.
There's good (maybe not great) money in proposing over-the-top megaprojects. A small office of people writing up plans, solving high-level problems, presenting proposals, issuing news releases, soliciting investment, etc. can generate a decent income. Many such project proposals are going on all the time. My favorites: the floating libertarian city/utopia Oceania, the billion-dollar indoor ski result near Atlanta GA, and the 5-mile-span bridge over the Strait Of Gibraltar - all went nowhere, but were inspiring explorations of what could be done if only for want of funding. These are not "lies", just dreams on a scale so large that just proposing them attracts nontrivial income. Kudos to those who try, knowing failure is almost assured.
Science fiction has long hypothesized asteroid mining. We are now at the point where we have the engineering capacity to do it, and the economy to take advantage of and benefit from the results; the one thing missing is the moon-landing and/or interstate-highway scale effort required to make it happen.
...and once in a while, such megaprojects succeed. For those with money to spare, facilitating asteroid mining (and maybe a space elevator to help) have a chance to score incredible good for mankind.
"Strange how much human progress and accomplishment comes from contemplation of the irrelevant." - Scott Kim
How do you find the asteroids? (telescopes, answered)
How to get mining equipment up there?
How do you mine in zero gravity?
How do you get the prize back home?
How do you stop it when it gets here?
How do you get it down?
Each of these has a dozen sub-hard-problems. Like zero-gravity mining: how do you dock with/attach to the rock? How do you get enough energy there to break/smelt/refine? How do you continue to operate in the ever-expanding dust and grit halo mining produces? How do you deal with spares/repairs when the store is a billion feet away? How do you keep your prize once other nations realize "Hey! There's a trillion dollars of metal out there where there are no laws! We could just divert them easier than mining them ourselves!"
and on and on.
Unfortunately the article completely failed to answer the question it posed in its own title. It listed a bunch of ways they hope to make money in the future, but did not mention how they make money now.
I had to dig around for sometime and I thought these papers must be behind some pay-wall. I was surprised to find them on the KISS website. It is not that they are clueless about how to bring back an asteroid and extract resources from it. They just want their MVP to the be the act of prospecting itself. Also I was really surprised to learn that Ion Engines have been routinely used before for asteroid missions like Dawn(http://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/ion_prop.asp). The scaling they need to achieve for these missions is much smaller than the average non space geek would expect.
Does anyone here know if the scalability requirements of solar ion propulsion systems they need for the mission of tugging an asteroid into lunar orbit is realistically achievable by 2020?
They should consult with the diamond industry on how to keep prices high for a non-scarce commodity.
As for the commoditizing the equipment for space travel, you have to be excited about the possibilities. Hobbyist space travel can't be more than 100 years away if you can buy and launch an Arkyd for $5mm today. In the shorter term, you could do space exploration ventures for the capital equivalent of what it cost Columbus or Magellan to make expeditions to the West.
It's very exciting. I'm quite pleased work like this is being done.
I wonder if this is the main source of their positive cashflow.
I think (but could be wrong) that's how observatories and other space telescopes work (except probably government grants instead of outright purchasing the time). Is anyone familiar with how access to resources is determined in the astronomy world?
Telescopes are usually owned by countries, their agencies, and/or universities. When multiple agencies are involved, there is an agreement on how to split up access time, usually proportional to the level of funding provided. Each agency then allocates its share of the time to its stakeholders based on its own formulas. Time is usually awarded on a competitive basis where the best science cases win. Generally, from an individual researcher's point of view, they are not charged for the telescope time. From a larger point of view, however, it could be argued that their country (or university or whatever) "buys" a certain percentage of the time. When a new partner organization comes on board, the agreements are usually structured on an $X for Y time basis, but it will be a multi-lateral negotiation rather than simply setting a price and selling to anyone who can pay.
Jerry Pournelle proposed this approach to cheap space access decades ago. If one used well established models for economies of scale, weekly rocket launches in a free market would cut launch costs by an order of magnitude. That's also what SpaceX is out to do as well: just take what we know how to do now, and find ways to do more of it.
I m not sure if this works for space travel in its early ages - i mean, doing "more" of it (e.g., launching more satelites) doesn't mean more "value" is created , thus doesn't guarentee more profit. Which removes the incentive to launch more.
The demand for space tech is still low imho, and until it grows, economies of scale won't apply.
Economies of scale works for things like cars, because everybody wanted one. It will work when everybody and their dog wants to go up in space.
That's exactly what Virgin Galactic and Planetary Resources are doing for suborbital vehicles and orbital launch. They're establishing businesses that increase the demand. Increased demand will mean more vehicles built, which will mean that economies of scale will start to apply.
Maybe the military is funding them: http://www.darpa.mil/Our_Work/TTO/Programs/Space_Enabled_Eff...
My expertise in this field extends to reading several Wikipedia pages and sci-fi novels, but:
1. Wouldn't that depend on what they're trying to look at? Can the Hubble even focus on anything closer than Jupiter?
2. Wouldn't they be able to use interferometry to effectively surpass any single-lens telescope?
It sounds like Planetary Resources wants to position itself to be the "asteroid mining rush" equivalent.
Orbital fuel anyone? That may be a bigger deal than the automation, in regards to launch price dropping. Just for assisted reentry allowing reusable vehicles.
What computers have ever required clean rooms and isolation suits? Maybe chip fabrication, but not assembled computers.
These idiots are planning to put swarms of objects in orbit, planning on a significant percentage failing? Are they actively trying to get the Kessler syndrome under way? (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kessler_syndrome if you don't know what I am talking about.)
Seriously, they need to have a plan for what to do with the junk they will be creating. If they have no plan, I don't think that they should be allowed into orbit.
The Kessler problem is something to think about, but understand that there is a lot of space out there. It is okay to waste a little in the beginning while we get from 80 to 99. Asking for 99 from the start is akin to saying we won't let a car on the road until 60mpg.