Spirit of Liberty/Altaris space tourism RLVs

FutureSpaceTourist

ACCESS: Top Secret
Joined
Mar 11, 2010
Messages
589
Reaction score
16
American Astronautics Corporation was an X-prize team developing a VTVL RLV - the Spirit of Liberty. It was led by Bill Sprague.

The attached PDF comes form the original X-prize site at http://space.xprize.org/ansari-x-prize/american-astronautics-corporation. It contains the following vehicle and mission specs:

VEHICLE SPECIFICATIONS
· Name: The Spirit of Liberty
· Length: 42 feet
· Diameter: 3 feet
· GTOW: Not yet disclosed.
· Dry Weight: 10,000 lbm
· Crew Environment: Pressurized cabin, crew seated in tandem configuration.
· Payload Capacity: 3 passengers
· No. of Engines: 1
· Propulsion System: Pressure fed liquid bipropellant.
· Fuel: Hydrazine/UDMH
· Oxidizer: Nitrogen Tetroxide
· Total Thrust: Not yet disclosed
· Reaction Control System: Not yet disclosed. Computer controlled.

MISSION SPECIFICATIONS
· Ascent Method: Launch from coastal regions
· Max. Accel. Force on Ascent: Not yet disclosed
· Alt. at Engine Cut-off: 115,000 feet
· Time at Engine Cut-off: 73 seconds
· Max. Speed: Not yet disclosed
· Max. Altitude: >100 km
· Time in Weightless Conditions: Not yet disclosed
· Reentry Method: Ballistic reentry with controlled aerobraking
· Accel. Forces on Descent: Not yet disclosed
· Landing Method: Parachute descent from 10,000 into water
· Total Duration: Not yet disclosed.
· Landing Distance from Take-off Location: A few miles
· Time Between Missions: Hours (to re-pack the parachute, re-erect and refuel the rocket)

They were planning initially to have a one-person prototype vehicle, the Freedom Flyer, but announced the following in August 2003.

[quote author=http://www.hobbyspace.com/AAdmin/archive/RLV/2003/RLVNews2003-08.html]
The Freedom Flyer is a precursor to a 3-passenger version that was to be our X Prize entry. However, the X Prize board issued a ruling to us stating that a propulsion system based on the TR-201 engine would be disqualified unless we could demonstrate additional sourcing and general commercial availability for the engine. The original manufacturer, TRW, is not willing to invest the resources necessary to quote restarting production unless we are seriously considering an actual buy, which we are not.

Therefore, we are now concentrating our efforts on our 7 passenger vehicle, based on our American Eagle booster which utilizes an AAC designed and built engine. This vehicle was specifically designed for actual commercial operations in the public space tourism industry. We will be utilizing this vehicle for the X Prize competition, the first production unit now named the Spirit of Liberty. So where does that leave the Freedom Flyer and all those TR-201 engines we have? Well, we are continuing work on the Flyer, but as a much lesser priority, and there will not be a 3 passenger version. Additionally, we have allowed the flight date to slip to allocate the majority of our resources towards the Spirit of Liberty and the X Prize competition.
[/quote]

More details on this 7 passenger vehicle to follow in other posts.
 

Attachments

  • american_astronautics.pdf
    75.5 KB · Views: 3
  • aera-alteris.jpg
    aera-alteris.jpg
    10.6 KB · Views: 47
  • aac-03.jpg
    aac-03.jpg
    18.6 KB · Views: 292
  • aac-04.jpg
    aac-04.jpg
    22.7 KB · Views: 291

blackstar

ACCESS: Top Secret
Senior Member
Joined
Sep 26, 2008
Messages
1,840
Reaction score
349
Thanks for posting all of these.

So what is the quick overview? How many of these "companies" were there allegedly competing for the X-Prize? And what were their names?

This is one of the reasons I'm always so skeptical about all this stuff. The enthusiasts run around excited about each new shiny object/concept that is placed in front of them. But they almost always implode, and then the enthusiasts run to the next one. But their track record is pretty bad--a lot of companies allegedly competing, and then almost all of them vanished without a trace.
 

mz

ACCESS: Top Secret
Senior Member
Joined
May 28, 2007
Messages
676
Reaction score
16
Yeah. A lot of startups fail, and this is something where the market is unclear.
I don't know if many of the automotive X-Prize competitors will be around six years from now.
 

blackstar

ACCESS: Top Secret
Senior Member
Joined
Sep 26, 2008
Messages
1,840
Reaction score
349
Yeah, the failure rate of startups in any industry is high (I think I once read that 50% of all new restaurants close within a year, and 66% close within five years). You're also right that there's no proven market here. It's not like people are trying to build a "better" something, they're trying to do something that has no proven revenue.

But what also makes this different is the religious aspect of spaceflight. When it comes to developing a new product or market, it's not like there are a lot of people already out there dreaming about how wonderful it will be if it succeeds. In the case of all this spaceflight stuff, there are groups who want it to succeed soooo bad that they abandon their critical faculties and get caught up in the enthusiasm. If you went back to the years before the X-Prize win, you would not be able to find many enthusiasts saying anything bad about any of these companies. They were all caught up in the hype and the hope.

It's the same way today. The herd has thinned a lot, but still you get a lot of people saying rah-rah things about Virgin Galactic or XCor, and not looking at their business prospects with a skeptical eye.
 

OM

ACCESS: Top Secret
Joined
Jun 22, 2008
Messages
752
Reaction score
27
Website
www.io.com
Yeah, the failure rate of startups in any industry is high (I think I once read that 50% of all new restaurants close within a year, and 66% close within five years).

...It should be noted that an unspecified percentage of that "66% close within five years" includes restaurants that have been sold and the new owners change the theme not because the old theme was successful, but out of personal preference. The purchase was motivated by the success of the location and not necessarily the success of the restaurant and/or the theme of said. The "50% in one year" figure is, however, essentially correct.
 

FutureSpaceTourist

ACCESS: Top Secret
Joined
Mar 11, 2010
Messages
589
Reaction score
16
blackstar said:
So what is the quick overview? How many of these "companies" were there allegedly competing for the X-Prize? And what were their names?

About 26 or so teams. You can see lists at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ANSARI_X-PRIZE and on the original X-prize website at http://space.xprize.org/ansari-x-prize/ (which also has further info on each team). There tend to be some differences between various lists as I believe some teams dropped out before the competition ended, other teams joined late, so it depends which snapshot you're looking at.

IMHO X-prize 'competition' was something of a misnomer. AFAIK there was only one team with the full funding to actually complete their vehicle and that, of course, was Scaled (thanks to Paul Allen).

There were several teams with enough funding to make some concrete progress, including the da Vinci project (although I think reports that their progress was close behind Scaled were exaggerated), and Space Transport Corporation (who had a major failure on first test launch).

A more interesting, but hypothetical, question might be how many teams could actually have succeeded in meeting the X-prize criteria if they'd had the necessary funding? Personally I think both Armadillo and XCOR would have (as hopefully they'll belatedly prove in the next couple of years or so), but I'm not sure about many of the others.

I don't think it's a co-incidence that the one team that attracted the funding was the team with both a proven aerospace capability and a design that was a capable of meeting the challenge (although it was the first point that actually gave them an in with Paul Allen in the first place; as has often been said, who would have funded the Wright brothers 100 years previously?!).

blackstar said:
This is one of the reasons I'm always so skeptical about all this stuff. The enthusiasts run around excited about each new shiny object/concept that is placed in front of them. But they almost always implode, and then the enthusiasts run to the next one. But their track record is pretty bad--a lot of companies allegedly competing, and then almost all of them vanished without a trace.

I agree. Most teams did nothing once the competition completed. A few carried on for a bit, others are on very slow burn - again the common factor (I assume) being lack of funding. Armadillo and XCOR are pretty much the exceptions as they have thrived since, but they actually managed to attract some further funding and sell things!
 

FutureSpaceTourist

ACCESS: Top Secret
Joined
Mar 11, 2010
Messages
589
Reaction score
16
blackstar said:
The herd has thinned a lot, but still you get a lot of people saying rah-rah things about Virgin Galactic or XCor, and not looking at their business prospects with a skeptical eye.

Of course that's the big unknown - is there actually a sustainable market for this? Assuming that Virgin succeed in producing an operational vehicle, I have no trouble believing they could convert the current 350 bookings to over 1,000. But that still doesn't recoup their investment and no-one knows whether 1,000 could become 10,000 and eventually 100,000.

Personally I think the demand is there, but obviously only for the right price. It's good that the first generation vehicles being built now by Virgin, Armadillo, XCOR, Blue Origin etc are quite varied - it hopefully maximises the chances of at least one hitting a sweet spot in the market.

There's also the possibility of markets other than space tourism devleoping, such as research (eg micro-gravity) or nano-sat launchers. We can't rule out something emerging, but I don't see the venture capitalists rushing in just yet ...
 

FutureSpaceTourist

ACCESS: Top Secret
Joined
Mar 11, 2010
Messages
589
Reaction score
16
At some point American Astronautics was re-organised as the Aera Corporation (website www.aeraspace.com now defunct). In March 2005 they announced they would be selling suborbital tickets with flights planned in fall 2006, although the following quotes show that was a little optimistic to say the least ...

[quote author=http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/7121988/ns/technology_and_science-space/]
"Most of the testing that's been done has been computer-based modeling," said Lewis Reynolds, Aera's president and chief operating officer. "We have done very little in the way of testing actual physical components for the spacecraft, but we'll be doing more of that as time goes forward."

[...]

Veteran aerospace executive Bill Sprague, who founded American Astronautics in 2002 and is the principal designer of the Altairis, was fond of saying that his team was capable of making a surprising bid for the X Prize — but nothing ever came of it. Reynolds, who came to Aera from the world of high finance, says things will be different this time.
[/quote]

Then in May 2005 they put tickets on sale, see http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/7821861/ns/technology_and_science-space/.

Their seven seat vehicle was called the Altairis, 6 passengers and one pilot. A few details were in the above May msnbc article (together with the attached picture and the ubiquitous animation video):

Sprague's timetable calls for the Altairis propulson system, powered by liquid oxygen and kerosene, to undergo firing tests starting in the first half of 2006. "We're using such plain-vanilla technology that very little detailed testing is required," Sprague said.

Three unmanned test flights would be conducted in the latter half of 2006, leading up to the manned flights.

The Altairis is designed to be flown automatically, with double-redundancy and triple-redundancy built into the computerized control systems, Sprague said. Each flight would carry six passengers, plus a mission commander who would guide the riders through the trip and deal with any emergencies.

A few further details are in the attached PDFs from the old Aera Corp website. Needless to say I haven't been able to find anything on Aera since the May 2005 report (but there's one more company to mention in a subsequent post).
 

Attachments

  • faq.pdf
    8.7 KB · Views: 3
  • aera_overview_mission.pdf
    8.2 KB · Views: 3
  • 050511_aera_hmed_5p.jpg
    050511_aera_hmed_5p.jpg
    10.3 KB · Views: 39

FutureSpaceTourist

ACCESS: Top Secret
Joined
Mar 11, 2010
Messages
589
Reaction score
16
At some point Aera Corp appears to have become Sprague Astronautics. Although I have not seen anything new on them either in the last 5 years, their website is still up at http://www.spragueastronautics.com/.

They also have some further graphics of the Altairis (attached).

One final comment, the March msnbc article cited in the previous post included the following tease:

[quote author=Lewis Reynolds]
"We already have a working design for an orbital spacecraft. The success of the suborbital operation will influence when we bring that craft to market."
[/quote]

But I've not located any further information on this. Please post if you have anything.
 

Attachments

  • SAIC_Altaris1.jpg
    SAIC_Altaris1.jpg
    147.8 KB · Views: 38
  • SAIC_Altaris5.jpg
    SAIC_Altaris5.jpg
    32.6 KB · Views: 37
  • SAIC_Altaris3.jpg
    SAIC_Altaris3.jpg
    23.4 KB · Views: 34
  • SAIC_Altaris2.jpg
    SAIC_Altaris2.jpg
    11.1 KB · Views: 10
  • SAIC_Altaris4.jpg
    SAIC_Altaris4.jpg
    10.2 KB · Views: 15

blackstar

ACCESS: Top Secret
Senior Member
Joined
Sep 26, 2008
Messages
1,840
Reaction score
349
FutureSpaceTourist said:


Well, part of the competition was finding the money and assembling the right team. Just because there was one standout winner and a whole lot of losers doesn't mean there was no competition.

FutureSpaceTourist said:
FutureSpaceTourist said:
(although I think reports that their progress was close behind Scaled were exaggerated), and Space Transport Corporation (who had a major failure on first test launch).

A more interesting, but hypothetical, question might be how many teams could actually have succeeded in meeting the X-prize criteria if they'd had the necessary funding? Personally I think both Armadillo and XCOR would have (as hopefully they'll belatedly prove in the next couple of years or so), but I'm not sure about many of the others.

I don't think that their success now--or, actually, potentially a few years from now--proves that they could have won six years ago. Did they have the right personnel and resources back then?


FutureSpaceTourist said:
I agree. Most teams did nothing once the competition completed. A few carried on for a bit, others are on very slow burn - again the common factor (I assume) being lack of funding. Armadillo and XCOR are pretty much the exceptions as they have thrived since, but they actually managed to attract some further funding and sell things!

One of the criticisms that I've heard of the X-Prize was that there was no prize for second place. So once it was won, there was no possibility of anybody getting investment money to try and win second place. Now I actually don't blame the X-Prize organizers (Diamandis), because it was a pretty amazing feat to get any money to fund it at all. I actually heard a good critique of the project around 2001 or so that made me think that the prize would never be fully funded, but obviously it was. However, without a second place reward, everybody just packed up and quit, which wasn't good for the industry as a whole.
 

blackstar

ACCESS: Top Secret
Senior Member
Joined
Sep 26, 2008
Messages
1,840
Reaction score
349
FutureSpaceTourist said:
Of course that's the big unknown - is there actually a sustainable market for this? Assuming that Virgin succeed in producing an operational vehicle, I have no trouble believing they could convert the current 350 bookings to over 1,000. But that still doesn't recoup their investment and no-one knows whether 1,000 could become 10,000 and eventually 100,000.

I'm a bit more skeptical than you, but we're in the same range. About a year or two ago, there was an article about how a few VG customers were getting tired of waiting and were asking for their deposits back. Obviously VG will not say how many people have done that. Once they rolled out their vehicle and then started the test flights, naturally they bought themselves a little more time. But I don't think anybody has a realistic idea--except maybe a few people at VG--of just how long it is going to take to test fly this craft before it gets certified. That could be two, maybe even five years. Will their customers still want to fly in 2014? Some may, but they could burn up some goodwill in the meantime.

What is even more dicey is what happens _after_ that. Will they be able to keep revenue high enough and costs low enough to show a profit? Nobody knows, not even VG. (Of course, to be fair, I suspect that Virgin might be willing to operate this service at a loss for awhile simply because of all the publicity it will generate.)

In 2008 I remember reading an enthusiast (might have been Hobbyspace) writing about what a great year it was for the suborbital business. Here we are two years later and how would we assess things? I really have a hard time sustaining enthusiasm when nobody seems to actually _deliver_ on the promises. "It might happen... soon!" just doesn't sustain my interest all that well.
 

FutureSpaceTourist

ACCESS: Top Secret
Joined
Mar 11, 2010
Messages
589
Reaction score
16
blackstar said:
I don't think that their success now--or, actually, potentially a few years from now--proves that they could have won six years ago. Did they have the right personnel and resources back then?

It may have taken some time but my guess is that with the funding they would have built systems satisfying the prize criteria. But I doubt they could have been as quick as the approx 3.5 years it took Scaled! Scaled's years of rapid prototyping and flight test experience really counted (plus a pretty aggressive flight test schedule - eg first 100km flight was only the fourth powered SS1 test ...).

My suggested debating point is really which teams had concepts/designs that were workable? (assuming they had sufficient resources)

blackstar said:
One of the criticisms that I've heard of the X-Prize was that there was no prize for second place. So once it was won, there was no possibility of anybody getting investment money to try and win second place. Now I actually don't blame the X-Prize organizers (Diamandis), because it was a pretty amazing feat to get any money to fund it at all. I actually heard a good critique of the project around 2001 or so that made me think that the prize would never be fully funded, but obviously it was. However, without a second place reward, everybody just packed up and quit, which wasn't good for the industry as a whole.

Yes, a fair criticism (with hindsight). Burt Rutan said he never thought the prize would be funded either. Diamandis did a great job and had a stroke of luck in reading an interview with Anousheh Ansari that led him to the main sponsors just in time.

blackstar said:
I really have a hard time sustaining enthusiasm when nobody seems to actually _deliver_ on the promises. "It might happen... soon!" just doesn't sustain my interest all that well.

I can understand that. I'm (just) enough of a dreamer though to think that if (when?) someone does achieve a fully operational vehicle then people will quickly forget whether it took 8, 10 or 12 years after the X-prize. Sure some initial sales may have been lost, but I wonder if most of the potential market (even limiting it to the very rich) yet know that the possibility of such space tourism even exists?
 

blackstar

ACCESS: Top Secret
Senior Member
Joined
Sep 26, 2008
Messages
1,840
Reaction score
349
FutureSpaceTourist said:
I can understand that. I'm (just) enough of a dreamer though to think that if (when?) someone does achieve a fully operational vehicle then people will quickly forget whether it took 8, 10 or 12 years after the X-prize. Sure some initial sales may have been lost, but I wonder if most of the potential market (even limiting it to the very rich) yet know that the possibility of such space tourism even exists?

Yeah, if they achieve something, lots of people will forget all the delays. But the delay in achieving something will have costs. They could lose customers and even investors who get tired of waiting in the meantime.

And initial flight success does not guarantee even short-term success. They could conceivably fly a few years and then discover that they are losing too much money and close shop.

But there's even another question that I've wondered about--what if they _are_ successful? Will that fundamentally change anything? What if VG is able to successfully launch a few dozens, or even hundreds of wealthy people to 100 km each year? I think there has been a lot of naive thinking that a healthy suborbital industry somehow fundamentally changes everything. But that's based upon a lot of dubious assumptions, such as a) these companies will make a lot of money rather than just enough to survive, and b) they will plow their money into orbital vehicles, and c) the orbital vehicles will themselves be successful.

That's a mountain of hope built on a foundation of wishes. And if it takes 10 years just to get to an operational suborbital vehicle, how long will each of the next steps take? Ten years apiece? Could we achieve all these dreamers' dreams five decades from now? Six?
 

FutureSpaceTourist

ACCESS: Top Secret
Joined
Mar 11, 2010
Messages
589
Reaction score
16
blackstar said:
But there's even another question that I've wondered about--what if they _are_ successful? Will that fundamentally change anything?

To me some new space advocates seem to assume it will as all manned spaceflight has so far been done by (a few) government programmes and they think that being 'commercial' will make all the difference. I'm guessing that's presupposing that the demand for space services is there (or would soon arise) if only an increased, cheaper and more efficient/optimised supply were available.

I'll accept that could be true, but as you say it does depend on rather a lot of unproven assumptions. At least I think we'll know one way or another in the next decade, as I think someone would have to make a commercial success of it in that timeframe if we're going to get anywhere in the next few decades.
 

mz

ACCESS: Top Secret
Senior Member
Joined
May 28, 2007
Messages
676
Reaction score
16
blackstar said:
FutureSpaceTourist said:
I can understand that. I'm (just) enough of a dreamer though to think that if (when?) someone does achieve a fully operational vehicle then people will quickly forget whether it took 8, 10 or 12 years after the X-prize. Sure some initial sales may have been lost, but I wonder if most of the potential market (even limiting it to the very rich) yet know that the possibility of such space tourism even exists?

Yeah, if they achieve something, lots of people will forget all the delays. But the delay in achieving something will have costs. They could lose customers and even investors who get tired of waiting in the meantime.

And initial flight success does not guarantee even short-term success. They could conceivably fly a few years and then discover that they are losing too much money and close shop.

But there's even another question that I've wondered about--what if they _are_ successful? Will that fundamentally change anything? What if VG is able to successfully launch a few dozens, or even hundreds of wealthy people to 100 km each year? I think there has been a lot of naive thinking that a healthy suborbital industry somehow fundamentally changes everything. But that's based upon a lot of dubious assumptions, such as a) these companies will make a lot of money rather than just enough to survive, and b) they will plow their money into orbital vehicles, and c) the orbital vehicles will themselves be successful.

That's a mountain of hope built on a foundation of wishes. And if it takes 10 years just to get to an operational suborbital vehicle, how long will each of the next steps take? Ten years apiece? Could we achieve all these dreamers' dreams five decades from now? Six?

Some of the suborbital solutions don't scale well to orbital, for example WK2/SS2 has some issues. The pressure fed stuff by Armadillo and others is questionable too in the propulsion department. On the other hand, they have components that might be very useful, like recovery techniques. The whole idea is that development iterations have much lower cost than in the orbital world, since the vehicles are smaller and you don't throw them away after each flight. (I don't know if the SS2 hybrid's solid's filament winding is good for reuse.)
Think of it as PC vs Mainframe or old megawatt class windturbines of the fifties to eighties that were just research projects and always had multiple problems, then the "Danish" turbines that had started out small, worked out the kinks, came and ruled the world. The smaller more nimble stuff is better in the long run since it is more capable of improvement.

The idea of starting all at a huge scale when the problems can be worked out in smaller scale beforehand much quicker and cheaper is showing the irrationality of the whole aerospace business.

So, first these suborbitals are going to develop low cost operations (which rockets currently don't have). Then they (or somebody else) is going to take that knowledge and technology and is going to add performance so that it can reach orbit while still keeping the costs reasonable.
 

blackstar

ACCESS: Top Secret
Senior Member
Joined
Sep 26, 2008
Messages
1,840
Reaction score
349
FutureSpaceTourist said:
To me some new space advocates seem to assume it will as all manned spaceflight has so far been done by (a few) government programmes and they think that being 'commercial' will make all the difference.

Yes, they think that. But the advocates tend to be overwhelmingly libertarian. (I used to be libertarian once, then I got over it.) I've read their blogs, and whenever the subject comes to government-commercial issues in general they seem to be rather out there with their belief systems. They represent a world view that doesn't stand up well to reality, and that is certainly not accepted by even a notable minority. (For example, I've seen some of them argue that the proper response to the near-meltdown of the banks, or of the Gulf oil spill, is to have even _less_ regulation. That's like saying that the proper response to an airplane crash is to eliminate safety requirements for airliners.)

It's not really a matter of the _proper_ policies and programs. It seems to be a strong faith that, left alone, industry will solve all the problems.
 

Orionblamblam

ACCESS: Above Top Secret
Top Contributor
Senior Member
Joined
Apr 5, 2006
Messages
8,616
Reaction score
2,806
Website
www.aerospaceprojectsreview.com
blackstar said:
(For example, I've seen some of them argue that the proper response to the near-meltdown of the banks, or of the Gulf oil spill, is to have even _less_ regulation.

Considering that the near-meltdown of the banks was *caused* by excessive government regulation (going back to the COmmunity ReInvestment Act), less regulation would have been a good thing.


That's like saying that the proper response to an airplane crash is to eliminate safety requirements for airliners.)

That would kinda depend. If airlines were regulated like banks, they'd be forced to land in the worst parts of town (regardless of whether or not the pothole-filled streets could serve as actual runways) and would be be obligated to prove that their passenger demographic matches government-approved standards, which would drive their prices way down, their costs way up, their profits down into the negative and necessitate that maintenance and servicing be cut back.

It's not really a matter of the _proper_ policies and programs. It seems to be a strong faith that, left alone, industry will solve all the problems.

Industry gets paid to solve problems. Governments gain power with more problems.
 

mz

ACCESS: Top Secret
Senior Member
Joined
May 28, 2007
Messages
676
Reaction score
16
I think some contractors get more money with more problems as well... :)
And most of the startups are really dependent on NASA and DoD projects.

I do think that the private industry has a lot of nimbleness to offer for space launch, and basically NASA should not be in the earth to orbit rocket design business but instead should concentrate on its core competencies.
 

Orionblamblam

ACCESS: Above Top Secret
Top Contributor
Senior Member
Joined
Apr 5, 2006
Messages
8,616
Reaction score
2,806
Website
www.aerospaceprojectsreview.com
mz said:
I think some contractors get more money with more problems as well... :)
And most of the startups are really dependent on NASA and DoD projects.


Well, sure. But imagine if government was made much more streamlined... contractors don't get paid unless and until they deliver; "X-Prize" style contests to develop desired technologies; etc.


[quoteNASA ... should concentrate on its core competencies.
[/quote]

At this point... what would those be? Manned space exploration? Hell, a good fraction of NASA's current employee base weren't even *alive* when NASA stopped manned space exploration.
 

mz

ACCESS: Top Secret
Senior Member
Joined
May 28, 2007
Messages
676
Reaction score
16
Orionblamblam said:
mz said:
I think some contractors get more money with more problems as well... :)
And most of the startups are really dependent on NASA and DoD projects.

Well, sure. But imagine if government was made much more streamlined... contractors don't get paid unless and until they deliver; "X-Prize" style contests to develop desired technologies; etc.

For many things this indeed would work nicely. For large stuff that is very uncertain, it wouldn't work very well: you have to pay for good effort even if you turn out cancelling stuff. Otherwise most of the companies will be bankrupt in short order. Oh wait...
For example, in new launch vehicle technology development, you could perhaps fund some more intermediate goals for many concurrent contractors so it wouldn't be such a lottery and a a wasteful gigaprogram-cancel-cycle. And also avoid government over-specification. We don't yet know what is the best way to reuse launch vehicles.

[quoteNASA ... should concentrate on its core competencies.

At this point... what would those be? Manned space exploration? Hell, a good fraction of NASA's current employee base weren't even *alive* when NASA stopped manned space exploration.
[/quote]

Well, they seem to be able to operate ISS and do some useful spacewalks for example, stuff that companies don't have that much expertise on. Of course they use contractor for a lot of things but still...
Excuse my unclear writing, I have a flu at the moment.
 

Orionblamblam

ACCESS: Above Top Secret
Top Contributor
Senior Member
Joined
Apr 5, 2006
Messages
8,616
Reaction score
2,806
Website
www.aerospaceprojectsreview.com
mz said:
We don't yet know what is the best way to reuse launch vehicles.

That would be a *perfect* example of the *perfect* prize program. Define what your operational goals are, and leave the design details *completely* out of it. A list of requirements something vaguely like:
1) Payload of 10,000 pounds minimum delivered to 220 nautical miles circular, 28 degrees
2) Can fly again in two weeks or less
3) Operational cost of no more than $100/lb payload delivered
4) Mission failure rate no greater than 1 in X; vehicle failure rate no more than 1 in Y
5) Production cost no greater than $500 per pound of delivered payload.

First company to get there wins the grand prize: a one cubic meter block of gold, currently sitting in Fort Knox and set aside for this specific purpose. Additional: the winning company is exempt from all corporate taxes (and the stockholders are exempt from income taxes) in perpetuity, so long as they are producing, operating and improving upon their winning design. Second place winner gets a one-quarter-cubic meter block of gold, tax free status for a decade. Third place winner gets one-tenth cubic meter block of gold and a book of coupons for Happy Meals.

Done this way, those who think that airbreathers, SSTO rockets, maglevs, laser lightcraft, whatever, are superior all get to compete on an even field. Evolution rather than "intelligent design." For those companies that don't have the funds to carry the project through, they can seek investors.The rewards of a block of gold and tax-free status would be one *hell* of an incentive. If your concept and proposal can't convince investors when they have clear dollar signs in their eyes, then your concpet very likely sucks.
 

FutureSpaceTourist

ACCESS: Top Secret
Joined
Mar 11, 2010
Messages
589
Reaction score
16
I do like the idea of a mega-prize, but I don't think it matters how attractive the prize is - if it's perceived as too risky (ie likelihood of a return for an investor is too low) then they won't go for it. Especially if it's a large/difficult problem and hence is likely to need substantial investment before there's any possibility for return.

So I'm with mz, I think it would need to reward some levels of progress along the way. The lunar lander challenge did this on a small scale (with two levels of competition and first and second prizes for each). Of course for a big problem even chosing the intermediate levels to reward runs the risk of constraining/presupposing the acceptable types of solution.
 

Orionblamblam

ACCESS: Above Top Secret
Top Contributor
Senior Member
Joined
Apr 5, 2006
Messages
8,616
Reaction score
2,806
Website
www.aerospaceprojectsreview.com
FutureSpaceTourist said:
I do like the idea of a mega-prize, but I don't think it matters how attractive the prize is - if it's perceived as too risky (ie likelihood of a return for an investor is too low) then they won't go for it. Especially if it's a large/difficult problem and hence is likely to need substantial investment before there's any possibility for return.

If the government changes the way it aquires things such that for major new programs like this the only way to win a contract is to *win* a contract... then companies will change theway they do business. Lockheed will enter if for no other reason than to make sure Boeing doesn't win and gets a monopology on space launch.

Of course for a big problem even chosing the intermediate levels to reward runs the risk of constraining/presupposing the acceptable types of solution.

Indeed. I'd be for smaller prizes for tech development... but for something like cheap manned space launch, you don't *need* neato new tech. Just application of existing (and often, quite old) tech with non-governmental, non-union operations systems.

If the government wanted to fund a manned, relativistic starship program... yeah, steps along the way would be good. The tech ain't there (hell, the *physics* ain't there), and there's no recognizable profit in the vehicle apart from the government contract. But cheap space launch is easily attainable... and worth attaining if for no other reason than to make sure that *you* don't get shut out of the market.
 

mz

ACCESS: Top Secret
Senior Member
Joined
May 28, 2007
Messages
676
Reaction score
16
Orionblamblam said:
FutureSpaceTourist said:
I do like the idea of a mega-prize, but I don't think it matters how attractive the prize is - if it's perceived as too risky (ie likelihood of a return for an investor is too low) then they won't go for it. Especially if it's a large/difficult problem and hence is likely to need substantial investment before there's any possibility for return.

If the government changes the way it aquires things such that for major new programs like this the only way to win a contract is to *win* a contract... then companies will change theway they do business. Lockheed will enter if for no other reason than to make sure Boeing doesn't win and gets a monopology on space launch.

Of course for a big problem even chosing the intermediate levels to reward runs the risk of constraining/presupposing the acceptable types of solution.

Indeed. I'd be for smaller prizes for tech development... but for something like cheap manned space launch, you don't *need* neato new tech. Just application of existing (and often, quite old) tech with non-governmental, non-union operations systems.

If the government wanted to fund a manned, relativistic starship program... yeah, steps along the way would be good. The tech ain't there (hell, the *physics* ain't there), and there's no recognizable profit in the vehicle apart from the government contract. But cheap space launch is easily attainable... and worth attaining if for no other reason than to make sure that *you* don't get shut out of the market.

The physics for reusable launch vehicles of course is there but I don't think the technology is yet. Performance of rockets has been adequate since the sixties but the practicalities of reusable rockets have not yet been developed. Maybe the Mirage with the rocket engine or the Space Shuttle are things coming closest from different angles (the former with number of operational uses in a short time span, the last being the most reusable earth to orbit space transportation system so far - both are far from a refuel and go again reusable rocket).
It's all the pesky details that need to be solved, and we don't yet know how, because it's basically unknown territory. You can't just design it from an idea, you have to try multiple things in practice. And you certainly can't use existing "best practices" from current rockets. How many rocket vehicles have refueled and operated multiple times during a day before? How about ones with liquid oxygen? Liquid oxygen and turbopumps? Anything else than DC-X? How many support persons and how much set up time is needed per a turbopumped engine to do its few minute thing.
It's when someone invented a light bulb but it would take n hundred man hours to make - that it turns out inventing the machine that makes light bulbs is the real breakthrough (though it requires other transformations like electrification to really make it worthwhile). I think engineers often miss this - it's not the product that is important, it's the capability.

It's when the RLV lands, you restack, refuel and you go again perhaps during the same day when it's reasonably practical to me. Modern jetliners produce affordable service since they probably spend more time in the air than on the ground. The high capital costs of the plane and the high running costs of airports and support organizations can be absorbed. And yet they could be much higher. The planes need little maintenance since they have been developed with large enough margins and good operability in mind, and it has taken a long time for them to get to that point and it has taken a lot of money.

So you have to have all. Good engines, good recovery methods, good ground systems, good payloads (!). All requiring little manpower basically.
I don't expect this thing to happen in one iteration.

But if you have suborbital reusable vehicles, you probably can try two hundred different approaches to all problem and do five iterations of each, for the cost of one reusable orbital program.
 

publiusr

I really should change my personal text
Joined
Sep 24, 2011
Messages
137
Reaction score
84
I think Bill Sprague passed away. Interorbital the last haven for pressure feds?
 

Similar threads

Top