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Here We Go Again… April 23, 2008

Posted by shubber in distracting PR, hot air, Manned Space, NASA, public service announcement, space, Wasting Money.

Tomorrow morning I’m going to be in the peanut gallery watching government “go through the motions” discussing ISS commercialization, shuttle gap, and all sorts of problems (which they can’t really say are major problems…) at a House of Representatives hearing starting at 10:30 am.  Be there if you can, it should be entertaining.

In particular, Mr. Pickens will be there to give testimony  – I can only imagine he will descrbie how wondrous a facility ISS is and that SpaceHab is going to make a huge commercial business out of microgravity pharma (perhaps only if NASA will give him a little bit of folding money..?).  As I pointed out last October, there ain’t no “there” there, and Mr. Pickens was, sadly, suckered into trying to turn around a company that had as much chance of recovery as the Titanic did of being saved with a couple of well-placed sheets of plywood covering the hole in the side.



Posted by drspaceshow in Uncategorized.
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Dear Fellow Cynics and Space Cadets:

Over the weekend, a space petition was brought to my attention by a previous guest on The Space Show. This petition, which you will find below, is being offered to the global space community by the folks at Marsdrive.com MarsDrive is both in the United States and Australia and Hal Fulton, MarsDrive COO and VP, and based out of Austin, Texas, was a guest on The Space Show on Nov. 20, 2007.

Since receiving this petition over the weekend, Hal and the MarsDrive CEO, Frank Stratford in Australia, and I have had many discussions about the petition’s potential to achieve the MarsDrive objectives and I offered them many challenges and lots of criticism. After some careful thought on all our parts, Frank and Hal agreed with my suggestion to place the petition here on Space Cynics and let everyone read it, consider it, and offer MarsDrive any feedback about the petition. Thus, peer review has come to Space Cynics! Feedback can include suggestions for marketing, modifying the petition, getting more signatures, changing it, smoking or even drinking it, or whatever you want to offer to the MarsDrive team. Regardless of your thoughts about it, please do give them feedback. I am taking the liberty of extrapolating from one of the email discussions I’ve had with Frank about the goals and purpose of the petition.

“We would like the chance to go into space in our lifetimes – perhaps to orbital hotels, to the Moon, or to Mars. This is the essence of this petition. It was designed for people to simply express their desires and dreams. Again- this petition is for the people to express what they want, not what we tell them they should want. The value in this is clear to us as well. So far little has been done in this regard. Yes, we have had political petitions but this petition is for the people to express their desires without all the BS and diplomacy that encumbers political petitions. We therefore appeal to all world space agencies, government leaders, and private sector organizations to challenge them in this matter. We ask them to adopt policies and help develop technologies that will take humanity into space.–This petition, if enough people sign it, will gladly be presented to the above entities. From NASA to Congress to the ESA, E.U and large private sector organizations. By being open on the web it is already open to their view if they should choose to look at it.”

In my last email with Frank, I was told there were 147 signatures which is on the low side of what MarsDrive expects, wants, and needs. So Cynics and Cadets, it’s time for your comments and opinions. Have at it. Frank and Hal, if I have incorrectly stated something or if you wish to add to this narrative, please post a comment on this blog post. Your comments are welcome and welcome often.

Professor L

Petition for Inexpensive Space Access by MarsDrive (www.marsdrive.com).

We, the undersigned, believe that the time has come for space flight to be opened to all people.

We recognize, however, that this cannot happen with the current high price of space flight. Humanity will never develop an economy in space – will never work, travel or live on other worlds – if it remains too expensive.

We would like the chance to go into space in our lifetimes – perhaps to orbital hotels, to the Moon, or to Mars.

We therefore appeal to all world space agencies, government leaders, and private sector organizations to challenge them in this matter. We ask them to adopt policies and help develop technologies that will take humanity into space.

“We, the undersigned, believe that the time has come for space flight to be opened to all people.”


“In case there is any misunderstanding, we will first make this statement: We fully support, encourage, and applaud the persons and groups who are already making tremendous effort and progress in these areas. These people should be regarded as heroes.

This petition aims to stand alongside these persons and groups, and certainly not in opposition to them. The exhortatory language of the petition is not directed to them, but to the rest of the world — persons, companies, and organizations who are unaware or uncommitted where spaceward expansion is concerned.

As such, this effort is primarily to raise public awareness and “get the word out” — and here, the word “public” includes non-space-related private enterprise. It will make no difference in the long run, any more than a single Yuri’s Night party makes a difference in the long run. But if it helps move space “onto the radar” of even one person or group, it will have been worthwhile.

This “intent and purpose” page was created in response to an email from a member of the space community (here reprinted anonymously):

This seems to be fly in the face of Elon and Space X, Bigelow, John Carmack, XCOR, etc. They know what it takes to get to space let alone do it cheaper. There are hundreds of millions being spent on this problem around the world. Do you think waving a magic wand with a petition like this will solve the real engineering, science, and tech issues? Don’t you think Elon who is way beyond $120 million of his own money knows what it takes to lower space access costs?…

I think its well intentioned but if it has no delivery point or focus or end result in mind, its wishful thinking. Also, I think it tends to belittle those in the trenches working this problem with their life blood. Its not that the issues of low cost space access are being ignored, hell, they are being addressed on the public and the private side. $500 million and more of our tax money is trying to spur COTS players to do this cheaper than the gov. contractors.

More Ritalin Please…. Generation Y is here April 15, 2008

Posted by shubber in Manned Space, NASA, smack talk, space.

I received a very interesting powerpoint presentation recently in my email – “Generation Y Perspectives” that appears to have been prepared either by or for NASA.

Here are some of the “defining characteristics” of Generation Y:

  • Demands instant gratification
  • Expecting (NOW! Not 5 minutes from now)
  • Quickly bored
  • Multitasking
  • Empowered
  • Impatient if delayed… but highly adaptable
  • Attracted to large social movements
  • Instant information

So some of these are true of any generation (such as the “large social movements” one – remember the 60s anyone?). Some of these seem to be full-blown manifestations of ADHD. Not much one can do about that, I suppose.

But what I do find interesting is that this is the crowd that is supposed to stay focused long enough to build us a lunar base program and a Mars program (in addition to whatever else we dream of accomplishing in space in the not too distant future, such as Space Solar Power Satellite systems…). Somehow I find that hard to believe.

Sure, there are space enthusiasts in their teens and 20s (I’ve met some pretty amazing ones at places like the Space Generation conference) – but as with their predecessors from my generation (X), they are the miniscule minority. There are 70 million Gen Y’ers according to that powerpoint presentation. What % do you think give a real damn about space? Enough to alter their life-plans around pursuing a career in it?

My guess is about as many as did in the late 90s, when the first dot.com boom presented a much more compelling and lucrative alternative for their creativity and desire to express themselves.

The frontier is still there – it is cyberspace, not outerspace. All the PR in the world won’t change that, nor will it alter the economic and accessibility advantages the former holds over the latter.

Strategic Hydrocarbon Inspace Terminal April 13, 2008

Posted by shubber in distracting PR, hot air, public service announcement, Wasting Money.

A number of blog posts and comments i’ve come across recently as I’ve surfed through the alt.space environment made claims about the implicit value of lunar mines – essentially, attempting to make the case that it isn’t actually necessary to be able to mine the Moon, just to have the land and the metals, minerals, and such in your ownership and that alone is worth some money.

The people making this sort of argument make it based on the fact that companies here on Earth today DO in fact use the implied value of unextracted resources in oil fields and ore mines on their balance sheets, and can obtain financing against said resources. What is true on Earth it appears *must* be true in space.

A couple of minor points:

  • Resources on Earth (in a mine, well, etc) must still be “proven” before someone will give you money against the implicit value of what’s still left in that hole in the ground. This is done through such things as seismic work and geologic analysis (e.g., what’s the concentration of uranium in that land you were digging and sifting through?). If that weren’t the case, I could call up my local bank and say there’s a sea of oil under my swimming pool and they’d start handing me cash. Granted, that seemed to work for valuing houses over the past few years, but look where that’s led to…
  • The ability to access and extract a “proven” resource is still required. It does no good to talk about oil in the Marianas Trench if there are no oil platforms that can operate a 7 mile pipe. Same goes for digging ore out of lunar regolith. It’s not enough that the regolith is there – show me a PROVEN example of someone taking that regolith and extracting/refining out the desired materials (on a non-cost prohibitive basis, by the way). Until then, it might as well not exist.
  • There must be a way to take said refined materials and get them to market. There is currently no market ON the Moon. So if the market is back here on Earth, how is it going to get transported there? Delivered to the customer? De-orbited without taking out a small city? A few years ago, when I lived in Australia, there was a well-known entreprenuer (the Donald Trump of the mining industry, you might say) who had a grand plan – he had a gigantic piece of land that had proven iron ore reserves, but there was NO mine (multibillion dollar investment) and NO rail line to get that ore to market (60 km trip I believe). So he signed up a multi-billion dollar pay on delivery customer (Chinese of course), and used that to get financing for the rail line and the mine (oh, and he took the company public prior to that as a penny stock, so he could raise public market funds). That company is now trading for 100x what it was before, and Mr. Fortescue is a billionaire.

That being said, if those of you who believe that the mere existence of a material, without the proven means to extract it and deliver it to market (much less economically), is enough to get someone to give you lots of $$$, perhaps I suggest you focus on a bigger target. The outer planets are giant hydrocarbon balls of gas – and given the price of energy these days I’d say a small scoop taken from Uranus is worth more than the GDP of the US today. The Moon is chump change in comparison.

Parsing to Excess April 10, 2008

Posted by shubber in distracting PR, gauntlet being dropped, hot air, public service announcement, PYMWYMI, smack talk, space tourism, suborbital tourism, Wasting Money.

(Note: the Old Space Cadet is at it again….)

In a recent comment to my April 6, 2008 post, Jon Goff quibbled about my use of the word “airline” rather than the word “airplane.” That attention to detail displays a laudable concern for precision of expression, which is a very important characteristic for an engineer to have. I would expect such precision to also be desired on the time axis.

At 08:45 MDT on April 10, I looked at a page on the Masten site. On this page, there is a note: The roadmap illustrates technical development paths and not an exact timeline since planning beyond 2009 is difficult in such a fast moving industry.” This statement rings true to The Old Space Cadet.

However, the same page also shows their XA-1.0 vehicle characterized as capable of carrying a 100 kg payload to 100 km altitude and expected by the first half of 2008. The second vehicle in the pathway is the XA-1.5, which is specified as capable of carrying a 200 kg payload to 500 km. This vehicle is expected by the end of 2008. Note that both of these vehicles are expected during 2008, yet planning beyond 2009 is “difficult.” Today is April 10, 2008. By my estimate, the end of the first half of 2008 is 81 days away. Their test vehicle apparently crashed from about 20 feet AGL last December. The Old Space Cadet suspects that 100 kg to 100 km is a lot more than 81 days away given the progress listed from the early days through 2007.

My questions to Jon Goff are: If a scale is established in which starting to take a conceptual vehicle through the design process is zero, and your stated goal of 100 kg to 100 km is 100 on that scale, where are you now? If your start date is zero and June 30, 2008 is 100, where is today on the scale? Do you really believe that you can realistically go from 100 kg at 100 km to 200 kg at 500 km in 6 additional months? Where would the XA-1.5 be located on the scale?

These kinds of assertions are why potential investors are so hard to find except for those who are blinded by the coolness of it all. The Old Space Cadet’s cynicism is growing.

What Would Warren Say? April 6, 2008

Posted by shubber in CRATS, gauntlet being dropped, investment, public service announcement, PYMWYMI, smack talk, space tourism, suborbital tourism, venture capital, Wasting Money.

(NOTE: this post courtesy of the Old Space Cadet)

When I was a wee young lad in the mid 1960s I bought some stock because of my confidence in the company’s principal. His name was Warren Buffett. Since then, I have made a point of treating the annual reports of Berkshire Hathaway the same way many people treat outstanding textbooks. The latest is no exception. Substitute any of the terms alt.space, space tourism, new space, or suborbital tourism for the term airline in the following Buffet comments from the Berkshire Hathaway Inc. 2007 Annual Report, (Page 8):

The worst sort of business is one that grows rapidly, requires significant capital to engender the growth, and then earns little or no money. Think airlines. Here a durable competitive advantage has proven elusive ever since the days of the Wright brothers. Indeed, if a farsighted capitalist had been present at Kitty Hawk, he would have done his successors a huge favor by shooting Orville down.

The airline industry’s demand for capital ever since that first flight has been insatiable. Investors have poured money into a bottomless pit, attracted by growth when they should have been repelled by it. And I, to my shame, participated in this foolishness when I had Berkshire buy U.S. Air preferred stock in 1989. As the ink was drying on our check, the company went into a tailspin, and before long our preferred dividend was no longer being paid. But then we got very lucky. In one of the recurrent, but always misguided, bursts of optimism for airlines, we were actually able to sell our shares in 1998 for a hefty gain. In the decade following our sale, the company went bankrupt. Twice.

Given the regulatory environment, economic volatility, and gigantic entry barriers associated with alt.space, and given the frequent demands of the alt.spacers for “airline-like” operations for their fantasy spaceships, could Warren Buffet possibly be making a valid observation? If we are truly not quite into the DC-3 era of space flight, perhaps now is the time to think things through very carefully.

Pry Away… April 6, 2008

Posted by shubber in death, public service announcement, smack talk.
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Charleton Heston dead at 84 years of age.

Sorry for the lag in postings – been on the road and swamped.  I’ll be in Colorado Springs tomorrow/Tuesday for the first couple of days of the National Space Symposium if any of you are around.  Feel free to stop by our booth as well.