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THE SPACE SHOW AIRS THE FIRST EVER SPACE CYNICS ROUND TABLE DISCUSSION FEATURING A CLOSER CYNICS’ EXAMINATION OF SPECIFIC ISDC 2008 TOPICS AND SACRED COWS. June 8, 2008

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http://archived.thespaceshow.com/shows/957-BWB-2008-06-08.mp3

Space Cynics Shubber Ali, Tom Olson, and me (DrSpace aka Professor L) met in the hotel coffee shop for an in-person discussion featuring the Cynics’ view of several of the topics discussed at ISDC 2008. This was the first ever in-person Cynics discussion and program, but we hope to offer you more at future conferences or retreats. Unfortunately, our fourth Cynic, Old Space Cadet, could not be with us this time, but as he has already heard the discussion, he wanted everyone to know he was on board with it all and listeners should consider The Old Space Cadet as being fully in sync with his fellow Cynics. We were also joined by Reda Anderson who was both crowned and dubbed Honorary Space Cynic after her stellar performance in offering wise comments, sharing experiences, and otherwise demonstrating her astute business capabilities at all times during this discussion. The gloves were taken off and our discussion was hard-hitting on many topics. We talked about several sacred cows, including the VSE and lunar development plans, space solar power, spaceports, suborbital tourism, and more. Your comments and feedback are welcome, but do it through the Space Cynics blog for all to see, right here at https://spacecynic.wordpress.com/. If you do send a note to drspace@thespaceshow.com, be advised that I will copy and paste the note to the comments section on the blog for the announcement and link to this show, so please, put your comments directly on the Cynics website. All of your views and comments are welcome, even from those of you who will strongly and rudely disagree with all or part of our discussion. You are still respected and welcome to comment although you may not feel that way after one or two Cynics address your question or comment in the true style of a Space Cynic. We hope you appreciate this candid and very frank discussion. A word to the wise, shooting the messenger does not bode well for making your discussion points with us or anyone else for that matter. We, the Cynics, are not the issue, so save your attacks on us. Instead, don’t venting your anger or frustration on a particular Cynic or all Cynics (as tempting as that may be), rather go after what has been said that pushed your buttons. State your facts, make your case, present evidence to the contrary. Make it a learning moment for us all. Shooting the messenger may be lots of fun but it does not make your case as to why you disagree or take issue with what you heard during this discussion. As Sgt. Joe Friday said decades ago, “Just the facts, Ma’am, just the facts.” Try it, I bet it will work outstandingly well, even better than an ISP Kool Aid charged Power Point!

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1. Guillermo Sohnlein - June 8, 2008

Guys (and Reda, too!),

I just listened to this entire segment, and I have to commend all of you on a job well done! As usual, you presented your thoughts with just the right amount of entertainment-filled cynicism and factual-based business acumen. Thanks so much!

As Space Cynics, you provide what I believe is a much-needed service to this sector: a consistent dose of “reality check” cold water thrown onto presumed “bold” visions for commercial space ventures.

I believe that there exists a transitional middle ground between the pragmatic unimaginative risk-averseness of today’s “here and now” and the fanciful science fiction of tomorrow. We definitely need the “dreamers” and “space cadets” to push the envelope in order to drive us forward. However, we likewise need the “cynics” to keep everyone focused on execution lest we risk never achieving those dreams.

Keep up the good work!

Guillermo

2. Professor L - June 8, 2008

Guillermo:
Thanks for the comments and for the support, plus the post on spaceentrepreneurs.org, a site all of the Cynics blog readers should regularly visit for serious and quality business discussions.
Professor L.

3. Fred - June 9, 2008

Hi,
Thoroughly enjoyed the program, but as always as soon as I hear someone putting a position I can’t help but think of the opposite case.
Sure there’s lots of hype, hot air and wishful dreaming out there but.
But.
Firstly
No one achieves anything without dreaming
Should Elon Musk have said “I can’t get anyone to take my oasis to Mars so I’ll just give up and go home? Why should I bother to try and build a cheaper launch vehicle? It’s all to hard.”
At least he, and others are out there trying.
One day one of them might succeed.
Secondly
Space activity as a sector of the world economy is growing.
Look at the Space Report it reports a $251 Billion Global Space Economy in 2007 (up 11%)
http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewpr.html?pid=25166
The Futron report gives a similar picture.
As the space economy grows options will open. What is kool aid today becomes tomorrows business opportunity.
A little dreaming is not, of itself, a bad thing.
To sum up. A healthy dose of cynicism is a good thing. It cuts away a lot of the dead wood. But at the end of the day it’s the dreamers and the doers who are prepared to ignore “sound economic advice” from the “experts” who end up building companies like Apple, or Google or The East India Company.

4. Professor L - June 10, 2008

Fred, please go back and read my much older Cynics post on the difference between a dream and a fantasy. Nothing wrong with a dream. Know the difference as dreams can become something real. A fantasy will always be just that, a fantasy. I posted that article in May 2006. Check it out. Its still valid today.

Thanks.

Professor L.

5. Fred - June 10, 2008

Read your link and it’s very true.
And I don’t disagree with a word any of you spoke on the broadcast. There is way to much vapourware out there. Too many fantasies parading as business plans and so on.
Can’t disagree with any of your criticisms of alt space, SBSP, whatever.
But there’s still the niggling problem of the Wright brothers.
People had tried and failed to build heavier than air craft many times.
The papers have even stopped turning up to watch the crackpots break their necks trying.
Experts had even “proved” that heavier than air flight was impossible.
And so it was till the Wright bros did it.

By all means be sceptical about alt space. Too much of it is moonshine. It might be as much as 99.99% moonshine. But real space business is going on. Satellites get launched, and slowly the industry grows. In spite, not because of alt space.
And who knows. Maybe in a bicycle shop somewhere…

6. Paul Spudis - June 10, 2008

I listened to the episode. I take issue with your trashing of the VSE.

The basic premise of the Vision was that: 1) NASA exists and consumes ~$17B/year; 2) their continued existence for the last 30 years at about this level of funding indicates political “sustainability” — in the sense that it is likely to continue for the next 30 years at about this level of funding; 3) as Shuttle and ISS have lost their luster as “exploration” And since you’re going to be spending that money anyway, why not do something significant beyond low Earth orbit?

There’s nothing inherently silly or stupid about this concept. On the contrary, it recognizes government and bureaucratic inertia as one of the primal forces of the universe and attempts to harness that force to a productive end. The idea of the importance of space resources is (to me) a critical saving feature of the VSE. Contrary to your assertions on the show, the goal is not to “colonize the Moon” but rather, to determine whether the Moon can in fact BE colonized. In other words, the use of space resources is the MISSION of the VSE — can we arrive, survive and thrive on another world? One can piss all over the idea of using local resources all day, but you miss the point — we need to know how difficult it is to do this. What technologies does it take? How low a grade of “ore” is worth processing? How does one extract needed products, dispose of the waste, and store and use locally produced materials? How can such products be used to create a transportation infrastructure and create new spacefaring capability?

In other words, this is pure engineering R&D. And it’s something appropriate for government (as opposed to the private sector) to do, as it’s largely knowledge production, not profit making. I think that creating a logistics depot on the Moon is a key task in opening up the solar system.

Your alternative “mission” for NASA (creating cheap access to space) sounds great, but isn’t any more inherently reasonable than going back to the Moon. Cheap space access is a chimera and has been for 50 years. Its definition is ephemeral and contextual — cheap to whom? If by “cheap access” you mean affordable access, we have that now — we wouldn’t have a commercial communications satellite industry if we didn’t). So what’s the magical threshold? $1000/lb to LEO? $100?

I’m not against cheap access — far from it! I’m just saying that access to LEO is only one aspect of building a true space-faring infrastructure. If the long-term goal of human spaceflight is settlement (and I believe that it is, primarily to create new reservoirs of human culture in the event of a civilization-destroying catastrophe), we simply must learn how to use what we find in space to survive and work productively in space.

Giving NASA the job of developing cheap access to space is as dumb as expecting the military to do it. It’s not in their job description, their culture, or even their belief system. NASA was created to “explore,” whatever that means. If we listen to the Saganites, it means keep the universe safe for robots and let academia define our participation in space as only space science. I think differently. I think “exploration” means scientific exploration, but it also includes wealth creation and settlement. Learning how to live off-planet is a key element of that.

7. Michael Turner - June 10, 2008

Google and Apple were ultimately products of, and beneficiaries of, Moore’s Law. There’s no Moore’s Law for spaceflight — if anything, space flight presents an almost polar opposite set of conditions, along just about any axis you can think of.

http://www.thespacereview.com/article/180/1

As for the British East India company, that was a trade monopoly granted by a nascent mercantilist power, in the face of very lucrative markets indeed. It required no technological breakthroughs to become feasible.

Space Activism as usual: Bad Analogies R Us, except when it’s Bad Analogies Uber Alles.

8. oldspacecadet - June 10, 2008

Fred, I second Professor L’s advice.

You mention Elon Musk as a dreamer. He is very grounded in reality — not fantasy. He had the resources and did not go after, for example, SSTO or antigravity or SSP or other fantastic goals. Instead, he worked for improvements to existing technology at the margins and improvements in management. The Falcon series was always intended to result in 2 stages to orbit with conventional propellants and marginally improved performance. Musk did not ignore “sound economic advice” from the “experts,” but worked within the constraints of what was possible in stepwise and methodical fashion.

The trick is to piece together a continuous chain of marginal improvements into something that adds up to be a significant change. Musk may or may not pull it off in the long run. I hope he does. We will learn more with the third flight test scheduled for later this month.

9. frank - June 10, 2008

Great Information blog ! Thank you for keeping up the good work. I look forward to returning to your blog, and learning more from you !
http://www.uoha.com

10. Professor L - June 10, 2008

Thanks for your comments and for listening to the program. Its much appreciated as are your views. The comments I’ve started hearing on my show for letting the VSE fail in favor of NASA doing the R&D to give us the basics of real low cost space access are interesting but of course this won’t happen for a variety of reasons. And were Congress to mandate this type of change for NASA, is NASA really the agency to do the R&D for low cost space access? Personally, I doubt that too and for Rand and Dennis who offered that alternative vision, I am not so sure they each want NASA to do it either, I suspect instead they were looking at what might be a meaningful alternative to the VSE, even if only in theory. Of course I cannot speak for them and maybe one or both will comment on their Space Show comments here on the blog. I see Dennis in the morning and I will direct him to read these posts.

As for the VSE, I may differ from the other Cynics. I really want to go to the Moon and I see a public or civil space program as being more likely for returning to the Moon than the vaunted private sector, at least now and for the near to intermediate future. Especially if people are involved. The problem I have with this Moon program has to do with ultimate purpose and costs. A transportation system that will cost nearly a billion dollars each time its used to go to the Moon and a 4 person outpost does not make commercial or even policy sense to me. We as a nation are not likely to sustain that effort either through policy or economics and if anyone thinks the commercial world wants a billion dollar ride each time we go one way to the Moon, I would like to understand why. I can’t imagine even closing a business case on the system being used to take us to the Moon. So that is my problem with all this. Its not sustainable, it is not likely commercial and no matter how important or how valuable returning to the Moon might be and the mission we will do there, the transportation costs will eventually kill the program. To sustain a human presence on the Moon, we need a commercial purpose in my opinion. Even if we are selling research and scientific information, we need to be able to pay for this system and that also implies an affordable way of doing the research, getting the science and going back and forth or living there. Thus, for this Cynic, I am concerned that what we are doing will kill the program before it even starts.

Let’s talk politics for a minute. I am of the belief ( no crystal ball here) that the VSE as we know it and are discussing it today will be killed, radically changed or deferred by whoever is the next president along with the new mix for our next Congress. I cannot see this program getting a continued green light given what I have heard so far in the campaign from all parties and what I see in our economy. Now if we had a more rational way of transporting ourselves to and from the Moon that was even remotely or potentially cost effective, perhaps I would be more optimistic than I am. I fully understand my views do not constitute reality and that plenty of people disagree with me. But they are my views and I have developed them from talking to lots of non-space world people through my show plus what I read and see and hear like anyone else.

One more thing. I have been to three separate conferences and have heard NASA reps from JSC say the reason we are going back to the Moon is to keep NASA employment up, to look busy for Congress, all to avoid cuts. I have heard this three times at conferences over the past 18 months. There may be valid reasons for returning to the Moon, you mentioned several. But if NASA reps say this, even to a friendly conference audience, at a minimum, it does the project no good

I don’t describe the Cynics discussion as trashing the VSE. The Cynics have a unique way of saying things to get attention and to make points. Some of us are better at it than others. Some of us are more dry and boring than the others and this was the first time three of us were together. I do not think trashing the VSE is what we did, but we do raise hard and important issues in the Cynics way of saying things. We look for and welcome valid criticism to what we say and I am personally pleased with your response. In the end, we all want the same thing, even we Cynics. Shubber even describes himself as a “space tragic” along with the rest of us. Yet we look for what makes sense and we not buy most rhetoric or any rhetoric. At least we work hard not to but it gets through our filters and some of us are hopeless romantics about certain things, myself as the example here. As for trashing the VSE, I don’t think so but again from my perspective, we are not going to the Moon in a way that the US can sustain our presence there, that the American people will understand and support for a long period of time, and that the commercial markets will probably fun from when offered the keys. I would love to be proven wrong by facts that unfold over time showing me the errors of my June 10, 2008 thinking.

Again, thanks for your thoughtful response.

David L.
(Professor L)

11. Michael Turner - June 10, 2008

“People had tried and failed to build heavier than air craft many times.”

They had also tried and succeeded many times, before the Wright brothers.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_flying_machine

The only patent resulting from Kitty Hawk was 3-axis control. What was significant and newsworthy at that event wasn’t lifting off the ground in a manned, powered, heavier than air machine. People had done that before. It was flying in a figure-eight pattern.

“The papers have even stopped turning up to watch the crackpots break their necks trying.”

And this claim would be substantiated from the news stories written about … the decisions of reporters to not bother making the trips to testing grounds?

“Experts had even “proved” that heavier than air flight was impossible.”

Citation please? Gliding –which is heavier-than-air flight–was already a weekend pastime. What we’re talking about with the Wright brothers was controlled, heavier-than-air, powered, manned flight. They were the first to put all four together. However, all combinations thereof had been demonstrated by then. Progress was steady on all the technological frontiers leading up to Kitty Hawk, including reducing the weight of materials for airframes and engines, control systems, engine power.

“And so it was till the Wright bros did it.”

And so it always is, for those who are ignorant of scientific and technological history.

Oh, you can complain, “You know what I mean!” But actually, I don’t know what you mean. And I never will know what you mean. Because, fundamentally, I CAN’T know what you mean. It’s not because I’m stupid, or lacking in “vision”. It’s because all of the vaulting rhetoric about Breakthroughs We Could Have Real Soon Now in alt.space gets very vague right where it’s most convenient for maintaining the fantasy.

12. Fred - June 11, 2008

Oldspacecadet
I’m not disagreeing with you/
Far from it.
And yes Elon Musk is a great example of sensible incremental development.
And it’s this more than anything what will deliver us a real space economy.
But having said that there is every once in a while a brilliant idea that comes totally out of left field, and I’m just saying that this is the point where cynicism falls down.
The cynic is less likely to find this “Ah Ha” event because, well, they’re cynical.
Dr Paul Dear said it he other day on the Space Show In rsearch you can know too much and know all the reasons why something is not possible. In research you need a certain innocence.
Having said that I still agree that for those of us who are not actively engaged in the industry a healthy dose of cynicim is a good thing

13. nick - June 11, 2008

fred: We definitely need the “dreamers” and “space cadets” to push the envelope in order to drive us forward….here is every once in a while a brilliant idea that comes totally out of left field

The big problem with this line of reasoning is that the least likely source of original and useful ideas are the “dreamers” and “space cadets” who proselytize about religious goals that haven’t changed much since the 1950s Collier’s magazine articles, despite real space industries having turned out very differently. Nor will breakthrough ideas come from government bureaucracies that turn these articles of faith into jobs programs like Shuttle, ISS, and VSE. Good ideas are most likely to come from people like the Wright Brothers and Burt Rutan who bend metal (or composites) every day for a living and pursue goals that small teams of people like themselves can accomplish. The kool-aid drinkers, with their insistence that others must work according to their own cyanide-laden plans, are in fact major obstacles to the progress of the Wright Brothers of the world.

I agree with comments made on the show, that it is highly disturbing that so many young people are being brainwashed by NSS to believe that the most unoriginal and useless of space ideas are the ones that all of us should be pursuing, or at least that all of us should be prosyletizing for and paying for. The good ideas will come from the people who stick up big middle fingers to these religions and think, and do, for themselves.

14. Fred - June 11, 2008

Nick
re Dreamers.
This is where things get very muddy.
When you look closely at people like the Wright Bros and Rutan and whoever you find that at the time they were stepping outside the accepted wisdom. In that sense they were dreamers.
But in fact they built on a lot of hard work, and “bending metal”. In the case of the Wright Bros. they went right back to first principles and studied aerodynamics with kites for a couple of years because what people thought they knew about aerodynamics at the time was wrong.
So it goes with all advancements.
The world has an accepted view of what can and can’t be done and dismisses those step outside those orthodoxies as “dreamers”.
Many are.
Probably most are.
But lumped in with the “dreamers” is the odd person who knows what he’s doing and is bending metal and can as a consequence, change the world.
In this sense Elon Musk was a dreamer.
He was considered off his rocker when he first put the idea of building his own rocket. After all building rockets was the provence of governments. He has shown that it’s not.
Rockets can be commercial.
That’s his legacy.

15. Monte Davis - June 13, 2008

Michael: all of the vaulting rhetoric about Breakthroughs We Could Have Real Soon Now in alt.space gets very vague right where it’s most convenient for maintaining the fantasy.

Vague, or sometimes just creative. One of my favorites is the repeated assertion by too many New Space enthusiasts that aviation flourished because “it was private enterprise,” while space has been crushed under the dead hand of government bureaucracy. They very often cite the Kelly Act of 1925, which directed the Post Office to contract with commercial carriers after seven years of US Army service, as the touchstone moment. And indeed, several of the earliest contractors under the Act did grow/merge into US airlines.

BUT… it’s ignorant, tendentious, or dishonest to omit some other facts:

-That the US ordered more than 12,000 aircraft for WWI from Curtiss and others, and trained thousands of pilots and mechanics. That represented a pulse of public investment and manufacturing/flying experience much bigger than the whole infant US industry as of 1916. And that’s where all those barnstormers and their Jennys (acquired as surplus at a few cents on the dollar) came from in the postwar years.

– That European airlines had gotten an earlier start, with premium-rate government mail contracts and other de facto subsidies explicitly intended to help tie together the British, French, Dutch, and French colonial empires. There was a fair amount of that here, too: airline histories agree that State Dept and War Dept subsidies (including money to build facilities) were instrumental in getting US airlines flying to the Caribbean, South America, and the Pacific in the 1930s. And, of course, just as with the spaceport boomlet today, cities were eager to prove their cutting-edge-ness by having airports, so the bond issues and tax breaks flowed freely.

– That the prop-to-turbojet transition, which led to the real “massification” of passenger travel with the B707 generation, drew very heavily on R&D and experience paid for by military budgets.

I was an airline brat of 9 or so, addicted to the Aviation Weeks my father brought home, when he took me to Logan for inauguration of American’s Boston-to-CA 707 service. The passenger jet looked a lot like the KC-135 tanker I knew from pictures. When I said so to my father, he replied, “It sure does. Boeing isn’t stupid, and neither is [AA CEO] C.R. Smith.”

16. Monte Davis - June 13, 2008

Make that “British, French, Dutch and German” (aka BOAC/BA, Air France, KLM, and Lufthansa)

17. nick - June 13, 2008

Monte, is your point that private airlines would never have happened without the WWI military purchases, or just that they came about a few years sooner? The latter is a reasonable conclusion, the former is not.

Government subsidies and interference (both apply) are more an artifact of the era (first half of the 20th century) than of any need for such government involvement inherent in the task of developing new industries. We can’t run the alternate-history experiment either of us would have to run to prove our points — i.e. how would the private airline business have developed without the World Wars and the accompanying government subsidies and interferences. But we can look back to pre-“Progressive” eras when other important industries were developed privately.

If we look back to industries that developed in the 18th and 19th centuries, there was very little direct government involvement in their early decades: steam engines, steel, railroads, telegraph, electricity, etc. Only after a number of decades did the latter come to be considered “infrastructure” that often was “nationalized.” If you read TVA propaganda today you’d think nobody but government ever generated electricity from dams. You’d be quite wrong — generating dams were being built and operated privately by the latter half of the 19th century and only in the 20th century did governments start nationalizing and building generating dams.

Even if I accept that military purchases accelerated private industry, and that having the industry created sooner is important enough to justify extra such expenditures, military purchases for practical uses which translate into private practical uses are something very different than what NASA has mostly been doing. Given the track record of NASA developing “infrastructure” to serve imaginary needs, resulting in white elephants like Shuttle and ISS, it’s safe to say that what NASA is doing is so bizarrely different from the military airplane example that it should be no surprise that no private industries have actually resulted from the Shuttle or ISS. Nor could any rational person expect private industries to arise from VSE which is similarly divorced from serving ongoing practical human needs.

18. John McGowan - June 13, 2008

There are numerous apparent cases of lone or quite small groups of inventors developing “breakthrough” advances on modest budgets, especially prior to World War II. The Wright Brothers (and Octave Chanute) are, of course, well known and often cited as above as relevant to alt.space type efforts to ahieve cheap access to space.

However, the vast majority, perhaps all, major technological inventions have in practice required a large amount of trial and error, in many cases thousands of trials. In most cases where an individual or small group on a shoestring budget managed to pull it off, they identified a very low cost, usually fast way of performing the large number of trials.

In the case of the Wright Brothers and their mentor Octave Chanute, they learned from the large number of previous mostly unsuccessful trials that Chanute had collected in his book. The Chanute and Wright gliders were constructed of inexpensive cloth and wood which made rapid modifications and repairs possible. The early tests were done on relatively soft beaches and at very low altitude (10 feet or so). This again made it possible to conduct a large number of trials and experiments at a low cost. Only later did the Wrights add an engine thus avoiding the cost of destroying an engine during each or at least many trials that strained the much larger resources of the War Department (Langley) and a number of wealthy inventors such as Maxim.

In the case of rockets, a trial usually involves destroying the rocket and especially the expensive rocket engine. Traditionally, cheap, fast prototyping has involved soft, easy to modify materials such as wood, canvas, clay and so forth. This is generally not an option with rockets intended to go to orbit or even perform sub-orbital hops. The forces, temperatures, and so forth generated by a rocket engine or other propulsion system almost certainly preclude this approach.

While people such as Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and so forth have a great deal of money by most people’s standards, a rocket capable of reaching orbit must cost several million dollars using current design and fabrication methods. Even with a very optimistic cost of $5 million per trial, one hundred trials will cost $500 million which exceeds the net worth of all but a very few private individuals.

Most alternative space plans lack any mechanism to reduce the per trial cost to the level where the hundreds or thousands of trials frequently required for a “breakthrough” could be performed.
Indeed there is little discussion of this issue.

Possibly one could develop the technology using small rockets intended to loft a few ounces into orbit. Many technical problems and costs would undoubtedly be reduced with the rocket size and weight. On the other hand some issues might be harder such as developing a miniature rocket engine or other propulsion system able to generate the thrust required to achieve orbit (or even a sub-orbital hop).

19. Michael Turner - June 13, 2008

Now, Monte, to be fair, you should point out that the Boeing 707 was prototyped as the 367-80; Boeing had no committed customers for that plane when it started designing it. However, it had a very committed customer for a product embodying most of the technological advances needed (the B-47 bomber jet – government market), and, before that, Boeing had seen what the British were up to in jet-powered airliner development with the de Haviland Comet in 1949. De Haviland (featured heavily in Nevil Shute’s Slide Rule, a popular title at alt.space companies) was a plucky entrepreneurial operation, but even Shute admits it was ultimately saved by WW II. The Comet was the result of de Haviland’s policy input to the Brabazon committee on how to develop the British aircraft industry during and after WW II. (It was felt that, with the U.S. concentrating on military transport, and the British on heavy bombers, that some sort of “indusrial policy” was needed to position Britain competitively in civilian transport after the war). The Comet had metal-fatigue problems, leading to a series of crashes, and this certainly gave Boeing more of an opening.

It’s interesting looking at the Brabazon committee “industrial policy” designs, as they underscore both what government can do and where it falls down. For example, BOAC, a government-owned entity, crafted the design specs for transatlantic airliners along the lines it expected for that market: very well-heeled customers and government officials. This was a major misperception. De Haviland, which had the benefit of some experience in surviving without government contracts, got it right about jets. The committee was risk-averse about turboprop engines, so it probably hedged bets where it wasn’t necessary.

In the end, the British lost the airliner market to the U.S. But I don’t think you can say this was because of British government intervention in the market. With NO intervention, the British probably wouldn’t have played much of a role at all in creating the market in the first places.

20. Michael Turner - June 13, 2008

It occurs to me that the example of de Haviland and its Comet might provide an angle of attack because of the Comet’s notorioius metal-fatigue failures — surely, this could be a case of government subsidizing doing things wrong?

Well, it turns out, the Comet was perhaps THE best-tested aircraft ever, in its time, and

‘… [a]s is often the case in aeronautical engineering, other aircraft manufacturers learned from and profited by de Havilland’s hard-learned lessons. … representatives from American manufacturers such as Boeing and Douglas “admitted that if it hadn’t been for our problems, it would have happened to one of them”.’ [from Wikipedia article on the Comet]

You can argue about the extent to which government was “in the way” of aviation development — in some ways it was, I’m sure. But you can’t plausibly argue that it had no net positive effect. Government pushed aviation far faster than it would otherwise have happened.

In the case of space development, I have to wonder whether anything would have happened without governments as customers, indeed, whether anything could now happen without government. Yes, there is the comsat, but there I see a market originally made possible by governments subsidizing local calling and making long-distance calls artificially more expensive.

Is the comsat market sustainable on its own? Is it now locked in? I have to wonder. Electronics miniaturization and photovoltaics enabled it. Those same technologies are enabling what may become a much cheaper alternative: very high altitude UAVs that can circle for weeks or months at a time without maintenance. To what extent is the comsat market effectively subsidized (post-telecom deregulation) by governments buying lots of other rocket launches for other purposes?

21. Carnival of Space #57 - This One’s for the Ladies! - Out of the Cradle - June 14, 2008

[…] did some recruiting in A Gathering of Cynics, which led to a very interesting discussion and an upcoming radio show on The Space […]

22. Monte Davis - June 15, 2008

Nick @17: Per my first paragraph in 15, I’m not advancing an alternate history. I’m asserting that the NewSpace advocates who repeatedly appeal to actual history as evidence that “aviation advanced rapidly because private entrepreneurs took the lead, space has advanced slowly because it’s been dominated by government” are indulging in a very selective reading of aviation history.

More broadly, I believe that space has advanced slowly because:

1) It really is intrinsically hard — i.e., its demands are closer to physical and engineering limits than those of aviation were in 1903-1950.

2) It really is intrinsically expensive. As John McGowan implies @18, aviation offered a “continuum” from slow & low to fast & high flight, with military & civilian demand kicking in early — while the physics of propulsion, acceleration & drag create a very big energy & engineering gap between the fastest/highest useful aircraft and orbit.

3) There really is much less demand (as distinct from space fans’ desire) for access to space than there was for point-to-point aviation. Letters, people, and freight already traveling by train, ship, cars & trucks provided a huge pool for aviation to “skim the cream” at each stage as it became more capable. There is no comparable pool of proven demand for space.

These three interact with negative synergy. For example, in 1903-1940 aviation pushed the envelope in engine power/weight ratios and later the use of light strong aluminum. But just behind came lots of other users who wanted those things for non-aviation purposes, supporting further development & larger sales that brought costs down across the board. For space, not so: who else is buying large rocket engines, or lightweight 3000-degree thermal protection systems?

Bottom line: I believe space development is hard and expensive — and therefore slow — primarily for reasons that have nothing to do with the government-vs-private distinction that plays such a big role in NewSpace rhetoric. I believe that rhetoric is driven much more by impatience, frustration (and a Reaganite conviction that “government is the problem, the free market is always the solution”) than by a clear understanding of the challenges. And while wishing the entrepreneurs every success, I believe they’re going to find that the rocket equation, the Earth’s gravity well, and the economics of getting out of a high-cost, low-volume niche don’t care where your money comes from.

23. Monte Davis - June 15, 2008

John @18: I’m pretty sure that scaling problems rule out ultra-small orbital rocketry. Your propellant volume and combustion-chamber volume go down as the cube of the dimension, while atmospheric drag goes down only roughly as the square (frontal cross-section) — so drag becomes relatively a much bigger problem. Likewise, I suspect that for really small engines, instead of worrying about cooling you’d start worrying about losing too much heat through the combustion chamber walls.

Your point about destructive testing of rockets vs.modify-and-repeat testing of aircraft is at the heart of the challenge. Again and again, space fans rediscover the obvious “solution”: design the rocket for reusability. And again and again, they discover that with the pathetic payload mass fraction of any orbital launcher, once you’ve added the mass required for reusability (TPS, wings/parachutes, etc.), you have much less payload — and hence higher $/kg to orbit until flight rates go way way up. Nothing wrong with that for R&D purposes… but it does tend to take the bloom off the rose as far as investors are concerned.

24. Professor L - June 15, 2008

Regarding the comment by Monte that space development is hard and expensive, I wish all of you could have heard the address given by Elon Musk of Space X at ISDC. Unfortunately, I did not write down his quote and I have yet to see it show up on a website, YouTube, etc (if it is out there, somebody let us know the URL, please). However, Elon said in very plain English that it was very hard and very expensive, much more so than he had thought. He also said something similar to the fact that everyone should discount or discard all that he said the first few years of building Space X because he did not know what he was talking about back then. Its much harder and far more expensive than he used to say or think. Again, I wish I could provide the actual quotes but surely somebody reading this will have heard Elon’s talk as well and can perhaps be more precise or tell us where to find it on the web. It was being filmed and recorded. What Monte is saying should be underlined and put in bold many times over.

After Elon gave his talk, he went to a meeting with a group of students and mostly took questions. I was there for part of this session. Some students were asking him about why he does not use a Board of Directors or raise money. He told them that running Space X and building Falcon was more than a full time job with a huge learning curve, etc. and he had no time to report to a Board or have people looking over his shoulder as it would detract from his time spent making decisions and running the company. As to raising money, he said he had to prove out this concept on his own dime first (he has said this same thing each time he is a guest on The Space Show) and then he told the students that if they were considering an investment or doing an investment or something similar that if the main people do not have their own serious money in the venture and at risk, to run, run run, as far away from the venture as possible. Again, I cannot offer you his exact words but I believe I am giving you a fair summary of his comments. This was also filmed but who knows what was done with the film as this year there were no DVDs sold of the sessions as in years past.

I tell these two stories to address a point which should be obvious. I believe Elon has offered some very solid advice for us all and his true confessions should loudly resonate within our desires to see space develop.

Professor L on Sunday morning.

25. Jim Davis - June 15, 2008

Monte Davis: “I’m asserting that the NewSpace advocates who repeatedly appeal to actual history as evidence that “aviation advanced rapidly because private entrepreneurs took the lead, space has advanced slowly because it’s been dominated by government” are indulging in a very selective reading of aviation history.”

Monte, are you suggesting that claims such as

“It was because of that decision that Jimmy Doolittle decided to leave the Army to pursue a civilian career and the “useless” sport of air racing. As a direct result of that useless sport, the United States won a conflict called the Second World War, which some people today consider to be a useful thing in itself.”

are not unbiased, objective truth? Say it isn’t so!

26. Michael Turner - June 16, 2008

nick writes: “Government subsidies and interference (both apply) are more an artifact of the era (first half of the 20th century) than of any need for such government involvement inherent in the task of developing new industries.”

For your favored example of hydroelectric dams, government “interference” in functioning markets came in the form of preventing PRIVATE interference in functioning markets: not long after hydroelectric became a practical way to meet growing demand for electricity, private dams began to impede traffic on waterways. It wasn’t just some idiotic idea that everything needs to be controlled by government. Rather, it seems it was the idiotic idea that, sometimes, certain kinds of public property can be better for a free economy than privatizing everything.

Anyway, I can’t believe we’re actually supposed to find this example instructive: massive, earthbound technology with fairly obvious massive earthbound market demand (hydroelectric dams), and relatively minor problems of implementation. What we’re talking about here is intricate, persnickety technologies for a mode of flight with relatively little market demand. Space Cadet Disease again: Bad Analogies R Us. I think the debate would be much healthier for all concerned if there were some recognition that space development is truly unprecedented. It has been more a source of analogies (“they can put a man on the moon, why can’t they …”, “we need an Apollo-style program to do ….”) than it is susceptible to analysis by analogy.

27. Michael Turner - June 16, 2008

I haven’t found a transcript yet for Musk’s talk(s) at ISDC ’08. I did find a blogger’s notes: http://hobbyspace.com/nucleus/?itemid=6719

Note how the projections get rosier the further in the future you go. $300/lb to equatorial LEO assuming total F9 reusability.

It was not Musk’s intent to make a small fortune out of a larger one. That seems to be what’s happening anyway.

Let’s try to get some of this into historical, cultural, and economic perspective. About seven years ago, a bubble — once-in-a-lifetime in relative magnitude, unprecedented in absolute terms — left a bunch of relatively young people with the kind of wealth that ordinarily takes much longer to accumulate, the kind of wealth that is more typically disposed of philanthropically by much greyer heads. Elon Musk is one of these historical lottery ticket winners, but obviously not the only one.

These people earned this wealth from other people’s investments in technologies that, while featuring a dramatic rate of improvement even now, are nevertheless not nearly as transformative as those that emerged in the late 1800s and early 20th century. These new technologies are far less transformative because they deal not in material but in information (and quite neutrally, misinformation as well). However, those earlier materially-based transformations left an impact of rising expectations about technology in general. These nouveaus grew up with these predictions of an extapolative future that was seeded in that earlier era, predictions that produced a burgeoning fiction genre. Those predictions (life extension, eradication of disease, universal personal aviation, affordable space travel, fusion energy, etc., etc.) have mostly not panned out. Some have worked out (e.g., fission power) but have proved a little more problematic than expected. Even with ever-rising power in the new technologies, some of the predictions based on those trends (AI and robotics) have not panned out either, so far.

These relatively young rich/super-rich people are in a position to spend a lot of their personal wealth to see if something was missed, somehow, by lots of very smart people looking at the same problems earlier on. Space travel is one of those arenas.

OK, that’s very broad-brush and doesn’t cover some obvious cases. In any case, what I expect to see out of all this is SOME progress, but nothing dramatic. One of these years, we might see a space tourist going to a Bigelow inflatable station in a capsule designed and built by SpaceX. However, I think it might be after Elon Musk has quietly sold SpaceX off to a Brazilian aerospace firm, for use in the Brazilian space program. The launch operations will be heavily infested with Russians and Ukrainians who, after each launch, fly back home to … well, to save money on living expenses, just as the Sea Launch Ukrainian/Russian crew does now. It will cost maybe $5-$10 million to fly to orbit as a private citizen, quite a nice reduction over the present day. And maybe this will happen in under a decade? (This Koolaid doesn’t taste as funny as the last batch …. maybe we’re learning something here….)

28. Monte Davis - June 16, 2008

Jim: ooh, that is a beaut. Where’s it from? Silly me, I’d thought that victory in WWII had had something to do with Axis overstretch, Allied industrial production, the US’ fortunate geographic situation, the Red Army, etc. Now I see that it all came from Gee Bees and Severskys whipping around pylons.

I commend to all space cynics Joseph Corn’s The Winged Gospel: America’s Romance with Aviation, which explores the over-the-top expectations in the first half of the 20th century: from the aircar in every garage to the inevitable end of wars, nations and nationalism as people soared over old boundaries.

(How’s that working out, BTW?)

29. Charles Pooley - June 16, 2008

re #18 of John McGowan’s mention of possibly developing very small rockets and Monte Davis’ objections (#23) based on scaling problems.

Microlaunchers, and more recently the new Generation S is preoccupied in just such small launch vehicles as a way to beat the high cost of entry dilemma of the large scale startups. We are the 5th entry for N Prize.

Physics does require accommodating the effects Monte mentions but they do not preclude the possibility of very tiny spacecraft, whether 200 gram photo flyby of NEOs or a 20 gram satellite that can transmit for 14 hours or so. It can be done.

The origin of the idea was the realization that the cost of entry into participation is presently too great, as it was with computers a few decades ago, and the way to energize a population, a “Generation Space” is to create a pathway to very low cost, high volume (thousands into the region between the orbits of Earth and Mars).

Space Cynics is a very good idea–but let’s leave room for the possibility of some new idea that might work

30. Jim Davis - June 16, 2008

Monte:

That’s a sci.space.policy quote from Ed Wright in a 2001 thread entitled ‘Why I hate the phrase “Reusable Launch Vehicle”‘.

Back when Ed was heavily promoting rocket racing he had a lengthy paper on the Space Frontier Foundation website claiming that air racing was the primary source of technological breakthroughs between the wars. He was confident that rocket racing would do the same for space technology.

I tried to find the paper but it seems to have been removed since Ed’s falling out with the SFF. (Apparently they were too socialist for his tastes.) Does anyone know if it’s still available online somewhere?

31. nick - June 16, 2008

Monte Davis: I’m asserting that the NewSpace advocates who repeatedly appeal to actual history as evidence that “aviation advanced rapidly because private entrepreneurs took the lead, space has advanced slowly because it’s been dominated by government” are indulging in a very selective reading of aviation history.

You are quite right that aviation makes a poor example of the point. But a wide variety of industries prior to the 20th century (steam engines, railroads, steel mills, electricity, etc.) do provide very good examples of the NewSpace point, as do (albeit less clearly) some post-WWII new industries such as semiconductors and the post-NSF Internet. The claim that government planning and investment are required to give rise to new industries is about as preposterously wrong as a claim about history can ever be. Private industry taking the lead in developing new industries is the historical norm; governments doing so is the historical exception.

[Space] 1) It really is intrinsically hard — i.e., its demands are closer to physical and engineering limits than those of aviation were in 1903-1950.
2) It really is intrinsically expensive.
3) There really is much less demand (as distinct from space fans’ desire) for access to space than there was for point-to-point aviation. Letters, people, and freight already traveling by train, ship, cars & trucks provided a huge pool for aviation to “skim the cream” at each stage as it became more capable.

Not being a NewSpacer, alt.spacer, or what have you, I don’t have any major quarrel with these points, except for (3). There were already large markets for aerial surveillance and wire-based communications for spysats and comsats to invade. (Of course, most alt.spacers ignore these staple space applications as too boring, and focus on space tourism and minor variations on NASA daydreams for which (3) definitely applies, so in that sense you are correct).

who else is buying large rocket engines, or lightweight 3000-degree thermal protection systems?

The military, actually (missiles, anti-missile missiles, etc.. in addition to their own satellites and launches). BTW, I haven’t heard very much alt.space criticism of military space, which indeed does play a role in space similar to that it played in aviation. Their criticism is mainly of NASA pretending that it holds the keys to the future of civilian space, and in that regard they are quite accurate — even if their own hopes for private space are overblown, and ironically are too much based on NASA’s own hype.

Michael Turner: private dams began to impede traffic on waterways.

Good grief. A role for governments to resolve legal disputes and make new law to reconcile conflicting interests is utterly different form a role for governments to develop the technology, which in turn is quite different from a role for governments to plan or run the businesses. Alt.spacers have argued plenty against the planning and the running, and some perhaps against the technology development (much more often they just observe that NASA is doing a bad job in this areas given its massive budget), but I’ve never heard any arguing that space should be an anarchy.

BTW, there are many examples of government dams destroying valuable farmland and wildlands, stopping water traffic and fish migrations, and causing a wide variety of other problems. Given the environmental train wrecks that were the old TVA and BPA, and more generally the eco-disaster that was the Soviet Union, you’ll have a very hard time arguing that socialism resolves these kinds of conflicts better than a private sector operating under reasonable laws.

massive, earthbound technology with fairly obvious massive earthbound market demand (hydroelectric dams),

What a preposterously anachronistic statement. The topic is the birth of the electricity industry and what analogies it might have the birth of future industries, e.g. of new space industries. We take for granted electricity technologies and markets now, but neither were at all obvious when entrepreneurs started building the first hydroelectric dams, electric distribution systems, and (at least as important) electricity-using appliances the 19th century. It took private capital taking big risks, rather than central planning, to give birth to the electricity industry. It took entrepreneurs figuring out what people wanted out of electricity and how best to generate it as they went along. Similar can be said for the first steam engines, steel mills, railroads, and most other new industries prior to the 20th century. The private sector taking the leading role in innovation, even in what becomes “infrastructure”, is the historical norm, not the exception. The aviation business, its birth coinciding with WWI, and the space business coinciding with ICBMs and the Cold War are historical exceptions in the degree to which government investment and interference has played a role.

32. Bart - June 16, 2008

The blog posting attached is my response to the original recording/discussion.

As for my thoughts re: the posted discussions, I would like to point out to my libertarian friends that a) civil aviation has received a long-term helping hand by Uncle Sugar for a long time, starting with the formation of the NACA in 1915, going on to the Air Mail Act, and carrying on through the development of high-speed monoplanes and jets, and even carrying on past the closing of the Civil Aeronautics Board (“deregulation”). If a few more commercial carriers go under, does anyone want to place long odds against the U.S. funding a bail-out? It’s gotten so ugly in commercial aviation that Bob Crandall, former CEO of American Airlines and one of the chief beneficiaries of deregulation (he invented frequent flyer miles), is now calling for RE-regulation of the industry!

Second, private industry is not the ONLY way to develop technology. A plausible case can be made that only SOCIALISM has put human beings into space–look at the Apollo program, the Soviet manned program, and now the Chinese program. Space is incredibly expensive, or at least it has been when tied to national security goals–in which case price has been no object.

Third, form follows function. If your goal is to put a lot of stuff into space quickly, then you develop big, dumb, expendable boosters, and cost be hanged. If your goal is to run a spaceline and minimize recurring costs, then you either build a cheap, dumb booster or try for reusability. That carrot has been dangling in front of the space industry since at least the Shuttle’s development days. The Nixon administration, in its unholy wisdom, decided that it didn’t want to pay the high up-front costs to develop a fully reusable system, but “pay as you go,” and “build whatever pleases the most agencies.” Thus was Shuttle born. It is an ingenious collection of machinery, but it is not reusable in the intended sense of the word.

Lastly, following on from my second point, the reason that Rutan’s accomplishment was so appealing was that it was so typically American: a lone genius with a small team working out of a hangar in the middle of nowhere comes up with The Bright Idea and makes it happen. But, as my friends at NASA like to remind me, he didn’t make it to orbit, and used only 2% of the energy necessary to do so. SpaceShipTwo will hopefully provide the income he needs to come up with The Next Bright Idea to reduce the cost to orbit. But even he has said that right now he can’t do it. The breakthroughs aren’t there yet. So we have to think, as Americans and as space cadets, what would be the best possible set of policies to allow The Next Big Thing(s) to happen?

I’m open to suggestions.

/b

33. Bart - June 16, 2008
34. Michael Turner - June 17, 2008

The Ed Wright paper about air racing can be found courtesy of the Wayback machine.

http://web.archive.org/web/20010219202044/www.space-frontier.org/Projects/Racing/history.htm

On the second page, you can read “It is difficult to overstate the contributions of air racing to aviation technology. The need for speed led to retractable landing gear, streamlined cockpits, variable-pitch propellers, and supercharged engines.”

Actually, if this paper is any indication, it appear it is all too easy to overstate the contributions of air racing. Retractable landing gear? Proposed as early as 1904 and I see a first patent in 1919. Variable-pitch propellers? Invented in 1923. Are you gonna tell me that streamlined cockpits, if in fact they emerge in air racing, wouldn’t have emerged anyway in commercial air transport?

Now, somebody (Nick would be my first guess) is going to jump down my throat with “Are you saying air racing made NO contributions to aeronautics.” See Excluded Middle, Fallacy of.

35. Michael Turner - June 17, 2008

“The claim that government planning and investment are required to give rise to new industries is about as preposterously wrong as a claim about history can ever be.”

Nobody here is claiming that as some universal economic law, Nick. At worst, someone here might claim that something like this statement is true when it comes to space development.

Here, let me be the punching bag for that one. I hereby state (without implying that anyone here necessarily agrees): “While in the overwhelming majority of cases of new industries, the government’s role was to retard initial development with overregulation, or to boost development a little faster than it would otherwise have happened with subsidies, or was simply irrelevant, in the highly unusual case of space development, it is very likely that there would be nothing artificial in orbit today if it weren’t for governments.”

Not that this is STILL not the same as saying “a space development industry CANNOT emerge without government support.” I never believed that, I still don’t believe it. I just think it’s (a) not very likely, and (b) it is likely to happen only very slowly if it does happen.

Be careful which strawman you bash away at, Nick. We’re not as stupid (nor as lacking in study skills) as you’d apparently like to believe.

You draw an analogy between NewSpace development and the semiconductor industry. Well, please read this

http://www.thespacereview.com/article/180/1

and tell me where the flaw in my argument is. (By the way, even though the factors favoring Moore’s Law also favored development of a burgeoning semiconductor industry, I would still say that we’re further along that path because of early government support.)

I suppose I’ll be called a communist by somebody here before the debate self-extinguishes, but the fact is, I was a capital-L Libertarian for most of my adult life, I am a strong believer in appropriately limited government even now, and for a long time I believed that government space programs were just slowing down space development.

I did not change my mind because the people who run this blog dragged me into the bushes and made me drink something. I changed my mind because I did what an early philosophical influence urged, over and over. I checked my premises. I came to my own conclusions. These conclusions did not make me happy. They still don’t.

36. Michael Turner - June 17, 2008

Regarding a supposedly “preposterous” and “anachronistic” statement I made, Nick writes: “The topic is the birth of the electricity industry and what analogies it might have the birth of future industries, e.g. of new space industries. We take for granted electricity technologies and markets now, but neither were at all obvious when entrepreneurs started building the first hydroelectric dams, electric distribution systems, and (at least as important) electricity-using appliances the 19th century.”

Nick’s preconceptions here: progress was slow and tentative at the time; there was no “killer app” for electricity; people didn’t know much about the possible uses of electricity and were skeptical of what they had been told; government had no role in distribution systems.

His preconceptions: all wrong. A half-hour of Googling could have dashed these preconceptions. But did Nick do the homework? No.

The first hydroelectric power generation was in Appleton, Wisconsin on Sep 30, 1882. Was this some tentative toe-in-the-water about a market with very uncertain prospects? Hardly.

On Sep 4th of that year, Edison Electric had already “gone live” at its Pearl Street station, lighting up 400 bulbs for 85 customers within a square mile — network infrastructure that required considerable preparation. Not to mention capital — but he had deep-pockets VCs in the form of J.P. Morgan and the Vanderbilts. Were these financiers crazy? Were they taking a wild chance on an unlikely market? Hardly. In two years, Pearl Street was lighting up over 10,000 bulbs, for over 500 customers. The public had been been made aware of electrical lighting through arc lamps (which clearly demonstrated that electricity could make light), early light bulb deployments (some of which preceded Edison’s) and world’s fair-style technology expositions. Edison wasn’t some lone madman — he was in a race with other entrepreneurs, for a market that everyone could see would be good if the right technology made it affordable. And his investors knew it.

Remember the late 90s bubble companies, with their “profits are for wimps” attitude? “Attract eyeballs, monetize later”? A mindset already invented in the early 1880s. Edison supplied light to his customers at no charge for the first six months, until he could figure out how to meter electricity consumption. And in the meantime, he kept signing up more customers, who kept signing up ever faster.

Government had no role? Actually, the city of New York was initially resistant to digging up the streets. But Edison prevailed, and probably because he made a network economics case: the marginal cost of extending the network would more than pay for itself with taxable activities increased and property values enhanced by electric illumination. Yes, governments had to be sold on the concept. But they were. They needed to be.

So when the first hydroelectric production began in Appleton, it was over three years AFTER Edison (and others) had made the light bulb cheap and longer-losting, it was about the same time AFTER J.P. Morgan and the Vanderbilts had pumped cubic money into the electrical-networking killer app of cheap electric light, it was AFTER Edison had spent some of that capital to build a major power plant, it was AFTER government permission for a square mile of New York City to be dug up for power lines, and AFTER Edison (at considerable greater expense than for the dynamos) had dug up the streets and laid down the network, and AFTER a hundred customers had been signed up, and (weeks) after 85 of them had gotten their bulbs lit. Electricity was coming. Fast. People knew it. Everybody who’d seen it — and electric light installations were already publicly viewable from the late 1870s — was marveling over it. It was just a question of affordability, and there would be exponential take-off.

Space development should be so lucky.

37. Michael Turner - June 17, 2008

Ah, and to the initial electrical power “killer app” of illumination, enabled by government permission to install network infrastructure, it appears we must add transportation systems, operated outright by governments or by companies franchised by governments.

“Electric streetcars, a relatively new urban feature, first appeared at the Berlin Industrial Exhibition in 1879. Six years later, New Orleans, South Bend and Minneapolis installed systems, and Chicago and most other U.S. cities quickly joined the rush to replace horse-drawn public transportation with one or several traction companies. Those firms devoured electricity in quantities that overshadowed the demand from electric lights, and they owned their own generators in order to obtain cheaper power than was provided by the fwe centralized stations. In fact, on-site generators–operated by streetcar companies, commercial building managers and industrialists–supplied two-thirds of the nation’s electricity in the late nineteenth century.” [From Edison to Enron, by Richard Munson, 2005]

This is from a chapter entitled “Monopolists”, and specifically about Insull, who might be said to have helped invent the municipal power company as (an eventually regulated) monopoly, which was probably the most efficient way to make power cheap.

Interestingly, from 1886 to 1930, Appleton, Wisconsin had an electric streetcar system — powered (at least initially) by that first hydroelectric power station that started up in 1882.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tram#Electric_trams_.28trolley_cars.29

Governments creating markets for hydroelectric power–who’d have thought? Worse, governments helping to make electricity cheap through dreaded mechanism of creeping socialism: mass transportation, centralized power production. Is there no end to the soul-searing economic heresies we’ll discover unless we shut the history books and simply repeat, over and over, the head-clearing mantra of “Free minds, free markets, free minds, free markets …..”?

38. nick - June 17, 2008

Michael Turner @35: , it is very likely that there would be nothing artificial in orbit today if it weren’t for governments.”

If this means excluding the military pursuing its own practical aims (threatening destruction, spying, etc.) this claim might be accurate, but it’s very hard to say. An alternative history where the V2, ICBMs, spysats, and ICBM-derived satellite launchers never happened, but instead we hypothesize about purely charitable and commercial paths from Goddard to satellites, is so far removed from the actual history that it’s anybody’s guess how long commercial space industry would have been delayed. Once it got going, though, lack of military uses of space would mean no ITAR, which would give space industry once it happened much more ability to do economically rational things like launch comsats from the equator, have a truly competitive global launch market, and generally increase the division of labor, increasing capability and decreasing costs. In the long run (whether than long run would have been before or after this year or not), lack of government investment would not have permanently crippled commercial space industry.

I again repeat that I am not here to defend alt.space/NewSpace kool-aid drinking. I am in raging agreement with the Cynics that claims for space tourism are overhyped and that alt.space claims for potential cost reductions are usually quite exagerated. I agree that there are no substantial markets for private space stations, that space solar power beamed to earth is science fiction, and so on. I am simply pointing out that the NASA/NSS kool-aid is and has been spiked with far more cyanide for far longer than the alt.space kool-aid, and that alt.space is not forcing taxpayers to drink its concoctions. In particular, my quarrel is not with practical military uses but with NASA and its claims, and the claims of the NSS space fans, that building “infrastructure” for imaginary future uses is an important activity.

Thus I put forward for your consideration a smaller opposite claim: that the commercial and military sectors of space would be at least as large today as they would have been had NASA never existed.

Why? Because militaries would still have developed ICBMs, spysats, and satellite launchers (all these were already under development under Eisenhower). Given the ready availability of military launchers, the first commercial comsat (developed by AT&T) would have been at worst a few years delayed from military red tape. Commercial picture-snapping satellites would probably have been longer delayed, but by now would have caught up. We would have saved $100s of billions of dollars by not investing in dead-end projects like Apollo, Shuttle, and ISS, freeing up tens of thousands of engineers to work on more practical projects of more lasting value. Indeed, without NASA distracting attention and soaking up the talent, it’s probable that the comsat industry would be more competitive against alternative forms of communication than it is today, and thus larger and providing a larger commercial launch market. Far from blazing a path to the future, NASA has been at best irrelevant to the long-term development of practical space industry, and realistically has wasted vast amounts of money and talent, just as China did with their equally useless Ming fleets. The ill effects of alt.space’s punch are trivial in comparison.

39. nick - June 17, 2008

Michael Turner, I appreciate your historical examples. They are indeed illuminating. Not just for the useful information, but that they show you are still arguing with some sort of anarchist straw-man. You and Bart are implicitly setting up an absurd dichotomy between anarchism and what seems to be a prophetic socialism, with monopoly over a magical crystal ball by which big government can plan our future. I suggest that instead we consider the vast reality in between these imaginary extremes. My quarrels are with socialism: in particular with central planning and with the related, and even stupider, idea that governments can prophecy the future and plan “infrastructure” for imaginary future uses.

I have no quarrel with governments satisfying their historical and practical needs, whether for trams or weapons, by becoming customers of industries new or old. And I certainly have no quarrel with legal authorities resolving conflicts of interest.

Neither I nor any alt.spacer I know is an anarchist who claims that there is no role for legal authorities in resolving conflicts of interest and rights about e.g. whether Edison could dig up the streets of New York to string wire. I am, similarly, quite in favor of the ITU or similar allocating property rights for radio frequencies and satellite slots in geosynchronous orbit, and I’ve never seen any alt.spacer argue for lawlessness. Your street-digging example tilts at windmills.

Your point that there turned out to be a killer app, illumination, doesn’t detract from my argument that new industries usually develop in non-obvious and unpredictable ways. It took vast amounts of subtle research to figure out how to make a light bulb work reasonably well. Edison had to discover that a certain species of bamboo from the Phillipines converted electricity to light effectively enough to make the first practical light bulb. Who could plan for or predict that? Nobody — making a practical light bulb was a matter of a vast amount of trial and error among dozens of competing engineers and engineering firms (as we would use the term engineer today).

That’s an example of an obvious market (illumination) with non-obvious solutions (bamboo filaments, the long-raging AC vs. DC controversy, etc.) In most other cases the market is non-obvious. The electricity industry expanded in a number of crucial ways, for example converting much of industry from belt-distributed steam to electric power, and the invention of a wide variety of home appliances, that weren’t widely predicted during the early years.

I observe that your source does not state that the tram in Appleton was run by the City of Appleton or any other government entity. Most trams at the time, like the railroads, were privately owned, and the source does state that the source of the electricity for the tram (Edison Co.) was private, as were all electric utilities in the early decades of the industry. Even if we assume the tram was operated by a local government, these are very different beasts from national governments: in particular they are in no way analogous to a monster like NASA trying to centrally plan the future of an entire industry. They were just building a humble local tram to shorten the commutes into their own little town. Again we see that the reduction of the argument to a silly straw-man argument of glorious centrally planned socialism vs. chaos and anarchy misses reality by a wide margin on both sides. It is based on the utterly silly fallacy that any productive government role of any kind implies that a particularly bizarre and absurd role for government, prophetic socialism, must also be a good idea.

What your examples, from illumination to tram, do show is the importance of practical uses rather than starry-eyed daydreams. If the electricity industry industry had developed NASA-style, we would have had a massive bureacracy trying to illuminate cities with huge light bulb “suns” installed on vast custom-built towers, based on some exciting magazine articles published by a handsome foreign engineer and turned into a secular religion for decades thereafter. Other avenues for development of the electricity industry would have been deemed boring and marginalized, as our glorious electrical bureaucracy sucked in the bulk of the money and talent and distorted the technology far away from economically efficient designs and standards.

My basic point remains: the development of the electric industry, like the development of most industries, was non-obvious and unpredictable: it was not susceptible to national government planning, and dominating national government investment would have been very wasteful. The historical and proper role of governments has been and should be to pursue their traditional practical tasks, primarily defense and dispute resolution, contracting to the new industry only where practical, and to referee any conflicting interests that may arise out of the new industry.

40. nick - June 17, 2008

MIchael Turner quoting Richard Munson: Six years later, New Orleans, South Bend and Minneapolis installed systems, and Chicago and most other U.S. cities quickly joined the rush to replace horse-drawn public transportation with one or several traction companies. Those firms devoured electricity…

This very quote states that these trams were run by “companies” or “firms”, not governments, as you inferred. You got caught by the modern prejudice that mass transit must be run by governments, and by the city names, which denote the location of the trams. They might also suggest some traditional local governmental role in resolving conflicts of interests, perhaps by licensing, facilitating the acquisition of rights-of-way, or similar. They suggest nothing resembling planning and dominance of the industry by local governments, much less by national governments as would be required for a reasonable analogy to NASA.

So much for the big dominating role you thought “government” must have been playing in the early years of new industries. The creation and dominance, in their early years, of new industries by private industry is the general historical rule. A dominating role for government in the creation of new industries is the exception, and when does happen in a useful way occurs as a side effect of a practical governmental function, usually military, rather than reflecting attempts by governments to plan the future of private industry.

41. Michael Turner - June 18, 2008

Nick starts with strawman aguments (attributing to people here the ridiculous idea that NO industry ever starts without a government goosing), then flings strawman accusations himself when it becomes convenient for him. I noted that hydro plants and tram systems were usually companies — it wasn’t that I was not reading my own quotes. It nevertheless took governments saying that a public facility (the street network) would change in its patterns of use. Thus it is still the case of government creating a market where it didn’t exist before — AND where there was a choice not to change. (An option that some muncipalities perhaps took.) Do you think governments were NOT involved in the decisions about where electric-powered trams would run and where they wouldn’t? Do you think they did not determine safety regulations? Do you think they did not involve themselves in standardization on such issues a track gauge?

In any case, we should really get the apples/oranges issues out of the way, and spelling out in agonizing detail how your analogies fail (a task you don’t seem to want to bother your head about, Nick) doesn’t seem to be getting us there. I notice you’re basically dodging my questions: Would we have anything artificial in orbit today if it weren’t for government-as-customer? and, What’s wrong with my analysis of how Moore’s Law-type behavior simply does not apply to space development because it cannot?

NASA might be effectively dictating how space development happens in the United States. I don’t particularly like how they are doing it. But tell me: who else is going to pay for it? If the answer is “nobody”, as I suspect it is, then I don’t see the basis for a complaint, unless it’s that it’s the voting taxpayer, rather than YOU, who is getting to decide (if only by default, because most of them don’t really care about the details) how space gets developed. If your answer is “somebody”, the burden is on you to prove that there’s some launch market of roughly comparable size out there. I don’t see it. Yes, the space-related market did 16% more business last year, if you count things like increases in installed TV dishes. However, there were fewer actual satellite launches, and that’s a trend I expect will continue. What if the comsat companies had to bear ALL of the cost of R&D and manufacturing for orbital rocketry? I’d say we never would have gotten a comsat industry. As it was, they were effectively subsidized for a long time by telecom regulation that made long-distance rates artificially high, to offset regulations that made the cost of local calls much lower, and were initially subsidized in effect by the ICBM budget.

42. Michael Turner - June 18, 2008

“If the electricity industry industry had developed NASA-style, we would have had a massive bureacracy trying to illuminate cities with huge light bulb “suns” installed on vast custom-built towers, based on some exciting magazine articles published by a handsome foreign engineer ….”

“Foreign engineer”, I like that. Xenophobia duly noted. Imagine if the U.S. had done its initial nuclear weapons development “NASA-style” … why, it might have employed Germans, Hungarians. Maybe even some *Jewish* foreigners! (And it would have had massive, centralized facilities for refining uranium to weapons grade, and a virtual concentration camp out in the desert where scientists were organized in a top-down command structure.)

Anyway, I see another strawman shaping up here: just because I believe that government played an important role in electric power development MUST mean that I think there wasn’t nearly enough government involvement in the early decades of electric power development, that it should have been done “NASA style”. Well, I don’t believe that. I think electric power networks were done in the way they were (which is clearly, to me at least, a case of capital/local government trading leads in financing/subsidizing developing markets) because not much more was needed to make them happen at the rate consumers wanted to see. And that included popular demand for government subsidies. (Indeed, subsidized routes for trams were popular even before electricity, even before cables — they were popular when trams were being pulled along rails by HORSES, 20 years prior!)

I think NASA is doing space “NASA-style” because there really is no other way for NASA’s mission. Is NASA itself a permanent fixture? Yes. Maybe too bad, but yes. As long as the nation deems manned space programs legitimate and worthy endeavors (but also so long as it doesn’t have to pay too much for them, and as long as the pork gets evenly distributed), it’s hard to see any other way. We probably would have gotten something better than the Shuttle if NASA’s budget hadn’t been slashed; but we probably wouldn’t have any continued manned space program without the Shuttle; and we were probably going to have both the budget cuts and some manned-space-program budget left to do something with.

NASA is a political creation. But of course it is — it could never have been a market creation. (What was Larry Niven’s joke? “Sometimes NASA reminds me of a government agency”?) What makes you think it’s going to die just because somebody pulls yet another emperor-has-no-clothes act: standing up and pointing out that it’s wasteful?

What I really don’t understand, though, is this zero-sum game you imagine about engineering talent — that NASA somehow sucked up too many smart people who might otherwise have been rocket scientists for the defense industry. Ultimately, booster development was mainly going to the private sector, which could pay private sector salaries. If it becomes clear to smart people that they can make good money in an engineering specialty, smart people will go into that specialty.

“The historical and proper role of governments has been and should be to pursue their traditional practical tasks, primarily defense and dispute resolution, contracting to the new industry only where practical, and to referee any conflicting interests that may arise out of the new industry…”

Thanks. I’ll see if I can get the current preamble to the Constitution struck, and the above wording substituted. Be prepared to wait awhile, though.

For some reason, there seems to be some kind of general appetite in democracies for social safety nets, free public education, medical care, environmental protections … and arguably, bread and circus arrangements like manned space programs. Apparently, the “historical and proper role” of *democratic* governments is to give people the government they … um … deserve. I don’t like the result in all cases. Hardly anybody does. But tell me, Nick: what, exactly, is your grand plan to change all this? Or is this forum just yet another place for you to come with your government’s-not-limited-enough-these-days carping? Pardon me, but I hail from a place called Reality. Maybe if I were 20 years younger, I’d be a Ron Paul die-hard today. No more. Things are the way they are because of large social forces making them that way, and keeping them that way. Lots of people care about things I don’t particularly care about. Maddenly, I can’t change them. Neither can you.

43. nick - June 18, 2008

Nick starts with strawman aguments (attributing to people here the ridiculous idea that NO industry ever starts without a government goosing),

I have attributed nothing of the sort. What have attributed to you, as implied from the kinds of arguments you have made in some earlier posts (and happily seem to be backtracking from now), are a number of other false ideas, including:

(1) the idea that governments have usually played dominating roles similar to the engineering and investment roles in anticipation of supposed future civilian uses that NASA has played developing space “infrastructure” like Shuttle and ISS. History shows quite thoroughly that governments have hardly ever played such a role in the early stages of industries, and that when they have (as with Shuttle and ISS) the result has been failure.

(2) That the success of practical government uses (such as militaries developing ICBMs and spy satellites, or the WWI advances of airplanes, or DARPA developing the Internet) in accelerating the development of private industry implies that governments can also usefully prophecy future civilian markets and plan, design, and invest in infrastructure for those. It implies no such thing. It is the subtle similarities of the practical uses, not fraudulent pretenses to prophecy, that cause these largely unforseeable spinoffs (which also, and in fact more often, work in the other direction, from private industry to military).

(3) That governments acting in a radically different role than NASA (e.g. resolving local conflicts of interests over rights-of-way for one of many local instances of an industry) is somehow analogous to or makes an argument in favor of prophetic central planning for an entire industry.

In the birth of the electricity industry, local governments were often involved deciding legal issues to reconcile conflicts of interest. Michael Turner goes on to conclude from this:

Thus it is still the case of government creating a market where it didn’t exist before

Not even close, Mr. Turner. Attributing “government” rather than private industry as “creating” the early electric industry is like saying that the referees of last night’s basketball game, rather than the Boston Celtics, are the NBA champions, or that the umpires rather than the players are the main reason the fans attended a baseball game. (“Government” is in scare quotes because Mr. Turner continues to suggest strong analogies between entities as disparate as 19th century local legal authorities and NASA simply because they both can be labeled “government”, when in fact these entities are radically different and doing radically different things. With the early electricity industry, the role of “government” was that of a local legal referee, e.g. resolving conflicts over. rights-of-way, in very sharp contrast to a national entity like NASA doing the actual investing, design work, etc. for technological icons as “infrastructure” to fulfill the cosmic prophecies).

We probably would have gotten something better than the Shuttle if NASA’s budget hadn’t been slashed

Here we have the favorite complaint of the socialist engineer — if only they’d given me even more money to waste, it would have worked so much better, honest! The eternal invitation to throw good money after bad.

But tell me, Nick: what, exactly, is your grand plan to change all this?

In case you didn’t notice, I don’t believe in grand plans. My humble hope is just to debunk in this forum the fraudulent claims of the religion of prophetic socialism that NASA and NSS have propagated over the last four decades.

I don’t particularly like how they [NASA] are doing it. But tell me: who else is going to pay for it? If the answer is “nobody”, as I suspect it is, then I don’t see the basis for a complaint, unless it’s that it’s the voting taxpayer, rather than YOU, who is getting to decide

Rather than me? I myself being a voting U.S. taxpayer, I certainly do have the right to complain about NASA wasting my money. The same cannot be said about Bob Bigelow or many other alt.spacers (those that aren’t starting to feed from the NASA trough like Space-X, anyway). I might think they are being foolish, but unlike with NASA I have no big reason to care if they waste their own money or to think that their business is my business. Another big reason to care about NASA is the dominating role they play in shaping people’s expectations about what kinds of space technology we will see in the future — the fraudulent pretenses of NASA and their NSS boosters at socialist prophecy, and specifically the techno-icons of Von Braun and his successors.

BTW, since the things I’d like to see humanity do in space are long term aspirations, hardly urgent, it is irrelevant to me whether somebody is paying for anything in space “now.” I don’t see the huge value in doing things before their natural time like you seem to do. To the extent it is important to bring about space development sooner, the natural development of practical technology, mostly on earth, is far more important to that end than investing in fraudulent prophecies, and indeed the latter by taking tax money and talent away from natural development and by distorting technology away from its natural scale and uses may delay efficient and lasting space development.

Things are the way they are because of large social forces making them that way, and keeping them that way. Lots of people care about things I don’t particularly care about. Maddenly, I can’t change them. Neither can you.

I’m sorry that you have surrendered so completely. Nobody, thank goodness, is a grand dictator who can “change the world”, but we all can change little parts of it. If a few readers have learned from my comments about the fraudulence of socialist prophecy, I will feel satisfied that my efforts have been worthwhile.

44. nick - June 18, 2008

I wrote far above: based on some exciting magazine articles published by a handsome foreign engineer and turned into a secular religion for decades thereafter.

I later wrote in the same vein: the fraudulent pretenses of NASA and their NSS boosters at socialist prophecy, and specifically the techno-icons of Von Braun and his successors.

It should be obvious that my reference to “a handsome foreign engineer” (note that this is singular, not plural) above was simply a reference to one particular engineer, Werner Von Braun. The claim of Mr. Turner that this somehow suggests xenophobia on my part is idiotic and insulting. There was zero intent on my part to impugn foreign engineers. Nor even do I impugn the talents of Von Braun himself. My complaint lies against those who worship and lobby for his now sacred but useless techno-icons like space shuttles and space stations and moon bases, as “prophecied” in the Collier’s magazine articles written by the handsome German engineer so long ago.

45. Michael Turner - June 19, 2008

Nick attributes to me “the idea that governments have usually played dominating roles similar to the engineering and investment roles in anticipation of supposed future civilian uses that NASA has played developing space “infrastructure” like Shuttle and ISS.”

Actually, Nick, I said quite the opposite above. See if you can find it.

“History shows quite thoroughly that governments have hardly ever played such a role in the early stages of industries, and that when they have (as with Shuttle and ISS) the result has been failure.”

The Shuttle and ISS were not “early”. The V2 was early. The Cold War ICBM programs started in the 50s were early. Nothing else but warfare or a peaceful space program (which is obviously government spending) was going to make rocket production on that scale happen. Attributing more than this to me is putting words on my mouth.

He also attributes to me the idea that “the success of practical government uses (such as militaries developing ICBMs and spy satellites, or the WWI advances of airplanes, or DARPA developing the Internet) in accelerating the development of private industry implies that governments can also usefully prophecy future civilian markets and plan, design, and invest in infrastructure for those.”

Actually, I don’t believe that government is necessarily any better at this (and is often a lot worse.) However, where horsedrawn carts were most frequently plying the streets, rail might be laid down so that those carts would be subject to less rolling friction; where horses were drawing carts, cables centrally pulled might do better; where cables are centrally pulled, electrical power from central generating facilities might be better. Where it’s clear that infrastructure is in demand, and where that no single private source can (or has an actual incentive) to reduce costs and increase availability, but government (expresing popular will, ideally) CAN do this, I see no magical predictive powers required for an argument for public investment. Sometimes (no, really!) government makes common-sense investments for the good of almost everyone, and in the process boosts new industries by either becoming one of the leading customers, if not THE leading customer, or by providing a class of customers.

I do not argue that this is the case with NASA. But NASA’s mission is not the commercialization of space. It is a largely symbolic endeavor, where it isn’t simply a scientific one. You won’t catch me arguing that the way NASA spends money, and what it spends it on, is some kind of “early” phase of commercialization. That has happened somewhat by accident, where it has happened at all — e.g., Space Adventures and its growing client roster — but I look upon that as, at best, a preview of what space tourism might be in 20 years, courtesy of some government infrastructure that just so happens to be there because of its national-prestige symbolism value.

As some general indication of Nick’s disconnect from reality (not to mention from what I’m actually saying) he says “Attributing “government” rather than private industry as “creating” the early electric industry is like saying that the referees of last night’s basketball game, rather than the Boston Celtics, are the NBA champions, or that the umpires rather than the players are the main reason the fans attended a baseball game.”

Actually, if I had to resort to any analogy to sports, I’d note that government is somewhat more in the role of providing the stadium itself. (Which, oddly, city governments seem to do with frightening regularity.) It seems Nick is one of those people who mainly notices government when it obviously intrudes, seldom when it supplies.

And of course, Nick puts words in my mouth. I never said that government “created” the early electric industry. I did say that NASA is a government creation. I did say that governments create markets — as they clearly do in some cases. There would be virtually no market for rocket launch to orbit without governments, as far as I can tell. And governments did create — by simply allowing it — a major source of DEMAND for electricity in the area of mass transportation. After all, governments could have forbidden it, on public safety grounds (reasonably enough, at the time) or as a favor to existing industries. As it was, they not only allowed it, but paid out subsidies for development of routes that otherwise wouldn’t have been profitable for the companies paid to extend the lines but that nevertheless, by providing cheap and convenient transportation to lower-wage workers, were still good for the local economy as a whole.

Gosh, I dunno, maybe, just MAYBE, there were people in government thinking things like, “well, electricity’s getting cheaper with the increasing demand for it, and by increasing the demand for it ourselves, economies of scale could make it cheaper still, which would be a public benefit, and it would boost the electrical industry in our area, which might make us exporters of the technology to other regions, thus bringing in jobs, profits and therefore more taxable revenue sources ….” Ya think? That they might have actually engaged in some relatively short-range, rather reasonable PREDICTION? Sometimes that works, even when it’s being done by people on government salaries. Oh, I know, I know — those people are all retards, of course. After all, if any of them were smart, why wouldn’t they have been out getting rich in the private sector? Would you believe that maybe they were acting on the good advice of smart people who were getting rich? Maybe? Or, hey, how about this: for some smart people, gaining wealth isn’t the measure of all things good. Whoa. A tough one, eh? A stretch. Some smart people are actually motivated by public service? Ya think, Paul? Possibly? Ever cross your mind?

46. Michael Turner - June 19, 2008

I just figured out how dumb this whole argument is. Nick doesn’t realize WHERE HE’S WRITING HIS OWN COMMENTS. He wrote above: “My humble hope is just to debunk in this forum the fraudulent claims of the religion of prophetic socialism that NASA and NSS have propagated over the last four decades.”

As if anybody identifying with Space Cynics falls into any such camp! I mean really, Nick, I surrender. Totally. You’re absolutely right: going into space NASA-style is not the proper free-market way, even if there’s actually no free market way to do it. In the same sense that, if it were physically possible to get angels to dance on the head of pin, it probably wouldn’t be done the proper free-market way either, but that still doesn’t make it any less of an abomination when it happens. At most, the government should be out there on the pin-head directing traffic, making sure those angels don’t bump into anybody, or knock anything over, or otherwise violate the rights of property owners on the pin-head. But it shouldn’t be designing the angels’ costumes or doing their choreography or selecting the music. That’s just wrong. Because it’s … it’s … it’s not the free-market way!

(This is just to give anybody else tuning in here some idea of how important this back-and-forth with me and Nick has been, ultimately. My humble hope is that nobody out there in readerland has so much time to waste that they’ve actually read this far.)

47. Professor L - June 19, 2008

Amen bros!
Professor L

48. Garbanzo Bean - June 23, 2008

I’d like a Space Cynic perspective – is this timeline a realistic guess?
2010 – Falcon 9 successful flight.
2011 – Virgin Galactic commercial operations begin.
2013 – Dragon commercially available, Lynx commercially available.
2015 – Sundancer launch and occupation. Dragon flying 50 passengers per year, VG 5k, Lynx 10k, Zero-G* 50k.
2018 – Four occupied Sundancers in orbit. Dragon flying 200 passengers per year, VG 30k, Lynx 60k, Zero-G 100k.
2020 – BA 330 launched and occupied. Ten Sundancers in orbit. Commercial launch of SpaceShipThree orbiter. Dragon flying 500 per year, VG 60k, Lynx 120k, Zero-G 150k.

*Zero-G refers to all commercial parabolic operations, not just the specific firm existing now.

49. oldspacecadet - June 25, 2008

The 2010 event may be plausible if lots of things break right. Remember Falcon 1 has yet to make it into orbit.

2011 is pushing plausibility. Remember a test and verification program is needed.

As for the rest — 10,000 Lynx passengers in 2015 followed by 60,000 in 2018 and 120,000 by 2020 with a one passenger vehicle that doesn’t yet exist and which can’t make it to space in its initial postulated iteration — what have you been smoking?

Exponential growth works for cultured bacteria for a while, but for spaceplanes? The same goes for Dragon. Elon Musk states he can’t do more than reduce launch costs at the margin. How many commercial passengers have the Russians carried in how many years?

50. Garbanzo Bean - June 26, 2008

Note that the years I give are for events to happen IN the year stated, not before.

The reason Falcon 1 hasn’t made it to orbit is that Musk decided to switch to Merlin 1C before launching again – otherwise his other upgrades would have allowed a launch last summer. For Falcon 9 to launch in 2010 (note I don’t specify success) requires only one additional milestone to happen – a successful 9-engine test firing, which is scheduled to happen this year followed by pad delivery by the end of this year. Delays happen, but after a successful static test there’s no plausible scenario I can think of that would delay the launch two years.

Yes there’s a test and verification program needed for SS2/WK2, but the completed vehicles are being unveiled over the next few months. Do you expect them to just sit in a warehouse for three years, or for the test program to run three years long? Unless a major redesign of key systems is required, I don’t see how that’s plausible. And statements have been made to the effect that the flight test program originally stated, with a hundred or so flights, might be cut down significantly. The 2011 time frame is conservative.

I never said anything about Lynx making it to space – and the fact that it’s smaller, simpler, and less powerful means *cheaper* and higher flight rate. Zero-G doesn’t go into space either, yet it’s a related program, and has grown by leaps and bounds. Still, I recognize that Lynx is an unknown quantity, since XCOR – despite their reputation and talent – has never actually built an entire operational vehicle before. Moreover, the fact that it flies one person doesn’t matter – obviously there would be more than one vehicle in operation.

This conjecture doesn’t exhibit market growth – it exhibits supply rushing to meet existing latent demand, which usually does look exponential until equilibrium is achieved. Actual market growth, when new demand is created, occurs later. Also, Elon Musk stated a *a few months ago* that Dragon would be flying a thousand people a year by 2018. I am a little more conservative on that subject, and am guessing 200.

51. oldspacecadet - June 27, 2008

So you are saying Lynx is commercially available in 2013 (5 years from now), flies 10,000 people 2 years later, 60,000 3 years after that, and 120,000 2 years thereafter (12 years from now).

This from a tiny company that is just now playing with an initial mockup and which has never developed an operational vehicle from scratch? As a single seat vehicle the passenger loads you postulate implies a fairly large fleet being built in a short time. If it takes a year for 12 people to build one vehicle, what would the staffing be for building several score vehicles annually? Even assuming staffing for 200 flights per vehicle per year you are assuming a fleet of 600 vehicles 12 years out. That is an average production rate of 50 annually when vehicle #1 does not exist. How are you going to entice such a production workforce out to Mojave? How is a tiny corporation going to grow and recruit and simultaneously develop a team to do this when historically rapid growth is often a fatal blow to a small corporation?

You never explicitly stated that Lynx would make it to space, but the lower end competition is a ride in a Russian Mig that can attain roughly 90,000 feet against the projected apogee of about 131,000 feet (40 km) for the Lynx. What does that do to the potential market?

With respect to Falcon: On 6/23 you state — “2010 – Falcon 9 successful flight.” On 6/26 you state — “For Falcon 9 to launch in 2010 (note I don’t specify success) …” Which is it? Success or just off the pad? Also, don’t forget that Elon mentioned recently that anything he said before about the difficulty of going to space was wrong — it is even more difficult.

On 6/26 you state — “Note that the years I give are for events to happen IN the year stated, not before.” Fair enough. Now note what I actually wrote: “As for the rest — 10,000 Lynx passengers in 2015 followed by 60,000 in 2018 and 120,000 by 2020 with a one passenger vehicle …” Note the 2 “ins” and one “by.” Two out of 3 comport with your assertion exactly.

Unlike many timelines that err by being optimistic in the short run and pessimistic in the long run, I believe you are the opposite — at least in the long run.

52. Jay Dupree - June 28, 2008

This pertains to the Nick v. Mike debate mainly. If you look at the whole timeline in the modern age, the rocket industry pretty much formed in the same way the other industries formed.

It started with private interests with private funding. The Government then would step in finding some promise in the tech and greatly fund its advancement through a program that, at least initially, has a specific purpose.

Then private/commercial interests would take over; finding and serving a market that, more or less, follows the basic operations of the government programs. They expand from there if warranted.

I say this because I think the problem with the rocket is that the first impression of it is a small unmanned vehicle that moved in a ballistic arc. Whereas an airplane, for example, a manned vehicle from the get-go. I think the perception had effected the development of the respected technologies in those particular ways.

53. Garbanzo Bean - June 29, 2008

You have good points on the Lynx, but perhaps not thought through. The initial vehicle will not be competing with the MiG – it’s designed to fly 45% higher, providing black-sky viewing; involves the glamor and adventure of a rocket flight; and features several minutes of weightlessness. On the matter of when it’s introduced, XCOR claims 2010, and given their good reputation and the relative simplicity of the vehicle I think it reasonable they’re off by only three years. On the question of scaling, XCOR states that it’s designed to fly several times a day, so if we state that sufficient demand exists (and the market research suggests it does) then a single vehicle operating reliably on a full schedule would have a flight capacity of over 1,000 passengers in its first year. Obviously maximum capacity won’t be used, but we can use it as a benchmark. Since Virgin Galactic is buying five SS2s, which are individually far more complex and expensive than Lynx even ignoring the carrier planes while providing only a partially superior experience, it’s not hard to imagine VG, SA, and any other firms who wish ponying up for a total buy of something like 10 Lynxes. Delivering those 10 Lynxes within a 3 year time after first entering commercial service (2013-2015, inclusive) is eminently plausible, and that yields at least a capacity of over 10,000 passenger flights per year beginning 2015. If Lynx turns out to be massively cheaper than SS2/WK2, you can bet it will be substantially more than 10 vehicles, and the number will telescope over much of its service lifetime. Meanwhile, Lynx II will have been in continuous development for several years, probably with both altitude and passenger capacity increases, and its service will likely overlap Lynx I, which will itself have grown in numbers and declined in price, so a maximum of 60,000 by 2018 is a conservative estimate. Also: You appear to be assuming that XCOR will be operating these vehicles, when they have stated clearly their only interest is as a manufacturer.

As for your conclusions about production rate, I see room for adjustment in either direction. It may very well be slower than I believe in the first years, but Moore’s Law growth does occur when a new capability meets existing latent demand. Lynx could very well shape up as the basis of the industry. What I’ve seen so far from XCOR and their attitude all speak to a company that’s Doing It Right.

Regarding Falcon 9, that was simply a misstatement. I say that Falcon 9 launches successfully at latest before 2010 is out, but would stipulate that it first launches (successfully or not) next year.

I still maintain that my projections are conservative, and most of them will be exceeded.

54. Jonathan Goff - July 1, 2008

Garbonzo,
While I’m not as skeptical of XCOR as oldspacecadet (who admittedly is IIRC a former investor of theirs), I think you’re still being unrealistic on some things. First off, while I think that especially for a sub-suborbital vehicle like Lynx could realistically fly more than once in a day, 1000x per year is on the very optimistic side. Assuming they take weekends off, have normal vacation times, and have some downtime for maintenance and overhauls, you’re probably talking 150-200 flying days per airframe per year. I’d be impressed if in operations they were really flying much more than 2x per day per airframe. Remember, they’re trying to make sure that these vehicles are safe, so they’re not going to be cutting corners to get really high sortie rates. I might be off by a bit, but my guess is that once debugged, the flight rate would likely be less than 1/3-1/2 of the 1000 flights per year you’re suggesting.

I also would be surprised if they sold lots of Lynx Mk 1s. I wouldn’t be surprised if they could find enough demand to run one or two of them, and turn a decent profit. And I don’t think their business plan requires flight rates even in the same order of magnitude as what you’re talking about.

XCOR’s a solid company that tries hard not to oversell themselves. I think that over-hyping them is doing them a disservice.

~Jon

55. Garbanzo Bean - July 1, 2008

Jon,
I know I could easily be wrong, but I think there are even more ways I might be underestimating things. You do have a good point about the flight rate, so your guess is better; 250 sounds about right given the points you make. Still, if Lynx Mark I is able to deliver like two minutes of weightlessness and a black-sky experience, and if it is massively cheaper than SpaceShipTwo, I see no reason they wouldn’t be churned out by the bushel unless there were problems too substantial to correct in the same model and moving to Mark II was more practical. Your comments do them credit by pointing out how reasonable their business plan is, but if they deliver a product better than they promise (as you yourself say they strive to do), and if demand is as explosive as I think it is, they’re not going to turn down business out of humility. The reality of space travel has been reliably far short of both hopes and expectations, but after decades of continuously adjusting both downward while gaining expertise and business acumen, the industry is ripe for a glorious lurch forward. And I think XCOR has the best profile of any company to accomplish that. VG is stylish and sexy, but their vehicles may be a tad elaborate for entry-level, whereas if XCOR pursues their plan and succeeds, they’ll overdeliver like mad.

56. oldspacecadet - July 1, 2008

Garbanzo Bean, are you a current or past investor in XCOR, or have you signed an NDA with them in order to view their business plan?

If not, how can you judge anything about their actual business plan other than their public announcements? If you are not an investor but have such a uniformly positive opinion of the company, why don’t you invest in them. Put some skin in the game.

If you are either an investor or NDA signee, then you are potentially qualified to judge their business plan and whether or not their management can pull their plan off. Otherwise, you are rendering an opinion without complete information — in other words, you are just spouting gas.

If I recall correctly, XCOR’s public announcement re Lynx stated that they needed to raise something like $9 million in additional R&D to take it to first flight, with a similar amount to develop Lynx-II. My recollection is that at a Space Access meeting several years ago, they were estimating that they needed about $10 million in R&D to get their 2 seat Xerus to first flight. Their rate of progress along their timeline is not public to my knowledge.

My point about the MiG is that XCOR appears to be positioned between a MiG flight and the SS2 projected flights. They may encounter market risks from either end. Time will tell. Why don’t you revisit this thread in 2-5 years and see how accurate you have been?

57. Professor L - July 2, 2008

This is a really cool Cynics exchange. In fact, it may be a record or a near record for Cynics posts and comments, a sure sign that a Cynics quarterly State of The Industry Session is in order. So everyone, expect more. Now as I look over the comments, we are so much closer now to getting into space than before, WOW! Yippee! Do you think we can make it to orbit by the July 4th holiday or are we strickly sub suborbital with the Lynx?

Everyone have a great 4th holiday. Don’t do anything stupid with those pop bottle rockets.

Professor L

58. Jonathan Goff - July 3, 2008

Oldspacecadet,
While I agree that Garbonzo is giving his opinion based on not very much evidence, I did want to comment on one thing you said:

“Otherwise, you are rendering an opinion without complete information — in other words, you are just spouting gas.”

Rendering an opinion, or acting “without complete information” isn’t spouting gas–it’s reality. You almost never in the real world have “complete information.” If you think you have all the facts, you don’t. There is always uncertainty, some of the “facts” you’re sure of typically are more complicated than you thought, and then there’s the whole category of “unknown unknowns”. The reality is that anyone who never acts until they think they have “complete information” is not likely going to be much of an entrepreneur. That’s not saying that the opposite extreme is healthy either–one should do careful research especially before putting one’s time or money into a venture. Just saying that there’s always ambiguity in life, and we tend to get bitten when we forget that.

~Jon

59. oldspacecadet - July 3, 2008

Gee, I thought that starting my first entrepreneurial business 33 years ago next month after an academic career, succeeding at it, and living off several iterations of entrepreneurism for 1/3 century qualified me to opine on the subject at least as much as someone who probably hasn’t been on the planet that long.

Thank you for the lecture on decision-making. You might want to look at a paper published in JAMA in 1959 about the subject.

As far as judging a business plan with inadequate information, anybody who would judge such a plan using only public information representing the small percentage of the whole picture that XCOR makes public about their plans is spouting gas. I stand by my assertion in this instance notwithstanding your sermon on incomplete information.

60. Garbanzo Bean - July 3, 2008

Oldspacecadet,
Two points about investing: Just because I think a project will be successful at achieving a tangible goal doesn’t mean there aren’t far better ways to make money. And, second, I don’t have the money anyway. XCOR is not public, which means investing can only be in large blocks the vast majority of people can’t afford.

Fundraising is a good point. That’s why I said 2013, three years after the date their press releases have been quoting as a potential launch point. It’s also true we’re moving into a recession with a credit crunch that makes money tight for even highly prized new ventures. But XCOR doesn’t need $100 million, it only needs (if its own understanding is correct) about $10 million, and it has several years in which to raise it. Moreover, the company is private and profitable, which means subsequent business could go some way toward retiring the gap. I don’t know if past Newspace companies (e.g., SpaceDev) ever showed this kind of promise and just never went anywhere or if XCOR is a totally new phenomenon, so I don’t know where the weight of history lies. But $10 million seems pretty cheap given the credibility of the company and its vision.

It’s true I don’t have access to their detailed plans, nor would I be competent to interpret them if you handed them to me. What I know is that everyone who mentions them seems to love XCOR; it’s profitable; it’s a hardcore hardware company; and its publicly released plans for Lynx sound (at least to my amateur ears) both humbler and more explosively growth-capable than Virgin Galactic. While Mark I won’t fill this role, when I look at the basic concepts embodied in Lynx I see the words “personal spacecraft” written all over it.

Professor L,
New industries with high actualization thresholds don’t make smooth progress. In fact, they make little tangible progress no matter how much you invest in them *until* a critical point is peaked and then it occurs in rapid cascades. And that’s even without having massive latent demand that comes into effect only when the service is available. In terms of the industry’s disposition, the day before and the day after the first VG passenger flight will have no resemblance to each other. People usually don’t know they want something until they’re made aware of its availability; the bulk of the global economy wouldn’t exist without this principle. The day of that flight and well after, Virgin Galactic’s servers will be utterly useless; its phones will be useless; its website will be unavailable; and once it manages to get them all up to speed, it will have to turn away reservations and just take down information until they figure out how to meet the demand.

If I were to make an open bet that at least three of the next ten years will exhibit exponential growth in people to space, and if I’m right the loser(s) has/have to buy me a spaceflight, and if I’m wrong I give you $100, any takers? If you’re supremely confident this will not happen, it should be a trivial matter to accept such a bet.

61. shubber - July 3, 2008

If I were to make an open bet that at least three of the next ten years will exhibit exponential growth in people to space

Define exponential – specifically, which exponent. X^1/5 is still exponential, you know…

62. Jonathan Goff - July 4, 2008

oldspacecadet,
I wasn’t lecturing you. I wasn’t even disagreeing with your overall point. And I didn’t say that acting with insufficient information was a good idea either. I was just bringing up a point that I think is sometimes overlooked.

For someone as accomplished as you are, you sure have thin skin.

~Jon

63. Garbanzo Bean - July 4, 2008

Define exponential – specifically, which exponent. X^1/5 is still exponential, you know…

I was thinking something like 2^x. I hold that there will be at least three arbitrarily placed (but non-overlapping) intervals of duration no greater than 14 months over the period 1/1/2009 to 1/1/2019 where average growth in number of passengers to space is greater than or equal to a factor of 1.75 over the beginning of the interval. I would pay $100 if I am wrong, and have a ride to space purchased for me if my predictions are correct. The required performance, I should point out, roughly tracks Moore’s Law – a curve Cynics are fond of insisting will not apply to the manned space industry in the near future. The imbalance in money is thus due to my impression that Cynics find this highly improbable, and should therefore be willing to accept high odds in their favor. The bet is officially decided the moment one of the following comes to pass: Three such intervals occur; January 1st, 2016 passes without a single such interval; or January 1st, 2018 passes without two such intervals. I am completely serious.

64. Jim Davis - July 5, 2008

Garbanzo Bean: “I would pay $100 if I am wrong, and have a ride to space purchased for me if my predictions are correct. The required performance, I should point out, roughly tracks Moore’s Law – a curve Cynics are fond of insisting will not apply to the manned space industry in the near future. The imbalance in money is thus due to my impression that Cynics find this highly improbable, and should therefore be willing to accept high odds in their favor.”

I submit that your unwillingness to bet unless receiving stupendous odds suggest that *you* consider this highly improbable.

65. Garbanzo Bean - July 6, 2008

Jim Davis: I submit that your unwillingness to bet unless receiving stupendous odds suggest that *you* consider this highly improbable.

If I wanted stupendous odds, I could just go to the track or a casino. What I have here are people supremely confident that what I judge to be relatively likely is enormously improbable, and I’d like to offer them the opportunity to be rewarded for their, uh, “rigorous skepticism” with $100 when yet another “Koolaid drinker” is proven wrong. There seem to be some well-heeled gentlemen among you, if the tenor of the comments is any indicator. What say you?

66. Eric Haynes - July 6, 2008

It’s very difficult to predict the future, especially when it comes to private spaceflight ventures such as SpaceX, Lynx, Sundancer. Let’s not forget, this is a fledgling industry which can barely get off the ground, let alone enter space.

If I’d have to guess what’s going to happen in the next few years I wouldn’t, as I don’t want to endure the disappointment. Right now I’ll take whatever I can get, like a couple of successful launches in a row.

A few more successful launches after that and I’d be stratospherically excited.

67. Professor L - July 6, 2008

Bean:

I am not a betting guy so I am not at all interested in your feeble attempt at a wager but come on, you can’t be serious with your so-called wager. You have rotten odds, you put chump change up for your end of the bet and you expect someone else to buy you a ride to space if you are right. Frankly, your wager sucks and while I admit to being somewhat crude in this post, I can no longer resist calling the shots as I see them.

So let’s play put up or shut up. Stop the rediculous wager crapola and if you want to make a serious bet with Old Space Cadet or someone else, play the game for real. This means the following:
1. Identify yourself and your position so anyone accepting your bet can have a sense you can make good on your bet.
2. Looser pays all atty fees and escrow fees for the money that is put up at the time the wager is made. Escrow has to be with a bona fide third party escrow company such as a bank, Chicago Title, etc.
3. You have to have as much at risk as Old Space Cadet. Ok, short on cash? How about your car? How about your 401K? How about your home, boat, whatever you may have that is an asset of similar value to what you expect Old Space Cadet to wager.

Finally, I am dead serious about this. Stop your nonsense with a wager that will never happen unless you leave this blog and go someplace where morons frequent the list with no common sense let alone business sense. Please keep in mind, many on this blog and those posting are risk takers and they know a deal and a risk when they see and sense it. Your proposal is foolish nonsense and you can post until the cows come home and you only show yourself to be drinking the pink juice and substituting hemoglobin for the pink juice.

So Bean, get real. You want a wager with Old Space Cadet or someone else, do a real wager. Get yourself out of la la land and fantasy land, put your feet on the ground and make the bet. If all you can risk is $100, fine, state it and then expect anyone wanting to engage you in the bet will risk around the same. Be rational, OK? Boy, I wish you were one of grad students. We would have a grand time together, I promise.

Now, let me address something else since I decided to ramble some more with this posting. Over the 7 years and nearly 1,000 Space Show programs that I have done, I have probably heard as many predictions from NewSpace, Alt.Space, and all space as shows that I have hosted. So I am thinking of a new page on my Space Show website, especially when I create the new one which is in the works right now. This new page will bear a title stating that its “Accountability Time” or something like that. Let me explain.

I am going to start listing the predictions, the author, and the date of all these predictions you and others have been making on this new website page. Time table and all. Then you and every other predictor will be held accountable for your predictions as the time elapses and your prediction either bears fruit or goes south. It will of course be public, with terrific SEO and key word search capabilities so people everywhere can find and see what everyone is predicting. I actually think this is better than making than making a bet because more people will know about it and I firmly believe in holding everyone, myself included, accountable for what we do, say, etc. So Garbanzo Bean, your predictions per this blog posting will be part of this new website page when I am able to create it. You and others. It should be grand fun and if anyone proves to be a guru, hey, maybe that person can get a new job predicting the outcome and the investment success for space ventures.

Now back to your wanting to make a wager. Step up to the plate and get real or cut the nonsense. You are dealing with experienced risk takers that read this blog. Do you really want to continue being so foolish in front of all this in-depth experience? I bet not!

Professor L Sounding and Signing Off

68. oldspacecadet - July 6, 2008

Bean, you are backtracking and attempting a sucker bet and are therefore, at best, a hypocrite and at worst, an incompetent cheat.

First, you predict that XCOR will fly 10,000 passengers within 2 years of starting commercial service in 2013, followed by 60,000 in 2018, followed by 120,000 in 2020. This while admittedly stating that you are not competent to judge their detailed business plan, that you have not seen their business plan, and that you don’t have any money to invest in them. Thus, you are basing your opinion on the cheers from the peanut gallery and not on any rational knowledge.

You state that XCOR is profitable. Have you seen their balance sheets? Knowing XCOR’s propensity to play things close, I doubt that you have. Do you know the difference between revenues and profits? If not, study Amtrack.

The inverse of your argument is that you should give favorable odds to not achieving the flight rates in the specified time. Thus, how about giving me odds of 2,000 to one against the XCOR growth rate you originally proposed? In other words, You pay me 2,000 to one if XCOR fails to meet the 10,000 passenger goal in 2015 AND 60,000 in 2018 AND 120,000 in 2020?

Your backpedaled proposal instead postulates in one scenario that there are at least 2 intervals with an average growth rate of 1.75 in 14 months by 2018. This is a sucker bet. Your growth rate is roughly a doubling time of 10 months. Assume XCOR flies zero people in 2013, one person in 2015, and four in 2018. The growth rate is infinite over the interval 2013-2015 and shows 2 doublings in 36 months in the next interval. This is a long, long way from wild success but is a win in your revised proposal.

A payoff ratio of 2,000 to one against falls into the realm of catastrophic insurance and outside of the realm of bets I consider.

Your proposed $100 payoff should I win would not cover the cost of my lawyer reviewing the contract, nor would it cover the cost of an escrow company holding the bet for several years up to a decade. Thus, I would lose money even if I won.

This means in effect that I would be subsidizing your dementia, which I choose not to do.

You are hung up on Moore’s Law. It is an empirical observation, not a law of nature. Memory chips followed Moore’s law well past the point of reasonable extrapolation, but that has no relevance to space flight because of other constraining factors.

It is amusing to hear of or read of people who admittedly do not have the money to invest in a closely held corporation like, perhaps, XCOR, talking so casually of raising millions of dollars in investments for a startup over a couple of years in a bear economy.

Professor L wishes that you were one of his students. So do I. It would be too cruel if you were one of my students.

Since you are obviously not a serious space cadet, I am finished with this discussion.

69. Jim Davis - July 7, 2008

Garbanzo Bean: “What I have here are people supremely confident that what I judge to be relatively likely is enormously improbable, and I’d like to offer them the opportunity to be rewarded for their, uh, “rigorous skepticism” with $100 when yet another “Koolaid drinker” is proven wrong. There seem to be some well-heeled gentlemen among you, if the tenor of the comments is any indicator. What say you?”

I say that offering sucker’s bets, and then gloating over the ones too wise to take you up on them, might have scored you some points on the playground during 6th grade recess. In the grown up world it merely marks you as someone not too far removed from the playground.

If anyone here comes across as “supremely confident” it’s you, Mr. Bean.

70. Garbanzo Bean - July 8, 2008

Professor L: 1. Identify yourself and your position so anyone accepting your bet can have a sense you can make good on your bet.

I would gladly identify myself to those interested in the wager, given some basic assurances, but I wouldn’t have posted under a pseudonym if I wanted every comment I’ve ever written to come up on a Google search. You should understand this, unless your birth certificate actually says “Professor L.”

Professor L: 2. Looser pays all atty fees and escrow fees for the money that is put up at the time the wager is made. Escrow has to be with a bona fide third party escrow company such as a bank, Chicago Title, etc.

That is reasonable, though all reimbursable services would have to be at the lowest obtainable prices. I trust, though, that you would not insist on putting $100 into escrow; my credit rating is easily verifiable.

Professor L:

3. You have to have as much at risk as Old Space Cadet. Ok, short on cash? How about your car? How about your 401K? How about your home, boat, whatever you may have that is an asset of similar value to what you expect Old Space Cadet to wager.

I have no assets apart from a small amount of savings that wouldn’t even come close to covering it. This, ironically, makes me a lot more economically viable than many of my neighbors with large houses.

Professor L:

Finally, I am dead serious about this.

No, you’re not. And you’re pissed because I just proved it. You guys are white-collar investors, engineers, and relatively successful businessmen, and a single one of you taking on this bet would be risking less as a percentage of net worth than I would, let alone if there were several partners. You call me a sucker one minute, and a con artist the next. All you had to say is “I’m not interested,” or even nothing at all, and that would have been sufficient instead of this sad rant to rationalize ignoring a challenge.

Professor L:

Do you really want to continue being so foolish in front of all this in-depth experience?

giggle Do you know what anyone involved in space looks like to the average businessman? What you look like for even having an interest?

Old space cadet: Assume XCOR flies zero people in 2013, one person in 2015, and four in 2018. The growth rate is infinite over the interval 2013-2015

No, it isn’t “infinite,” because the bet isn’t about XCOR. It’s about number of humans flown to space in a given period, and I’d be perfectly willing to accept a minimum base of 10.

Old space cadet: Your proposed $100 payoff should I win would not cover the cost of my lawyer reviewing the contract, nor would it cover the cost of an escrow company holding the bet for several years up to a decade.

I’m perfectly willing to cover costs, if kept to a minimum.

Old space cadet: You are hung up on Moore’s Law.

No, the Cynics are hung up on people that are hung up on Moore’s Law. All I’m saying is that there will be limited stretches of time in which overall growth is sufficiently rapid to appear ML-like. If you’re highly confident this will not happen, take the bet.

Since you are obviously not a serious space cadet, I am finished with this discussion.

Yeah, that’s what I thought. 🙂

Jim Davis: I say that offering sucker’s bets

So, to sum up the consensus, it’s this:

1. I’m a cheater trying to push a loaded bet.

2. I’m a fool with no serious chance of winning.

3. I’m reckless with my money.

4. I’m a coward who doesn’t want to risk any money.

5. You’re wise not to accept a bet I’ve fiendishly skewed against you.

6. You’re magnanimous in not accepting a bet you would, in your own estimation, almost certainly win.

I love the Space Cynics, I really do. Some of you guys should be on top of a castle wall hurling Francophone taunts at King Arthur.

71. Thomas Olson - July 10, 2008

“Some of you guys should be on top of a castle wall hurling Francophone taunts at King Arthur.”

I’ll step up: “I FART in your general direction! Your mother was a hamster and your father smelled of elderberries!”

tao

72. John McGowan - July 28, 2008

Followup to my comment #18 and replies.

I don’t know enough about rocket science to know if it makes sense to use very small rockets as a pathway to develop a practical, and hopefully inexpensive, rocket to orbit technology. However, this is the only way that I can think of that could bring the per trial cost down to the level where most private projects, startups, and so forth could have a chance.

In most cases of a major technological advance, not only is a great deal of trial and error involved, but the process is usually not straightforward. There are many abject failures and rare, often sudden leaps forward as new concepts are developed. The leaps usually follow a long period of failed trials with limited or no progress. Occasionally, this is not true and the development is more steady and incremental, but that seems more the exception than the rule. The failures seem necessary to get to the leap or flash of insight. “99% perspiration, 1% inspiration”.

It seems likely to me that following the small rocket pathway would require the development of some new concept, a new architecture for the engine and/or rocket that would get around the scaling issues that would probably appear in a miniature or micro/nano rocket. Watt, for example, apparently built or modified many small model steam engines before coming up with the separate condenser concept that radically improved the efficiency of the engine. Watt also had to deal with scaling issues. The model steam engines used for teaching purposes at the University of Glasgow were extremely inefficient and impractical. The then prevailing design, the Newcommen steam engine, only worked at a huge size as a practical power source for specialized applications such as coal mining where the fuel (coal) was plentiful and cheap. Other inventors would eventually find much smaller and more efficient designs than Watt’s steam engines that could be built on very small budgets (Fitch and his less well known partner, for example, who built the first working steamboat in the U.S. developed a small, high pressure, high temperature steam engine technically far superior to the Watt engines). Early steam engines also shared with rocket engines today the problem that they often self-destructed during trials as the metallurgy in those days was far inferior to modern metallurgy. Blowing up a building-size Newcommen steam engine for each trial was financially impractical and this is not how the steam engine technology was improved.

With respect to Elon Musk’s reported comments at ISDC, which I have not heard, a few comments may be in order and helpful. The commercial software industry in the world today, e.g. PayPal, focuses very heavily on “technically feasible” software projects, gimmicks such as PayPal that can be difficult in some ways to develop and deploy, but that do not usually involve significant advances in the core algorithms that are comparable to the invention of the steam engine (for example). Most self-styled venture capital firms will claim up, down, and sideways that they only invest in technically feasible projects and proven technology. They are supposedly in the business of commercializing and marketing technology invented somewhere else (e.g. DARPA). The rhetoric of the commercial software industry is however permeated with language that implies or claims that they are engaged in a revolutionary invention process along the lines of Watt or the Wright brothers or Philo T. Farnsworth (electronic TV), but this is very rarely the case and software entrepreneurs in some (many?) cases probably don’t understand the difference between what they are doing or have been doing and this sort of inventive process. It is not the same thing.

I would argue that there have been very few, if any, leaps along the lines of Watt in the last thirty or so years in any field, especially aerospace. To some extent the process used to achieve this is a “lost art” and we must look back to the historical records to see how the “ancients” actually did this. It is likely that cheap access to space requires such a technological leap.

73. oldspacecadet - July 29, 2008

For John’s comments #18 and #72: These are valid points that may be a reflection of a more generalized loss of tinkering skills in modern US society.

Actually building things by trial and error seems to be a lost art these days. BS level engineers function much like applied physicists of a generation ago and current engineering techs seem to function like older BS level engineers. I most frequently encounter young people with the analytical and manual skills of the old-time tinkerers when they leave their family farms and ranches to attend college. (They often make damned good health care professionals too.)

Despite the problems that Monte #23 mentioned with small scale rockets, I also believe that the small end of the payload to LEO spectrum deserves more investigation. It may also offer more opportunity for the advanced hobbyist or garage/back yard tinkerer to be actively involved in advancing portions of the current art.

74. Vladislaw - September 9, 2008

People tend to explore ( a broad brush stroke there ) with the hope of “OWNING” something as the end result of that exploration. From tourist trinkets and snapshots, to a vacation home. Or in the case of business exploration, a new market, a new supplier, a new source of production resources. Talk of the moon without talk of owning land is fantasy at best. If you land on the moon with ownship rights transportation will take care of itself.

For example, you land on the moon where 3 billion years ago a volcano belched up gold and lunar gemstones. You return from the land claim you OWN and sell a lunar gemstone on ebay for 5 million per carat, how much is the land claim now worth? How much funding could you raise? Most people always throw the “even if you brought a shuttle sized vehicle back filled with gold it wouldnt pay for the flight” as a reason for gold mining on the moon wouldnt work. I say, why would you be foolish enough to spend all that money bringing the lunar gold back to earth? I would do what the gold miners in california did when faced with high and slow transportation. I would simply hang a sign outside my lunar habitat that said BANK and would conduct business electronically.

It will be the rush for ownership of resources that will drive transportation system development, not the other way around.

The cheaper a mining company can get control of mineral rights the higher the net asset value of the company becomes, that is why mining companies fight so hard for land from the government, those rights are usually gained the cheapest.

The vast bulk of the human species has determined that an individual and or business can own property on, above, and of the earth. That has not extended past GEO. We have determined you can “OWN” a slot in space and people in the satelite business refer to LEO/GEO as real estate and how the best slots are gone.

We have to finally come to terms with lunar ownership or talk of development is pointless.

It will be the INSTANT ASSETS that drive the funding. Like the instant assets so many dot coms gained in the 90’s. If you gain 50,000 acres of lunar land how much is the regolith worth for oxy production? How much does a company get to put on the books like they do terrestrially when they gain mineral rights to various properties.
In my state of North Dakota, mineral rights for coal have been traded for almost a century! For a hundred years companies and individuals have bought and sold the right to those resources without ever digging a single ton of coal, we have about 800 years of coal here but the leases are bought, held as an asset, used as collatoral for loans, used to buy mining equipment et cetera. We have to first bring the moon into our economic sphere of activity regardless if we even have the capability to exercise the option to actually mine that regolith. That would develop all the lunar commodity markets before we got there.

75. sotStortEvata - November 19, 2008

Greetings

I need full kit of solar energy complect for my home, Where I can look at thechnical specifications and examples? We search on internet and not find this. 😦 Please if you have some instruction please post.


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