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Getting to Mars With The Reusable Falcon 9

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Isn't it a bit odd that the most promising reusable launch vehicle under development today is being build by a company with a proclaimed love for heavy-lift launch vehicles?As the Falcon 9 Reusable approaches the cusp of operations, with a successful demonstration of first stage reuse expected sometime next year, SpaceX is already moving on to a methane engine - Raptor - four times as big, for a rocket - MCT - with a much larger core size.This, we're told, is Elon Musk's strategy for going to Mars and it's so much warmed over Bob Zubrin - Mars Direct, Mike Griffin - Apollo On Steroids, cargo cult of the Saturn V, stuck-in-the-1960s thinking.If you have an operational reusable launch vehicle, as SpaceX says it is their goal to have, then there's much more sensible ways to get to Mars. Come on boffins, get the lead out, let's do the math on this one.
According to the best public numbers I can find, the second stage of the Falcon 9 v1.1 has a dry mass of 4,900 kg a…

Who Would Have Guessed?

It was Stiennon and Hoerr's space-nerd spectacular "The Rocket Company" (now available on Kindle!) that introduced me to Kroemer's lemma:The last 40 years has seen a lot of futile effort by space enthusiasts to find the one magic product or market that will justify building a truly commercial space industry. Well, it hasn't been found, and we're tired of waiting for it. And if you accept Kroemer's lemma, it can't be done that way anyhow. Even if you guess correctly what it is that won't create a huge growth in demand for launch services so that costs come down, that demand won't -- and can't -- come into being until the cost does come down.So who is Kroemer and what is his lemma?Herbert Kroemer is a Nobel Laureate in physics who wrote, in 1995, the Lemma of New Technology:The principle applications of any sufficiently new and innovative technology always have been -- and will continue to be -- applications created by that technology. Ulti…

In Regards To Secrets

Bob has a secret. His secret is not just something he finds valuable, but something lots of other people would find valuable too. Perhaps it's a new way to make energy, or to dye wool or to build yachts. Perhaps it's just his mother's maiden name. We don't know, because it is Bob's secret.Does Bob have an obligation to share his secret with us? Can we go to Bob's house and demand he tell us his secret? Can we threaten Bob to get the secret out of him, or promise him payment for his secret and then renege? If not, why not?Alice would like to know Bob's secret, so she offers him a significant amount of money for Bob to tell her. Bob is worried that Alice will tell others, but she promises not to tell anyone else. Having heard Bob's secret, Alice wishes she had thought of it herself and would prefer no-one else to know the secret, not even Bob. This, of course, is impossible, but Bob offers the next best thing: he'll promise to never tell anyone else t…

Colonizing the asteroids starts at home!

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When I first heard of this proposal I was reminded of the recommendations of the Space Studies Institute to do ore processing experiments on orbit as the first step to building O'Neill colonies. They were talking about using Lunar regolith simulant in low Earth orbit, with the goal of developing the techniques to utilize the products of a future lunar mining operation, but as an asteroid resources advocate I'd always preferred to think about doing the same thing with a captured asteroid.A few years ago I wrote about colonizing a near-Earth asteroid (without moving it), with a focus on artificial gravity issues. The reality is that we don't yet know enough about the composition of any asteroids to have a decent shot at making water, oxygen, plant nutrients, or any of the other things you'd need for a space colony. We need to learn it before the colonists are sent, and having a captured asteroid to experiment on is a great way to do it.Ultimately, though, the largest ast…

Jon Goff's Lunar Patent

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On a recent edition of The Space Show, Jon Goff discussed a lunar analogy to the 10 year patent grant awarded to Columbus on trade with any of the lands he discovered. This follows on from the great work done by Mike Mealling at dispelling myths about Columbus' funding which, I believe, he was inspired to do after watching one of my videos. Unfortunately, I think Jon fails to convey his analogy in a convincing way. Being somewhat libertarian, Jon is a little too concerned with where the tax revenue comes from and too specific with who will receive the incentives. This may also simply be a result of the origin of the idea - the analogy to Columbus - and the attempt to describe it as such.Talking about who will be taxed to fund a government program is never popular. Even "let's tax the rich" is too specific not to leave a bad taste in the voter's mouth. Politicians have learnt that the subject is completely avoidable anyway. Talking about who will receive the bulk …

Imagining Mars Colonization

Recently, Ken Anthony invited me to critique his work over at Planet Plots. Although I've only scratched the surface of his blog, there's not much I disagree with, and recommend the visit. The only problem, as I see it, is a lack of depth.. and a lot of hand waving. Just about anything can be explained away with "free people will figure it out". I very much agree with that sentiment, as Ken knows, but aren't we free people? Can't we figure it out?For example, take what the Mars Starter Kit page has on it. There's many links to the Open Source Ecology wiki, which is a fantastic resource, but ultimately it's still just geeks in front of the computer screen.. where's the meat? Elon Musk made a comment the other day that has stuck with me:"Making standard efficiency solar panels is about as hard as making dry wall. It's really easy. In fact, I'd say dry wall's probably harder."The context indicates that he's talking about …