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Super heavy-lift launch vehicles - What do you launch on them?

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Posted (edited)

On 7.7.2017 at 10:08 PM, Jouni said:

That 1% figure sounds extremely low. Maybe it's another difference between Europe and the US. The average Finnish household spends around 3% of their income on their summer holiday, and middle-class people often spend significantly more than that. Quick googling reveals similar figures from many other European countries.

I live in SE Asia. I disagree.

Though, to a fair degree, we do "mudik" (homecoming, visiting elders) once every year, during eid al fitr, which most will happily end up spending the "13th salary" they're given. It's much above 1% but it's not really vacation either, with the roads full of congestion and places full of people doing the same thing as themself...

Edited by Kerbal101
Profanity removed

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On 7/6/2017 at 10:24 PM, magnemoe said:

Main issue with Everest is that you have be so interested you are an mountaineer or you would not manage it. 
it would not be much physical requirements for an orbital cruise outside of reasonable good health. 
An major difference between an activity who is expensive and require very high skills and one who just very expensive.

I think this, perhaps, illustrates the biggest difference between ideal space tourism and adventure tourism. Climbing Mt. Everest, skydiving, high-altitude hiking... all of these are 'active' things. Even if there's someone guiding you along, it's ultimately you who makes the journey or whatever, and I think, psychologically, there's a massive difference. If you get to the top of Mt. Everest... you did that. You challenged yourself to do something and you achieved it. Perhaps you had a long road of personal and physically development to get there, which is likely a worthwhile and interesting story in of itself. If you pay to get in a rocket (and for the sake of example, assume just as risky), and make it all the way into space... you got lucky and managed not to die? Maybe it's satisfying for the engineers. The odds might be the same, but the effect and point is very different, making comparing the two and little difficult... the actual journey into space would be thrilling, sure, but it's not what people are paying for. In that sense, it's still much more like a holiday to an exotic location that an adventure holiday, but naturally far, far more expensive.

On 7/7/2017 at 7:52 PM, wumpus said:

Doesn't matter.  Humans simply are lousy at that type of analysis.  This is why the airlines have to be so obsessed with safety: one downed plane sticks in the mind so much more than tens of thousands of car deaths annually.  They *see* the crash on TV, they don't hear about the crashes (when a car crashes that isn't news.  That's expected.  So of course humans aren't afraid of it).

A similar effect applies here - part of the reason people perceive airplanes as 'dangerous' and some people feel very uncomfortable flying in one is they have zero control over what happens on that journey. If something bad happens to the plane, none of the passengers have any ability to do anything about it, realistically. In a car... even if statistically they are much less safe (arguably criminally so, but that's another discussion entirely), the driver feels in control. If something goes wrong, it's their own fault, or another driver's fault, as far as they are concerned, and they can do something to prevent it. Even passengers likely understand how cars and driving works, and can tell the driver if they think they're being dangerous or doing it wrong. And it's much easier to apply the mentality of "I know what I'm doing, and so nothing bad will happen like it did to those other people," than on a plane where you just have to trust that the pilot knows they're doing. Rockets are even worse in this regard - it's not just another person flying it, it's a computer, that could be susceptible to all kinds of problems that you don't even know about.

...so clearly, the correct solution is to let tourists fly the rockets to space themselves, KSP style :P 

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Maybe hiking around Lunar craters... although that's more like a 2100s/2200s.

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2 hours ago, GluttonyReaper said:

Rockets are even worse in this regard - it's not just another person flying it, it's a computer, that could be susceptible to all kinds of problems that you don't even know about.


Yup.  And the computers most people know about crash, BSOD, lag to heck and back, etc... etc...  The experience of the public with computers is not a pretty one.  (Yah, a guidance computer is a very different beast than a consumer grade computer...  But try and get the general public to grasp that.) 

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Lunar (literally) park of attraction (also literally) would be a thing.
All pleasures like on Earth, but in low (not zero!) gravity.
But it's definitely not a question of near future.

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I think the entire tourism discussion is a focus on a side-show while the main drive for large-scale space presence is going to be commercial exploitation. 
Super-heavy rockets can cheaply deliver all-in-one robotic kits for building automated mining colonies on the moon, then cheaply deliver the first loads of propellant for in-orbit refuelling. Then, they won't be needed, because bulk items will start falling down orbits rather than climbing up them. If we have ISRU propellants and spaceships made out of asteroid/moon-mined materials, then we can build entire space stations and orbital vehicles without needed anything except high tech machinery from Earth. 

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26 minutes ago, MatterBeam said:

I think the entire tourism discussion is a focus on a side-show while the main drive for large-scale space presence is going to be commercial exploitation. 

Without explaining who the market is (that is, who is buying the materials), then "commercial exploitation" is just a meaningless buzzword.
 

27 minutes ago, MatterBeam said:

Super-heavy rockets can cheaply deliver all-in-one robotic kits for building automated mining colonies on the moon, then cheaply deliver the first loads of propellant for in-orbit refuelling.  If we have ISRU propellants and spaceships made out of asteroid/moon-mined materials, then we can build entire space stations and orbital vehicles without needed anything except high tech machinery from Earth. 


It's going to take a LOT of vehicles flying about to make the trillion dollar cost of those mining colonies worth it.  Define the destinations for those vehicles, and who is paying for them and their missions.  Ditto for the colonies.

Space exploration isn't about engineering, nor is it about fanboy fantasies.  It's all about the economics.

Who pays?  And why?

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42 minutes ago, DerekL1963 said:

Space exploration isn't about engineering, nor is it about fanboy fantasies.  It's all about the economics.

It's all about politics.

Even now, decades after the Space Race and the Cold War ended, the majority of space launches are done for political purposes. There are far more launches for military and intelligence reasons and for developing and maintaining manned spaceflight capabilities than for commercial or scientific purposes.

Most expenses in space exploration are fixed costs: R&D, infrastructure, etc. It rarely makes economic sense to pay for them, because the payoffs are so uncertain. Why start developing commercial satellites, when nobody even knows whether it's possible to launch stuff to orbit?

The variable costs, on the other hand, are much lower. Once the basic R&D has been done, the infrastructure has been built, and the expertise is available, designing one more satellite and launching one more rocket is no longer that expensive. Commercial communications satellites appeared soon after governments had developed the means to launch satellites.

Space exploration is stagnating, because there is no political interest in it. Once there are again competing superpowers, the governments will bring the big money to the table. Commercial applications will probably follow.

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1 hour ago, Jouni said:

It's all about politics.

Even now, decades after the Space Race and the Cold War ended, the majority of space launches are done for political purposes. There are far more launches for military and intelligence reasons and for developing and maintaining manned spaceflight capabilities than for commercial or scientific purposes.

http://www.spacex.com/missions  There are a huge number of communications satellites in there.  I'd be surprised if all the governments in the world could launch as many rockets in 2000-2005.

Blue Origin is even less concerned with politics (other than building rockets in Alabama).

The big catch is that when you have billion-dollar price tags for launches (see some of the guesses the pentagon pays for a ULA launch), only governments and the odd huge corporation can pay.  If the price comes down (or the odd well-heeled space nut wants to pull a D.D. Harriman), then expect it to go to other than government.

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3 hours ago, DerekL1963 said:

Without explaining who the market is (that is, who is buying the materials), then "commercial exploitation" is just a meaningless buzzword.
 


It's going to take a LOT of vehicles flying about to make the trillion dollar cost of those mining colonies worth it.  Define the destinations for those vehicles, and who is paying for them and their missions.  Ditto for the colonies.

Space exploration isn't about engineering, nor is it about fanboy fantasies.  It's all about the economics.

Who pays?  And why?

By commercial exploitation, I use the definition 'the development and use of a resource for business'. These resources are things which can only be obtained from space or are much cheaper if obtained from space. It includes propellants for in-orbit refuelling, asteroid resources such as rare metals or even common materials such as basalt fibres and iron alloys for building spaceship components in vacuum, instead of lifting heavy parts such as propellant tanks and pressure hulls from Earth's surface. 

The use of these resources defines the need for them, but its a circular questions that escapes the original post's question of what would be lifted on super-heavy launchers. 

Now, onto your other statements.

Mining colonies do not have to cost trillions of dollars. This is not 70's era extraterrestrial colonization, where we need to set up self-sustaining habitats for dozens to hundreds of people with every nut and bolt launched from Earth. We only need to land a set of robots that can use local resources to 3-D print the remaining equipment. 

Space exploration is not about economics. If it were, we'd never spend a dime on expensive projects such as the Kepler telescope or Curiosity. Those things don't make money, and belittling the billion dollar price tags and the millions of man-hours of effort on those things cost as 'fanboy fantasies' is disingenuous. 

If we do pay for commercial exploitation of space, it will be initially to make the 'fanboy fantasies' less expensive than they currently are. 

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1 hour ago, wumpus said:

http://www.spacex.com/missions  There are a huge number of communications satellites in there.  I'd be surprised if all the governments in the world could launch as many rockets in 2000-2005.

2015 launches: 24 military, 40 other government, 22 commercial, total 86.
2016 launches: 16 military, 48 other government, 21 commercial, total 85.

2015 payloads: 38 military, 57 other government, 48 non-profit, 53 commercial, total 196.
2016 payloads: 19 military, 67 other government, 20 non-profit 79 commercial, total 185.

Orbital launches aren't exactly rare. The long-term average is ~100 launches/year, though the numbers were higher during the Cold War.

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Posted (edited)

6 hours ago, MatterBeam said:

By commercial exploitation, I use the definition 'the development and use of a resource for business'.


So, let's try this again.  I didn't ask your definition of "commercial exploitation".  I asked, who pays?  If you can't answer that question, then you're just blowing smoke.

 

6 hours ago, MatterBeam said:

Mining colonies do not have to cost trillions of dollars. This is not 70's era extraterrestrial colonization, where we need to set up self-sustaining habitats for dozens to hundreds of people with every nut and bolt launched from Earth. We only need to land a set of robots that can use local resources to 3-D print the remaining equipment. 

 


Had I said anything about self sustaining, you'd have a point.  I didn't.  In fact, they won't be self sustaining, they almost certainly *can't* be self sustaining.  (No chip fab for just one example.)  That's why they cost trillions of dollars in the first place.  Even at SpaceX prices, building and sustaining a lunar colony is going to be hellishly expensive.  Not to mention, once you get past the smoke blowing and buzzword spouting and actually look at the technology,  there's a lot 3-D printing can't do.  Among them, well - pretty much anything that has to do with building heavy mining machinery.  3D printing isn't a magic wand, it's a real technology with very real limitations.  Said limitations are expanding, but it's nowhere near the point where starting a lunar colony from essentially scratch is anything but fantasy.

(And that should have been space exploitation is about economics.)

Edited by DerekL1963
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Posted (edited)

1 hour ago, DerekL1963 said:


So, let's try this again.  I didn't ask your definition of "commercial exploitation".  I asked, who pays?  If you can't answer that question, then you're just blowing smoke.

 


Had I said anything about self sustaining, you'd have a point.  I didn't.  In fact, they won't be self sustaining, they almost certainly *can't* be self sustaining.  (No chip fab for just one example.)  That's why they cost trillions of dollars in the first place.  Even at SpaceX prices, building and sustaining a lunar colony is going to be hellishly expensive.  Not to mention, once you get past the smoke blowing and buzzword spouting and actually look at the technology,  there's a lot 3-D printing can't do.  Among them, well - pretty much anything that has to do with building heavy mining machinery.  3D printing isn't a magic wand, it's a real technology with very real limitations.  Said limitations are expanding, but it's nowhere near the point where starting a lunar colony from essentially scratch is anything but fantasy.

(And that should have been space exploitation is about economics.)

You said commercial exploitation was a meaningless buzzword, so I gave you the dictionary definition I was referring to. 

Who pays? NASA, ESA, SpaceX, anyone with an interest in space really. Why? Orbital re-fuelling allows for beyond LEO rockets to become three to ten time smaller on the ground for the same payload. 
Who pays? China, India, US, EU. Why? Asteroid and lunar mineral resources dwarf land availability of those same resources, allowing for cheap expansion of high tech industries without rare element restrictions.
Who pays? BP, Shell, Exxon, Total. Why? Solar satellites build in orbit can become cheaper than land-based, rare-metal-restricted panels and are the future of energy.

The reasons are numerous, the possibilities endless... the first hurdle is paying for the development program. That's an investment in the future that does not answer to simple economics, and will be made by the same people who put money into fusion research and exo-planet hunting. 

The point of 3D printing in space is not to turn a colony into a closed eco-system. It is to prevent having to load up rockets on Earth with simple things such as bricks, spades and hammers. It represents enormous mass savings if you only have to ship up lightweight items such as microprocessors and MEMS. 

I didn't understand you emphasis on exploitation in the last line of your comment. 

Edited by MatterBeam
the

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7 hours ago, MatterBeam said:

The reasons are numerous, the possibilities endless...

Except the entry barriers are so freakishly high that nobody's willing to properly sink their teeth into it. For instance, creation of propellant ISRU infrastructure is likely costlier than using oversized vehicles for BLEO missions, given how few BLEO missions we launch and how few we will keep launching for the foreseeable future.

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12 hours ago, MatterBeam said:

The point of 3D printing in space is not to turn a colony into a closed eco-system. It is to prevent having to load up rockets on Earth with simple things such as bricks, spades and hammers. It represents enormous mass savings if you only have to ship up lightweight items such as microprocessors and MEMS. 

You still have to bring the printing stock with you, otherwise you have to bring a factory to make the stock first. That mass is unchanged.

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11 hours ago, MatterBeam said:

I didn't understand you emphasis on exploitation in the last line of your comment. 

Then, frankly, you don't understand any of my comments .  Nobody spends billions to trillions of dollars on massive infrastructure projects without an expectation of commensurate return.  It's all about the economics.  Period.

 

12 hours ago, MatterBeam said:

That's an investment in the future that does not answer to simple economics, and will be made by the same people who put money into fusion research and exo-planet hunting. 


0.o  The people who are investing in fusion research are doing so with a positive and well defined economic (and political) goal, it's neither pure science nor pie-in-the-sky.  Exoplanet hunting costs down in the rounding errors of the sums you're proposing to spend - it's completely irrelevant.
 

4 hours ago, DDE said:

Except the entry barriers are so freakishly high that nobody's willing to properly sink their teeth into it. For instance, creation of propellant ISRU infrastructure is likely costlier than using oversized vehicles for BLEO missions, given how few BLEO missions we launch and how few we will keep launching for the foreseeable future.


Yep.  The billions-to-trillions of dollars required to establish and the billions more per annum to operate ISRU infrastructure only makes sense if you have a present and ongoing demand for the output - "build it and they will come" doesn't apply here.

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Posted (edited)

Priming the economic pump for space is a non-trivial exercise. With previous human colonization, people only needed to show up. There are places on Earth now that are far more habitable than space, but have never seen any rush to exploit, simply because they are marginally more difficult to live in than just "getting off the boat."

This is what I think Musk and Bezos are after with their own money, really. They have a vision of people living and working in space, but I think both realize that the incentives must be there, and that much of the incentive requires meaningful cost savings in terms of access. Bezos in particular might spend his own money to try and prime the pump, but he knows he'll not see return on that money---something you can do when a billion a year is your play money. In that sense they are "build it and they will come," but without a requirement that they must have return on investment. Generally this is where we put government programs---spending money without a demonstrable RoI.

I suppose an idealized effort would have a public/private partnership with this as the real goal. Leverage commercial space... philanthropists (for lack of a better term) who are willing to blow their own money to create an infrastructure to maximize the chance that that infrastructure is taken advantage of with a goal of it becoming self-sustaining (financially).

(I should add that I'm not sanguine about this, and arguing for it, really, it's more of an observation)

Edited by tater
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1 hour ago, tater said:

Leverage commercial space... philanthropists (for lack of a better term) who are willing to blow their own money to create an infrastructure to maximize the chance that that infrastructure is taken advantage of with a goal of it becoming self-sustaining (financially).

...and then we arrive at the dual problem of single-point failure - how much of SpaceX philanthropy will endure should Musk take an accidental brick to the head?

I also still suspect that no national government would take a serious colonization effort lying down; from a purely psychological perspective this is an unacceptable affront.

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2 hours ago, DDE said:

...and then we arrive at the dual problem of single-point failure - how much of SpaceX philanthropy will endure should Musk take an accidental brick to the head?

I also still suspect that no national government would take a serious colonization effort lying down; from a purely psychological perspective this is an unacceptable affront.

Musk is doing SpaceX as a business. If tesla starts actually delivering cars in vast numbers, maybe he'll have more personal cash to burn. Currently, Bezos is the one with the vast fortune.

Government exists to help its own citizens. This project is only useful to taxpayers to the extent it furthers their interests. If taxpayers in another country benefit just as much, then it might not be worth spending tax money on it. I think there is some commonality in interest between NASA and private space, and that's where to apply some pressure. Things like competitive contracts for everything.

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7 hours ago, tater said:

Priming the economic pump for space is a non-trivial exercise. With previous human colonization, people only needed to show up. There are places on Earth now that are far more habitable than space, but have never seen any rush to exploit, simply because they are marginally more difficult to live in than just "getting off the boat."

It's also worth pointing out that for all the piffle spread about (in the US) about "escaping religious intolerance" and "fleeing oppression", those were the exceptions.  During the grand era of colonization, colonies were very much engines of business and profit.  Many of the uninhabited, unexploited regions of the Earth are largely that way largely because there's nothing there to exploit of sufficient value to be worth the trouble.

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Posted (edited)

Mars colonization will be in order, when there will be no place on Earth to make sci-fi movies about Mars colonization.
Othewise why colonize Mars on Mars, when you still/already have Mars on Earth.

So, the first Mars colony will have logo HBO, not Space-X.

Upd.
No place to make westerns, too. Same desert.
So, Firefly is a very realistic series.

Upd2.
I don't mean that deserts on Earth will be covered with trees. But at least there should stay no significant place without visible buildings, domes, antennas and so on..

Edited by kerbiloid

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14 hours ago, DerekL1963 said:

It's also worth pointing out that for all the piffle spread about (in the US) about "escaping religious intolerance" and "fleeing oppression", those were the exceptions.  During the grand era of colonization, colonies were very much engines of business and profit.  Many of the uninhabited, unexploited regions of the Earth are largely that way largely because there's nothing there to exploit of sufficient value to be worth the trouble.

And also involved some ideas that looked silly in retrospec.  When the colonists landed in Jamestown, it was suddenly full of "gentlemen" that couldn't get their hands dirty (unless they were digging for gold).  While there is a tiny bit of gold NW of Washington DC (the mine was never profitable), digging anywhere near Jamestown was futile (much to the surprise of colonists used to hearing about gold laden Spanish galleons).

Also during the colonial era, "fleeing oppression" likely meant paying by an indentured servant plan before the hangman caught up with you.  "Transporting" was a popular punishment with magistrates: it didn't have the resentment of hanging or the cost of imprisonment.  It's telling that Botany Bay was established the same year that England accepted the US government.

It isn't clear just who would want to live on Mars, and what any other options might be.  Most dreamers seem to assume it will be multi-millionaires, but I suspect that in the England-US model, only the plantation owners and shipping magnates followed such a patter (and likely weren't *that* rich when they left England).  I guessing that somebody else will be paying for a lot of tickets, and I'm wondering what they expect in return.

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This will go off the rails into the English Civil War part 1, and part 2---The American Revolution---if we're not careful :wink: .

Suffice it to say that the terrestrial colonization and exploitation model is not a great analog for space, heck, it might not even meet the standards of a lousy analog.

To drag this back on topic, super heavy lift requires missions that need super heavy lift. The concepts of the past like Rombus and Boeing LEO were with an eye towards large orbital projects---the latter perhaps O'Neil colonies and orbital solar power (4-500 tonnes to LEO capacities). That of course was when they had not really done the math on space based solar (short answer: it doesn't make sense).

What's left for large space industry? Asteroid resource extraction? Some could be useful for space travel itself (building stuff in orbit from supplies in orbit), and I suppose some rare-Earth elements are possible to extract. The trouble is that there is not a driver that I can see.

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Posted (edited)

35 minutes ago, wumpus said:

When the colonists landed in Jamestown

I thought, they built it...

35 minutes ago, wumpus said:

 I guessing that somebody else will be paying for a lot of tickets, and I'm wondering what they expect in return.

 

35 minutes ago, wumpus said:

colonists used to hearing about gold laden Spanish galleons

This. Do you know that the Martian Face is full of rare and expensive ET artefacts which will make rich everybody who would find at least one?.

Edited by kerbiloid

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4 minutes ago, kerbiloid said:

I thought, they built it...
This. Do you know that the Martian Face is full of rare and expensive ET artefacts which will make rich everybody who would find at least one?.

They basically had to build it [Jamestown] at gunpoint (although getting enough soldiers to point the guns required some amazing leadership).

While Mars lacks resources (and the cost to return such means that you couldn't make a profit if the surface of Mars was strewn with gem quality diamonds), the asteroid belt is another story (easier to find the rock you want, and no gravity well).

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