Sunday, June 29, 2014

Space Food

A company for the manufacture and distribution of space foodstuffs.

Within the next ten years a permanent commercial human population will be established in orbit and beyond. But how will these people be supported. An entire industry based upon the needs of these space residents and tourists will need to be created.

Food will be the most difficult consumable to supply to these space communities. People can live with stale air and recycled water but food has to be an experience filled with flavor  as well as nutrition. But creating something that meets those two criteria while, ideally, having a shelf life of months, without refrigeration, is a tall order. In the old days salted pork with an occasional orange was considered a complete meal, our more civilized society must create something better for our explorers.

Food in space has been a challenge that even NASA has not  met yet. While they have learned to freeze, vacuum seal, irradiate, and store food so that much of it will not spoil on a long trip, and even still have some flavor, there are some foods which we take for granted on earth that are considered  delicacies in orbit because they simply can’t be prepared or obtained in space. Baking bread is a supreme challenge which isn't completely solved.

All the deficiencies in the cuisine of the Void are opportunities. Food is something that is easily redesigned and adapted while also having infinite possibilities and potential. And the best part is the products are needed today and not only in space but right here at home.

Many facets of the space food industry exist. The potential for space gardens and specific tools for accomplishing the kind of culinary feats that are possible on Earth are all applicable, but for the purposes of this post we will focus on the opportunity for providing prepackaged food that is meant to be a meal “practically” ready to eat in orbit.

Here in the early days of the space industry which is heavily focused on tourism and government contracts the food will have to be of a special kind of hybrid. It will have to provide a pleasurable experience that is unique to space but also contain the nutrition to allow someone to live off of it. This will require that a space food manufacturer create an initial product that is almost nostalgic, the kind of freeze dried and in a toothpaste tube that tourists would expect on a trip so that they can feel like their image of astronauts. But this paste would still be something that someone who isn't  just in space to visit can live off of.

In order to cut on costs it would likely be something along the lines of a paste or solid bar that can be shaped and formed into whatever the customer needs. So just like ice cream, where you can use vanilla as a base for chocolate or strawberry, this Space Paste would contain all the nutrition a person needs but could be flavored and shaped into whatever the customer wants. Soylent is a current product that very nearly meets this criteria.

Such a product would also need to deal with yet another problem brought on by space food, boredom. How many people can say that they love to eat oatmeal morning noon and night. Food is something that adds excitement and interest to our lives. A space food that can be practical, in that is can be packed stored and provide nutrition, but also fills the human need for change and diversity in flavor, is exactly what is needed today. 

Fortunately, unlike so much of the space industry, the technology and products developed for space food will not trickle down to be used in the earth food industry as so many space developments are claimed to do. It would, instead, be immediately and directly marketable without having to redesign any part of it. Imagine extremely dense nutritional supplements that are able to be packed and stored for years while remaining light weight. Such products could be loaded into disaster relief trucks or into hiking backpacks. Any company that produces such wears would not have to depend solely upon the space industry to sustain itself.

The competition in space food will be fierce. While food designed for space is applicable on Earth, the reverse is also true to some extent. After all it would not take a great deal of effort for brand name protein bars and supplements to be customized for space.  And the infinite variation of food doesn't allow for much protection through intellectual property. But a small start-up can certainly gain ground by moving now and gaining contracts with the rising private launch companies , with paying customers who want their space peanuts during the flight.

A company dedicated to space food would be something that would certainly be able to diversify. While an initial product would want to be a catch-all design, all further developments could  range from old style toothpaste tubes of peanut butter to the creation of the most advanced recipes and cooking equipment anyone has ever seen. Really, the creation of food in space is one of the most difficult pieces of chemistry that anyone has ever had to undertake.

The market for space food has existed for some time. Space museums and other tourist traps have long provided freeze dried cuisine just like the astronaut used to make. In the actual industry the government space agencies have been the only providers of TV dinners fit for the space station. This won’t continue to be sufficient. Human traffic is only going to increase and NASA is continuing to lose their budget and is not prepared for food production in large quantities. Just as new launch vehicle providers need someone to make spacesuits they need someone to cook meals. It can and needs to be done today, and even if it means freeze drying your favorite smoothie blend, it would better than what the industry has available now.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Astronaut Recruiter

An organization for the selection and recruiting of astronauts.

Astronauts have long held one of the most selective jobs in the world. They are the best of the best. But finding people that are able to live up to the expectations of the position is very difficult, and changing.

When humans were just beginning to go to space nearly all of the astronauts were chosen for their physical abilities and their skill with aircraft. Space and the vehicles to get there were such unknowns the astronauts were supposed to be able to deal with whatever was thrown at them. With the creation of space stations, astronauts changed play more of the role of the scientist than the test pilot. They perform space research without as many of the risks and unknowns that early astronauts faced.

Astronauts are continuing to change. Individual psychologies and skills are going to need to be mixed and matched depending upon missions. Like the equipment sent on a spaceship for a mission, the crews will need to be tailored for the task.

The typical means of selecting astronauts in the past has been to go through a process of applications, interviews, tests and evaluations. NASA can take over a year selecting new potential candidates. But, with human space missions on the rise and colonization in the future the long arduous methods of choosing astronauts will not continue to be feasible. When space missions occur on a regular basis it is just not practical to spend a year finding the perfect crew or drawing from a pool of perfect astronauts.

For example, Mars One is working to put together a crew for a one way mission to Mars. This crew will have to take care of itself. It can't be only engineers, or scientists, or doctors, or even one single gender. The crew must also be able to live with each other inside of a tin can for months or even years. They must be perfectly cohesive and comprehensively skilled for this particular adventure or it could all end in disaster.

Mars One is only just beginning to screen the last few hundred people after having accepted 200,000 applications over a period of several months. The selection of astronauts should not require such long selection periods. Imagine if Mars One hadn't needed to create and control the entire process itself but was able to talk to an Astronaut Recruiter that could pull together the perfect team for their space mission just as one would for a football team or company.

This organization would essentially be an astronaut Linked-In. A company that is constantly looking for, sorting, and selecting talent and personalities that can be combined to create the perfect space crew for a particular mission.

Such a company would likely begin life as something as simple as a website. Aspiring astronauts could complete a profile which would include information about accomplishments, physical characteristics and even basic psychological evaluations and other tests. Then companies that are looking to create a crew for some type of mission will be able to access that site in order to search in a semi-sorted pool of choices.

As the company grows it could continually develop its means of evaluating potential astronauts. Incorporating algorithms along the lines of dating sites for the creation of potential teams. Sorting people into groups based on skills and personal preferences.

Eventually the company could integrate face to face interviews and recruiting. Becoming the HR resource for the space industry. Such evolution would allow the company to be the "go to" sub-contractor of spacefarers. Then, instead of someone, like MarsOne, having to accept 200,000 applications it could simply call up the Astronaut Recruiter, give them mission specs then a recommendation of persons would be sent in return for a fee.

The "secret sauce" of an Astronaut Recruiter would be how it is able to evaluate potential crews psychologically and physically. For this reason the founders of such a company would likely be ex-psychologist or HR personnel that have learned how to tell when one person will fit a position or situation and another would not.

The revenue model for such a company would be two sided. Just as Linked-In charges members for a premium account an Astronaut recruiter could charge potential applicants for increased access to particular resources. The Astronaut Recruiter could also charge prospective employers for the search service rendered as with any employee search site or organization.

Currently, the market is not in dire need of a recruiter for astronauts. Though if it had existed two years ago it could have been a part of the Mars One search.

However, in coming years crews will increasingly need to be tailored. The men and women needed to go mine the Moon, work in orbit, or colonize Mars will all have to have very different combinations of characteristics, just as in any job. The need for someone who can construct a perfect space team will become very great and is something which can be begun today.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Space Sports

Until such a time as the Space Economy is able to produce materials and services that allow it to support itself, it will have to create products that provide something meaningful to the people on Earth. At this point, the space industry's transfer of material goods to and from space is not exactly a mass market. Even though they help to serve a mass market, (i.e. communication satellites) such activities do not immediately identify identify a space company as the provider of the service. If the space industry wishes to broaden its horizons it will have to create products and services that can be marketed to the more general population.

So what is a space product or experience that is out of reach of the normal person but can still be enjoyed and paid for by that individual? Well, an earth equivalent to this situation would would be professional football or basketball. Many people aspire to be great athlete but if it is out of their reach they are contented with simply being a fan of the experience. The creation of Space Sports would create an identical experience. Space Sports are an opportunity for the space industry to broaden its horizons beyond launch vehicles and government contracts.

A space sport would have to utilize zero gravity to its greatest potential. This means the players would have to be able to fly and maneuver within a large area. Think Ender's Game battle room. Normally, large spaces are difficult and expensive to attain in space. Even Bigelow modules would not do the trick. But it is not necessary to create an interior field for such a sport. With durable space suits and proper safety measures in place the "stadium" could just be a large cage in orbit that keeps the untethered players from flying into oblivion. Such a structure would simple to design, maintain, and deploy and would be magnitudes cheaper to build than a modern football stadium even with launch costs.

The sport itself would probably be a type of 3-D soccer, where the players pass a ball and attempt to put it through the other teams goal area. But there are no requirements for the sport, it could be dodgeball, or something where the teams have to catch robotic balls. This is a decision that would have to be made by the organization founding the sport.

Human players will be necessary. Since human spectators would not have the same connection to a competition of robots. This means that the facility will have to have attached living spaces for several dozen people. With launches priced at 60 million dollars, the teams will likely have to remain in orbit for the entire "season." Meaning a space station will need to be created at the "stadium" with life support and supplies on a scale that has never been attempted.

The cost of food and the construction of living space will be where the highest costs will come from. But these can be one-time costs if the station is outfitted with amenities like gardens and efficient recycling technologies that will minimize the need for re-supply. This way the station can be built and then becomes almost self-sustaining.

Sports are a great business because, once established, there are so many revenue sources. There are ticket sales, television contracts, advertising, and contracts with vendors. Nearly all of these money streams exist in space as well as on Earth. Television broadcasts of the "Space Matches" will be the primary source of income. As the tourist industry begins to blossom ticket sales will be an option. And, as far as vendors are concerned, for tourists to attend the matches, they will need to be fed and transported just as in stadiums on Earth. Partnerships with such space taxis and suppliers will be inevitable.

The risk involved with Space Sports is that they are not something that can be proven as "the next big thing." They would be an all or nothing gamble. But Space Sports have the potential to be a global phenomena devoid of cultural preference, since it would be the first new sport in nearly a hundred years to define the modern technological age. Its complete novelty would be its advantage. But if no one of the planet appreciates it, it will flop hard.

But the potential of the idea could be tested by simply building the "field" and then sending up a couple of teams to play a few televised games. The investment would be around 200 million dollars, for such a test, but is far less than creating an entire space station. If the response is favorable then the complete "stadium" and living area could be built.

Space Sports are something that will eventually come to pass. It is as inevitable as the colonization of Mars. the question is not "if" but "when." It's possible today to prove the concept with a few hundred million dollars. If successful it would give an added boost to the perception of the space industry and space itself and create an entirely new facet in the sports industry. And even though the investment is substantial, when a top professional football team has a value in the area of about 1 billion dollars, revenue of about 350 million dollars, and player expenses around 150 million, the risks and benefits of a Space Sport are nearly identical.