Saturday, November 29, 2014

Ecological Benefits of Space Mining

At The Space Economy we continually work to explain the benefits of space commercialization. One that has been overlooked by ourselves and the industry has been the ecological benefits of using resources from space. This pertains particularly to the mining industry.

Mining has a tremendous ecological impact on our planet. Mountains are literally removed every year on order to supply the raw materials needed for our increasingly industrialized planet. But this may not be a sustainable or required practice. Space mining would be capable of replacing it and without negative ecological impact.

Asteroids are rocks out of the ground already floating in space. Excavating them has no negative impact on our solar system, as long as it is not done in orbit. Thousands of times more material is also available in our solar system, which can be exploited, with proper infrastructure, which is growing ever closer.

Many space advocates sell it as something which is the future of our race as a means of survival from cataclysmic asteroid strikes and the like or as a means to satisfy the human needs to explore. While these reasons are founded, they do not resound with some parts of the population on earth. Space has to provide some other benefit than simply making money, exploring, and preventing destruction. Space must create a more encompassing return for Earth to be worth it. Ecology is one of those returns. The fact that the commercialization of space will help to solve ecological problems on Earth is a grand reason to work toward space.

Now, certainly many will argue that space mining will still have negative affects on earthen ecosystems. Because dirty rockets must be launched and rocks dropped from the sky.

This view has little credence as it assumes that rocket technology will remain as it is, which it won't, and that the asteroids would have to be delivered as raw materials to the surface of the Earth, which they won't. Space mining will revolve around the refining and manufacturing of materials in orbit (or possibly on the Moon) which can then be delivered to earth with a gliding space plane. And rockets are already powered by combinations of hydrogen and oxygen which combine to create...water. In fact, the kerosene burning Falcon 9 is "cleaner" than the solid rocket boosters of the space shuttle so we are already creating a greener space industry.

Mining companies would do well to explore space mining as a part of their future. Not only are the resources abundant, but the good will that it would generate by "working to preserve earth ecosystems" would be valuable to the company. And along the road space technologies developed could be applied to Earth problems. Caterpillar, which makes mining machinery, apparently sees this potential as it is partnering with NASA to develop space mining technologies.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Crashes and Accidents

A piece of SpaceShipTwo
"Space is Hard - but worth it" Sir Richard Branson

At the writing of this post the private space industry has suffered two major accidents. A failed launch of an Orbital Sciences Antares Rocket and the crash of SpaceShipTwo during a test flight, which killed one pilot.

These accidents will no doubt have huge detrimental effects to the industry which was just beginning to gain a bright outlook on the future. Public opinion will likely swing back into fear of space as opposed to the wonder of it.

It is important to remember that at this point space is at the same place aviation was after Lindbergh's flight. The technology is proven to get us to the moon. Private companies can make it into space. Now we are all waiting for the space age Boeing 247 to take us to the stars.

But creating a space liner is leaps and bounds more difficult than building an airliner, and that was difficult. There have been and will continue to be accidents as space develops. But we must not let those change the resolve to go to space.

Space is far more than a commercial opportunity. At the moment there is actually very little money in it compared to other industries, due to the expense. Space is a future that only a few really believe in and others fear. The trouble is that those who fear it want to project that fear onto others. And that fear is unfounded because it is like being afraid of the first Russian spacecraft. The fear is of what it is today and not of what it will become tomorrow. They point to the accidents and warn of the dangers which come with space travel though they have never experienced it and don't see that the "now" is not the "future."

The people that died in the accidents were not afraid because they could see what the future held and it excited them. And the only way to truly honor their memory is to continue on towards the goal that they themselves gave their lives believing in.

Any space travel company will have to come face to face with the possibility of the loss of life. But the only thing they can do is work to avoid it as much as possible. Negligence cannot be allowed, for it is the only thing which causes these accidents.

Space travel is more than a half a century old but commercial systems are coming into service. It took aviation 30 years to go from first flight to airliner. Considering the challenges and the cost of space travel we are doing decently well. But fear and accidents cannot be allowed to stop the progress, otherwise it may be delayed decades.

Space companies must be able to take the lessons learned from their mistakes and work to improve. While it may be tragic, fear cannot be allowed to win.

Fortunately fear of progress never wins. As is proven by aviation and any number of other advances. Fear is only able to slow something down but never stop it. Possibilities outweigh fear any day. These accidents may cripple the industry but they will not stop it

But possibilities only become real when they are made real. Space companies and entrepreneurs must learn how to create possibility out of tragedy. By doing this they will be able to progress without so much as a break in step. People may die but they would not want it to be in vain by having their work undermined by the failure of the company or industry that they represented in life. They are the leaders of the space crusade and others must take up their positions.

Space is the future of the human race. What better industry to support and be a part of.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Asteroid Mining

Asteroid mining concerns the finding and then mining of any of the rocks which float around in the void.

In order to be successful, a mining company in space has to do just what a mining company on earth does. They have to prospect for potential mother loads. Then figure out how to extract the materials they want. And finally transport all of that material to some one who will buy it to build a space station or a cellphone.

Several companies are already working toward the goal of exploiting the resources which are available in space. Planetary Resources in near to launching their first asteroid tracking satellites and Deep Space Industries is developing technologies which will allow humans to refine and use the materials mined from the asteroids.

Mining has always been one of the main reasons for going to space. The vacuum above our atmosphere is not as empty as many believe. An abundance of raw materials float aimlessly in space. Approximately 37,000-89,000 tons of these rocks fall to Earth each year. The value of asteroids comes from the fact that many many of them are expected to contain quantities of rare earth metals, such as platinum, as well as basic elements like iron and sources of water.

Planetary Resources is currently focusing on the rare earth metals that asteroids could supply to earth markets.

However, many critic mining companies who are going for the rare materials which appear to be abundant in asteroids. The traditional argument is that as soon as a company creates as steady supply of the materials to the earth then the market will become saturated, prices will drop, and the ability to finance the expensive space missions will disappear.

While this argument is legitimate to a point (if gold were common it would not be valuable) it is short-sighted.

First rare earth materials like platinum will be in high demand for sometime no matter how large the supply is. Materials like platinum have untold untapped potential. The demand would grow if it were possible to work with pounds, instead of grams, of the metal and its cousins.

Secondly, companies like PR are nowhere near to creating a supply that will saturate the market. Within ten years they might be able to retrieve an asteroid the size of a basketball.

When space mining companies do grow they will quickly grow out of the need to rely on earth-based markets to pay the bills. Once the infrastructure is set up, these companies will be the ones to provide the water and raw materials to build space stations and colonies. The prime technology behind DSI is their zero-gravity 3-D printing technology which will allow them to turn rock and raw iron from an asteroid into a beam or plate or someday a rocket nozzle.

And concerning the inability to pay for expensive missions with the profits from mineral returns, that assumes that space launches and missions will remain expensive. This is clearly not the case seeing that space launch companies like SpaceX have already dramatically reduced the cost of launch and are continuing to do so.

In reality asteroid mining has far fewer market obstacles than many of the other space ventures being pursued.

Unlike the space launch industry, there is currently more than enough demand for the materials space mining companies intend to deliver. And that demand is not within the space industry but across many ranging from battery manufacturing to catalytic converters.

Mining companies also have an unlimited growth potential, however far into the future you look. No matter how technology changes the raw materials will always need to be collected to build the stuff.

Space mining is a great industry to be on the ground floor of right now because the demand is there and the possibilities are many. The only problem a fresh entrepreneur may have getting into the race is the cost of creating the technology to deliver the goods. Even though PR and DSI are using off the shelf components and micro vehicles they are still not cheap companies.

But, if someone in a garage would like to contribute to space mining there are some technologies which could be pursued quite easily.

Currently there is no definitive way to securely land a craft on small space body. The lack of gravity makes it almost impossible to just set down on the surface. Stemming from this problem is the problem of grabbing a rock and putting it in tow. And then once the asteroid is secured tools and techniques for actually mining it in space are still on the drawing board. Any of these problems are hardware and even software problems which can be pursued and solved on a shoelace budget and a little clever design.

Asteroid mining is happening. True, it is only in its early stages but there always has to be the first prospector to go to California and find the first nugget. Asteroid mining will be one of the foundations of the future space economy. The infrastructure it creates, information it gathers, and the materials it refines will support nearly every other aspect of space travel, colonization, and commercialization.

Here is a great presentation on the quantitative aspects of asteroid mining

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Space Arena

Space Stations are one of the most expensive propositions in the private space industry. The only one in operation today is the ISS and it is estimated to have cost $150 billion in construction and occupation expenses. Certainly, the construction of the ISS is a poor example, especially when comparing to some technologies in the private sector. SpaceX is reducing cost of launching stations and Bigelow Aerospace is making stations simpler to build and deploy. But even so, constructing a "building" in orbit is not a cheap or easy proposition no matter how you look at it today.

The cost of a space stations is not all that surprising. After all it is something which has to provide all of the comforts of home (i.e. food, air, water) with none of the resources. It has to keep humans alive in one of the most inhospitable places for life that we know.

But does a space station really need to provide all of these resources in order to have value? What is a space station really for in the private space industry, as far as money-generating options?

A space station can be a place to rent space to companies to perform experiments in zero-g. It can become a space hotel to paying tourists. It can be a stop-over to someplace else.

These are all very viable industries once people gain a greater presence in space. But again, all of these "products" for a station to act as are incredibly expensive. Because they are meant to separate a person from the outside.

But if someone is going to go to space for the experience, they probably will not want to be separated from the outside by a cramped station or capsule. They will want to get the full benefit of the absence of gravity and the views of the planet and stars.

So why not build a station that doesn't protect anyone from the elements but instead just keeps them from getting lost. Build a station that is basically a giant cage.

Such a structure would basically be a Space Arena. A huge playing field where spacefarers can get the EVA experience without the safety hazards.

From a design standpoint it could be a huge geodetic structure which deploys to create a faceted sphere which is covered in a soft mesh that keeps things and people from floating away. Easy to build, deploy, and maintain. All of which decrease the cost of the station.

Instead of having to launch it in sections it could be launched in a single unit, perhaps on a Falcon Heavy, and then literally just sit there. Since it wouldn't require any complex life support systems those would not have to be maintained and since space has no other stresses than changes in temperature there is nothing to wear out the station structurally. And other resources such as the development of orbital tugboats become available, it wouldn't even be necessary to have much of an attitude control system.

With this kind of station all the travelers need is a spacesuit to keep them protected for the elements and a capsule to go sleep in. Both of which are already necessary for the trip. So why have a station which is a repeat of both of the other two just on another scale.

Since the permeable station is easier to construct and maintain is is easier to to make large. The size of such permeable stations allows them to be used by industries that have yet to consider space. The station could be used as a playing field for a space sport, creating a viable return and interest to people on Earth. It also gives a complete "space experience" to any tourists, much more effectively that a standard station. Just imagine the difference between seeing the curvature of the earth through a porthole and being able to have a panoramic view as you fly, un-tethered in the ether.

The experience and the low cost that such a "Space Arena" provides makes it a viable entry into the industry by many companies other than the standard aerospace and research firms. It is something that could be pursued by the entertainment or sports industry.

The business model for the company which owns the station could take any number of forms. If the station was built for space tourism it could be like a low cost motel. Travelers pay to use the space during the trip. If it is created to host space sporting events then it may pay for itself through the interest and entertainment value of the sport.

If you consider the Space Arena something akin to a stadium in orbit for sporting events it is actually much cheaper than earth-bound stadiums which run anywhere from $500 million into the billions. Whereas the cost to build and launch the Space arena would likely be only $150-200 million dollars. Still a huge gamble but it also has more utility and range of markets than a basketball stadium does.

The creation of a "Space Area" is something which really has very few technical hurdles. It is really a matter of "just doing it." The only things for a company or entrepreneur to consider with such a station is that it can increase the risk of a standard space excursion. Imagine someone in a space suit pushing off of one side of the sphere and then colliding hard with a structural member on the other side and perhaps over-straining their spacesuit causing it to rupture. Safety will be a huge concern for such a venture but materials and designs do exist which can help to mitigate most of these risks.

As far as space stations go the concept of a "Space Arena" or permeable space station are concepts which are relatively unexplored and potentially underestimated. They are a structure which can be easily and cheaply constructed and can be used to create a fantastic space experience both for those utilizing the station and to those on Earth, if it is used for televised sporting events.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Orbital Zoning

For nearly sixty years humans have been sending objects into orbit. Some are weather satellites, others digital TV, and some are just junk. Though there is a huge volume of orbital space above Earth to put satellites in, orbits are in fact filling up and and are largely uncontrolled. As the private space industry grows the need to zone and regulate orbits for particular uses and organizations will be increasingly necessary to create a safe and effective orbital airspace.

To clarify this concept let's look at a scenario. Imagine a company, such as Bigelow Aerospace, has constructed an orbital hotel. The station sits in an orbit several hundred miles above Earth. Now another company developing a space BattleBots show decided to set up shop in the same orbit. This is allowed because no one owns the orbit or can prohibit anyone else form using it. Unfortunately, the Spacebots end up smashing each other to pieces in the orbit, much to the enjoyment of Earth spectators. But now there is an increase of debris which could easily puncture the soft hull of the space station. While the Spacebots would be held accountable for the damage the entire problem could have been avoided if the space station was able to zone its orbit for only human occupation. This is a slightly silly circumstance but the point is clear.

The same type of situation is the reason that factories can't be built in residential areas here on Earth. Similar rules must be set up for space. It will not be possible for space to continually be treated as an international free area like Antarctica. People and organizations actually want to go to space and get something from it, in this case a location.

Orbits are real estate, just as on Earth. There are certain locations better suited for certain tasks and some that are filled with dangerous litter. But there are a lot of orbits above the earth. The 3-D nature of the Void allows for this, as well as the fact that everything in orbit is moving and can be coordinated.

So how does one go about defining property in a place where there are no boundaries but simply the "idea" of locations?

Well the simple place to begin would be with altitude. Space could be divided into more altitude layers. Within those altitudes one could then define particular orbits just as radio bands are defined on earth. Particular altitudes could be reserved for earth observation, others for communications satellites, and then the areas above the debris-filled orbits could be reserved for space stations.

Then within the altitudes particular orbital trajectories could be defined. A company would be able to purchase these trajectories and maintain its hardware within them . But this opens the question, from whom does one purchase an orbit, something which transcends any type of Earth boundary.

The likely solution would be to allow for homesteading of defined orbits. Organizations and Countries could agree to allow ownership of particular orbits through a system of placing improvements in them. Then once ownership of an orbit has been established, through the International Homesteading System, the orbits can be sold. This does require international cooperation but that is the case in many aspects of Space Law and a topic for another time.

Enforcement of homesteading boundaries will be an issue. How to keep vehicles in their space and ensure no one trespasses will initially fall to ground-based tracking and monitoring of payloads as they are launched. But eventually a Space Authority will have to be established to act as a "traffic cop" for Earth orbits. It would go around checking the authorizations of certain satellites to be in certain areas and perhaps "towing" them when they are not.

The issue of spy satellites will also be a problem. These craft are some of the best kept secrets in the world. Governments will not want to register spy satellites or even relegate them to particular altitudes. But as slowly as orbital space is filling this issue may resolve itself before it has to be addressed for private needs.

Space will eventually have to have a system of organization or regulation. Responsibility for space debris and sharing of orbits will become too large of issues to simply ignore. Orbits will become crowded and at that point everyone will want to know what is theirs, else the industry could become quite confrontational. This can't happen because it would be self-defeating to the development of a Space Economy.

Note: A particular example of where zoning of orbits would have been useful would have been in the Chinese Satellite Missile Test incident. Again, it is an issue of international relations but if the Space-Faring nations had collaborated to allocate weapons testing orbits, other nations and organizations could have avoided those areas and now not have to dodge debris.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Telepresence Astronaut

Robonaut 2
Humans are very expensive to maintain in space. Even as launch prices come down the cost of providing food, air, and water to a group of people will always be substantial. Especially in locations such as space stations where there are few natural resource to draw from.

In addition humans require a great deal of preparation and equipment in order to perform any kind of duty in space. It is not uncommon for astronauts to spend 2-3 hours gearing up for an 8 hour EVA. In commercial applications this time used to just "get ready for work" is unacceptable and un-maintainable. If a group of construction workers is sent to orbit the company that sponsored them does not want them to spend a third of their workday getting ready to start work.

The simple solution to all of these problems is to replace the humans. Robots can literally live in space without any of the extra amenities that humans need. But robots are continuously limited by their intelligence. While AI is developing it is still far from rivaling the problem-solving that a human can bring to the table. But robots are able to mimic our physical abilities quite well. Therefore the logical solution would be to create robots which are remotely operated by humans. Therefore one ends up with, basically, a robot with the mind of a human, which needs no food, water, or preparation to start work,

Virtual reality has progressed far enough that it is possible for a human to have a completely immersive experience while operating a robot. The controller can see through the eyes of the machine and watch as the robot arms mimic the controller's motions so perfectly that the person can feel as if they are in a suit in space.

This type of telecontrol eliminates for the need for people to go to space at all to perform duties. Thus greatly reducing cost and risk to any company which ventures into this sector. The robots would risk the launch and the environment, the controller would operate from 9 to 5 as if they were in orbit, but then have dinner at home.

Fortuitously, this technology has been an area of study for NASA for some time. Robonaut is essentially all that has just been discussed and is currently operating on the ISS in a limited capacity. Much of this research is in the public domain and could be utilized by a start-up wishing to develop a telepresence astronaut to fill the stated needs.

The Personal Satellite Assistant.
A small space robot
Of course, anyone wishing to pursue such an endeavor would not need to begin with a full humanoid and virtual reality set-up. The company could start with small space drones which could be remotely operated and used to inspect spacecraft and perhaps even act as a defense against large space debris. This is a relatively simple and inexpensive system to produce and deploy.

As the need for human workers or equivalents grows, with the advent of space stations and interplanetary craft, more advanced robots can be created. These could begin service as emergency responders and maintenance workers where time for human preparation is not available. This time advantage will be something any company would be able to flaunt around. If a space station develops a fault which must quickly be repaired from the outside which would one rather have? A human who needs two hours to get to the problem or a robot which needs two minutes.

Concerning business structure, such robots would likely be deployed on a rental basis. A space station being constructed could use one for assembly and inspection and when finished the robots would migrate to the next job. Since it needs no food or life support the machine could literally float in orbit for years waiting for the next job. When the emergency benefits of such robots are realized many will be purchased and installed permanently in structures just as one would install a fire extinguisher.

The beauty of such a business is that it is a solution which can be created and then just sit and wait for the demand. A company could send several robots into orbit and have them available when the first private structures are contracted. In the meantime they could be contracted to maintain some satellites and perform checks on existing space vehicles.

Essentially, such a robotics firm would likely begin as an orbital safety drone provider. Checking ships before they re-enter the atmosphere. Then as the construction industry grows they can develop into telepresence bodies for astronauts who are earth-bound or restricted to their space vehicle.. After that who knows? Machines with men inside could be created that prepare colony sites for human occupation.

A market exists now for such space safety drones. If they had existed earlier the Columbia accident could have been avoided. And since a robot is cheaper to send to space than a human the market for a telepresence astronaut will come and grow.

It is a sector with a proven need  and proven technology. All the ground work has been laid by other entities, it simply needs to be turned into a business. And until launch costs come far down and human equipment develops much further this will be an integral service in the space industry.

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.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Space Water Refinery

In space, water is liquid gold. It is the heart of all life and of many space technologies by serving as a source of rocket fuel. But how does one get water in space? Water is actually quite plentiful in our solar system. It exists as ice on Mars and the Moon, inside of some asteroids, and is actually a primary component in comets. But, for any of this ice to be made usable by spaceships and colonies, it has to be extracted, melted, and even broken apart at an atomic level. While extraction is being developed by mining companies, the actual refinement of water into either drinkable liquid or rocket fuel has yet to be commercially developed, but such a "Water Refinery" would be an incredibly integral part of a developing space economy.

Water is the very basis of life. Humans can only survive a matter of days without it. This makes it one of the primary consumables on any manned space mission. The trouble is, at this point the only source of water for spacefarers is the Earth. Any water any astronaut drinks has to be shipped to them on an incredibly expensive rocket. Certainly, once the water is in space it can be recycled many times and reused by travelers, but the fact that water had to be blasted into space in the first place is a practice that can't continue. As more people begin to operate in space the need for drinkable water will increase and it will not longer be viable to get it all from Earth.

That is just for drinking water. There is also a market for the creation of rocket fuel. Currently, numerous satellites fall to earth because they run out of gas. And, as planetary travel grows there will be the need to fuel a fleet of rocket ships. As before, fuel can be created on Earth and then launched into space to fuel all these craft. And with dropping launch costs that will an option. But, the components of water, hydrogen and oxygen, are actually the most efficient rocket fuel that exists.

The technology to split water into these elements has existed for many years and similar processes been researched for applications in Mars colonies by NASA. So, instead of shipping fuel from Earth it would actually be possible to just grab a passing comet and turn its water into rocket fuel at a fraction of the cost of launching it.

Of course, there are many operations that have to be in place before a refinery can begin work. The bodies with water have to be mapped. They have to be collected, that is, brought to the refinery. Then, once under control, the asteroid/comet actually has to have the ice mined from its rock and metal.

Fortunately, these are all operations that are being developed and perfected by existing space mining companies. Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries are space start-ups that have begun to develop the technologies needed to mine asteroids and comets and even process the materials. They both expect to have operating hardware in space within the next decade. This will give the creators of a space refinery plenty of time to develop their own final product. And they will be able to focus on taking water ice and turning it into liquid water and rocket fuel.

The main resource required by such a facility will be power. It must have copious amounts of electricity available to melt the mined ice, run it through filters for drinking, and perform electrolysis on it to create rocket fuel. This means that the main part of such an operation will be its power plant.

Early on it will most likely run on large solar arrays either connected to the facility itself or provided by a space utility company. It may be possible, and certainly preferable, to use nuclear energy if such technology is allowed into space as the industry develops.

Deep Space Industries Mining/Refining Concept
While such a refinery will need storage for its product, that may be a flexible option depending upon other developments in the industry. It may be possible for the refinery to partner with space gas stations or tankers which will be able to handle the storage and delivery issues associated with such a venture. Though if the pockets of the company are deep enough it could become the equivalent of an oil company here on earth which handles every part of the production process. From extraction of the raw material to putting it in a customers tank.

So the overall operation of such a refinery would be something along these lines. Someone goes out and collects the raw water ice from asteroids and brings it to the refinery. The refinery, which operates in planetary orbit, either purchases the ice or enters some kind of shared profit system with the mining company. The refinery is equipped with the power and storage facilities it needs to process the ice into drinkable water and fuel. This is then sold to companies that wish to keep satellites in orbit longer or to power ships onto new worlds. The model is identical to an oil company and will require great cooperation between space companies since the creation of all levels of production simultaneously by a single entity would be far to expensive.

Though getting such a company started may not be as difficult as it seems. If one were looking to start small and grow to become "The Space Refinery" it would be prudent to begin by creating and manufacturing small life-support systems that can be used by single craft or small bases to make drinkable water and purify existing supplies. This would create demand for the company in the current space industry.

Then, as permanent bases and long range re-usable craft begin to be developed, the refinery company could develop the fuel creation system. The two variations of the technology could be used in places like early moon bases like a backyard still. Such a strategy would make the company a major contributor to the industry early on and give it the position it needs to implement a larger-scale independent refinery in space when the demand arises.

Drinkable water and rocket fuel are the two primary consumables for anyone that operates in space. Any spacecraft must have fuel and any human must have water. The water needed to meet both of these needs is present in the void of space and can be exploited. The only thing that is required is an individual(s) that will work to become the "Water Baron" of space by creating the water refineries needed to exploit this abundant and necessary resource.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Space Gas Station

 In order to create spacecraft, that can move around in Earth orbit and even to other planets, they have to have their tanks filled. Currently, any spacecraft in orbit goes until it runs out of fuel, then it plummets to the earth. Any manned spacecraft, like the ISS, must be refueled on a regular basis and is limited to Earth orbit since that is where the gauge hits empty for all current space vehicles. The creation of a "Space Gas Station" would create the ability to increase the operational longevity of current spacecraft as well as create a means for current capsules to top themselves off and move on into new missions.

If one is to look at some mission beyond Earth orbit, (Apollo or a Mars mission) normally, the procedure is to carry all the fuel required for the entire mission on a single launch vehicle. This is the equivalent to loading your car with all the fuel needed for a cross country trip. Such strategies greatly increase the cost of launch, especially when present prices are in the neighborhood of $10,000/lb. Certainly launches will become more economical in coming years as prices decrease, but there is still no reason to fill a vehicle with fuel when it could be filled with equipment or other supplies. True, the tanks will still exist, but the "Gas Station" would allow for smaller tanks on vehicles since journeys to fuel sources would be a bit shorter. Again, imagine a car going across country, but now with some gas stations along the way. Now you don't have to carry extra fuel or have such a large tank.

The primary issue with such a service, considering current launch technologies, is that the cost to lift the fuel for the "Gas Station" into orbit is identical to the cost of putting it up with the craft in the first place. For one-mission vehicles this is true. But what about satellites that need to maintain orbits, the ISS, an orbital taxi, or for the space shuttle to be boosted to a higher orbit, if it were still in service. In all of these cases the "Gas Station" makes a lot of sense. If a vehicle needs more fuel to continue a mission or to begin anew, then a location to refill is worth the price. Especially, when the other option is to organize a whole launch to refuel or build and launch an entirely new craft to replace the empty one.

For an example of a situation, where this would be usable today, imagine if a SpaceX Dragon capsule wanted to continue to Mars. Normally the capsule burns all of its fuel to reach orbit so that is its operational limit. If a "Gas Station" existed, the capsule could dock with it in orbit, fill up, and then fire its engines to break free of Earth gravity. This is, in fact, a maneuver that missions Like Mars One may need to consider but are only possible with a fuel station in place.

So the need for an orbital "Gas Station" certainly exists, even today. So what would it look like? If the Space Shuttle were still in operation one would assume that it could simply be one of the Shuttles' orange external tanks that was left in orbit and has since been refilled. But that is no longer an option. In the near future the creation of such a fuel depot would most likely require a series of launches with a Falcon Heavy hoisting filled tanks into orbit. These tanks could then either be combined into a single structure or spread throughout orbit to allow easier access to the fuel reserves.

In order to refuel craft, organizations would schedule dockings with the fuel stations through the operating company. Then they would fuel-up and pay based on the amount that they take. It would be identical to a normal Earth gas station.

In the beginning it would be necessary for the craft/organization in need of fuel to navigate to the fuel depot. But as the company operating the station grows it would be possible to implement mobile stations which go to where the fuel is needed or even to implement a team of drones to bring craft to it.

The technical challenges of such a project are significant. Rocket fuel is very hard to contain in large quantities for extended periods of time. Containing large quantities in orbit will be even more difficult. Then there is the problem of actually having the adapters needed to refuel the numerous variations of spacecraft. This will require the eventual creation on some type of standard across the industry.

Such an endeavor will require significant investment in early development and then the first launches. However, once the station is operational, the returns will come quickly, since the price of the fuel will be a markup of the the delivery cost to orbit. Such a station would likely only need to be emptied a few times to offset the cost of development and construction. One would have to determine the value, of the fuel, to organizations that want to give second chances to old craft, instead of launching new ones.

The expansion capabilities of such a fuel company would be unlimited. As the industry grows and space traffic increases multiple stations will need to operate in orbit and eventually around other planets. And as mining grows and water ice is brought back to Earth or the Moon the fuel stations can be filled with the refined hydrogen and oxygen. Thus reducing the price of the fuel.

These stations will become the waterholes of space. People will need and want to be near them. Because of this they could be the structures that space hotels and space docks are built off of in order to reduce the number of stops for human vehicles. Rental of such proximity space or connections will become lucrative for the company that owns the gas station.

Though the creation and implementation of an orbital fuel depot will be significant, it is a piece of infrastructure that will be so vital to the space industry that it will quickly pay itself off. It will be as important as the launch vehicles that carry the craft off of the Earth. While some billionaires are building space hotels and other the launch vehicles, it would not be a bad business decision to create a Space Gas Station.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Spacesuit Maker

If anyone wants to do anything in any part of space they have to have a spacesuit. But with each new environment a different spacesuit if required. There are suits for when a rocket launches, for when someone takes a spacewalk, for the Moon, for Mars. As the industry grows the variety of suits will have to also. Specialty suits will need to be created for orbital construction workers and extra-comfortable suits for tourists. And all of these people will always need the suits and new environments will need new suits. The market will always exist and will always be growing. Just like the clothing market on Earth now. A few companies have already started work on the spacesuits that will define the new industry. But there is plenty of room for talented individuals with a will to help people operate in space.

Spacesuits have been the domain of NASA for many years. And though there have been significant developments, spacesuits are extremely poor in design. The number one reason is because they are so arduous to use. They are like having an inflated bag around you that you must push and pull against for even the smallest movement. Even fit astronauts get a workout during a spacewalk. This is not something that would be ideal for a space tourist. But there are solutions to this problem and others that exist. Many have been researched and are in the public domain. And there are always new solutions to old problems.

Spacesuits are also not very sexy. The suits used by astronauts on the ISS today make you think of a marshmallow man with a helmet. But the current space industry is all about hype and image. It must convey a message of advanced technology and appear as one would imagine from seeing Sci-Fi movies. If the industry doesn't do this then it looks like "the same old thing." What better way to inspire people and get them behind you than to show them groups of people in futuristic spacesuits? For this reason spacesuit manufacturers have to make their suits Awesome. (SpaceX actually stipulated to thier spacesuit contractor that the suits look "badass")

But on the practical side, spacesuits are really just small spaceships. This could be a design approach in the future when suits need to be created in bulk quantities to "get the job done." Instead of working to create a suit with flexible arms and legs, a company could just make a can with arms. This is actually what the early space pioneers imagined. Such a "suit" could be used by construction crews for building space stations. Or even as a disposable unit.

What about when we go back to the Moon or even Mars. While some of the suits of the time may be modified for the terrestrial environments there will be a need for different kinds of suits in each case. Suits will have to deal with the stress of dirt and grime which is absent in the void as well as the differences in atmosphere, gravity, and activities.

Overall, spacesuits are something with a lot of design leeway allowed, a lot of design improvements needed, and a lot of niche variations required. That makes it into a very clear market opportunity. Not to mention the fact that few launch companies want to have the responsibility of creating their own spacesuits. Such side projects take away from companys', like SpaceX, primary mission of developing launch vehicles.

Orbital Outfitters Suit
Final Frontier Suit
Orbital Outfitters  and Final Frontier Design are a couple of the companies that are already working to create spacesuits for the new private space industry. Wisely, they are not only focusing on creating spacesuits that are functionally better than any suit that has been created before, but also on giving them the futuristic look that space tourists and the world will want to see. Orbital has been contracted by SpaceX and XCOR to develop pressure suits for their vehicle crews and Final Frontier recently completed a successful Kickstarter campaign.

The space industry needs spacesuits, everywhere and for everything. Construction, play, escape, appearance, planetary exploration. These many applications require many different kinds of suits.

A spacesuit company is not a particularly expensive or technically challenging company to begin. Final Frontier began with a fashion designer and an ex-spacesuit designer. Such a company can gain a foothold by making pressure suits now but would have unlimited expansion possibilities as its competence grows. And even though Orbital Outfitters and Final Frontier Design already have a head start, their solutions are not perfect. A clever designer and/or entrepreneur can improve on the spacesuit as it is viewed right now and become the source for creating a very necessary piece of equipment that the entire industry has and always will need.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Moon is the Best Start

Since having gone to the Moon, the public and the space community have begun to ignore it. Instead they have set their sites on the new frontier of Mars. And though the colonization of Mars is an important target, both from the perspective of human exploration and preservation, it is not a place where a return can be easily had from a business perspective. The facts that it is the most similar planet to Earth in the solar system, and some distance away, are its downfalls. A space economy will not need another Earth, we have plenty to go around as it is. The future space economy will need a place that can serve as an independent base, which has unique characteristics that make it more viable than the red rock of Mars or the cold metal of a space station. Such a place will be the Moon. The Moon holds far more advantages to the creation of the first economically thriving colony than any other potential location in the solar system. The Moon should be the colonization target of the private space industry.

The number one reason the Moon is the most ideal place to create a permanent settlement in space is its proximity to Earth. The Moon is only a few days away with 1960's spaceships. This allows the Moon to have a very flexible trade route and exchange with Earth. If there is a problem help can arrive in days. If a piece of equipment is needed, its only a phone call away. Mars, on the other hand, will take months to travel to, and currently requires relatively precise timing in order to make the trip as efficient as possible. If you miss a particular launch window one would have to wait several months before another would arrive. Plus its distance creates a time dilation in transmissions that makes that part of the process slow and inconvenient.

But the proximity to Earth doesn't just aide travel time. It also decreases the risk to the people that work on the Moon. Though the Moon has no atmosphere and is barren rock exposed to space, it is still semi-protected by the Earth's magnetic field. This field decreases the overall radiation that hits the Moon's surface, as well as the ships traveling to and from it. This protective force field disappears as a ship travels to Mars. Though radiation is still present in heightened quantities on the Moon, one will sustain far less exposure than during a six month trip to Mars.

A Lunar Spaceport
The Moon's desolation is also a very valuable resource. There is no drag from air to slow launches and a sixth the force of gravity. These characteristics make it relatively simple and efficient to move material to and from the Moon's surface. This allows  trade with passing ships and easy transport of cargo. These conditions also allow for launch technologies other than rockets. Rail guns and space elevators are very viable systems on the Moon. All of this can create a functioning spaceport. A place where ships can land, launch, resupply, and even be built. Such possibilities as these are not viable on Mars because its similarity to Earth creates the same complications for spacecraft we have on Earth. And again it is too far away to quickly and efficiently build what would be needed at first.

One the most valuable parts of the Moon is its physical resources. The regolith of the Moon can be turned into any number of construction materials. Concrete blocks, sintered beams, rail tracks, these are all items that can be made form the lunar dust. The Moon also has deposits of water. This allows the colony to support its inhabitants without constant resupply. Water allows for farming, showers, and the creation of rocket fuel. (a very useful thing in space) Any base built on the Moon, with sufficient power emplacements, can continually grow and manufacture from the resources available. And the base is able to get from the Earth whatever it can't make, since the Moon is close enough to have an Amazon account. The resources and the proximity of the Moon allow a lunar colony to not only sustain itself but also create a surplus that can be traded to other space-farers. Options such as space stations have no ability to grow past what is provided.

Lunar Habitat Made from Regolith
The Moon also has a special advantage over Mars or a space station as a tourist attraction. It's low gravity and epic landscapes create an experience that is unmatched. Any colony may be able to ease the financial burden by allowing "guests" to spend time there during a two week vacation. Again proximity to Earth lends a hand.

Any early lunar colony would also be a target for funding from any number of scientific fields. Astronomy, physics, biology. A colony with excess facilities would be able to lease out space to to astronomers looking for an unobstructed view of the stars and others like them. And since the Moon lends its materials to creating excess space, this option would be a low cost, high return proposition for an established colony. Mars doesn't have the view and space stations don't have the space.

Lastly, the Moon has something that can be utilized on Earth, this is a necessary characteristic for any early space economy. Just like the missions to the Americas by the Hudson Bay Company, they didn't pay for themselves with exploration, but with exploitation, the same idea must be adopted here. The Moon has minerals such as Helium-3. This isotope is an ideal fuel for fusion, once the process is perfected, but is practically non-existent on Earth. The Moon is full of the stuff, due to the solar radiation that hits its surface. This material and others like it would be the tradable good that can be brought back from the Moon and sold on the Earth. As far as we know, Mars has no unique or valuable resources to draw from with a potential financial return.

Overall, the Moon is just a more reliable place to create something that can actually have an economic presence. Its resources allow for surplus creation and tradable products. Its proximity to Earth allows for easy and quick transportation. Its gravity and lack of atmosphere allow for easy interaction with other facets of the space community. And its environment allows for recreational value as well as reduced health risks. Space Stations, Asteroids, and Mars do not have the combination of qualities required to serve as the first true human settlement focused on economic return. Though all will be needed and are necessary steps in the conquest of space. Anyone working to create the ideal spaceport, to be the center of the Space Economy, should set-up shop on the Moon.