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.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Astronaut Camps

"Live a week like an astronaut."

A company that puts people through rigorous astronaut training and simulations. This business can be approached from both the experiential entertainment/learning side or the serious launch preparation side.

This business could begin as space camp on steroids. Just like when some people take nature survival classes or mock SEAL training, this "camp" could create the experience of training for and being an astronaut. People could go through zero-g flights, centrifuges, and all kinds of tough workouts. Then, after a time of "training" they would be able to be put into the simulation of their choice. Perhaps 'repair' a space station mock-up in the swimming pool, or visit the "Mars Colony" on campus.

Of course, it doesn't have to take such an extreme direction. Creation of the experiences of being on Mars or the Moon for a week as if one were a real astronaut (an extreme space VR) could also be a viable business model on the entertainment side.

Such a camp could also become the industry contractor for preparing prospective space tourists and explorers for their launches and missions. It would be in charge of training and certification of most space passengers in the weeks prior to their flights. Currently, this is performed by the launch company. Being able to outsource passenger preparation would allow those companies to focus on their primary business of engineering vehicles.

Space Camps and "learning to be an astronaut" has been around for awhile. And companies like Zero-G are capitalizing on people wanting to have a space experience. The problem is that space camps have been relatively superficial and don't capitalize on the complete experience. And Zero-G is focusing only on the weightless flights. A true Astronaut camp would need to go deeper into the experience and leverage all connections with companies like Zero-G and others like it that will emerge.

Now there is always the danger that the entertainment or learning aspect of the camp will not get the response needed to maintain it. It will have a marketing and presentation problem. After all, space doesn't quite have the attraction that it did in the 1950's-1970's. But if that should fail initially, the entertainment concept could be kept in reserve for when space opens up again and public interest is in that direction. Until then, contracts for actual training for missions would be adequate and increasing as more launch vehicles begin operations and human traffic increases.

This kind of a business has a lot of facets. Practical, leisure, extreme sports, team-building. An "Astronaut Camp" could take any kind of form or focus. If it is to cater to the general public it would have to be something fun and exciting that isn't too harsh but still give the real feel for space. But if it wants to be a part of the actual private space industry, in a big way, it will need to eventually become what some of Nasa's Manned Spaceflight Centers are.

But overall, the idea of an all-in "Astronaut Camp" is something that can be approached today and, with proper execution, could be viable independently of the current space industry.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Space Sports Car

Ever since the very rich have existed there have been niche markets around their desires. Some of theses desires include mansions, yachts, sports teams, sports cars and even submarines. Why not continue that market philosophy into space by creating luxury or super high quality reusable spacecraft. A space sports car.

Such craft would be very similar to ships like the Lynx or even the SpaceShips One and Two. Small, reusable, and containing proven technology. But the similarity would end there.

Any kind of spaceship that would want to tout itself as a space sports car would have to have many more high-end attributes than the private spaceships currently available.

First, it would have to be able to be crewed by someone who does not have a history of test piloting. After all, the owner would probably want to fly his ship once in awhile.

Next, the ship would likely need to have increased capacity for systems that increase the performance and experience of the flight. These would allow for more "flying" instead of just floating around. Or, maybe, a better "kick" when they launch. No doubt, once having learned to fly the thing, the owners might like to be able to really drive it for awhile if in orbit, without worrying about fuel. Feeling the g's and maybe even buzz some space stations.

Lastly, aesthetic design will have to combined with engineering. Much like the Lamborghinis or Ferraris of today. They are not only built for superior function but also superior appearance. While in aerospace, science does lend to beauty slightly, a private spaceplane intended to function as a status symbol or a high performance toy could not look like a Mercury space capsule, though such designs may be optimal. It would have to be sleek and stylish. Custom paint, larger windows, better interiors. Everything about the craft would have to portray beauty and design, not just functionality, in order to increase the value of the experience. This means a departure from only engineers designing craft to bringing in industrial designers and artists to smooth out the rough edges.

The XCOR Lynx spaceplane
Reusablility can not be stressed enough. No one will purchase a 100 million dollar craft that they can only use once or have to spend 10 million on every time it launches no matter how rich they are. Whether orbital or suborbital the craft will have to be as simple to maintain and launch as a private airplane. Multistage will likely be out of the question. Therefore, such craft will likely begin as suborbital planes until technology develops enough for a Single Stage to Orbit (SSTO) system.

This type of company could be started immediately. With the advent of commercial, suborbital spaceplanes only one or two years away, it would be possible for a talented engineer and designer to purchase a few of these planes and upgrade them for wealthy, private individuals. This direction will probably be undertaken by companies like Virgin Galactic or even XCOR Aerospace once full production is underway.

Such a company would be able to operate on little initial capitol from the founders. The space cars could follow a pre-order system with initial money down, from the customer to start building, and then the rest of it when the project is complete.

As time goes on and the company grows and technology advances, it would be possible for the company to create original or custom designs for its clients. Instead of repurposing spaceplanes they would be able to create original "Lamborginis of the Void."

Obviously this type of a business is for a niche of a niche. Millionaire or billionaire thrill-seekers. There are only a few of those. Even with his own spaceplane company, Richard Branson would likely invest in a space Lamborgini, but Bill Gates certainly wouldn't.

The primary danger with any part of this concept is the market. First, if it is too small. And second, if it has too much liability attached. After all, your craft is meant to reliably transport the wealthiest of the wealthy.

The problem of the small market can be dealt with. Governments and large companies will want ships redesigned for any number of reasons. The beginning custom spaceplane shop would be able to get all kinds of business out side of its wealthy thrill-seeker target market.

As far as the second problem. There is nothing that can be done except to do the best you can and have a good insurance policy and lawyer for when someone crashes their space Ferrari.

Overall, the idea of creating the height of style and performance for space is something that can be accomplished within the next decade without gigantic research or investment. Such an approach would be a good means for talented young engineers and entrepreneurs to get their foot in the door of the space industry in a significant way.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Space Body Guards

When space becomes a true society and economy space crime will develop. There will be dangers from pirates and rogue groups and governments raiding cargo ships, and even small explorers, for precious metals or resources. Ships that are prospecting or carrying any type of precious cargo (human or inanimate) will likely need some protection. The development of space "body guards" will be necessary.

These personal protectors will be able to take many shapes. Robotic or manned. Integrated or separate.
Most likely, such a company will begin by creating small groups of drones that can be rented by ships.

These drones would act as scouts generally, but could be used as killer satellites, ramming other ships, should a ship ever be attacked. By the time such devices are needed AI will have developed enough that remote control will not be necessary. The protectors will be able to behave as a dog would when its owner says "sick'em."

As time goes on manned craft will be developed that will essentially be escort fighters. This would be a very elite type of group probably only contracted by dignitaries or large corporations.

The need for protection of standard cargo and transport ships will decrease as more are launched and used. Therefore, such a security force will quickly become something for the niche market of the very paranoid or the very rich and important, just as private body guards today.

The primary reason that such force will be needed more in the beginning is because the harshness and greed in space will create the same kind of desperate crime that existed during the California Gold Rush. Those in space will need a body guard or guard dog just as the western prospectors once did to protect their claims and supplies.

Certainly, these types of "body guards," manned or unmanned, would require changes to current space law, that prohibit such weapons in space, in order to exist. But such changes will come about when those in space need protected as much as the people on the surface of a planet.

Space Crime (1)

Crime follows wherever there is either want or money. Space will have both. It will begin as disputes over needed resources and will likely develop into full blown space pirates that could endanger ships.

In the early days of space there will be a few primary resources that everyone will need. These include water, fuel, and energy. These things will be the gold of space for many years. Space farers will trade these as they would currency. It will be a system identical to the old west trading posts. The trouble is, there will eventually be those that have nothing to trade. An asteroid ship that is out of fuel and has found no rocks with water to barter. While in the very beginning there will no doubt be a space "code of conduct" where people simply help themselves out because they know they all need it. A "do unto others" mentality, brought on by the greater purpose of space colonization. But eventually that will likely fade. Those that are in need may be ignored in order to gain a higher profit. This will be when the crime begins. Space farers will begin to steal from each other either to survive or to make a buck. Again, as in the old west, one could steal a man's gold or his canteen. In space these will be one and the same, at the start. This will be the beginning of crime. Taking the resources of others in order to satisfy an assumed need. Meeting a quota, going farther, or staving off thirst.

Later space will develop to where these basic needs will be able to be fulfilled easily. This is the point where space is no longer a frontier and is rather a fully developed economy. Ships no longer look for the bare necessities. They instead look for profit. Ships will transport precious metals, large supplies of water, or passengers. These become the target of true criminals that are not hunting out of necessity but out of greed.

Now in space it is nearly impossible to intercept another ship by chance, there is just too much space. So the old means of just floating around until something comes along will not be what happens. However, the space culture will have several characterisitics that will be of help to criminals. One, all ships will be able to contact each other and likely be tracked by some form of ground control. This information will be vulnerable to hacks, leading pirate ships to cargo ships filled with platinum asteroids. Second, even if pirates can't find ships in open space they will be able to lay in wait at major ports. Such as in orbit around  the Moon and Mars. This makes it less difficult to organize targets.

In the case of waiting in orbit for a target. It will be possible because criminals will likely arrive before security services. This will change as space body guards and space police become established in order to protect the ships in port or even in transit.

As far as crime goes I have only truly spoken about theft. There are other facets that could be discussed but that would make this post go on for ever. Therefore those screws of the topic will be saved for future discussion.

Really, the best analogy for what space will be like, concerning crime, as it develops, is the Wild West. People will kill for your gold, steal your horse, take your pick, drink your water, and anything else you can think of. And it will remain like this until countermeasures are created.

Space is just a huge frontier that will require a much more developed and even multiplanetary society to maintain any kind of law enforcement or protection. When spacecraft come down to the cost of a large boat today, crime will become as commonplace as we see today in normal life. It will, primarily, be the responsibility of the prospectors and the explorers of space to find the means of protecting themselves as they go about their lives.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Lunar Retirement Home

As people grow old they begin to become a bit decrepit. Normal everyday tasks can present dangers of heart attacks, strokes or a broken bone from a fall. The pull of gravity puts so much strain on the elderly that many lose almost all of their independence for fear of being killed by the pull of the Earth.

Fortunately, though we may not control gravity there are places, that will come within reach, where gravity is not such a predominant force. The the closest is the Moon.

So here is the opportunity. Within the next 50-100 years space entrepreneurs have the chance to create a retirement colony on the Moon.

On the lunar surface the gravity is 1/6 that of Earth. There would no longer be the danger of falls or strains on the hearts of the residents. They would be able to live independently, almost as they had before they aged, being able to do their own chores, walk, and even run.

Now the question is why is the Moon ideal for such a structure? Why not just put people into orbit in a large space station where there is zero gravity.

First, the change of going from gravity to zero gravity permanently, can be a large strain on such elderly bodies. The deterioration could be too extreme as the body adapts to the environment. There is also a learning curve for operating in zero-g. Floating and navigating in a weightless environment takes skills, reflexes, and coordination that the elderly may no longer have. The gravity of the moon doesn't require people to change their habits. They can still walk and run, it will simply be easier. The Moon is also within communications range of the Earth so the tenants can still remain in real-time contact with their families and friends.

The Moon will also offer the advantage of unlimited ways to spend time. Hikes, tours, sports and other activities the cannot be performed by the resident on Earth or by a space station in orbit are available on the Moon. What better place to retire than where there is always something to do and is continuously beautiful.

The last reason to use the Moon is that the retirement center can be made more cheaply and safely on the Moon than in orbit. This is due to the fact that the Moon will have a construction infrastructure that will be able to build and expand facilities using the materials on the Moon. So instead of having to launch everything, for the center, from Earth, as in the case of the space station, it can be manufactured on site. This infrastructure also makes the facility safer than any orbital facility could be. If a leak is sprung, the residents could be moved out into new spaces, that are constructed, or share with other colonists, in an emergency. A space station does not have this luxury of places to go.

Now for the dangers of such an endeavor. Space medicine is still unclear as to the complete affects of low gravity on the human body, and it is completely unknown what it will do to an elderly body. While the physical abilities will be improved internally we don't know what can happen. Low gravity can cause the bones to give off huge amounts of calcium into the body which form kidney stones and other ailments. Who knows what this type of thing would do to the elderly body.

There is also the question of transport. Launch and journey to the Moon can be relatively violent procedures that can put great stresses on the body. The only hope will be that conveyances like space elevators can become feasible in order to create a gentle journey.

Overall, the idea of a retirement community on the moon is one of the riskier endeavors to attempt with the technology we understand today. But it is feasible and potentially very lucrative with the advent of cheaper launches and bases on the Moon. While it is still decades away current doctors and engineers can work to create the medical needs for such a concept today.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Micro-Launch Company

As technology continues to make things smaller and smaller satellites can now be created with vast capabilities that are about the size of your fist or smaller. Today these micro-sats are normally launched in conjunction with some larger payload. They just help to fill up a large rocket.

The trouble is that all launch systems of today are prohibitively expensive even if you are just piggy-backing. (The launch of a CubeSat can be over $100,000) The reason the launch systems of today are so expensive is because most rockets are enormously complex and expensive machines which only fly once and are then destroyed. They also require armies of support to get them prepared and launched and have to meet very special requirements for the satellite that they are launching. It is a very high risk business and an incredibly bloated one.

Large rockets used to be the only way to get anything into orbit. But since we now have micro-sats its time for a micro-launcher.

An opportunity exists to completely re-work the space launch mantra. Instead of big and expensive, launches could be made small and cheap with payloads of just 1-5 pounds using a small disposable launcher.

After all, since the payloads are cheaper and require less precision, a company can create a rocket that they, basically, just point at the sky and light a fuse. It could be made cheaply and with far less precision that any of the larger rockets. More or less it would be an upscaled hobby rocket.

Now, even hobby rockets are not cheap when one starts to reach for high altitudes. The company that works with micro-launches will have to be able to mass produce their vehicle in order to keep the cost down. Rockets that come off the assembly line in droves is not a practice anywhere in the space industry. This is where a scrappy start-up can get an edge.

Now if a company where to be capable of mass-producing orbital/sub-orbital rockets the single problem they might have is whether the demand will meet the supply. There are not a huge number of satellites being created today. The key in the beginning will be to create alternate reasons to launch. Things like space burials, (cremated remains) time-capsule launches, and other less scientific and broader market reasons to send a rocket to space. These alternate sources of revenue would be able to sustain a company until people realize that satellite launches are cheap enough that they can be performed by smaller hobby groups or even individuals. If the price to launch a CubeSat were brought down to under $10,000 then a whole DIY satellite industry would open up.

Up Aerospace is already working towards this goal of an affordable micro-launcher. They are starting like most new space companies by creating a sounding rocket that is able to launch small experiments into sub-orbital space.

The SpaceX Assembly Line
While the mass production of small launchers is a relatively unexplored option the main risk to this business would not be technical problems or even demand. It would be competition from reusable craft like Skylon or even a SpaceX upgrade that makes the micro-launcher too expensive. Reusable spacecraft are expected to bring the cost of orbital launches down to around $10-100 per pound within the next twenty years. It is doubtful that even a rocket with the benefit of economy of scale would be able to match that. It is like the difference between buying a Cessna or a 787 for one trip. If you have to buy the whole 787 for the trip then you will buy the Cessna. But if the 787 is just selling a ticket on one trip, then you will ignore the Cessna.

But though a mass produced disposable rocket may become too expensive, the lessons learned from that early part of the business would help to make a small mass produced reusable rocket. One would have to do some deeper number crunching to see what the margins would be like on this, but it is very likely possible. Not to mention that fact that some micro-sats will pay extra to not have to piggy-back on another satellite.

Overall, the concept of launching ultra-small payloads affordably is untouched. And though the door of opportunity might be closing it has the potential to give someone a chance to get their foot in the door of the industry at a cost significantly less that a full scale launch company.

OTRAG was an early attempt at mass production of space launchers

Sunday, May 4, 2014

A Company for Reactivating Vintage Spacecraft

There are more spacecraft added to the menagerie in orbit every year. Some are operational. Many are
not. But that is not because they are broken.

Many spacecraft simply have served their purpose. They are no longer needed or have become out of date. So they are shut down.
A Space Junkyard from Star Wars
This collection of used satellites and probes (basically space junk) leaves an opportunity for entrepreneurs to repurpose them by simply regaining contact with them, creating new missions, and perhaps maintaining the vintage equipment needed to operate them.

The chance here is that the all of the expensive work of designing and launching the craft has already been done by someone else and now the scavenger gets all of that for free, outdated though it may be. All a new company would have to do is design new missions for the craft and recreate the tools needed to operate it. This just take a few software or electrical engineers

Now a satellite that used to monitor earth weather until its resolution became too poor, can instead become an open source orbital photography platform. Or it could be moved into a new orbit to be used as a practice dummy for docking. Or in the case of the ISEE-3 Reboot Project, it can be sent to study an asteroid.

The ISEE-3 Reboot Project is crowdfunding effort underway to perform the kind of spacecraft refurbishment just discussed. The group wishes to regain contact with a a defunct solar probe and command it to fire its engines so that is can be sent to explore a nearby asteroid. While they are doing this simply as an exercise and valiant research effort, the results from the project could be the foundation of a future space company.

The company that pursues this kind of a mission would basically just be the antique dealer of  spacecraft. You go to their shop and you find the CRT TV of spacecraft  and buy control of it to drop an anvil onto it.

And this company doesn't have to make the old satellites do anything complex. The regaining of a means of controlling them is of huge value. With that returned control, the space junk can be collected, repurposed, reused, scrapped, or eliminated. All necessary operations in the space industry gaining a litter problem.

Any company that regains control of defunct spacecraft would have a large foothold in the private space industry as it becomes the dealer of the vintage space paraphernalia. And really, all they would need is a few software developers, a ham radio set, and maybe a retired rocket scientist.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Danger of E.T. to the Private Space Industry

Aliens are bad for business.

No, I don't mean that there will be little green men working to destroy us commercially. In fact, I mean something as basic as a single celled organism could bring the current space industry and prospects of settlement to a halt.

Let me paint a picture for you.

The single largest discovery that could both spark great interest in space but also bring colonization to a standstill would be the discovery of extraterrestrial life in our solar system. Or even the remains of such life.

This is where space colonization differs completely from all historical explorers. In the past, as colonists and explorers spread across the New World they contaminated it with their diseases and, in some ways, their cultures. It is known that the Americas were once home to millions that were never observed because they were destroyed by European plagues. The potential discoveries were destroyed before they could be discovered. This is what is feared may happen in space by space environmentalists.

Mars and Europa are among the primary targets for space life hunters. They both are expected to have significant enough amounts of water and friendly enough environments to have once or still harbor life. The problem is that these characteristics are also what make those locations prime colonization prospects. But what would happen if either fossils or living samples of life existed on one of those bodies. In our environmentally conscious world, they would be cordoned off as preserves. The E.T.’s would have to be kept separate from all other biological life so that it could not be contaminated by Earth life. This would require that no colony could exist any where near the discovery.
So if life were to be discovered on Mars it could stop all Mars exploration for close to fifty years. Because instead of sending missions to colonize and  then study, missions would be sent to study and then possibly colonize.  The danger of destroying or contaminating either the E.T. or ourselves would entice Earth governments to stop human transport.

Now, what is truly disturbing about this condition is that an E.T. could be discovered that originated on Earth. Right now there are numerous rovers on Mars. And even though they have been cooked and sterilized they still could have carried to the planet microbes that could survive if they were exposed to the right conditions. Now suppose that another rover came along behind one of those dirty rovers. And low and behold that rover finds microbial life  that the other rover "missed." But the new rover can not recognize it as an earth-based contamination. At this point, having found E.T. on Mars, the planet is locked down and only particular scientific missions are arranged. After about ten years a sample of the organism is brought back to Earth by robotic rover. By that point the microbes may have evolved enough to adapt to the Martian environment. While they will still appear similar to Earth bacteria, it will continually be questioned whether they could just have been seeded by an earth rock on Mars or vice-versa. And there would be no way to prove that the rover planted it. Because by that time, the bacteria could have spread across all of Mars.

Now Mars has life, of sorts, and the decision has to be made if we will allow Humans to colonize/continue to colonize the planet, and introduce all kinds of new biological systems, or simply keep it as a preserve in honor of the first place outside of Earth to contain life.

So basically, we may create the E.T. by delivering infested spacecraft, but then decide that it was indigenous to the planet and attempt to protect it by stopping future exploration. Not an ideal future for a new and growing industry.

While this scenario is fictional, it is still something that is incredibly possible. 

At the current rate of planetary bio-research it appears that many Mars launches and colonies will be established before any type of life is discovered, if ever. So, if perchance, the organism is legitimately alien, a human colony will most likely have to be one of the means of studying it. So instead of stopping colonization such discoveries may simply limit ideas of terraforming or expansion of colonies. It will really come down to a question of how much of the planet should be preserved or if it is even possible to. More or less it will be a system just like that of the United States with its parks and preserves.

As the industry grows detection and preservation of possible E.T. locations will have to be consciously considered. Something that was lacking in much past exploration of our globe. But all preservation will need to be conducted in a way that is beneficial it the people that are risking their lives and fortunes to open the gates of space. Preservation on Earth has led to the devastation of several industries where the protection was taken too far.

Now the fear of certain parts of space being restricted due to biological contaminations may not be an issue at all for several decades. Since many governments today are relatively Earth-bound there is no means for them to prohibit colonization except to prohibit Mars-bound launches. And if one country grounds launches to Mars another may not. So policing of bio-contamination would have to be a uni-world decision. Something that is unprecedented.

There is also the question of when a life form no longer becomes "from Earth." In the case of a false positive mentioned earlier, organisms that live on Mars for any period of time will evolve to match that environment. There will come a time when new species will have to classified that only exist on certain planets. New rules will have to be created to determine when a species that originated on Earth but now can only live on Mars requires special attention or protection.

Overall, the the possibility of bio-contamination is is much more of a legal hypothetical than a business opportunity, except that is for the burgeoning space-lawyer and legislator.

To see more visit this NASA page for the Office of Planetary Protection. It discusses means the organization uses to prevent forward contamination of planets with earth organisms.