Updated as of January 17, 2013.
A special message from Dave: “So it looks like Obama’s killed future plans for human exploration in space, with virtually no discussion? I don’t know about you but here’s how it makes me feel!"
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Robert Heinlein said that when you're in Earth orbit you're halfway to anywhere, and Jerry Pournelle expanded on that theme in a Science Fact column "A Step Further Out." Everybody knows though that the first $1,000,000 is a whole lot harder to make than the second, and though we've managed to step over the threshold of Space we're still pretty much hanging out in the living room. In order to really move ahead in space, build true orbital communities, go back to the moon to stay, establish toeholds on Deimos, Phobos, some asteroids, we need to knock some zeroes off the energy bill to get off Earth and stably circling our birth planet.
That's what this website is about. How do we find the cheapest way to get up and orbiting? What are the easiest things to send up? What are the most useful and versatile payloads? Why must rockets be so d*mned expensive and what else is there for primary space transport? In the mid-20th Century many of us dreamed of the economies the nuclear rocket and the flyable booster were supposed to offer but the promises either failed to materialize or turned out to be less cost-effective than expected. From a careful study of the early space optimism, it seems to me that we just didn't look realistically at the magnitude of energy costs needed to get "anything" into space. The Liquid Fuel Rocket is the most powerful energy-generating device in the world in terms of watts generated per machine mass, except for atomic bombs. Someday fusion rockets may better chemical drives in the thrust to weight competition but that appears still a few decades off. Still, streetcars didn't run on batteries, nor do semis drive from coast to coast on a single tank of diesel.
To make space operations more economical if perhaps never quite "cheap," we need to look not at space vehicles, per se, but Space Systems, Lofting Technologies, Momentum Transfer Devices. Also just as air travel depends upon airports, radar, customer service, Cabin Attendant training, safety engineering, Web transactions, human factors as well as Aerodynamics and structural analysis, mounting affordable and ongoing space operations depends upon a variety of endeavors fully as important in the long run as actually getting freight off earth. These include balanced eco-habitat design, extraction of oxygen from Lunar rock, cracking water in space and liquefying the resultants, 3-D fabbing of replacement components and entire systems from booster hulls and minerals from the moon, universal handling robots, self-replicating systems, beamed energy and momentum fluxes from the moon and elsewhere. We'll look at these areas as well as the primary one and along the way, encounter some Earthside spin-offs or start-ups. Stay tuned and join in!
Dave Plassman, BSAA, MEd