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Friday, November 16, 2007

LOCATION, LOCATION, ASCENSION Island


Ascension Island is an unimpressive 35 square mile rock extruded from the Mid-Atlantic Ridge though fortunately not currently tectonically active. It is one of a number of small left overs from the British Empire situated just 7.5 degrees south of the equator. Currently its main importance is that it has a substantial Anglo-American airbase big enough to handle regular Hercules flights to the Falkland Islands. Current British government practice is to discourage migration, tourism & development, presumably to prevent the locals being able to object to the base. "In order to gain an entry to Ascension Island, people need the written permission of the Administrator. It is nearly impossible to take up permanent residence. Employment is a requirement to stay on the island. The UK government has asserted that no inhabitant of Ascension Island has a "right to abode".

The values I am concerned about are, in order, that it is near the equator, that it is under British legal authority & that it is an island far from the nearest shore. The UK rule & isolation mean that it & any business activities on it are secure. The position on the equator & being surrounded by sea make it one of the best places in the world for 1 particular business.

Developed properly it could be Earth's prime spaceport.

The Earth rotates & the equator rotates at 1000mph, which is 10% of the speed needed to reach orbit. From the equator costs to orbit are therefore much more than 10% less than they can be elsewhere. This is why Cape Canaveral & Baikonur are located in the southernmost parts of their respective countries. Moreover the automatic position reached in orbit from the equator is an equatorial orbit which is easier to match to than orbits starting at some other point & would allow communication satellites to hold a relatively stable position in the sky.

Developing the island conventionally would not be hard, which is why our government have had to actively prevent it. 3 of the world's richest territories are places with few natural resources which have become wealthy as British colonies. This is because our law ensures contracts are worth the paper they are written on & because being part of the Empire keeps them safe from predatory neighbours & even more importantly from police chiefs & political leaders, not necessarily more irresponsible than those of Springfield but who should not be trusted with the power of absolute sovereignty. The 3 are Bermuda, the Cayman Islands & Hong Kong (Hong Kong may not be British anymore but it got rich that way - in 1948 it got 2 million Chinese refugees, without the "aid" provided to the much less numerous Palestinians to keep them refugees). The success of these places, now richer than Britain, supports the libertarian view that beyond upholding the law most of the rest of government is parasitic & the old fashioned imperialist view that the natives generally benefited from our Empire.

Thus much of what is needed is merely to do nothing. No bans on immigration & development, allow commercial & tourist flights, don't charge corporation & most other taxes (the place is hardly a source of revenue currently). To develop it into a space port we would first need the UK government to have set up an X-Prize Foundation as I have previously suggested. Beyond that a little infrastructure - a good harbour & an Ocean Thermal Energy Converter (OTEC) able to produce enough power to hydrolyse as much hydrogen & liquid oxygen as might be needed or indeed to run a laser launching system. An extra effect of an OTEC is that by bringing nutrient rich deep ocean water to the surface it can facilitate algae & fish industries. Marshall Savage's book The Millennial Project details how & I have borrowed extensively from him for this idea, which is considerably less ambitious than his floating islands proposal. The US would have to be squared but if Pearl Harbour does not have to be isolated I don't see this base as presenting insuperable security problems, indeed good harbour facilities should make it a more useful base.

I am envisaging a spaceport in perhaps 10 years, launching a fleet of shuttles developed from "3 operational spacecraft which have achieved low earth orbit, returned to earth, and flown to orbit again three times in a period of three weeks" (as Dr Pournelle's X-Prize proposal suggests) relatively accessible from the North Atlantic shores of Britain, the USA & Europe. It may sound very Dan Dare but I see no reason why a forward looking self confident nation couldn't create it. I would welcome criticisms & refinements. Isn't the island's name a magnificent example of serendipity.

PS The picture is illustrative & actually comes from http://www.spaceportamerica.com/press.php

Comments:
To whom it may concern,

We would much appreciate it if you would use the following illustration credit when displaying any of the concept drawings for Spaceport America’s terminal/hangar facility on you blog. The correct title that goes under the illustration that you are currently using is :

Spaceport America, New Mexico USA Concepts by URS/Foster+Partners ©2007

Thank you for your attention to the matter,

David Wilson
Wilson Binkley
Representing the New Mexico Spaceport Authority

http://www.spaceportamerica.com/press.php
 
Have you given up on the idea of a space elevator?

It seems to me that ascension island would be a good location for such an installation too?
 
I'm sure we will have a space elevator in time, & possibly not that much time. However it would have to be built in space & then the end lowered to Earth. This means it will only be feasible once we have a developed space incustry.

Also Ascension is 7.5 degrees off the equator which is about 500 miles while the endpoint of the elevator HAS to be over the equator. Although this is only 500 miles out of 33,000 to geosynchronous I think it would be impractical to put it anywhere but exactly on the equator.

Marshall Savage's book details how to build floating islands & I can foresee a floating "daughter" spaceport being set up on the equator in 30 years.
 
Hmm. Not so modest, but interesting. Ascension is 8 deg. S. But of course
there are many other places near the equator, some almost on it, like Singapore.
 
Indeed If there were only going to be one world space centre I would probably bet on Singapore even though, being already heavily populated there would be problems finding them ahem space. When we get to be able to put up space elevators Singapore will be in an even stronger position. However Singapore has a much greater security problem, being surrounded by Indonesians & their greatest advantage is a willingness to try.

I did an article on space & Singapore once http://a-place-to-stand.blogspot.com/2006/02/singapore-pop-4-million-enters-space.html
 
Rubish, Rubish and rubish. Really you shouldn't comment on places such as the Wideawake base as you obviously have never set foot on it. Have a word
 
Rubbish is normally spelled with two b's. Beyond that i am afraid I found anon's comment uninformative as to what he actually disagreed with.
 
I have to say my heart sank as I read this article.

I was born on Ascension and thus it is very dear to me - To turn my birthplace into some polluted spaceport would be the worst thing ever.

It is far from an unimpressive place - To be stood above the clouds on Green Mountain looking down at the bamboo garden is something to behold.

It is also a nesting site for turtles which would be destroyed by a spaceport

Julian Taylor
 
I think the idea is totally ridiculous. Ascension Island is one of the most beautiful and interesting places I've ever been in my life, and to call it unimpressive is absolutely appalling. I agree with anonymous above, clearly whoever has written this article has never been anywhere near it.
You should try to gather some feasible evidence of your own before you begin to write things like that, has made me very angry. And if you aren't fortunate enough to be granted permission to go to the island then don't bother commenting on it, you don't have a clue. Go and spoil something else, but not this completely unique little island.
 
You aren't saying it is ridiculous you are saying you don't like it.

If you have a "clue" of any "feasible evidence" why it won't work you should put it forward. As regards your intrinsic objection to development I assume you have the same feelings about the development of Manhattan Island or indeed Ninevah & Tyre.
 
Neil,
none of the anonymous posters above have said it won't work. What they have said is that you shouldn't do it, not that you couldn't. As anyone familiar with Asi knows, NASA had a station there, Ariane have a station there and it is heavily involved in the GPS system. It has to be said, that these all have a minimal impact on the island, but it is unlikely that this would be so for a spaceport. The travellers (not hill!) would have to get there by conventional means which would require a much busier airfield of building a harbour/dock. Both would have significant effects. Ascension is the home to many species found nowhere else on Earth, and is temporary home to many others that are endangered. While I am not a mad green hippie, I do realize that amazing places like Ascension are becoming rarer by the day, and we need to preserve what we have.
I would love to be a passenger on your service one day, but not if it is based on Asi. I only spent 6 months there and adore the place, and think of it often. Building anything like your proposal would be a heartbreaking thing to behold.

Andrew
 
We must agree to differ on whether the environmental cost is worth the benefit since I don't think their is any way of objectively measuring it. If nothing else moving much of our industry into space & powering the Earth by solar power satellites would have an environmental effect across the world dwarfing, in quantitive terms, anything here.

My disagreement with earlier posters was that they said it was "rubish", ridiculous & not feasible, which I take to mean not workable, without producing any reasoning. I think you are right that they didn't believe it wouldn't work & certainly couldn't say why it wouldn't but were saying so because they did not think that arguing that it would work but be prevented anyway would be persuasive.

That even environmentalist believe this would work is a useful datum.
 
I fully support this idea. I believe the Uk should become more involved in commercial space industries and ascension island is the obvious place to do it. There are always going to be environmental impacts associated with industrial sites but I don't see why a space port launching one or two flights a day should have much more impact than RAF ascension islnad has.


As the runway has operated Vulcan bombers and is rated as an emergency landing location for the shuttle I presume it is long enough to handle the neccesary large aircraft. it might prove an ideal to place to operate the SKYLON space plane if the UK ever gets of its arse and starts a real space program.

I live in Singapore and well it would be an interesting location for a Space port it is completley unpractical. Standard Rocket launches require a 3 mile exclusion zone and believe me there is no where in this city you could come up with a spare square mile let alone anything larger. The airtraffic is also to congested to shut down for rocket launches and Believe me there is zero chance of Singapore neighbours allowing it or giving over neccesary airspace or land to operate it.
 
I've got a much better idea. Nature, being the doomed waste that it is, can simply be cleared out of the way. You should build on the Galapagos islands. There's far more room, they fall right on the equator, and space tourists would get to see crazy creatures on the way! What could be better? Ascension is too far from the equator anyway.
 
Try this link:
http://youtu.be/kUaq4VzhwjI
 
British government practice is to discourage migration, tourism & development, presumably to prevent the locals being able to object to the base.
regards
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