Thursday, August 21, 2008
Jerry Pournelle has said that we can have regular orbital flights for the cost of flying to Australia for an X-Prize of no more than $1 billion (£570 million)
I am rapidly reaching a conclusion, confirmed by a number of those in the rocket entrepreneurial community, and also several Pentagon people: if we stay outside NASA, the technology exists to build a reusable orbiter for under a billion dollars; probably far less than a billion.
This could be done by prizes, and at the moment there are two prize schemes to consider: a single prize of $1 billion, or a first and second prize of $500,000,000 for first and $250,000,000 for second. The notion of a second prize is intriguing but harder to sell. A second insures that more than one firm can raise capital to compete.
Discussion invited. But the astonishing thing is that for a billion or less (with room for profit and operations) we can actually demonstrate reusable, savable orbiters.
$1 billion spent right would in fact develop the technology -- all engineering, no new science needed -- to build an orbital ship that would operate as airlines do. Fly, inspect, refuel, fly again. Once that ship is built, additional orbiters will cost about what big commercial airplanes cost, and operate about the way airlines do. Airlines operate at about 3 to 5 times fuel costs, with about 110 employees per airplane (half of those sell tickets). With orbital access at about the cost of a first class ticket from America to Australia, free enterprise and commerce will take care of the rest
This is astonishing news but Dr Pournelle knows what he is talking about. For from £570 million to £430 million for the 2 prize option we can change the universe. That is what we already give to ESA in a year & a half. It is one twentieth of what we are going to spend on the Olympics or 10% of what we are told a we must spend on a new Forth Bridge.
Amortise it over 4 years, my guess of how long it would take going from a standing start, comes out as £100 million a year.
We are talking about less than one tenth of one per cent of the economy of Singapore or Ireland or Israel or Scotland. A thirtieth of 1 per cent of Taiwan's, under one hundredth of 1 per cent of that of Russia or Britain. Somebody is going to do it. Whoever does it is going to have the same head start that Columbus gave Spain in America, or Cook gave Britain in Australasia.
If we can afford to own Kosovo we can certainly afford the rest of the Solar System. "The cost of maintaining the EU's Eulex mission alone -- with its close to 2,000 police, legal experts and bureaucrats -- is expected to total at least €1.5 billion (£1.3 billion) between now and 2010." This being only part of the cost of maintaining occupation & nothing to do with the the cost of the war.
It could be the US, it could be be the UK. Or it might be some more forward looking country but the limiting factor is not money but gumption. Any bets.
A private company based in the US, but that utilizes resources from other countries. It may need to be majority owned by US stockholders, but that still leave 49% of the company that can be owned by 'other that US' citizens.
I say the US for it's legal environment, access to capital and engineering know-how. We don't have a monopoly on any one of these, but we seem to act as a sort of hub in all these areas.
All bets are off if Congress or the new President do something really dumb like tighten up ITAR or some other foolish form of legislation.
As to the likelihood of a politician doing something dumb, I make no bets.
I would put an outsider bet on Singapore.
Certainly the sort of multinational company you suggest is attractive because it would bewould be a sort of capitalist version of humanity getting together to exploit our joint proprety foreseen in a different way in the Moon treaty.