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Saturday, August 01, 2009


Space Adventures planned Dubai spaceport

So how much do we spend there. Well I have previously written on space budgets in 2006. & then it came to America $16bn, Europe $8bn, Japan $1.6bn, Russia $900m, China $1bn = $27.5 bn. Lets add another 10& for the rest gets us to $30.25bn. Regrettably the wikipedia article I used has been rewritten & doesn't now contain world budget figures however if we add 14.5% (2 years at 7% growth & i recessionary 1 at zero) we get $34.6 bn which is as good as I expect to get.

There is the question of how much of that is spent usefully. Taking Russia's space effort as being run efficiently & also taking it as giving them a space capacity matching the US one we get the American, European & Japanese space programmes as being about 5% efficient at space work & 95% efficient at porkbarreling. Putting Russia equal to America be doing Russia a disservice since shortly the entire supplying of the International Space Station will be in Russian hands as the Shuttle retires but it does give you an idea of how inefficient Western socialism is compared to Russian & Chinese capitalism. Anyway that suggests the total the world is actually spending on space development is ($0.8 + 0.4 + 0.1 + 0.9 +12) X 1.1 X 1.145 = $4 billion. Admittedly this does not include military programmes but none of these are designed to enhance the power of any non-terrestrial state.

However that has missed out a major factor. Space industry already produces $257 of value annually. While world tax rates vary I think looking at rates around the world the minimum in the developed world would be 35%. This means space is paying $90 billion to government.

So despite all the anti-technology wingeing what "we are spending in space" amounts to an profit for politicians of £86 billion annually. So long as we are putting less than that into X-Prizes or some equally efficient way of encouraging progress there can not even be the possibility of truthful argument that we are spending to much on this (& not subsidising windmills enough).

Alternately any country that offers a generation long tax holiday to space developers is likely to do very well.

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Friday, July 31, 2009


These are related to yesterday's article. South Georgia

Wikipedia overview

Internet Encyclopedia of Science entry

History & possible rebirth

History by Ben Pearson
The book by George Dyson Freeman's more boringly named son.

Interview with a friend of Ted Taylor, manager of the project

Short article

Near Earth Orbit (NEO) asteroid discussion

Neat pictures

Overview with pictures

Nuclear pulse propulsion - Google search

Various ideas with diagrams

Peaceful nuclear explosions

London map with Tanguska blast site overlaid

For Americans - similar effect if it had landed on New York

Note that while the odds of such a meteor landing exactly on a major city are much longer than it landing in Tanguska the odds of a catastrophic ocean landing are relatively high - for example one near the mouth of the Thames could send a tidal wave, concentrated by the narrowing estuary into London while also covering Holland. If such has happened in recorded history it could not be told from a natural tsunami.


Large scale launch vehicles - J Friedlander

Underground cannon launch

Brian Wang's favourite launch systems

Radiation figures & pictures of 1960's experiments
Search for Orion articles on NBF

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Thursday, July 30, 2009


This letter appears in today's Scotsman, edited out bits, basically all the technical stuff which I think is what makes the case irefutable are [] It also went out, without the reference to Bob's letter, to a lot of other papers. Google News shows it only in the Scotsman but a lot of letters don't register with Google News & I recently found some letters I had not known about had been in the Metro
The argument that space development has had a net cost or that the world's poor would be better off if we had given that money as "aid" to their governments (letter [Bob Taylor,] Thurs) is completely wrong.

Space development, [even run in the grossly bureaucratic method used by NASA (& even more ESA)] has been a massive net profit to humanity & nobody moreso than the world's poor. [In] improved weather forecasting alone [it has saved far more than it cost simply from knowing in advance where hurricanes are going to strike.] In the 3rd world this has saved literally millions of lives over the last 40 years. [On top of that we have a worldwide communications net through satellites - can anyone even imagine what the world would be like without that. In fact space related industry creates £160 billion a year of value directly. mainly telecommunications & satellite TV, which is 50% greater than the entire Scottish economy.]

The potential of space beyond that is, literally, infinite. [Solar power satellites can provide unlimited amounts of reliable, continuous power for the entire world. The amount of metals, from iron through to gold & platinum, available in asteroids is in the many trillions of tons. In a zero G environment, materials of different weights can easily mix & crystalline materials which would fracture in gravity are possible. What the qualities of such materials are we cannot know until they have been created but since they potentially exceed, by orders of magnitude, the total of materials creatable on Earth there are clearly going to be some spectacular ones. It is, metaphorically, raining soup & we are complaining about the cost of buckets. If we refuse this bounty the Chinese, Russians & Indians won't & good luck to them.]

What we should be doing, rather than putting money into sclerotic government bureaucracies is providing it to an X-Prize Foundation which would offer prizes, like the $10 milliion X-Prize that produced the first free market astronaut & kickstarted Virgin Galactic[.A prize of £500 million would produce a commercial reusable shuttle able to fly at least 3 times a month. That is less than Britain puts into ESA over 2 years & would therefore be ready & waiting when that new shuttle lands if we put up that prize tomorrow. It would only require a tiny amount of vision by our political leaders.]

Refs - $257 bn space industry$750 million for X-Prize shuttle

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If you put put a manhole cover on top of a nuclear bomb it passes escape velocity. So what happens if you put something the size of a destroyer on top of a rather larger manhole cover & use several Bombs?

From the Internet Encyclopedia of Science

"Project Orion examined the feasibility of building a nuclear-pulse rocket powered by nuclear fission. It was carried out by physicist Theodore Taylor and others over a seven-year period, beginning in 1958, with United States Air Force support. The propulsion system advocated for the Orion spacecraft was based on an idea first put forward by Stanislaw Ulam and Cornelius Everett in a classified paper in 1955....

The propellant and bomb were combined into a single pulse unit. Plastic was chosen as the propellant material, not only because of its effectiveness in absorbing the neutrons emitted by an atomic explosion but also because it breaks down into lightweight atoms such as those of hydrogen and carbon which move at high speed when hot. This approach, in tandem with the pusher plate concept, offered a unique propulsion system that could simultaneously produce high thrust with high exhaust velocity. The effective specific impulse could theoretically be as high as 10,000 to one million seconds. A series of abrupt jolts would be experienced by the pusher plate, so powerful that, if these forces were not spread out in time, they would result in acceleration surges that were intolerable for a manned vehicle. Consequently, a shock absorbing system was devised so that the impulse energy delivered to the plate could be stored and then gradually released to the vehicle as a whole...

Taylor and Dyson were convinced that chemical rockets, with their limited payloads and high cost, represented the wrong approach to space travel. Orion, they argued, was simple, capacious, and above all affordable. Taylor originally proposed that the vehicle be launched from the ground, probably from the nuclear test site at Jackass Flats, Nevada. Sixteen stories high, shaped like the tip of a bullet, and with a pusher plate 41 m in diameter, the spacecraft would have utilized a launch pad composed of eight towers, each 76 m high. Remarkably, most of the takeoff mass of about 10,000 tons would have gone into orbit. The bomb units ejected on takeoff at a rate of one per second would have yielded 0.1 kiloton; then, as the vehicle accelerated, the ejection rate would have slowed and the yield increased, until 20-kiloton bombs would have been exploding every 10 seconds...

There was no obvious technical flaw in the Orion scheme, nor any argument to suggest that it could not be implemented economically. Its huge weakness, however, was that it depended upon atomic explosions that would release potentially harmful radiation into the environment...

One of the missions suggested for this so-called first-generation Orion was a 125-day round trip to Mars, involving eight astronauts and around 100 tons of equipment and supplies. A great advantage of the nuclear-pulse method is that it offers so much energy that high-speed, low-fuel-economy routes become perfectly feasible...

Because Orion was classified, few people in the scientific and engineering community even knew it existed. They lobbied the Air Force to declassify at least the broad outline of the work. Eventually it agreed ... in October 1964. The Air Force, however, also indicated that it would be unwilling to continue its support unless NASA also contributed significant funds. Cash-strapped by the demands of Apollo, NASA announced publicly in January 1965 that no money would be forthcoming.

Freeman Dyson reflected that "this is the first time in modern history that a major expansion of human technology has been suppressed for political reasons." In 1968 he wrote a paper about nuclear pulse drives and even large starships that might be propelled in this way. But ultimately, the radiation hazard associated with the early ground-launch idea led him to become disillusioned with the idea. Even so, he argued that the most extensive flight program envisaged by Taylor and himself would have added no more than 1% to the atmospheric contamination then (c. 1960) being created by the weapons-testing of the major powers."

There is a quote by Freeman Dyson in the book that mentions a calculated 5 cents per pound of payload (at 1960s era prices) for a 1,000,000 ton ship powered by a few thousand megaton H-bombs.

Wikipedia says "Freeman Dyson, group leader on the project, estimated back in the '60s that with conventional nuclear weapons, that each launch would cause on average between 0.1 and 1 fatal cancers from the fallout. Danger to human life was not a reasons given for shelving the project (which included lack of mission requirement (no-one in the US Government could think of any reason to put thousands of tons of payload into orbit)"

I must admit to some surprise that, even back then, nobody in the US government could think of a reason to put thousands of tons in orbit. Must have been having a bad day. Apart from anything else a device that can put 4,000 tons in orbit can create a Moonbase in 1 trip, or a team to Mars. At the time the only theory about radioactivity was the LNT theory that there was no lower limit to damage caused but, though it is still politically correct the actual evidence has repeatedly supported the hormesis theory that below a certain level it is either safe or beneficial. Thus even the 0.1 cancers per launch now looks overcautious.

Next Big Future has done a number of articles on nuclear pulse rockets saying:

"The typical analysis of the nuclear Orion external pulse propulsion rocket is to use constant charges (bombs) every 1.1 seconds to launch with people inside who experience 4Gs or less.

Nuclear Orion can achieve launch costs of less than $1/kg and perhaps a tiny fraction of that. This is 1000 to 20,000 times cheaper than current costs."

& even

"Many have focused on the 40 meter diameter 4000 ton Orion but this is one concept that scales so well that the bigger (within reason) the better.

The Super-Orion we will consider here is the 8 million ton model. This alas is not 8 million tons to orbit but rather an extrapolation of the 4000-ton model—1/4 each payload, structure, pusher plate, and bomb units (fuel/reaction mass)
So in this case 2 million tons of each."


"Project Orion definitely made sense. It would be cheaper than the space elevator. The launch cost for the largest Orions was 5 cents per pound (11 cent/kg) to Earth orbit in 1958 dollars. In 2005 dollars, the cost would be 32 cents/lb or 70 cents."

"Our motto was 'Mars by 1965, Saturn by 1970'", recalls Dyson. Orion would have been more akin to the rocket ships of science fiction than to the cramped capsules of Gagarin and Glenn. One hundred and fifty people could have lived aboard in relative comfort; the useful payload would have been measured in thousands of tons. Orion would have been built like a battleship, with no need for the excruciating weight-saving measures adopted by chemically-propelled spacecraft. It is unclear how the vehicle would have landed; it is reasonable to assume that specialized chemically-powered craft would have been used for exploration. Taylor may have anticipated that a conventional Space Shuttle-type vehicle would have been available to transport people to and from orbit. Dyson gives the astounding figure of $100 million per year as the cost of the proposed twelve-year program (1964 costs) [nowadays a cost of $691/£450 million annually] Given that low-altitude orbital velocity is about 26,000 feet/second, around 350 pulses would be required (59). Using $500,000 as a reasonable pulse-unit cost, this implies a "fuel cost" of $175 million, cheaper than a Shuttle launch. Whereas the Shuttle might carry thirty tons of payload, the pulse vehicle would carry thousands. If one uses the extreme example of spending $5 billion to build a vehicle to lift 10,000 tons (or 20 million pounds) to orbit, the cost if spread over a single flight is $250 per pound, far cheaper than the accepted figure of $5,000 to $6,000 per pound for a Shuttle flight."

What stopped it then & today is clearly that it is atomic & anything with atoms in it stirs the media & the Luddites into a frenzy. When I started this series I said I would deal with political problems by ignoring them & mentioning just what is feasible. Nonetheless:

1 - The evidence is overwhelming that low level radiation is not a real, problem.

2 - Next Big Future has a proposal to launch from an underground shaft (pretty much Jules Verne's cannon powered by an atom bomb) - "find a location like another remote island to sacrifice the underground area for nuclear launch similar to the areas sacrificed for underground nuclear testing. However, with proper preparation and a dome with a door and charges to speed the collapse of the shaft, there would be no radiation into the atmosphere. Other industries like oil, gas and coal regularly contaminate salt domes and underground and above ground locations. This would be safer and cleaner than those continuing operations. We would use nuclear bombs that are costing money to be maintained in storage and have a risk non-peaceful use. There is no risk of damaging EMP because damaging EMP occurs when a nuclear device is exploded at high altitude." That would have a hell of a launch speed & I assume it is intended just for cargo. But it would be very cheap per kg particularly as the world has too many unneeded atomic bombs.

3 - The Test Ban Treaty does not ban nuclear explosions. It bans military nuclear explosions but peaceful uses of atomics are specifically allowed. It is also worth noting that France & China didn't sign & the latter is heading towards being the world's biggest space & industrial power.

4 - "The problem about launching bomb-propelled ships anywhere in the magnetosphere, is that the thermonuclear bomb debris comes down to Earth, captured and sucked in along magnetic lines of force. Therefore you really want a polar exit through the doughnut holes of Earth’s magnetic field to escape velocity, then go to your desired target at a great distance .... It would also seem best to send it up during a snow storm which would contain the fallout that coincides with a solar storm that flattens out the magnetosphere." so we want a launch from near one of the poles, rather than Jackson Flats, Nevada as originally intended. Preferably the more remote southern pole.

Now there is an Antarctic Treaty which, unfortunately, prevents use of the landmass. But there are also islands. Britain just happens to own South Georgia & the South Sandwich islands.
Most of the South Sandwich isles are volcanic & thus not entirely suitable for digging holes in & setting off atom bombs, but all of them are suitable for a surface (or sea) launch. Beyond that the wind patterns are
so any radioactivity released is going to be in uninhabited areas, orders of magnitude too dispersed to even be measurable & so far from land in the direction that wind blows that particles with a half life of days (the only highly radioactive ones) would have burned out before the wind reaches land producing less than 1% as much risk as a Nevada launch. Polar magnetism would collect 90% of remaining radioactivity. Even without the fact that Bomb technology has improved since the 1960s this means that any risk would no more than 1,000th of the 0.1 deaths & certainly far less than from a sizable conventional power station, let alone the risk of accidental death on any significant building project.


It looks like, excluding the cost of the Bombs which we already have, such a ship could be designed, built & put in place for less than a billion. In the film Deep Impact they get months to build an Orion style launcher to go & divert the incoming comet, otherwise the film would have been shorter. Well maybe. If it were one of the Earth grazing asteroids that the papers regularly tell us might hit in 20 odd years we would certainly have lots of notice. But a lump from the cometary belt beyond Pluto could come in any time & if it weren't shiny, could give us very little notice indeed. That was the case with Tanguska. That happened in one of the least inhabitable places in the world & we were lucky. The Burkle meteor landed out at sea & was still probably responsible for damaging all the civilisations around the Indian Ocean. We have been lucky so far but a meteor strike of at least nation destroying size is an event with odds of only thousands against annually & as individuals we take out insurance against odds much longer than that. As a species we should at least take out insurance against a meteor strike.

That such a meteor will strike again is a statistical certainty. I don't think any genuine environmentalist, however affected by anti-nuclear hysteria, could say that such a city destroying meteor should be allowed to hit if we could stop it. It follows that they will agree that we should put this in place & keep it ready to launch in a few hours. Perhaps a Luddite pretending to be environmentally concerned might object though even they would have to be pretty callous about human life.

This is what could happen at any time.

At $175 million in "fuel" costs for an unmanned Orion aimed at meteor deflection total cost would be well under $1 bn (£600 million). Taking this from Britain's environmental budget of £3,157,000,000 rather than science & technology one as would be proper if it were for developing a continuing launch facility amounts to 0.095 of DEFRA's budget over 2 years (though other countries might feel it proper to contribute). Since this would solve an environmental problem far more urgent, certain & destructive than alleged catastrophic global warming it is clear where the priority should lie.

assorted links on Orion

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Worth reprinting from Professor Fred Singer's Science & Environmental Policy ProjectGuest Editorial by Kenneth A. Haapala

A remarkable revolution in thinking occurred in the 17th Century – the creation of modern empirical science, which is one of the greatest achievements of civilization. It marks the major difference between the medieval world and the modern world. At the beginning of the Century, most educated people thought in terms of medieval science; at the end of the Century most thought in terms of modern science.

To the medieval scientist what one believes and who believes it were vital. To the modern scientist how and why is most important. Beliefs are tentative, not dogmatic; they are based on evidence, not authority or intuition. To the modern scientific mind, if pronouncements from authorities, be they Aristotle, religious leaders, governments, computer models, etc., do not stand up to empirical observation; then, they are wrong.

Copernicus hypothesized that the Earth has a twofold motion: a daily rotation, and an annual revolution about the Sun. Man was no longer the center of the universe with his place on a fixed Earth -- which outraged religious leaders, Catholic and Protestant, as well as Aristotelian scientists. Kepler simplified the hypothesis by using elliptical orbits, questioning the assumptions of the ancients who believed heavenly bodies must move in perfect circles.

Galileo insisted that scientific knowledge comes from repeated observations and experiments which he used to develop the concept of acceleration, the law of falling bodies, the parallelogram law, and, using the telescope, discovered that the Sun is not immutable, there are more than seven heavenly bodies, etc. – all contradicting Aristotelian scientists. Newton built upon these works for his laws of motion and the
universal law of gravitation, from which came planetary theory, orbits of comets, etc.

The remarkable change in thinking included the elimination of the animist belief of life force, which has no place in physics. Purpose is not needed to explain scientific procedures, comets are not portents, authority and assumptions are to be constantly questioned, skepticism is vital to expanding knowledge, and experiments and observations are paramount.

A very disturbing trend is the dogmatic belief that Man is the principal cause of the recent warming. It appears to be a regression to medieval science, with its claimed ‘consensus’ and its insistence on the authority of the UN-IPCC and computer models. Yet the assumptions of the models have not been tested and the models fail basic empirical tests such as the “fingerprint” test. The IPCC uses a panel of advocates,“experts,” who assign probabilities to their work. This is no better than a panel of Aristotelian scientists assigning probabilities that Galileo is wrong.

We must not return to medieval thinking.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009


picture of the house from this blog

This is from the Kosovo Times Kosovo's leading online journal & I suspect its only one. Since it is in English & prominently displays the "official" flag, using the same colours & stars as the EU, I suspect it is for the colonial masters rather than the natives.

The story relates to the dissection of at least 300 civilians & probably 1,300 & says that "EULEX has not found any evidence on the “Yellow House”"

The reason for not finding evidence is given within the story
said that EULEX has not yet started official investigations into the alleged trafficking of organs allegedly carried out by members of the Kosovo Liberation Army during and after the war in Kosovo. Raatikainen told Koha Ditore that apart from what has been reported in the media and published in the book by former ICTY Chief Prosecutor Carla del Ponte, there is no concrete evidence regarding the case.

Raatikainen said he and his team have not found any witnesses nor any other evidence on the case. The only thing he could positively confirm is the existence of the house which was alleged to be the site where these alleged war crimes have taken place.
Back on May 3rd we were told
Now, a probe is being led by Dick Marty, the Swiss senator who headed an investigation into claims the CIA operated secret prisons in Eastern Europe. Marty, working on behalf of the Council of Europe, would not comment before his Balkans fact-finding mission is completed.

...Serbian authorities claim to have uncovered new evidence.

They say two wealthy Europeans — a Swiss and a German — apparently were among the recipients of kidneys, livers and other organs harvested in Albania and sold via middlemen in a macabre but meticulously orchestrated operation that involved private aircraft and tens of millions of dollars.

Bruno Vekaric, a top adviser to Vladimir Vukcevic, Serbia's chief war crimes prosecutor, declined to identify the alleged recipients but said the information came from "people involved in the operation," including former members of the now-disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army.

Vukcevic showed the AP a thick blue binder jammed with documents he recently handed over to Marty. He declined to let AP review the statements, citing the need to protect the identities of Albanian informants.
Of course Carla del Ponte actually made this public in April of the previous year & admitted she had known about it since 2000. We have also been told that some of the forensic evidence found at the scene has since been deliberately destroyed by the ICTY.

Clearly any investigation by the western powers, as opposed to the Serbian, is moving at glacial slowness in the hope that the remaining evidence, including Albanian witnesses, will disappear or at least be muddied by time.

Apart from a natural desire to cover up the fact that they set up the KLA as "police" quite deliberately to carry out atrocities even Hitler never matched is there any other possible reason for such hesitation in investigating? Come to that is there any other credible reason other than being under the authority of wholly corrupt, genocidal Nazi war criminals (ie the governments of the NATO/EU countries) why these obscenities - numerically totaling more than the total deaths in Gaza, carried out in peacetime, by our own government not a foreign one, with no scintilla of self defence & in a manner both utterly obscene & utterly newsworthy - do not receive 1,000 times more coverage than the Gaza War. If not then if it received the same amount of coverage as Gaza the entire media could claim to be as much as 0.1% honest & only 99.9% corrupt Nazis. If it has received only 1,000th as much coverage, which seems about right, then our entire media is proven to be at least 99.9999% corrupt racist Nazis.

Since these organs were flown out through Tirana airport it is obvious that their destinations can be very quickly determined, though air traffic records, if there were any desire to do so. There is further evidence of them being trafficked in Italy. That in turn means that the payments can be tracked any time that is wanted. That it isn't wanted is very strong evidence that the "investigators" are guilty of the crimes they are claiming to investigate.

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Monday, July 27, 2009


I was at the Satellite 2 Convention celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the Moon landing/commiserating that we can't do it any more. Lectures & panels -

The Future of Space Exploration (Nik Whitehead, Iain Banks, Andy Nimmo, Frank O'Brien, David Woods was a somewhat pessimistic panel about what will be done in space by 2025 (not a lot - NASA might get back to the Moon by then) & over the next 50 years (the Moon & just about reaching Mars). In questions I asked government funding of an X-Prize Foundation by £1 billion a year would improve things. We had already discussed that Obama has no problem talking about spending trillions & mere billions are old hat. 4 of the 5 agreed that it would very much help. The 4th also said it would but that it would do so so successfully that it would make space look easy which would make it more difficult to persuade taxpayers they would have to pay the gigantic sums a NASA mission to Mars. I can live with that.

Ed Buckley did a talk on period with a newspaper cover from the day of the landing. Marianne Faithful saying what a good thing it was was relegated to the inside so perhaps the media were a little more sensible then but not much.

The Small Space panel (Phil Wellings, Robert Law, Duncan McInnes) was on what small countries (well OK mainly Scotland) can do in space. Professor McInnes produced a Cubesat - a satellite 20cm on a side which can be launched by very small rockets, or in large multiples & yet, modern electronics being what they are can carry an awful lot of capacity. You can buy one online right now if your card is big enough. There was also discussion of small equatorial states being in a particularly good situation & Andy Nimmo mentioned Sao Tome, just off the African coast. I mentioned Ascension Island, though it was pointed out the America, having a base, might be in a position to object.

Colin McInnes talk was previously given at the RPSoG & I reported it then. His title this time Random Thoughts of a Techno-Utopist Running Dog was taken from what a colleague had said to him after that lecture. This time he was clearly with an audience who understands & was even more enthusiastic for progress & against the anti-progress movement which is raising hysteria against key technologies (nuclear GM), encouraging risk aversion in anything new & encouraging stifling bureaucracy.

I also met him for the first time while I was having a rant about every last Scottish MSP being clinically insane.

Robert Law did a talk on returning to the Moon the last bit of which was the most interesting because it was about the Chinese who, unlike NASA, look like doing things. He said that the Shengzhou spacecraft - an updated Soyuz itself derived from Redstone, which wasn't selected for the Gemini system, is the world's most advanced. The intended American rocket Constellation, being an updated Apollo which in turn is derived from Gemini. He expected the Chinese to go to the Moon in 2017-25. By that time, at current growth rates, China will be the world's biggest economy.
A couple of interesting figures - a Shuttle launch costs $300 million whereas Soyuz, admittedly with a smaller payload, is $20 million. That Britain is currently spending £275 million annually on ESA (less than I thought but a firm figure). On that basis a British X-Prize foundation, funded purely from the money we currently waste on ESA, committed to that sum growing in line with interest in such prizes & allowed to offer prizes on the assumption that they will only be won after several years, would, right now, be able to offer prizes sufficient to create a commercial reusable British owned shuttle.

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