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Saturday, September 26, 2009


Spaceship One & its team - winners of the first, £6 million, X-Prize

I have been requested to contribute here as a result of making an FoI enquiry which found that the government had made no investigation whatsoever of a method of funding which recent evidence suggests would provide a minimum of 33 times better value for money than contemporary methods of funding innovative technology. Thus according to the US government "For less than $10 million in prize money and expenses, [actually only $3 million in prizes] the Department of Defence has created new technology that would have otherwise cost more than $100 million",

I am doing this as a private citizen. Although I run a relatively popular blog & have blogged extensively on this & other technology related subjects. I would not claim that my thoughts represent reader's.


That the £268 million annually currently put into ESA should instead be given to an X-Prize Foundation

ESA is an ineffective bureaucracy in which far more attention is given to ensuring contracts are divvied out to each country than to even putting a man in space - something competitors did nearly 50 years ago. There is no likelihood that anything related to ESA will ever be at the cutting edge of any sort of space development.

X-Prizes are prizes given for new achievements in technology. That's it. One puts up a prize & the first eligible person or group (in this case a British company or citizens) to achieve it gets the money. This does not effect their patent rights. Cutting edge technology often has little immediate non-military payback though in the long tern whole industries grow out of it. The value of achievements usually far exceed anything government programmes could do. Indeed government programmes, precisely because of the mindset, are very poor at producing products which can be utilised at commercial rates as the $1 billion a launch NASA shuttle, compared with a flight to Australia which, in theory at least, requires a comparable amount of energy, shows.

Prizes have a long & successful record of spurring technological progress from the time the King of Syracuse offered a prize to anybody who could develop a way of measuring the purity of gold, through the Spanish longitude prize not being won but nonetheless giving the world modern maps; the British longitude prize won by John Harrison; the prize put forward by a billiard ball company for a substitute to elephant ivory, which started the plastic industry; Lindbergh's winning of one for the first solo flight across the Atlantic. The world X-Prize Foundation funded the $10 million prize that produced Spaceship One & kickstarted Virgin Galactic.

Space precludes a fuller description of the long & overwhelmingly successful record of funding technological progress by prizes but certainly it has worked & does work much better than any other method of government funding. See;
Recent success,
NASA assessment paper,
h More historic examples ,
Gingrich on X-Prizes ,
BT funding X-Prize Foundation going worldwide,
John McCain's X-Prize for a better battery,
X-Prizes in history ,
proposed small scale prize,
SNP's sea turbine prize

A British X-Prize Foundation should be funded with the money currently given to ESA guaranteed to grow proportionately with the growth in Britain's current £6.5 billion space industry plus 5%. British space industry is currently growing at 5% annually which is clearly a matter of pride for the ministry. America's is growing at 17.6%. This would therefore have no immediate net cost to the Exchequer & the long term increase would be merely a very small part of the gain from the concomitant expansion of the industry. Such a long term commitment to an independent body would provide security to all parties & allow the Foundation to offer prizes on the basis of assets several years in advance since even the most enthusiastic supporters would not expect it to produce a commercial British orbital craft in under 3 years. The body should consist of about 5 commissioners drawn from successful engineers, scientists & technology venture capitalists to decide on what prizes to institute. It would require only a very small staff to determine that applicants counted as British & the achievement had indeed been made.

The first prize offered should be for an orbital space vehicle.

Robert Heinlein said "When you are in Earth orbit you are half way to anywhere." The point being that the energy cost & difficulty of achieving orbit is at least as great as getting from orbit to ANYWHERE in the Solar System.

Consequently achieving an inexpensive commercial orbital craft is at least as important now as all other possible space projects put together.

NASA have clearly failed to do that with the Shuttle. ESA are not even in the business of trying. China & Russia, possibly in combination, may well manage it. However the best way to produce a commercial launcher is a commercial X-Prize.

To quote Dr Jerry Pournelle (former NASA scientist & chair of the Citizen's Committee that persuaded Ronald Reagan of the utility of the SDI programme:

"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 (£600 million), or a first and second prize of $500,000,000 for first and $250,000,000 for second (£300 m & £150 m
. 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. "

That is 2 years worth of what we put into ESA, though personally I would suggest a little more. When we are discussing access to the Universe there is no point in cheeseparing. It should be noted that if this does not work then, such is the nature of prizes, no cost is involved. Thus even the most sceptical, indeed arguably specially the most sceptical, can have no objection to it.

Here is a link giving the fully run of proposed prizes as originally stated by Dr Pournelle

I am willing to answer any further questions on the subject or assist in any other way.

As pointed out in my FoI enquiry BNSC has a legal duty to "help industry maximise profitable space based business opportunities." I do not think it can credibly be denied that X-Prizes will do more, indeed many orders of magnitude more, to provide such opportunities than funding ESA. If anybody wishes to say otherwise I will be very interested to read & hopefully get a chance to respond to an argument which I have never seen specifically made anywhere else. There may be arguments that it is politically useful to fund ESA but that would not be part of the BNSC's brief & other departments, probably particularly the Foreign Office should certainly be allowed to fund ESA form their own budgets, if they so desire, so long as it does not impinge on the British space budget.


This is the submission I have sent to BNSC following my FoI enquiry. It was sent to
Anybody else with suggestions should do the same by Oct 14th when the consultation ends.

See also &

Any reader who feels that the BNSC should consider this option seriously is invited to send a short email simply saying that to the given address. If you would like to CC a copy to me on crgn143@aol that would be appreciated. I have no doubt whatsoever that X-Prizes would be orders of magnitude more useful at promoting British space industrialisation than giving the money to ESA & that any impartial investigation will find this to be the case.

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Friday, September 25, 2009


Taken from Asia Times so that we are guaranteed a sensible treatment:

"India's Chandrayaan-1 probe and data from two other spacecraft confirm the presence of water on the moon. Fine layers of "water" particles were found in lunar soil, the discovery was also made from samples brought back from the Apollo missions. However, scientists could not rule out that the moisture identified earlier could have got into samples on their return to Earth.

India's first mission to the moon - made as half the country suffers from drought and struggling farmers commit suicide amid the weakest monsoon in seven years - has proved a success, as remote instrumentation sensing electromagnetic radiation emitted by minerals confirmed the genuine presence of water on the lunar surface. The readings intensified towards the poles and were backed up by data from two other spacecraft, the US's National

Aeronautics and Space Administration's Deep Impact probe and the US-European Cassini satellite.

Liquid quantities are small, yielding around a liter of water from a cubic meter of soil, but they could prove crucial for any future colonization efforts. This week's discovery, which was reported by the Indian Space Research Organization, may spark further interest in lunar exploration"

Well this is good news since there are an unlimited number of cubic metres & if this is the amount of water on the surface it may well be greater deeper down.

I think the people of India have cause to be very proud of their country today. They have made a genuine & substantial contribution to the human development of space. The belief that there was no water there has been a great brake on the expectation that we could make a sustainable settlement there. The place is now valuable real estate again.

Incidentally on CCNet today I wrote on the subject of alleged resource depletion on Earth "As technology progresses it becomes economically possible to get the material from smaller concentrations. The definition of "ore" is something with sufficient concentration of the desired material for it to be economically mined. It is a moving target because our technology is better than the Victorian's." If the technology exists to get water from stones on the Moon we need not fear running out of anything. To subscribe, send an e-mail to


Thursday, September 24, 2009


I blogged previously about how the British national Space Centre, by putting almost all their budget into ESA rather than X-Prizes were breaching their own charter which mandates their duty as to " industry maximise profitable space based business opportunities".

Following that I put in a Freedom of Information query on what steps they taken to evaluate X-Prizes against donating to ESA for maximising assistance to industry.

The 12th Special Report to the commons on space states that a major part of the legal duty of the British National Space Centre is to "help industry maximise profitable space based business opportunities". I note that the BNSC has decided to give almost all of its money (£268 million a year) to ESA.

I wish to make an FoI enquiry to see what investigation was made to see if putting up an X-Prize for a British commercial shuttle would be unlikely to do as much to "maximise profitable space based opportunities" per £ invested as putting the same into ESA.

According to Dr Jerry Pournelle
"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."

Thus for £470 (amortised as £160 million a year over 3 years) any developed nation could have a commercial reusable shuttle that would "operate as airlines do" & cost "about what big commercial airlines cost."

If it didn't the prize money would not be won which would obviously negate any argument that this option wasn't providing value for money. I note that Parliament has been told that such maximisation is one of BNSC's formal duties & assume this is a legal part of your remit. That means that you must, as a legal duty, have long since fully investigated this method of carrying out that duty.

I am extremely surprised that you have decided that better value for money will be achieved by Britain funding ESA, which implies that, purely because of the British contribution, ESA will in under 3 years, be providing a business opportunity of having commercial daily flights to orbit or equivalent. Personally I doubt if ESA will achieve that in 3 years, or 6 or 9 or longer, let alone that British money will provide the tipping bonus, but I certainly hope I am proven wrong.

. Hence I would like to read the report deciding this.

Disappointingly but unsurprisingly the answer was no investigation whatsoever:
Following a search of the Department's records and files, I can confirm that to this date no such "investigation to see if putting up an X-Prize for a British commercial shuttle would be unlikely to do as much to "maximise profitable space based opportunities" per £ invested as putting the same into ESA" has been undertaken. Nor have we conducted any study that considers similar issues, consequently the Department does not hold the information you seek.

...BNSC are currently conducting a consultation into the funding and management of United Kingdom civil space activities. If you would like to input your views please go to


The link provided gives a 10 question form for suggestions to BSNC. All but the first 2 are designed to ask how any pro[posed change would do exactly the same as the current programme & together fit, like a jigsaw around the policy of funding ESA so that any alternative has to fit into the same jigsaw shaped hole. Nonetheless X-Prizes are so much better than blowing £268 million annually on an ESA that does nothing that it is still clearly better & I am making a submission which I will also put on the blog.

This is the pdf of the government's consultation document.

There is also this detailing UK Civil Space Strategy 2008-2012 which has lots of pretty pictures of Earth from orbit.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009


A short letter today comparing the costs of nuclear & windmills. I had a previous series of letters debating the cost of nuclear in which Professor Salter claimed my statement about French nuclear electricity costing 1/4 as much as from windmills in which he was proven wrong & indeed in which another writer proved that I had also understimated the disparity through omitting the carbion levy subsidy. This costing is higher because offshore windmills are more expensive tnam normal ones & taking the base cost of new reactors which is, or at least van be if government let it, even cheaper than French.
The tenfold reduction in the energy efficiencies Professor Stephen Salter seeks to explain (Letters, 19 September) is an automatic result of the renewablists trying to find new and innovative ways to measure "efficiency".

I have seen them using thermal efficiency, efficiency of input fuel, payback time in terms of CO2 (measuring production in myriad competing methods), cost per construction, cost in continuous optimum wind levels etc, all of them misleading.

In the real world, we use cost because money very efficiently correlates all the various inputs required to pay for things.

In money, the 8,000 offshore windmills the UK government intends to build will cost at least £100 billion, while six off-the-shelf-nuclear reactors would produce the same power and cost under £6 billion – a 17-1 cost ratio. If the renewablists want to pay that much more on what they consider ethical grounds, let them say so.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

"INAT" that makes the Serbians so evil

Following my previous couple of posts asking LibDems if any of them can defend their leader's complicity in war crimes & crimes against humanity against Yugoslavia I have, as expected, seen almost all of them censoring what I write. There have been a handful who printed it & a couple of replies, this one being the only to even attempt to address facts & even then refusing to be much more than saying that "the lot of it" is a lie.

However I did get this comment from a former British ambassador to Sarajevo & Belgrade who said that (A) the KLA are "reasonable" & (B) by British Foreign Office standards he can be described as "pro-Serb", which may be true but only goes to suggest the FO average slightly more racist than the SS officers who complained that the WW2 Albanian & Bosnian Moslem SS divisions were, by their atrocities, giving the SS a bad name. In any case I was amused by the word Inat which he brought up as proof of the barbarity of Serbs:
Inat would be, in the words of Dragan Milovic, “an attitude of proud defiance, stubbornness and self-preservation - sometimes to the detriment of everyone else or even oneself.”

Serbian history from the inside can seem like a catalogue of resistance to overbearing power is one key to inat. The word itself derives from the Turkish (and before then, Arabic) language of the Ottoman empire whose forces subdued and were resisted by Serbian people for half a millennium.

So when Churchill said "we shall fight on the beaches" he was showing Inat.

Patrick Henry's "Give me liberty or give me death" was a display of Inat clearly to his own potential detriment.

When King Leonidas, leader of the 300 told the Persians the road was blocked he was suffering from Inat.

When Kennedy said in his Moon speech "We choose to do this & these other things not because they are easy but because they are hard" that was Inat.

When Ireland votes in its referendum not to submit to the EU constitreaty that is Inat.

When Bruce took the example of the spider & decided to try again that was Inat (& was something he had not so much shown in his earlier career).

When the Serbs rose against a government, that was going to submit to Hitler & though overrun made Hitler's attack on Russia a month late so that it was halted at the outskirts of Moscow. That was Serbian Inat saving the world.

When Vaclav Klaus, or Sarah Palin or David Bellamy or the Oregon Petitioners say the global warming "consensus" is a propaganda lie they are each displaying Inat.

When a 94 year old man fights off a burglar that is Inat

How inconvenient it must be to burglars, diplomats, EU bureaucrats, politicians, "Liberal Democrats", Nazis and other such parasitic pond life that the world still hold proud, defiant even cussed people. And let us hope that the bastards never breed it out of us. Nil carborundum.


Monday, September 21, 2009


There has been reporting of a call for Britain to build a high speed train connecting from London to Glasgow & Edinburgh.
A £34bn high-speed rail network planned from London to Scotland should connect to similar lines already in Europe, city officials have said.

Leaders from 11 UK cities have backed plans which would cut journey times.

They say London to Manchester journey times could come down to one hour 13 minutes and London to Scotland trips could be made in under three hours...
Over 60 years, it is estimated that the line could save 30 million tonnes (29.5m tons) of CO2 worth £3.2bn by diverting passengers from air travel to rail.

Mr Leese, who is chairman of the high-speed campaign, warned: "We cannot continue to grow the UK's economy and compete on a global stage without a high-speed rail network in the UK.

"There are 3,480 miles of high speed railway lines in mainland Europe with a further 2,160 miles under construction and 5,280 miles planned for the future.

"In Britain, despite inventing the world's first passenger railway we only have 68 miles (the Channel Tunnel High Speed One link) in operation."

The government has already set up an organisation, High Speed Two, which will study the possibility of a north-south high-speed line. Network Rail has outlined its high-speed vision for the future, with 200mph (322km/h) trains.

Politicians from across the major parties have welcomed the campaign.
As might be expected, in a country where "journalism" consists of rewriting the press releases of government approved organisations, the reporting is very light in answering if it is financially viable or, assuming it isn't, who gets to pay for it! Two guesses on each. Personally I think that it is not going to be as fast as air beyond Manchester, while still being far more expensive & that for any journey that isn't city centre to city centre, it is going to be useless.
The fact is that the basic problem with public transport, while we all love it, is that it only gets you to one place. If you go to any city, I don't care if it's Sydney or Portland or Perth or Paris, what you will find is public transport gets you to the core but is absolutely useless and uncompetitive in terms of getting you around the urban area otherwise.
I would like to see money being spent on fully automating trains to make them driverless single carriage units since that would considerably reduce costs, increase capacity, improve flexibility &cut the very considerable time waiting. And it would require little structural change, just new computerisation & thus be relatively cheap.

However the killer for this scheme, which appears to stop it being competitive & thus means our politicians want to step in, must be cost. £34 billion is a lot of money. Lets see how other nation's high speed rail compare:

Korea £10.9 bullion ($18bn) 5 times the original cost given while passenger numbers have, eventually risen to nearly half what was initially promised. About 300 m?

Taiwan £9 billion ($15 bn), 208 miles

Germany £2 billion (4.5bn deutschmark), 62 m (99km)

Japan 1540 m (2459 km), £189 billion (Y28 trillion) but this was in 1964 & the rail network recently sold for Y9.2 trillion (£62 bn)

France £3.2 bn (E3.5), 265 m (425km)

So taking the average of these, excluding Japan in 1964, we get an average cost per mile of £31 million per mile.

In Britain this scheme is costed at £68 million per mile. While this is not as bad a price differential in Britain as some we gave seen it is also the promised not final price & if the Taiwanese price rose five fold it would be unwise to promise ours won't.

We should make a priority of getting rid of the regulatory culture & the "preferred bidder" system here before starting on anything like this. That would do infinitely more to "grow the UK's economy and compete on a global stage". Who knows - at a world average price of £15.5 billion it might even start to make economic sense?

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Sunday, September 20, 2009


Following yesterday's blog I have posted this on a number of LibDem blogs & sent it to their MPS, MSPs & other prominent members. We will see (A) how many LibDem blogs don't practice censorship & (B) whether anybody in the party is able to put a case that the party are not war criminals & guilty of crimes against humanity.

We decided at the Nuremberg Trials that planning aggressive war & bombing civilians were war crimes & massacring, ethnic cleansing, genocide & mass kidnap & rape were crimes against humanity. There is no question that the LibDem leaders, without exception, enthusiastically supported an aggressive war against Yugoslavia conducted overwhelmingly by bombing civilians. That after the occupation of Kosovo they unanimously supported the Massacres, such as Dragodan where at least 210 civilians were murdered by our police, widespread genocide, the ethnic cleansing of at least 350,000 & the kidnap & sale to brothels of thousands, probably 10s of thousands of children. It gas since become public that the British government knew & thus party leaders who are Privy Councillors would have known, that our police kidnapped at at least 1,300 Serbs & dissected them while still alive to sell the parts to our hospitals.

There is clearly a prima faci case that all those involved, including all the leaders of the party, are personally guilty of these war crimes & crimes against humanity.It seems to me that this is a serious charge yet not only have all LibDem MP's refused to defend themselves in any fact based way* but neither has any
LibDem blogger & the party has made it a condition of membership that one support this genocide. Indeed most of them (listed here have also censored mention of the facts. It should be unnecessary to point out that censorship (& indeed genocide) is anathema to any real liberal.

I am therefore seeking to find if there is a single "Liberal Democrat" anywhere among the alleged 60,000 members who feels it is possible to dispute, in any factual way, the prima faci case that the entire party leadership are guilty of war crimes, genocide & worse crimes even Hitler didn't match in the Nazi cause. Alternately is there any single party member who disproves of such atrocities & supports the application of the rule of law to such people.

* The sole person to have been publicly willing to defend the party is Baroness Shirley Williams who admitted that we had done such things but that it was alright because "Milosevic did the same". She supported that allegation by stating that she personally had seen Yugoslav police carrying out the same atrocities as our police when she visited Belgrade in 1995. While I have to accept this as representing the absolute pinnacle of honesty of which she is capable nobody else has seen this & all other sources say that the fighting in Kosovo took place in Kosovo in 1998/9. When asked to give details of these alleged acts she has repeatedly refused. I'm afraid before accepting that there is any truth in her words I would have to see independent evidence.

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