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Comment: How to evaluate a space related venture... (Score 1) 148

by Blackjax (#42664767) Attached to: New Asteroid Mining Company Emerges
How to evaluate a space related venture...

Step 1: Evaluate how much of the projected funding requirements they have actually secured and have banked

Step 2: For those from step 1 who have all the funding already in hand, evaluate where they will get the additional funding they didn't project that they'd need, that they'll actually end up needing. Disregard the rest.

Step 3: For those from step 2 who have a very plausible source of additional funds, then begin to consider their business plan, the TRL of the tech they plan to use, and the audacity/coolness factor of their vision. Don't let those things distract you prior to steps 1 & 2

If you don't clearly see that the money angle is nailed down, no matter how great the idea sounds, they aren't worth treating as more than SciFi. The reason companies like SpaceX, Bigelow Aerospace, Stratolauncher, Sierra Nevada, Planetary Resources, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, and a small number of others who seem to be incrementally bootstrapping their way up via less exciting but business saavy tactics deserve watching and being taken seriously, is that they all have a pretty clear source of money fueling what they are doing.

A venture like the one in this article might be worth watching, but we'll only know that when they release some info that indicates the funding picture is overwhelmingly plausible. I think I am not alone when I say I was disappointed with the recent Golden Spike announcement because they didn't announce the most critical part...that they had much of the funding in place.

Comment: Re:Best of luck to them (Score 1) 121

by Blackjax (#42214267) Attached to: Golden Spike Working On Private Moon Flights

First, the price is for two people, the price per seat is half that.

Next time the cab driver tells you the fare is $20, give him $5 and tell him that's the per seat price.

I am not sure what your point is given that Golden Spike actually offers the ability to buy per seat rather than requiring you to purchase the whole mission.

Comment: Re:Best of luck to them (Score 2) 121

by Blackjax (#42212897) Attached to: Golden Spike Working On Private Moon Flights

First, the price is for two people, the price per seat is half that.

Second, they are not targeting wealthy people as the primary immediate market, they are targeting sovereign clients (i.e. foreign space agencies). (although granted there are real questions about the actual size of that market).

Third, that price isn't necessarily the price forever, just the price fairly early in their operations. Bringing the price down to continue capturing more market is in the plan. The more they do this, the more of the 'wealthy tourists' you seem to be implying are the primary market might actually enter the market.

Fifth, you can't really judge who would go solely by net worth. Look closely at how Richard Garriott and Guy Laliberte managed to afford going to the ISS despite not really being able to afford the price of their tickets at first glance.

And finally, if the business case closes with a couple of dozen people flying in total, then it doesn't matter if the market is tiny, you don't need a lot, you only need enough.

I am not saying you can count on this proposition panning out, but in looking at it there is no point in ignoring the details of the situation.

Comment: Re:I'll believe it (speculative ROI) (Score 1) 500

by Blackjax (#39790211) Attached to: Planetary Resources Confirms Plan To Mine Asteroids
I think you missed the parts where they have several other lines of business beyond precious metals. Namely marketing the hardware they are developing (the telescopes for example) and volatiles harvested from asteroids (which are a lot easier to process then ore). Go back and look, they are not idiots, there is a plan for medium term ROI.

Comment: Re:I'll believe it (Score 1) 500

by Blackjax (#39790179) Attached to: Planetary Resources Confirms Plan To Mine Asteroids
In point of fact you can orbit a kilo of stuff for $3k-$4k and in 2-3 years (before this venture really gets rolling) that should be somewhere closer to $2200-$2500 per kilo (via the SpaceX Falcon Heavy). In addition, some of their revenue stream will come from licensing, selling, or otherwise marketing the capabilities of the hardware they are developing on their roadmap. Notably the telescopes they are working on. Flying precious metals back is one of their plans, but not the whole strategy.
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Submitted by Blackjax
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Their claims:

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Link to Original Source

Comment: Re:Backup? (Score 1) 170

by Blackjax (#39070187) Attached to: Congress Warns NASA About Shortchanging SLS/Orion For Commercial Crew

Well that's just it isn't it? By 2016 the US will definitely have a new government, and they may cancel whatever plan are in place, even if they're behind.

This is why the most valuable thing which can be done at this point is what Obama is trying to do. Skip the grand plans (SLS and MPCV were pork forced on him by Congress, not his plan) and focus on changing the fundamental dynamics of the situation which have contributed to the gridlock we've been in for the last 30 years. His plan is to facilitate the maturation of commercial operators so that private industry can bring the cost of access to space down. Another year or so of effort will see that far enough along that canceling Commercial Crew won't stop it. The companies will have their capabilities mature enough that they can finish them on their own. ISS servicing is really only the initial market to prime the pump, the real future for them is non-NASA clients. It was too expensive for this to start completely on its own, but with a few years of NASA kickstarting it, we are now on the brink of getting there. Once those capabilities exist, it matters less and less what Congress and NASA do because that is not where the important things will be happening.

SpaceX and Lockheed etc. are all trying to fill requirements set out by NASA.

Yes, because it is an easy early market, but it isn't the only market or even the biggest, just a starting point. If that NASA project goes away but gets their vehicles far enough along to fly, then it isn't a catastrophe, they will simply continue with their plans to serve additional markets with those vehicles. I realize you will probably ignore this just as you ignored the presentation I linked above outlining why super heavy lift is not necessary, but on the off chance you are willing to be educated, read this:

http://www.nasa.gov/pdf/543572main_Section%20403(b)%20Commercial%20Market%20Assessment%20Report%20Final.pdf

If you want to send something of a reasonable size even back to the moon you need something bigger than the size of a falcon heavy.

As I've already pointed out, and provided a link to a detailed report on, this assertion is patently false. Go listen to the presentation and review the slides:
http://spirit.as.utexas.edu/~fiso/telecon/Akin_12-14-11/

You should also review some of the presentations linked below. All of these offer different options for getting things beyond low earth orbit which do not require heavy lift or massive government spending. Pretending that exploration depends solely on what a single rocket can throw beyond LEO on a single launch wont make reality go away no matter how many times you repeat it.

Propellent Depots
http://spirit.as.utexas.edu/~fiso/telecon/Adamo_10-13-10
http://spirit.as.utexas.edu/~fiso/telecon/Kutter_11-10-10
http://spirit.as.utexas.edu/~fiso/telecon/McLean_3-2-11/

Electrodynamic Tethers
http://spirit.as.utexas.edu/~fiso/telecon/Pearson_8-31-11/

New developments in orbital dynamics (which offer lower propellant trajectories to the moon)
http://spirit.as.utexas.edu/~fiso/telecon/Belbruno_1-4-12/

Electric Propulsion
http://spirit.as.utexas.edu/~fiso/telecon/Casaregola_5-04-11/
http://spirit.as.utexas.edu/~fiso/telecon/Kessler_6-8-11/

This is my last post on this thread since you are not showing any signs of trying to educate yourself. I hope you will take the time to actually review the material I've provided and perhaps update your opinions in view of the actual facts.

Comment: Re:Backup? (Score 1) 170

by Blackjax (#39059857) Attached to: Congress Warns NASA About Shortchanging SLS/Orion For Commercial Crew

A few points.

A rocket which is not funded to completion and gets canceled does not lift any payload to orbit no matter how big the theoretical number was that it might have lifted had it been finished. The thrust and ISP of canceled pork are both really low.

It doesn't matter how big the SLS theoretically is vs. the Falcon Heavy or any other vehicle, all that matters is that there is a vehicle that is big enough to do the work we need done. Current Atlas V and Delta IV rockets are (as outlined in the NASA presentation I linked to in my earlier post), and the upcoming Falcon Heavy certainly is. What is most critical when evaluating a launcher is how expensive it is to use a given vehicle, because if it is exorbitantly expensive to fly (as we saw with the shuttle) it directly steals funds that would be used to develop and operate exploration missions. Expensive rockets leave you with just a big rocket and no way to use it for anything. Even if there were an operational version of the SLS someday we couldn't afford to use it. Even the Delta IV is on the pricey side. The Atlas V is better and may well make further improvements if it winds up being used for a commercial crew provider to ISS or as one of the vehicles servicing a Bigelow habitat because higher flight rates help offset fixed costs, but it is also a little pricey compared to what is needed for a genuinely sustainable program. The Falcon Heavy, if it even comes close to the high side of the estimates that SpaceX anticipates for its price range will be about at the level we'd need to permit us to afford a vibrant space program. This all hinges on the Falcon family flying heavily for commercial customers, military customers, as well as for NASA. High flight rates are critical to bringing down costs. A fundamental conceptual flaw in *any* super heavy vehicle (Ares V, SLS, Saturn V) is that it simply does not fly frequently enough to offset its high fixed costs. NASA estimates SLS would only fly 1-2 times per year.

Regarding the 2017 date you are citing for the SLS becoming operational, it is not entirely clear why you think that is a trustworthy date. Point me to a single *major* NASA development project in the last 30 years that has hit their target date. If you look at ISS, JWST, or Constellation (before it was canceled then resurrected in crippled zombie form as SLS/MPCV), what you find is that *major* NASA projects don't come anywhere near their target dates.

On the other hand Delta IV and Atlas V are available right now and you'd only need to change them if you had a real need for something bigger (which as I said isn't true). The first Falcon Heavy arrives at the launch pad 10 months from now and launches early next year. 2-3 years is for commercial availability. Why should we wait 5 years for some vehicle, why not just get started doing interesting things in space right now?

2017 for SLS (if by some miracle it actually flew on schedule) is the very first time it would ever fly. This makes it effectively a test flight whether they choose to call it that or not. Rocketry is hard and complex (particularly for SLS sized vehicles), so it is a little crazy to do a manned exploration program on a brand new vehicle, you need some time and flight experience to work the bugs out. 2017 might be a picture perfect launch but it might also be the launch of a really spectacular giant fireball since it is not uncommon for maiden launches of new rockets to fail. You wouldn't want to fly people on the SLS until it had some solid flight history. Atlas V has a very solid flight history already and the Falcon family will have an extensive one (subsidized by paying commercial customers rather than my tax dollars) years before the SLS would even theoretically roll out to the launch pad.

Bottom line is that NASA would be far better served buying inexpensive launches rather than building & operating expensive launchers. That would leave them the funds available to do things that private industry is unlikely to do anytime soon, like construct a genuine non-atmospheric space ship. This is what they should be working on:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nautilus-X

And finally, I don't know what you are talking about saying SpaceX is competing with Lockheed for funds. They are competing with Boeing and ULA on Commercial Crew but not Lockheed directly.

Comment: Re:Backup? (Score 4, Interesting) 170

by Blackjax (#39040239) Attached to: Congress Warns NASA About Shortchanging SLS/Orion For Commercial Crew

You're kidding yourself if you believe that the SLS is truly about fielding a rocket. There are very few people intimately familiar with the space industry (outside those with a vested interest in saying so) who believe it will ever fly. Massive NASA projects like this get canceled before completion, the history of the last 35 years has been almost completely consistent about this. The ISS is the sole exception and that squeaked past by the only the thinnest of margins despite bringing in international partners and using it as a means to keep certain kinds of technical talent in Russia legitimately gainfully employed in the decade following the fall of the USSR. The supporters of SLS know quite well it won't run to completion, but they don't support it for what it could do for US space capabilities, they do it because for however long they string it along, it means jobs in their districts, influx of capital to their districts, and it provides a way to funnel funds to particular contractors. Once it gets canceled, they just rig up a new project targeted to sound impressive to the sheeple in the general public who don't know enough about space to realize this but who are generally willing to support NASA.

Moreover the whole idea that heavy lift of some arbitrarily high size is 'required to do human exploration beyond LEO' is just the fig leaf they use as an excuse, banking on the fact that the general public will never doublecheck and find out that it is completely false. Heavy lift is not at all required. Don't believe me, have a listen to this NASA conference call on the subject:

Logistics and Operations versus Heavy Lift: Examining Approaches to Human Exploration in a Cost-Constrained Era
http://spirit.as.utexas.edu/~fiso/telecon/Akin_12-14-11/

If we need heavier lift than is available right now, we'll have the Falcon Heavy from SpaceX available in 2-3 years and I'd be willing to bet that the ULA could field the heavier versions of the Delta IV and Atlas V that they have on the drawing boards 3ish years after NASA commits to needing them. Neither of these options costs NASA tens of billions of dollars or a decade of work...which is precisely why congress doesn't like them.

NASA could be doing a lot of cool stuff in space both cheaper and sooner, but from a congressional standpoint that is not what NASA dollars are for.

Comment: Re:time for private space flight (Score 1) 409

by Blackjax (#37492590) Attached to: Neil Armstrong To NASA: You're Embarrassing

I get a little frustrated every time I see people confidently asserting this. The assumption seems to be that because there was no market in the past this will be true forever...after all, if it were possible wouldn't somebody already be doing it? This same argument could have been used prior to the advent of the transcontinental railroad or the internet. In each case it was difficult to see more than a marginal business case before it happened and took off. The same is true with space. That being said, there are a lot of smart people whose job it is to look closely and try to see a pathway to a genuine market, who think it can happen. There are a lot of Newspace players I could cite, but since they are easy to dismiss as dreamers, lets look at Boeing instead.

Boeing is a conservative company and I think if they are going to do the CST-100 they are going to want a fairly fault tolerant business case to help mitigate the risk of fielding it. I think they are willing to give it a shot (in competition with 3 other players) only because there is a mixture of different market possibilities which provide redundancy if any single market does not work out for them.

-NASA ISS servicing
-Future non-ISS NASA missions (if Orion never flies)
-Sovereign Clients to Bigelow stations
-Tourism to Bigelow stations
-Private research to Bigelow stations

This last one is something which I think is often overlooked and which could be bigger than people think because I think many people ask "How many companies would have both the big $$$ and the research needs to rent a module and fly their own astronaut?". I think this question makes some fundamental assumptions that are probably wrong and consequently leads to the answer (not very many) which causes this type of demand to be sidelined in the discussion.

The more likely scenario is the rise of some companies that act as middleman human tended in space lab operators. These companies are the ones holding the leases with Bigelow and flying the astronauts, and then they turn around and provide a turnkey, low hassle, cost effective, user friendly way for companies and universities to get their research projects flown. Because the projects are paying for only what they need and not having to personally manage astronaut staffing & station leasing, the market is open to a much broader set of users than might otherwise be possible.

Because of the commercial nature of things, I am sure Bigelow and these middleman companies will be happy to keep CCDev craft flight rates and station facility sizing in line with the demand from the market so there won't be long waits in line for research projects to fly like you've seen with ISS and other options which have been available historically. Potientially this could cause what has historically been a fairly minor market to bloom into a much larger one.

Don't believe it'll work out? Have a look at the success of Nanoracks on ISS:
http://www.thespaceshow.com/detail.asp?q=1591

Beyond that, history does seem to give us a high degree of confidence that there will be at least a minor tourist market of a couple people per year based on flights of anousheh ansari, charles simonyi, dennis tito, eric anderson, greg olsen, guy laliberte, mark shuttleworth, etc. particularly since Bigelow would be cheaper than a Soyuz/ISS trip. Beyond that, there even seems to be a market for beyond earth tourism: http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1855/1

Even if tourism is a relatively modest business, it adds to the cumulative business case provided by the research market.

Then there are the soveriegn clients: http://www.space.com/9358-bigelow-aerospace-soars-private-space-station-deals.html

It is unclear at this point how large this market is, but it looks real enough to at least allow commercial operators to bootstrap the facilities online. Once these facilities exist, paid for by the early anchor tenants, they will be able to foment other uses and markets. Even if it is a relatively modest business, it adds to the business case provided by the research and tourism markets.

The point here is that even if none of these markets is initially strong enough to stand alone, in aggregate they may well be enough to build out private capabilities and start driving down costs enough to cause an iterative ramp up of strong markets. The transcontinental railroad did not initially go to huge cities, it enabled empty places to become towns then cities, and in so doing bootstrapped more of a need for the railroad which in turn strengthened its own business case. Initially running a railroad out to a largely empty area didn't have a completely obvious business case. It only became obvious once the feedback loop was truly running. The same is true of space.

Even NASA has acknowledged that there is real potential in the commercial market. Have a look at this:
http://www.parabolicarc.com/2011/06/08/nasa-study-examines-commercial-space-market/

Comment: Re:Compared to the Saturn V... (Score 1) 146

by Blackjax (#36779172) Attached to: SpaceX Dragon As Mars Science Lander?

Actually, $350 million is the optimistic side of the possible range and the issue of how the per flight costs would have played out is highly contentious. At the pessimistic end it was as high as 1.5 billion *per flight*. Nobody really knows what would have happened. Part of the problem is that there are high fixed costs that are amortized across the total number of flights. If you fly 6 times a year your per flight costs are much more moderate than if you fly once. This is part of the reason the shuttle remained so expensive to fly. Pessimists assume that Ares V would have only flown once or twice a year, optimists assumed much higher flight rates and NASA funding levels which could have supported that. As we are seeing happen now in the budget wrangling, the evidence does seem to favor the pessimists. Unfortunately a zombie resurrection of Ares V in the form of the SLS is stumbling around NASA trying to feed on any healthy viable programs it comes across.

I'd rather just believe that it's done by little elves running around.

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