Campaign '08

The great space debate aftermath

I admit it: I did not watch the Democratic debate last night, and I don’t regret it. Instead, I went to a Washington Capitals game, where I got to see Alex Ovechkin score four goals, including the game winner in overtime. When I got home, I checked the debate transcript and, sure enough, there were no questions about space policy, just as was the case Wednesday night with the Republican debate.

So what to make of all the activity on this topic that energized at least a part of the space advocacy community for the last couple of weeks? John Benac at Political Action for Space tries to put a positive spin on events: “the simple exercise of people getting active in the political process about space exploration in this nation will have a profound effect on the future of the industry.”

However, from a practical standpoint, the effort was a failure: there were no space-related questions asked in either debate. That failure is not necessarily because of a lack of enthusiasm from activists, but because of a strategic error the organizers of the debate voting effort made: success relied on the cooperation of an intermediary gatekeeper—Politico.com—over whom space advocates had no control. Politico never said that the most popular questions would be asked in either debate, never listed the criteria for selecting questions, and never even displayed how many votes each question had. Politico also didn’t respond to inquiries (by myself and most likely a number of others) about the question voting process. This should have raised some red flags (and I did mention those concerns a couple of weeks ago) but advocates pressed ahead with ever more strident exhortations to vote for questions. Now some space advocates are angry at Politico and the other debate organizers, the Los Angeles Times and CNN, although none of them ever specified if and how they would use the questions submitted and voted upon.

Despite the lack of space questions in the two debates, the last month has actually been a good one for those interested in space policy. Barack Obama provided a more detailed space policy that went far beyond the one-line reference to delaying Constellation he made in November. Among the Republicans, Rudy Giuliani called for human missions to the Moon and Mars while also supporting COTS, John McCain issued his own statement in support of space exploration, while Mitt Romney met with Space Coast officials but made no bold policy pronouncements. None of these can be directly linked to the debate vote drive—Obama’s statement preceded the effort while the Republican statements came during their win the Florida primary—but still gave voters (the primary/caucus kind, not the online debate question kind) a much clearer view of what the major candidates thought about space—or that they, at least, had given space some thought at all.

When I was interviewed by Space News last week for their article about the debate question voting drive, I said, “The question is, what happens to all this after the 31st, particularly if the debate organizers decide to skip the space questions?” I hoped the question would be made moot by getting a question asked in either or both debates, but now that question hangs out there. There’s still a lot more to learn about what the candidates would do about space if elected president. Will they explicitly commit to the goals and timetable laid out in the Vision for Space Exploration? Would they support a budget increase for NASA, and if so, how much? What sort of incentives would they offer to promote the growth of the commercial, entrepreneurial space industry? Would they support export control reform to take many satellites and their components off the Munitions List? And so on.

As I noted earlier this week, the window to get the candidates to speak out on space issues may be closing, especially since Florida’s primaries have taken place and the focus now turns to states where space is nowhere near as high profile. However, it’s still nine months until the general election, leaving plenty of opportunities for activists to reach out to the campaigns and ask them to elucidate their space policy platforms. This time, the direct approach might be better: organizers like John Benac might encourage activists to contact the campaigns with specific, targeted questions. Campaigns are bombarded with questions on their policies on just about every topic under the sun, but if they started getting thousands of questions on specific space issues, you can be sure they would feel the need to address them in some manner. If there really were thousands of people who voted for space questions, then they should also be able to take a few minutes to fire off a question to their favorite candidate(s); otherwise, they’re not much of a space advocate. And, this approach doesn’t require the cooperation of a gatekeeper. Success—or failure—will be more directly in the hands of the space activist community.

76 comments to The great space debate aftermath

  • Even though they didn’t ask the questions at this debate, the voting drive had at least these 3 positive outcomes:

    1) Demonstrate to the participants themselves can take concrete action to promote space to candidates.

    2) Cause the all of the candidates to prepare (and therefore develop if they hadn’t already) responses about their space policy.

    3) start organizing to a greater degree space supporters on the web.

    It very well could be a question of future debates, but even if it isn’t, getting candidates to state positions in the future to normal people or news organizations is almost as important.

  • Vladislaw

    I think a better tact would be to put the NEWS people under the microscope about why no questions, turn it into a conspiracy

    “Chris Matthews of hardball, every online poll taken shows space is always in the top 10, in many times 3-5 of the top questions are about space yet you and your network CONSISTANTLY avoid the topic of space issues, why is that? What are you afraid of reporting?”

    I think a HUGE push on the people asking the questions would create MORE buzz then TRYING to get a question posed to a candidate that receives NO buzz at all.

  • I agree. Both the news and the candidates should be pressed to deal with the issue. In reality, it has to be both.

    Thats why I submitted feedback to CNN several ways through their website pressing them to deal with the issues. The whole Politico debate question voting was all about pressing the news.

  • Take a deep breath now and image what would have happened if one of the space questions, esp. one of the bolder ones, had made it into either debate: The discussion would most certainly have turned quickly to the cost and relative(!) benefits of – crewed – spaceflight vs. other more pressing needs. Does anyone really believe that any of the remaining candidates would have said something like “hey, I’ll get the U.S. out of the Iraq mess quickly and then we can spend all the billions saved on a Mars colony”? The effort to convince politics that going to Mars ASAP or the VSE or ALT.VSE or some other crewed space activity is really worth it has to start at a much more fundamental level IMHO: You’ve got to convince the broad public first and start with its more space-friendly faction. Even there a lot of work lies ahead, as the debate on crewed vs. robotic or rather the best proportion of the two is far from settled even in the space advocacy groups …

    A voice from Germany

  • Space Policy Cynic

    Gee, a coordinated effort of space advocates to get on the national agenda has failed, AGAIN. So shocking.

    When I was young I used to think space advocacy made a difference. I now know better and see groups like ProSpace, Mars Society, NSS, SFF, etc. as a huge waste of time and money, dedicated to only feeding the egos of the folks people that run them.

    Instead I take the money I used to waste on memberships, and use the extra time from NOT being involved, to make extra money. I then use this to invest in New Space firms. That is the only way to make a REAL difference

    I established a goal of just spending 10 hours of week earning extra money. That is an average of $20/hour for those 500 hours. That is $10,000 dollars a year extra I make for New Space investment. If a thousand advocates do this a year, that 10 Million dollars that could be invested in New Space firms EACH year. If 2,000 do it, that’s 20 million dollars. If the 7,000 members of the Mars Society did it that would be 70 million dollars EACH year. Just imagine the huge difference to small New Space firms that level of investment would make, transforming New Space from a hobby of millionaires to a true grassroot space program. And it would have a far larger impact then supporting advocate groups that seem focus on making New Space dependent on government hand-outs like COTS or trickle down funding from VSE.

    This is a strategy I would recommend to other advocates IF they are really as serious about space as they seem to be by their posts here. And NO I am not setting up an organization to get rich collecting and managing these funds. That would make me no different then the groups currently feeding off of space advocates with endless and unproductive conferences, lobby drives, etc. Instead I propose YOU just invest the money you make in the New Space firm of YOUR choice.

    Of course it is a true libertarian approach to space advocacy and is likely to be attacked from those that have made a career of seeking government hand-outs for their projects. But clearly that government hand-out approached has yet to deliver a golden age of space access.

    Maybe its time for true space advocates to have the same impact on space investing that Blogs have had on journalism, by harnessing the power of the individual.

    Remember, reality is that politicians just don’t care about space. Its just a check off as they move around the country making empty promises to get elected.

    Mention space in Florida – get votes. Done.

    Now move on to the next state to make more empty promises. Done.

    Now get into office and do what you want, forget all your promises. And forget space. Not even Bush has promoted the VSE since he proposed it to bring a political end to the Columbia crash.

    Renewed vows to space after major accident. Done…

    Its time to move on beyond politics.

  • canttellya

    Remember, reality is that politicians just don’t care about space. Its just a check off as they move around the country making empty promises to get elected.

    Mention space in Florida – get votes. Done.

    Now move on to the next state to make more empty promises. Done.

    Now get into office and do what you want, forget all your promises. And forget space. Not even Bush has promoted the VSE since he proposed it to bring a political end to the Columbia crash.

    Renewed vows to space after major accident. Done…

    Spot on. And depressing. Now ask the next question: why don’t politicians really care about space? Because the civilian space program does not impinge on issues of national importance.

    During Apollo it did, because Apollo was a proxy war with the Soviets for the perceived prize of world technological preeminence. Having achieved that, NASA subsumed into typical bureaucratic survival in lieu of national importance.

    NASA could and should be important. If NASA was returning $2 trillion to the federal coffers each year mining asteroids, it would be important. If it was detecting and diverting asteroids away from the Earth it would be important. If it was developing power generation technologies that stopped global warming it would be important.

    So stop looking for politicians to change their stripes and try instead to turn NASA into an organization worthy of their attention and support. Hint, a $XYZ billion repeat of Apollo using throwaway rockets and a handful of square-jawed astronauts isn’t it.

  • The People

    So stop looking for politicians to change their stripes and try instead to turn NASA into an organization worthy of their attention and support. Hint, a $XYZ billion repeat of Apollo using throwaway rockets and a handful of square-jawed astronauts isn’t it.

    Touche’. Looks like NASA’s doing some reconsideration, as well. We received this internally. You can also find it on NASA Watch…

    From: advanced-capabilities-bounces@lists.hq.nasa.gov
    Sent: Tuesday, January 29, 2008 10:49 AM
    To: advanced-capabilities@hq.nasa.gov
    Subject: [advanced-capabilities] New title for VSE

    New Policy:

    The Vision for Space Exploration (VSE) title has been changed to the

    “U.S. Space Exploration Policy”

    Please take note of the new title and refrain from using VSE in letters, presentations, etc.

  • canttellya

    The VSE’s just fine. I read it again recently and thought it was great–nearly every word. It’s NASA’s implementation of VSE that needs some serious work.

  • Amazingly enough, Canttellya, I completely agree!

    – Donald

  • Al Fansome

    CANTELLYA: So stop looking for politicians to change their stripes and try instead to turn NASA into an organization worthy of their attention and support. Hint, a $XYZ billion repeat of Apollo using throwaway rockets and a handful of square-jawed astronauts isn’t it.

    I also completely agree.

    Well said!

    - Al

    “Politics is not rocket science, which is why rocket scientists don’t understand politics.”

  • CANTELLYA, agree 100% with both your view on politicians and the VSE.

    Speaking of VSE, does anyone know what is behind the name change?

  • Amerigo Vespucci

    The decided to go with Direct, obviously, what else could it be.

  • The People

    Speaking of VSE, does anyone know what is behind the name change?

    Probably to distance it from the current Administration, and make it less vulnerable when a new order takes over next year. NASA suspects that no one will notice. After all, no one there has since 2004.

    A bland name like “U.S. Space Exploration Policy” sounds very bureaucratic and innocuous. “Vision,” however, implies something conjured up by an individual in a leadership position.

    Seems like it could very well be one of the few politically astute things that Griffin has done.

  • canttellya

    Speaking of VSE, does anyone know what is behind the name change?

    They probably don’t want anyone to read the original VSE and see how far they’ve strayed from the original precepts of the Vision. My read of the VSE was economic expansion and national security through space exploration — neither of which is accomplished by ESAS.

  • Another Cynic

    Space Policy Cynic said: “Not even Bush has promoted the VSE since he proposed it to bring a political end to the Columbia crash.”

    Does anyone else think that the VSE was introduced by the Bush administration to direct funds away from the Earth Science side of NASA’s mission, a very successful set of projects that was so inconveniently creating lots of science that greatly annoys Big Oil?

  • The People

    Does anyone else think that the VSE was introduced by the Bush administration to direct funds away from the Earth Science side of NASA’s mission, a very successful set of projects that was so inconveniently creating lots of science that greatly annoys Big Oil?

    Formulation of VSE was not a slam dunk. Many contrarian views were expressed behind closed doors when it was first put together.

    The cynic in me says that the Administration needed to answer the mail after Columbia, and it had to be dramatic enough to show that Bush had vision and verve.

  • Amerigo Vespucci

    Nefarious actors operating in secrecy behind closed doors will always bring disaster. This is the legacy of the Bush administration. This is not the America I knew and loved. But yes, this has the hallmarks of a Dick Cheney operation.

  • D. Messier

    Does anyone else think that the VSE was introduced by the Bush administration to direct funds away from the Earth Science side of NASA’s mission, a very successful set of projects that was so inconveniently creating lots of science that greatly annoys Big Oil?

    No, gutting the Earth sciences effort was well underway. VSE (or whatever they’ve rebranded it now) was a good cover for continuing and deepening that effort. It also had the political benefit of being a response to Columbia. It came at the start of a re-election bid and coincided with the Mars rover landings. All to the good politically speaking.

  • ISS vet

    Now that we’ve had our spew of cynicism, can we please notice the obvious – space questions held their own against all comers right to the end. Other interests certainly organized to advance their causes, but few could match the space votes. Where did all those votes come from? Either there are a lot more of us than we think there are or members of the general public voted with us or both. Getting censored by Politico and the MSM is no surprise – it takes more than one bash with a 2×4 to get their attention.

    So, what do we do with these numbers? The most useful comment above is: why don’t politicians really care about space? Because the civilian space program does not impinge on issues of national importance.

    Our best bet for getting on the political radar screen quickly remains space solar power. It links space with the high-power energy and environmental issues. Neither the general public nor the intelligentsia will do that for us. We have to frame the issue by working both the inside and outside games.

    As for the libertarian would-be entrepreneurs who want to do it with no help from government, when did that ever happen? Not with aviation nor railroads nor canals nor roads. We need both. By the time entrepreneurs could grow to industrial-scale development of space on their own, they’d probably find No Trespassing signs written in Chinese.

  • Anon

    ISS VET: So, what do we do with these numbers? The most useful comment above is: (SPACE POLICY CYNIC said:) “why don’t politicians really care about space? Because the civilian space program does not impinge on issues of national importance.

    Our best bet for getting on the political radar screen quickly remains space solar power. It links space with the high-power energy and environmental issues. Neither the general public nor the intelligentsia will do that for us. We have to frame the issue by working both the inside and outside games.

    I agree that grabbing the space solar power reign, and running, would generate LOTS more political support than what NASA is currently doing. There are hundreds of elected leaders who are highly committed to energy independence and global environmental solutions. On both sides of the aisle (although they tend to be committed to one or the other.)

    There is one other issue that could generate much more significant support — an agenda that was clearly linked to national security. Apollo was sold on national security, and our nation is willing to write huge checks to programs that address national security.

    Cheap and Reliable Access to Space (CRATS), via reusable launch vehicles, would generate immediate and significant benefits to national security.

    Oh wait!! I forgot. We need CRATS in order to succeed at space solar power. And the benefits (and market demand) of space solar power would help justify the investments needed for CRATS.

    In other words, a space solar power (SSP) initiative is really an SSP + CRATS initiative. It would be directly linked to …

    * Energy Independency
    * Help with solving Global Warming
    * National Security

    Anybody who disagrees can argue with the National Security Space Office.

    - Anon

  • canttellya

    I disagree with you, and I disagree with the NSSO. SSP is a total waste of money that would be better spent on advanced nuclear technologies. There’s a reason no one outside of the space community talks about SSP. That’s because the technology and the economics don’t stand up to scrutiny.

    The space community keeps dreaming about SSP and helium-3 because they are the only tenuous threads to tie space technology to terrestrial energy needs. Problem is they snap as soon as you put any load on them.

  • The People

    I disagree with you, and I disagree with the NSSO. SSP is a total waste of money that would be better spent on advanced nuclear technologies. There’s a reason no one outside of the space community talks about SSP. That’s because the technology and the economics don’t stand up to scrutiny.

    I agree with you totally, but Anon is right that it is the only scenario that has even a tenuous connection with national needs. I’m afraid that when you peel back the space onion, all you have at the core, at least in the immediate future, is science. The rest can be handled by the commercial sector, given that the proper incentives are established and impediments are removed. Let the ball start rolling with space tourism, and see where it goes from there.

  • canttellya

    I’m afraid that when you peel back the space onion, all you have at the core, at least in the immediate future, is science. The rest can be handled by the commercial sector, given that the proper incentives are established and impediments are removed.

    That’s the same conclusion that I have come to. In such a case, the logical thing to do is shut down government funded manned spaceflight and devote remaining resources to science. Rutan can carry people who want to pay to go into space.

  • Amerigo Vespucci

    The space community keeps dreaming about SSP and helium-3 because they are the only tenuous threads to tie space technology to terrestrial energy needs. Problem is they snap as soon as you put any load on them.

    The solar panels on my roof aren’t a dream, and they don’t snap when I put a load on them. The helium shortage is very real as well. Also very real is the soon to be 10 billion souls each and every one clamoring for resources on par with the perceived American lifestyle, and the $10 trillion dollar national debt racked up killing those brave souls so they don’t ursurp resources that everybody in the world knows rightfully belong to Americans. And you promote a technology that is expensive, amenable to gross nuclear proliferation, and suffers waste problems that are for all practical purposes unsolvable, even if there were enough raw materials to support it which there isn’t. Nuclear power is as crackpot and lunar helium.

    Stick with what you know, because condensed matter physics and human life support systems isn’t a reality that you seem to be overly familiar with.

  • canttellya

    And you promote a technology that is expensive, amenable to gross nuclear proliferation, and suffers waste problems that are for all practical purposes unsolvable, even if there were enough raw materials to support it which there isn’t.

    Get educated on nuclear technologies and lay off the Greenpeace. Each point you make is incorrect.

    http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php?/site/article/4259/

    http://depletedcranium.com/?p=368

  • Z-Bob

    Regarding the subject of helium: If there are large quantities of helium-3 in lunar soil, then I assume (I haven’t checked) there should be even larger amounts of regular helium present.

    According to recent articles, there looms a worldwide helium shortage on the horizon. If helium is irreplaceable for critical industrial processes, then we may have to mine the moon for it irregardless of the cost. Can anyone answer the question: is there a critical industrial process for which helium is irreplaceable?

  • Amerigo Vespucci

    is there a critical industrial process for which helium is irreplaceable?

    Yes, condensed matter physics, the same science that presumably will allow us to cover the world (including your roof and car) with solar panels, construct large solar power satellites for space based power applications, and solve the energy and global warming crises.

    However, that being said, the helium crisis is more a result of bad planning, the political decision to sell off our helium reserves, and the lack of natural gas extraction facilities and piping to to reservoirs, where the helium that we do have comes from.

    Helium 3 and 4 mixtures are the method used in cryocoolers for almost all of the advanced condensed matter physics research done today, although many processes are being developed to eliminate, reduce and/or recycle the helium used in these types of cryocooler applications, and condensed matter physics research itself is expected to produce many new novel solutions to these kinds of cooling problems, which are bound to have applications in hydrogen liquefaction processes used to produce the liquid cryogens necessary for large scale high flight rate space flight itself.

    Clearly helium use in rocketry also needs to be greatly reduced.

  • Amerigo Vespucci

    Get educated

    Condensed matter physics and rocket science isn’t good enough for you?

    It works for me.

  • canttellya

    Condensed matter physics and rocket science isn’t good enough for you?

    Doesn’t seem to prevent you from making erroneous statements. Keep studying.

  • Amerigo Vespucci

    Dr Rob Johnston is a freelance writer on the environment, health and science, one who also cites his own articles apparently. That’s very unbiased, eh?

    For every point this eminently unqualified writer cites, there are volumes of scientific literature that contradicts him.

  • canttellya

    (apologies to all the rest for the thread-jacking in pursuit of accuracy)

    Really?

    Please cite me the volumes of scientific evidence that state that nuclear power plants CANNOT be built affordably.

    Please cite me the volumes of scientific evidence that there is NO PRACTICAL solution for spent nuclear fuel.

    Please cite me the volumes of scientific evidence that all forms of nuclear technology are “amenable to gross nuclear proliferation”.

    Please cite me the volumes of evidence that there is no nuclear technology that won’t run out of fuel soon.

  • Amerigo Vespucci

    The mere fact that nuclear power is attempting to boil water with what amounts to the energy of cosmic rays, reveals a stunning lack of understanding and/or appreciation for physics, science and nature.

    Condensed matter physics is the one domain of science that is attempting to correct that astonishing level of scientific and technological ignorance.

    Boiling water ~ 35 meV.

    Nuclear energy ~ 250 MeV.

    That is as out of scale as shuttle SRBs are for high flight rate space flight, and as stupid as internal combustion engines are for life support systems.

    But we all understand how out of touch with reality this administration is.

  • ISS vet

    OK, now we have to deal with an outbreak of the either-or fallacy. Amerigo wisely mentioned the soon to be 10 billion souls each and every one clamoring for resources on par with the perceived American lifestyle. To support a decent standard of living for all our billions in a post-hydrocarbon world, we need to explore all possible non-greenhouse energy sources. Put all the feasible ones together and they may easily not be enough. We need nuclear fission and fusion, terrestrial solar and space solar, wind, geothermal, wave, and any other source anyone can come up with a reasonable experimental program to explore.

    Not a single Manhattan Project; more like the multitude of U.S. aircraft development programs during World War II. We need at least a dozen startup programs funded well enough to determine economic feasibility. Either-or debates buy into a false zero-sum assumption – technologists eating each other while civilization goes over a cliff. Energy research is one area where we can drive for massive funding increases and get them.

  • canttellya

    Wow, so if fission fragments were captured in a particle decelerator, then nuclear power would be worthy of you? Oh man, thanks for making that clear. Come to think of it, I look around the house and see all kinds of things that aren’t worthy of me. Aerobic metabolism, carbon pyrolysis on my oven, incandescent lights radiating like blackbodies at 2700K. Thanks for helping me get clear on how unworthy the world is. I too blame George Bush for all these things.

  • Amerigo Vespucci

    Wow, so if fission fragments were captured in a particle decelerator, then nuclear power would be worthy of you?

    No, but if ordinary ions were accelerated to high velocities en masse, for propulsion purposes, using solar energy alone, that I would consider worthy.

    I do see where fundamental condensed matter physics could be of use there.

  • The People

    Lots of erroneous thinking going on here. First, canttellya’s point about Space Solar Power not being viable is based on several studies done over the last 30 years. Actually, you can determine its unsuitability merely from a back-of-the-envelope calculation. Even assuming ambitious power generation efficiencies, specific powers, transmission efficiencies, and ZERO development costs, recovering the space transportation costs is impossible with even conservative energy prices. The SSP community recognizes this, and has taken a new slant which emphasizes its application to DOD for battlefield support. The economics are not as important.

    Regarding nuclear power, I can’t see how anyone can claim that fission-based energy is non-viable, especially now that the orders for new nuclear powerplants is increasing worldwide. Sure, the Germans have shunned the technology, but they have other alternatives at their disposal.

    But ISS vet makes an interesting observation that would send shivers down the spine of space enthusiasts. Yes, the nation does need alternative energy, and yes, a massive “Apollo-like” program is probably warranted. However, rather than getting NASA to start working these technologies, why not slash NASA’s budget by say $8 billion and put it into such an energy initiative? You could even move some of the NASA infrastructure over to DOE to work this area.

  • Paul F. Dietz

    Importing helium-*4* from the moon is a ludicrous idea. The cost of crude helium gas in 2005, in bulk, was about $15/kg. Merely the shipping cost from the moon would be many times that, never mind the cost of processing tens of thousands of times the mass in regolith. It would also, I suspect, be cheaper to extract helium from Earth’s atmosphere (5.2 ppmv) than it would be to extract it from lunar regolith and return it to Earth. Also, at the price that would justify such extraction, helium demand would be much lower, so byproduct production from other-purposed air separation plants might suffice. Of course, currently subeconomic underground sources of the gas would be tapped before we did that (for example, helium in fuel-poor gas reservoirs, helium trickling from geothermal wells, and so on.)

  • Amerigo Vespucci

    Regarding nuclear power, I can’t see how anyone can claim that fission-based energy is non-viable, especially now that the orders for new nuclear powerplants is increasing worldwide.

    The American public, dumbed down by decades of educational and entertainment abuse, apparently has no problems at all with handing every third world nation and jungle militia the nuclear technology necessary for more mass death and destruction than the already severe environmental disaster we now face. State sanctioned torture is already in the bag here.

    Importing helium-*4* from the moon is a ludicrous idea.

    It certainly is. But just think of all the death and destruction we were able to sell overseas with the $1.4 billion dollars we just saved by selling all of our helium at fire sale rates, for party balloons and high squeeky voices on TV.

    I just thank God for TV shows like ’24′ that show us how the world really is.

  • Amerigo Vespucci

    Actually, you can determine its unsuitability merely from a back of the envelope calculation.

    Indeed, however, the ‘person’, who most certainly only speaks for himself, doesn’t realize that this person (Mr. Vespucci) fully understands that space solar power is a demonstration project only, and is not so irrational to think that power that is generated in space, would be sent back to the Earth.

    What this person fully understands is that the condensed matter physics research necessary to fill the land and the skies with solar panels, requires a high visibility demonstration project, in order to generate the enthusiasm and funding necessary for the nitty gritty laboratory and factory floor work necessary to bring a solar powered Earth and space into highly visible reality. Otherwise, it’s just business as usual on Super Sunday, while the Amazon jungle and the arctic and antarctic ice sheets continue to disappear at alarming rates, and the grocery stores and highways get ever more crowded with immigrants with dozens and dozens of crying babies.

    And there isn’t any better advertising platform available than a brightly shining city in equatorial low Earth orbit, and then in geosynchronous orbit.

  • Z-Bob

    Regarding helium mining: I was merely asking IF there was an industrial process underway now, that’s critical to the economy of the world, where helium is an irreplaceable component. This means that IF helium runs out the way that recent news stories are projecting, and IF there are no new terrestrial sources that produce in sufficient quantities, then we have no choice but to turn to the moon, or else give up whatever crucial economic product results from the use of helium.
    The news stories give the impression that once our helium reserve in Texas is depleted, then it will be exceedingly difficult to develop new sources that will meet the growing demand from the new economies of India, China,etc. I’m not vouching for this, that’s why I’m asking. The media always exaggerates the severity of things. Obviously, if there are substitutes that can be used in place of helium then the project would never be considered. But if there is a link somewhere in our world economy that ABSOLUTELY requires abundant helium then we would have to get it no matter the cost, just as a human has to have oxygen, no matter the cost.

    Also, the mining process need not just yield helium. It would also yield all the industrial metals that keep our technological society going. Only helium would need to be transported by vehicle back to Earth. The metals can be fashioned into bodies that can be launched by electromagnetic railgun to Earth. With the metal core encased in a heat shield made from lunar materials, shaped like a re-entry body and a GPS guidance package attached to each one, it can splash down in the ocean within a designated area 50-100ft deep. A grappling vessel with sonar can locate the object on the sea floor and retrieve it. Imagine a steady train of precious and strategic metals raining from the sky to the sea.

    With the national debt at 9 trillion dollars, it seems that spending the amount of money already spent on ISS or more, to retrieve the huge amount of metallic wealth awaiting us on the moon and the asteroids to pay off that debt would be a no-brainer.

    Virtually unlimited wealth to lavish upon their constituents for health care, social security, and who knows what else-that should arouse the politicians interest.

  • SSP Fan

    THE PEOPLE: Space Solar Power not being viable is based on several studies done over the last 30 years. Actually, you can determine its unsuitability merely from a back-of-the-envelope calculation.

    PROVE IT.

    REAL engineers show their work. They don’t make fly-by claims they are not willing (or able) to back up.

    I have heard others make claims like this. They are almost always a naive and uninformed because the person was lazy. When you dig into them, they always have flawed assumptions. Most often, because they were not willing to take the time to read the NSSO report.

    People who talk about “back of the envelope” calculations usually invoke a “straw man” case for SBSP, such as using existing extremely expensive launch vehicles. If the “drive by analyst” had taken the time to actually read the report, they will see that “Cheap and Reliable Access to Space” is one of several requirements to closing the business case.

    To date, I have not seen anybody (yet) refute the substance of the NSSO-report with regards to how the SSP business case can be closed.

    I challenge you to take one or more of the specific findings and recommendations in the NSSO SBSP report regarding economics and business case — of which there are a large number — and back up your assertions with real analysis, not lip service.

    - SSP FAN

  • Amerigo Vespucci

    Regarding helium mining: I was merely asking IF there was an industrial process underway now, that’s critical to the economy of the world, where helium is an irreplaceable component.

    And I just told you : condensed matter physics.

    Where do you think things like your computer ICs and cell phones, plastics and metal alloys come from? Do you think people just think this stuff up?

    It comes from painstaking research in the laboratory and on factory floors, where helium (and indeed, hydrogen) are crucial elements in that process.

  • Ray

    canttellya: “I disagree with you, and I disagree with the NSSO. SSP is a total waste of money that would be better spent on advanced nuclear technologies. There’s a reason no one outside of the space community talks about SSP. That’s because the technology and the economics don’t stand up to scrutiny.

    The space community keeps dreaming about SSP and helium-3 because they are the only tenuous threads to tie space technology to terrestrial energy needs. Problem is they snap as soon as you put any load on them.”

    Those aren’t the only threads that tie space technology to terrestrial energy needs. For example, different space remote sensing technologies are useful for finding energy sources, planning how to use them, and managing them. GPS and comsats have various energy-related uses (eg: save gas by using satellite radio and avoiding traffic jams). Solving difficult power problems on space systems like satellites has had spin-off benefits in terrestrial applications. Space weather satellites are useful for protecting electrical power infrastructure. These are all space applications that space advocates could support with current or near-term commercial applicability and common interest from non-space interest groups.

    In the near term, if not longer, I’d expect SSPs (or power relay satellites) to be more applicable on a small scale, such as supplying power to disaster areas, remote locations, military outposts, and the like, rather than to solve the global energy problem all at once. A demo of this type of achievable application is the place to start, and would be more useful (and therefore appeal more to certain non-space interests) than, say, a big government rocket development and operation program. Once demonstrated and presumably put in use for these niche applications, SSPs or SSRs could stand or fall on their own in the commercial world depending on how terrestrial energy prices go, space access costs go, and so on.

  • Ray

    The People “I agree with you totally, but Anon is right that it is the only scenario that has even a tenuous connection with national needs. I’m afraid that when you peel back the space onion, all you have at the core, at least in the immediate future, is science. The rest can be handled by the commercial sector, given that the proper incentives are established and impediments are removed. Let the ball start rolling with space tourism, and see where it goes from there.”

    If you’re pro-space, and you think all you have at the core is science in the immediate future, then advocate for space-based science. There’s an endless amount of space-based science that can be done.

    If the rest can be handled by the commercial sector given proper incentives are established and impediments are removed, then push for those incentives to be established and for those impediments to be removed, and also push for government, where appropriate, to use that commercial sector.

  • Ray

    The People: “New Policy:

    The Vision for Space Exploration (VSE) title has been changed to the

    “U.S. Space Exploration Policy”

    Please take note of the new title and refrain from using VSE in letters, presentations, etc.”

    I suggest changing the ESAS acronym and see if that fools anyone. That’s what everyone is upset about, not the VSE.

    Anyway, it’s good to see that someone is busy fixing the substantive problem with NASA’s implementation of the VSE – the fact that the most important parts of the VSE are missing from NASA’s plans.

  • SSP Fan

    RAY: In the near term, if not longer, I’d expect SSPs (or power relay satellites) to be more applicable on a small scale, such as supplying power to disaster areas, remote locations, military outposts, and the like, rather than to solve the global energy problem all at once. A demo of this type of achievable application is the place to start …

    Ray,

    The NSSO report basically says the same thing.

    - SSP FAN

  • Ray

    canttellya: “Spot on. And depressing. Now ask the next question: why don’t politicians really care about space? Because the civilian space program does not impinge on issues of national importance.

    So stop looking for politicians to change their stripes and try instead to turn NASA into an organization worthy of their attention and support. Hint, a $XYZ billion repeat of Apollo using throwaway rockets and a handful of square-jawed astronauts isn’t it.”

    I agree. I have no problem with the VSE, even if it goes to the same destination as Apollo. It had a lot of useful associated robotic programs. It had commercial support as a central theme. However, the VSE implementation we now have pretends to have commercial support as a central theme by concentrating on big government rockets and hinting that something commercial might happen after we get those rockets built and sending astronauts to the Moon in a few decades. The VSE implementation we now have also has canned most of the useful associated robotic programs. So … practically no commercial applicability for decades, no meaningful interim results along the way except for LRO … that’s not enough. If NASA finds a way to implement the VSE to get interim results and commercial participation along the way, political support will follow. If it can’t figure out a way to do this, it should fold on the the VSE, and find something it can do where it does give quicker results and promote space commerce.

  • [...] noted in the comments of the previous post, NASA is changing the name of the Vision for Space Exploration to the rather more prosaic [...]

  • Al Fansome

    “New Policy: The Vision for Space Exploration (VSE) title has been changed to the “U.S. Space Exploration Policy”.

    NASA did not name it the “Vision for Space Exploration”. That came from the White House. I am wondering if the White House will take direction from NASA, and change the name of the VSE.

    With regards to “THE PEOPLE” — since he is clearly a “science advocate”, I am not sure why he is threatened by SSP. Many of the technologies needed by SSP would be extremely useful for space science applications. (On orbit assembly? Imagine the kinds of huge space telescopes we can build if we have “cheap access to space” (CATS) and if commercial firms develop a much lower-cost on orbit assembly.

    I do know why Zubrin hates it — he sees SSP is the one visionary threat to his Mars or bust” religion. The SSP movement has a group of passionate supporters who (Zubrin fears) will push Mars to the background, and stake out the most compelling reason for human spaceflight.

    I think Zubrin is wrong to fear this — as many of the technologies developed for SSP will also support human civilization on Mars. In fact, if we get CATS — which is an absolute requirement for SSP — Mars settlements become much easier to sustain.

    All parties benefit from Cheap Access to Space.

    - Al

  • SSP Fan

    AL said:

    THE PEOPLE” — since he is clearly a “science advocate”, I am not sure why he is threatened by SSP.

    Good point Al.

    The People,

    Why do you care if any of NASA’s “new technology budget” is spent on SSP, versus other priorities, as long as it does not affect the space science budget?

    Would it change your mind if the DOE led this effort?

    Considering that the DOE spends $300 million per year on “fusion research”, what is the problem with a similar level of investment by our nation in SSP?

    - SSP FAN

  • Al Fansome

    Gentlemen,

    We have somehow gotten into a discussion of helium as a natural resource. I am not sure if this is relevant to “space development”. A question to clarify whether this is “off topic” for this website.

    AMERIGO: However, that being said, the helium crisis is more a result of bad planning, the political decision to sell off our helium reserves, and the lack of natural gas extraction facilities and piping to to reservoirs, where the helium that we do have comes from.

    By this are you saying the simplest, and lowest-cost, solution to the “Helium crisis” (if there be such a crisis … I am not going to argue the point … I just don’t know enough) is a terrestrial solution?

    NOTE: I have never heard anybody argue that we should mine Helium 4 on the Moon, and it sounds as like you are not arguing we should either.

    - Al

    “Politics is not rocket science, which is why rocket scientists do not understand politics.”

  • Anon

    Sometimes this community is completely self destructive.

    If you are a space development advocate — and even if you don’t believe that SSP will ever take off — it is pretty clear that politicians on both sides of the aisle are going to throw TENS-OF-BILLIONS-OF-DOLLARS at federal investments in clean energy technology.

    What is the downside of getting some of that avalanche of money to go towards critical space development activities?

    OBAMA:

    Senator Obama has proposed spending $150 billion over 10 years in Clean Energy. He has proposed to double energy research and development funding.

    http://www.barackobama.com/issues/energy/#invest-in-a-clean

    CLINTON:

    Senator Clinton has proposed a $50 Billion “Strategic Energy Fund” to invest in clean energy technology.

    http://www.livescience.com/history/071004_clinton_science.html

    MCCAIN:

    Senator McCain has introduce legislation (see “The Climate Stewardship and Innovation Act of 2005 (S.1151)”) that would substantially increase federal investments in technologies related to clean energy.

    http://www.pewclimate.org/policy_center/analyses/s_1151_summary.cfm

    PRESIDENT BUSH:

    Even President Bush is now promoting increased investments in clean energy technology to combat global warming.

    http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/06/20050630-16.html

    The U.S. Congress recently passed, and President Bush signed, new energy legislation which gave the nuclear power industry upwards a huge economic subsidy in the form loan guarantees, in order to lower the cost and risk of building more nuclear power plants.

    States all over the country are giving tax subsidies for clean energy investments.

    Meanwhile, half the people on this website whine because politicians are not opening up their wallets to NASA.

    Hello? Is there anybody out there

    Meanwhile, we have people here — who say they want more money for space technology investment — taking cheap shots at SSP, partly because they are worried it will generate lots of political support.

    Isn’t this cutting off our nose to spite our face?

    BOTTOM LINE: The NSSO report says that they business case for SBSP does NOT close (yet), but under certain conditions it MAY close for certain niche markets and applications. However, what the NSSO calls niche markets and and niche applications — totally dwarf existing space markets.

    The NSSO report recommends taking several INCREMENTAL steps forward. I have looked at it again — it does not recommend anything that can not be reasonably justified. Every one of these recommended incremental steps would help space development.

    Read the report.

    IF you really care about space — IF you really want to capture the attention and support of modern politicians — please describe a plan that has a better chance than SBSP of getting their support.

    FWIW,

    Anon

  • Amerigo Vespucci

    By this are you saying the simplest, and lowest-cost, solution to the “Helium crisis” (if there be such a crisis … I am not going to argue the point … I just don’t know enough) is a terrestrial solution?

    Of course I am. Even the simplest search confirms that :

    http://www.praxair.com/snipped/$file/Helium_Brochure.pdf

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Helium_Reserve

    On the other hand, this one problem should drive the point home about extraterrestrial resources and condensed matter physics. One little link in the supply chain breaks and it all comes crumbling down. This should also clearly illustrate how ill founded political decisions can cripple our ability to respond across the board to a variety of scientific and technological problems. If that isn’t clear to you yet, after seven years of the Bush administration, then you’ll probably never get it. I do hope you ‘get it’.

    http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=9860

  • Z-Bob

    Regarding Helium again:

    I made the mistake of trying to segue into this discussion about motivating politicians without making a direct point. My apologies. Here are my points.

    Until fusion is demonstrated to be commercially practical and profitable, no one is going to the moon to get helium 3.

    No one will ever go to Mars in this century-no matter how much water is hiding at the lunar poles-unless our probes return unambiguous proof of life on Mars. No life? Then it ain’t gonna happen.

    Solar power stations in orbit? Forget it. If you mention that to the average politician, you’ll get the obligatory polite smile and then you’ll be eased out of the room. You’ll get more respect talking about flying saucers.

    As far as government funding is concerned, as opposed to private enterprises, we will be lucky to establish an outpost on the moon or make a trip to an asteroid UNLESS there is something to be found that is fundamental and irreplaceable to the economic lifeblood of our nation or species, or that appeals to human greed. (Humans in the gov’t that is) You’ve got to tantalize the Ferdinands and Isabellas of our world with something more than dry scientific research, no matter what that
    research may yield in the long run.

    If we can’t figure this out, then Space Policy Cynic’s strategy is the best idea so far.

  • Amerigo Vespucci

    Here are my points.

    no one

    no one

    Forget it

    it ain’t gonna happen.

    no matter how much

    no matter what

    Very impressive. You’ve really got the right stuff.

    Let me guess, you’re an American, no?

    Then you won’t mind if we ignore you.

  • The People

    THE PEOPLE: Space Solar Power not being viable is based on several studies done over the last 30 years. Actually, you can determine its unsuitability merely from a back-of-the-envelope calculation.

    PROVE IT.

    REAL engineers show their work. They don’t make fly-by claims they are not willing (or able) to back up.

    My apologies. I thought this is something that anyone could do. Obviously, I was wrong.

    Assume total cost (C) is only based on mass delivered to orbit (M) and a cost per mass to orbit (L), or C = M*L.

    If we assume all energy collected on orbit is beamed back to Earth, then the total energy collected is E = M*p*T, where p is specific power of the system and T is the operational lifetime.

    Dividing C/E to get the average cost of energy, we have C/E = L/(p*T). Now let’s assume an L of $10K/kg (which is actually the accepted rate for LEO deployment, not GEO), a specific power of 300W/kg (which would actually be considered very advanced for photovoltaics), and a lifetime of 15 years. This gives us an energy cost of $.25/kW-hr. This is 3-4 times current grid rates.

    This figure wouldn’t be so disheartening if it had factored in development costs, non-power system mass, conversion efficiencies, transmission losses and other factors. Who knows what the cost would be then. The bottom line is that the concept sucks even with extremely liberal assumptions.

  • Mike Fazah

    “The People: Who knows what the cost would be then. The bottom line is that the concept sucks even with extremely liberal assumptions…The bottom line is that the concept sucks even with extremely liberal assumptions.”

    I agree with your last statement. But your analysis is based on overly optimistic assumptions. The specific costs are going to be far greater than this, and not only because of not considering the other factors. Your specific power of 300W/kg is way too optimistic. Even 100W/kg is going to be sporty. Also, $10,000/kg is a number that NASA has been advertising since the 1980s. Last I heard it was more like $15,000/kg, and this was only for low earth orbit. Finally, your assumption of a 15 year satellite life is about 100% off. Seven to eight years is much more realistic.

    With these assumptions, the energy cost would be more like $2.1/kW-hr, and this still doesn’t factor in all the other items. As far as I’m concerned, this is an idea best left on the dustbin of history, along with single stage to orbit and nuclear ramjets.

  • Amerigo Vespucci

    If we assume all energy collected on orbit is beamed back to Earth

    When you start out your analysis with faulty assumptions, generally you end up with nonsense. It is just this kind of irrational nonsense that gave us VSE.

    This is 3-4 times current grid rates.

    Just offhand, I’m guessing that any energy conversion scheme that yielded a base price of only 3 to 4 times current grid costs with no carbon emissions would be an overnight raging success. So you can see how your faulty assumptions do indeed give you unexpected results.

  • Amerigo Vespucci

    As far as I’m concerned, this is an idea best left on the dustbin of history, along with single stage to orbit

    Your right. It’s just this kind of faulty thinking that didn’t give us heavier than air flying machines, personal computers, and men, walking on the moon.

    The only rational explanation that I can come up with to describe the kind of postings I read on this blog is that there is a serious failure of the educational system in America. Nothing else even comes close to describing the data.

  • canttellya

    Just offhand, I’m guessing that any energy conversion scheme that yielded a base price of only 3 to 4 times current grid costs with no carbon emissions would be an overnight raging success.

    Whoa, my anti-nuclear European, I think you’ve just described nuclear power. Oh yeah, you helped us understand that that was too expensive. You had volumes of scientific evidence, if I remember correctly.

    I’m sure the answer has something to do with condensed matter physics, a subject that has apparently been banned in America under the Bush administration, which is busy fighting a evil war funded by helium sales.

  • Mr. Sputnik

    Whoa, my anti-nuclear European, I think you’ve just described nuclear power. Oh yeah, you helped us understand that that was too expensive. You had volumes of scientific evidence, if I remember correctly.

    Yet again my initial hypothesis is confirmed.

    http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=31466

    http://energypriorities.com/entries/2005/03/france_nuke_was.php

    I’m just randomly pulling news articles like this, there are hundreds and hundreds of them, and you want to extend this model to the entire world?

    Like I said, there must have been a fundamental failure of the educational system in America in order to explain the kind of intellect you present here.

    It would be a complete waste of time to try to explain how science is done, or to take the time to even do a casual search of the scientific literature for you, since you are completely blinded by your educational deficiencies.

    But, in the off chance that you do get interested in science and condensed matter physics research, I can offer you an instant insight into its workings :

    http://arxiv.org/archive/cond-mat

    http://arxiv.org/

  • Explorer 1

    I’m sure the answer has something to do with condensed matter physics, a subject that has apparently been banned in America under the Bush administration, which is busy fighting a evil war funded by helium sales.

    Who can argue with that. The brilliant intellect of people just like you are what made this nation great. That’s why we are confident Michael Griffin will be able to make the Ares I fly economically.

  • SSP Fan

    Do you call this analysis? You get to pick flawed assumptions (e.g., that technology stays the same), and then state that flawed conclusions (SSP will never ever work)?

    Garbage In = Garbage Out.

    I previously stated (above) ….

    SSP FAN: People who talk about “back of the envelope” calculations usually invoke a “straw man” case for SBSP, such as using existing extremely expensive launch vehicles. If the “drive by analyst” had taken the time to actually read the report, they will see that “Cheap and Reliable Access to Space” is one of several requirements to closing the business case.

    The NSSO report explicitly states that the business case does NOT close with the current state of the art, but could close in the relatively near future with foreseeable advances in technology, and given specific business incentives that the Government is already providing to other clean energy technologies.

    THE PEOPLE: Dividing C/E to get the average cost of energy, we have C/E = L/(p*T). Now let’s assume an L of $10K/kg (which is actually the accepted rate for LEO deployment, not GEO), a specific power of 300W/kg (which would actually be considered very advanced for photovoltaics), and a lifetime of 15 years. This gives us an energy cost of $.25/kW-hr. This is 3-4 times current grid rates.

    1) The NSSO report explicitly states that we need CRATS in order for the business case for SSP to close. You use $10,000 per kg. Studies show that about that we need somewhere between $200-500 per kg.

    2) Not everybody pays less than $.10/kW-hr. There are many places that already pay $.25/kW-hr. By assuming that SSP has to compete — immediately — with the lowest cost electricity in the world, you assume the businesses are stupid. Again, a flawed assumption.

    Summary of “The People” Analysis — Garbage In = Garbage Out

    MIKE FAZAH: I agree with your last statement. But your analysis is based on overly optimistic assumptions. … Also, $10,000/kg is a number that NASA has been advertising since the 1980s. Last I heard it was more like $15,000/kg,

    1) The NSSO report explicitly states that we need CRATS in order for the business case for SSP to close. You use $15,000 per kg. Studies show that about that we need somewhere between $200-500 per kg.

    Summary of “Fazah” Analysis — Garbage In = Garbage Out

    MIKE FAZAH: With these assumptions, the energy cost would be more like $2.1/kW-hr, and this still doesn’t factor in all the other items.

    2) By assuming that SSP has to compete — immediately — with the lowest cost electricity in the world, you assume that business is stupid. The NSSO report states that the DOD might be willing to pay $1/kW-hr, or more, for power in certain select areas. That is the power that the first SSP systems will go after.

    Summary of “Fazah” Analysis — Garbage In = Garbage Out

    - SSP FAN

  • Al Fansome

    Anon,

    Thanks for the summary of why the political stars may be aligning for SSP.

    I believe that SSP may soon become a national space initiative. I am just not sure where it should reside when it does.

    NASA may not be the best place for it. The current leadership certainly does not seem welcoming to any new initiatives. They would probably see this as a threat, not as the huge opportunity it is. They can’t even invest in “planetary defense”, even after Griffin has testified to Congress about how important “planetary defense” is, so I see little hope they would do anything useful on SSP.

    DOE led the studies in the 1970s. Maybe they should lead this effort.

    DOD investments in the technology (and anchor tenancy) would be extremely useful. And DOD would never think they should own/operate the SSP systems (as opposed to how NASA does things.) The DOD actually knows how to buy commercial space services (think telecommunications and Earth observation). Plus the DOD has shown some initial leadership and vision.

    The DOC’s Office of Space Commercialization needs a reason to grow into a useful entity. SSP is a great opportunity for them.

    A DOE/DOE partnership is probably best, with some DOC participation.

    I am coming to the opinion that although SSP would be great for NASA, NASA would not be great for SSP. At least not with the current leadership.

    - Al

    “Politics is not rocket science, which is why rocket scientists don’t understand politics.”

  • Mike Fazah

    SSP Fan: 1) The NSSO report explicitly states that we need CRATS in order for the business case for SSP to close. You use $15,000 per kg. Studies show that about that we need somewhere between $200-500 per kg.

    Yeah right. Just $200-500 per kg…no problem. That’s only two orders of magnitude greater than an economy fare, domestic airline ticket.

    This is exactly the thinking that got us stuck on X-33 and the SSTO Kool Aid. In fact, 10 years ago, this figure was on the NASA planning roadmap. Not appreciating the tremendous technological and commercial challenges of getting to a figure like that is disingenuous.

  • public44

    “I believe that SSP may soon become a national space initiative. I am just not sure where it should reside when it does.”

    Oh please, I hope not! This idea is cornier than ESAS. It sneaks under the veil of energy and environment, but it is wholefully impractical. Now I’m all for solar power, both on the ground and in space. But tying the two together makes no economic sense.

    BTW, a statement was made earlier about alternate energy sources being limited, thus implying the need for SSP. This is not true. The total estimates, even considering conservative efficiencies, is far more than the total global demand. When you throw in nuclear and advanced fission technologies based on Thorium-U233 breeding, you improve the situation even more.

  • canttellya

    Yeah right. Just $200-500 per kg…no problem. That’s only two orders of magnitude greater than an economy fare, domestic airline ticket.

    This is exactly the thinking that got us stuck on X-33 and the SSTO Kool Aid. In fact, 10 years ago, this figure was on the NASA planning roadmap. Not appreciating the tremendous technological and commercial challenges of getting to a figure like that is disingenuous.

    Spot on, Mike. I knew the SSP advocates would howl when you put up realistic launch costs into the argument, because a basic article of faith among SSP advocates is that the very existence of SSP somehow will institute magnificent improvements in launch costs. But one thing we’ve learned in the last 20 years is that if launch costs are going to go down, it is going to be extremely slow and difficult. 100-fold improvements in launch costs are not around the corner.

    I find it amazing that nuclear power is often dismissed by the green crowd as non-economic when already-built plants are the cheapest form of power for the utilities that own them, and new-build plants are ranging from $2000-3000 kW installed.

  • Paul F. Dietz

    Some idiot hiding behind a pseudonym wrote:

    The mere fact that nuclear power is attempting to boil water with what amounts to the energy of cosmic rays, reveals a stunning lack of understanding and/or appreciation for physics, science and nature.

    I’ve tried to find a shred of rational though behind the argument you made there, and came up empty. What a remarkably silly non sequitur.

  • SSP Fan

    PUBLIC44: When you throw in nuclear and advanced fission technologies based on Thorium-U233 breeding, you improve the situation even more.

    Although true, this is a naive answer from somebody who has not thought about the unintended consequences of spreading breeder reactor technology around the world.

    1) The United States recognizes 193 independent countries in the world.

    2) Every one of those countries wants the American standard of living, yet it would create a global nightmare to allow nuclear technology to spread to even half those countries.

    3) The last thing we need to do into today’s world is to allow widespread distribution of nuclear technology. This would be a field day for Osama Bin Laden and all his friends.

    The only “clean energy alternative” that compares in upside promise and potential scalability with SSP, is fusion. We have spent over $20 Billion on fusion energy research, and continue to spend $300 million per year on the same, yet people continue to whine and complain about spending real money investing in SSP.

    By the way, this is not an either/or proposition.

    We need to be investing in ALL the clean energy options.

    It is time for us to add SSP technology investments to the portfolio for this national priority. This is NOT a space issue.

    It is a energy independency/environmental/national security issue.

    Space advocates who ignore the issue will be left behind. You can continue whining that the presidential candidates, and elected officials, ignore your pleas to give more money to NASA, or you can do something different. As they say “Doing the same thing, over and over, and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.”

    SSP Fan

  • canttellya

    Although true, this is a naive answer from somebody who has not thought about the unintended consequences of spreading breeder reactor technology around the world.

    The naivete is yours. Thorium breeding has inherent barriers against proliferation, which is the main reason why no country has ever built an operational U-233 nuclear weapon, despite the overwhelming abundance of thorium and the ease of its conversion. Keep studying.

  • The People

    The only “clean energy alternative” that compares in upside promise and potential scalability with SSP, is fusion. We have spent over $20 Billion on fusion energy research, and continue to spend $300 million per year on the same, yet people continue to whine and complain about spending real money investing in SSP.

  • The People

    My apologies for the previous post. I inadvertently hit the send button too early. What I really meant to write was…

    SSP: The only “clean energy alternative” that compares in upside promise and potential scalability with SSP, is fusion. We have spent over $20 Billion on fusion energy research, and continue to spend $300 million per year on the same, yet people continue to whine and complain about spending real money investing in SSP.

    Fusion is another deceptive “holy grail.” The easiest form, Deuterium/Tritium, yields 14 MeV neutrons that and all sorts of radioactive headaches. Just ask the folks at Princeton handling the deactivation of TFTR. Pseudo-aneutronic processes, such as Deuterium/Helium-3, are an order or magnitude more challenging from a reaction standpoint, and they also yield neutrons in side D/T reactions. The easiest “clean” fusion reaction is Proton/Boron-11, but this is even harder to achieve than D/He-3. Even with these challenges, I still support research in fusion, mainly because of its extraordinary potential to terrestrial power and space propulsion.

    As far as SSP is concerned, technology work in advanced PV arrays, power beaming, lightweight spacecraft subsystems/components and, most importantly, low-cost access to space is great. I would vehemently object to making SSP into a new JIMO or ESAS effort.

  • SSP Fan

    THE PEOPLE: As far as SSP is concerned, technology work in advanced PV arrays, power beaming, lightweight spacecraft subsystems/components and, most importantly, low-cost access to space is great.

    Hmmmmm ….

    I am not sure what the source of the disagreement is then.

    THE PEOPLE: I would vehemently object to making SSP into a new JIMO or ESAS effort.

    I think it would be a really bad idea for SSP to replace ESAS. SSP would fail in that case.

    The NSSO report states that the government role should be limited to developing subsystem technologies, and capabilities (like CRATS) and incentivizing the private sector to take the lead.

    Incentives like investment tax credits, tax holidays, loan guarantees, and having the DOD act as an anchor tenant customer.

    The NSSO report states that it is critical for success for the private sector to design, own and operate these systems.

    If the private sector decides to invest, and take the lead, I have a funny feeling that nobody here would have a problem with that.

    Maybe we do not disagree at all. Maybe all we had was a lack of communication.

    - SSP FAN

  • SSP Fan

    SSP Fan: 1) The NSSO report explicitly states that we need CRATS in order for the business case for SSP to close. You use $15,000 per kg. Studies show that about that we need somewhere between $200-500 per kg.

    FAZAH: Yeah right. Just $200-500 per kg…no problem. That’s only two orders of magnitude greater than an economy fare, domestic airline ticket.

    This is exactly the thinking that got us stuck on X-33 and the SSTO Kool Aid. In fact, 10 years ago, this figure was on the NASA planning roadmap. Not appreciating the tremendous technological and commercial challenges of getting to a figure like that is disingenuous.

    Have you read the NSSO report? What part of that report does not appreciate “the tremendous technological and commercial challenges of getting to “cheap and reliable access to space (CRATS)?

    Let’s me summarize your argument

    SSP (and CRATS) would …

    * help provide energy independence to America,

    * help solve global warming by provide clean virtually carbon-free energy, and

    * provide significant benefits to national security

    and your biggest complaint is that achieving these three goals would be a “tremendous challenge”? (your words)

    (If this is not your argument, then you might clarify it now.)

    I wonder what your reaction was (or would have been if you were too young) to Kennedy’s speech declaring we would put a man on the Moon within a decade, not because it was easy, but because it was a tremendous challenge.

    Multiple presidential candidates have declared that we need the equivalent of an “Apollo program” for energy independence. Clinton has proposed a $150 Billion energy investment initiative. McCain has declared all three goals to be top priorities (energy independence, solving global warming, and national security).

    This is a huge opportunity for space advocates to make space technology investment into a TOP national priority.

    And your complaint is “cheap access to space is a tremendous challenge”.

    - SSP FAN

  • The People

    If the private sector decides to invest, and take the lead, I have a funny feeling that nobody here would have a problem with that.

    Maybe we do not disagree at all. Maybe all we had was a lack of communication.

    I agree. For NASA’s role, technology development would be the appropriate course. I also feel that the agency has a lot to provide in the areas of wind power, alternative fuels, hydrogen power/fuel cells and other technologies. (Lewis/Glenn Research Center pioneered much of the early wind turbine technologies in the 1970s.)

    I also agree that NASA needs to get back to low-cost access to space. This is the primary obstacle to sustainable human exploration.

  • reader

    the discussion is largely missing the point. SSP isnt a viable option today. however, it holds _some_ promise and should be investigated on a basic tech demo concept. If not, how do you explain expenditures on ITER ?
    Its not like we got dozens of solutions for our energy future, everything with some realistic hope of working out close to economical should be evaluated. And by evaluated i mean actively developed. Not put on critical path of anything, like they tried with hydrogen transportation some time, but actively developed.

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