Monday, June 21, 2004

SpaceShipOne Rocket

SpaceShipOne Posted by Hello

I'm surprised nobody else has posted something about this yet.


Blogger Eric said...

OK, It's neat. But... You could also think of it as some non-governmental agency with funding from a very wealthy businessman (and hence closer to a charity than a business in some ways) sent somebody on a suborbital flight, a feat that the Americans and Russians had both done by 1961. And even though it wasn't NASA building the aircraft, I strongly suspect that this company has greatly benefited from the technology and experience developed by NASA, DOD, Russians, etc., it's not fully independant. Kind of like the 17th country to test their first nuclear bomb.

Personally, I think the most interesting thing about it is their use of an airplane for the first stage. While I'm a bit skeptical that space tourism will really become common any time soon (at least for non-millionares), for some possibly illogical reason, using an aircraft as the first stage does make it seem possibly easier to scale up the frequency of flights.

6/21/2004 01:04:00 PM  
Blogger Qian said...

I think the mothership concept holds some promise. There is obviously some efficiency gain in having a launch pad at 60k feet, but as far as I know Scaled Composites hasn't released any information on the launch costs. So whether it's really cheaper in a paradigm-busting way remains to be seen. Also, to truly go into space the current vehicle would have to be beefed up considerably, adding weight and costs. The mothership would also have to increase in size, further reducing whatever cost advantage there is. Still, it's a milestone and it's good to see people trying something new, at least.

I'm also skeptical of the space tourism market. How many people will pay 100k for 3 minutes of weightlessness? You could give them more time for less money with a vomit-comet type plane than a roket. So it probably won't take off until they can get into orbit. But if they can go into orbit, then there's probably a lot more money in launching satellites.

6/21/2004 03:16:00 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

Well, it shouldn't be suprising if the cost for the first airplane-as-first-stage launch is higher than an equivalent single stage to orbit rocket launch, given that the latter technology has been around and refined for many years. But certainly, if they want to have space tourism be a business, costs will be very important.

BTW- I didn't mean to sound like an old grump in my earlier post. I thought about posting this, but didn't want to "use up" a post. So I was glad somebody else posted it.

6/21/2004 08:52:00 PM  
Blogger Qian said...

If anyone manages to develop a workable scramjet this whole thing could get even more interesting. Instead of just a 3 minute jaunt to the edge of space, now you can offer something like a combination weightless ride with a 2 hour New York to Tokyo trip. I think that could be more attractive than just a straight up and down thing. You could even do a hyper-fast shipping service to fully utilize your payload capacity.

The mothership and rocket engines would be perfect for a scramjet vehicle anyway. The only problem is the scramjet is probably at least 10 years away from any practical applications. So no 2 hour global fedexes for a while yet. And Eric, it's too late. You've revealed yourself as an old grump. Welcome to the club. :)

6/21/2004 10:27:00 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

Qian: Fine, I will return to my grumpy ways... I'm not sure who would use a global 2 hour fedex. The only parties who I would think would want such a thing and being willing to pay for it are groups that might not trust each other enough to let a spaceship from the other group's country come in and land on theirs. Besides, the ground transportation to/from the airports, security, and customs would probably add several hours to the trip.

Although, never say never. If you could get a routine supply of packages, then I might could see a few niche markets with flights from NYC to Tokyo or LA to London. Maybe for a spare part to get a big factory back in operation or something? Although, if it's such an important part, I might suggest keeping a backup nearby. Hmm, I'm not sure...

6/21/2004 10:43:00 PM  
Blogger Qian said...

Well that's the secret of Fedex: hardly any of the stuff sent overnight is ever necessary. It's one of those status/fashion mixed with a hint of practicality kind of thing. There's always a small but predictable ultra high-end market out there looking for ways to burn money, otherwise there'd be no $1/4 million Rolls-Royces when a 20K Toyota can give you 99% of the functionality and better reliablity to boot. There'd be a very tiny market for 2-hour Fedex, but I have no trouble imagining someone like Donald Trump making regular use of it for "urgent" documents just because the cost is high enough to exclude lesser egos. Or if you just have to impress your big client in Tokyo, you can fly in live Maine Lobsters that cost $10,000 a piece. Don't laugh, not too long ago a 3lb french truffle sold for something like $30,000 at auction. Then the guy who bought it sold dishes made with tiny bits of it at $100 a plate or some ridiculous amount like that.

Also, because the planes would probably run as a private charter and not make use of public terminals, there would be no need to go through most of the airport security. Like most existing biz jets, they can even avoid the busy airports and land at smaller ones. Then I imagine the super important cargo would be flown via helicopter to its final destination. It's a total waste of money and resources, but so are basically every ultra-luxury good or service. That's really their appeal to begin with.

6/22/2004 09:48:00 AM  
Blogger acg said...

What about for organ transplants? Those have to be moved around quickly, before there's too much tissue degradation. I don't actually know much about the time frames for this...finou?

6/22/2004 09:53:00 AM  
Blogger finou said...

I'm not an expert about the whole tissue transplant thing but I think for the most part a regular airplane or helicopter travel is fast enough to transport most organs. The time that organs can be kept "on ice" varies from organ to organ but I think (and I could be totally wrong) it's usually about a day if they are properly stored. I think one of the problems is that it takes too long for patients and organs to be matched so that there is a lot of time spend on that before the organ actually gets transported...

6/22/2004 10:48:00 AM  
Blogger Qian said...

Good point. That's a case where the transportation cost is relatively insignificant compared to the value of the cargo. A smart company might do some of those pro bono to alleviate the fear of damage during transport. Then I'd try to get some high profile rich people to set up a charitable organization to sponsor transports of organs. Good publicity and conspicuous consumption rolled into one.

6/22/2004 10:56:00 AM  
Blogger Vincent said...

For the record, I'm certainly for Eric "using" as many posts as he wants. There has to be somebody who's willing to start a conversation on any topic at the drop of a hat. While I'm normally a person to do such a thing, the internet access down here is slow (cable, but much slower than at Math Hut) and I'm a bit busy during the day helping to sort and pack things. I'll probably go back into frequent posting mode shortly after moving to NM, and it would be great if there's enough conversational traffic around here in the meantime so people get used to visiting the blog. That way there'll be an audience for when I start posting frequently again. I know you all can't wait to read about such topics as "A brief look at Canada's New Democratic Party", "The many, many types of lint", "Semantics, shmemantics", or "What's so great about series 4 of Coupling". :-)

6/22/2004 02:10:00 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

Now we see why Qian is in business and I'm in academica. I wouldn't have thought of that, but you're winning me over.. especially, the idea of wealthy people sponsoring organ transplant transports as appearing very generous and conspicuously wealthy.

6/22/2004 07:14:00 PM  
Blogger Vincent said...

The pilot and one of the chief designers are on Leno right now.

6/23/2004 12:24:00 AM  
Blogger Qian said...

Saw this on The Onion:
What do you think about private space travel?I liked this reponse:

"Hey, any idea that involves blasting the wealthiest .01 percent of the population into the cold, lifeless vacuum of space is all right by me."
  - Maryann Lahr, Business Owner

6/23/2004 01:59:00 PM  
Blogger Ethan said...

One of the most interesting aspects of the Space Ship One (SpaceShipOne? SS1?) design is the rocket engine used... it is a hybrid design using solid fuel and liquid oxidant. The solid fuel is butyl rubber and the oxidant is N02. This system is particularly effective at controlling the safety issues, manufacturing demands, and handling insanity associated with iquid/liquid and the inefficiency of most solid fuel rockets... And it's very, very cheap, storable, and shippable by UPS!

Now, of course, we don't konw anything about the specific impulse or any other performace parameters of this rocket... and probably won't for quite a while. Is this a downside of public v. private development?

6/26/2004 03:16:00 PM  

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