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Race To Space: Exploration, Commercial or Tourist Driven?


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Posted on May 10, 2010 9:14:00 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 10, 2010 9:16:41 AM PDT
Very interesting points, Walter and Sailor. Thanks for posting!

There is another aspect to Space Casinos, that I've already seen parallels to. Some Space Tourist ventures, are working on forming sports teams of the participants to play in micro-gravity. The idea is to create a "reason" for the same Space Tourists to go up again and again. I'd just be happy with the view and a cocktail. But others may find that the only winning-streak they've ever had gambling, was in a Space Casino.

I agree with Sailor, gambling probably won't be THE reason people go into orbit, but it will be another "entertainment option". I think a good Earth equivalent would be a cruise ship. Between ports, you can swim, climb a rock-wall, have endless meal choices, bars for drinking, and some even have slot machines. (Past the International Boundry in the oceans, pretty much anything goes. Or at least it's away from a jurisdiction that can run or tax it. Does anyone know what the International Boundry is in space above Earth?)

Las Vegas has an interesting history. Despite the mobsters starting this "gambling mecca", Nevada would still be an ugly desert state with radiation problems from all the underground testing. Vegas put Nevada on the map, and even now the casinos pay so well that families can move there, get a job with full benefits, and be able to buy a house.

Now that the mobsters have been exchanged for mega-developers, it's more of a family-friendly town. Which was a smart transformation, since every other Indian reservation all over the country now has a casino.

Posted on May 10, 2010 11:14:52 AM PDT
If I'm Mr. Billions and I spend $10 million for a week in a Space hotel, where does that money wind up? Gambling or not, it winds up going to the owners, stockholders, and employees of the hotel. Now, unless there is a full-blown space-borne economy (which we will, some day, but not in the early days), those owners, stockholders, and employees spend that money on Earth (minus taxes, charitable contributions, savings and such).

The fact that money is spent "on Space" doesn't mean that the greenbacks are sucked into a black hole.

In reply to an earlier post on May 10, 2010 11:59:30 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 10, 2010 12:08:28 PM PDT
M. Helsdon says:
"If I'm Mr. Billions and I spend $10 million for a week in a Space hotel, where does that money wind up? Gambling or not, it winds up going to the owners, stockholders, and employees of the hotel. Now, unless there is a full-blown space-borne economy (which we will, some day, but not in the early days), those owners, stockholders, and employees spend that money on Earth (minus taxes, charitable contributions, savings and such)."

Regardless, the resources utlized to launch the payload and provide the life support, would be put to better use sending up people who are going to do productive work instead of idle about in micro-gravity.

All this talk of space hotels is very premature, as there is no infrastructure in place now or in the near future to send space tourists up to the safe altitude of a space station -- except, amusingly, by the Russians.

The ISS, and any space hotel would have to be at an altitude of at least 100 miles (higher would be better, the ISS is roughly 180 miles up). Virgin Galactic's Spaceshiptwo will reach about 68 miles, briefly, for $200,000 (price said to eventually decrease to $20,000). A similar suborbital flight by EADS Astrium is predicted to likely to cost around $68,000. If you want to go higher, even in any of the forthcoming commercial spacecraft, your ticket will cost a great deal more. A trip in a Soyuz at present charges at least $20M for a trip to the ISS; commercial operators could probably undercut that cost, but the cost is realistically going to stay very very high, at least in the millions of dollars. So no one is going to be sending up "sports teams of the participants to play in micro-gravity" in the foreseeable future.

In reply to an earlier post on May 10, 2010 12:54:15 PM PDT
Another aspect of "space entertainment", Sailor, is the same principle that few people notice on Earth. People are ravenous consumers of "entertainment electronics", as well as state-of-the-art upgrades to computers and I-phones.

And the message is not lost on these companies: If you can captivate people with entertainment choices, the consumer will be more than happy to spend. This drives entertainment-electronics to keep coming up with new-and-better products, that the more stodgy non-entertainment industries later pick up and use for "real science". (When the early James Bond movies were coming out from the 1960s on, I wish I had a dollar for every article I read about the military or someone "seriously investigating" some of those devices Q kept coming up with.)

I guess its easy to sniff that Space Tourism isn't "real science", or a waste of money. But these "entertainment venues" will bring in the people and money and ideas, that will filter down to underfunded and largely ignored "real science" projects. May not be considered the most noble approach to space, but this IS the reality!

In reply to an earlier post on May 10, 2010 1:40:05 PM PDT
So to get to the meat of the matter: you're opposed to people going into Space just for fun. The zillions spent having fun could be better spent doing Really Serious Stuff.

The same argument could be made about buying a yacht, a (second) mansion, or making a blockbuster movie (costs enough to send five or more people to the ISS even now).

You could even make that same argument about the $35 I spent getting a ticket to that convention I attend every year. Surely that $35 could have been donated to some worthy cause.

But the fact is and remains that people do spend money just for fun, and will continue to do so.

In reply to an earlier post on May 10, 2010 2:18:18 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 10, 2010 2:19:41 PM PDT
M. Helsdon says:
"So to get to the meat of the matter: you're opposed to people going into Space just for fun. The zillions spent having fun could be better spent doing Really Serious Stuff."

Does it seem sensible to utilize a limited launch capability for nonproductive activities? Given that the quantity of people going into space to do meaningful research and engineering to put in place the infrastructure of proper commercial activities is so small, diverting those resources for 'fun' looks to be the ultimate expression of decadence...

It looks as though you want people to fly up to low Earth orbit for entertainment, instead of setting up orbital industries that would provide a real return: solar power beamed to the Earth via infrared lasers; micro-gravity industries to produce new alloys and materials...

We are living during a period that defines a very finite window when the generation of space-based industries is possible. If that opportunity is squandered to provide merely 'fun' for a small minority, then the legacy of our civilization will be stunted and wasted.

Since the last men walked on the Moon, humanity has done very little beyond Earth's atmosphere, as our global population grows, our planetary ecology declines and our easily accessible resources dwindle. The last forty years have been wasted; the clock is ticking down.

"The same argument could be made about buying a yacht, a (second) mansion, or making a blockbuster movie (costs enough to send five or more people to the ISS even now)."

That does express the warped and distorted values of our increasingly dysfunctional society where entertainment outweighs education.

"But the fact is and remains that people do spend money just for fun, and will continue to do so."

Very true, but they won't be spending it to fly to space hotels because the economics are impractical.

In reply to an earlier post on May 10, 2010 2:51:29 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 10, 2010 2:58:31 PM PDT
M. Helsdon says:
"And the message is not lost on these companies: If you can captivate people with entertainment choices, the consumer will be more than happy to spend. This drives entertainment-electronics to keep coming up with new-and-better products, that the more stodgy non-entertainment industries later pick up and use for "real science"."

Sadly, that's an inversion of the actual process of development.

Much of what appears to be entertainment-driven technology is a byproduct of military and aerospace research and development.

It is often forgotten, for example, that the improvement of television cameras is derived not from civilian commercial projects but research into guided bombs and missiles in WW2 (the GB-4); these weapons, using television cameras to allow them to be guided were mostly incomplete by the end of the war (though the TDR-1 Assault Drone was deployed in the Pacific) and the technology was subsequently redirected to civilian use.

Posted on May 10, 2010 4:38:54 PM PDT
I utterly reject this either-or premise. If Mr. Billions goes into Space just for fun, that in no way stops Build Powersats, Inc. from also going into Space in order to build powersats.

If Mr. Billions had instead decided to go to Hawaii, it wouldn't stop anybody from upgrading the Keck Observatory or researching ways to grow a better pineapple.

Indeed, Mr. Billions could well be financing powersat construction AND having fun. I suspect that even astronomers at Keck occasionally take in a luau.

In reply to an earlier post on May 11, 2010 12:00:52 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 11, 2010 4:36:30 AM PDT
M. Helsdon says:
"I utterly reject this either-or premise. If Mr. Billions goes into Space just for fun, that in no way stops Build Powersats, Inc. from also going into Space in order to build powersats."

You are ignoring the basic facts: you believe you live in a world with infinite launch capability and infinite resources. Neither is true.

The idea of space hotels isn't really relevant, as it won't happen, so it is an irrelevant fantasy.

In reply to an earlier post on May 11, 2010 4:05:25 AM PDT
M. Helsdon says:
In 2007 Bigelow announced that by 2012 it would be able to provide orbital accomodation for four weeks for just under $15 million, with another four weeks costing an additional $3 million per person.

Allowing for inflation since 2007 and the fact that Soyuz is still the only viable option for 'tourists' to reach orbit these costs look highly optimistic.

If the SpaceX manned variant of its Dragon (the basic cargo variant hasn't flown yet) becomes operational then costs might fall from the $20M-$35M the Russians currently charge, but not by much: for its contract with NASA each cargo Dragon flight to the ISS will charge about $134M; assuming a manned Dragon could carry seven passengers that's still *at least* $19M per passenger, probably more to cater for life support, training etc.

http://www.spacex.com/press.php?page=20081223

Assuming Bigelow's cost for a four week stay remains $3M, that still comes to at least $22M per tourist. How many people are there in the world that could pay that price, pass the medicals and training?

Posted on May 11, 2010 5:24:33 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 11, 2010 7:22:18 AM PDT
W.T. Keeton says:
I disagree with Obama on many things, but I actually like his getting government out of space. Considering how much he's increasing government control over everything else, it seems odd that he would be the one to basically privatize American space flight, but I'm glad he did. With how slow new technology has been in getting men into space, it's obvious an infusion of new ideas driven by profit motive is just what the doctor ordered (Virgin Galactic, anyone?).

Posted on May 11, 2010 7:22:20 AM PDT
Hey Sailor, and Joe -

I TOTALLY AGREE!

This country, especially, is driven by consumers. One thing the forecasters always mention, that means the country is recovering, is the "rise in consumer confidence and/or consumer spending".

People have already put down deposits, or the total amount, on Virgin Galactic's initial flights. And auxilliary industries, like testing/training space tourists to be ready and healthy enough to go into space as tourists, are already popping up. So the consumer-driven momentum, of people anxious to be space tourists, is basically an unstoppable force at this point in time.

Posted on May 11, 2010 10:06:12 AM PDT
"you believe you live in a world with infinite launch capability and infinite resources"
Um, no. Launch capacity doesn't need to be infinite; it just needs to be more than it is now. Again, I reject the notion that launch capacity must always be EITHER the same as today OR it's infinite.
Airline capacity isn't infinite either, but it's big enough for a tourism industry worth over $900 billion a year.

"The idea of space hotels isn't really relevant, as it won't happen, so it is an irrelevant fantasy."
Then is there any reason for us to keep talking? You're making the "utter bilge" argument and we're talking about a future that just might be worth living in.

In reply to an earlier post on May 11, 2010 10:21:37 AM PDT
"Assuming Bigelow's cost for a four week stay remains $3M, that still comes to at least $22M per tourist. How many people are there in the world that could pay that price, pass the medicals and training?"

There are over 940 billionaires in the world, and even a tenth-of-a-billionaire could easily afford $22 million once or twice in his life. So there are many thousands of potential customers. Out of many thousands, all able to afford the best in health care, there should be a few hundred to a few thousand who can afford to go, want to go, and are (or can become) healthy enough to go.

And that's before competition, volume, and technological progress drive down the price. And before all those new millionaires and billionaires come out of the new Space tourism industry.

In reply to an earlier post on May 11, 2010 10:43:13 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 11, 2010 11:08:57 AM PDT
M. Helsdon says:
Joe,

"With how slow new technology has been in getting men into space, it's obvious an infusion of new ideas driven by profit motive is just what the doctor ordered (Virgin Galactic, anyone?)."

Unfortunately, Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo isn't employing any significant new ideas: its fuel and engines employ existing concepts and its configuration is simply an implementation of some old ideas. It basically no more gets "men into space" than a rowing boat can plumb the ocean's depths: the altitude achieved, barely and briefly reached is usually defined as the edge of space, but is of little practical use, save for the deployment of short-lived satellites which it cannot carry; whilst SpaceShipTwo isn't simply a scaled up version of SpaceShipOne the design cannot be enhanced to achieve a meaningful altitude and/or a meaningful payload without an enormous amount of research and development. It is, sadly, despite its clever design, a toy designed to carry eight people -- six paying passengers -- up for a short period of microgravity before descending.

As for "privatizing American space flight" Virgin Galactic is part of the British branded venture capital conglomerate Virgin Group...

If you look at more viable private commercial features, such as SpaceX's Dragon, it is basically a repeat of standard manned spaceflight with all of the associated costs and limitations.

In reply to an earlier post on May 11, 2010 10:54:28 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 11, 2010 11:01:33 AM PDT
M. Helsdon says:
Sailor,

"Then is there any reason for us to keep talking? You're making the "utter bilge" argument and we're talking about a future that just might be worth living in."

Because it is a distraction from the real work that has to be done. It isn't providing the real infrastructure that is required for commercial space exploitation...

It is a very sad reflection on the human species, that confronted with the opportunities and dangers of the High Frontier, it instead focuses on "gambling" and "forming sports teams", and a naive economical model based on "entertainment" and an unlikely trickle down into "Real science".

"And that's before competition, volume, and technological progress drive down the price. And before all those new millionaires and billionaires come out of the new Space tourism industry."

So you say there are a few thousand people that could afford to fly into space for fun, how big a profit margin are you assuming to create "new millionaires and billionaires"? Given that $19M seems to be about as low as a real space flight to low Earth orbit will cost (not a short and sweet suborbital vomit hop), any significant profit will have to be ploughed into new research and development. It looks as though the easiest way to become a space tourism millionaire is to start off as a billionaire...

Posted on May 11, 2010 11:22:49 AM PDT
I'm sure the first airlines lost money before they made it. What we need is the equivalent of air-mail.

Tourism isn't a distraction. It is one thing IN ADDITION TO the other things. Again, no amount of tourists going to Hawaii to surf or watch hula dancers stops anybody from building a better telescope at Keck or testing wireless power transmission (been done, in Hawaii).

Again, this isn't a case of "spend it on Having Fun or on Serious Stuff." If the government were paying for the tourist flights then yeah, you'd have an argument. But it isn't the government; it's the tourists themselves. The money they spend to have fun wasn't going to be spent on Serious Stuff anyway. Mr. Billions isn't going to say, "Well, I can't spend this $10 million to have fun in Space, so I'll plow it all into powersat construction." No, he'll spend it on a yacht or on a vacation home in Bali. That $10 million was going to be spent on Having Fun, in Space or on Earth.

By providing a market, Mr. Billions(*) are providing the private sector with an incentive to do the one thing that MUST be done before any of our dreams of the future, be they missions to Mars or powersats or zero-G sports (or all of them, and others) can be accomplished: reliable manned Space launch at prices the merely rich (as opposed to super-rich) can afford.

(*) Or rather all the real-life Mr. and Ms. Billions out there, and of course the much more numerous Mr. and Ms. Multi-Millions.

Posted on May 11, 2010 11:24:06 AM PDT
M. Helsdon says:
One thing none of the space tourism fans have mentioned is that the 'America's Space Prize' expired, unclaimed earlier this year. Its criteria pretty well define the basic capability required for genuine 'space tourism' and more serious launch capability.

It is also interesting to note that while the backer of the prize, Robert Bigelow 'is a supporter of space tourism in general, he doesn't think that market is that big. "That's all fine and good, but it's still going to be an expensive proposition for a long time," he said. "Most people don't have that kind of money, so the quantity of tourists is going to be fairly few." A much larger market, he believes, is serving government space agencies, particularly those who may be interested in a manned space program but don't have the money to develop, build, and launch their own spacecraft and space stations. "What we see down the road is, if you have affordable and reliable transportation systems, and if you have affordable and reliable destinations, you're probably going to see tremendous growth, maybe 60 or 70 countries, who are really motivated to have astronauts corps," he said.'

http://www.thespacereview.com/article/667/2

There are some interesting insights in page 1 and 2 of that article, from 2006.

In reply to an earlier post on May 11, 2010 11:32:32 AM PDT
M. Helsdon says:
Sailor,

"It is one thing IN ADDITION TO the other things. Again, no amount of tourists going to Hawaii to surf or watch hula dancers stops anybody from building a better telescope at Keck or testing wireless power transmission (been done, in Hawaii)."

That isn't a valid comparison: both the hula dancers and the telescope already have virtually all the infrastructure in place: a moderately comfortable biosphere and the facilities to support human life, without having to project it at a cost of $Ms 150+ miles up.

The commercial exploitation of space is a very different model to virtually every commercial activity on Earth, with the exception, perhaps, of attempting to operate on the bed of the ocean floor.

Your space tourists aren't going to provide sufficient income to act as a basis for the industrialization and exploitation of extraterrestrial resources. The economics simply don't work. Even Robert Bigelow says so.

Posted on May 11, 2010 12:07:07 PM PDT
<starts pulling out hair>
<remembers I'm getting a haircut later today anyway>
<stops pulling hair>

They don't have to "provide sufficient income to act as a basis for the industrialization and exploitation of extraterrestrial resources." Again, we're right back to either-or: EITHER the tourists spend enough money to fund, all by themselves, everything we want to do in Space OR they can make no contribution at all. All the tourists have to do is

a) provide an excuse to launch rockets more often. Volume brings down the per-launch cost, at which point launch becomes affordable to other things, including Serious Stuff, and

b) drive the private sector to get those @#$% launch costs down through technological progress. Once that is done, then again, you have a less-costly launch capability which can be used by tourists AND AND AND people wanting to do Serious Stuff. It becomes possible for people wanting to create new pharmaceuticals and alloys in Space to do so, because it now costs $1 million to send somebody up instead of $20 million. Because now Dr. Alloy can simply buy himself (or Future Metals, Inc. can buy him) a ticket to the Bigalow Horizon (or whatever Bigalow decides to call the thing) instead of convincing the government to put Dr. Alloy aboard the ISS.

Right now, if some company thinks they have a great idea and it requires going into Space, they not only have to convince the CEO and board and other company people, they also have to convince the government. Well, Space tourism also makes Space business travel possible. The same tech that launches a tourist can launch a metallurgist or a construction engineer (even Robert Bigalow says so). The same tech that allows six, or nine, or twenty tourists to stay aboard a Space hotel will allow nine, or twelve, or thirty engineers, technicians, and support personnel to stay in a construction shack (more crowded, fewer amenities, less comfortable than the hotel, but built with the same tech).

And while I'm at it...
c) Helping the average Joe think that maybe, just maybe, he, or his children, might get to go some day. Back during Apollo, part of the reason the program had such public support was because it was believed that heroic astronauts were blazing a trail for the rest of us. Some of it was "we gotta beat the Commies," but some of it was "and when little Bobby grows up he'll be going to the Moon for his honeymoon."

The truth is, none of the stuff you and I want, NONE OF IT, whether its Having Fun or Serious Stuff, is going to happen until those launch costs come down.

launch costs
launch costs
launch costs

And I'm in favor of Space tourism, Space gambling, Space sports, Space sex Space drugs and Space rock n' roll if it gets, or helps to get, launch costs down.

In reply to an earlier post on May 11, 2010 12:26:30 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 11, 2010 12:29:56 PM PDT
M. Helsdon says:
"<starts pulling out hair>"

Yes, I'm beginning to feel the same way.

"<remembers I'm getting a haircut later today anyway>"

You are fixated on a false business and development model.

"<stops pulling hair>"

Space tourism will not bring down launch costs: You are putting the cart in front of the horse.

There isn't and never will be a large enough market until realistic and economic launch systems are in place with reusable spaceplanes that can carry a sensible payload up to a useful altitude: that sort of R&D is way beyond even the largest commercial body involved in the exploitation of space.

Compared with the money required, space tourism is peanuts (it might bring in the small change but it won't pay for serious development), it is a distraction from the real effort and direction required to make space pay.

Otherwise, you will simply fuel the arguments of some of the people who have posted on this thread who are against all manned space programmes.

Remember, we've been here before: optimistic predictions for the future of man in space; in fact this is probably the third or fourth wave. I remember watching the movie 2001 - A Space Odyssey (Two-Disc Special Edition) when it first came out (didn't understand the ending at the time) but I really expected there to be spaceplanes and space stations (complete with a hotel) and moonbases... The lesson to be learned is that spaceflight is expensive and hard; if you expect it to be cheap and fun you will simply feed its decline. It isn't a toy, it isn't for fun, to succeed it has to meet very real demands for a significant return for a massive investment.

Posted on May 11, 2010 5:36:21 PM PDT
Once again you are insisting that tourism EITHER be able to fund everything all by itself OR it must not be done at all. You have this idea that if Tourism, Inc. does something in Space, this means that Powersats, Inc. can not. That if Mr. Billions goes up for a week of fun and frolic, Dr. Alloy becomes unable to fly. That if Bigalow takes on a tourist, ISS can not take on a physician.

It seems that I am being told that there is a very limited amount of "in-space-ness" to go around, and if any of this in-space-ness is used up by frivolous tourists, there won't be any in-space-ness left to use for more serious stuff.

There also seems to be the idea that any dollar spent on Fun means a dollar taken away from Serious. But of course that is not the case at all. Any money spent on Fun in Space is a dollar that would have been spent on Fun Something Else, not on Serious Space. That dollar was never going to be spent on Serious Stuff! It's just a question of whether or not it will be spent on Fun in Space or on Fun Something Else.

In reply to an earlier post on May 12, 2010 12:39:31 AM PDT
M. Helsdon says:
Sailor,

"Once again you are insisting that tourism EITHER be able to fund everything all by itself OR it must not be done at all."

You are not reading my posts; you are in a loop.

To spell it out: The economics of space tourism will not add up to a sufficient injection of cash to support the development of the infrastructure for any meaningful commercial space development. It may, in small numbers, follow on from the serious exploitation of space resources but it will not provide the necessary capital for the serious aspects. It is a sideline, not the main focus.

As Heinlein wrote "Once you get to Earth orbit, you're halfway to anywhere in the solar system." However, a suborbital hop, like that of Virgin Galactic is halfway to nowhere.

Of the several hundred people that have gone into space, there has been just over a four percent rate of fatalities; the space shuttle has a fatality percentage of about two percent. You might well say that similar odds don't stop people from climbing Mount Everest for fun (and forty years ago the odds were much much worse), but the first space tourist accident (and there will be one, inevitably) will probably stop the industry dead for decades. It may even affect serious commercial space operations.

Posted on May 12, 2010 5:08:09 AM PDT
To spell it out: you are morally opposed to people going into Space for what you consider frivolous reasons. You have already said as much when you wished death on Space gamblers and called the idea of casinos "more than a little sad" and "unimaginative and perverse, certainly decadent". You simply consider going into Space for the fun of it to be bad.

You then started making economic arguments which, while they have a germ of truth (tourism won't all by itself open the new frontier), are only reasons to not put all of our Space eggs in the tourism basket, not reasons to not do tourism at all. Now you are making the safety argument. Neither is your real reason for objecting. You have already stated your real objection: it is "more than a little sad" and is "unimaginative and perverse, certainly decadent."

Yes, there will eventually be an accident. There already have been accidents in the Space programs of various nations, and the tourist industry will have them too. But this will not "stop the industry dead for decades." Airliners crash and kill a hundred people and more at a time, and that doesn't stop tourist aviation for decades, or even months. Hell, 9/11 didn't stop tourist aviation for more than a week.

If you are right about all of the economics, then all the Space tourism ventures will fail, there will be no tourist fatalities because there will be no tourists, and Space will remain a perfect place where a very small number of perfect people do perfectly wonderful things. There, problem solved.

It is OK that you are morally opposed to Space tourism. There are things that I am morally opposed to, and I don't assume that I'm the only one allowed to have morals. But the truth is, a person's moral objection to Space tourism (or much of anything else) is only reason for the person offended to not go into Space as a tourist (to not participate in whatever else that person is morally opposed to). It is not reason for anybody not so opposed to not go.

Posted on May 12, 2010 5:11:33 AM PDT
Now that that's out of the way...

Once there is a hotel in orbit which can host twenty at a time, how long will it be before new martial arts are developed for zero-G.
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