Civilian Space Travel

Discussion in 'Science and Technology' started by XCV330, Feb 6, 2019.

  1. XCV330

    XCV330 A Being of Pure Caffeine Premium Member

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    Since we are on the very near cusp of this being a regular thing, I thought I'd start a thread for it, as opposed to it being all over the place. Time to start making the vision of Trek a reality and there is a lot going on now.


    Tomorrow, Feb 7, Mark Stucky and Frederick Sturckow become the first people to get presented with FAA commercial astronaut wings well over a decade for their December flight onboard the VSS Unity. There are two more SpaceShipTwo craft being built, apparently.

    Blue Origin's ship has been carrying paid freight surborbitally and it looks like it's close to being ready for passengers.

    Crew Dragon should fly sometime this month, and Boeing Starliner by summer. Not sure of Dreamchaser status but it's looking good.
     
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  2. Asbo Zaprudder

    Asbo Zaprudder Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Dreamchaser is more the size the shuttle should have been. Dragon and Starliner seem up to the job for ISS crew deployment/recovery and deeper space missions respectively.

    I can't get excited about current suborbital ventures such as Blue Origin and VSS. Only Blue Origin looks like it'll be capable of reaching orbit and returning successfully once the rocket is upgraded. It doesn't seem that reaching orbit is on the VSS roadmap.

    Also, whatever happened to Skylon?

    Meanwhile, I hear China is still working on a space elevator. That would be a game changer. While cheap per kilogram --although the capital expenditure is high, I assume it's amortised over decades -- it's a bloody slow way of getting into orbit...
     
  3. publiusr

    publiusr Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Lunar elevator can be had now with materials on hand. Easier. Good demonstrator
     
  4. Asbo Zaprudder

    Asbo Zaprudder Vice Admiral Admiral

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    ...but kind of pointless. Unless it has a long-term purpose integrated with commercially viable lunar infrastructure, no-one will finance it. Getting out of the Moon's gravity well requires a lot less delta-V than for Earth. It might come down to how much water is available at the Moon's poles and how we choose to exploit such a finite resource most effectively before switching to asteroid mining futher afield.
     
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2019
  5. XCV330

    XCV330 A Being of Pure Caffeine Premium Member

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    Crew Dragon test launch pushed to no-earlier-than March 2, I think.

    I just figured it was still in Funding Hell. It's an interesting idea.

    Interesting idea. Seems like it would need a lot of infrastructure in place to make it worth the time to do. so maybe down the road? I'm all for getting business going there though. Not to be a lunatic, but there are current railguns are already right around lunar orbital velocity. with a shell using a solid fuel propellant charge to circularize the orbit, that might be a quicker way to have something ready to dump lunar output up for transport and use, provided you had someone or something up there to collect it before it returned to earth, seeing as most lunar orbits decay rapidly.

    could use sodium nitrate fuel mostly in-situ produced in locally made aluminum casings for the transport shells. First lunar industry, apart from making a lot of breathable o2. But I still think O'neil got it right with the induction motor launch.
     
  6. SCE2Aux

    SCE2Aux Commander Red Shirt

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    I'm in a sad mood today, so let me play devil's advocate here - how long would space tourism last after a fatal incident? When people died in early aeroplanes, people still went in them because their utility was obvious, and they were cheaper, often much cheaper, than what it takes to build a rocket. I'm not sure the same can be said for the current crop of sub-orbital tourism offerings. At least Blue Origin's New Shepard is an excellent tdchnology demonstrator for their future booster. Virgin's system is a technological dead end, and a pretty scary looking one at that, judging by the wild rolling motion glimpsed and reported upon during their recent test flights. Not to mention their lack of abort motors. A couple of PR disasters, coupled with lackluster long term interest in tickets yeilding little in the way of income, could easily spell the end of these ventures.

    I could be (and hope to be) wrong about this, but I can't help being cynical about what the aerospace sector can do to advance us. We've seen bubbles of optimism grow and burst before. What with the global satellite launch market slowdown, plus companies like Stratolaunch in shaky condition, I sense another bubble.

    I find it just as plausible that our future aerospace endeavours lies more in a few medium lift vehicles and a host of smallsat vehicles, and not in BFR, New Glenn etc.
    I want to believe otherwise.
     
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  7. Dukhat

    Dukhat Vice Admiral Admiral

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    "Civilian" space travel is kind of a misnomer. It should actually be "billionaires with nothing better to do with their money" space travel.
     
  8. publiusr

    publiusr Vice Admiral Admiral

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    I'm thinking someone will die in one of the sub-orbital stunt flights before anyone dies in a capsule ever again--that's my guess. Hell, even a flat-earth'n anti-science fool managed to fly a simple Truax style pressure-fed and live.

    [​IMG]
    The Hughes name must have saved him...

    And he had less education/funding than the folks behind this:
    [​IMG]

    I'l stick with the pros
    https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/video/rise-of-the-rockets/
     
  9. Gary7

    Gary7 Vice Admiral Admiral

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    None of this is going to work while the dangers are still so great. Civilians needs to be assured of near air travel safety. Astronauts have an excellent track record at this point, but disaster looms in the distance. Space Junk is a REAL problem. A machine screw traveling at 10,000 kph can rip right through a space station bulkhead and cause depressurization.

    Fortunately, there are some people working on the space junk problem.
    Watch a satellite spear space debris with a harpoon
     
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  10. XCV330

    XCV330 A Being of Pure Caffeine Premium Member

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    That's pretty goddamned asinine. did it make you feel good to make a point? The co-pilot made a mistake, pulled the wrong lever, and he died. It's a damned shame, he left behind loved ones. Mistakes happen and unfortunately he paid for it. And you turned it into an image to compare it to the flat earther's hop. He wasn't the first one to die on that program, as you know. I had coworkers die earlier on the ground working on tier 2. Capsules are always going to be a good redundant choice. There's a reason Max Faget went with a design that's going to be used long into the future, but that does not mean that spaceplanes don't have their own utility.

    Look at how many of the early aeronauts died prior to WWI. your odds to live out the decade as a pilot in those days were poor. But people kept flying. And now we fly all the time.


    In the meantime, congratulations to Beth Moses, she became VSS Unity's first passenger to space on Friday.
     
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  11. Gary7

    Gary7 Vice Admiral Admiral

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    That's incorrect. He pulled the right lever, but at the wrong time.

    I haven't read a great deal about the accident, but from what I learned the unlocking of the feathers must be done at a certain speed, of mach 1.4. According to the telemetry, Alsbury pulled the unlocking lever at mach 0.8.

    The civilian pilots purportedly do not have the same rigid discipline as military pilots. At NASA there is a very burdened and rigid system of checks. Every action taken during critical phases in takeoff and landing require BOTH pilots to be on cue. If one pilot is to initiate a task, they announce it first and then will only carry through when the co-pilot repeats the task name. Ground control should also be fully in the loop. In the case of SpaceshipTwo, just 2 seconds prior to Alsbury pulling the unlocking lever, Siebold had shouted out "Yeehaw!". WTF? That's not proper discipline. With very little leeway on timed actions, you have a pilot who is consumed with the joy of what's happening and blurts out an exclamation. Distraction. Had he not been distracted, perhaps he could have stopped Alsbury from making the mistake.
    What's really troubling is that this was a known issue, about pilots potentially unlocking the feather booms too early. Since the result can be catastrophic, why no protection system? Only now, they've mentioned about setting up a visual cue, like an indicator light, that will go on once it's time to unlock. The question becomes, would that mechanism be 100% trustworthy? Any chance of flaws? Also, would that create a scenario whereby the pilot may not pay attention to the speed at the time of unlocking? Maybe they get complacent and if the indicator accidentally goes off too early or too late, the pilot may not catch it and create a fatal mistake. Perhaps the best solution is to fully program the launch to orbit so it's all computer control, with the pilots there to monitor and react in the case of a rare fault. But then, that would go against the glamour of being a space pilot... :rolleyes:
     
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  12. XCV330

    XCV330 A Being of Pure Caffeine Premium Member

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    To this day the accident troubles me. Alsbury had almost 2000 hours flight time. The idea, as I understand it, and this obviously has a lot to do with Rutan's ideas and the ideas he sold first to Paul Allen and later to Branson, was to reduce the complications of design by letting pilots do the work. You've already got two well trained chemical computers up there with bodies to activate controls, use them. Obviously the flaw in that showed up pretty quickly. The feathering control was probably the most dangerous thing he could have activated in supersonic flight and I guess he just wasn't thinking clearly enough. he wouldn't have activated the landing gear (which might have led to similar results). There should have been a failsafe to prevent feathering from being engaged during boost phase. It would not have been complicated and could have been done without interfering with the reluctance for fbw that they showed. I guess I didn't think I'd live to see someone die in a spaceship called Enterprise, and if it happened that it wouldn't be such an avoidable mistake. But so far every space related death has been a mistake that could have been avoided.

    But the system itself seems safe enough. There is going to be risk. The main thing about Virgin's system is that it might be a technological dead end. Not the air drop, there's a lot of work going on with that now, essentially using a plane as a first stage, but the feathering just seems to be a Rutan thing that looks awesome, works pretty good and won't ever really go on to influence design. I love Rutan designs, but the skies are not exactly darkened with Long-EZ's and Beechcraft Starships. As tourists begin to have a choice between the B-O capsule, and the Virgin ship, it will be interesting to see what they tend to prefer based on the anecdotes they hear from those who have flown already.

    For Virgin and ss2, i think if they'd had it to do over again they probably would have stuck with a space plane, but there are some aspects I do wonder if they would have changed, primarily the hybrid motor, which to me, is probably long term another dead end, and one which more or less has dictated the entire design of ss2 and stunted further development.
     
  13. Gary7

    Gary7 Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Computer systems today are far more advanced than they were during the Apollo space program, and with the tremendous redundancies that were pioneered by the shuttle program. I think it's a flawed idea to go lean and put much more burden on the pilots. Because they're human and more prone to mistakes. And that's what happened with SS2 -- pilot error. Highly critical systems do need to be computer assisted or automated, balanced according to the challenges.

    The difficulty is taking space travel into a commercial phase. People like to compare it to air travel and that it'll just be a matter of time before the same kind of facilitation is achieved. I don't agree. Because of the physical aspects of orbital flight, there are an enormous increase in complications to the craft. A capsule is a very different kind of craft from a plane. The "space plane" is probably a lot more attractive for commercial use, because it would conceivably make for a similar seating experience as with air travel. So civilians would feel more assured. But in terms of practicality, reentry is totally cruel to spacecraft. As you well know. The NASA space shuttles took a lot of heat damage coming back from reentry and refurbishment was very expensive. Until they come up with a new kind of composite that is extremely heat tolerant and capable of maintaining high integrity during and after severe heat stress, the space plane won't be a commercially viable kind of craft. Yes, there are multi-millionaires and billionaires who will afford taking a sub orbital flight, but how many times will they take them? It's short lived tourism. And once they've done it, will they be compelled to be repeat passengers? It's not going to be commercially viable until costs come down such that the top 10% can afford it. But there's one other thing -- the life insurance aspect. The dangers are significantly higher than air travel. So, is a billionaire really going to risk their lives repeatedly?

    The capsule based reentry system is most sensible at this time. But, it's also not very glamorous. You don't land on an air strip at your local international airport. You plunge into the ocean. If I could afford it, I'd do it... but only once. I don't want to take the risks beyond that.

    Personally, I think people are getting ahead of the technology. They are so eager and impatient, wanting to push the envelope. But I really think commercial space tourism is highly unrealistic at this point.
     
  14. XCV330

    XCV330 A Being of Pure Caffeine Premium Member

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    I think we are ready for commercial space travel. Maybe not a lot of tourism in the normal sense, but it must be remembered there were people willing to board those old pan-am clippers and ford tri-motors long before air travel was safe. We're still in the barnstorming era, but there were people willing to pay to get on board those old Curtis Jennies too.

    As far as the reentry phase, that I think is one of the least problematic areas of development. Dragon has PicaX which apparently is good enough for interplanetary return velocities. I think Boeing is going with ablative which worked fine for Apollo. There's also the possibility of a metallic heatsink shield, something like beryllium, if you could make certain it did not break up and pollute due to its toxicity. I don't know what B-O has planned for their vehicle. Dreamchaser will apparently use a version of the material used on the actual operational spaceplane that is currently in space and outside the scope of discussion.
     
  15. Gary7

    Gary7 Vice Admiral Admiral

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    True, there were all kinds of hurdles needing to be crossed with early commercial aviation. For instance, the lack of air traffic control! Of course, with minimal traffic, it's not an issue, but you do need manned air fields so you can get weather reports and clearance for landing (you never know what obstructions may inadvertently appear if nobody is checking).

    Considering the previous modes of commercial travel... ocean vessels, stage coaches, railway trains, road buses; they all had their challenges. The jump from buses to jets was a significant delta from trains to buses. But comparing jets to spacecraft... I think the delta is exponentially more challenged.

    My prediction is that the first few companies that do space tourism will likely not recoup the initial investment. It will be more or less a bragging right for the billionaire owners. And they will find a point where they need to lower fares in order to attract more passengers... but they won't be able to go below a certain threshold if they want to be commercially viable. And it's tricky because you can't just "mothball" the space craft and then take it out once you've got enough passengers. It needs to be maintained and you need to employ an active ground crew plus pilots to be ready. Given the technology we have today, I do not think it's possible to do it for profit. Maybe in another 20 to 30 years, if technological improvements in systems and materials continues.
     
  16. XCV330

    XCV330 A Being of Pure Caffeine Premium Member

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    Crew Dragon is cleared for flight March 2 by flight readiness review.
     
  17. publiusr

    publiusr Vice Admiral Admiral

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    My only point was in showing the simplicity of even the Flat Earther's rocket. Busier craft like Unity needed better, built-in safety. My apologies
     
  18. XCV330

    XCV330 A Being of Pure Caffeine Premium Member

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    I understand. and my apologies to you. i had no right being so sensitive.



    SpaceX DM1 Flight scheduled for 0249 tonight, coverage will start at 0200
     
  19. XCV330

    XCV330 A Being of Pure Caffeine Premium Member

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    [​IMG]
    Beautiful launch and 1st stage landing. Crew Dragon is on its way to the ISS.
     
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  20. Santaman

    Santaman Vice Admiral Admiral

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