Monday, September 23, 2013

Vandenberg Spaceport


I'm baaaaack!

Yes, the hiatus has been far too long - I kept thinking 'just another day or two,' after a move, working on Catherine of Lyonesse, an annoying and voltage-draining sinus infection, and, well, work.

The move means a regretful farewell to the F line streetcars, 100,000-ton containerships, and more places to eat than we could ever possibly try. On the other hand, the Central Coast does have a justified reputation as a corner of paradise.

Of more interest to most readers here, the move puts me back within decent viewing distance of launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Alas, relentless California coastal summer fog rendered the late-August launch of a Delta IV Heavy invisible. As the seasons turn, bringing Indian summer to the coast, I have better hopes for the upcoming Falcon 9 launch, postponed from midmonth and now scheduled for September 29th.

For those who live near the West Coast, or simply want to keep track of launch schedules, here is a Web page listing scheduled Vandenberg launches.

This launch schedule also provides some important - and frustrating - lessons about the practicalities of space flight.

The most important of these lessons is that space launches are rare. Not counting ICBM test flights (one pending, and one I slept through and missed a couple of nights ago), three launches are scheduled between now and March. Throw in the late-August Delta IV launch and it comes to four launches over an eight-month period.

This is surely not an 'efficient' usage of facilities and resources. A space launch center must be broadly comparable to a large airport. The vehicles it handles are about the same size as jetliners, and at least as demanding. They must be prepped, serviced, and sent on their way, using a lot of specialized equipment, and - even more expensive - teams of human expertise.

If a major airport handled one flight every other month ... airline tickets would not be cheap.

In fairness, Vandenberg is not the most heavily used launch center. It is used for polar-orbit launches, particularly for spy satellites, though also for some types of geosats for which maximum coverage of the Earth's surface is important. Polar-orbit launches cannot benefit significantly from Earth's rotation, so they are avoided unless specifically called for.

But sometimes they are called for, meaning that all traffic cannot be consolidated to a single launch site. Worldwide there have been rather less than 100 launches in each of the last few years -74 in 2010, 84 in 2011, 78 last year, and 52 so far this year.

This includes a handful of failures each year; out of 286 attempts this decade, 18 were failures, a 6 percent failure rate. This is, I believe, a somewhat higher failure rate than in the last couple of decades - at least in part, I'd guess, because of more new and inexperienced players in the game.

But any way you cut it, space launches are not an everyday event - more like one or two per week, worldwide.

The problem of low traffic volume does not just drive up the cost of launching rockets. Production of any one given type is only a dozen or so per year - up to 19, in 2011 for the Russian workhorse Soyuz (R-7) and China's Chang Zheng. Individual Western booster types rarely see more than half a dozen launches per year. Forget production-line efficiencies.

This traffic volume also puts paid to reusable launch vehicles. Quite apart from technical challenges, there just isn't the traffic to keep them busy. (And since payloads vary widely, you'd really need a stable of types, just as with expendables.)

In fact, given the traffic level, a stable of expendables is the most cost-effective approach. For any given individual payload they are far less expensive than a reusable vehicle that has to not only get the payload up, but then get itself back down.

Yes, this is a dead horse I have beaten here many times before, and will no doubt beat again. But actually living where I can watch space launches brings some immediacy to the topic.

On the bright side, we are sending some 80-odd missions a year into orbit and beyond. More than that, in fact, since many launches carry multiple satellites. As also noted here before, we have sent missions to every major planet in the Solar System, and a good many other objects.

And I am looking forward to Sunday morning, when that Falcon 9 is scheduled to go up. With a little bit of luck the sky will be clear.

Discuss:





The image, via Flickr, shows a Delta IV Medium launch from Vandenberg, last year.

451 comments:

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Katzen said...

I have been reading this blog and reading atomic rockets for about a year and now getting a idea of how rockets and space could work.

Now I'm going to be captain obvious right now. there are two problems with a large presence of people in space. I will offer solutions that might work.

1. The lack of a cheap reusable surface to orbit rocket.

I would be some serious money on Spacex right now because they have moved beyond the "computer model" stage and have been building real rockets for over half a decade now.
I work on helicopters, big ones, maintenance and rebuilds is something I am very familiar with. Not saying that they are exactly the same as rockets.

A good team of a dozen mechanics however can tear down and inspect every nook and cranny of a helicopter and put it back together in as little as 2 weeks. Test flights another two or three days.


Spacex, if they design rockets that are not overly complex like the J-2 rockets of the space shuttle (funny sidenote: when my wife first saw one in a museum she called it modern art and the most convoluted design she had ever seen) then the cost of refurbishment will be in the one hundred thousands, and with experience get below the hundred thousand mark.

Much of maintenance is done by look, feel, component checks, and replacing by operating life limits. Man-hours is the largest cost.

2. No one has found the "Macguffinite" to fund space travel.

I "might" have a solution which is to make space a financial tool for securing money.

Let's say we have a governing body that funds all (or a majority) of space activities from cleaning space trash, colonization, resource exploitation of asteroids, even repair of satellites. Think of every reason. you can.

It issues a "S-bill" bond that will return it's purchasing power (note: purchasing power instead of price or value) from the day it was purchased in variety of currencies, product or services from dollars to satellite bandwidth.
This governing body only makes enough money, services or products to pay back the debt that year.

On the other hand your money is locked up in space activities that will deaden the effects of even the most turbulent economic times since they money is literally in the form of people and equipment off planet.
This creates a huge "reserve currency" that then can be converted into more than one kind of currency once the "S-bill" matures (platinum, gold, silver, fuel, satellite bandwidth, land on the moon, license for a clean orbit,payload ) That becomes instantly valuable to the person or company. Which isn't dependent on one government or company.

The Governing body keeps a large portfolio of all such currencies with the money that's not being used to fund space activities.

These "S-bills" would become more secure than even gold or cash, liquid due to a constant purchasing power, and stable as tungsten in a helium atmosphere since they return a constant purchasing power rather than a single currency that can gain or loose value and therefore would be bet on.

nothingness and distance can become space's "Macguffinite"

Anonymous said...

Ok, so we need to have people in space so we can study them to determin how best to have people in space for long term missions. The data from the ISS is important because it shows us the need to have artificial gravity (spin sections), and lots of radiation shielding. So, digging a lot of iron and aluminium out of asteroids might be good to build ships or bases, rather than drag all that stuff up the gravity-well. Or, it could be that just sending it down to the Earth's surface is the only economicly viable course of action. Or, it might be something completely different, but we won't know until we actually try.

Ferrell

Anonymous said...

Katzen,
That was really well thought out. I'll have to think about that for a while before I can make a worthwhile comment on it, though. I look forward to your future comments!

Ferrell

Thucydides said...

Katzen

Welcome to the forum, and thank you for a very interesting contribution.

A few points to refine your idea:

1. The actual amount of money being made in Space may be in the billions of dollars, but this is only a fraction of the global economy. The financial services industry will offer competing "X-bills" based on commodities, goods and services (sliced and diced in any number of ways), futures, hedges and any other financial play that is possible. Simple economics will dictate that the bulk of the money will flow to "X-bills" that offer the highest rates of return; either in purchasing power or traditional ROI. (Incidentally, ROI in normal trading environments does reflect the risk of inflation, the risk premium being expressed in how many % points above Prime a bond or other instrument will pay).

2. I suspect the way to get money invested in Space will be insurance companies offering to pay to clean up space junk so their satellite coverage risks are reduced. This does not mean there will be manned spacecraft out there gathering up debris; I can imagine large balloons filled with ice that "sweep" orbits ahead of functional satellites; small debris slams into the balloon and loses a lot of energy, spiraling down into the atmosphere. "Laser brooms" might also work.

3. Assuming the governing body has a vested interest in "inflation proofing" the S-bill may be a bit dangerous. If they have a bad day, or discover that income is not matching outflows, they have a vested interest in devaluing in order to make their debts "go away". Governments around the world are doing this on an incomprehensible scale today, but inflation favours debtors and punishes savers. The Governing body is, in a sense, a debtor. (Banks look at your bank deposit as a liability rather than an asset, which may help you in how to think about this).

I think you are onto something, so don't take this critique as a slam against the idea. There seems to be some sort of potential here, it just needs to be refined.

Byron said...

Katzen:
1. The lack of a cheap reusable surface to orbit rocket.

I would be some serious money on Spacex right now because they have moved beyond the "computer model" stage and have been building real rockets for over half a decade now.
I work on helicopters, big ones, maintenance and rebuilds is something I am very familiar with. Not saying that they are exactly the same as rockets.

The problem with SpaceX is that they aren't going to unleash everyone's dream of "cheap spaceflight for all". At the moment, it looks like they might match Proton for launch costs, which is impressive, but not what is needed to really get people into space in a major way.

A good team of a dozen mechanics however can tear down and inspect every nook and cranny of a helicopter and put it back together in as little as 2 weeks. Test flights another two or three days.
This is true, but a high-performance rocket engine is at least as complicated as a helicopter, and has to be rebuilt after every flight.

Spacex, if they design rockets that are not overly complex like the J-2 rockets of the space shuttle (funny sidenote: when my wife first saw one in a museum she called it modern art and the most convoluted design she had ever seen) then the cost of refurbishment will be in the one hundred thousands, and with experience get below the hundred thousand mark.
The Space Shuttle used SSMEs, not J-2s. That was the 2nd and 3rd stages on the Saturn V. Running a rocket engine with little to no maintainence is possible (The RL-10 on the DC-X is the poster child for this), but what you gain there, you lose in performance. The RL-10 is exclusively an exoatmospheric engine, which means much lower pressures throughout.

Much of maintenance is done by look, feel, component checks, and replacing by operating life limits. Man-hours is the largest cost.
Part of the problem with the shuttle was the man-hours, actually. The shuttle had to pay overhead on keeping all the infrastructure in place. If you're flying enough that the infrastructure is fully utilized, that's not such a big deal. On the other hand, some simple math suggests that labor costs for the helicopter rebuild described above would be in the tens of thousands range, which is only 1.5 orders of magnitude lower than the SSME. In that case, the need to do the overhaul every time becomes the killer. On the other hand, the SSME was designed the better part of four decades ago, and we could probably make an equivalent engine that costs a lot less to maintain.

Roger M. Wilcox said...

I assume "other objects" includes a certain little Dwarf Planet in the inner Kuiper belt that some folks get into a tizzy about....

Katzen said...

Thucydides I had the only the most vague idea of how a "S-bill" would work and I realize that much of my first impressions on the idea were wrong. I feel though I did get a few hairs on the tip of the tiger's tail.

After a good long brainstorming session I had while running I started to get a more feasible system.

It's not going to act as a hedge inflation, but rather a hedge for Government, Companies, and Universities or even firms when they want to conduct large projects or firms that want to hedge bets with a decent ROI which lends itself well to space.

Let's say a telecom corporation wants to have X-bandwidth next year, but they know what their minimum is. They buy a the S-bills with a preference for Bandwidth

preference would mean that the the governing body will make sure to have the bandwidth if the telecom available at the maturity of the S-bill

The governing body uses that money to buy a variety of currencies and durable commodities as well as uses a portion of money to fund space activities that year.

Now let's say that our telecom by next year has fallen on hard times and needs a quick influx of cash so they ask at maturity of the S-bill for cash instead of bandwidth. The bandwidth is freed to be used by anyone who has their S-bill mature at the same time.

You can think of many other large operations that could be funded this way like a University wanting a space telescope can buy the time for next year while still keeping a liquid asset on the books.

I am not a accounting or finance guru, and even I can see if this is managed badly that it would crash. But such a system lends well to any large project especially space projects since you can liquidate the assets if times come hard and you can eliminate the risk and R&D if something falls through.

The major feature is that when you buy a S-bill much of the money goes out into buy other financial products and commodities, these are sold then to fund the space activities.
You want any of the products when that S-bill matures you can buy that, or buy any of the other non-reserved items in the governing body's portfolio at their price when you bought the S-bill 1,2,5,10, or even 50 years ago. Makes a nice ROI at a low risk.

I apologize that was long winded and all over place. I haven't really structured the idea yet.

Anonymous said...

Katzen,

I like your S-bill idea. I'm not a financial guru either, but at least you are trying to tackle the economic side of the launch equation.

Most if not all business decisions are influenced by government taxes and regulations. They set the rules for business. Maybe something like S-bills could be used to encourage space travel and create new industries.

Ron

Katzen said...

Bryon

First, whoops. I thought the SSMEs and the J-2s were the same thing under a different name.
Now the Proton like all rockets is Expendable launch vehicle. I state the obvious because as expensive as rockets, throwing them away after every launch is what kills the price. Now the space shuttle was an even worse option where every part was looked under a microscope and then had to be half rebuilt anyway. It was the worse of both expendable and reusable launch ideas.

When I put that cost in I was actually thinking of the parts, fuel (for test flight, or in this case burn), and such for a rocket. Now a reusable rocket at first no matter how good is going to be more expensive and less profitable than a expendable the first few launches. This is lack of experience since no one knows just what parts are going to fail often or that one bolt tucked away keeps breaking on you and you have to take the something big and complex out. Each one of these rockets will have to be taken apart and studied thoroughly.

Now I think Spacex will keep it’s launch services like it is right now. It will launch each rocket and even then when they do get the first reusable stage back it won’t be flown again and will be studied and tested until it fails. Spacex won’t get it’s fully functional rocket for at least a decade. Right now it’s simply using launch contracts to fund it’s development of a successively improved variations of the major components of the rocket.

Now overhauls once you understand what breaks and what doesn’t each flight and how often will give you the maintenance procedure after every flight. That will bring the cost in man hours waaay down.

Actually depending on the helicopter we are talking about a rocket engine can look relatively simple. A standard single rotor twin engine helicopter has multiple transmissions, avionics, radar, advanced flight system, a fully hydraulic system, precisely balanced blades and is built in with maintenance platforms. This doesn’t include mission specific assemblies such as medical equipment, cameras, or if military tracking and weapons systems.

don't take this as a hit against you. You are actually correct about most of it. I disagree about somethings, but I have a different set of experiences and you might know something I don't.

Byron said...

Katzen:

When I put that cost in I was actually thinking of the parts, fuel (for test flight, or in this case burn), and such for a rocket. Now a reusable rocket at first no matter how good is going to be more expensive and less profitable than a expendable the first few launches. This is lack of experience since no one knows just what parts are going to fail often or that one bolt tucked away keeps breaking on you and you have to take the something big and complex out. Each one of these rockets will have to be taken apart and studied thoroughly.

It's not as bad as you make it out. Engineers have some fairly impressive tools to tell them what is likely to fail. The biggest problem with reusable rockets is recovering them in an economical manner, not making the thing in the first place. In fact, all liquid rocket engines are rated for multiple starts without serious maintainence because of the need for testing.
The reason recovery is such a killer is the nature of rocket stages. They tend to be large, lightweight, and designed for fairly specific stresses. How would one recover a Falcon-9s first stage? It separates out over the ocean, so it clearly has to fly back. And then it has to land intact, which isn't as easy as it sounds. We can solve these, but it drives the cost and weight of the stage right up. It would help if we could drop the thing over land, but that's out for safety reasons.

Actually depending on the helicopter we are talking about a rocket engine can look relatively simple. A standard single rotor twin engine helicopter has multiple transmissions, avionics, radar, advanced flight system, a fully hydraulic system, precisely balanced blades and is built in with maintenance platforms. This doesn’t include mission specific assemblies such as medical equipment, cameras, or if military tracking and weapons systems.
Depends on how we define "rocket". We've got a minimum of two engines, one of which has some very high pressure pumps. These alone are more maintenance-intensive (if not strictly speaking more complex) then a helicopter's. More engines if we want engine-out capability. The avionics package is probably just as complex as a typical helicopter's. If there's a recovery system, that's going to be separate, and probably brings it up to the complexity of a helicopter. And the designers can't go for the same level of maintainability that a helicopter has because that costs weight. And weight on rockets is far more critical than it is on airplanes.

don't take this as a hit against you. You are actually correct about most of it. I disagree about somethings, but I have a different set of experiences and you might know something I don't.
I certainly didn't. We actually see this sort of thing a lot. I should explain that I'm studying aerospace engineering, so we're essentially looking at the same thing from different sides. I'm not sure who is correct, but it's not like Elon Musk is the first person to think "wouldn't it be great if we could re-use our rockets?" There is no shadowy group dedicated to suppressing reusable launch vehicles, so I suspect that it's harder than it looks.

Tony said...

The problem with reusable rockets is what it has always been -- you only get so much mass for structure, engines, and payload. If you add to structure and/or engines, you reduce payload. If you reduce payload in the pursuit of saving structure and engines, you make each pound of payload carry more system cost. To make reusability feasible, the savings gained in system cost per pound in payload has to significantly exceed the extra cost born by each pound of payload because the system allows less payload.

Call me a skeptic or curmudgeon or whatever, but I've been watching the reusability boondoggle for forty years now, and it hasn't born fruit. Nobody has figured out how to make reusability inexpensive enough to overcome the extra cost per pound of payload. SpaceX is not likely to be the first, simply because they don't possess any magic that Boeing or LockMart doesn't have. Even if they manage to get their first stage back from a service launch, it's likely to cost almost as much to refurbish it as it would have cost to build a new one. Nobody's going to buy a flight on the thing until it has been completely disassembled, inspected, and rebuilt. (Launch services customers have their own highly competent engineers, who know all too well the stresses a launch vehicle undergoes in flight.) There's just not going to be a market for a repaint and reload. SpaceX is doing all of these experiments with first stage recovery because the boss is an idiot that says they have to. That doesn't mean that there's a viable business case for the end result.

jollyreaper said...

Of relevance to the discussion. Charlie Stross discusses the most unlikely rocket engine he's ever heard of.

http://www.tor.com/stories/2012/07/a-tall-tail

This is true, I swear:

I was in Orlando in October, staying in one of those big, bland conference hotels. DARPA, the Pentagon department tasked with nurturing Mad Science in all its most speculative forms, had decided to throw a brainstorming conference on the 100 Year Starship—a mind-meld to try and figure out what research they’d have to conduct in order to have a hope of beginning to build a starship some time in the twenty-second century. And for no reason I clearly understood, they decided to fly in a bunch of SF authors from all over the world. I’m not sure why the Pentagon might want a starship, but I was glad someone was paying for me to go to Orlando and kibitz on their conference, and I was happy to bloviate about such things from a hard SF point of view.

The 100YSS conference exceeded all my expectations—and everyone else’s. But the sheer amount of information on tap made the experience feel a bit like trying to drink from a fire hose. It turns out there’s a lot we don’t know about how to build a starship, but also a lot that we do know, and this was the mother of all networking opportunities for folks with an interest in the field.

Like all networking sessions, a lot of the interesting stuff happens among small groups by the poolside bar, or over a dinner table in a nearby restaurant. You get talking to some interesting-sounding folks who ply you with beer, and the next thing you know you discover you’ve been drafted into some kind of DARPA-funded think tank, or wake up with a hangover in a North Korean labour camp, doomed to spend the next two years coaching the Great Leader’s son through writing the Nobel Prize–winning SF novel that daddy expects him to produce.

Luckily that’s never happened to me, but I have had an eye-opening experience or two. Like the chat I had on Sunday evening by the swimming pool.

Byron said...

Jollyreaper:
That reminds me of John D. Clark's book Ignition, which everyone here should read. He didn't mention FOOF, but everything else in there is actually mentioned. They did fire one rocket that had mercury in the fuel (I don't' think it was dimethylmercury, but they were planning on testing the motor in New Jersey.)

Byron said...

I should have finished reading the story before I posted earlier. There was no mention of nuclear isomers in Ignition, and I'm 90% sure that Stross's leg was being pulled.

jollyreaper said...

He did call it a tall tale. :)

Katzen said...

Bryon
two sides of the same coin is a really good way to put it. I look at planes and helicopters and think "how long would that take to fix?"

The impressive tool set for diagnostics is indeed impressive, but you need to teach the maintenance team how to pull it apart without it breaking anything.
The other bit is that there is always a variable that doesn't get factored in. Corrosion, imperfections in hardware or any number of components failing or acting up creating a chain reaction fail, and also you can never factor in idiots. This is what experience shows.

The recovery is painful in terms of weight and complexity, but the trick would be to have the landing system using the same structure as was used going up. Mirroring as best as possible the stresses of landing as flying.

I would look at the first stage as a "elevator". It goes mostly strait up and strait down with a bit of lateral motion to bring it over water. This means that all stresses will be vertical rather than in all directions.
Now the second stage will add all it's thrust laterally and in the words of Douglas Adams "throw yourself at the ground and miss"

I will say that flight plan I did rip off The Rocket Company, but I think it's workable.

I don't think there any magic in Spacex, or any shadowy group trying to suppress any technology. I can't believe in conspiracies because the bigger they get the easier they are to expose and the worse the damage is in the end. Things are too easy to bring in the open these days.

I see the variety of operations that have made or broken a good team, and I think Boeing or Lockheed are so old and have so many political promises and vested interests that their engineers have to first contend with a maze of managers, contracts, "consultants" and other oddities that make money but turn out crappy products.
That kind of system promotes meritocracy and complacency.

I think rather than being a idiot, Elon musk is actually letting the engineers do what they love and give them problems, not paperwork.

it worked during WW2, it worked for skunk works, it works for google, I think it's working for spacex.
A "repaint and reload" would have a market if you are offering them at break even or even at a loss. The first launch would make the profit and the second, third, even fourth launches will be progressively cheaper, and can be the added bonus of being your R&D test flights for your hardware, if you can send a sat or even a research probe that is (realitively) mass manufactured, have a launch contract for three for the price of one and there is a 10% chance that one doesn't make it still is worth the launch costs.

I guess I see things from a operations standpoint rather than a design standpoint. It makes me a odd character, but I feel that even the best tech and teams have been felled by overly complex and bureaucratic organizations.

I don't believe space will be opened up by technological advancement as much as advances in financial, resource (human and otherwise) management tools will.

I'm enjoying this. It's a bit of mental stretching during and after work.

Anonymous said...

Katzen, I have to agree with you, the real breakthroughs in space launch will be more from human advances then from technology, but we'll still need both to get lower cost t orbit.

Ferrell

Byron said...

Katzen:
The impressive tool set for diagnostics is indeed impressive, but you need to teach the maintenance team how to pull it apart without it breaking anything.
Right. But that's what test articles are for.

The other bit is that there is always a variable that doesn't get factored in. Corrosion, imperfections in hardware or any number of components failing or acting up creating a chain reaction fail, and also you can never factor in idiots. This is what experience shows.
Oh, yes. But you'd be amazed at how well-quantified experience on other platforms can be, particularly with a proper test program.

The recovery is painful in terms of weight and complexity, but the trick would be to have the landing system using the same structure as was used going up. Mirroring as best as possible the stresses of landing as flying.
That would seem to be the obvious answer, but it pretty much requires using the engines to land, which is tricky. Ideally, you'd want it to come in more or less passively, which means either wings or parachutes. From what I can tell, NASA seems to think wings are the best way to go about this, and I trust their judgement over Elon Musk's.

I would look at the first stage as a "elevator". It goes mostly strait up and strait down with a bit of lateral motion to bring it over water. This means that all stresses will be vertical rather than in all directions.
Not as much as you'd think. The SI-C, for example, was 92 km downrange, 67 km up, and moving away at 2.3 km/s at staging. In many ways, that last number is the biggest problem. If the stage was at a dead stop, it would be a lot easier to bring back.

I don't think there any magic in Spacex, or any shadowy group trying to suppress any technology. I can't believe in conspiracies because the bigger they get the easier they are to expose and the worse the damage is in the end. Things are too easy to bring in the open these days.
I wasn't saying that you did. It was a rhetorical device to point out that recovering spacecraft is really difficult, and the reason that Boeing and Lockheed don't do it is because it's not economical.

I see the variety of operations that have made or broken a good team, and I think Boeing or Lockheed are so old and have so many political promises and vested interests that their engineers have to first contend with a maze of managers, contracts, "consultants" and other oddities that make money but turn out crappy products.
Given the track record of the products of those companies, this comment isn't justified. If anything, political interference pushes towards reusability.

Byron said...

Katzen:
I think rather than being a idiot, Elon musk is actually letting the engineers do what they love and give them problems, not paperwork.
The problem here is twofold. First, Musk came out of Silicon Valley, and has the mentality of that area. People from that area think they have the secret of technology development, and look down on "conventional, hidebound companies and methods". Sometimes they're right, but often they're not. It's been said that if buildings were built like software, the first woodpecker would have destroyed civilization. Second, engineers are no more immune to wishful thinking than anyone else, and Musk is certainly charismatic.

A "repaint and reload" would have a market if you are offering them at break even or even at a loss. The first launch would make the profit and the second, third, even fourth launches will be progressively cheaper, and can be the added bonus of being your R&D test flights for your hardware, if you can send a sat or even a research probe that is (realitively) mass manufactured, have a launch contract for three for the price of one and there is a 10% chance that one doesn't make it still is worth the launch costs.
Not necessarily. "Repaint and reload" might well be more expensive than just building a new one, particularly at the launch rates involved today, because hardware isn't the only cost involved. Even if you can make the flyback stage cost-competitive with a conventional stage (which is doubtful) you still need to do the "repaint and reload". Let's draw an analogy to soda bottles. Most of the time, they're still in good shape after use, so why don't the companies bring them back, clean them out, and refill them? Obviously, a large part of this is the problem of bringing them back, and rockets are much the same. However, what would you need to do to sell the bottle again? You'd need a careful inspection, to make sure that the bottle is clean and structurally intact, and hasn't been contaminated by the user. Then, you'd have to sanitize it, and inspect that. It's cheaper to just buy more bulk plastic of known quality and make new bottles, particularly as you'd have to make new bottles to replace losses anyway.
The reason for this is that controlling for potential problems costs money, just as building things does. When you're building from scratch, you have much better control over the process, limiting potential problems and allowing cheaper inspections for problems you could have. During refurbishment of a rocket, neither of those applies, and the cost of controlling for the problems can easily be effectively the same as building a new one.

I guess I see things from a operations standpoint rather than a design standpoint.
I think this is it. Above you said that you ask "how much would it cost to fix that?" The problem is that you're not necessarily getting the right answer in terms of overall cost (specifically, overhead and recovery), and that you aren't asking "how much would it take to build another one instead?"

It makes me a odd character, but I feel that even the best tech and teams have been felled by overly complex and bureaucratic organizations.
Bureaucracy doesn't exist for the best teams, it exists for the worst ones. Even the best teams make mistakes, and lots of paperwork is what prevents most of those mistakes from reaching the final product. If we could somehow detect those mistakes without bureaucracy, then we obviously wouldn't need it.

I don't believe space will be opened up by technological advancement as much as advances in financial, resource (human and otherwise) management tools will.
I'm mostly with you on this. The problem is that SpaceX and the Russians have gotten launch costs as low as they'll go under the current system, and nobody seems to have both the capabilities and the incentive to move us to another one.

Katzen said...

Bryon
didn't mean to make it sound like a rebuttal so much. Most nights I don't have much time after work to do anything but get ready for the next day and bed.

I know the shadowy conspiracy was a joke. Sometimes it's hard to give written words a tone. I found it actually damn funny because my father has retired and is loosing his mental facilities and has gotten into the moon landing conspiracy and the "Illuminati" type world control. Hence why I responded to such a extent. My humor is a little very literal.

I wish I could believe him, that means someone has a clue were the world is headed to.

I guess crappy product isn't quite the word I should use. I will use the F-35 having it's parts sourced from all 50 states as a example of those vested interests, and it's still massive flaws as where there are problems in the company management. The SR-71 was 6 maybe 7 years from first drawing to full fledged aircraft?

I think that the VTVL has gained a lot of popularity in recent years. The Mars rover used the "skycrane" landing design. Masten Aerospace has some really impressive control on it's rockets, and the "Grasshopper" test vehicle continues to show promise with ever increasing movement.

My idea is after experience you won't have to take apart the rocket after every launch. The company would have the confidence just to refuel and launch. At that moment reusable would be cheaper than expendable, but not any sooner than that.

the major problem with bureaucracy at least where I work operates on the lowest common denominator that ordering even cheap parts becomes a slow and documentation intensive process even if it's internal. It's created a lot of sitting and waiting when things come out of left field. With all the moving parts poor planning will exacerbate the problem even further.

I'm a 90's kid so silicon valley was what innovation looked like to me. My father was and still is a engineer, and he drilled into me from a young age of "keep it simple, durable, and fixable" of the old school soviet line of engineering which he grew up (and left). So mechanic I became first before I would (or could but that's personal) go to school for engineering.

Byron said...

Katzen:
I guess crappy product isn't quite the word I should use. I will use the F-35 having it's parts sourced from all 50 states as a example of those vested interests, and it's still massive flaws as where there are problems in the company management. The SR-71 was 6 maybe 7 years from first drawing to full fledged aircraft?
The problem here can mostly be traced to 536 people in Washington DC, not the management of the companies in question. Actually, it can be traced to one man who used to work for Ford, but I digress.

I think that the VTVL has gained a lot of popularity in recent years. The Mars rover used the "skycrane" landing design. Masten Aerospace has some really impressive control on it's rockets, and the "Grasshopper" test vehicle continues to show promise with ever increasing movement.
VTVL has its uses, although it's not a new concept. The DC-X used it successfully 20 or so years ago. The problem is that it's not necessarily the best solution to bringing back a first stage, because you pretty much can't fly one of those back on thrust alone. It works fairly well if the stage comes down very close to the landing pad of its own accord, but bringing it back to the launch site requires wings. At that point, landing gear is probably simpler than flipping it back to vertical and coming down that way. Masten, the DC-X, and the Mars lander were all for very different tasks then a flyback stage.

My idea is after experience you won't have to take apart the rocket after every launch. The company would have the confidence just to refuel and launch. At that moment reusable would be cheaper than expendable, but not any sooner than that.
That's an excellent idea, but I'm not sure it's possible. High-performance rocket engines (which are required for surface takeoff) require more care and feeding than normal rockets do. It's like the difference between a Formula 1 car and a normal road car.

the major problem with bureaucracy at least where I work operates on the lowest common denominator that ordering even cheap parts becomes a slow and documentation intensive process even if it's internal. It's created a lot of sitting and waiting when things come out of left field. With all the moving parts poor planning will exacerbate the problem even further.
I'm not saying that all bureaucracy is good, or anything of the sort. But it is a balancing act, and it's possible to go too far the other way.

I'm a 90's kid so silicon valley was what innovation looked like to me.
That's a view a lot of people share. And it works well for situations that are idea-driven. The problem is that physical engineering is not idea-driven, and can't be. Coming up with an idea is the easy part. Making it work is much, much harder.

Tony said...

Katzen:

"The recovery is painful in terms of weight and complexity, but the trick would be to have the landing system using the same structure as was used going up. Mirroring as best as possible the stresses of landing as flying."

As Jerry Pournelle always says that rockets should take of an land "just as God and Robert A. Heinlein intended them to -- straight up and down." So you're good on theory. The problem is that a rocket can be designed to take off in its most efficient configuration only if it doesn't have to be configured to land as well. Configuring it to land means you have to include landing gear, the structure that allows them to support the vehicle, the propellant to power the landing portion of the flight, a restartable engine (which is heavier, because it has to have the restart components and necessary safety features), and whatever means of maneuvering the vehicle back to the launch point -- in the case of staged rockets -- is necessary. I think it's significant that Heinlein, even with as little experience and knowledge of practical rocketry as he actually had, intuitively knew that that could only be done with nuclear power, and still retain a useful payload. (Of course he was wrong about using nuclear power for high accelerations, but that's another story.)

"I would look at the first stage as a 'elevator'. It goes mostly strait up and strait down with a bit of lateral motion to bring it over water. This means that all stresses will be vertical rather than in all directions.
Now the second stage will add all it's thrust laterally and in the words of Douglas Adams 'throw yourself at the ground and miss'"


How high do you suppose the "elevator" has to go to make this work? At an average acceleration of say .5 Gs -- actually pretty powerful, for a highly efficient upper stage -- your upper stage is going to take 15600 seconds, or 260 minutes to achieve LEO velocity. I don't think it's going to be able to get up enough speed to miss, before it falls all of the way back down. If you say, well, just put a higher acceleration stage on top, then you get into the regime of a vicious circle, as you have to make a bigger elevator stage to lift a heavier upper stage, capable of taking the higher acceleration, requiring a bigger elevator stage, etc, ad nauseum. The moral of the story is this -- rocket engineers are smart. If this would actually work, and save money, they'd have done it by now.

"I see the variety of operations that have made or broken a good team, and I think Boeing or Lockheed are so old and have so many political promises and vested interests that their engineers have to first contend with a maze of managers, contracts, 'consultants' and other oddities that make money but turn out crappy products.
That kind of system promotes meritocracy and complacency. "


How can one promite meritocracy and complacency at the same time? Merit in any field isn't achieved through sitting on one's laurels.

In any case, recounting the cliche compalints about large corporations doesn't make them true. There are many influences on large organizations. That's without doubt. But what do you think is going to happen to any small organization that provides a successful product or service? It's going to get large, and have to contend with the same influences.

That is why SapceX won't change anything. First of all, it's already feeding at the government trough. The vast majority of its revenue in fact comes from government contracts. Second, it has nothing unique to offer. It's flying traditional -- in fact as low technological risk as possible -- expendable launch vehicles, as consumable items in the traditional launch service market. Anything else they claim, or anything anyone else claims for them, is pure marketing talk. It's no more real than the claims made for Shuttle.

Tony said...

Katzen:

"I think rather than being a idiot, Elon musk is actually letting the engineers do what they love and give them problems, not paperwork.

it worked during WW2, it worked for skunk works, it works for google, I think it's working for spacex."


I think you should maybe revisist you understanding of the history of technology. Cold War skunkworks and total war projects -- and the origination of the US manned space program through 1970 -- are based on a money-is-no-object, we've-got-to-get-this-done-at-any cost fiscal model. And it certainly just wasn't engineers having fun with their ideas. It was clearly defined projects that were known to be possible, with no profit margin to figure into the feasibility profile. In fact, they had to invent a whole new accounting method, known as "cost plus", in order to make these things financially possible -- the government customer agreed to pay the whole freight on overhead, regardless of final amount, plus a fixed percentage of profit. Industry wouldn't do these large developmental projects any other way.

WRT Google, it may have started out as a Silicon Valley startup, but now it's a major industry. Those 900 PhDs people are always talking about want job security, benefits, and, truth be told, clear goals and objectives that don't involve just servicing the latest whim.

Even where SpaceX is concerned, as already pointed out, they're operating on highly lucrative government contracts that, even at fixed price, probably represent much more money than anybody could possibly spend on expendable launch vehicles. Musk is using that money to play around with reusability, but that doesn't mean there's an actual customer for it, for all of the reasons already mentioned.

"A 'repaint and reload' would have a market if you are offering them at break even or even at a loss. The first launch would make the profit and the second, third, even fourth launches will be progressively cheaper, and can be the added bonus of being your R&D test flights for your hardware, if you can send a sat or even a research probe that is (relatively) mass manufactured, have a launch contract for three for the price of one and there is a 10% chance that one doesn't make it still is worth the launch costs."

That's all good theory. the problem is the "if" in your first sentence. It has yet to be demonstrated -- and there is every good, hard science and hard-nosed engineering reason to believe that it will never be demonstrated, with chemical bipropellant rockets -- that the testable proposition ("you are offering them at break even or even at a loss") will ever evaluate to "true". And if it is never evaluated to true, all of the rest is, as we say in my biz, unreachable code.

Tony said...

Katzen:

"I guess I see things from a operations standpoint rather than a design standpoint. It makes me a odd character, but I feel that even the best tech and teams have been felled by overly complex and bureaucratic organizations."

Overly (as you put it) complex and bureaucratic organizations made the modern world. They provide the finances, organization, and management that make the "best tech teams" possible in the first place. To take a couple of examples from my line of work, networking, graphical user interfaces, and object oriented programming weren't developed by Jobs and Woz in the garage. They were developed at places like AT&T and Xerox, often with a lot of government money. Likewise, the PC revolution wasn't Bill Gates and his Microsofties, though they did provide a useful component. Disk operating systems were sime a dozen. Microsoft bought there's for $25k from a local Seattle computer company that needed some cash flow. (Which is part of the story of how Microsoft has really all been about business, but I digress...) It was IBM and HP that made the hardware. Even startups like Gateway and Dell bought their components from the big companies' suppliers.

"I don't believe space will be opened up by technological advancement as much as advances in financial, resource (human and otherwise) management tools will."

Space, if it is possible to open up to significant human participation at all, will have to make economic sense with the tools available. The problem for the optimists is that the tools available are a well tried out and mature technology. I'm not naturally skeptical, but I think a realistic pint of view is that there needs to be new, unexpected technology to open up space to human commerce. And that technology is just not apparent now or in the foreseeable future.

Eth said...

About SpaceX doing nothing new, that's not entirely true, at least in the West.
AFAICT, as industrial processes for those rockets were made at a time where money wasn't much of a problem, they were done with lots and lots of subcontractors, so everyone could get some of the profits. Now that money is scarce, it creates some serious overhead. SpaceX's approach of doing as much as possible internally cut in this overhead, making things (potentially) cheaper.
In fact, Arianespace recently declared that they were to change their own processes, to cut in this overhead as well ; because they see SpaceX as a serious potential rival. Obviously, they would like to simply build everything at Kourou but with Europe paying, they will still have to have several centres in varied nations. Still, they expect to bring their costs down this way.

Now, can SpaceX (or Arianespace, for that matter) make cheaper rockets than Russia or Ukraine? I doubt it. But maybe they will make rockets both cheap as Proton and reliable as Ariane.

Not that it will help much putting 2001's giant wheels in space.

Tony:
Space, if it is possible to open up to significant human participation at all, will have to make economic sense with the tools available.
Let's not forget that it doesn't only mean "finding a way to make money with space". We may somehow get a stable world with 10% growth a year, and spending trillions just for science and PR becomes viable.
Either way it won't be this side of 2100, though.

Thucydides said...

It actually [b]is[/b] all about the technology, rather than the bureaucracy.

If you and I got together in the backyard and built a H2-LOX rocket motor under Tony's direction, it would have an ISP of 450. If we did it under Elon Musk's direction, the motor would have a very sexy name and achieve an ISP of.....450. If we worked for a major aerospace company and spent 5 years filling out the required paperwork, it would still have an ISP of 450.

If we made errors under any of these regimes, the ISP might be less, maybe even much less depending on what was wrong. The Laws of Physics are enforced in all times and places, so buying Russian or Chinese rockets won't change much either.

Even if Elon put me on the case and gave me the money to convert the Falcon 9 to a composite, Liquid Methane/Oxygen powered Falcon 9xx, we would have a much better performing (and far more expensive) rocket, but not enough extra performance to offset the weight of heat shields, landing systems etc., or at least not in any cost effective manner.

Based on what we know of the Laws of Physics and current technology,there is simply no way to really achieve a cost effective reusable chemical rocket.

Anonymous said...

So, why use chemical rockets? Why use massive overhead, if you can automate much of it? Even the materials we use to build rockets could be looked into; the material that cars and airplanes are built with has changed over the years, driven by reliability and cost, so why should rockets be different? Things change; yes, there are hard limits on chemical rockets, but if you want to improve, to advance, you have to look beyond and explore what other possible solutions to your problems exsit out there. You won't know until you try, but you will never know if you don't try.

Ferrell

Geoffrey S H said...

I gotta admit- spaceplanes seem really boring now. Piddly little cargo modules and tons of effort to design them. For what? A massive expendable cargo freightor soaring up is more exciting, and space-only craft actually do more than get from a to b.

Katzen said...

So I'm going to summarize that rockets really hit the limitations of physical science as we understand them today and without some new magical drive we are earth bound.

but let's look a the limiting factors. The cost of building or rebuilding a rocket or similar system, the hard limit of how much energy per kilo of fuel, and the fact you can't refuel until you get to orbit, funding.

what are not limiting factors? cost of fuel, robotic control, computing power.

if you could get a first stage to glide back to base and only need a few more seconds of fuel for a final breaking procedure would that make a reusable rocket feasible? Just talking about the first stage and it coming in at terminal velocity with no lateral motion.
Making the landing legs act like a badminton shuttlecock, with a small series of flaps for steering. This worked for Virgin Galactic could this work rocket?
I am not saying this would work. I don't have the engineering chops to know calculate all the variables out.
throwing ideas out there and watching them get torn to pieces is always a good learning experience.

the only other thing is that as much as those Giant organizations are credited with the invention of many a great technology. It was normally a smaller autonomous research and development group within the organization that was doing the research.

Byron said...

Thucydides:
If you and I got together in the backyard and built a H2-LOX rocket motor under Tony's direction, it would have an ISP of 450. If we did it under Elon Musk's direction, the motor would have a very sexy name and achieve an ISP of.....450. If we worked for a major aerospace company and spent 5 years filling out the required paperwork, it would still have an ISP of 450.
Actually, I'd probably be the one directing our motor (with all due respect to Tony), but you're entirely correct. We'd be more likely to make mistakes than a bigger company, but there is no magic here.

Ferrell:
So, why use chemical rockets?
Because we haven't got the capability to do it any other way. We might want to change that, but I don't have that sort of money laying around.

Why use massive overhead, if you can automate much of it?
How much can you actually automate, keeping in mind that we're dealing with a low-volume product (which automatically means high overhead) and that we're running the things to the ragged edge of performance.

Even the materials we use to build rockets could be looked into; the material that cars and airplanes are built with has changed over the years, driven by reliability and cost, so why should rockets be different?
What makes you think that they aren't being looked into? Small improvements would make big yields here. The problem is that space launch is a very conservative business because there isn't a huge market, and what market there is doesn't seem to be terribly elastic.

Things change; yes, there are hard limits on chemical rockets, but if you want to improve, to advance, you have to look beyond and explore what other possible solutions to your problems exsit out there. You won't know until you try, but you will never know if you don't try.
What solutions do you propose that people haven't already spent lots of time and money on?

Byron said...

Katzen:
So I'm going to summarize that rockets really hit the limitations of physical science as we understand them today and without some new magical drive we are earth bound.
Not entirely. There are situations that we believe would drive the cost to orbit down significantly, notably much larger launch volume. The problem is that nobody has the money to conjure such a volume out of thin air, and the market doesn't seem terribly responsive to marginal decreases in cost, so we aren't seeing this come about via a vicious cycle.

if you could get a first stage to glide back to base and only need a few more seconds of fuel for a final breaking procedure would that make a reusable rocket feasible? Just talking about the first stage and it coming in at terminal velocity with no lateral motion.
There's no particular reason to use the engines at all if it's a glider. First and foremost, a glider has to be supported by the wings, so the additional structure for landing gear is minimal. Then, you run into the problem of transitioning from gliding to use of the rocket. This has always been a problem for aircraft of that type, such as the Harrier and the Osprey. Using the engines to land the spacecraft also causes significant design problems for the engine people. You have to be able to re-start the engine (which isn't impossible, but it's easier on smaller, simpler, lower-performance engines) and deep-throttle it, which is also tricky. Having a little bit of fuel sloshing around in the tanks while you're gliding seems like a bad idea, so you need specialized tanks for that fuel, driving up overhead again. When NASA studied replacing the SRBs with liquid flyback boosters, they actually included a jet engine for propulsion back to the launch site, and landed them like aircraft.

the only other thing is that as much as those Giant organizations are credited with the invention of many a great technology. It was normally a smaller autonomous research and development group within the organization that was doing the research.
Yes, but that's because only big corporations have the money and stability to recruit people like that. They foster such groups because they know they're necessary. Those that forget tend to have serious problems.

Jim Baerg said...

Maybe we should look seriously again at nuclear rockets for surface to orbit trips.

From this: http://bravenewclimate.com/2013/11/01/stayin-alive-gene-pool-p1/

"Lastly, what’s the prospect of nuclear war or reactor accidents raising radiation levels enough to be a serious global issue?

Zero.

Why? Remember back to the cold war when various Governments were exploding large atomic bombs in the atmosphere? Some of these where thousands of times bigger than the Hiroshima bomb of World War II. And by how much did they raise background radiation levels? Not even once, let alone the 200,000 times you’d need to double our DSBs. They raised global radiation levels by less than 1/4 of one percent. Do the math. We could explode half a million Hiroshima sized nuclear bombs without even doubling average background radiation levels. Finland, as it happens, gets about triple the global annual natural level of background radiation and has a lower cancer rate than the UK, Australia or the US.

There are some slam-dunk winning reasons to avoid nuclear war but concerns about radiation aren’t among them."

So even if the nuclear rocket dumps all the radioactivity into the atmosphere like Orion or the NSWR, it might still be the best way.

However, first spending a few decades building nuclear power plants to replace fossil fuels for our earthbound energy needs should have priority. Just getting over public radiophobia enough for that essential task will take a lot of skillful PR to counteract the lies that have been spread over the previous few decades.

By that time other tech developments are likely to make something else eg. laser launching, practical.

Byron said...

Jim:
Maybe we should look seriously again at nuclear rockets for surface to orbit trips.
Bad plan. I'm not afraid of the radiation, but nuclear rockets are not good for surface to orbit. You just can't get enough thrust out of them without making their ISP worse than conventional rockets. Orion is out because it's nice to have working satellites.

There are some slam-dunk winning reasons to avoid nuclear war but concerns about radiation aren’t among them."
Um, no. Most tests were carried out in a manner that minimized fallout, and in places where it wouldn't be too dangerous. An actual nuclear war would have neither of those benefits. Interestingly enough, the fallout from a counterforce strike (attacking the enemy's nuclear weapons) is far worse than that from a strike on his cities, enough so that the casualties from the counterforce strike would be higher in the long run.

Tony said...

Eth:

"About SpaceX doing nothing new, that's not entirely true, at least in the West.
AFAICT, as industrial processes for those rockets were made at a time where money wasn't much of a problem, they were done with lots and lots of subcontractors..."


The reason people use subs in the first place is that the subs can generally do it better -- and often cheaper -- than one can do things oneself. Do you want some aerospace company setting up an electro-plating operation, then spend the time and money to learn how to do things right, or do you just want the parts sent out to a qualified plating company that already knows how? Yes, some money was probably wasted through politcal influences on NASA constracts, but not that much.

Once again, where SpaceX is saving money is in taking almost zero technological risk.

"Let's not forget that it doesn't only mean "finding a way to make money with space". We may somehow get a stable world with 10% growth a year, and spending trillions just for science and PR becomes viable.
Either way it won't be this side of 2100, though."


Never happen at all without breakthroughs in energy production that are entirely unforeseen -- and almost by definition unforeseeable. I like to keep my intellectual feet more firmly on the ground.

Ferrell

"So, why use chemical rockets? Why use massive overhead, if you can automate much of it? Even the materials we use to build rockets could be looked into; the material that cars and airplanes are built with has changed over the years, driven by reliability and cost, so why should rockets be different? Things change; yes, there are hard limits on chemical rockets, but if you want to improve, to advance, you have to look beyond and explore what other possible solutions to your problems exsit out there. You won't know until you try, but you will never know if you don't try."

Actually, there is a very well-understood and time-tested way of knowing before you try. It's called analysis. There are certainly cases where the answer from analysis is inconclusive, and experiment has to answer the question. You can of course disagree, but I don't think analysis is all that inconclusive in this case. Just because Musk has his people experimenting doesn't mean he's necessarily change the dynamic. It just means he doesn't believe the results of the analysis. That's not always the sing on the iconocalst innovator. In fact, it's much more often the sign of self-absorbed hardheadedness.

WRT cars and planes using more modern materials and designs, there are a couple of things to be said here:

1. Cars are becoming more like rockets in design and materials. They employ unibody construction and aircraft aluminum.

2. Composites are simply not qualified for the temperatures of liquid propellants.

Tony said...

Katzen:

"So I'm going to summarize that rockets really hit the limitations of physical science as we understand them today and without some new magical drive we are earth bound."

Good so far.

"what are not limiting factors? cost of fuel, robotic control, computing power."

Propellant costs are miniscule compared to everything else.

Robotic control and computing are also marginal, even if you count human programmer and quality control time.

"if you could get a first stage to glide back to base..."

As Byron has already pointed out, if you can get it to glide back to base, you should just land it horizontally. The problem, as always, is that wings add weight that robs payload, as do landing gear, aerodynamic fairings, and structural support for an extra stress axis. Also something that has been found out through the VentureStar experience is that first stage rocket engines are really heavy, compared to the stage structure. They throw the CG so far back that you have to add ballast in the nose to compensate. That's just more weight that robs from payload.

"the only other thing is that as much as those Giant organizations are credited with the invention of many a great technology. It was normally a smaller autonomous research and development group within the organization that was doing the research."

And? It still took the resources of the large company to make the research group possible. Remember, Gates & the Boyz were trying to make money, not change the world -- they put out some pretty pedestrian stuff for a long time. Likewise, the "insanely great" Mac was built with ideas stolen or bought from the people who could actually afford the research that went into them.

Katzen said...

good gods I wish I had time to read and respond to all the comments. Work is in fifteen minutes.

I don't mean to bash bureaucracies and large organizations so much. I just deal with the worst facets of them. The large amounts of resources they deal with it's expected that there is mismanagement of some of it.
When you have to wait over three months to get a requisition of printer paper filled it would make anyone cranky.

Now a good bit of my thoughts have been turned to goo, but that makes great brain food! (yum).

I will go for broke here. I pointed out the cost of fuel and computer control as non limiting factors because they could be used to advantage.
Let's treat any surface to orbit system as two vehicles. one for getting to space and one for getting to orbit.
What kind of reusable first stage vehicle could get the most payload to space the cheapest?

Byron said...

Katzen:
What kind of reusable first stage vehicle could get the most payload to space the cheapest?
I'd go for a non-flyback recoverable conventional first stage. This assumes that there's somewhere to recover the first stage that's on land and essentially where the stage would normally land anyway. The safety people will not like this. The stage simply deploys a series of parachutes to slow it down, and probably uses a retro-rocket right before landing (Soyuz, not Grasshopper). There would have to be some sort of guidance, but it's not making a 180-degree turn, so that's a lot easier. Bikanor is the only current launch location this could be implemented at, and good luck getting permission to launch east out of Vandenberg.

Now a good bit of my thoughts have been turned to goo, but that makes great brain food! (yum).
That is an excellent analogy.

Eth said...

Tony:
The reason people use subs in the first place is that the subs can generally do it better -- and often cheaper -- than one can do things oneself. Do you want some aerospace company setting up an electro-plating operation, then spend the time and money to learn how to do things right, or do you just want the parts sent out to a qualified plating company that already knows how?
I'm not sure about the others, but I think Arianespace's plan is more to get everyone tighter under one umbrella (I'd guess by buying said sub-contractors or something like that) than simply discarding them and learning how to do the stuff themselves.
The point is, they took Elron Musk seriously enough to spend a lot of time and efforts into reorganizing their industrial processes - and expect it to bring launch costs down by 20% to 30%. And ultimately try to rival Russian and Ukranian rocket's prices with Ariane 6 thanks to a few other changes.
Again, even in the best case it wouldn't be a game-changer, but if it really works, it shows that Elron Musk is right about at least some points.

Never happen at all without breakthroughs in energy production that are entirely unforeseen -- and almost by definition unforeseeable.
Or similar breakthroughs in economics.
My bet would be on partially replacing market-driven decisions (or bureaucracy-driven in some cases) by well-crafted algorithms running on computers. After all, the problem with socialism was the human element, they say. So let's drive the human element out of the equation.
Side problems like bugs causing massive droughts, hackers, developers/politicians leaving backdoors, what kind of algorithms should be used in the first place and how the hell do you convince people to spend trillions to put an untested automated system in place that will take the power of decision-making out of their very hands may or may not make it bound to fail.

Let's just remember that there is more than one kind of miracl... unforeseen breakthrough that could make it happen.

Eth said...

Byron:
I'd go for a non-flyback recoverable conventional first stage. This assumes that there's somewhere to recover the first stage that's on land and essentially where the stage would normally land anyway. The safety people will not like this. The stage simply deploys a series of parachutes to slow it down, and probably uses a retro-rocket right before landing (Soyuz, not Grasshopper). There would have to be some sort of guidance, but it's not making a 180-degree turn, so that's a lot easier. Bikanor is the only current launch location this could be implemented at, and good luck getting permission to launch east out of Vandenberg.
How far away could it land? If you can make it cross an ocean, or at least an inner sea, you could still fire it over water for safety. I'm assuming that lading it on water is impossible.

Apparently, in 2008, CNES thought about launching microsatellites from a Rafale. I'm pretty sure others thought about this kind of thing. Any reason why it didn't catch up?

Also, could Skylon or something else with Sabre engines be useful for something else than a first stage?

Byron said...

Eth:
How far away could it land? If you can make it cross an ocean, or at least an inner sea, you could still fire it over water for safety.
That's actually quite a good idea. The safety people are still not going to like launching with anything that could possibly be hit by falling stages, but doing the initial part of the flight over water would help a lot. As a sample, the SI-C made about 500 km before splashdown. There are a few places where you could have most of the flight over water, and then hit land at the end. The problem there is that it limits your inclinations significantly. If nothing else, though, launching from beside a lake wouldn't be a bad idea.

I'm assuming that lading it on water is impossible.
You assume correctly. Water is generally not something that goes well with rocket parts, and the objective of this concept is to keep costs as low as possible across the board.

Apparently, in 2008, CNES thought about launching microsatellites from a Rafale. I'm pretty sure others thought about this kind of thing. Any reason why it didn't catch up?
Probably because it was not cheap enough to justify it. There are economies of scale in satellite launch Look at Pegasus for an example.

Also, could Skylon or something else with Sabre engines be useful for something else than a first stage?
The Sabre engine is an SSTO engine. Simple as that. It has no advantage over conventional engines of the correct type in a given operating range, but is more efficient than the wrong type of engine in said ranges.

Katzen said...

So would parachutes be simpler and less weight? It might be possible to steer by parachute a bit to get it back to land. What if you used a parachute to take most of the weight and had the retro rocekts for steering and to give the rocket a feather light landing?

alright I'm going to crazytown with this one, but in the words of Cave Johnson "throw science at the wall and see what sticks".

What if you had a rocket that bore most if not all it's forces in tension? The strength to weight ratio of kevlar and carbon fiber is many times higher than aluminum or titanium. The crazy thought is if you put the rockets at the top, and had only structure to keep it rigid and to stand on it's own. You would still need steel or aluminum tanks and insulation, but it would seriously help with the mass ratio on structure. Thoughts come to mind with this one.

again crazy town, but hey! it's a thought.

Now there is something the reaction engines could do with the technology.
license that heat exchanger! Seriously? you have a device that can cool air from 1000C to -150C and no one thought this might be very useful to say chemical, petroleum or even computer technology?

Now back to economic thoughts.
What could be a economic prime mover of space travel? Let's say we have that governing body printing S-bills and funding space activities and how to live work and most importantly travel in space.
Now this governing body has a department that does nothing more than pour over reports and anything of interest being developed and spins off the tech into a company that pumps out a product that makes a nice and tidy profit, which of course the governing body has a nice stake in and profits heavily.
I know NASA is credited with quite a few spinoff industries, but NASA never saw a profit (it's a government entity).
So harsh environments, nothingness, and distance are what there are surplus of in space which many can either be in short supply, but mostly space take all those things to a whole new level.



Byron said...

Katzen:
So would parachutes be simpler and less weight? It might be possible to steer by parachute a bit to get it back to land. What if you used a parachute to take most of the weight and had the retro rocekts for steering and to give the rocket a feather light landing?
That's essentially the plan. There are steerable parachutes, and if you use one of those, I'd think you should be able to get a reasonably precise landing (not pinpoint, but enough to put it down on, say, an airport's tarmac). The retrorockets would fire at the last second to slow the stage down to a safe speed. The problem with parachutes is that drag scales with the square of speed, so reducing impact velocity can mean massive increases in parachute size. So if you need to land at 5 m/s, it might well make more sense to have a 15 m/s parachute, and use small solid rockets to take off 10 m/s right before landing, instead of using a 5 m/s parachute, which would be 9 times larger.

What if you had a rocket that bore most if not all it's forces in tension? The strength to weight ratio of kevlar and carbon fiber is many times higher than aluminum or titanium. The crazy thought is if you put the rockets at the top, and had only structure to keep it rigid and to stand on it's own. You would still need steel or aluminum tanks and insulation, but it would seriously help with the mass ratio on structure. Thoughts come to mind with this one.
Absolutely not. (That's the first thought to come to my mind. I know you're not really serious.)

Effectively, most rockets incorporate the tanks into the structure, which would reduce the advantages of a tension rocket significantly. Tank mass and pressure loads are a significant factor in launcher design. Also, a rocket has to cope with loads besides those of flight. Specifically, it has to be handled on the ground. Supporting a rocket from the top does not sound like fun. If you intend to bring it back, that's even worse. And you'll need bigger pumps, to force the propellant up to the engines. And you have to keep the exhaust off the body of the rocket, which means canting it probably, oh, 15 degrees off the vertical. That's going to cost you 4% or so of your thrust.

Now there is something the reaction engines could do with the technology.
license that heat exchanger! Seriously? you have a device that can cool air from 1000C to -150C and no one thought this might be very useful to say chemical, petroleum or even computer technology?

That's not practical, because you need somewhere to put the heat. SABRE puts it into the fuel, but most industrial applications don't have liquid hydrogen laying around. Heat exchangers are very well-known technology, and there aren't any serious improvements to be found here.

Anonymous said...

Tony said:"Actually, there is a very well-understood and time-tested way of knowing before you try. It's called analysis." and with this statement, you reveal that you don't understand the concept of analysis as well as you think you do. Analysis is the pulling apart of something, scrutinizing it's components, and then identifying them and their relationship to each other. The conclusions of you analysis will give you a percentage of possiblities of what it's for or what it means, but as far as certanty, no; if your conclusions give you a 100% probability of something, then you've probably done it wrong. Besides, you can't analyze something without data, the results of experiments, to come to any conclusions at all. You've kind of gotten the concept backwards.

"Composites are simply not qualified for the temperatures of liquid propellants."
What composites are you talking about? Please be specific, there are hundreds of composites, they range from Kevlar to carbon-carbon, to ceramic/metal (to name just a few),each with a very different set of physical properties.

Byron said:"What solutions do you propose that people haven't already spent lots of time and money on?" Actully, the only two recent proposals I've heard about are staged gas gun (or external combustion) launch systems and the laser launch system that actually have some experimental data. Most of the rest are theoretical proposals with little or no experimental results to work with. Very little hard data is known about the practical construction of space elevators, things like particle fountains and electromagnetic launchers would need years and tons of money to see if they are viable or not, nuclear rockets would need decades of PR work to simply get the research programs restarted, and more exotic things like balloon launch bases and skycrane rotators would take a massive effort to build. But as far as something not generally talked about? OK, how about this: forget SSTO and go with a two stage to orbit, bith reusible. The first stage is a large jet airplane that takes the second stage to a very high altitude at a very high speed. The two stages seperate and the first stage etuns to the launch point. The second stage is a winged spaceplane with a powerful hybrid rocket engine that takes it into LEO and drops it out of orbit, where it glides back to the launch point (or a recovery zone). The initial cost is greater, but spred out over several launches, it would eventually pay for itself. Have three versions of the craft; a passenger/cargo variant, a scientific research variant, and a military variant, to further reduce costs. What do you think about that?

Ferrell

Anonymous said...

I'm really tired and need to work in th morning, so I'll talk to you again tomorow.

Ferrell

Byron said...

Ferrell:
Tony said:"Actually, there is a very well-understood and time-tested way of knowing before you try. It's called analysis." and with this statement, you reveal that you don't understand the concept of analysis as well as you think you do. Analysis is the pulling apart of something, scrutinizing it's components, and then identifying them and their relationship to each other. The conclusions of you analysis will give you a percentage of possiblities of what it's for or what it means, but as far as certanty, no; if your conclusions give you a 100% probability of something, then you've probably done it wrong. Besides, you can't analyze something without data, the results of experiments, to come to any conclusions at all. You've kind of gotten the concept backwards.
No, Tony's right on this one. We can perform analysis without having to do dedicated experiments, by using data generated by others. The amount of technical material I have access to is frankly incredible, and all of it is there to help me avoid repeating the mistakes of others, either precisely, or in slightly different ways.

What composites are you talking about? Please be specific, there are hundreds of composites, they range from Kevlar to carbon-carbon, to ceramic/metal (to name just a few),each with a very different set of physical properties.
Kevlar isn't a composite in and of itself. It's an armid fiber. I'm not sure Tony's right on this one, but I'll have to look it up tomorrow. He's almost certainly talking about fiber-reinforced composites, which narrows the field somewhat.

Actully, the only two recent proposals I've heard about are staged gas gun (or external combustion) launch systems and the laser launch system that actually have some experimental data. Most of the rest are theoretical proposals with little or no experimental results to work with. Very little hard data is known about the practical construction of space elevators, things like particle fountains and electromagnetic launchers would need years and tons of money to see if they are viable or not, nuclear rockets would need decades of PR work to simply get the research programs restarted, and more exotic things like balloon launch bases and skycrane rotators would take a massive effort to build.
Umm, no. We can tell quite a bit about most of these things without spending 'years and tons of money' seeing if they work. If it wasn't so late, I could tell you exactly what the most efficient way to build a space elevator is. Engineers can use math, even when they lack experimental data. And before you start going on about uncertainty, there isn't any. If there was, my job would be a lot harder.

Byron said...

Ferrell, cont.:
But as far as something not generally talked about? OK, how about this: forget SSTO and go with a two stage to orbit, bith reusible. The first stage is a large jet airplane that takes the second stage to a very high altitude at a very high speed. The two stages seperate and the first stage etuns to the launch point. The second stage is a winged spaceplane with a powerful hybrid rocket engine that takes it into LEO and drops it out of orbit, where it glides back to the launch point (or a recovery zone). The initial cost is greater, but spred out over several launches, it would eventually pay for itself. Have three versions of the craft; a passenger/cargo variant, a scientific research variant, and a military variant, to further reduce costs. What do you think about that?
This has two problems. First, I don't think that any first stage that is a proper airplane will give enough of a performance boost to be worth it, at least not with current technology. Pegasus is a special case, as they get most of their benefit from being able to launch from the most advantageous spot, not from the speed and altitude of the launch platform.
For the second stage, I just don't know that it's viable. The added costs, in terms of R&D, increased size of the first stage, and in extra hardware for the second, will take a very long time to pay off. I'd like to see some analysis (yes, there's that word again) on how long it's likely to take to pay something like that off.

Tony said...

Eth:

"My bet would be on partially replacing market-driven decisions (or bureaucracy-driven in some cases) by well-crafted algorithms running on computers. After all, the problem with socialism was the human element, they say. So let's drive the human element out of the equation."

Computers would perfectly execute the prejudices and misunderstandings of their programmers, the programmers' managers, and the financial backers of the whole project. Heck, that's already what they do, every day, on a smaller, more piecemeal scale. Even with perfect intentions -- and I am sooo not holding my breath waiting for those -- there are always the practical problems of knowing what data is significant, collecting enough of it, in the right places, and understanding what the relationships between the various pieces of data are. You can choose not to take my word for it, but as somebody who does this for a living, I simply can't see computers being any better at making economic decisions than the market, if for no other reason than the market processes the data available to every player, not just the data some small group thinks to collect, and takes into account all values, not just those important to that small group.

Tony said...

Ferrell,

You don't understand the kind of analysis I'm talking about. I'm referring to mathematical analysis, not the pick-apart evidentiary analysis that you described. It's pretty reliable. Yes, it takes data to feed into the functions, but that data is of a general type -- the properties of materials, the properties of fluids, gas dynamics, etc.

WRT composites, I'm talking about any structural composite materials you care to name, from plywood to carbon fibers. They all have one property in common -- poor response to cold. and rocket airframes, because they're made up out of their own tankage, need to be able to handle cold.

Tony said...

Oh, BTW, composites are quite extensively used in small to medium solid rocket motors. Strangely enough, they aren't used in large ones. I suspect it's because wound fiber casings aren't very good compression structures.

Byron said...

Tony, they built filament-wound SRBs for use from Vandenberg. After Challenger, they were scrapped. I'm not sure exactly why, but they did exist. For that matter, the SRB-As of the Japanese H-2A use composite casings, and they have 2250 kN of thrust.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Tony and Byron about analysis. We have decades worth of data on spaceflight. It will probably take a major tech advance that we can't predict to get cheap access to space.

Hey, maybe Byron will figure it out. :)

Anonymous said...

Oops, comment 251 above was me.

Ron

jollyreaper said...

The SpaceX question itself will be answered soon enough. This isn't some metaphysical pipedream like angels dancing on pinheads or superman vs. the hulk. Musk is making a claim, putting up his bucks, and we'll see if he's right.

The argument pretty much boils down to this. The shuttle costs $25k to put a pound into orbit. Atlas V is $13,182. Let's call it $10k. Musk wants to get below $1k.

1) Cost of vehicle
2) Cost of refurbishment
3) Cost of fuel
4) cost of corporate overhead
5) useful payload fraction to pay for all this

Musk will be giving up a fraction of the payload to get a reusable vehicle. The Shuttle's selling point was re-usability. The problem is that they're still throwing away a third of the stack and have to completely rebuild and recertify what they get back. It would be cheaper to just throw everything away and use a fresh stack each flight.

Musk's contention is that there's room for process improvement in design but also in corporate overhead.

Let's look at heart surgery. It'll set me back $200k here in the States. The same surgery can be performed in India for $20k. Are there corners being cut? Are people working in slave conditions to make this price point possible? Or is there a lot of overhead and inefficiency involved in the American system?

Tony's arguments seem to focus on the medical qualifications of the doctor and saying it's impossible to have such a price point because it will take just as much schooling to qualify an Indian doctor and the surgery will take just as much time to perform.

There's still the possibility of Musk being wrong. If I tell you I can outsource our company's manufacturing to China, I might be missing out on some big problems. Language barrier, corporate espionage, fraud, time zone difference building delays into the decision cycle, etc. I might incur a a new and equivalent cost for every savings.

A useful exercise I think is looking at aspects of the modern world that exist perfectly well in this day and age and how predictions of their being around the corner hundreds of years before they were possible would rightfully be declared impossible. For example, an inventor soliciting George Washington for funds to build a heavier-than-air flying machine for use against the British is a loon, no matter that such weapons were of use in WWI. Someone did propose a human-powered submarine to the Continental Army and it was used but unsuccessfully. Again, it wasn't until WWI that submarines became something more than elaborate suicide machines.

As another comparison, the first steamship was invented in 1786 but commercial sailing vessels like windjammers still operated well into the 20th century. Ironclad battleships had sailing rigs to augment steam power into the 1880's. An investor taking a short position on naval canvas futures in 1840 would have the right idea but been too quick to the punch.

There's claims to debate concerning SpaceX right here.

http://blog.nss.org/?p=3080

Eth said...

Tony:
Computers would perfectly execute the prejudices and misunderstandings of their programmers, the programmers' managers, and the financial backers of the whole project.

Indeed, this is one of the many reasons why it would be very difficult to do. I'm a developer for a living, so believe me I realize that. But contrary to, say, socialism or communism, those are (massive) difficulties instead of a flat impossible.
The problem with market is that it is a blind force, an emergent system that happens to more or less regulate things, at least better than what has been tried before or since at large scale.
But contrary to what many believe, it is not inherently perfect at it, far from it. Hell, the EU is facing implosion because (among other things) some technocrats no-one elected are putting far too much blind faith in one version of it.

The advantage with a system where automated systems are at least partially controlling economy is that you are not simply forced to adapt to blind, potentially destructive or inefficient emergent systems ; you can shape them to (try and) make them do what you want. They can also be adapted if the situation change.
Also, it puts a buffer between humans and the system, dampening the many bouts of incompetence (or worse) that are visibly inevitable (which is one of the reasons why socialism was doomed to fail).

Again, I don't imagine a (non-dystopian) system where the economy is entirely automated, however good it is for storytelling. The same way a hybrid system (first-world nations, to varied proportions) is superior to a pure capitalist (barely any state) or socialist (USSR), a hybrid system where parts of the economy are left as is.

While a conscious effort to bring such a system (a revolution) would fail and/or create something worse (as revolutions often do), I can see it being a progressive evolution, as state institutions, companies and industrial processes are automated for better efficiency.

Again, truly attaining such a system (and not having it backfire horribly) would be the economic equivalent of cheap fusion power, if not outright cold fusion, and have a similar effect on industry efficiency.

Note that it can be more limited, like simply better industrial and institutional processes thanks to automation and IT making more efficient practices possible. We already see it, as for example IT tools allow people to be more efficient with tasks as varied as designing a pipe or managing work force in a factory.

Even if technology doesn't evolve, if we are more efficient to do the same thing or if everyone become richer, then it would still make space more accessible.
It's a bit like for Space Opera. Most people stop at the obvious answer, you can't have human-time interstellar travel without FTL ; without thinking at the less obvious (and trickier) ones, like making human time longer (cryosleep, medical immortality, more stable societies...) instead of shorter travel.

Note that I doubt it would allow for anything more than an ISS on the Moon's surface or a bit of sightseeing on Mars - nice things, but don't count on serious space colonization without big technical game-changers.

Anonymous said...

Tony said:"You don't understand the kind of analysis I'm talking about. I'm referring to mathematical analysis, not the pick-apart evidentiary analysis that you described. It's pretty reliable. Yes, it takes data to feed into the functions, but that data is of a general type -- the properties of materials, the properties of fluids, gas dynamics, etc." And the point I was making was that you said NO data; if you didn't mean no data than why did you say no data? You of all people should be more specific, especially after all the times you've berated others about not being specific. And Byron, I'm a little dissapointed in you for apologizing for him; he's a big boy, let him fight his own battles. Besides, what the hell do you think you do with mathimatical data when you analyze it? You examine it, you look for patterns, you study relationships between components, take results and interprate them to reach a conclusion. And whether you, personally, perforn the experiments (or calculations), or if someone else does, you still need data. That was the point I was trying to make, not what the definition of the word 'analysis' is. If I wanted that, I would have consulted Webster's, not you two.

Anyway, back to what this thread's about; so,upthread, when I described Virgin Galactic Spaceship One's configuration and mode of launch, did none of you recognize it? Spaceship Two (already under construction), is scheduled to take passengers on suborbital flights, and Spaceship Three will be designed to take passngers/cargo to LEO. Maybe we're arguing about the fesability of something that is already in the proccess of becoming a reality.

BTW: I've got to stop getting caught up in silly pissing contests with you lunkheads, it seriously harshes my mellow.

Ferrell

Byron said...

Ferrell:
The problem is simple. You referred to doing experiments in support of concepts like space elevators, to gather 'data'. Tony and I both pointed out that we don't need that sort of data. There is data from other sources, but it can come from anyone with a tensile strength rig and some carbon fiber. Conflating the two, and calling for experiments into space elevators strikes me as downright bizarre. We aren't at the point where there would be any payoff yet, particularly as many people are far from convinced that's the way to go.

Anyway, back to what this thread's about; so,upthread, when I described Virgin Galactic Spaceship One's configuration and mode of launch, did none of you recognize it?
Yes, I did. It's grossly insufficient for getting things to orbit. And I'm not even sure it's that efficient for putting things in space. It just makes basing a lot easier.

Spaceship Two (already under construction), is scheduled to take passengers on suborbital flights, and Spaceship Three will be designed to take passngers/cargo to LEO.
The difference between 'in space' and 'in orbit' is massive, as you should well know. SpaceShipThree hasn't been planned to be orbital for 5 years, and I have a feeling that was when the long-term plan got run by someone whose degree began with the letters BS. Getting an aircraft-type first stage to the sorts of speed and altitude where it could significantly reduce the delta-V requirements of the spacecraft is very difficult indeed.

Anonymous said...

Byron, in your last post, you sound just like Tony.

So, does anybody else have anything to contribute? As amusing as mine, Tony, and Byron's little back and forth is to the rest of the readers, I'm sure some of us would like to hear from the rest of you.

Ferrell

Anonymous said...

Anyway, to rebut Byron:"The problem is simple. You referred to doing experiments in support of concepts like space elevators, to gather 'data'. Tony and I both pointed out that we don't need that sort of data. There is data from other sources, but it can come from anyone with a tensile strength rig and some carbon fiber. Conflating the two, and calling for experiments into space elevators strikes me as downright bizarre."
Right, since I didn't say what kind of experiments I was talking abut, how do you know I didn't mean the kind you cite? What seems bizarre to me is why you would assume I meant building a small-scale space elevator or some such thing, instead of the types of experiments you describe.

" SpaceShipThree hasn't been planned to be orbital for 5 years, and I have a feeling that was when the long-term plan got run by someone whose degree began with the letters BS."
That would be Burt Rutan.

"Getting an aircraft-type first stage to the sorts of speed and altitude where it could significantly reduce the delta-V requirements of the spacecraft is very difficult indeed."
Yep, that would be why it took a building full of geniuses and the backing of a major aerospace firm to design and build the SR-71 in the 1960's.
Ok, enough rebutting, I gotta go to bed now, gotta go to work in the morning.

Ferrell

jollyreaper said...

Hey, I said something!

Eth said...

Me too!
If it sounded like the promotion of a economic system that could easily backfire in yet another horrible (and worse, inefficient) totalitarian nightmare, well... It was more to illustrate a possible alternative to better or cheaper rockets - making everyone richer instead, so we can afford more of the same.

I do intend to write a SF story where this economic system is in the background - and horribly backfired some long time ago, which is why this kind of automation is still limited, and people still use refined variations of the flawed (thus interesting) old-school (thus familiar to the reader) economic systems.
This is to avoid the fridge logic question : "wait, we invented 2 major systems (capitalism and socialism) in about a few centuries on Earth. How did they not find something else in millennia and countless worlds?"

Btw, Jollyreaper, isn't Stross' story purely fictional? I'm not sure which elements are fictional or real. Though I wouldn't be surprised if it didn't unwillingly create some more conspiracy theories.

Tony said...

jollyreaper:



You're confusing the exchange rate between two relatively isolated markets, and trying to make a huge differences with essentially marginal improvements in a single market.

"For example, an inventor soliciting George Washington for funds to build a heavier-than-air flying machine for use against the British is a loon, no matter that such weapons were of use in WWI. Someone did propose a human-powered submarine to the Continental Army and it was used but unsuccessfully. Again, it wasn't until WWI that submarines became something more than elaborate suicide machines.

As another comparison, the first steamship was invented in 1786 but commercial sailing vessels like windjammers still operated well into the 20th century. Ironclad battleships had sailing rigs to augment steam power into the 1880's. An investor taking a short position on naval canvas futures in 1840 would have the right idea but been too quick to the punch."


The difference between those examples and today being the relative level of fundamental knowledge available. Much more is known about the physical world than was known then. We've had this discussion before.

Tony said...

Eth:

"Indeed, this is one of the many reasons why it would be very difficult to do. I'm a developer for a living, so believe me I realize that. But contrary to, say, socialism or communism, those are (massive) difficulties instead of a flat impossible."

I have to wonder...are you a developer with a computer science education, or are you self-taught/job-trained? Because the first thing a programmer with a solid educational foundation will tell you is that there are such things as problems that present no difficulties in principle, but that are practically intractable in the real world. This would be one of those.

"The problem with market is that it is a blind force, an emergent system that happens to more or less regulate things, at least better than what has been tried before or since at large scale.
But contrary to what many believe, it is not inherently perfect at it, far from it. Hell, the EU is facing implosion because (among other things) some technocrats no-one elected are putting far too much blind faith in one version of it."


Nobody said markets were perfect. They just process information in practical way.

"The advantage with a system where automated systems are at least partially controlling economy is that you are not simply forced to adapt to blind, potentially destructive or inefficient emergent systems ; you can shape them to (try and) make them do what you want. They can also be adapted if the situation change."

In theory, yes. In practical application, they would be hostage to some small group's imperfect understanding of the environment and its inhabitants. Once again, the market takes into account the entire environment and all of its inhabitants, however inefficiently and imperfectly.

"Also, it puts a buffer between humans and the system, dampening the many bouts of incompetence (or worse) that are visibly inevitable (which is one of the reasons why socialism was doomed to fail)."

No it doesn't, not even in principle. Humans program the system. Humans have to interface with it at decision points. Humans are directly affected by decisions and outcomes.

"While a conscious effort to bring such a system (a revolution) would fail and/or create something worse (as revolutions often do), I can see it being a progressive evolution, as state institutions, companies and industrial processes are automated for better efficiency.

...

Note that it can be more limited, like simply better industrial and institutional processes thanks to automation and IT making more efficient practices possible. We already see it, as for example IT tools allow people to be more efficient with tasks as varied as designing a pipe or managing work force in a factory."

jollyreaper said...

Concerning the Stross story, He was there and told the tale, but it's up to the reader to decide whether their leg is being pulled. I have the distinct impression it's one of those perfect prank tales that has just enough truth in it to sucker you in while the best parts are exaggerated or completely fabricated.

Tony said...

eth,

To complete the incomplete thought immediately above...

While institutions and organizations converge on best practices, their values and objectives diverge. The mechanism of the market might change in some degree (and already ahs a lot, from computerized day trading to global integration), but as long as people have heterogeneous values and aobjectives, there will still be a market.

Tony said...

Ferrell:

"And the point I was making was that you said NO data; if you didn't mean no data than why did you say no data? You of all people should be more specific, especially after all the times you've berated others about not being specific."

Actually, I said "knowing before you try". That doesn't mean operating without data. It means not performing the experiment because you have enough prior art to tell you the likely outcome.

"Besides, what the hell do you think you do with mathimatical data when you analyze it? You examine it, you look for patterns, you study relationships between components, take results and interprate them to reach a conclusion."

No, that's not what you do. We're not talking about descriptive analysis, where you take a problem or a thing apart and catalog it's properties and relationships. We're talking about prescriptive analysis, where you build up a model from first principles and a list of tools and materials, then work it out to see what it does, given various inputs.

"And whether you, personally, perforn the experiments (or calculations), or if someone else does, you still need data. That was the point I was trying to make, not what the definition of the word 'analysis' is. If I wanted that, I would have consulted Webster's, not you two."

Analysis means different things in different contexts. In this context, it means taking all of the available information and building a model to see if it's even worthwhile to conduct a physical experiment.

"BTW: I've got to stop getting caught up in silly pissing contests with you lunkheads, it seriously harshes my mellow."

"[L]unkhead"? +10

Tony said...

Eth:

"This is to avoid the fridge logic question : 'wait, we invented 2 major systems (capitalism and socialism) in about a few centuries on Earth. How did they not find something else in millennia and countless worlds?'"

Do it as a cautionary tale about GIGO, and I'll buy. Do it as a workable solution and you'll only court ridicule from the vast majority of your peers in the programming world.

jollyreaper said...

Tony, you're the guy talking about market solutions while denying the existence of externalities. If you want to talk about fundamental blunders, market failures, that's one right there. No healthy market is self-regulating.

It's the arrogance, man. It's not just what you say but how you say it.

Eth said...

Tony:
I have to wonder...are you a developer with a computer science education, or are you self-taught/job-trained?
I got an engineering degree, mostly in computer science, IT and odd bits like UI design ; though it was less focused than a pure computing science degree.

Still, I do realize that right now, it would be as good as impossible to do. It may be possible to experiment it on a smaller scale (where it is easier, you can iterate and the worst consequences can be mitigated by outside intervention), but history proves than countless alternative models work on a small scale only.
In fact, if someone told me right now "Let's automate world economy!", I view him as any other flag-waving revolutionary.
I may try to get them working on North Korea before the entire world ; as they are pretty much isolated and it can't really be any worse for them.

However, with advances in computing science and methods, psychology, sociology, macro-economy and surely a few dozen other fields, maybe some we haven't even invented yet, today's "as good as impossible" may be merely "very difficult" in a century.
And while rocket science probably won't change much in the next decades, it's probably more of an exception than a rule.

For the other points:

No access to all the data.
You don't need all the data. In fact, the market don't process all the data. All you need is enough data, and with a more and more connected and monitored world, enough of the relevant data may become accessible at some point.

Imperfect system made by imperfect people
This is already what the market and non-market(e.g. state) institutions are. Imperfect doesn't mean inferior.

No 'buffer' effect
Automation means that it's not processed by a (flawed) human, so to do things like embezzlement you need to either tamper with things before it enters the system or directly with the system itself. All which is harder to do than simply writing a column with one too many zero (to simplify).
Or to simply put one too many zero by mistake.
So yes, automation can decrease the risks of error (by malice or not) by principle.

There will always be a market
Indeed, as long as humans are as we know them (with posthumans, all bets are off, after all). Attempting to automate the economy entirely would fail at best, and create a more resilient USSR at worst.
In fact, such a system is close to socialism, and suffer from many of the same problems. Too much of it would impede freedom and end up with the same problems than a totalitarian state (repression, in particular).
Done poorly would result in the same problems than in our hybrid systems, with inefficient, wasteful and potentially slow institutions. If the state/automated part is too big, this can have serious consequences.
It may also have a hard time adapting, similarly to how even good institutions can end up failing, faced to change.

The reason why it may work better than socialism (and as such hybrids with a bigger part could work) is that socialism's flaw is people, and it removes them partially off the equation.

Now, I understand that you are sceptical, and that's OK. But I think you can't simply rule it off as impossible. To really determine that at middle term (late-century), you would probably need a serious study - particularly as there are so many way to approach it.

Eth said...

Jollyreaper:
About Stross' story.
Well, it's hard to imagine the last part being serious, betwee Red Mercury and the Prypat cover-up. I can see CIA trying to sell a rocket nightmare to the East block, though.
If it really happened, they say that it is declassified, so would it be possible to check? Similarly, it should be possible to check chemical levels near Prypat if someone takes the last part seriously.

It's a shame that KSP doesn't manage pollution. Fabrication or not, a modded Nail Spike rocket would fit well...

Tony said...

jollyreaper:

"Tony, you're the guy talking about market solutions while denying the existence of externalities. If you want to talk about fundamental blunders, market failures, that's one right there. No healthy market is self-regulating.

It's the arrogance, man. It's not just what you say but how you say it."


We've been over this before too. I didn't deny the existence of externalities. I said there are none in systems in which everyone either explicitly or implicitly participates.

WRT market regulation, I can't think of a single market in any place that has formal government that hasn't had some kind of statutory regulation -- often a lot of it. Even where there is no formal government there are usage limitations enforced by custom and whatever moral values about fair trade are in effect. So it would be silly to suggest a market without regulation.

But you do labor under a misapprehension. The fact that markets need to be regulated doesn't mean they aren't powerful or effective. Just because an engine has to be governed for safety doesn't mean that it can't do its job.

Also, market regulation can be detrimental, if taken too far. Black and gray markets arise, after all, in situations where the market is so regulated that necessary (or at least highly popular) commerce is driven underground.

Tony said...

Eth:

"I got an engineering degree, mostly in computer science, IT and odd bits like UI design ; though it was less focused than a pure computing science degree."

Did you ever do the exercise of taking an extremely large, plausible data set and calculate how long it would take to process it one second per item, the answer usually turning out to be some multiple of the lifetime of the universe? When you talk about computing the economy, I can't help but think of that.

"However, with advances in computing science and methods, psychology, sociology, macro-economy and surely a few dozen other fields, maybe some we haven't even invented yet, today's 'as good as impossible' may be merely 'very difficult' in a century."

Once again, you're ignoring a fundamental constraint on the exercise -- no matter how powerful the technology, humans, with their bounded rationalities, would be defining the objectives and methods.

"And while rocket science probably won't change much in the next decades, it's probably more of an exception than a rule."

Plenty of things won't change much over that same timespan, simply because they're just as technologically mature as rockets.

"You don't need all the data. In fact, the market don't process all the data. All you need is enough data, and with a more and more connected and monitored world, enough of the relevant data may become accessible at some point."

If I didn't make myself clear enough earlier, I'm skeptical of being able to accurately and adequately define the applicable dataset. But even if one could, and even if technically possible to collect enough data, the invasiveness required to collect all of the likely relevant data would create a world I'd rather not live in, no matter how formally efficient.

"This is already what the market and non-market(e.g. state) institutions are. Imperfect doesn't mean inferior."

It does if by imperfect we mean not competent in scope or imagination. Anything made by a small group of humans, alike enough in prejudices and values to be able to work together over a significant period of time, would indeed be incompetent in scope and imagination.

Tony said...

Eth:

"Automation means that it's not processed by a (flawed) human, so to do things like embezzlement you need to either tamper with things before it enters the system or directly with the system itself. All which is harder to do than simply writing a column with one too many zero (to simplify).
Or to simply put one too many zero by mistake.
So yes, automation can decrease the risks of error (by malice or not) by principle."


You're talking about the market equivalent of non-fatal errors in data. What I'm skeptical of are the inevitable errors in logic that would allow the system to run, but cause it to do exactly what it's told to do, rather than what it's expected to do. Like I said, GIGO.

"The reason why it may work better than socialism (and as such hybrids with a bigger part could work) is that socialism's flaw is people, and it removes them partially off the equation."

Why oh why do people continue to try to conceptually redeem socialism!? Socialism's flaw was never people. It was in the conception of a system where a small, agendized group could be thought competent to manage a large, complex society. That's a failed idea on its face, regardless of the efficiency of the implementation.

"Now, I understand that you are sceptical, and that's OK. But I think you can't simply rule it off as impossible. To really determine that at middle term (late-century), you would probably need a serious study - particularly as there are so many way to approach it."

Of course it can be ruled out, on the basis of practicality.

Now, I do have one additional thing to add...

Maybe this isn't really you, but I am getting that vibe: I'm extremely wary of programmers that love computers. Computers are a necessity to what we do, which is a useful thing. But we can never lose sight of the fact that they're just tools, and it's the things that they do and, much more importantly, can't do that are important.

Eth said...

Tony:
Did you ever do the exercise of taking an extremely large, plausible data set and calculate how long it would take to process it one second per item, the answer usually turning out to be some multiple of the lifetime of the universe? When you talk about computing the economy, I can't help but think of that.

Oh yes, I wouldn't say that it's a common problem, but it is one that happens. But then, it generally means that you should change your algorithm.
Pathfinding is a good example : while the naïve algorithm (testing every single path and choosing the shortest) is impossible, many perfect (or perfect enough) algorithms have been developed for it.

And there is a very simple proof that the "economy problem" is solvable : the market does it. It may not use algorithms on computers to do it, but the actual complexity of the market is inferior to today's available computing power, let alone in decades.
The reason why we can't reproduce it is actually that our models are very incomplete - particularly, we don't have a good model on how a human being acts for macro-economics (human models on micro-economics are fairly good, though).

[...] even if technically possible to collect enough data, the invasiveness required to collect all of the likely relevant data would create a world I'd rather not live in, no matter how formally efficient.

Unfortunately, we pretty much already live in this world. The question is not "who can spy on me" anymore, but "who is spying on me" - Anti-PRISM are not asking for the destruction of the Internet, after all, only that the NSA stop spying on them.

Anything made by a small group of humans, alike enough in prejudices and values to be able to work together over a significant period of time, would indeed be incompetent in scope and imagination.

Which is pretty much what we are already seeing. What is important isn't only how good is the system at first, but also how good it is to improve (and adapt).
This is one of democracy's interests, in fact, incompetent governments can be replaced. At least in theory.

Socialism's flaw was never people. It was in the conception of a system where a small, agendized group could be thought competent to manage a large, complex society. That's a failed idea on its face, regardless of the efficiency of the implementation.

As I said, people. Specifically here, the ones in charge.

Maybe this isn't really you, but I am getting that vibe: I'm extremely wary of programmers that love computers. Computers are a necessity to what we do, which is a useful thing. But we can never lose sight of the fact that they're just tools, and it's the things that they do and, much more importantly, can't do that are important.

Don't worry, I'm well aware of the many limitations of computers, that any amount of performance progress won't solve. They are very useful tools, but not all-use ones.
But what they are good at is number-crunching. And economy is mostly that, just look at how much maths are involved in economics studies.

Note that having a better human model for macro-economy may help finally getting macro-economic previsions that are better than tea leaves reading, which may have very positive effects on the global economy. Seeing how far we can go with today's models, one can only wonder what would happen if we stopped shooting our collective foot.
Again, more than one way.

Anonymous said...

Eth, your economic model is interesting,but I do see one major concern with it. Since people will be requred to program the computers that run or oversee the economy, the need for utmost transparency of the proccess is paramount, least the programers become the new high priests...

Ferrell

Tony said...

Eth:

I think I'll address just this:

"And there is a very simple proof that the "economy problem" is solvable : the market does it. It may not use algorithms on computers to do it, but the actual complexity of the market is inferior to today's available computing power, let alone in decades."

Actually that's nowhere near the case, if you're talking about a single computer or cluster trying to model the whole thing with enough fidelity to make accurate predictions.

Katzen said...

I don't want to get into a economic argument, but it seems to be where the conversation has gone since I last was able to write.

I will say I don not believe in a completely regulated economy. Pure Command and and Control markets do not work and anyone programing such a system would see all the complexities "top down" and to the person within such a system he would be lost, confused and restricted by his lack of knowledge in the system as a whole. The programmer as well would not understand the nuance effects of the system and might ruin a good portion of people's lives unintentionally.

I work in that kind of system, it's not efficient or transparent. It's also much slower to respond to change.
computers crash, and can numbers never tell the whole story when it comes to human beings.

I will however say That I do not believe is a libertarian market. All life essential products and services should have some degree of socialization not because of "equality" but because if we can trust that we and our family will be taken care of even in the worst situation it will allow us to take risks and ever increase our economy and ability to improve our self and others.
I would look at such taxes as "I screwed up" insurance.

Now back to space!

I really have been reading even if not responding (my breaks don't give me enough time for that).
Now when I had some down time yesterday I started to think on the subject and it struck me that this whole idea of surface to orbit might be taken the wrong way.

huge massive rockets are a brute force way to punch through the atmosphere and to space without outside influence. it's a huge range of operating environments for a machine to go through.

So let's break it up into chunks.
I am giving the rocket a standard ISP of 282 so to get to orbital (roughly 9.4km/s) is.... a mass ratio of 29.9!
First is from dead stop to moving the first few meters per second and the height of lets say 400 meters. Having a launch assist on the tower (400 meters) say accelerating at 6Gs (58.9 m/s) and we shave 217.9m/s off our deltaV bringing our mass ratio to... 27.6.
Now we have a velocity of 217.9m/s and remember these are all really back of the envelope calculations.
Now at these speeds I would suggest a ramjet, at first it would have a ISP lower than our rocket, but quickly ramps up. Let's put the acceleration at a steady 5Gs right now (damn my graphing calculator is still in shipment). Let's give the Ramjet at (average) ISP of 1,000 and it's providing 50% of the thrust and this goes through the 16.6km to past the troposphere.
So 16600= 217t+(.5*9.81*5)t^2 and some easy algebra later... 25.9seconds and going 852 m/s and a ISP at 641 and a mass ratio (for this first stage) at... .17?
I really need to get back on the mathematical horse...
Anyway that leaves us another let’s say 160km and 8.6 km/s left. We need a mass ratio of 22.2 still. Actually you could get it much higher than that, but I’m being really conservative.
Now a second stage is built to get the rocket through stratosphere. Let’s use the rocket to get it from here to about 5000 m/s velocity parallel to earth which at 5g takes about 102 seconds which means you need another 600m/s for gravity losses. 56000 at 282 isp is a mass ratio of about 7.6 which isn’t pretty but not horrible.
The last bit would use a Rotorvator with the tip going at the same speed as our rocket. The tip grabs the rocket and slings is another 4km/s giving our rocket a 9.6 km/s which is easily in orbital velocity.

NONE of this is even remotely proven, but it was a thought experiment in how cutting up the launch into distinct parts might help lower the performance of each piece.

I really need to start my day

Katzen said...

few typos in this
anyone programing would NOT see all the complexities.
and
might help lower the performance REQUIREMENTS.
that changes it a bit.

neutrino78x said...

In the future, people will go into space every single day. There will be launches constantly, one launch somewhere in the world happening pretty much all the time.

It will start out with space tourism and expand from there. Once space becomes profitable, it is self sustaining.

Thucydides said...

The issue with economies and most complex adaptive systems like climate or the ecosphere isn't the number of actors, but the ever increasing number of interactions as more actors are added, plus the fact that most of the relationships between inputs and outputs are non linear.

This is why weather prediction (i.e the seven day forecast) is always fraught with errors, and if you were to start with the seven day forecast as your data set, the next seven days would reflect even more cumulative errors.

In the case of trying to gather and manage all the data in an economy, you would run into F.A Hayek's "Local Knowledge Problem"

http://www.econlib.org/library/Essays/hykKnw1.html

Even the fastest computers and most intensive data gathering operation would always run behind the market, and indeed, the amount of processing time and power needed to collect data, input, do the calculations, output the answers then interpret and implement the answers would be far longer than the guy running the hot dog stand on the corner deciding that he would have more sales if he packed up and parked his stand a few blocks away.

Damien Sullivan said...

"wait, we invented 2 major systems (capitalism and socialism) in about a few centuries on Earth. How did they not find something else in millennia and countless worlds?"

What economic system do you think was being used before you say we invented capitalism and socialism?

"The reason why it may work better than socialism (and as such hybrids with a bigger part could work) is that socialism's flaw is people, and it removes them partially off the equation."

Eh, how is socialism's flaw people? One problem with central planning[1] is lack of information; I give Hayek credit here for noting the importance of dispersed information and decisionmaking. That's fundamental, not people. A problem of badly set prices is people responding rationally to the incentives; not sure how your system would avoid that, unless it had better and more flexible prices, basically emulating a market.

[1] "Socialism" is a vague and nebulous term; what y'all have been talking about is central planning, not socialism per se.

End of the say, it's still people doing things. Your system just replaces human decisionmaking, unless you're talking about post-scarcity automation

***

"I said there are none in systems in which everyone either explicitly or implicitly participates."

And you're still wrong, failing to understand what 'externality' even means.



"Once again, the market takes into account the entire environment and all of its inhabitants, however inefficiently and imperfectly."

No it doesn't. Stuff that isn't owned or priced is invisible to it. Agents act for their own good, not the global good; sometimes this works out, sometimes not.

Anonymous said...

As far as I can tell, the major problem with computer-modeling of the economy is that most computer models make the assumption that the economy is a mathimatical or mechanical driven system, rather than an organic system. After only a few levels up, the economy's complexity seems more akn to the actions of a living thing then a mechanical system.

Ferrell

Anonymous said...


Ferrel:

As far as I can tell, the major problem with computer-modeling of the economy is that most computer models make the assumption that the economy is a mathimatical or mechanical driven system, rather than an organic system.

Very good observation. That's because the economy is made up of individuals making individual decisions based on their current situation. There is nothing mechanical about it.

Of course, you have use mathematics to computer model anything. The problem is people put too much faith in complex models. Something simple like a ballistic simulation will give you very accurate results. Something complex, such as climate or economic models, are full of assumptions and guesses. While their results can be enlightening by showing treads when you change the staring conditions, don't rely on the actual results.

Ron

Damien Sullivan said...

Sometimes simpler but empirical works better than complex with dubious foundations. Krugman's noted that the Second Depression is basically explained with IS-LM, and there was an econosphere flurry a while back about the crisis in microfoundations, i.e. grounding macroeconomics in microeconomics and individual decisions.

"At no point was this rejection of Keynesianism driven by superior empirical performance; it was all about the principle, about refusing to incorporate anything that wasn't derived from maximization all the way."

Or http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/02/the-microfoundation-thing-wonkish/

We had perfectly fine thermodynamics before we could derive it from the statistical mechanics of gas molecules. Worse, people aren't molecules; even if we had kind of good microfoundations (which it's not clear we do) they wouldn't be complete, and trying to go macro likely means compositing lots of inaccuracy into a chaotic system, and now your physics-envy logic doesn't work and you need empirical testing, and once you're empirical you may well find that PV=nRT level macro theories like old Keynesianism work better than anything else, as they focus on the variables you actually care about.

Geoffrey S H said...

"What economic system do you think was being used before you say we invented capitalism and socialism?"

Proto-capitalism. Mercantilism. Obsessions with economically 'dominating' the market in whatever form it took. The early modern economic outlook in a nutshell.

Damien Sullivan said...

I don't see such a big difference. Mercantilism wasn't an entirely different system, just different policies. You had private property and trade with some level of government interference, just like today; it may not be capitalism in the narrow sense with limited liability corporations and all, but compared to central planning and direction -- which was done by the Incas, not invented for the first time by Bolsheviks -- it's pretty much the same.

Conversely, if you want to call proto-capitalism different from capitalism, one could argue that we have multiple systems today, like laissez faire capitalism vs. social democracy vs. autarky. Western banking vs. Islamic banking.

Anonymous said...

A central concept of capitalism is the ability to create wealth. Mercantilism holds that there is a finite amount of wealth. That's a pretty big difference, as far as I can tell.

Ferrell

Damien Sullivan said...

Perhaps, but then at that resolution gold standard vs. floating fiat currencies is a big difference, as is Keynesian full employment policies vs. not, and the claim that we've only invented capitalism and socialism falls apart.

Geoffrey S H said...

Mercantilism led to a large number of conflicts- one cannot simply sit back and allow peaceful trade, as the other side might get 'more' of that peaceful trade. It then led to the Navigation Acts and the horrendous mess of who is trading in contraband, and who (very few) is sticking to the letter of the law and only trading within an imperial sphere. Policing it looks to have been horrendous. So in a way there is less difference than one might think with trading now- practicalities force a form of quasi-free trade-, but looking at the developments over the 18th century, one sees a whole series of wars occur that would not have done had the principle of modern free trade been adopted a couple of hundred years earlier than it actually was.

Tony said...

Damien Sullivan:

"And you're still wrong, failing to understand what 'externality' even means."

I understand it just fine. I just don't agree with your conception of applicability to the automotive economy. You cherry-pick a single type of transaction in the economy -- the sale of an automobile or truck -- as a place where externalities need to be assessed, totally ignoring the extended costs and benefits all throughout the economy that that transaction implies. And because everybody participates in the automotive economy -- even people who don't own a motor vehicle use them for transportation or buy and sell goods transported by them -- everybody participates in the benefits of motor vehicle sales and everybody helps to share their costs.

There's nothing external to that. Here's what one has to do to invoke an externality in the automotive economy:

1. Carefully picking a single point in the economy

2. Strictly limit the scope of benefits considered to be related to that transaction

3. At the same time, leave open-ended the scope of extended costs related to the transaction.

IOW, it's cleverly constructed, but logically incompetent nonsense.

"No it doesn't. Stuff that isn't owned or priced is invisible to it. Agents act for their own good, not the global good; sometimes this works out, sometimes not."

Stuff that isn't owned still influences the economy by how its availability or unavailability affects economic decisions. What ranchers do around here, for example, is significantly impacted by their access to Federal lands for pasturing.

Likewise, stuff that isn't priced isn't outside the economy either. A fully amortized piece of capital equipment -- a tractor or a lathe, for example -- that isn't on the market is technically not priced. But its availability and utility depresses demand for like items on the market, either new or used. (That's why planned obsolescence was so attractive to a lot of businesses trying to sell "next year's model" back in the day.)

Finally, there's no rule or even principle that demands global good as an objective. That's a value that only some participants in the market want to see served, not a fundamental feature of it.

Tony said...

I suppose I should add, in order to contextualize my previous comment about the inapplicability of externality theory to the automotive economy:

One could calculate externalities from some definite point of interception. But one would have to be extremely scrupulous to discover and include all extended benefits as well as costs, not just assume -- as Damian seems to -- that costs woul dominate the balance. In then due to the ubiquity of the automotive economy, it seems entirely likely that the costs and benefits of a motor vehicle purchase (for example) would be a wash. Actually trying to assess a few dollars one way or the otuer per purchase would involve much work (if done honestly, without an ideoligical agenda) and constitut little more than an unnecessary drag on the system.

Damien Sullivan said...

"I understand it just fine."

No, you don't. You seem to think of externalities as external to the economy as a whole or something, which is clueless. Externalities are external to the person making the decision that creates them. It doesn't matter at all whether everyone is 'participating' in the automotive economy, what matters is that my decision to drive a car creates pollution affecting everyone else. I get the benefit of driving, everyone else bears the cost.

If cars instead produced a solid plug of CO2 and particulates and other emissions, and I was responsible for disposing of that safely, *then* there wouldn't be externalities of pollution from driving.

If everyone burns smoky firewood, everyone is benefiting from their own heat and light, but much of the smoke goes to hurt everyone else. Someone who opts out and uses a clean solar oven is still breathing all the other smoke, and suffering an externality. Ubiquity has nothing to do with it, externality to the decision-maker does.

Ideological agenda and logical incompetence indeed.

Tony said...

Damien Sullivan:

"what matters is that my decision to drive a car creates pollution affecting everyone else. I get the benefit of driving, everyone else bears the cost."

Right here is where you fail economics forever.

First of all, even in the context of the immediate transaction, the purchaser of the motor vehicle is not the only person to benefit. The seller, after all unloads a piece of expensive and not trivial to maintain inventory, presumably at a profit over the cost of acquisition and maintenance. In your formulation, the seller seems to be an anonymous cipher, who exists only to make the purchase possible.

Secondly, yet much more importantly, externalities include benefits, not just costs. The externalities of a motor vehicle sale include all of the benefits to the people who contributed to that sale, not just to the end user. That's quite a lot to balance against the undoubted -- and totally undisputed -- pollution caused by motor vehicle use. It's quite obviously why society doesn't GAS about you self-absorbed ideological hate of cars.

jollyreaper said...

Tony, you are arguing about a textbook definition of stuff everyone else understands. This is material from the glossary. You're trying to redefine the second law of thermodynamics so that your perpetual motion machine won't violate it.

Tony said...

jollyreaper:

"Tony, you are arguing about a textbook definition of stuff everyone else understands. This is material from the glossary. You're trying to redefine the second law of thermodynamics so that your perpetual motion machine won't violate it. "

Once again, this isn't about definitions. It's about application and applicability. If you want to assess the costs of externalities, you have to assess the benefits as well. That's because the glossary definition of "externality" includes both. Honest actors don't get to consider one and not the other. Yet it's funny how people who want to apply externality theory to the automotive economy consider only the putative external costs of (for example) the sale of a motor vehicle. The economic benefits external to the transaction are seemingly never considered. If you can't or won't look at both sides of the coin, you're either irredeemably naïve or culpably disingenuous. Now, this could just be a personal problem, but my understanding of human nature leads me to presume the latter case most of the time.

So much for application. WRT applicability, the ubiquity of the automotive economy means that practically nobody is external to the choice to use motor vehicles. It may not always be at the purchase of the car or truck that one wills the motor vehicle to exist and be used, but if you buy groceries or other retail goods, use a bus or cab, or even just have a mail box, you're a direct beneficiary of the decision to purchase and operate a motor vehicle. Some people more so than others, but everybody is an active participant in the automotive economy. That's why I question the existence of externalities when one considers the entire scope of the thing. Yes, everybody pays the costs. But everybody also willingly accepts the benefits. If everybody benefits and everybody pays, where exactly do we want to assess the cost, and where exactly should we want to consider the benefit? What is external to what, when everything plays a part? Neither you nor Damien has yet managed to answer that question even a little bit.

Anonymous said...

An externality woud be a hurricane that shuts down oil wells in the Gulf, or a war that disrupts trade routes, or a plauge that drives up crop prices, or a disruptive technology, or even just a long winter. According to Encarta Dictionary, "...a factor such as environmental damage that results from the way something is produced but is not taken into account in establishing the market price of the goods or materials concerned" So that's the definition that's being argued about.If you don't like it, write your own damn dictionary.

Ferrell

Tony said...

Ferrell

"According to Encarta Dictionary, '...a factor such as environmental damage that results from the way something is produced but is not taken into account in establishing the market price of the goods or materials concerned' So that's the definition that's being argued about.If you don't like it, write your own damn dictionary."

Don't have to. I have Wikipedia, referencing an article in the peer-reviewed journal Economica:

"In economics, an externality is a cost or benefit which affects a party who did not choose to incur that cost or benefit."

Also, referencing The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics:

"If external costs exist, such as pollution, the producer may choose to produce more of the product than would be produced if he were required to pay all associated environmental costs. If there are external benefits, such as in public safety, less of the good may be produced than would be the case if the producer were to receive payment for the external benefits to others. For the purposes of these statements, overall cost and benefit to society is defined as the sum of the imputed monetary value of benefits and costs to all parties involved. Thus, it is said that, for goods with externalities, unregulated market prices do not reflect the full social costs or benefit of the transaction."

I think I'll take those sources above Encarta.

In any case, it defies logic to define externality as only costs, and eschew consideration of benefits altogether. Now, I get the attractiveness to some types of minds to enforce debits without taking corresponding credits on the other side of the ledger. It's something for nothing. Unfortunately, that's not how the world works. If you want to say some transaction has some set of external costs, whatever they are, you also have to balance the books with the corresponding set of external benefits, whatever they are. Then you calculate the balance. That's real world bookkeeping.

And there are plenty of benefits external to the sale (for example) of a motor vehicle. A whole extended supply chain benefits from the manufacture of that vehicle. That supply chain's employees spend money at businesses all throughout the economy. Those businesses take their share of the benefits, etc, etc, etc.

Then there are the extended benefits on the purchase side of the transaction as well. Friends get a ride. Businesses can employ people from across a wider geographic area. All sorts of businesses can attract custom from larger population bases. The street and highway builders, and all of the people they get their equipment and supplies from benefit from the choice to use motor vehicles. And of course everything people want to buy moves on motor vehicles over some distance.

But of course, if you want to sound intelligent to a certain audience of self-righteous Luddites, only the costs matter -- and in fact only the costs can be mentioned. That makes it the worst kind of intellectually dishonest drivel.

Anonymous said...

Tony, those two examples are more wordy and detailed, but say esentually the same thing. Although it is good to know that you are capable of changing your mind, since you now seem to aknowleadge the exsitance of externalities in economics. Besides, just because the definition that Encarta gave only contained a negative example (probably for breivity), doesn't mean that there aren't positive examples as well. For instance, a mild winter can lead to a bumber crop, resulting in lower prices; or a discovery of a new source of a valuble ore can lead to expanded production, just to name two. Don't get so hung up on petty details...it makes you sound self-rightious and conceded, making it difficult for others to take you seriously.

Anyway, back to the topic of this thread; maybe a disruptive technology could give us an increase in rocket launches, but perhaps we just need something in orbit that needs regular supply launches. Maybe we could build and launch probes from an orbital facility. I know that it is probably cheaper to build and launch them from the ground, but this isn't the oly thing our space station would do; it would run experiments on in-orbit refueling, retreving dead satillites for repair or salvage, even be a command and control center for defense from asteroid impacts. Unlike the ISS, we can't have it be all things for all interests, and then not give it the manpower and other resources to do even it's core mission. Perhaps a corporation could be set up to bid on producing the probes and to market the salvaged/repaired satillites, as well as any of the other sidelines used to support the core mission. A little light on details, but a start, I think. Does anyone else have any helpful thoughts on those details? Thanks.

Ferrell

Anonymous said...

As I said very early in the thread, nearly 20% of launches supports the ISS. If you want more launches, then what we need are more infrastructure projects.

Building infrastructure is never cheap, but in the long run it can lead to cheaper operations. Orbital fuel depots add operational flexibility, however, they won't lower the costs by themselves. Once we have fuel production using water at the Lunar South Pole (if there really is water there), then the fuel depots will save billions by not having to launch fuel from Earth.

Ron

Geoffrey S H said...

It would be more akin to aerial refuelling flights than a stop-off at the gas station probably. Send a full tank ahead of each mission individually to extend the range of the craft. It wouldn't bring the price down though- its just an extra mission ahead of the main one that is marginally cheaper, due to the goal being "get propellant up there for the next mission". Add the price of the 2 missions together and you still have something approaching double the price of one more limited-range mission.

Idle thought: It would be interesting to see a piece of fiction based on the premise that almost every space mission ever proposed or studied (at least those found on astronautix) was successful (ignore economics for now, this is purely rule-of-cool) and thus create a setting with the night sky as full as traffic as you see in star wars... only each and every unique craft is accurate:

Soviet TMK lighters blockading the US moonbase due to suspicions that the next Orion-cruiser flight from there is carrying illegal project pluto missiles to defend US interests on Venus. Meanwhile British Daedalus and US Icarus freight craft carry the next generation of explorers to the Oort cloud, seen off by ancient Von Braunian Solar Moths. Meanwhile, 4 Polyus-class battle stations prepare to move into lunar orbit and escalate tensions there....

Cordwainer said...

To turn this discussion on it's ear maybe we should look at the plausibility of not more launches, but fewer launches using massive heavy lift rockets. Say an SSTO with GCNR Liberty ship like performances. Use the SSTO to launch an ISRU landing vehicle to the Moon and then refuel and retrofit the SSTO stage into a cargo ship for carrying payloads between orbits and to the Moon. Once you have enough ISRU on the Moon you can refuel and repair your "space-liner" from lunar resources.

The initial cost would be large and you would have to have a significant reason to exploit lunar resources. In the long run though it would probably be more economical to use such a top-down approach to Lunar settlement. Rather than a bottom-up approach that would require significant growth in both ground launch capability and orbital infrastructure for which there would be little market incentive for.

Geoffrey S H said...

If it was single stage... think of the performance you could get out of a multi-stage!

I think alot of the obsession with SSTO is that we see spacecraft as characters, and we don't like them to change appearance exessively(in fiction at least, both for sentimental reasons and for budget reasons). Thus we think that having something that does't have to change/lose propellant tanks, heat shields along its journey must be more efficient somehow.

The more stages you add on to it, the better the performance. (to a point of course)

Cordwainer said...

What I was trying to express is if you create a first stage that can significant payload to orbit(a single stage to orbit first stage) then you already halfway to anywhere and have a large enough payload to mount a second stage that can get even further. Similarly if you make that first stage a refuelable docking stage then you can use more conventional rocket launches to turn that stage into cislunar vehicle. Furthermore if someone would grow a pair and make it a nuclear rocket design you could use the rockets reactors to provide power as well, allowing you to turn that stage once in orbit into whatever you want.(orbital habitat, moon shuttle, deep space exploration ship, asteroid miner etc.) A secondary stage makes sense if you want to get to your destination quicker so your first stage to orbit would be used to launch space probes, ISRU, orbital infrastructure and initial manned research missions. Once you have enough infrastructure in space though you could go back to smaller, cheaper and more sustainable launch platforms.

Cordwainer said...

Like Katzen's idea of S-bills and X-bills kind of reminds me of PIIG's, perhaps it could even be earmarked to PIIG's and other "green" bills as a way to further diversify risk and raise capital. If we were to tie sustainable space development with other sustainability market sectors it might make such bills more attractive to buyers, albeit it also might make them less effective as a hedge against extraneous costs. Satellite bandwidth would probably be the best "reserve currency" for funding such bills, since demand for such services will no doubt increase exponentially as the Third World develops and IPv. 6 network architecture becomes more common.

Katzen said...

Cordwainer
PIIGs? a search results in a acronym for the weaker Eurozone economies. I can kinda see what you mean if it's that though.
Bandwidth is one concrete service that could be provided with a S,X bill. (maybe the bills could be like a futures contract?).
Bandwidth is strong but not strong or a base load enough to handle as a world reserve currency, and you probably already know that...

but you have the idea!

sustainability has become the watchword these last few years where the world economies are starting to look for a new economic "prime power"
China while growing at a fast rate has major problems with both it's huge and fast aging population. Welfare is going to cripple their growth soon.
Europe is slow and didn't recover very well from this last recession.
USA is the slowly weakening " one superpower". it's not going to stop being a powerful country anytime soon, but it's government needs not a revolution but a rebuild. It's too damn big to have such a tiny upper government. Some senators head states that are as wealthy and large as some European countries.
and I'm getting off topic

thinking about it... bandwidth might not be such a bad currency reserve. every economic transaction requires it and it's practically a utility now. It just needs a few other base commodities to work. Rice, water, oil, natural gas, industrial metals.

Now a currency that's backed by a index of that would be so stable you could "bounce trolls off it!" -moist von lipwig-

as for space... well if you want to keep the currency liquid and strong you need to have such commodities to back including global bandwidth.

rant done, back to work for me!

Tony said...

Cordwainer:

"What I was trying to express is if you create a first stage that can significant payload to orbit(a single stage to orbit first stage) then you already halfway to anywhere..."

That's not how it works. You stage because it's more efficient on the way up, and ultimately gets more payload in orbit for a given size vehicle. Turns out the most efficient launch vehicle organization is two stages to LEO.

Tony said...

Ferrell:

"Tony, those two examples are more wordy and detailed, but say esentually the same thing. Although it is good to know that you are capable of changing your mind, since you now seem to aknowleadge the exsitance of externalities in economics."

Sigh... Once again: it's always been a question of application and applicability, not one of existence.

"Besides, just because the definition that Encarta gave only contained a negative example (probably for breivity), doesn't mean that there aren't positive examples as well. For instance, a mild winter can lead to a bumber crop, resulting in lower prices; or a discovery of a new source of a valuble ore can lead to expanded production, just to name two. Don't get so hung up on petty details...it makes you sound self-rightious and conceded, making it difficult for others to take you seriously."

It's not a petty detail, F. The whole point of assessing taxes for externalities is to visit upon motor vehicle owners the perceived true costs of their choices. That's totally fine with me -- just as long as all of the extended costs are balanced by all of the extended benefits. But some of our friends only want to look at the cost side of the balance sheet, so that they can assure themselves of a significant tax. That's intellectually dishonest.

And I really don't care if it sounds self-righteous and conceited to certain ears to say so. I was always sure that it would.

Damien Sullivan said...

"externalities include benefits, not just costs"

Yes, they do, though you fail when you attribute the benefit to people who contributed to the sale; externalities affect people who *didn't* participate in the transaction. But positive and negative externalities don't add up to a net externality of zero, they mean you have positive and negative externalities, which can still be addressed. Nor is there any reason to think the net externality of cars is approximately zero.

"society doesn't GAS"

Wrong again, society clearly does give a shit when it passes pollution regulations to curb those negative externalities of cars, and there's a growing backlash in many urban areas against the effects of requiring free/cheap parking.

"the ubiquity of the automotive economy means that practically nobody is external to the choice to use motor vehicles"

You just failed again. Almost everyone is external to my choice to buy a car. You're also moving the goalposts, to "motor vehicles" in general when we were talking about ubiquitous private cars. A car in every home is not the same as delivery trucks or cabs.

"A whole extended supply chain benefits from the manufacture of that vehicle"

Yes, because they get *paid for the manufacture of the vehicle*. That's not an externality. You fail again.

"Once again: it's always been a question of application and applicability, not one of existence"

Forgetting your own words?
http://www.rocketpunk-manifesto.com/2013/04/the-balance-of-technology.html?showComment=1368143615637#c6090932179050321819

"As pointed out to you on numerous occasions, there are no externalities" -- 'Tony', May 9 2013
'are no' is a matter of existence, not applicability.

But I'd forgotten this choice line:
"I'm certain my mother, a former bank executive who doen't know much economic theory and has even less time for it, knows more about how economics works than Keynes ever did"

Thucydides said...

This argument about "externalities" is becoming rather stale. There are many costs and benefits that are so miniscule or so diffused across the economy that it is totally impractical to track them, or totally cost inefficient to attempt to capture them.

How much benefit do you get from the Chinese economy? How much cost are you bearing because of the ash particles from Chinese coal powered thermal energy plants?

By the time you figure that out (assuming it is even possible to do so) the costs of the data capture and the costs of "collecting" your indirect costs and paying for your indirect benefits would probably vastly outweigh whatever pittance that it was worth.

I might even argue that in the overall scheme of things, even very obvious "externalities" like the London smogs of the 1950's generally turn out to be localized problems with localized solutions. Sure, people downwind of London suffered effects, which tapered off the farther away you got from London, but it was far more cost effective to tackle the problem in London itself, and from a practical standpoint, solved the problem quickly and effectively.

Similarly, California sets a different standard for automotive emissions because their local issues are different (population density, car ownership levels and geography) and their market is large enough that auto manufacturers can absorb the costs of making a different model for a different market in that case. (The market in California is something like the entire size of the Canadian market, to give some idea of scale and scope).

This leads to a nice segue back to Hyack; since you are in a position to observe and act on local conditions, then you are equally capable of acting on these conditions. Your effectiveness is obviously constrained by you time and resources, and of course the similar activities of everyone around you, but then again, that is what a market is for.

Tony said...

Damien Sullivan"

"Yes, [externalities] do [include benefits], though you fail when you attribute the benefit to people who contributed to the sale; externalities affect people who *didn't* participate in the transaction."

Ok, so, let me see if I get this straight...any person that contributes an ounce of material or a minute of labor to the production of the motor vehicle, no matter how far removed, fully intends the specific sale of that motor vehicle, and is integral to the transaction? While, at the same time, anybody, no matter ho close to the purchaser and his decision to buy the vehicle, or to the conditions which give him incentive to buy it, who might be negatively affected by the vehicle's effluents, and absolutely knows it, is external?

You see why I think you're not an honest broker in this discussion?

"But positive and negative externalities don't add up to a net externality of zero, they mean you have positive and negative externalities, which can still be addressed."

Uhhh, no. It means you have a balance sheet, not a bill. There's a difference.

"Nor is there any reason to think the net externality of cars is approximately zero."

There's no compelling reason to think it isn't, either. There is considerable circumstantial evidence that the overwhelming majority thinks so, however. Which brings us to this:

"Wrong again, society clearly does give a shit when it passes pollution regulations to curb those negative externalities of cars, and there's a growing backlash in many urban areas against the effects of requiring free/cheap parking."

Out of context. I said:

"society doesn't GAS about you self-absorbed ideological hate of cars."

There's a significant difference between society not caring period, and society just not caring about your intellectual dishonesty.

"You just failed again. Almost everyone is external to my choice to buy a car."

Really? Your choice to buy a car is based on its perceived utility. That utility is a direct function of a lot of choices that a lot of people consciously make. The roads that car will drive on exist because people make a conscious choice to build and maintain them. The fuel and other consumables it will use, mechanical help to fix breakdowns, and the parts that the mechanics use are available almost everywhere because a lot of somebody's made the choice to go into the businesses that make them available. Your safety on the road is the result of conscious choices people have made to regulate vehicle use, and then the funding they have put into policing those regulations. You wouldn't buy that car, at almost any price, if the infrastructure for its use didn't exist. It is in fact one of the most dependent big ticket purchases that people routinely make.

Tony said...

Damien:

"You're also moving the goalposts, to 'motor vehicles' in general when we were talking about ubiquitous private cars. A car in every home is not the same as delivery trucks or cabs."

I've always made it clear that I evaluate the automotive economy on the basis of all motor vehicles. Private cars are your cause, Damien. That's why I evaluate your motivation to be unreasonable hate of them, in particular. If you actually cared about motor vehicle pollution per se, you'd be much more reasonable to get after the entire automotive economy. But then of course, Brutus, it's not that you loved Caesar less, but that you loved Rome more, right?

"Yes, because they get *paid for the manufacture of the vehicle*. That's not an externality. You fail again."

An one can enumerate an equally involved post-purchase infrastructure that benefits from the sale. I've partially enumerated it above. Are those internal to the transaction as well? If they are, then almost the entire economy is touched by those internal benefits in some way. Make up your mind, please.

"'are no' [externalities] is a matter of existence, not applicability."

If the theory of externalities is not applicable, then there are no externalities, in any logical sense. That doesn't mean one can't theorize and even document externalities in other cases. It just means there are no real ones in the proximate case, that I can detect.

"But I'd forgotten this choice line:
'I'm certain my mother, a former bank executive who doen't know much economic theory and has even less time for it, knows more about how economics works than Keynes ever did'"


I see no reason to be embarrased by, or even to reconsider that statement. It speaks for itself -- practical actors in the economy tend to know much more about how it works than theorists. You may have noticed that my objection to your reasoning is from the point of view of a practical actor, precisely because your theories fail to recognize practical realities.

Cordwainer said...

"Reserve currency" was a poor choice of words. It is quite unlikely that no one thing could act as a global reserve currency, band width though would probably be one of the major components to funding a "space operations bill or bond" since it is strongly tied to satellite networks. There has actually been some discussion in the area of sustainable space development, some of the methods suggested for funding such activities is very similar to the ideas you have suggested.

Cordwainer said...

Yes, Tony we all know that staging is the most efficient way to get to LEO. I was merely postulating the possibility that it might be theoretically possible to build really, really large rockets. If the scale is large enough then the first stage can be enough to get you to LEO. Yeah, it probably isn't efficient or very plausible economically or in terms of being easy to build. After all the larger the build the more structural strength and therefore weight may have to be built into the structure, which could severely effect the efficiency of your rocket or even the feasibility of building it with current structural materials. That being said there are some practical designs out there already for putting any where from hundreds to thousands of tonnes in payload to LEO. For instance Heavy Falcon has already shown to some degree that it is feasible to have a single combined stage rather than a number of expendable stages.

It sort of makes sense to just roll up launch platform and space vehicle into one vehicle if your looking to send a lot of payload in one shot, and if size and price aren't a concern. After all once you have the launch stage in space you essentially have a reusable vehicle for operating in cislunar and deep space. If your launch stage is humongous then you can get quite a bit of space infrastructure for ISRU on the second stage. Or you can forego a second stage altogether and just load most of the rest of the craft with fuel for station keeping or a trip to the Moon. Once your "halfway to anywhere" the energy you need to move even such a monstrously large vehicle isn't anywhere as large as the energy in fuel you needed to get it up to LEO. The real inefficiency in cost would be in keeping such a massive craft in orbit once there but that could be offset by ISRU refueling and the fact that the craft would be capable of doing the useful work that other vehicles/space stations would have required numerous smaller launches to accomplish. No it isn't a terribly efficient method but it would get a hell of a lot of infrastructure into space in a short time, infrastructure that once in space could later be serviced with more efficient ground to orbit launch platforms and ISRU.

Byron said...

Cordwainer:
Yes, Tony we all know that staging is the most efficient way to get to LEO. I was merely postulating the possibility that it might be theoretically possible to build really, really large rockets. If the scale is large enough then the first stage can be enough to get you to LEO.
But why would you want to do this? Yes, you could make an SSTO launcher that is much more expensive than a TSTO one for the same payload. Theoretically possible, but never going to happen.

Yeah, it probably isn't efficient or very plausible economically or in terms of being easy to build. After all the larger the build the more structural strength and therefore weight may have to be built into the structure, which could severely effect the efficiency of your rocket or even the feasibility of building it with current structural materials. That being said there are some practical designs out there already for putting any where from hundreds to thousands of tonnes in payload to LEO.
What you're describing is similar to the big dumb booster (BDB) concept. The problem is that the economies of scale for rockets occur mainly in cost, not mass. There are no politically practical designs for that sort of launch, certainly not SSTO ones.

For instance Heavy Falcon has already shown to some degree that it is feasible to have a single combined stage rather than a number of expendable stages.
Falcon Heavy hasn't shown anything for two reasons. First off, it hasn't flown yet. Second, it's doing absolutely nothing that hasn't already been done. Parallel staging was used on both the R-7 and (sort of) on the Atlas.

It sort of makes sense to just roll up launch platform and space vehicle into one vehicle if your looking to send a lot of payload in one shot, and if size and price aren't a concern. After all once you have the launch stage in space you essentially have a reusable vehicle for operating in cislunar and deep space.
No, you don't. The things you look for in a deep-space stage are totally different from those you want in a stage that takes off from the ground. The second stage might be of some use, but you're likely to have a lot more second stages than you have requirements for tugs, and the added engineering requirements for turning it into a tug (docking, maneuvering, refueling) are nontrivial.

Once your "halfway to anywhere" the energy you need to move even such a monstrously large vehicle isn't anywhere as large as the energy in fuel you needed to get it up to LEO.
No, the specific energy/delta-V cost would be the same as for anything else. Your only saving is on thrust, and that's fairly cheap.

The real inefficiency in cost would be in keeping such a massive craft in orbit once there but that could be offset by ISRU refueling and the fact that the craft would be capable of doing the useful work that other vehicles/space stations would have required numerous smaller launches to accomplish.
Keeping it in orbit? What, do you have to pay the gravity bill? There is no inherent cost to keep things in orbit. The problem with an oversized rocket is that it takes too much propellant. A greater number of more reasonably sized and more efficient rockets is a much better plan. And yes, I am a rocket scientist.

Anonymous said...

Tony:

"You stage because it's more efficient on the way up, and ultimately gets more payload in orbit for a given size vehicle. Turns out the most efficient launch vehicle organization is two stages to LEO."

Absolutely, two stages is the way to go.

I don't understand why there is such a fascination for SSTO vehicles when TSTO gives you more payload. There is just no need to haul all that extra mass to orbit. Any technological advance that would make SSTO workable could be used to improve TSTO. TSTO will always have a greater payload fraction than SSTO.

SpaceX is using the TSTO model in their F9R. The almost have the reusable first stage working. The big catch will be to get a reusable second stage to work.

Cordwainer:

"It sort of makes sense to just roll up launch platform and space vehicle into one vehicle if your looking to send a lot of payload in one shot, and if size and price aren't a concern."

There is no need to haul the entire rocket to orbit or increase the rocket mass to reduce the structure on the pad. That just reduces your payload. If you are making a reusable vehicle, now you will need a very large and massive heat shield for reentry. Size and price will always be a concern.

In the future, perhaps reusable SSTO would be useful on Mars. With a very thin atmosphere and lower gravity it might work. You are also several million miles from the nearest rocket factory, so tossing away parts is an issue instead of a benefit.

Ron

Thucydides said...

I would say that SSTO, air launch or most other postulated schemes really have few advantages to offer over conventional launch practice, because if they did, they would certainly be employed right now.

Rocketry has been around for quite a long time, and virtually everything posted here (and lots of things that haven't, yet) have been investigated and even trialed on some scale in the past(mostly IOT test them for possible use during the Cold War). Like I said earlier, if you are using chemical rockets, you will always max out at an ISP of 450 with the LH2 + LOX rocket. (The little bit extra you might achieve using liquid Flourine or exotica like FOOF is far outweighed by the incredible dangers of handling these products).

Using NTR's for ground launch is out because hauling the shielding into orbit really cuts down on the amount of payload you can carry (even with an ISP of 800 to 1200); while it is quite possible to build a NTR without shielding, I think most people can figure out why this is not a practical scheme. (Note, a reactor called Phoebus was used to generate about 4 MW of thermal energy out of a core packge the size of a van, perhaps the most powerful reactor ever built).

Based on the laws of physics, the only way to get a very high efficiency rocket with today's technology would be to use external heating i.e. a laser or microwave rocket. Liek Myrabo's designs have an effectively infinite ISP in the atmosphere, since the reaction mass is the air (nothing to carry with you) and the energy comes from the laser or microwave station, although you still need to focus a serious amount of energy to turn the air into plasma and actually fly (the few test article that have flown have used relatively small lasers, it was estimated that a 100 Kw laser could fly these test articles to 30km, and a MW would deliver a likogram sized device into orbit).
At 1MW/kg, you would need a pretty big honking laser or laser battery to lift a space shuttle sized vehicle (the orbiter alone) into orbit. Even a smaller vehicle like the SpaceX Dragon would need a considerable amount of power to fly into space via laser (and of course since neither the Dragon or Orbiter are designed to use laser energy, we would need to create ships designed from the ground up to use laser energy).

Katzen said...

it's been a full 12+ hour day so I apologize in advance if this gets a bit disjointed. I stared at parts lists all day trying to make kits.

even an audiobook couldn't keep my brain from going stale after a few hours. I opted for a can of caffeine in a vain attempt to keep it fresh.

anyway some knife party is giving me a boost for the night to write this out. I want to and it is one of those things that I enjoy talking to people who know which way the floors on a rocket are supposed to go.

anyway.

on rockets two stages really does seem the way to go. I want to treat the first and second stage as two separate vehicles.
the first stage has to punch through thousands of meters of atmosphere. It needs to big and very powerful.
the second stage has to give the rocket a large part of it's delta V and therefore should probably have a larger mass ratio than our first.
I'm lecturing people on the basics of rocketry who many are probably experts. I really am captain obvious.
anyway it's probably going to be a very long time before the first stage can be changed out for a laser, mass driver and such because you name it and it might be built... in a hundred years or so.
Right now good old rockets will do I just wish we could use some kind of air breathing engine for the first stage to increase ISP.

Ron
I thought about your idea of using a SSTO if/when we do get to mars and the numbers seem to check out looking at delta V budgets. Trick will be getting there in the first place at this point.

Now to the economies and my personal hope for space.
a S,X... hell I'm calling it a PN bill for pirate ninja(thank you mark wadney) needs to be bundled with much more secure debts like.... well that's not so easy anymore gold or debt from....china maybe?
Anyway lets say there 100 billion in us cash of these bills are printed yearly, and 3 to 4 percent is on "space development" that's 3 to 4 billion a year thrown at space which is a great deal of developmental cash for exploring space. if it crashes completely it only loose 3-4% but if it takes off because of some new development it will add a lot more value to you PN-bill.

Now to my personal dream of space.
I want space to be the "high frontier" no, I do not have visions of chiseled faces looking to the stars. I'm military. I did time in the Afganistan and going out to a little fob in the middle of BFE I realized "this is what mars is going to feel like" except without the helicopters.
It's dangerous, it's boring and life is sh!@#y (no seriously I lived in a tuna can with three other guys). But here's the thing. it gives the young, stupid and brave a chance. I will say that I have certain not so patriotic feelings about these wars, but I raised my hand because like most of the idiots who join I wanted to have a better life, if it gets you killed, well at least you gave it a shot.
A deployment gives most people who can stand it a shot at making a decent nest egg to start a new life, and a new appreciation for that life.
Now there are other places like North Dakota Bakken formation and the Tar Sands of Canada where such life exists without carrying a rifle.
Space however won't dry up like those places here on earth there will always be a worse, more distant and better paying positions building ,researching, or even mining in some godforsaken corner of the solar system. It will give people that chance to a better life no matter how hard or dangerous it is.

I need to sleep.....

Damien Sullivan said...

Fuck it. I know better than to argue with people who accuse me of dishonesty.

Bye Rick. It was a nice blog, once.

Cordwainer said...

Yeah, I didn't think monster-size rockets would be at all economical I was just pondering the feasibility of what could be done with such a concept given future advancements in industry and a "real" need to exploit resources from space. As things stand now there are no reasons to build anything that large or inefficient because we are only concerned with putting up satellites and probes into space. If there were an economic and/or political reason to get into space in a large way though I think BDB's would probably be the way to go.

Consider that if things stay the same as they have for the next few centuries or thousand years, there won't be much call to build rockets any different than we have and payloads will remain relatively small. So when the resource crunch or global political crisis comes(if it comes)then governments might be faced with resorting to unusual methods to get a lot of stuff to the Moon and elsewhere quickly.

In such a scenario what would really be cheaper and more convenient BDB's, a massive number of small launches, or far less conventional launch methods like launch loops, rotovators and laser thermal propulsion. Okay, designing some sort of reusable launch platform using air launch or hybrid jet and rocket technology might be better. Remember though that there would be a sense of urgency to get as much ISRU fielded as possible, so maybe BDB's would be more attractive than managing a multitude of smaller launches.

Obviously very large TSTO systems would be more efficient than SSTO but if the technology to create NTR's with better thrust to weight ratios were developed then something like a GCNR Liberty ship doesn't seem that far fetched. If your are using NTR's then it makes sense to take the reactors with you into space rather then attempting a powered landing or some other method of recovery for purely ecological and safety reasons as well as the fact you can make use of those reactors for energy in space.

Of course packing an NTR as an upper stage to a chemical booster is more efficient, but did I forget to mention the urgency of getting infrastructure "out there". After all the only reason the Saturn V was built was to get us to the Moon after we got our pants beat off off us by the Russians repeatedly in the Space Race. Which brings up the point that a lot of what the Russians were doing with rockets was very similar to the design elements of a BDB.

Use a TSTO and you can probably have a larger payload but you have to drop a huge "probably expendable" booster. To get nuclear reactors in space you would probably need humongous rockets anyway so why not bring the whole shebang with you in one shot and refuel using ISRU.

Cordwainer said...

One more thing to add engineers have been pushed into building and designing a lot of things that were inefficient and costly in the past. Merely because there was a perceived need for it at the time. Engineers aren't policy makers they do what they're told and occasionally they get big canvases to build there dreams on. So it is not unlikely given the right circumstances that they might be pushed into a "heavy lifter" boondoggle in the future.

Byron said...

Cordwainer:
Yeah, I didn't think monster-size rockets would be at all economical I was just pondering the feasibility of what could be done with such a concept given future advancements in industry and a "real" need to exploit resources from space.
You're confusing 'large' and 'inefficient'. 'Large' is not a bad thing, so long as there is sufficient demand to make the system economical. Take the commercial heavylift sector. There are some very large aircraft used there, but they wouldn't exist if that sector was the only market. 'Inefficient' is a relative term, but it generally means 'won't be built'. Speculating on uses for 'large, inefficient launch vehicles' is like thinking about what you could do with a biplane the size of a 747.

As things stand now there are no reasons to build anything that large or inefficient because we are only concerned with putting up satellites and probes into space.
There is virtually no reason to build an inefficient launch system, because doing so is almost by definition going to cost more than an efficient one. (One exception might be if you occasionally need to lift something that absolutely, positively cannot be split into pieces and assembled on orbit, and it's too large for your conventional launch systems, but there's a way to do it for minimal initial cost, even though the per-launch cost is high. The problem is that I can't think of either such an object or such a launch system.)

If there were an economic and/or political reason to get into space in a large way though I think BDB's would probably be the way to go.
Probably. Those work well with mass production, but they're not what you're describing. The key letter is the D, not the first B. The concept hinges on the fact that the cost of a rocket scales with parts count far more strongly than with mass, so a big booster will have a lower cost to orbit than a small one, particularly if you accept a lower mass fraction than a conventional launch vehicle would, allowing higher safety margins and cheaper manufacturing.

Consider that if things stay the same as they have for the next few centuries or thousand years, there won't be much call to build rockets any different than we have and payloads will remain relatively small. So when the resource crunch or global political crisis comes(if it comes)then governments might be faced with resorting to unusual methods to get a lot of stuff to the Moon and elsewhere quickly.
But why would an inefficient system get you there any more quickly than an efficient one?

Use a TSTO and you can probably have a larger payload but you have to drop a huge "probably expendable" booster.
Right, but if I'm building those boosters 'like sausages' they're quite cheap. I just go and build another.

To get nuclear reactors in space you would probably need humongous rockets anyway so why not bring the whole shebang with you in one shot and refuel using ISRU.
That's where you're wrong. Nuclear reactors designed for weight-critical applications and not saddled by the NRC are surprisingly light.

Cordwainer said...

I don't think I'm confusing large with inefficient I did mention that a large TSTO would be more efficient. I was trying to make the point that if your in a hurry and need a lot of material in space then large boosters or vehicles would be acceptable from a market or political standpoint. Just because we can't see a reason for such large constructs in space now does not mean that it may not happen in the future. If you really had a need to go exploit resources from the Moon or move a portion off the population off of the Earth then such a climate might be created. Of course we are getting into some voodoo sci-fi reasons there since such push-pull reasons would not be easy to define. Need for rare-metals and other mineral resources or a global or large scale cataclysm of some kind, perhaps.

As for whether it's more efficient to put large objects into space piece-meal or in one shot is probably more a matter of human choice than just economics. If the goal is to get ISRU to the Moon and claim as well as extract those resources quickly then launching larger payloads might be preferred.

When I said inefficient system I meant inefficient in getting you to orbit, not necessarily inefficient in getting to where your destination. A large booster is going to allow you to get a larger better equipped space vehicle into space for a Lunar or Mars mission. Otherwise you have to build in sections and launch from orbit, you lose valuable delta-vee, time to launch windows and time to prepare if you use the piece-meal approach. One big launch gets what you need there on-demand before your competitors.

Yes, small nuclear reactors would fulfill your power needs in space just as well as large reactors. Transporting large reactors though would be more useful for use in NTR if your purpose is manned space flight or moving lots of ISRU. Also moving lots of small reactors and fuel in one shot might be more convenient for space settlements just starting out and statistically safer than numerous smaller launches.

Byron said...

Cordwainer:
I don't think I'm confusing large with inefficient I did mention that a large TSTO would be more efficient.
Define 'inefficient'. Are we speaking in payload in terms of liftoff mass, or are we speaking in cost terms? A BDB effectively trades mass-inefficiency for cost-efficiency. This is because the aerospace industry has spent the past half-century creating a mind-boggling array of methods for making parts lighter, stronger, and more expensive. Part of a BDB is replacing the superplastic formed Titanium-Carbon Fiber composite with the plasma-deposited Niobium surface coating, heat treated and quenched in Champagne with a part made of steel. (All of the stuff I listed is actually used, although not together, except for the use of Champagne as a quenching fluid. I get my mind boggled with this stuff thrice weekly.)

I was trying to make the point that if your in a hurry and need a lot of material in space then large boosters or vehicles would be acceptable from a market or political standpoint.
Large boosters are an obvious result of increased launch demand. If you need enough of them, the economies of scale in both manufacture and operation drive you to use them. Superlarge SSTO boosters? Not so much.

Just because we can't see a reason for such large constructs in space now does not mean that it may not happen in the future.
There's a difference between 'I can't see why we'd want to do it now, but I can in the future' and 'I can't see any situation where it makes sense'. We're definitely in the second one here.

When I said inefficient system I meant inefficient in getting you to orbit, not necessarily inefficient in getting to where your destination.
Particularly if you're dealing with an SSTO, using the same system for deep-space travel is absolutely insane, or a sign that you have torch drives.

A large booster is going to allow you to get a larger better equipped space vehicle into space for a Lunar or Mars mission. Otherwise you have to build in sections and launch from orbit, you lose valuable delta-vee, time to launch windows and time to prepare if you use the piece-meal approach. One big launch gets what you need there on-demand before your competitors.
Not necessarily, because you're not thinking in systems. First off, a bigger spacecraft is going to generally be more expensive to develop. If nothing else, bigger things are harder to move around, and require more tooling. Modular spacecraft are easier to build, and can be launched as they come ready, instead of having to wait until the whole thing is ready, reducing the time requirements. Also, having more launches spreads the overhead costs of the launch facility over more launches, and that overhead will scale somewhat with rocket size.

Yes, small nuclear reactors would fulfill your power needs in space just as well as large reactors. Transporting large reactors though would be more useful for use in NTR if your purpose is manned space flight or moving lots of ISRU.
This depends on your definition of 'large'. Are we talking tens of tons? Hundreds? Thousands? I can't see requirements for more than 100-ton class reactors, which can be launched by efficiently-sized boosters. If you need lots of power, mass production is your friend.

Also moving lots of small reactors and fuel in one shot might be more convenient for space settlements just starting out and statistically safer than numerous smaller launches.
Actually, safety would dictate splitting the reactors up. Nuclear materials launched to date have had impressive protection, but a smaller booster means somewhat lower protection requirements.

Tony said...

Cord:

The figure of merit for efficiency in rocketry is mass ratio -- the ratio of propellant to structure. Like all ratios, it's a dimensionless number. No matter how big you make a launch vehicle, it's always going to be more efficient to stage it, because staging maximizes mass ratio.

Byron:

"Parallel staging was used on both the R-7 and (sort of) on the Atlas."

Actually, parallel staging is one of the most common methods in use. Think of all of the rockets that use or have uses strap-on solids. All of those are examples of parallel staging. The interesting feature of all of these arrangements is that the objective of the solid boosters is to be able to tailor the rocket to payload mass -- within a certain practical range -- rather than tailor the payload to the rocket. The core and the second stage perform pretty much the same on every flight, in absolute terms. The number and size of the solid rocket boosters determines how much payload can be carried by the whole, integrated vehicle.

The single exception to this, that I can think of, is was the Space Shuttle, which used parallel staging in an almost identical configuration on every flight. Of course here the deal was that the launch vehicle (i.e. the Orbiter) weighed much more than the payload intended to stay in space (if any), therefore the entire system was designed to orbit a standard mass. Now, the real funny thing here is that the SRB's, and effectively two out of the three main engines were there just to get the External Tank off the ground. A single Space Shuttle Main Engine, provided with a magic fuel hose hooked to a propellant supply on the ground, could have gotten the Shuttle off of the ground, in terms of sheer power to weight. It was carrying the fuel alone that required all of that rocket power.

Finally, you here a lot about the Shuttle Orbiter "hanging off" of the External Tank. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Orbiter and the SRBs were carrying the tank, which had no propulsion of its own. Think of a WW2 fighter drop tank grown to be larger than the aircraft, but still requiring the aircraft's power plant (and in the case of the Shuttle, some solid rocket motors besides) to move the whole assembly. That's the right picture.

Tony said...

And oh, I guess you could say that the R-7 family is pretty much a one trick pony in terms of parallel staging, having the same general configuration with maximum payload increases coming from incremental improvements to the overall vehicle design, not modifications of individual launch vehicles.

Byron said...

Tony:
The figure of merit for efficiency in rocketry is mass ratio -- the ratio of propellant to structure. Like all ratios, it's a dimensionless number. No matter how big you make a launch vehicle, it's always going to be more efficient to stage it, because staging maximizes mass ratio.
Not exactly. First, mass ratio is the ratio (obviously) of rocket sans propellant to rocket with propellant. What we're actually more worried about for booster characterization is the payload ratio, the ratio of (obviously) payload to fuel. For current ISPs, staging is undoubtedly going to give us higher payload ratios. However, payload ratio is a secondary parameter. Our primary concern is the cost per unit mass to orbit. What we can say is that SSTOs have low enough payload ratios to get caught in the Red Queen's Race, and cost more than TSTOs.

Actually, parallel staging is one of the most common methods in use. Think of all of the rockets that use or have uses strap-on solids.
My phrasing on that was slightly poor. I was speaking of parallel liquid staging with cross-feed, not strapping solids on. It turns out that the R-7 doesn't use that (I thought it did) but feeding from one part of the rocket to another is not a new concept. Atlas, my other example, still does so (just in reverse) and the Shuttle does as well.

Tony said...

Byron:

"Not exactly. First, mass ratio is the ratio (obviously) of rocket sans propellant to rocket with propellant."

Actually, we're both a little bit right and a little bit wrong. I was right about the direction of the ratio -- wet to dry -- while you were right about the inputs -- loaded to empty.

"What we're actually more worried about for booster characterization is the payload ratio, the ratio of (obviously) payload to fuel. For current ISPs, staging is undoubtedly going to give us higher payload ratios."

Errr...not so fast. The achievable dry weight for a given GLOW and propellant Isp is what engineers have to work with. If they can get a useful payload out of that, good, but it's not a fundamental requirement. A mediocre engineer could get some part of his rocket in space, but it's entirely possible to do that without having any mass left for payload.

What I should have said earlier is not the staging maximizes mass ratio, but that it maximizes the mass that can contain payload, for any given GLOW.

"However, payload ratio is a secondary parameter. Our primary concern is the cost per unit mass to orbit. What we can say is that SSTOs have low enough payload ratios to get caught in the Red Queen's Race, and cost more than TSTOs."

Okay, as far as it goes, but then general principles will tell you that the more mass you have within which payload might be a component, then, all other things being equal, that's probably the most cost efficient approach. Of course, all other things aren't equal, since staging requires more complexity in terms of parts count and critical mission events. Still experience tells us that staging is ultimately the most cost effective approach.

"My phrasing on that was slightly poor. I was speaking of parallel liquid staging with cross-feed, not strapping solids on. It turns out that the R-7 doesn't use that (I thought it did) but feeding from one part of the rocket to another is not a new concept. Atlas, my other example, still does so (just in reverse) and the Shuttle does as well."

I'm not sure I see the point in propellant cross-feed if you don't need it. There's a lot to be said for modularity in engineering. Also, if you need the motors of the outboard stage rockets for only the first couple of minutes of the flight, why put fuel in their tanks that you could put in the core stage tanks to begin with?

The taxonomy of Atlas is a curious question, since the booster motors aren't really a stage. They don't have tanks of their own, nor do they exist in a separate module. They just provide necessary power for getting the fully fueled airframe plus payload off of the ground. Once they serve their purpose, it makes sense to drop them, but it's more in the nature of cutting loose unneeded equipment, rather than jettisoning a fully functional stage.

As described earlier, the Shuttle External Tank really isn't a stage. It's just what it says on the label -- an external tank for propellant. The engines are on the Orbiter. Note that for most of the ascent phase of a Shuttle mission, the only engines are the Shuttle Main Engines. The Solid Rocket Boosters are there to get the assembly off of the ground and up to a certain altitude, where the Orbiter's engines can do most of the work of getting up to orbital velocity.

jollyreaper said...

And once again Tony's irresistible charm smothers another voice.

Byron said...

Tony:
Actually, we're both a little bit right and a little bit wrong. I was right about the direction of the ratio -- wet to dry -- while you were right about the inputs -- loaded to empty.
Yeah. That was a typo on my part. You are correct about the direction on the ratio.

Okay, as far as it goes, but then general principles will tell you that the more mass you have within which payload might be a component, then, all other things being equal, that's probably the most cost efficient approach.
I was thinking more of BDBs, where they trade off some of their payload fraction for cheaper build cost.

I'm not sure I see the point in propellant cross-feed if you don't need it. There's a lot to be said for modularity in engineering. Also, if you need the motors of the outboard stage rockets for only the first couple of minutes of the flight, why put fuel in their tanks that you could put in the core stage tanks to begin with?
Because then you don't have to carry those tanks as far. I'm not as sure as I was that it's a good idea. This might take a bit more research, courtesy of KSP.

Tony said...

jollyreaper:

"And once again Tony's irresistible charm smothers another voice."

Not my objective, and you know it. If Damien can't stand to be told that his position is intellectually dishonest and detached from reality -- which is after all, my honest opinion, not, as Damien puts it, an accusation -- that's a Damien problem, not a Tony one.

Tony said...

Byron:

"I was thinking more of BDBs, where they trade off some of their payload fraction for cheaper build cost."

Ahhh...

Thing is, as we have discussed, space operations in general are so expensive that the cost of the launch vehicle is marginal. The BDB proponents never do address that part of the equation.

"Because then you don't have to carry those tanks as far."

Balanced by considerably less operational risk. Also, the core stage tankage that is redundant after the outer stage modules are dropped is not all that heavy, being essentially a cylindrical section made up of the lightest materials in the whole structure.

jollyreaper said...

that's a Damien problem, not a Tony one.

Don't start being humble now. You've made yourself everyone's problem.

Byron said...

Tony:
Ahhh...

Thing is, as we have discussed, space operations in general are so expensive that the cost of the launch vehicle is marginal. The BDB proponents never do address that part of the equation.

Where are you getting this from? The cost of launch is hardly 'marginal', even if it's only 10-20% of the total life cycle cost. Most of that is operating costs, which are spread out, and based on mission, not hardware. Accountants see them differently from the initial costs, primarily because they are spread out.
Second, the high cost of launch drives the cost of the rest of the hardware. Saving $10 million on launch by spending $5 million on lightening the spacecraft makes sense. And then you have a very expensive spacecraft, and an expensive launch, which you don't want to repeat, so you go and spend even more money on reliability. If BDBs become available, then the need for spending money to reduce mass diminishes. Also, improved space access makes on-orbit servicing cheaper, which farther reduces hardware costs. And this doesn't address my point at all, anyway. Tradeoffs between engineering efficiency (launch fraction in this case) and cost efficiency are part of every design study.

Balanced by considerably less operational risk. Also, the core stage tankage that is redundant after the outer stage modules are dropped is not all that heavy, being essentially a cylindrical section made up of the lightest materials in the whole structure.
All true. At the moment, I'm guessing that if you're building the booster from scratch, cross-feed isn't worth it. Actually, parallel liquids aren't worth it, judging by the fact that the only ones that use them are very old designs. However, SpaceX isn't working from scratch. Because all three sections of the first stage are the same, they had to use cross-feed to preserve efficiency, or they'd have ended up with a massively underpowered second stage. As it is, they've essentially built a rocket with three stages, which is functionally identical to a rocket with 27 Merlins on the first stage and the tankage of 2 Falcon-9 lowers, boosting a complete Falcon-9. Getting rid of the tank mass was probably a fairly minor consideration. I'm not going to speculate if this is actually the best way to go about this. I don't know what figures SpaceX ran in justifying this.

Jollyreaper:
Don't start being humble now. You've made yourself everyone's problem.
Really? I'm part of everyone, and I don't see the problem. Damien didn't like what Tony was saying, but apparently wasn't willing to let the matter go gracefully. I've given up arguing with Tony several times before, and I'm still here.

Thucydides said...

When talking about putting large payloads into orbit on some sort of global emergency basis, nothing beats ORION. Projections from the heyday of the project back in the late 50's and early 60's were for ships weighing thousands of tons being shot into orbit and then heading out to Mars or the moons of Saturn.

Conceptually, this was a bit like launching a modern naval frigate into orbit (Canada's HMCS Halifax for an example, although I doubt the sailors aboard would be impressed), and you get everything at one go: giant payload, SSTO and interplanetary travel. Of course, people downwind of the launch site might object...

For a while, Brian Wang of NBF was touting a nuclear "Jules Vern Cannon", which was ORION inside out, containing the blast inside a salt cavern while the payload shot out the barrel like a cork. Once again, this is thousands of tons of dry goods type payload in orbit at one pop (heh), and with some prior planning you could even arrange the cargo to impact the Moon (special emphasis on "impact").

Even today, there might still be aplce for a very stripped down ORION as an asteroid interceptor:
http://nextbigfuture.com/2009/02/unmanned-sprint-start-for-nuclear-orion.html

"Nuclear explosive propelled Interceptor for deflecting objects on collision course with Earth. Johndale Solem, Los Alamos"

Using small 2.5Kt yeild pulse units, the thing could accelerate to 100G (virtually a torch missile right there) and do launch to intercept of a target 15 million Km away in 5 hours, delivering a Gigaton of energy on impact.

So the real issue isn't so much that there is no way to put lots of stuff into orbit cheaply, it is how to do this in a way that is safe, cost effective and practical (just because you can launch a 4000 ton spacecraft does not mean it actually makes sense for the mission you have to do).

Anonymous said...

As far as I can remember, cross feed fuel was used on older designs for balance...maintaining center of gravity/center of balance through the flight, due to the lack of sophisticated flight control equipment at the time...or maybe sophisticated control equipment that was lightwieght enough.

Ferrell

Joe said...

Mmmmm... Orion. Always comes up because if we really wanted to jump start our space program we could just do it, and it wouldn't even be hard, technologically/economically.

The good part of that is that if/when we start taking space more seriously, we don't just have expensive, high tech, slightly optimistic solutions from the future. We've also got cheap, relatively simple solutions from the past.

Like all things space its more a social obstacle than an economic one, but once its overcome (even if its only overcome in the context of allowing the use of Orion drives in space) we've got some good infrastructure in place.

Speaking of which, we got to start building up that orbital infrastructure...

Geoffrey S H said...

Orion Interceptors?

Orion.....missiles? Haven't seen them in fiction at all!

K said...

I don't know about Orion, it always seems to be a little too much.... of a atomic dream. It would work if we ever absolutely need to get a ship into space, but as for today I feel it is too reminiscent of fallout 3.

Katzen said...

oops that's katzen not K.

Brett said...

@Thucydides
I would say that SSTO, air launch or most other postulated schemes really have few advantages to offer over conventional launch practice, because if they did, they would certainly be employed right now.

I'm not so sure about some of those, particularly since they may have been limited by progress in other technological areas up until recently. Scramjets and SABRE, among other types of craft, may pan out into something useful - we're finally doing some good work with scramjets in the 2000s and 2010s.

@Damien Sullivan
Fuck it. I know better than to argue with people who accuse me of dishonesty.

Bye Rick. It was a nice blog, once.


Why bother? Just don't engage on some of the political topics, like me. I scrolled over the entire argument over externalities.

Byron said...

The problem with Orion is that working satellites are a very nice thing to have, and it wouldn't leave us any. Any nuclear initiation in space is going to badly damage a lot of stuff. (Interestingly enough, this is why they were talking of nuclear ABM systems back in the 60s and 70s, but are using conventional ones now.)

Katzen said...

Bryon
I never thought about the whole satalite destroying qualities of Orion.
That pretty much tells me we are screwed using the nuclear bomb way.
also this make me smile
http://www.planetaryresources.com/2013/11/heres-why-asteroid-mining-will-fuel-human-expansion-into-the-cosmos/

a simplified presentation on why getting to space is so hard.

Brett said...

The whole Kennedy thing has got me feeling melancholy about the manned space program. If things had gone different - Kennedy hadn't decided to do a moonshot, or whatever - and we didn't get Apollo, would we have a manned spaceflight program today? Or would it have faded out in the 1970s?

For that matter, would there be as much interest in space exploration? So much of the fondness you see among certain crowds of people (particularly Zubrin, Musk, and the like) comes from the triumphs of the Apollo Program, and the following anti-climax.

Thucydides said...

The whole Kennedy thing has got me feeling melancholy about the manned space program. If things had gone different - Kennedy hadn't decided to do a moonshot, or whatever - and we didn't get Apollo, would we have a manned spaceflight program today? Or would it have faded out in the 1970s?

For that matter, would there be as much interest in space exploration? So much of the fondness you see among certain crowds of people (particularly Zubrin, Musk, and the like) comes from the triumphs of the Apollo Program, and the following anti-climax.


Don't forget that most of the drivers of really ambitious space projects during the late 1940's and into the 1960's were military. Rocket bombers, missile bases on the Moon, manned spy satellites, ASAT weapons and so on were the big plans for both the United States (and now that some of the curtain has been lifted) the Soviet Union. If *that* future had been the road we travelled down, I expect that while there would be a large presence in space, most of us probably would not enjoy the world we would be living in today...

Thucydides said...

Should have thought of this sooner, but....


While ORION using nuclear pulse units is clearly a non starter in the current environment, there were films of the experimenters flying small model ORIONs powered by coke can sized charges of what seems to be C4 or similar explosive. Jerry Pournelle's novel "King David's Spaceship" has a chemical explosive powered ORION climbing to orbit in order to achieve the political objectives of the titular character.

Has anyone actually done the numbers and seen if a chemical energy ORION is possible? While this would obviously not be a 4000 ton monster, perhaps something the size of a DC-X *might* be doable.

Interesting thought experiment

Byron said...

Thucydides:
Has anyone actually done the numbers and seen if a chemical energy ORION is possible? While this would obviously not be a 4000 ton monster, perhaps something the size of a DC-X *might* be doable.
The problem with this is twofold. First, the Orion design is quite inefficient. The only reason you would use it is if efficiency isn't your main concern, and you need to keep your propellant far away. Second, chemical explosives have mediocre specific energy figures, so you're better off with a conventional rocket.

Cordwainer said...

Another problem with a nuclear ORION or even a Verne shot is that it is inefficient. You have a limited amount of nuclear fuels that would be better off used for reactors of nuclear weapons. The only possibility I see of such things getting built is if we need some sort of defense from asteroid impacts or alien invasions.

I do wonder as to the feasibility of something like the GCNR Liberty Ship if you could get around a 1,000 metric tons to LEO with such a rocket, then why not just design it into a moon rocket. You could probably get all the ISRU and nuclear power you would need for moon a base with one launch.

Of course you might be able to do something similar with a few launches of the Sea Dragon concept but on a smaller cheaper scale.

Thucydides said...

The problem with the "Liberty Ship" or other "Nuclear Light Bulb" engines is the casing is impossible with curent or known technology. The quartz or silica glass lightbulbs would radically change in transparency as the temperature changed, and the cooldown would essentially ruin the "light bulb", preventing any future use (and leaving a weakened and crazed radioactive glass "light bulb" to dispose of. You wouldn't be able to unscrew the broken end of the light bulb with a potato...)

For details see:

http://up-ship.com/blog/?p=6694

Cordwainer said...

You could always use a "slit" reactor design so that most of the reactor is encased in normal materials with the transparent material forming windows. Graphene/silicon dioxide might be used for the windows to provide greater durability than fused quartz. You would still have to figure out a way to regulate and moderate the reactor. Perhaps something like a molten salt reactor with "opaque windows" directing neutrons into several combustion chambers.

Thucydides said...

Frankly, nuclear light bulbs are very much "yesterday's" technology, involving a nightmarish mass of assumptions, handwaving and magical thinking to create a Rube Goldberg device.

Look up the link and do additional research. Who in their right mind would consider a system that could involve dealing with Flourine gas at 15000K is a viable solution to anything?

Now I am as interested in high performance rocketry as anyone on this forum, and am willing to give a good look to any idea, but the more you drill down into the details you recognize just how difficult a task getting cheap, high performance rockets really is (you can make cheap rockets, or you can make high performance rockets, but no one has managed to do both at the same time).

Geoffrey S H said...

We have evidence of civilisations stagnating technologically and getting themselves into a rut they cannot get out of. Maybe this might happen globally. Progress is not a given. If so, then you can forget about technologies becoming cheaper over millennia allowing 'nuclear lightbulbs' to become feasible.

Thucydides said...

I would argue that in most cases the stagnation was "cultural" as opposed to technological. There is plenty of evidence the Romans had and used various labour saving machinery like waterwheels to drive mills, saws and so on, and primitive atmospheric and steam engines did exist in the first century AD (mostly used as novelties or sometimes as "special effects" in a temple).

Yet the Romans, even as a very practical and engineering orientated people, did not make the leap to mechanization. All the elements we recognize from the Industreal Revolution were right there in front of them, but they did not "choose" to use them.

We have embraced some counterproductive "cultural" baggage; real and quite usable nuclear thermal rockets were ready to be flight tested in the late 1960's, but opposition to nuclear energy in all forms (based on fairly irrational criteria) became prevalent. Many other scientific advances such as genetic engineering of crops also became magnets for irrational and annti-scientific opposition.

I am not going to get too wrapped around the axel on the question of if we are approaching the actual limits to science, while it may be possible, there are many centuries left to refine and combine the various pieces of knowledge we do have right now. The question isn't is there any new ways to do things, it is are we willing to look?

Thucydides said...

And in totally different news, Intelsat offers the idea that on orbit refurbishment of satellites may be the way to go in the future, perhaps moving us a bit closer to the idea of routine operations in space:

http://spirit.as.utexas.edu/~fiso/telecon/Benedict_11-13-13/Benedict_11-13-13.pdf

Cordwainer said...

There are other possibilities now other than hexafluoride gas. Such as particulate fuels like those used in dusty plasma fission fragment designs. Also a "slit-style" reactor wouldn't necessarily need gaseous fuels it could use more conventional TRISO type fuels. In such a design the majority of the fuel piles surface area would be cooled and moderated by conventional means while the reaction chamber would be heated through the transparent slits. Another method might to build a Cermet fuel pile into a torus and then stick a transparent pipe through the fuel pile. The main problem with such designs would be keeping the transparent or semi-transparent quartz or carbon glass medium from melting, not moderating a molten fuel pile. Nuclear light bulbs aren't the only creditable designs for NTR's some particle bed designs are expected to have 30:1 thrust to weight ratios.
DUMBO designs might have even better ratios but would likely be to radioactive for use in atmosphere. Who is to say what desperate times and desperate measures might make people willing to do though.

Geoffrey S H said...

Completely off-topic, but worth it:

http://xkcd.com/ (latest panel)



Eth said...

Thucydides:
Yet the Romans, even as a very practical and engineering orientated people, did not make the leap to mechanization. All the elements we recognize from the Industreal Revolution were right there in front of them, but they did not "choose" to use them.
This is wildly believed but actually untrue. Romans didn't have steel or pig iron, and they couldn't make precise enough metalwork to make efficient steam engines. Steam engines were used as special effect because, well, they couldn't realistically be used for anything else. Also, they didn't have any concept of economic growth (see well above), nor mass production or even industry as we know it. Without all those, they had no chance to develop an industrial revolution, may they want it or not.
This is not to say that cultural stagnation isn't an historical reality, and it can be argued that the Romans were an example of it. While very pragmatic and ready to use any innovation they saw others use, they developed almost no innovation themselves. You can even kind of see it in their strong point, law. They never revoked a law, only amended it.
On the other hand, you see many periods of innovation in the next millennium in Europe, and no industrial revolution before the 1800s.

In a thousand years, people may say the same about us. "They had everything to launch the Space Age : rockets, nuclear power, massive industry, but they were culturally unable to do it. If they had wanted, they could have colonized Sol System four centuries before."

Crop genetic engineering doesn't meet resistances only because of some Luddite anti-science mindset. There are many legitimate concerns about it, to begin with the power it give to groups like Montsanto, something you really don't want to do.
Also, if there is one rule of thumb in genetics, that would be "it's more complicated than you think". As there were no serious studies about the actual long-term effects of the varied organisms, some may very well have unintended consequences.
The problem is, as there are many vocal Luddites among the opponents/sceptics, those do all they can to block any study, probably because they may prove them wrong (that some modified organisms may actually be harmless), and they would be very expensive. And as the proponents don't want those studies either for pretty much the same reasons, no study is actually done.

It should be noted that there is one modified organism that has a clear (and probably detrimental) effect on humans consuming it : cattle with growth hormone. Well, guess what, putting excess growth hormone in meals has an effect on children.
Now, I'm not sure that there are clear studies, but, for example, when you see that young women look three years older in the US than in France (where it is forbidden), well...

A better example of cultural resistance to progress would be eugenics. It would be quite easy to make "better humans" by deciding who should have children with who, probably with "specialized humans" of superior strength or other abilities, resistance to varied hazards...
But for some reason, it has bad PR since the last 80 years, and no one is doing serious research on it.

Thomas Lee Elifritz said...

I don't know how I got here, but I wasn't even able to read your utterly illucid and quite uniformed post. Quite honestly, you're an i diot. Start here and inform yourself :

http://webpages.charter.net/tsiolkovsly/

Geoffrey S H said...

Where are your cost projections? What are they?

Geoffrey S H said...

Ok, had another read. There are some interesting ideas there, but kindly don't refer to Rick as an 'idiot' please.

Anonymous said...

Thomas Lee Elifritz said:"I don't know how I got here, but I wasn't even able to read your utterly illucid and quite uniformed post. Quite honestly, you're an i diot. Start here and inform yourself :"

You know, if you don't know what's going on, you really shouldn't comment on it until you do.

Ferrell

Thucydides said...

Eth

While the Romans may have been lacking in certain things, what I was trying to suggest is that they were never going to move in the direction to get there either.

Perhaps a clearer example might be during the conquest of the Aztec Empire. Hernan Cortes suffered a defeat and was forced to withdraw from the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, but proceeded to move to the site of a volcano where he mined Sulphur and made charcoal for gunpowder.

The Aztecs had known about the volcano for centuries, and materials like Sulphur, charcoal and even saltpeter were easily available, but the Aztecs never experimented or arrived at the formula for gunpowder. Cortes, using the knowledge of gunpowder, mined the local materials and was able to recreate a potent force multiplier for his eventual seige of Tenochtitlan. The overall culture of the Europeans was tuned to experiment, create things and rapidly adopt and adapt useful things they discovered or traded from other cultures.

So I am going to suggest the issue isn't the Roman civilization was deficient ecause they did not have precise metalworking or Pig Iron, rather the deficiencies were that they did not see the need to develop precise metal work or to experiment with large scale steel making (being satisfied with making steel in small batches for weapons and armour).

Geoffrey S H said...

There is a growing amount of historiography suggesting that Europeans did those experiments out of a perceived sense of inferiority when confronted with superior Asian products and architects etc. I.e.: experimentation led to those items (calicoes from India are an especially good example) that led on to superiority over European items- which led in turn to their own experimentation. European superiority then led to Asian attempts to close the gap again... to where we are now, with Chinese, Indian and Japanese products demonstrating excellent qualities.

Cordwainer said...

Actually the Romans did have "pig" iron and zinc-iron alloys that they used for nails and fine-work tooling.(like surgery, leatherwork, utensils and metal work) Technically pig iron can refer to lead, lead alloys and cast-iron.(the Romans used all these) They never got around to making steel tools as far as we can tell. Bronze was just so much cheaper and easier to fashion for so many different things that it took a number of other advances to make steel commonly used and available.

Notably the Black Death which increased the use of automation and industry in Europe. New advances in agriculture and medicine that later allowed Europe's population the rebound in droves after the aforementioned event, in other words cheap labor. A number of cultural forces (the printing press, the Reformation, and easy availability of financing due to certain militant "monks" among other things) all of which encourage a move towards more educated skilled working class. Most of all the adoption of gunpowder and firearms which greatly benefitted from better and better methods for producing steel led to the development of blister, crucible and eventually Bessemer methods of making steel.

While the Romans and Greeks may have had knowledge of "wootz iron alloys" and low carbon iron ores like "Noric" as well as methods for like quench hardening and layered forging of iron-steel alloys the evidence is scant and it is unlikely they ever made use of them in any large quantities due to the work intensive nature of creating them as well as the difficulty of procuring the appropriate ores.
It was far easier to trade for such items or make do with bronze age alloys.

Anonymous said...

What the Romans were missing was F=MA and ΔU=Q-W. Without the laws of motion and thermodynamics, it is kind of hard to have an industrial revolution.

Ron

Thucydides said...

The Romans, like many civilizations, used lots of "empirical" rules of thumb to do their science and engineering. Indeed, even for much of the early industrial revolution, the knowledge of these phyical laws was pretty much unknown outside of Universities, and I'll be fairly confident that many of the processes and improvements that drove the Industrial revolution were also empirical in nature.

Of course, most industrialists of the period were equally ignorant of the "Wealth of Nations", but were pretty intuatively aware of economic fundamentals as well (and by chasing the economic fundamentals they also drove the empirical improvements of their processes).

Tony said...

Eth:

"Now, I'm not sure that there are clear studies, but, for example, when you see that young women look three years older in the US than in France (where it is forbidden), well..."

Confirmation bias at its best. You should have seen the girls I was in seventh grade with, almost 40 years ago. It's much more likely that certain ethnic types common in North America appear to develop faster in certain ways that attract the eye of the male of the species.

Tony said...

Ron,

"What the Romans were missing was F=MA and ΔU=Q-W. Without the laws of motion and thermodynamics, it is kind of hard to have an industrial revolution."

It's entirely possible to have an industrial revolution without an academic knowledge of thermodynamics. We know this because thermodynamics as a discipline developed from scientists observing the properties and dynamics of steam engines. Heck, there's no fundamental reason that I know of that would keep one from developing something as sophisticated as a steam turbine empirically. In fact, it's not at all clear from general sources that Parsons cared much about thermodynamics himself, being more interested in practical engineering.

Katzen said...

I think that technology really does come in fits and starts and that there is a concept blinder on many revolutionary technologies. Take Hero's steam engine built around 2000 years ago. Now how did anyone not see the potential or the basic Newtonian physics it illustrated?

it never occurred to them. They didn't even know to ask the question. Which is how a lot of major technologies are created today.
Could we build a nuclear rocket to space? yes but there might be a way that's a thousandfold cheaper that's sitting right under our nose. That will be when researcher looks at something sideways and says "hey, wait just a sec" and he/she won't be the inventor most likely but will pull back the curtain just enough for others to figure it out.
That's why I like bull ideas and sessions, and why I like throwing ideas out onto sites like these to watch people shred them. There might just be one idea that actually could work.

But as for spaceflight there are a thousand methods that we can dream up but I don't think any single one will be the "way" instead there will be some weird mixture that works.

really my thoughts for surface to orbit is "how to get the most delta V above T/W ratio of 1, and is scalable and cheap?"

what are your overlying thoughts on what should be used to open up space travel (LEO,Inter planetary/stellar)?

Tony said...

The energies involved take "scalable" and "cheap" out of the equation, as long as one is depending on current or foreseen technologies. One pretty much has to invoke magitech to make manned spaceflight common and relatively inexpensive.

That's the main reason I can enjoy space opera but am absolutely bugged to distraction by works that try to justify a ubiquity of space travel with technodumps. The former pretty much just assumes that somehow the capability is there, while the latter has to show how the capability could be there, and mangles all sorts of physics in the process.

In any case, you want to go to the stars? You better hop an entirely new physics somehow emerges out of nowhere, because we have a lot better handle on discoverable physics than you seem to think. There isn't going to be any "why didn't we see this before" moment. It's kind of like ghosts and Bigfoot -- nearly everyone in technological society carries around a 5 megapixel or better camera, pretty much all of the time. If the entities in question were there to be found, we'd have all the evidence we need. Just so with space technology -- too many people are too well educated, can access pretty much all there is to know, and are culturally primed to believe in and look for innovation opportunities. If there was new propulsion technology to be exploited, we'd know about it pretty much right away.

Katzen said...

Tony....
two decades ago my phone would be classified as a supercomputer. Memresistors were theoretical. Meta materials hadn't been discovered yet.
The economic threshold for manned space is probably around 500$ where it will be cheaper to use people to at least maintain systems than wait for it to break. The satellite industry is around 100 billion. Launch costs going down to such a threshold would trigger opening markets and uses that until then would be too expensive, and that would create price downward spiral.

Fuel costs is not the problem. The massive energies required are equivalent to things like ships, planes or a convoy of 18 wheelers barreling down the highway for a few hundred miles.

Not using this as anything more than illustrating that power requirements are not the problem.
The problem is bringing that fuel and oxidizer with you.
Now you try to condense the fuel, increase the efficiency or create a extension cable for your craft.
you could build to cost and durability rather than performance but this might not work with spacecraft at the edge of workable engineering and reducing performance would make it physically impossible.

or....

Maybe the reason we don't have a cheap reusable launch system that opens up space is the huge cost in developing and the insanely high "barriers to entry" that are inherent in any aerospace project today.

Byron said...

Katzen:
The economic threshold for manned space is probably around 500$ where it will be cheaper to use people to at least maintain systems than wait for it to break. The satellite industry is around 100 billion. Launch costs going down to such a threshold would trigger opening markets and uses that until then would be too expensive, and that would create price downward spiral.
You're drawing a false dichotomy between "unmanned" and "men running". The actual eventual solution will probably be manned repair teams once things break, instead of continuous maintainence. People in space will always be relatively expensive (for habitability reasons if nothing else), but the cost savings from repair instead of replacement are significant. Cancelling a manned repair mission costs nothing, but spare hardware has to be bought whether it's used or not.

Now you try to condense the fuel, increase the efficiency or create a extension cable for your craft.
Propulsion chemistry is essentially a dead field. Efficiency is mathematically defined, and the improvements that are possible are very marginal. Extension cable (laser launch) could work, and it's probably our best bet at the moment.

you could build to cost and durability rather than performance but this might not work with spacecraft at the edge of workable engineering and reducing performance would make it physically impossible.
That's exactly what SpaceX has done. We can quantify all of these things before the rocket leaves the drawing board, and the tradeoffs possible are well-explored.

Maybe the reason we don't have a cheap reusable launch system that opens up space is the huge cost in developing and the insanely high "barriers to entry" that are inherent in any aerospace project today.
Not really. The barriers to entry are high, but Boeing and Lockheed have no reason to sit on visionary ideas that have serious potential to work. They're conservative, not stupid. The people who actually get paid to look at these things want them to work as much as anybody, but they also have the tools to evaluate them.

Anonymous said...

Tony:

It's entirely possible to have an industrial revolution without an academic knowledge of thermodynamics. We know this because thermodynamics as a discipline developed from scientists observing the properties and dynamics of steam engines. Heck, there's no fundamental reason that I know of that would keep one from developing something as sophisticated as a steam turbine empirically. In fact, it's not at all clear from general sources that Parsons cared much about thermodynamics himself, being more interested in practical engineering.

You have got to be kidding.

Sure thermodynamics and steam engines went hand in hand, but there is no way someone is going to be able to put together a steam turbine without the math derived from the science.

Sir Charles Parsons was an educated man with a mathematics degree and an engineer. He had the background to develop his inventions.

Empirically is how you do things in science and engineering.

Engineering is practical. It is the branch of science and technology concerned with the design, building, and use of engines, machines, and structures.

Ron

Katzen said...

Bryon
I agree with most of what your saying for the most part. The reason I would still say that a manned station would still be cost effective if it's for something like a large bandwidth communication system is the lost revenue from it being down cost more than the supply missions would cost for having it manned.

I also agree about Boeing and Lockheed being cautious rather than stupid. That though means that building a cheap new launch system that would risk tens of billions of dollars and tie up development for years maybe even over a decade and it would still hurt their bottom line because all of the other launch systems that they have would become obsolete.
Only a company that is coming in from the outside has even the incentive to develop something new since it's trying to penetrate rather than maintain a market. I don't fault them for not wanting to risk the entire company on rocketpunk dreams.

Tony said...

Ron:

There's a big difference between knowing your math well enough to build 19th Century power machinery, and being at all concerned with thermodynamics. Parsons, by his own testimony, was interested in the mechanics of capturing the most energy he could out of steam expansion, while keeping the stresses on his machine as low as possible. His solution can be analyzed thermodynamically, but one doesn't need to know thermodynamics to invent it or appreciate it.

And I'm not sure where you get the idea that engineering isn't empirical. Certainly there are numerous rules of thumb -- though somewhat more formally stated mathematically these days, compared to the past -- that engineers use rather than engage in their own personal experimentation. But every one of those rules was derived from testing how things worked in the physical world, often by engineers looking for a solution to a problem that they simply didn't have the theory (at the time) to arrive at analytically. Remember, things like wind tunnels and test tanks are engineering research tools, not science experiments.

Eth said...

Thucydides :
While the Romans may have been lacking in certain things, what I was trying to suggest is that they were never going to move in the direction to get there either.

Yes, Romans were great at "Hey, look at those aqueducts those Etruscan guys are building. That's a great idea!" and organizing things, not much at inventing things themselves. Even if they had all the tools to produce steam engines, it would most probably not have been Roman engineers who would have done it.
I just tried to point out that "the Romans had technically everything to start their own industrial Revolution" is a misconception, if a common one.

I didn't know that Romans had pig and cast iron (how the hell did they produce that without blast furnaces), but you simply need blast furnaces to have good enough metal for steam machines, and the bloomeries Romans had simply couldn't produce that.

Tony:
Confirmation bias at its best.

And major health risk at worst. This is not a proof, and it could be for other reasons indeed, you are free to draw your own conclusions.
Also note that blaming all of those health problems on this or that modified food is also foolish - those years, you see a disturbing number of far too precocious puberties on girls, and precocious menopauses. In the US as well as in France, albeit to a lesser extent. There are also an explosion of varied allergies and cancers, orphan diseases...
But again, no serious studies. So while it's pretty obvious (by elimination) that food has to be the main source of it (air or water pollution simply didn't grow enough to cause it for many of those populations), telling what exactly are the causes is near impossible.

Anonymous said...

Tony:

There's a big difference between knowing your math well enough to build 19th Century power machinery, and being at all concerned with thermodynamics. Parsons, by his own testimony, was interested in the mechanics of capturing the most energy he could out of steam expansion, while keeping the stresses on his machine as low as possible. His solution can be analyzed thermodynamically, but one doesn't need to know thermodynamics to invent it or appreciate it.

You really don't know what you are talking about.

And I'm not sure where you get the idea that engineering isn't empirical.

I said, "Empirically is how you do things in science and engineering."

Tony, I'm not going to discuss this with you. You're a smart guy, well read, and I'm sure a good programmer, but you are also a closed minded know-it-all. Arguing with you is pointless.

Ron

Tony said...

Ron:

Not trying to be a know-it-all. Trying to make a point about technology.

It was kind of hard to tell what point you were getting at. Yes, you did say that both science and engineering were empirical. But then you went on to discourse on how engineering was practical, and what it consisted of. So you were apparently trying to make a distinction. As best I could guess, you were trying to say that engineering wasn't as empirical as science...or something.

In any case, I never said Parsons was a science or engineering rube. What I said was that a steam turbine could be arrived at empirically. It's actually an application of a basic machine. The fundamental mechanical principle is a screw in a fluid stream. You don't need to know thermodynamics to build one. In fact, the steam turbine was much more about technological enablers than it was about physical theory -- better steels, more precise machining, precision casting, and high-performance, low-friction finishes.

Byron said...

I'm with Ron on this one. Creating things like a steam turbine entirely by rule of thumb is right out. Even if we stop bickering over how important thermodynamics was, the Romans didn't even have the basic concepts of mechanics. If you don't understand 'force' or 'power' or 'energy' you can't build something like a high-performance steam turbine.
As for Parsons in particular, he was not the originator of the concept of the modern steam turbine. De Laval did that, and Parsons improved upon it.

Cordwainer said...

I'm sort of split on the whole Romans could have invented steam engines thing. Steam engines were being invented by laymen in the "colonies" or the United States here long before Parsons got around to making an efficient steam turbine. The steam turbine itself got it's start as a Greek "toy" the aerophile. Effective steam turbines that could actually do meaningful work were invented nearly a 100 to 150 years after the first steam piston engines.(Depending on who you give the credit, Fulton wasn't the only one)

Many of the discoveries that led to the "industrial revolution" were the result of "self-taught" or moderately educated men who had just enough engineering know how to make minor improvements over time. Lots of "minor improvements" and "accidental discoveries" or "trial and error" work are what led to the industrial revolution. Look at the development of the Bessemer process, the light bulb or vulcanization of rubber for instance.

Saying that the Roman's didn't have enough math or physics is a bit apropos. Many of the mathematic and scientific concepts as well as inventions and advancements of the Renaissance that would later lay the groundwork for the Industrial Revolution were developed by Arab and European polymaths and inventors who were working off of or rediscovering what the Greeks and Romans already knew.

The real reason the Romans didn't have steam engines is the same reason why steam engines didn't appear in modern Europe until the 17th century. They simply didn't have the materials technology available to them in large enough and quality and quantity. Namely high quality steels, iron-alloys, and high quality copper and copper-alloys. Without all of these in some combination you would be hard pressed to build a steam engine. Math helped to determine the proper building stresses to make steam engines cheaper and more efficient but a lot of it was still trial and error. If "hot blast" methods for making steel had been discovered a 100 to 200 years before who knows if we wouldn't have had a "Steam Age" much sooner. There certainly would have been individuals with the know-how to exploit such improvements in material science.

Cordwainer said...

Correction Aeolipile not aerophile.(Hero of Alexandria)

Point in fact, numerous individuals invented various forms of "steam pumps" before Newton's publishing of Principia Mathematica and Parson's didn't get around to inventing the "steam turbine" until 1884. The "Bessemer process" wasn't invented until 1851 by William Kelly, but Kelly didn't have the means to develop the technology. Bessemer did but others who had bought his patent didn't have the "tacit knowledge" to make it work effectively so they sued him. The result was that steel mills using the process were slow to start off.

Tony said...

Let's back up a bit. I was commenting on the idea that one needs to know Newtonian mechanics and thermodynamics to have an industrial revolution. I seriously doubt that most of the makers of machines of the Industrial Revolution really knew all that much about the laws of motion. They just built the machines that they could build, to do the jobs they needed done. Similarly, one doesn't need thermodynamics to build a steam machine, even one as sophisticated as a turbine engine. When I said that kind of thing could be done "empirically", I meant that one could have an idea and iterate through prototypes to a useful final product.

And the point about all of this that I was trying to make, but failed miserably to communicate, was that want the Romans lacked was not some level of theory. What they lacked was many centuries of development of technological enablers.

Geoffrey S h said...

It has been suggested that the Dutch around the 1600's up to 1730 had an 'industrious' revolution through the efficient use of water and windmills. Its still a growing area of debate.

I'm not sure the veracity of this but it has also been suggested that roman military campaigns, due to their sheer geographical scope, managed to destroy large amounts of 'scientific' knowledge through the various sieges, library burnings etc.

Anonymous said...

There is actually an on-line fourm for alternate history (AlternateHistory.com); the discussions can get rather heated. Some of you might feel right at home there.

Ferrell

Cordwainer said...

I have to agree with Tony on this one. Lots of small steps and technological enablers are the main reason for technological advance. Empirical as in the use of testable experimentation and the use of deductive and inductive reason, yes. Empirical as in terms of being mathematically testable, not necessarily. After all there are still phenomena that are a result of advances in engineering that have yet to be fully elucidated mathematically, and yet we make use of those natural phenomena in numerous ways.

Thucydides said...

The impact of culture is still very important. As some of you have mentioned, many of the sciences developed in the 1500's were based of the rediscovery of ancient texts salvaged from the Byzantine Empire as it collapsed. So there is no reason to say the Romans or Greeks "didn't" know or "couldn't" do these things; they evidently did.

Even the proviso they did not have the ability to machine/make large quantities of steel etc. misses the point: they did not see the need to tinker and experiment on a large enough scale to actually do these things; culturally this was pretty much a leasure time activity for a wealthy Roman.

Having an occasinal genius tinkiering in his spare time isn't going to drive an Industrial revolution, but when it "makes sense" for hundreds of people to invest time and energy into making small improvements here and there in every field, then you do have the ground conditions for an Industrial revolution.

Anonymous said...

Thucydides, I think you've got the right of it; Romans didn't feel the need, but Victorians did. Deceptively simple.

Ferrell

Cordwainer said...

It takes more than cultural inclination though to create a groundswell effect when it comes to a scientific renaissance, there has to be a compelling driver (economic, security, territorial ambitions etc.)The metallurgy that made steam engines possible directly developed from the evolution of artillery and firearms. The development and mass adoption of such weapons were a general result of small wealthy nation states and groups having to develop the military means to maintain there autonomy from other nations that possessed greater manpower. Technology enablers and force multipliers don't develop in a vacuum.

Large expansive empires like China and Roma simply didn't have as great a need to adopt these enablers since they had large slave or peasant populations to do most of the work for them. That they did it at all has more to do with the fact that their stable autocratic governments provided wealth, education and the liberty to "tinker" with new ideas.

Geoffrey S H said...

Bear in mind that while the Chinese empire may have had its moments of backwardness, when the Portuguese appeared on the scene in the 1500s, the only empire that beat them back successfully was the Chinese.

Cordwainer said...

Yes, and the Italian city states that fostered the Renaissance eventually fell under the thumb of foreign powers. It's not always about who develops or adopts technology the quickest but how well you manage what you have in terms of technology, manpower and cultural control of the populace. I was commenting on the pace of technological development and why some cultures lagged behind, "backward" ideas of cultural superiority have little to do with that. After, all the Chinese Empire eventually fall due to it's inflexibility to deal with the constant harassment of the Western powers in their affairs. While the Empire of Japan was quick to adopt Western technology and culture in a way that made them competitive with the world powers of their day.

Cordwainer said...

Wanted to comment on a couple of things after reading through th blog.

1. How was the J-2 not an overly complicated design. We have far better designs now that don't require turbochargers(or use far less complicated turbochargers and injection methods) and a far less complicated in their plumbing and architecture.

2. If the United States and Soviet Union had not spent time on a manned space race things could have been very different. For one thing they wouldn't have been parading there newest rocket technology around to everyone so tensions around "missile diplomacy" would have been more covert. This would result in a "vapor ware" we don't know what each other has mentality, so more effort would have been put into espionage and propaganda. Who knows if this might have actually raised tensions during the cold war or not? Also it means these nations would have had more money and reasons to put effort into defense and commercial exploitation of space rather than put on a Olympics style pageant play in space. The commercial satellite industry might have developed more quickly, and who knows maybe commercial and military suborbital hypersonic flight might have been developed.

Thucydides said...

If the United States and Soviet Union had not spent time on a manned space race things could have been very different. For one thing they wouldn't have been parading there newest rocket technology around to everyone so tensions around "missile diplomacy" would have been more covert. This would result in a "vapor ware" we don't know what each other has mentality, so more effort would have been put into espionage and propaganda. Who knows if this might have actually raised tensions during the cold war or not? Also it means these nations would have had more money and reasons to put effort into defense and commercial exploitation of space rather than put on a Olympics style pageant play in space. The commercial satellite industry might have developed more quickly, and who knows maybe commercial and military suborbital hypersonic flight might have been developed.

Maybe, or maybe not. For example, manned rocket bombers, all the rage in the 1950's, were rapidly overtaken by events. By the mid 1960's it was quite evident that there was no need for a pilot to ensure the H bomb was delivered accurately by an ICBM, and by the early 1970's (the projected in service date for the DynaSoar) it was reasonable to expect to place a 300Kt warhead close enough to a missile silo to destroy it.

As for Hypersonics, although there were designs like the "Super Hustler" with confidently projected in service dates of the late 1960's to dash across the USSR at Mach 4+, to date we still don't have the ability to do more than very short sprints at hypersonic speeds.

I'm afraid that many of the premises of the Rocketpunk era were based on WWII era technology, and the dismal science of economics has pushed these ideas aside for more cost effective means of achieving the same goals. If you want to blame anyone for killing the Rocketpunk dream, then blame Adam Smith.

Geoffrey S H said...

'Adam Smith hates your guts' indeed.

Cordwainer said...

It's neither here nor there. I was simplty positing that if the U.S. and Soviet Union had been more focused on commercial and military applications of space rather than advancing national prestige with a manned space program then certain advances and priorities would have taken place over others. In the U.S. aerospace companies would have been more focused on turning a profit through commercial satellites, advances in air travel and military contracts. The Soviet Union in turn would have turned to a similar focus in an attempt to not be shown up and to advance there position politically. ICBM's would have no doubt developed, but it is quite possible that before the oil crisis that supersonic flight might have developed to a greater extent than it did and at least within the realm of possibility that we may have done more with the idea of hypersonic flight with both manned and unmanned vehicles if there was sufficient motivation and investment to do so. If those technologies had developed more rapidly due to an earlier start and increased interest then who's to say we wouldn't have developed ways around the oil crisis or whether the reasons for the oil crisis and rapid inflation we saw in the 70's and 80's would have even occurred. Earlier and more expansive development of satellite communications and advances in avionics might have led to an earlier adoption of advanced electronics. Changes in the market due to advances in all of the above(electronics, air travel, communications etc.)could have very well headed off an oil crisis.(no break-up of United Oil, more investment in refineries and a wells by the new crop of entrepenuers created by new emerging markets)

Of, course one would have still had to dealt with the mounting inflation and global debt that has developed over time and who knows whether such market advances would have not increased such factors. That being said if certain things management-wise had been done differently and if we had had an increase in of revenue and profit due to the earlier development of certain markets then the build up of American and British debt as well as the majority of global debt might not have occurred as acutely as it did. For instance it is reasonable to assume the oil crisis might not have occurred in as disruptive a way as it did and that the American recession might have occurred 5 years later with the development of microcomputing developing 5 years earlier if things had only been slightly different.

Thucydides said...

As I pointed out, there was plenty of military R&D in space systems, which in an ironic fashion killed off the very Rocketpunk assumptions that triggered much of the manned space R&D in the first place.

Hypersonics have been stalled due to the very real technical issues which have not been solved even today. The market rational for supersonic aircraft was never really established, which explains why there was never any development of the Concord beyond the government prestige project, and no private operators ever bought into the project.

Much of the global debt crisis is due to governments the world over borrowing monies to fund current consumption, with the worst offender being the current US administration which piled on more than 5 trillion in debt over the first four years of the administration.

The inflationary shock of the 1970's had far more to do with the devaluation of US currency when the dollar was delinked from the gold standard (this also ended the Bretton Woods agreement, BTW).

So while there may have been changes, even big changes if some of the underlying assumptions in the 1950's had been changed, economic realities would still have driven many developments towards what we see today. Perhaps the one change that should not have been made was delinking the USD from gold, or allowing the Bretton Woods agreement to collapse, since this would have made inflation much more difficult for governments to initiate and provided some financial discipline against borrowing to fund current consumption.

TOM said...

IMHO eventually asteroid (lunar?) mining will make people to really conquer near Earth space.

It takes a pretty mass ratio for a chem fuel rocket to reach LEO, with microwave or laser assist, skyhooks, reusable vehicles costs can be lowered by a scale.

If resources can be mined on near Earth asteroids, on the Moon, they can jump toward outer space with ion thrusters, the new generations of ships might never land on the surface.


(Otherwise, sorry if i derail the topic but i started my own world building here.
http://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=721385
Also tryed to help a bit with sharing my own experiences in the worldbuilding on the fly topic)

Tony said...

Cord:

"How was the J-2 not an overly complicated design. We have far better designs now that don't require turbochargers(or use far less complicated turbochargers and injection methods) and a far less complicated in their plumbing and architecture."

I think you mean turbopumps.

In any case, all LOX/LH2 engines that I'm aware of use turbopumps. It's necessary to feed propellant fast enough to sustain the desired thrust. So no, modern engines are not less complicated in plumbing and architecture.

Thucydides said...

TRW did some interesting tests in the 1960's using massively scaled up pressure fed engines derived from the LEM engine. Apparently there were no issues discovered in scaling and the bulk of these upsized prototypes could be built in shipyards to ship building tolerances (only the fuel injectors needed to be built to aerospace tolerances).

This was the genesis of the BDB movement (with the ultimate expression being the single gigantic first stage engine for the Sea Dragon, capable of putting 550 tons into LEO in a single launch)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_Dragon_(rocket)

Geoffrey S H said...

There must have been serious flaws with Sea Dragon, even without cutbacks. Otherwise we would have gone ahead with it by now.

Anonymous said...

Seawater is very corrosive and launching from the rolling sea probably wasn't the most stable of situations.

Ferrell

Cordwainer said...

Being that the launch cradle would be the only thing permanently exposed to seawater I don't think corrosivity would have been the issue. Also Sea Launch Co. LLC has successfully launched their Zenit 3SL rockets from a mobile maritime platform 32 out of 35 times since 1999.

Cordwainer said...

I believe the Japanese also had a program design for a sea launched BDB as well, funding was an issue but costs were not found to be prohibitive. Politics and the backing out of foreign funding killed the program I think.

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