Unless you’ve been under that good old hypothetical internet-proof rock for the last couple of days, you’ve surely seen at least a snippet of news about SpaceX’s announcement of their Falcon Heavy rocket. With all the standard caveats (it’s still on the drawing board, things can go wrong, rocketry ain’t easy), “gamechanger” seems like a reasonable term to use; more than twice the payload of the Space Shuttle at a much lower price-per-launch. Personally I’d still like to see us moving away from rocketry as prime launch technology, but hey, anything that makes further developments at the top of the gravity well is OK by me. Plus it has a name that could just as easily adorn the bottle of some obscure craft-brewery ale… 🙂
I know we have some hardcore spacegeeks in the audience, so let me know what you think about this one – are bigger cheaper fireworks the answer, or are SpaceX aiming in the wrong direction here?
A subset of the potential capabilities of future levels of technology can be understood by means of a design process that can be described as exploratory engineering. This process resembles the first phase of standard design engineering (termed conceptual engineering, or conceptual design), but it serves a different purpose
In the early 20th century, a missing fabrication technology was the combination of engineering expertise and metalworking techniques (among others) that were required to build large aerospace vehicles. The physics of rocket propulsion, however, were well understood, and the strength and weight of large, well-made aluminum structures could be estimated with reasonable accuracy.
On the basis of exploratory engineering applied to this kind of knowledge, engineers who studied the matter were confident that orbital flight could be achieved by means of multistage chemically fueled rockets.
This was an element of Drexler’s Engines of Creation I found especially compelling: that we should base our ideas of future technologies not on what we already have, but what lies within the bounds of what is possible by physical laws as we understand them.
Trying to build a spaceship by making airplanes fly faster and higher is like trying to build an airplane by making locomotives faster and lighter – with a lot of effort, perhaps you could get something that more or less works, but it really isn’t the right way to proceed. The problems are fundamentally different, and so are the best solutions.
Space tourism business RocketShip Tours offers 38 miles straight up into space for less than half the cost of Virgin Galactic‘s 62 miles. Hopefully this is the first of many tumbles down the supply demand curve towards mass market space tourism, from PhysOrg:
Per Wimmer, a Danish investment banker holds the first reservation for the Lynx sub-orbital flight expected to launch sometime in 2011.
Mr. Wimmer hedged his bet by plunking down the necessary reservation fee to Richard Branson´s Virgin Galactic and another rival for commercial space travel, Space Adventure. According to Wimmer, “It will be a real race to see which one goes up first”. The main difference between the XCOR Lynx is its ability to launch on any 10,000 foot runway with clear air space.
Just to remind us the future is nearly here, there is a computer generated (natch) video of what it’ll look like: