Opportunity to Leverage the American Lead in Space to Build New Spaceways Infrastructure

Previously Neil de Grasse Tyson called for doubling NASA’s $17 billion space budget. Tyson promoted building a core fleet of launch vehicles that can be customized for a variety of missions and for a range of purposes.

China is using its lead with low cost high speed rail to gain economic and geopolitical advantage.

The US should leverage its lead in space and robotics technology to develop the Spaceways and industialize space.

The time is right for a Spaceways program because Spacex and Blue Origin are very close to getting reusable rockets. Spacex is already one of the lowest cost commercial rocket launch provider. As of March 2013, Falcon Heavy launch prices are below $1,000 per pound ($2,200 per kg) to low-Earth orbit when the launch vehicle is transporting its maximum delivered cargo weight
As of March 2013, Falcon 9.1.1 launch prices are $4,109 per kilogram ($1,864/lb) to low-Earth orbit when the launch vehicle is transporting its maximum cargo weight.

In 1956,President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal Aid Highway into law. With an original authorization of US$25 billion for the construction of 41,000 miles (66,000 km) of the Interstate Highway System supposedly over a 10-year period, it was the largest public works project in American history through that time.

The money for the Interstate Highway and Defense Highways was handled in a Highway Trust Fund that paid for 90 percent of highway construction costs with the states required to pay the remaining 10 percent.

A Federal Spaceways Act of 2016 might use different subsidizing models
* 90% of the lowest cost orbital rocket launch at the end of the prior year
* 80% of the second lowest cost orbital rocket launch provider with a cap of 110% of the lowest cost provider
* Feed in Tariff like that used for solar and wind power but instead of X cents per kilowatt hour, it would be Y dollars per kilogram to low earth orbit and Z dollars per kilogram to Geosynchronous orbit

A fund would have $10 billion per year in the first five years and then increasing to $15 billion in the next five years and then $20 billion for the next fifteen years. Funds would be rolled over to future years if they were not used.

Fully reusable rockets (like Spacex rockets) and lower cost rocket technology (Like the Spacex Heavy and the Raptor engine) would be supported by the Spaceways fund.

Reusable rockets and lower cost rockets need to be flown far more often to truly realize their lower cost advantage.

There would be a separate $2 billion per year for funding and $2 billion per year prizes for programs and projects that would reduce the costs of future flights with orbital and other infrastructure.

Robotics for building larger structures in space (like Spiderfab)

Spiderfab would use robots to assemble structures in space. Spiderfab on orbit assembly can reduce the mass of space structures by 30 times.

Fuel Depots in low earth orbit to bring the costs of getting to geosynchronous orbit down by about ten times

An MIT team proposed using contingency propellant from past missions to fuel future spacecraft. For instance, as a mission heads back to Earth, it may drop a tank of contingency propellant at a depot before heading home. The next mission can pick up the fuel tank on its way to the moon as its own emergency supply.

NSS has a page on fuel depots.

Cryogenic propellant depot with single sunshade. Image credit: United Launch Alliance, B. Kutter, 2008.

Expandable space stations

Bigelow Aerospace has launched some smaller scale demonstration inflatable space stations. They have a design for an 84 persons resupply Depot. It would have 8300 cubic meters of space.

Six BA 330 modules, three BA 2100 modules, nine propulsion buses with docking node and three crew capsules.

Stem for the Classroom analyzes the Bigelow proposals for the Hercules resupply depot.

If Spacex succeeds with developing its reusable rocket and continues making upgrades to their rockets. I think a conservative expectation is that they would follow up the Merlin 1D with a Merlin 1E. Enough to increase the lift a Spacex Superheavy to 85 tons (reduced to 70-75 tons with fuel saved for powered landing to enable reusability). This could enable Spacex to launch the 2100 cubic meter inflatable modules. The other way would be for a modified inflatable module design that would fit into the largest Spacex launch rocket.

Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) will test its flyback booster technology during the maiden launch of its Falcon 9 1.1 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California later this year, according to the company’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) commercial launch license.

Spacex could launch 100 Bigelow modules for about $1 billion using two reusable Spacex Heavies over as little as one year (one launch per week).

This would be 200,000 cubic meters of volume. This would be enough for 2000 people with the same facilities per person as the Hercules resupply depot design.

Scale of a ten thousand person colonization base would be within reach

A ten thousand person colonization space ship design is proposed with a focus on how the community and living spaces should be designed. People are assigned area with the density of the city of Seattle and standard mixed use living areas. Everyone has 50 square meters of living space. There is agricultural and other green areas.

The International space station was built with 160 modules and dozens of launches over fifteen years. It weighs 450 tons. It has about 850 cubic meters of pressurized volume and has a crew of 6.

The cost is $150 billion including 36 shuttle flights at $1.4 billion each, Russia’s $12 billion ISS budget, Europe’s $5 billion, Japan’s $5 billion, and Canada’s $2 billion. Assuming 20,000 person-days of use from 2000 to 2015 by two to six-person crews, each person-day would cost $7.5 million, less than half the inflation adjusted $19.6 million ($5.5 million before inflation) per person-day of Skylab.

Asteroid mining, large scale space tourism and colonization are multi-trillion opportunities

The US has over a ten year technological lead in space technologies.

A focused effort to make grow space industries would solidify and monetize that lead.

Space tourism would greatly benefit from lower cost launches and larger and more affordable space stations.

Deep space component not via Space Launch System but by leveraging phased array lasers

A laser phased array directed energy system has been designed and simulated. Lubin and Hughes calculated the requirements and possibilities for DE-STAR systems of several sizes, ranging from a desktop device to one measuring 10 kilometers, or six miles, in diameter. Larger systems were also considered. The larger the system, the greater its capabilities.

For instance, DE-STAR 2 –– at 100 meters in diameter, about the size of the International Space Station –– “could start nudging comets or asteroids out of their orbits,” Hughes said. But DE-STAR 4 –– at 10 kilometers in diameter, about 100 times the size of the ISS –– could deliver 1.4 megatons of energy per day to its target, said Lubin, obliterating an asteroid 500 meters across in one year.

The speed of interplanetary travel –– far beyond what is possible with chemical propellant rockets used today –– could be increased with this sized system, according to Lubin. A DE-STAR 4 system could push solar sails to 2% of lightspeed.

Phased array lasers is another technology where America has the lead. The US is currently testing phased array lasers with tens of kilowatt power for laser weapons on navy ships, air force planes and army trucks.

If the US will be deploying 100 kilowatt, megawatt and multi-megawatt phased array laser systems on hundred so military vehicles in the 2020s, then a fraction of that for space would accumulate into gigawatt or multi-gigawatt systems fairly rapidly. This could be used to defend against asteroids and to send interplanetary and even interstellar missions at high speed.

New Horizons mission to Pluto is going 17 km per second Two percent of lightspeed would be 350 times faster.

An America that was achieving these kinds of goals in 20-30 years would not be viewed as an America in decline. This would be a strong, wealthy and world leading America.

This would be a confident America that takes full advantage of the technological leadership that is has.

The companies are all in America.
* Spacex
* Blue Origin
* Bigelow Aerospace
* Tethers Unlimited
* Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin for the phased array lasers
* ATK is a California company that makes ultralight solar arrays