(Austin) Richard Garriott de Cayeaux presented an interesting chart during his talk on “The New Golden Age of Space Exploration” at South by Southwest. It shows the number of humans who have been sent into space by various space agencies:

NASA — 332
RFSA — 107
ESA — 33
CSA — 9
JAXA — 8
Space Adventures — 7
China — 6
Bulgaria — 2
Others — 19

The sixth most successful space agency, by this measure, is a private company: Space Adventures. Note that China is number seven. If suborbital companies like Virgin Galactic and XCOR Aerospace are successful, they may quickly exceed the 332 astronauts who have been flown by NASA.

Yet, alarmists still worry that China is about to “overtake the United States” in space, by copying projects which the United States and the Soviet Union accomplished 40 years ago.

Written by Astro1 on March 11th, 2013 , Citizen Exploration, Space Adventures

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    Paul commented

    Not an alarmist here. As a European I look forward to more Chinese astronauts. It is true they copy projects that NASA did long ago, but they are catching up much faster than you think.

    What they did recently in four Shenzhou flights compares to all of Mercury, all of Gemini, parts of Skylab and even parts of Apollo. They seem to go slow, but they do a lot in one flight.

    Of course I also look forward to SpaceX and human flights with their Dragon capsule!


    March 11, 2013 at 7:23 pm
    Stellvia commented

    Scaled Composites — 2 (Mike Melvill & Brian Binnie)

    March 12, 2013 at 11:33 am
    Keith Henson commented

    I would not worry about China copying projects the US and the USSR did 40 years ago.

    Instead, consider why they constructed facilities able to build 30 rockets a year that can put 25 tons in LEO or 10 tons in GEO. Ask what they could do with 300 tons a year in GEO? That’s a good deal more lift capacity than the US used on the ISS.

    Then you have the China/India power satellite announcement from last November.

    300 tons per year isn’t enough to build power satellites, but it is enough to put in 30 MW of solar powered propulsion lasers. That doubles the throughput for the same launchers, so the next year you can put in 60 MW. Eventually this bootstrap process reaches a few GW, at which point the ground to LEO flight can be powered by lasers.

    At that point the Chinese and Indians can build upwards of 100 GW per year. That’s not enough for their energy needs, but feeding back only ten percent of new power into more propulsion lasers triples the production every year, rapidly reaching at least two TW. Seven years at that production rate displaces fossil fuel entirely.

    If the lasers are located over a point 2000 km to the east, at 129 degrees, then US conventional military power is no longer effective in the western Pacific. Not that it makes much difference if we are dependent on them for power satellites.

    March 12, 2013 at 5:04 pm
      admin commented

      “Ask what they could do with 300 tons a year in GEO?”

      At their costs, almost nothing of value. While you worry about the superiority of China’s rockets, Chinese officials are publicly worried about their inability to compete with SpaceX — and they aren’t even factoring in the Grasshopper technology yet. They don’t seem to agree with you.

      Shakespeare said it well: “If the enemy is an ass and a fool and a prating coxcomb, is it meet, think you, that we should also be an ass and a fool and a prating coxcomb?”

      “Then you have the China/India power satellite announcement from last November.”

      Not to mention the NSS/India announcement. The number of people putting out press releases about power satellites substantially outnumbers those building them.

      March 12, 2013 at 5:35 pm
        Keith Henson commented

        My, my, such hostility. If you read what I wrote, you might note that I made no suggestions whatsoever about what the US or the West should do.

        Re rockets, I think all chemical rockets suck to about the same degree (lower than needed isp). They are, however, all we have to bootstrap up to something better.

        Re Grasshopper, if it works out well (and I wish them the very best) how long do you think it will take the Chinese to duplicate it?

        Generally, if the Chinese use propulsion lasers to get the cost to GEO down in the $100/kg range, then humanity wins on energy/carbon/climate change and the US will be diminished on military power where in view of the laser.

        March 13, 2013 at 9:58 am
          Stellvia commented

          The Chinese space programme is dominated by the military, and militaries the world over are inherently conservative and change-resistant organisations. There are likely to be too many institutional bailiwicks to protect, too many PRA/Party vested interests to protect for them to suddenly pivot on their Long March 6 plans and start producing RLVs.

          Perhaps the Chinese will be able to overcome this and produce an agile DARPA-like organisation for launcher development. Perhaps, but I don’t see it happening quickly.

          Even if they can “copy” RF9, doesn’t mean (a) it will work properly or (b) they can afford to fly it. See Tupolev Tu-144, Buran.

          What I suspect will happen in the near term if RF9 (and especially RF-Heavy) is demonstrated to work, is that both the Europeans and Chinese will panic, and start working on super techno shiny X-33 type projects. Which will fail. For the same reasons that X-33 failed.

          If the Chinese deploy very large ground-based lasers which pose a threat to US space-based intelligence assets, I strongly suspect that said lasers may suffer an unfortunate “accident”, in the same way that Iranian nuclear facilities are prone to do…

          March 13, 2013 at 11:06 am
            Keith Henson commented

            “very large ground-based lasers” You didn’t get the model. The lasers are in GEO where they can power a 4000 km acceleration path for surface to LEO. On hundreds of MW rather than a few GW, they power the LEO to GEO leg as well. Takes a factor of ten less laser for decent sized payloads.

            Not saying the Chinese will go this way, they might have figured out something better. But if they are concerned with the US freaking out over dual use propulsion laser then the offer to build power satellites with India makes sense. It would greatly blunt the US objects if both of these countries were in accord on this method.

            March 13, 2013 at 12:42 pm
            Stellvia commented

            “You didn’t get the model. The lasers are in GEO where they can power a 4000 km acceleration path for surface to LEO. On hundreds of MW rather than a few GW, they power the LEO to GEO leg as well”

            I think the US government would argue, with some conviction, that Chinese GW-level lasers in orbit capable of targeting the Earth’s surface would count as weapons of mass destruction, and therefore a gross violation of Article IV of the Outer Space Treaty. Therefore, the US would feel entirely morally justified in destroying them at the first opportunity. That’s entirely distinct from the technical problems of making such a Rube Goldberg launch system work…

            March 13, 2013 at 4:05 pm
            admin commented

            A laser battle station in GEO would need a huge mirror to keep the beam focused. The US and USSR ran into enough problems trying to develop laser weapons for LEO. Laser weapons in GEO strain the bounds of credibility.

            March 13, 2013 at 4:36 pm
          admin commented

          The Isp is not “lower than needed.” Chemical rockets have proven that for 50 years. (In fact, it’s possible for Isp to be too high for a given mission. There’s a tradeoff between Isp and power, which is commonly overlooked.)

          G. Harry Stine liked to say that we need to stop worrying about Isp and start worrying about ROI. Ignoring basic economics for elegant technical solutions gets you nowhere.

          I’m not worried about China. If China can’t build expendable rockets as cheaply as SpaceX, after decades of trying, there’s no logical reason to believe it will be more successful with Grasshopper. Communist central planning is more fallible than you believe.

          I’m not going to get into the political science of climate change, but I will point out the L-5 Society predicted an alliance between space activists and environmentalists 40 years ago. It hasn’t happened yet.

          March 13, 2013 at 11:09 am
            Keith Henson commented

            I completely agree with you that economics is more important than isp.

            The power sat proposal is driven by the requirement that if power sats are to displace fossil fuels, the energy has to be substantially less expensive, say one or two cents per kWh. That leads to a cost requirement of $100/kg or less to *GEO*.

            At the equivalent isp of Skylon and laser heated hydrogen, a kg gets to GEO on about 4 kg of hydrogen.

            That’s based on a ~130 ton Skylon derived vehicle with 70 tons of hydrogen and a 30 ton second stage with ten tons of hydrogen. Getting the isp up and the fuel consumption down is important when talking about 500,000 tons per year to GEO.

            A Falcon Heavy in reusable mode is going to burn around 1200 tons of RP-1 to deliver 10 tons to GEO. That’s ~120 kg of fuel per kg to GEO. That’s ~30 times as much.

            Propulsion lasers are like railroad rails, expensive as hell to put in, but they allow a very low running cost.

            March 13, 2013 at 1:16 pm
            admin commented

            I’ve explained this to you before, Keith. You insist on believing that space transportation costs are dominated by fuel costs, but that just isn’t true. Propellant costs account for less than 1% of launch costs. The major part of launch cost is the capital cost — the part you want to ignore.

            Railroads do not ignore capital costs. They have to account for amortization and the cost of money.

            If you only look at fuel costs, rockets are putting payloads into orbit for less than than $100/kg right now. But that’s funny accounting.

            March 13, 2013 at 2:22 pm
    Keith Henson commented

    You make an awful lot of assumption about what I believe. Take fuel cost. Sure it’s less than 1% of launch cost now, but the “design to cost” target to GEO for power satellites is 1% of current cost.

    As for “ignoring capital cost,” the capital cost of the laser is the major item in the transport cost per kg. I have made a case in a 27 page JBIS draft paper that getting the cost down to $100/kg will take an investment of roughly $140 B. If you would like to know what I actually thought about the subject as of last October, ask for a copy. If you really want the details ask for the business case spreadsheet as well.

    The capital analysis goes down to the hydrogen plant at $1.3 B plus $700 million to liquefy the hydrogen.

    Re focusing and tracking from GEO to LEO, Jordin Kare assures me that it’s not a problem. Diffraction limit at that distance for a 1 meter spot and 500 nm light would take a 26 meter mirror. The James Webb mirror would diffraction limit at 3 meters for this wave length and distance. That’s more than good enough given the wing area of a Skylon for hydrogen heaters. The pointing accuracy of the 40 year old Hubble is around a meter at that distance.

    March 14, 2013 at 1:33 pm
      admin commented

      This is the “one giant leap” fallacy. There any number of space-development proposals that start out, “First I get someone to write me a check for $140 billion.”

      Not surprisingly, they never get past step one. In the real world, initial startup costs are at least as important as long-term operating costs.

      Additionally, given the timeframe of the project, the cost of money will multiply that $140 billion investment several fold.

      Handwaving a mirror eight times larger than the James Webb is easy to do in JBIS, harder in the real world. Especially if you claim it’s going to be done by China, which has never built a large space telescope before. I seriously doubt that Jordin said it would be easy.

      Skylon also requires multiple technical breakthroughs (not limited to the engines) in order to make it into orbit. If engineers had the sort of structures and thermal protection systems Skylon assumes, no one would bother building multistage rockets. SSTO would be easy.

      Reducing the cost of space transportation will not take a $140 billion investment. In fact, it can’t take a $140 billion investment. You don’t make things you things by spending more money on them. Nor does it require science-fiction technologies. It does, however, careful attention to finance and economics.

      March 14, 2013 at 2:12 pm
        Keith Henson commented

        I found a way through the physics to close the business case. Finding the money for this project is beyond my remit. In any case, it needs to be carefully reality checked, even if Jordin Kare and the Reaction Engines people say I have the physics right.

        Re “several fold” can you tell me how you got that? I added a line to the spreadsheet to calculate cumulative interest and got just under $33 B at 6%. What assumptions are you using to get “several fold?”

        Re the mirror, I said the Webb mirror was large enough, no handwaving required. As for Chinese skills, what’s wrong with them just buying the mirrors they need?

        Re Skylon, the dry mass is about 17%. Assuming you remember high school physics (the rocket equation) the maximum dry mass (including payload) for an SSTO is 13.5% (Based on 9 km/s to orbit and 4.5 km/s exhaust velocity.)

        Gary Hudson says a reusable SSTO would need 15% dry mass so 17% is reasonably robust. ESA did a full up design review and came to the conclusion that Skylon would work as designed. The reason Skylon is projected to put 5% payload in orbit rather than a negative number is the air breathing part of the ascent. If you back calculate the equivalent exhaust velocity, it gets 9 km/s till it runs out of air, about 1/4 of the velocity to orbit.

        If you can make a case for getting the cost to GEO down to $100/kg without spending something around $140 B, please let me know how and I will switch to advocating your way.

        And if you want to pay careful attention to finance and economics, remember I offered you the business case spreadsheet.

        March 15, 2013 at 11:20 am
          admin commented

          “I found a way through the physics to close the business case. Finding the money for this project is beyond my remit.”

          Without money there is no business case.

          “the Reaction Engines people say I have the physics right.”

          There’s a difference between physics and engineering. A lot of things are physically possible but not feasible with current engineering. Do you remember NASP?

          “Re “several fold” can you tell me how you got that? I added a line to the spreadsheet to calculate cumulative interest and got just under $33 B at 6%.”

          That’s the problem. Home mortgages may warrant a 6% interest rate. High-risk projects like this require an internal ROI of around 50%.

          “If you can make a case for getting the cost to GEO down to $100/kg without spending something around $140 B, please let me know how and I will switch to advocating your way.”

          Multiple companies are already working to bring costs down. It won’t happen overnight, the way you hope, but it is happening. Look at the computer industry. What do you think would have happened if you asked Steve Jobs, in 1975, to build a machine as fast as the Cray 1 that could fit in the palm of your hand and sell for $400?

          March 15, 2013 at 12:50 pm
            Keith Henson commented

            If the project is going to be seriously considered, the business case has to show huge profits. G. K. O’Neill tried with his article on power satellites in Science, but it was based on assumptions such as high flight rates and low cost for the Space Shuttle. Re the national space plane, as I recall the physics turned out to be just wrong. The Skylon predecessor, HOTAL looked very similar to the NASP and it turns out that shape just does not work (CG vs CP mismatch) because the physics is wrong. That’s why Skylon turned out to look much like an F-104 with engines in the place of wing tip tanks.

            Re risk driving high interest rates, if the risk cannot be reduced to a slam dunk, then it is not going to be done for commercial reasons. It still might be done because of the value of propulsion lasers for military purposes.

            But if I have not made major errors in the analysis, the internal ROI is high, perhaps well above 50%. Even without increasing the capacity, the model shows the entire investment being paid off in about 5 years from the first power sat going online, 12 years from starting to spend money on it. One of the indication of how high ROI is is that the energy payback time is around two months.

            Can you name any of the “multiple companies” besides SpaceX? Being able to fly them a couple of hundred times will certainly get the cost down, but it doesn’t help at all with the flight rate. We are talking about something half the size of a Saturn V, and to get the needed delivery rate to GEO it’s going to take ~6 launches an hour. Even if that is possible, it needs to grow to ten to twenty times that rate to fill the market demand.

            As for cost of space transport coming down in cost/performance the way computers have done . . . If you have an idea of how to do that, I would really like to hear it.

            March 15, 2013 at 10:20 pm
            admin commented

            Enough, Keith. You are well aware that there other companies besides SpaceX working on space transportation. You have spoken to many of them at the Space Access Conference.

            What’s the point of this discussion? If you really believe you are right, you should go out and raise your $140 billion.

            In the meantime, the rest of us will continue to work on projects that ordinary mortals can afford, whether you see value in them or not.

            March 16, 2013 at 11:20 am
    Ben Brockert commented

    What about the US Air Force? If he wasn’t counting suborbital trips, VG and XCOR will have no impact on this list.

    March 14, 2013 at 2:44 pm
      admin commented

      Good point. I assume he was only thinking of civilian agencies.

      March 14, 2013 at 3:06 pm
    Sourav Bagchi commented

    Why did you for forget the name of Indian Space Research Organization?

    July 13, 2015 at 8:57 pm