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In the upcoming years, SpaceX has extremely high ambitions for space travel to Mars

The millionaire brainiac behind the Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) program has high ambitions of future private space exploration. Founder Elon Musk seeks a trip to the Red Planet of Mars before NASA's mid-2030s current projected timeframe.

Of course, Musk and SpaceX have delayed projects and failed tests in the past, but have shown great promise in current projects. SpaceX also continues to collect funds from NASA and other contractors looking to help go into space.

NASA's interest on the private sector relies on the hope of being able to use the SpaceX Dragon as an astronaut ferry into space, while the Falcon Heavy can carry cargo. The SpaceX Falcon Heavy successfully broke the $1,000-per-pound-to-orbit barrier at a time when space industry experts thought it couldn't be done at the time.

NASA and the US federal government are relying more on private contractors to help in the future -- SpaceX and its rivals will be more than happy to pick up the research slack. The SpaceX Dragon capsule may be prepared for launch in the next five years, with thoughts also on manned mission to Mars. Until then, the company recently announced it will invest $30 million for Space Launch Complex 4-East, located at Vandenberg Air Force Base. 

It's believed up to 1,000 employees could be employed at the facility in the next four years. SpaceX plans to launch aircraft and test projects from the popular launching site, while competitors look for other launch sites.

The private space market is growing with even more companies trying to snag government funding -- and SpaceX will have to face the United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket, along with foreign-based projects.



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Good thing
By inighthawki on 7/16/2011 11:02:16 PM , Rating: 1
It's good to see that despite NASA being disbanded that the private sector has a lot of interest and resources to pick up where they left off. Possibly more motivation too. Hopefully that keeps up, though, and we see things going faster than before.




RE: Good thing
By Ages120 on 7/16/2011 11:51:00 PM , Rating: 2
Been following SpaceX for awhile as a replacement for servicing the ISS. Hopefully like you said if they keep developing better systems maybe the US will be more willing to get back into manned space exploration if there is a much more finite price than previous manned programs.

Wish we didn't have to be paying the incredibly large sums for places on Russian spacecraft during the intern though. So much that could be fed into this endeavor instead.


RE: Good thing
By Jeffk464 on 7/17/2011 9:09:25 AM , Rating: 2
Pretty sure its cheaper to pay the russians than it was to to send them up on the space shuttle.


RE: Good thing
By Jeffk464 on 7/17/2011 9:12:24 AM , Rating: 2
And if you worried about the money being sent out of the country, give me a break. We have been spending the last 10 years sending US money out of the country as fast as humanly possible.


RE: Good thing
By Suspicious on 7/17/2011 12:05:39 PM , Rating: 5
Sending US money out of the country hasn't happend in a looong time. You are sending chinese money out of the country :-P


RE: Good thing
By Jeffk464 on 7/17/2011 5:00:12 PM , Rating: 5
Yeah bizarre isn't it, the US is broke so we borrow money from China. We then turn around and use that borrowed chinese money to buy more stuff from china. Isn't that kind of like using a solar panel to power a light that in turn is the sole source of light for the solar panel?


RE: Good thing
By Solandri on 7/17/2011 11:51:17 PM , Rating: 3
Your solar panel and light is a negative-sum game - you lose energy at each step. If you make wise economic decisions, economics is a positive-sum game - both the buyer and seller are better off because of their transaction.

In China's case, they are deliberately underpricing their labor (by keeping the Yuan artificially low) in order to rapidly expand their industrial base. So a better analogy for China would be a store which is selling their merchandise at below-cost in order to gain market share. The U.S. is a customer who opens up a credit card with that store so it can buy even more of the underpriced merchandise. So it's actually negative for China but positive for the U.S.

Whether the U.S. should be opening up more credit cards in the first place is an entirely separate issue.


RE: Good thing
By delphinus100 on 7/18/2011 7:47:14 PM , Rating: 2
You're both right. For crew to LEO, it is cheaper than the Shuttle...but being beholden to a country that is still somewhat of a political adversary, is still not something we want to continue any longer than necessary.

That's what the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program is for. Domestic sources* (note the plural) to that same and, and more...

* SpaceX, Boeing, Sierra Nevada/SpaceDev, Blue Origin.


RE: Good thing
By Jaybus on 7/19/2011 10:13:58 AM , Rating: 3
For taking a crew to the ISS, that is cheaper. For taking cargo, however, the space shuttle was much cheaper. The reason is simple. The SS can put a 24,400 kg payload into LEO, whereas the Soyuz 2 is limited to a 7,800 kg payload. What is sorely lacking in space exploration is a heavy lift vehicle. That is why the SpaceX Falcon Heavy is so much more interesting. It is planned for a LEO payload of 53,000 kg, more than double that of the SS.


RE: Good thing
By TheCastle on 7/17/2011 7:30:33 AM , Rating: 2
Ah sorta. Space-X is getting most all of its funding from NASA, and is re-using NASA technology and designs in developing the rocket system.

NASA has always used private contractors to operate/build/maintain its space program. In fact the Space Shuttle Program was almost entirely operated by United Space Alliance, with the original intent that USA would take over running the space shuttles as a private contractor. This failed as NASA did not want to relinquish over site control of the Space Shuttles. USA even tried again recently to lobby congress to turn the shuttles over finally to private industry.

Space-X is simply a new contractor for NASA, just like Boeing, Lockheed martin, and United Space Alliance, designed, built and operated the space shuttles, Apollo, Gemini, ect under contract for NASA. NASA is just simply trying to foster some new companies because of their better lobbying efforts.

The reason why private industry has never sent people to space is that except for a very few tourist millionaires who pay the Russians for a Soyuz seat there is no profit from space. Space-X's whole business model is to do satellite launches and get paid by NASA to possibly send people to the space station. Which in the Past, NASA paid Boeing, Lockheed, USA to do the same thing with the space shuttles. Its really nothing new.

Not to rain on everyone's Parade.... But if Lockheed, Boeing, and USA have decades experience building, operating, and maintain very successful space craft systems. Why haven't they built their own space program, and started sending people into space without NASA contracts? Simple answer, there is no profit sending people into space. It costs too much money to make a human rated vehicle to recover it from tourism.

The big problem, outside of commercial satellites, no one has figured out how to make money out of space. This isn't arguing that the are benefits from developing technology to go into space. But NASA and its contractors have already invented most of it, so what is Space-X really offering as an innovation? Simply a cheaper process to do the same thing, but no new technology.


RE: Good thing
By Reclaimer77 on 7/17/2011 6:22:52 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
The big problem, outside of commercial satellites, no one has figured out how to make money out of space.


That's because space travel has been exclusively out of public hands since day one. Also it's an extremely high risk investment, one could say volatile.

I mean hell, I bet you could make a multi-billion dollar industry out of selling ridiculously priced jewelry and other nicknack items out of moon rocks. Think I'm crazy? Moon rocks have gone missing before, and it's rumored that just a small sized moon rock goes for 6 figures on the black market.

http://blog.silive.com/weather/2009/09/when_rocks_...

I think low orbit commercial travel is a dead end. The investment would be MASSIVE. But worst, as soon as someone comes out with another Mach 1+ commercial transport like the Concorde, you're put out of business pretty much.

quote:
Why haven't they built their own space program, and started sending people into space without NASA contracts?


Probably because even if they wanted to, they wouldn't be allowed to. The Government has made it's position pretty clear, they think they own space. They would cite "national security" or tie you up in so much red tape and litigation that it simply wouldn't be worth the investment.


RE: Good thing
By JediJeb on 7/18/2011 3:55:30 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Think I'm crazy? Moon rocks have gone missing before, and it's rumored that just a small sized moon rock goes for 6 figures on the black market.


I think in the US it is actually illegal to own a moon rock, that is why the black market figures are so high. There was a plaque given to each state back in the Apollo era with a small moon rock on it, some are now missing and the government keeps an eye on places like Ebay looking for anyone selling one. Most people don't even know they have something illegal who have them because someone in the state government gave it away or sold it a long time ago even though they were not supposed to.

I guess if a private company wanted to get around the US and other major nations control of space they could go somewhere like Honduras and build a space port, I'm sure a country like that would like the income from it. Maybe if we find an asteroid with a high gold content it would spark a space gold rush that would make it profitable for private companies to make the investment. Who knows, with the way the price of gold is currently going, it could happen.


RE: Good thing
By delphinus100 on 7/18/2011 8:04:30 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
I think in the US it is actually illegal to own a moon rock


No, not so much a moon rock, but NASA's moon rocks which, obviously, are government property. If you have the means to go get your own, go for it. There is no legal barrier that would prevent you. (Actual Lunar resource extraction is another matter, depending on how you interpret the 'common heritage of mankind' language of the Outer Space Treaty, to which the US is a signatory)

quote:
I guess if a private company wanted to get around the US and other major nations control of space they could go somewhere like Honduras and build a space port,


That's where you'd run into legal issues via ITAR:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Traffic...

...You simply aren't going to be able to move rocket technology out of the US like that. Even if you do all the R&D outside the US, you're bound by those laws, as long as you're a US citizen, no matter where you are.


RE: Good thing
By Laereom on 7/19/2011 11:04:34 AM , Rating: 1
Pff, forget gold.

The gold market would crash quite readily if you introduced a ton of it, because the demand for gold is ultimately driven by its scarcity; increasing the supply not only forces supply-side pressure on it, but people are also going to find it less attractive on the demand-side, as well.

Rare earth metals are where the money is at. They're in everything, they're damned expensive, they're becoming increasingly hard to obtain now that China is less willing to poison their population to obtain the stuff, and our demand for them is going to grow regardless of how much we find in the asteroids.

Indium is the shit. Fact.


RE: Good thing
By delphinus100 on 7/18/2011 7:52:21 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Ah sorta. Space-X is getting most all of its funding from NASA...


Part of it, yes. SpaceX can and would go it alone, it would simply take longer...and end up paying the Russians that much more.

quote:
...and is re-using NASA technology and designs in developing the rocket system.


Right. This is one of the reasons NASA exists. To that extent, the system is working exactly as it should. In space and aeronautics.


RE: Good thing
By Laereom on 7/19/2011 11:00:27 AM , Rating: 2
You have a fairly accurate synopsis of the situation, but I'm going to add a bit.

Although NASA is currently SpaceX's largest customer, they only account for about 1/3 of their contracted revenue. Furthermore, they developed their spacecraft entirely on private equity, before any government funding flowed in.

Now, about the lack of profit motive to go into space...

Musk doesn't want or need it, and neither does his company. If he can break even, he'll do it. If he can make money doing commercial satellite launches and use that money to go further into space, he'll do that. In fact, he founded SpaceX because he wanted to go to Mars and he figured this was the cheapest way to do it. Musk has a purpose. To him, the goal isn't just "making money"; he had hundreds of millions of dollars before SpaceX. This company isn't a cash cow. It's the embodiment of the dreams of Elon Musk and his band of merry engineers.

That's why they'll succeed. Money works. Greed (I say that in a good way) is powerful. More powerful, however, is the kind of greed that seizes upon the dreams of the discontent, and that's precisely what drives SpaceX.


RE: Good thing
By Jeffk464 on 7/17/2011 9:05:42 AM , Rating: 2
There is something I don't get, are these companies getting NASA money to design, build, and test these rockets. Or are these companies just hoping to get NASA contracts for launches?


RE: Good thing
By TheCastle on 7/17/2011 6:11:04 PM , Rating: 2
Space X and Orbital were tech start-up companies that were seeded with money from two billionaires. They lobbied/asked congress and the Obama administration that they should be allowed to compete with the established space industry, Boeing, LMT, USA, etc as a lower cost alternative to maintain the ISS. Space-x was awarded development money by NASA to modify and re-use Apollo rocket engines, and rocket designs. Then they were awarded 1.6 billion dollars by NASA to resupply the space station, with bigger future dreams to deliver astronauts to the ISS. http://www.spacex.com/press.php?page=20081223

So yes, they are funded by NASA, just like all other private contractors. Again the only organization that has money to pay to send people in to orbit and send cargo to ISS is NASA. These private companies couldn't afford to build their own space programs without government assistance, and using already invented technology.

That is not to say they aren't doing something with the money. What Space-X claims it can do is modify existing Apollo rocket engines/designs. Operate them with modern materials, and technology to make them far more reliable and require less redundancy. More reliability requires less people to operate/maintain, and lower cost. Their big claim to fame is to drive down the cost of lifting cargo to low earth orbit to ~$1000 per lbs vs NASA Shuttle costs ranging in the $10,000-$18,000lbs cost depending on payload, orbit, inclination, etc.

The fundamental problem everyone in the space business has... Is no one has figured out how to take cargo and or people from rest on the ground to 17,500 mph with out strapping them to a huge but controlled bomb. The fuel alone costs millions per launch, it just takes a lot of fuel to accelerate the fuel, and the mass to 17,500mph to achieve orbit. Nobody has figured out a way to do it more cheaply, yet. When space travel gets to $5 a lbs to LEO, people will go routinely.


RE: Good thing
By Reclaimer77 on 7/17/2011 6:27:43 PM , Rating: 2
Wouldn't it be just as viable and way cheaper and lower risk to just develop a replacement for the Concorde?

I think it's pretty ridiculous that it's 2011 and we still don't have supersonic commercial craft.


RE: Good thing
By Jeffk464 on 7/17/2011 9:31:26 PM , Rating: 2
The name of the game in commercial aviation is fuel savings. I even heard that some airlines have slowed their cruising speed on existing airframes to save on fuel costs. I'm pretty sure the driving focus on future aircraft is all about per passenger mpg.


RE: Good thing
By Solandri on 7/18/2011 12:04:13 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
Wouldn't it be just as viable and way cheaper and lower risk to just develop a replacement for the Concorde?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_American_X-15
That was the original U.S. plan to get into space. You overcome the most fuel-intensive portion of your flight profile (the takeoff and early ascent) with fuel-efficient aerodynamic lift. Only after you get up into the thin upper atmosphere where air resistance is lower and aerodynamic lift becomes less effective, do you turn on the rockets.

But then the Soviets launched Sputnik, and all thoughts of efficiency went out the window. Cost became no object. As a matter of national pride, we had to get something up there quick and dirty, and pure rockets (a WWII technology) were the best way to do it. If there had been no space race to distract us for 4+ decades with pure rockets, and the U.S. had continued on its original research path, I suspect we'd already have hypersonic sub-orbital transports today. Launching satellites while in sub-orbit at considerably less cost, and making the occasional 2-hour trip from NYC to Tokyo if there were ever an urgent need for a trip that quick.


RE: Good thing
By mjv.theory on 7/18/2011 5:37:23 AM , Rating: 2
Actually, only about 7% of the fuel is used to overcome gravity and air resistance. The rest is used to get to orbital velocity. So it's not about how high an air-breathing spaceplane can get, it's about how fast it can get, before switching to rockets. Google for SKYLON, for info on how to build a viable spaceplane.


RE: Good thing
By Jeffk464 on 7/19/2011 9:58:45 AM , Rating: 2
Yeah thats what I was thinking, if you use a plane based drop system like the virgin galactic setup you save yourself about 500mph. So that is 17,000mph minus 500mph, eh.


RE: Good thing
By Reclaimer77 on 7/18/2011 11:41:44 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
You overcome the most fuel-intensive portion of your flight profile (the takeoff and early ascent) with fuel-efficient aerodynamic lift.


Well it also helped that it was launched from a B-52 at high altitude and didn't have to start from the ground at 0 mph :)


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