Baby Steps to Space.
The difference between Rutan's (or should I say the XPrize) approach
and NASA's is that it will build a commercial business around every
step of development. Here are the steps (and my best case timeline
- Edge of Space (now — the next 2 years). The simple space plane (that won the XPrize) was interesting enough for Virgin to invest in as a space tourism business.
- Extend Zero G time (4 years). The next step
is to extend the time in zero G while reducing the cost. This will grow
the market. Motivation: commercial need.
- LEO Orbit. After that, it will be a full
push to circle the globe in orbit. Again, it will be space tourism that
drives this. A prize of $100 m would help accelerate things.
- Commercial micro satellites (5-6 years). At
that point, modifications of the vehicles will be made to insert LEO
micro-satellites. With a record of reliability and low costs (proven
via space tourism), Rutan's vehicles will eat this market up. It will
make lots of new satellite business available due to the business
opportunities offered by this low cost solution. Motivation: commercial
- LEO station/hotel (12-14 years). Add
docking capability and orbital manipulation to the vehicle and you have
a way to get back and forth from permanent structures in LEO. That
makes it possible to build a business in orbit — a hotel or work
facility. To build this facility, a low cost moderate payload lift
vehicle would need to be built (the facility would be manufactured in
space vs. the prefabed module approach used in the past). A $1 billion
prize for a private facility continuously manned by 10 people for a
year would accelerate this.
- OTV to GEOSYNC (13-14 years). At that point a reusable orbital transfer vehicle (OTV) will be built to bring payloads from LEO to GEO.
- Zoom time (15 years?). Business will boom.
Heavy lift vehicle will be built to take advantage of the demand.
Asteroid belt mining. Moon tourism. So much is possible once this low
cost commercial infrastructure is built.
This is an exciting time. [John Robb's Weblog]