Baby Steps to Space

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]

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