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Richard Branson’s space flight


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ardoughter

Hero
Supporter
Right, but literally everything else is also better. There are more options here than just "spaceships or war."
Only if we get into politics, private charity does not solve, hunger, climate change, the housing crisis or anything else. It is a band aid. If you direct the rich to spend their money on the poor you are likely to end up with Roman style clientelism where those poor are now the foot soldiers of the political ambitions of the richest.

If you want the big problems solved the governance and society need to prioritise those problems. At the moment the priority of governments in the west is GDP growth, The argument is, that GDP = cake and more GDP = more cake for everybody.
Leaving aside whether that proposition is true, it is unsustainable. Not least because the easy way to boost GDP - make and consume more stuff, is unsustainable.

The question as I see it, is that the metric of successful governance should be the collective welfare of the people, starting with food, shelter and so on.

I mean if i really had my choice given the current system I would prefer if they spent most of their money on blue sky research but failing that rocket ships are not a bad option.
 

Stephen Shomo

Explorer
The only charity that is a band-aid are band-aid-like charities but there are also a ton of charities that create lasting self sustaining good.
And if you think the world can create endless GDP growth to solve its problems you haven't been paying attention.
 

ardoughter

Hero
Supporter
The only charity that is a band-aid are band-aid-like charities but there are also a ton of charities that create lasting self sustaining good.
And if you think the world can create endless GDP growth to solve its problems you haven't been paying attention.
And you have not read my post past the first line.
 

FitzTheRuke

Legend
Right, but literally everything else is also better. There are more options here than just "spaceships or war."
My point exactly. (Other than the idea that "war" is just a placeholder for "things worse than spaceships" - at the extreme end). As much as the rich person could be spending money on better things than spaceships, they could also be spending them on much, much worse things. This is not a defense. It just is what it is.
 



Stephen Shomo

Explorer
then you missed the bit where I said that endless GDP growth is unsustainable.

and I never asserted that charities did no good, just that they cannot solve the big problems.

I never said you said "endless GDP growth is unsustainable."
I said if you think endless GDP is sustainable you haven't been paying attention.
Did you read my post?
BTW a lot blue sky research is funded by philanthropy (... you know charity.)
 

Zardnaar

Legend
I live in a country of 5 million people with 83000 employed on agricultural endeavors.

We can feed 40 million people but somehow struggle feeding poor kids.

They've started doing school lunches provided by the school in some areas.

In my mother's time as a child (40's/50's) she got an apple a day and a cup of milk. Everyone did you had to eat it. And they had health camps for under/over nourished children

But yay rocket ships for egomaniacs.
 

slobster

Hero
Don't forget the assumption that these are baby steps toward the eventual goal of colonizing space, a deeply dorky outcome
Hey! I resemble that remark....

But hey, I guess I'll own the dorky label. Because the thing is, I do believe that these are baby steps towards space colonization, and I think that colonization is just about the best possible good on the horizon that humanity could achieve. Earth constitutes a few tenths of a percent of the mass in the solar system excluding the sun. Only a fraction of that fraction is directly involved in our actual biosphere. It receives about 1 billionth of the sunlight the sun produces. And despite all that insignificance, it contains 100% of the known life in the universe.

So why would we want to continue to base our heavy industry, resource extraction, polluting population centers, and wars here indefinitely, when there is a billion times the living space and free solar energy available out in space (and that only counts our own solar system)? I consider it axiomatic that expanding the number of humans that can live quality lives is a good thing, and that allowing polluting industries to move outside our natural biosphere is also a good thing.

But let's just assume that you believe, for whatever reason, that humans will never do anything in space beyond our own planet's orbit. Well fine, there is still SO MUCH that we can accomplish in orbit, if we can only bring the price of launch down. How about Earth science missions, to track ocean currents and weather patterns and ice melt and methane release and land subsidence, in order to refine models of climate change? Lower launch costs for satellites, and you make those missions cheaper, more plentiful, and easier to iterate upon. How about expanding internet access to areas of the world that can't afford fiber (like for example my own home area)? How about solar power satellites, which have the potential to harvest many times the available power of ground based solar because they don't have to worry about clouds, atmospheric interference, or 8 hour nights, supercharging the transition from fossil fuels? What about mining the moon for raw materials for said projects, reducing both launch costs (as ironically it is energetically cheaper to move something from the moon's surface into low Earth orbit than it is to move it from Earth to low Earth orbit) and the environmental impact of things like silicon and iron extraction? And I'm not even going to get into the possibilities for pure science in orbit, as that typically isn't as convincing to someone airing the kinds of concerns that you mention.

I can't say for certain space development is coming. Obviously people made predictions exactly like this when we first landed on the moon, and here we are. But I do feel absolutely certain in saying that if an industrial space revolution is coming soon, it will be because of the pioneering efforts of companies like SpaceX, and to a lesser extent Blue Origin and even Virgin Galactic.

Thanks for the reply. Lots of good stuff here. This part above is specifically what appeals to me about this method. I see a huge market for smaller, cheaper, more frequent launches. We need work-horse methods of getting into space more than we need another extremely over-speced project like the shuttle.
Right now, the king of small cheap launches for cubesats and the like is rideshare on a Falcon 9 from SpaceX. It is by far the cheapest and most reliable option available, though you are essentially on someone else's schedule since you are hitching a ride on a bigger launch. But you just can't beat the price. Second place is probably the Electron rocket from Rocket Lab, which is a small launch vehicle from a company whose entire mandate is exactly what you are talking about, a workhorse small payload launcher which can be launched more often and easily than traditional large rockets. It's more expensive than SpaceX, but you get to have a whole launch dedicated to one or a couple small sats, so there are advantages.

There is a whole cornucopia of other launch companies aiming at that same smallsat market, and most have their own gimmick they are banking on; 3d printed rockets, rockets that can be deployed from shipping container sized mobile launch module, rockets that get caught by helicopter on descent for re-use, and so on. A whole explosion of evolutionary branches trying to get into the small launch market. But the thing that pretty much all of the credible players have in common is that they are still using the basic rocket-on-the-ground architecture to get up to space, nary a plane assisted launch in sight. Probably this is partly due to the massive and incredible success of the Falcon 9 and its reusability, but the engineering and economics of orbital launch just don't seem to look good for assisted launch these days.


This point, however, is where you lost me. Yes, this version doesn't reach orbit. But why the insistence that this style of launch never will? Isn't serious improvement in the technology the entire raison d'etre of Virgin Galactic? Is there anything fundamental to the design that means it will never be capable of these things? Does the smaller size make it physically impossible, or is it just something we haven't done yet? I don't grok the extrapolation.
Ok yeah, maybe I should have said "specific to Spaceship 2" rather than "Specific to Virgin Galactic". Spaceship 2, their current vehicle, is never going to reach orbit. It just doesn't have the power to reach orbit, and isn't designed to do so. According to the company, spaceship 3 is supposed to reach orbit when it eventually gets designed and built.

I do think that this tech will have some use cases. Like I mentioned, security payloads for spy satellites or antisatellite weapons is probably a big one. But if you are specifically talking about workhorse rockets, it looks like a rocket makes a better first stage for your rocket system than does an airplane.

Citation for entire above post: I'm a space nerd and not in any way an engineer or involved in the industry. So uh yeah, I could obviously turn out to be embarrassingly wrong. :giggle: But embarrassingly wrong with all the best intentions, and with massive hope for the future of humanity.
 
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This point, however, is where you lost me. Yes, this version doesn't reach orbit. But why the insistence that this style of launch never will? Isn't serious improvement in the technology the entire raison d'etre of Virgin Galactic? Is there anything fundamental to the design that means it will never be capable of these things? Does the smaller size make it physically impossible, or is it just something we haven't done yet? I don't grok the extrapolation.

The basic problem with scaling up is that the further you want to send a given mass up from Earth the amount of fuel you need increases exponentially because the fuel itself is so much of the weight of the craft and you need to propel the weight of all the additional fuel you need to propel the weight of all the additional fuel you need to propel the etc. A rocketplane launched off of another plane is limited in size by what airplanes are available. This method also involves the rocketplane spacecraft making a very high speed turn upwards while still in the atmosphere, which puts a lot of stress on it (and its contents, including people) and means it has to be a fairly hardy thing (especially if you want it to be reusable longterm).

I don't have any particular knowledge of the numbers, but I would guesstimate from the fact that it took Virgin Orbit a Boeing 747, one of the heavier lifting planes commercially available, to support a spacecraft of a scale capable of getting just a 440 pound payload into orbit, that it would take a hitherto unknown scale of aircraft to support, say, getting people into orbit from an air launch without some other radical advance in technology.

My earlier comment did trivialize the degree to which this method could be used for unmanned satellites, which are actually our main useful business in space these days. The Virgin Orbit satellite launching company may have a bright future. But in terms of the manned "space travel" of sister company Virgin Galactic, the method they have invested all their efforts into seems to be limited to silly "x-treme" experiences in low space, at least for the foreseeable future.
 



Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I never said you said "endless GDP growth is unsustainable."
I said if you think endless GDP is sustainable you haven't been paying attention.
Did you read my post?

When one replies to a post and uses the pronoun "you" it is ambiguous whether the intent is to refer to the poster, or to a generic "you". You (meaning Shomo) could have made it more clear which you meant.
 

embee

Lawyer by day. Rules lawyer by night.
Don't forget the assumption that these are baby steps toward the eventual goal of colonizing space, a deeply dorky outcome that ignores all the inhospitable-but-unclaimed territories here on Earth, and that assumes we can somehow outrun climate collapse (something that billionaires could pour their money into averting, and get legitimately great attention for). But part of the issue there is that if you're the type of billionaire dead set on becoming a space tourist, you probably also just blithely assume the world is going to innovate itself out of catastrophe. A highly cool way to think, given that the climate disasters are already happening, and there's not a single solution in sight.
This!

Especially as far as Elongated Muskrat is concerned.

Muskrat likes to style himself as some great inventor on par with Nikola Tesla but history proves otherwise. He is, as many forget, the man who held a much-ballyhooed press conference to announce the Hyperloop, which basically amounted to him saying that there should be an underground high-speed rail line that goes from Los Angeles to San Francisco and that someone should actually design it, pay for it, and run through all of the legal hoops necessary and give Musk all of the credit for the idea.

That's not inventing; it's daydreaming.

We know how to put people into space. A billionaire space race is useless on that front. What we don't know how to do is establish long-term outposts past LEO.

Colonizing Mars and the Moon are wrongheaded goals right now. Instead of trying to figure out how to farm on other planets, we need to be figuring out how to continue being able to farm on the Earth.

Last week, a significant part of Washington State's agricultural economy cooked in its shells in Puget Sound. Down the coast, California, America's actual breadbasket, is having the second "century" drought in less than a decade.

How do we solve these problems?

Innovation and invention can only do so much. Right now, the inventor crowd thinks that we can just innovate our way out of environmental collapse. We can't. Desal plants are not the same as "Create Food & Water" spells.

Until people take a good hard honest look at the massive social changes that are needed, we, as a species, are going to die. Slowly and painfully.

And the billionaire space tourists would do well to remember that launching themselves into space is useless if Earth isn't habitable. Before we can terraform Mars, we should probably figure out how to terraform Earth.
 

slobster

Hero
This!

Especially as far as Elongated Muskrat is concerned.

<snip>

Colonizing Mars and the Moon are wrongheaded goals right now. Instead of trying to figure out how to farm on other planets, we need to be figuring out how to continue being able to farm on the Earth.
Even assuming that one doesn't see the value to Earth in doing things in space (which I covered a bunch in a longer comment upthread so I won't revisit that here), I've never understood why people who want to call out misspent money focus so vehemently on space research.

Last year, NASA's budget was about $23 billion. SpaceX (which has made massive advances in rocket reusability and lowering launch costs) doesn't cost taxpayers a dime, other than in space launch fees for space station missions which is included in the above NASA figure, and is in fact a cash positive enterprise as it operates a very profitable business selling services to customers. So it isn't a drain on the economy any more than any other profitable business.

For comparison, people around the world have spent approximately $23 billion JUST ON AVENGERS MOVIES (or I guess MCU movies). People spend about $20 billion on golf courses EVERY YEAR just in the United States. The United States spends $715 billion on defense every year, and the rest of the planet spends a combined $1200 billion on top of that. In 2020, countries exported around $80-100 billion in diamonds, a rough approximation of how much consumers spent on that. College football spends 18.8 billion every year in the United States, with $3.6 billion of that being spent on coach salaries alone!!

The whole point of that rant was just to point out that we as a planet spend money on a lot, A LOT of things with a dubious return on investment. Is space devlopment, which is arguably a positive for the economy even over the short term, and which is a massive boon for planetary science and climate science, really the place to raise moral objections?

Some food for thought!
 

That's not inventing; it's daydreaming.
...
Colonizing Mars and the Moon are wrongheaded goals right now
...
Innovation and invention can only do so much.
...
Until people take a good hard honest look at the massive social changes that are needed, we, as a species, are going to die. Slowly and painfully.

If your vision of massive social change requires us to give up ambitions of science, innovation, and dreaming for a better future, I'd say you're promoting the distopia, not the utopia.
 


FitzTheRuke

Legend
Colonizing Mars and the Moon are wrongheaded goals right now. Instead of trying to figure out how to farm on other planets, we need to be figuring out how to continue being able to farm on the Earth.

And the billionaire space tourists would do well to remember that launching themselves into space is useless if Earth isn't habitable. Before we can terraform Mars, we should probably figure out how to terraform Earth.

I agree with your premise 110%. The only thing I would add is that if we have to watch people do stupid stuff like try to live on Mars, we can only hope that they learn something about how much easier it would be to simply live on Earth. And if we can even come close to terraforming Mars, the techniques learned to do that will certainly work far better on Earth.

What I'm trying to get at is, we may be able to reap rewards from the foolish attempt, so it's not a total waste of time and money, even if the time and money would be better spent elsewhere.
 

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