Some thoughts on Golden Spike
December 8 2012 08:36:20 PM |
Some miscellaneous thoughts regarding the Golden Spike debut announcement this week:
As SpaceX and others bring down the cost of spaceflight, we will see more and more projects that were previously impossible cross the line to the merely incredibly difficult.
Looking at the company through the 2nd of the "NSG 4-Screens", GS's Market is unproven and it will likely need to be proven (with early sales) to convince investors to pony up the large amount of capital that they need, which would bolster their Capitalization.
There were lots of rumors flying around before the news conference about various famous billionaires backing the project. I think GS should have put out a statement damping down that speculation. However, I don't think groups of highly competent individuals should be prohibited from trying incredibly difficult endeavors just because no billionaire backers are involved. The GS group has a plan and will take their best shot at making it happen.
Bigelow Aerospace is also targeting sovereign clients, i.e. mid-sized developed countries, as their primary market. Countries that have till now made no significant investment in human spaceflight, or even in unmanned space projects, will obviously need some convincing to make a leap to the Moon. On the other hand, if just one such country can be persuaded to take the leap, I expect many others will do so as well.
As Alan Stern emphasized in his presentation, it's important to keep things in perspective. In the 1960s it took the gigantic national effort of a Superpower to get people to the Moon for a program cost in the $125B+ range (in today's dollars). NASA's Constellation program was intending to spend $150B+ plus for a lunar expedition capability. GS shows that it is possible to put forward a reasonable technical plan for the capability to put two people on the Moon for $1.5B each time for an overall development cost that's less than Apple's latest quarterly profit.
[ Update: One other thought. What took me and others aback during Thursday's presentation was, of course, Alan's statement that they would need "$7-8B dollars" to get to the point they could carry out complete missions for $$1.5B. That seemed a lot considering they were buying commercial launches and "just" needed to develop a lander and a propulson module. What's interesting from their AIAA paper (pdf) is that most of the money is actually for four test flights. They estimate $2.35B (Table 12) for hardware and infrastructure development. The flight program is given (Table 13) as $4.0B. (All the numbers are obviously ballpark at the moment.) If GS could include some science and commercial payloads and activities in their test flights, they could reduce their overall program costs considerably.
Two and half billion dollars is still a lot of money but not totally out of bounds of private/commercial funding. Cumulative private investment committed to Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, Stratolaunch, and SpaceX is easily in that range. Whether or not GS gets off the ground, it's encouraging that a substantive study of the hardware/ground infrastructure needed to carry out repeated lunar missions finds the costs to be in a range attainable by non-government entities.
More reports and commentary on GS: