Author Topic: ITS LEO Cruise: Cost and Feasibility  (Read 3100 times)

Offline DnA915

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ITS LEO Cruise: Cost and Feasibility
« on: 03/05/2017 02:53 AM »
Given the newly found press coverage and fundraising ability of SpaceX in the commercial adventurer/tourist realm, I would like to ask peoples thoughts on a possible LEO cruise. Think of this just like an ocean cruise where a trip may be 7-10 days in LEO. On board, people would be amused by a variety of activities including the obvious weightlessness, science, shows, staring at earth, etc... Perhaps 80 customers and 10 SpaceX employees would be on each ship.

From a cost standpoint, I believe Elon said they wanted to get to around 100K in the future for a roundtrip to Mars. This would include both directions. From a launch perspective, I think you would only need one booster launch to get the ship into LEO with enough fuel to land. Compare this to the 4 to 6 (I forget) needed to fuel a ship to mars. Also, as far as wear on the ship, you would be looking at just one re-entry per customer, and earth would be easier on the ship from what I understand too. Supply cost and weight, mars base supplies, radiation exposure, risk of failure would also be lower. All this factored in, would it be unreasonable to think they could sell a ticket at 40k to 60k per person with full reusability? Looking at their numbers from the presentation, a lot would depend on how much less damage would be done to the ship doing a slower LEO entry vs Mars entry. I imagine, it would be able to be used significantly more.

I feel like a trip like this, as long as its reasonably proven safe would appeal to a huge number of people. Even at 100K, I feel like this would sell itself.

Offline Robotbeat

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Re: ITS LEO Cruise: Cost and Feasibility
« Reply #1 on: 03/05/2017 03:18 AM »
Lame, I want to go to Mars. Or at least the surface of the Moon.
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Online meekGee

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Re: ITS LEO Cruise: Cost and Feasibility
« Reply #2 on: 03/05/2017 03:31 AM »
Why would you need a spaceship for that?  You're already in LEO  :)
You're talking about a space station, a-la Bigelow, no?
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Online SweetWater

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Re: ITS LEO Cruise: Cost and Feasibility
« Reply #3 on: 03/05/2017 03:42 AM »
What you're describing would require a dedicated craft. Dragon 2 is too small to want to spend a full week in. We don't have many details about what the internals of ITS might look like, but it stands to reason that a lot of space will need to be devoted to things that are of little use for a "cruise" - cargo, consumables for the flight to/from Mars, exercise equipment to combat loss of muscle mass and bone density, etc.

If you want a cruise ship to orbit Earth, it doesn't make sense to re-purpose another craft when what you're really describing is a space station. Have it outfitted specifically to support the kinds of activities you would describe. If one existed today, it could conceivably  be supported using existing (Dragon, Cygnus, Progress, Soyuz) craft or craft that will exist in the very near term (Dragon 2, Starliner, Dreamchaser).

This is the kind of thing Bigelow was considering for a long time. I'm not sure Elon or SpaceX have any interest in running an orbital cruise business. If someone else had the hotel, I'm sure they'd be happy to transport cargo and crew for a price. But I don't see SpaceX running this kind of business by itself.

Online su27k

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Re: ITS LEO Cruise: Cost and Feasibility
« Reply #4 on: 03/05/2017 03:51 AM »
Yeah, I think the business case pretty much write itself for this one, with only one (potentially big) problem: There is no launch escape on ITS, and if you want this to fund Mars, it would need to happen early when ITS is not well tested.

Offline DnA915

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Re: ITS LEO Cruise: Cost and Feasibility
« Reply #5 on: 03/05/2017 04:32 PM »
Yeah, I think the business case pretty much write itself for this one, with only one (potentially big) problem: There is no launch escape on ITS, and if you want this to fund Mars, it would need to happen early when ITS is not well tested.

I agree, I think that you need to have it well tested before this. Can you really not do a launch abort in the future with the the raptor engines?

I still think people are too quick to dismiss this. If it cost SpaceX 40K per passenger, and Virgin Galactic has customers for 250K for a short time below earth orbit, I think from a competition point, that could likely charge 500K to 2M. That could be 160M earnings per launch. Also, you have to think about it this way: Mars will not be ready from an architecture point of view to be ready for 100 colonist at a time. This type of program would appeal to people who might want to go to Mars and would additionally normalize it for people who might have not been open to it. It would also help to show issues that might occur when you have 100 people in an aluminum can. There are numerous benefits beyond the money.

Offline Ludus

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Re: ITS LEO Cruise: Cost and Feasibility
« Reply #6 on: 03/08/2017 01:50 AM »
Yeah, I think the business case pretty much write itself for this one, with only one (potentially big) problem: There is no launch escape on ITS, and if you want this to fund Mars, it would need to happen early when ITS is not well tested.

I agree, I think that you need to have it well tested before this. Can you really not do a launch abort in the future with the the raptor engines?

I still think people are too quick to dismiss this. If it cost SpaceX 40K per passenger, and Virgin Galactic has customers for 250K for a short time below earth orbit, I think from a competition point, that could likely charge 500K to 2M. That could be 160M earnings per launch. Also, you have to think about it this way: Mars will not be ready from an architecture point of view to be ready for 100 colonist at a time. This type of program would appeal to people who might want to go to Mars and would additionally normalize it for people who might have not been open to it. It would also help to show issues that might occur when you have 100 people in an aluminum can. There are numerous benefits beyond the money.

I don't think it's established that a significant market exists for orbital tourism at those prices. There are a few hundred people who put down deposits for suborbital flights at a couple hundred thousand a ticket. No one has actually flown so it's not known how many will be actual customers. It not clear how many would pay 10x as much to go to orbit, especially in a large group. The market at another 10x higher $20M+ has just been a handful of people.

Offline DnA915

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Re: ITS LEO Cruise: Cost and Feasibility
« Reply #7 on: 03/08/2017 05:09 AM »
I don't think it's established that a significant market exists for orbital tourism at those prices. There are a few hundred people who put down deposits for suborbital flights at a couple hundred thousand a ticket. No one has actually flown so it's not known how many will be actual customers. It not clear how many would pay 10x as much to go to orbit, especially in a large group. The market at another 10x higher $20M+ has just been a handful of people.

True, its speculation on my part, but there is no shortage of wealthy people on this planet, and its growing every day. Also, just think of the free social media marketing. I can only imagine the first people posting social media videos of them and 12 of their friends flying around in the common areas of the ship. The videos of the first flight would be mind blowing to most people and it would be appealing even to those who don't want to spend the next 4 years minimum as risk-takers in space. If proven safe, I can't imagine there not being a waiting list if it was sub 1 million a person or maybe even above, but then again, I'm a bit obsessed with space so I may be a bit biased.

Online guckyfan

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Re: ITS LEO Cruise: Cost and Feasibility
« Reply #8 on: 03/08/2017 06:04 AM »
Antarctic cruises are not cheap today and I believe they are limited by environmental concerns, not demand. I may be wrong but ITS could make those cuises quite cheap. The panorama window is great, there is the microgravity environment and enough time to get used to it. At 50,000 $ there should be enough demand for continuous service, more for the first flights.

Offline MATTBLAK

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Re: ITS LEO Cruise: Cost and Feasibility
« Reply #9 on: 03/08/2017 06:19 AM »
A high inclination orbit will give passengers a good view of Earth. There can be zero-g cocktail parties or even New Year's parties in LEO! ;)  And if the ITS ever takes tour parties to the Moon - stay for 4 days and have each passenger who wants to conduct a couple of strictly-guided EVAs lasting about 3 or 4 hours each.
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Online M.E.T.

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Re: ITS LEO Cruise: Cost and Feasibility
« Reply #10 on: 03/08/2017 08:38 AM »
If the Spaceship itself has enough thrust to land and take off independently from Mars, as well as (according to an off hand comment from Elon) "almost make it to LEO on its own without the booster", can it not use its own rocket engines as a launch escape system, much like Dragon does?
« Last Edit: 03/08/2017 08:39 AM by M.E.T. »

Offline Crispy

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Re: ITS LEO Cruise: Cost and Feasibility
« Reply #11 on: 03/08/2017 08:48 AM »
If the Spaceship itself has enough thrust to land and take off independently from Mars, as well as (according to an off hand comment from Elon) "almost make it to LEO on its own without the booster", can it not use its own rocket engines as a launch escape system, much like Dragon does?

They take too long to start. The Superdraco engines are pressure fed and hypergolic, which means you can count the time between "fire!" and thrust in milliseconds. A big cryogenic turbopumped engine like the Raptor takes many seconds to get ready to burn. No good for abort.
« Last Edit: 03/08/2017 08:49 AM by Crispy »

Offline envy887

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Re: ITS LEO Cruise: Cost and Feasibility
« Reply #12 on: 03/08/2017 01:48 PM »
Yeah, I think the business case pretty much write itself for this one, with only one (potentially big) problem: There is no launch escape on ITS, and if you want this to fund Mars, it would need to happen early when ITS is not well tested.

"There is no launch escape on ITS" is inaccurate. More precisely, there as some segments of flight where certain failures are probably not survivable.

This was also true of the Shuttle, but the ITS design does have several things that considerably enhance survivablility including integral propulsion, control of the booster, and top-mount.

Online guckyfan

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Re: ITS LEO Cruise: Cost and Feasibility
« Reply #13 on: 03/08/2017 02:04 PM »
Sure ITS could not do a fast escape from a first stage fireball. The way to go is reliability and if something fails make it mostly a benign failure that gives the time to start up the engines. Also make failure on the first 30km altitude unlikely so the vac engines can help too. Then burn most of the fuel and land as soon as ITS is light enough.

Given that for most of the flight escape is not possible, reliability is the way to go.

Offline DnA915

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Re: ITS LEO Cruise: Cost and Feasibility
« Reply #14 on: 03/08/2017 05:09 PM »
Sure ITS could not do a fast escape from a first stage fireball. The way to go is reliability and if something fails make it mostly a benign failure that gives the time to start up the engines. Also make failure on the first 30km altitude unlikely so the vac engines can help too. Then burn most of the fuel and land as soon as ITS is light enough.

Given that for most of the flight escape is not possible, reliability is the way to go.

I really have a hard time believing that the final design will have no abort capabilities for any part of the flight. What sort of estimated start time do you have for a full flow engine like this? That would just be an unprecedented disaster to kill all 100 on board due to the lack of abort.

Offline envy887

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Re: ITS LEO Cruise: Cost and Feasibility
« Reply #15 on: 03/08/2017 05:46 PM »
Sure ITS could not do a fast escape from a first stage fireball. The way to go is reliability and if something fails make it mostly a benign failure that gives the time to start up the engines. Also make failure on the first 30km altitude unlikely so the vac engines can help too. Then burn most of the fuel and land as soon as ITS is light enough.

Given that for most of the flight escape is not possible, reliability is the way to go.

I really have a hard time believing that the final design will have no abort capabilities for any part of the flight. What sort of estimated start time do you have for a full flow engine like this? That would just be an unprecedented disaster to kill all 100 on board due to the lack of abort.

They can probably get the start time around 2 seconds, once the tanks are pressed and the engines are chilled.

But the second stage is also a potential point of failure, one they abort away from without adding an independent reentry vehicle. For a LEO taxi a separate abort capsule is feasible. For a vehicle going to Mars and back it's not.

Online guckyfan

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Re: ITS LEO Cruise: Cost and Feasibility
« Reply #16 on: 03/08/2017 07:48 PM »
They could build a separate launch vehicle and send the passengers up with that. It would probably add another launch for sending one passenger ITS to Mars. It could be a tanker with a passenger capsule on top that can do a reasonably fast abort. But with its size it would probably need propulsive assist for watering. It would cover only the earth launch part of the flight but it would not need to drag unused hardware all the way to Mars and back. It would be a major development effort. I believe by the time so many people fly to Mars it would already be a well proven system with many launches.

Offline envy887

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Re: ITS LEO Cruise: Cost and Feasibility
« Reply #17 on: 03/08/2017 08:45 PM »
I believe by the time so many people fly to Mars it would already be a well proven system with many launches.

F9+Dragon 2 can scale way up, probably to launching hundreds of people per synod. By then ITS can fly thousands of launches, enough to develop an actual reliability record. Or enough time to develop an abort-capable LEO taxi.

Offline 2552

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Re: ITS LEO Cruise: Cost and Feasibility
« Reply #18 on: 03/08/2017 09:11 PM »
I wonder if an separate crew launch vehicle with an LAS couldn't just be another ITS, but with a separable crew cabin and a ring of the 10 ton LOX/methane thrusters as an LAS. Would they be responsive enough?

Online su27k

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Re: ITS LEO Cruise: Cost and Feasibility
« Reply #19 on: 03/09/2017 01:52 PM »
I don't think reliability is the way to go for this particular application. The problem is similar to the Shuttle, there's just not enough flights in the near future for ITS to approach the reliability of an airplane (regional jet for example), and the risk that is acceptable for a LEO cruise is completely different from the risk taken by potential Mars colonists.

I still think some sort of escape mechanism (or life boat given we're talking about a cruise) is needed for this application to fly. Mass wise it doesn't seem to be a problem, Blue's capsule is what, ~5 tons? I think it should be easy to squeeze in 10 people per capsule, so for 100 people you just need 50 tons, not a show stopper for ITS. The problems seems to be volume.

Offline docmordrid

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Re: ITS LEO Cruise: Cost and Feasibility
« Reply #20 on: 03/09/2017 03:49 PM »
I wonder if an separate crew launch vehicle with an LAS couldn't just be another ITS, but with a separable crew cabin and a ring of the 10 ton LOX/methane thrusters as an LAS. Would they be responsive enough?

The Spaceship's seam line between the cargo and passenger areas looks like an obvious separation point. Add D2 style thruster quads and fairings with prop tanks and there's a possible not-yet-revealed abort mechanism.

Perhaps this same seam could mount a custom nose with a half-clamshell satellite deployment door, mounted opposite from a fixed section which has the heat shield. Instant CommX constellation bulk deployer.
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Offline CraigLieb

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Re: ITS LEO Cruise: Cost and Feasibility
« Reply #21 on: 03/09/2017 03:56 PM »
Is it much more likely they launch a ITS direct to orbit with minimal crew  where it stays for longer periods of time and then ferry-resupply passengers with Dragon 2, or other vehicles including an additional ITS. Reminds me of the 5th element. Stock the ITS with a bunch of Dragon 2 emergency return capsules on the sides. 
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Online philw1776

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Re: ITS LEO Cruise: Cost and Feasibility
« Reply #22 on: 03/09/2017 05:22 PM »
They could build a separate launch vehicle and send the passengers up with that. It would probably add another launch for sending one passenger ITS to Mars. It could be a tanker with a passenger capsule on top that can do a reasonably fast abort. But with its size it would probably need propulsive assist for watering. It would cover only the earth launch part of the flight but it would not need to drag unused hardware all the way to Mars and back. It would be a major development effort. I believe by the time so many people fly to Mars it would already be a well proven system with many launches.

The trouble with that scenario is that as you say it addresses mostly booster failure and just the first ITS lightup.  If it's the ITS that fails, the ITS first fires on the way to LEO.  Then fires for a big burn for TMI, then coast to Mars several months, Martian re-entry, fires for landing.   The booster gets used so much more often (tankers) that it should if designed properly be the most flight proven part of the system.
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Online guckyfan

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Re: ITS LEO Cruise: Cost and Feasibility
« Reply #23 on: 03/09/2017 05:48 PM »
The trouble with that scenario is that as you say it addresses mostly booster failure and just the first ITS lightup.  If it's the ITS that fails, the ITS first fires on the way to LEO.  Then fires for a big burn for TMI, then coast to Mars several months, Martian re-entry, fires for landing.   The booster gets used so much more often (tankers) that it should if designed properly be the most flight proven part of the system.

Exactly. That is why I have argued all the time that reliability is more important than a LES. Yes it is true that this suggestion will only mitigate the risk of launch to LEO. How much of the total risk is that? 20%? 30%? But still a lot of people keep arguing that it is irresponsible to launch without LES. I just laid out how this can be done, if someone demands it and not burden the whole trip wíth a lot of heavy hardware that is not useful for most of the trip.

All the rest of the trip can be assured only with reliability.

Offline DnA915

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Re: ITS LEO Cruise: Cost and Feasibility
« Reply #24 on: 03/10/2017 12:20 AM »

The Spaceship's seam line between the cargo and passenger areas looks like an obvious separation point. Add D2 style thruster quads and fairings with prop tanks and there's a possible not-yet-revealed abort mechanism.

Perhaps this same seam could mount a custom nose with a half-clamshell satellite deployment door, mounted opposite from a fixed section which has the heat shield. Instant CommX constellation bulk deployer.

Interesting find with the seam line. There does seem to be a large structural divide there. However, in other parts of the presentation, these lines are not present from the outside renders. Obviously that could just be an oversight.

Offline CuddlyRocket

Re: ITS LEO Cruise: Cost and Feasibility
« Reply #25 on: 03/10/2017 03:33 AM »
Is it much more likely they launch a ITS direct to orbit with minimal crew  where it stays for longer periods of time and then ferry-resupply passengers with Dragon 2, or other vehicles including an additional ITS.

Sounds expensive! SpaceX is aiming to make the trip to Mars affordable.

Online su27k

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Re: ITS LEO Cruise: Cost and Feasibility
« Reply #26 on: 03/10/2017 04:49 AM »
The trouble with that scenario is that as you say it addresses mostly booster failure and just the first ITS lightup.  If it's the ITS that fails, the ITS first fires on the way to LEO.  Then fires for a big burn for TMI, then coast to Mars several months, Martian re-entry, fires for landing.   The booster gets used so much more often (tankers) that it should if designed properly be the most flight proven part of the system.

Exactly. That is why I have argued all the time that reliability is more important than a LES. Yes it is true that this suggestion will only mitigate the risk of launch to LEO. How much of the total risk is that? 20%? 30%? But still a lot of people keep arguing that it is irresponsible to launch without LES. I just laid out how this can be done, if someone demands it and not burden the whole trip wíth a lot of heavy hardware that is not useful for most of the trip.

All the rest of the trip can be assured only with reliability.

But we're not talking about trip to Mars here, we're talking about a LEO cruise of 2 weeks, having cocktail parties, playing around in zero-G, etc. The acceptable risk for a leisure cruise of this kind is completely different from a Mars trip.

Offline envy887

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Re: ITS LEO Cruise: Cost and Feasibility
« Reply #27 on: 03/10/2017 02:45 PM »
Is it much more likely they launch a ITS direct to orbit with minimal crew  where it stays for longer periods of time and then ferry-resupply passengers with Dragon 2, or other vehicles including an additional ITS.

Sounds expensive! SpaceX is aiming to make the trip to Mars affordable.

By the time such trips are affordable ITS will have flown thousands of times, because the only way to get that kidk of price is extremely high flight rates.

With those kinds of flight rates, very high reliability is required and can be demonstrated.

Online guckyfan

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Re: ITS LEO Cruise: Cost and Feasibility
« Reply #28 on: 03/10/2017 05:12 PM »
But we're not talking about trip to Mars here, we're talking about a LEO cruise of 2 weeks, having cocktail parties, playing around in zero-G, etc. The acceptable risk for a leisure cruise of this kind is completely different from a Mars trip.

If the risk is regarded not acceptable cost would go up by a lot. First that variant with abort capability needs to be developed and then there would be 2 launches instead of one.

Maybe the cruise ship stays up for 3-5-10 visits before landing for major cleanup and the launcher with abort capability brings up supplies and brings down garbage along with the passengers.

Offline DnA915

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Re: ITS LEO Cruise: Cost and Feasibility
« Reply #29 on: 03/10/2017 05:24 PM »
If the risk is regarded not acceptable cost would go up by a lot. First that variant with abort capability needs to be developed and then there would be 2 launches instead of one.

Maybe the cruise ship stays up for 3-5-10 visits before landing for major cleanup and the launcher with abort capability brings up supplies and brings down garbage along with the passengers.

Regardless, if you have to make a new ship or do multiple launches, it really makes such an enterprise way less likely as it is not their primary goal, but rather a fund raising activity. My personal belief is that there is likely more safety built in or is going to be built it. All we have is that one presentation and they certainly were just scratching the surface details wise.

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