Author Topic: Plausibility/Economics of "big" LEO settlement  (Read 13717 times)

Offline gbaikie

  • Full Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 1628
  • Liked: 48
  • Likes Given: 5
Re: Plausibility/Economics of "big" LEO settlement
« Reply #20 on: 09/07/2016 01:34 AM »
Often times you'll hear people say we should concentrate on Moon/Mars/asteroids etc because we've "done" low earth orbit (LEO), meaning that ~500+ people have been there.

To me that really underestimates the commercial potential of LEO as a destination, not just for tourism (although that's what I'll concentrate on here), but for support of ongoing expansion into the solar system.  It may only be a few hundred km from the surface, but it's nearly to the other end of the biggest gravity well we have to overcome in the near future.

My question is: how do the economics change in the scenario where hundreds of thousands, or even millions of people have been to LEO or beyond, and travel to LEO is simply a more exotic method of travel around the world? (since where you land is largely a matter of departure timing).  I'm not an economist/accountant, so this is largely spitballing, I would like to hear more educated assessments of the potential.

Earthlings need cheap and an infinite supply of electrical power.
This can be provided by having space power satellites.
The problem is the cost of putting these satellites in orbit [they are large and one needs a fair amount of
infrastructure to get electrical power generated in space to the earth surface].
The market is huge and the price of electrical power delivered to earth surface has to be pretty cheap.
Maxim: at any point  where there are human settlements in space- LEO and/or beyond, one will be near the point of having SPS for Earthlings.
Because basically, settlements will have to solve the problem of "transportation costs" - which is same problem that SPS have.
Or if Elon Musk dreams come true- what will be important is not settler on Mars but Earthlings getting SPS.

But Musk is focusing on wrong thing, if he wants Mars settlements.
The correct focus is to do something to start a market for rocket fuel in space.
Of course NASA is likewise, clueless.
« Last Edit: 09/07/2016 01:38 AM by gbaikie »

Offline Pipcard

  • Full Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 433
  • Liked: 94
  • Likes Given: 92
Re: Plausibility/Economics of "big" LEO settlement
« Reply #21 on: 09/07/2016 03:12 AM »
I think the lesson here is that the world needs updated data on what people/organizations would pay for "spaceflight participation" aka tourism. Both your data (1999) and my data (2001) are woefully out of date. Those surveys were taken pre-9/11 pre-Great Recession pre-lots of stuff. Until the data are revised I think we are spitting into the wind.
I'm guessing that's why this survey had these results (highlighted for emphasis):

Quote
In December, 2014, Monmouth University asked 1,006 U.S. adults "If you won a free trip on a private company’s rocket ship into space, would you take the trip, or not?" Only 28% said yes, and only 3% were undecided. The other 69% were certain they would turn down the trip.

Interestingly, Americans had a similar attitude toward space travel in 1960s during the space race. Only 17% said they would be interested in traveling to the moon themselves, according to a Gallup Poll from 1966.

Neither poll offers much insight into why Americans feel so hesitant about space travel, whether it's fear of the trip itself or the belief that it's not worth the cost it takes to get people into space.

I'm also guessing that the October 2014 SpaceShipTwo accident was a factor. It's very unfortunate.
« Last Edit: 09/07/2016 03:31 AM by Pipcard »

Offline Lar

  • Fan boy at large
  • Global Moderator
  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 8654
  • Saw Gemini live on TV
  • A large LEGO storage facility ... in Michigan
  • Liked: 5409
  • Likes Given: 3565
Re: Plausibility/Economics of "big" LEO settlement
« Reply #22 on: 09/07/2016 04:06 AM »
I think the lesson here is that the world needs updated data on what people/organizations would pay for "spaceflight participation" aka tourism. Both your data (1999) and my data (2001) are woefully out of date. Those surveys were taken pre-9/11 pre-Great Recession pre-lots of stuff. Until the data are revised I think we are spitting into the wind.
I'm guessing that's why this survey had these results (highlighted for emphasis):

Quote
In December, 2014, Monmouth University asked 1,006 U.S. adults "If you won a free trip on a private company’s rocket ship into space, would you take the trip, or not?" Only 28% said yes, and only 3% were undecided. The other 69% were certain they would turn down the trip.

Interestingly, Americans had a similar attitude toward space travel in 1960s during the space race. Only 17% said they would be interested in traveling to the moon themselves, according to a Gallup Poll from 1966.

Neither poll offers much insight into why Americans feel so hesitant about space travel, whether it's fear of the trip itself or the belief that it's not worth the cost it takes to get people into space.

I'm also guessing that the October 2014 SpaceShipTwo accident was a factor. It's very unfortunate.
Rather than despairing at 17% I'd be happy with it. Consider how many Europeans wanted to travel to the New World at any given time.. far fewer.
"I think it would be great to be born on Earth and to die on Mars. Just hopefully not at the point of impact." -Elon Musk
"We're a little bit like the dog who caught the bus" - Musk after CRS-8 S1 successfully landed on ASDS OCISLY

Offline Impaler

  • Full Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 1283
  • South Hill, Virgina
  • Liked: 362
  • Likes Given: 0
Re: Plausibility/Economics of "big" LEO settlement
« Reply #23 on: 09/07/2016 08:51 AM »
Wait what basis do you have to say that fewer Europeans wanted to emigrate to America, it sounds like baseless speculation as I doubt you have a link to a survey.  I think we can be fairly confident that at certain times and places like the Irish potato famine the rates of emigration were far higher then that.

According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_diaspora in the year 1890 a full 40 percent of people born in Ireland were living outside it.  Now obviously Ireland is a special case but collectively a total emigration of 60 million left Europe between 1815 to 1932 per https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_diaspora, and that's out of a population that was growing from about 200 to 300 million over the same period, we don't know what percentage of every generation was emigrating but their were more that wanted to emigrate then actually could due to financial barriers.

So we have no basis to say that a trip to LEO is more popular then emigration from Europe was.

Offline high road

  • Full Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 690
  • Europe
  • Liked: 176
  • Likes Given: 43
Re: Plausibility/Economics of "big" LEO settlement
« Reply #24 on: 09/07/2016 11:04 AM »
Wait what basis do you have to say that fewer Europeans wanted to emigrate to America, it sounds like baseless speculation as I doubt you have a link to a survey.  I think we can be fairly confident that at certain times and places like the Irish potato famine the rates of emigration were far higher then that.

According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_diaspora in the year 1890 a full 40 percent of people born in Ireland were living outside it.  Now obviously Ireland is a special case but collectively a total emigration of 60 million left Europe between 1815 to 1932 per https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_diaspora, and that's out of a population that was growing from about 200 to 300 million over the same period, we don't know what percentage of every generation was emigrating but their were more that wanted to emigrate then actually could due to financial barriers.

So we have no basis to say that a trip to LEO is more popular then emigration from Europe was.

Well, once climate change causes famine and ever bigger wars on earth at a time when there happens to be a succesful, growing colony in orbit, I'm pretty sure more people will be willing to go. If you're counting the great famine, which was one symptom of a continent-wide problematic era, you need to compare it to an equally devastating reality and promising alternative.

So the only way to compare people's willingness to go to space to any other metric, would be to the number of people willing to work on transport ships, oil platforms, or if you want to go historic, the number of people who wanted to be part of the crew of the great explorers, without being driven to do so by poverty.

Offline mikelepage

Re: Plausibility/Economics of "big" LEO settlement
« Reply #25 on: 09/07/2016 01:19 PM »
I'd guess an occasional Dragon2 flight would pretty much satisfy demand for orbital SpaceTourism in the million dollar plus range.

Agreed that people who get that rich don't do so by spending money on frivolous things, but the spaceflight participants that have already gone have worked out ways to make money from their trips too (iirc Richard Garriot has stated that he made nearly 40% of the cost of his flight back from activities he did whilst up there, proving that it need not be a loss-making exercise). 

We know that one end of the curve has had 8 takers for orbital flights at ~$50 million (some paid less). A price tag of $1.8 million is a lot less than that though, and I still think your proposed occasional Dragon2 wouldn't satisfy even a fraction of the demand at that price. 

Quote
In December, 2014, Monmouth University asked 1,006 U.S. adults "If you won a free trip on a private company’s rocket ship into space, would you take the trip, or not?" Only 28% said yes, and only 3% were undecided. The other 69% were certain they would turn down the trip.

A quick google reveals that as of 2014, there are ~15 million, millionaires in the world, and let's assume that the number of people interested in an orbital space flight goes up to 28%, once cost becomes comparable to any other adventure holiday.  So perhaps the "130 million people interested in a $50k orbital flight" I used in my example above, is way too high... but surely 28% of the 15 million; 4.2 million millionaires would still be willing to spend up to 1% (~$12.5k) of their net worth on such a trip - and use that to estimate a curve (heck, I spent that much on my adventure holiday some years back).

Assuming the derivative of the slope is constant (reduction in cost proportional to increase in interest), #participants drops to ~32% for every doubling in price.

#number versus $price
4.2 million at $12.5k
1.34 million at $25k
430k at $50k
138k at $100k
44k at $200k
14.1k at $400k
4510 at $800k
1443 at $1.6 million
462 at $3.2 million
147 at $6.4 million
47 at $12.8 million
15 at $25.6 million
5 at $51.2 million

So yes, even now using relatively conservative estimates when looking at trips in the $1-2 million ticket price range, we are still looking at demand from 1000-3000 people ($2-3Billion dollar industry).  Trying to satisfy that sort of demand with a few Dragon2s/BA330s ain't going to cut it :)

« Last Edit: 09/07/2016 01:21 PM by mikelepage »

Offline RanulfC

  • Senior Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 4416
  • Heus tu Omnis! Vigilate Hoc!
  • Liked: 770
  • Likes Given: 32
Re: Plausibility/Economics of "big" LEO settlement
« Reply #26 on: 09/12/2016 06:23 PM »
mikelepage, I'm not trying to burst-your-bubble but it does needs significant deflation :)

I'd guess an occasional Dragon2 flight would pretty much satisfy demand for orbital SpaceTourism in the million dollar plus range.

Agreed that people who get that rich don't do so by spending money on frivolous things, but the spaceflight participants that have already gone have worked out ways to make money from their trips too (iirc Richard Garriot has stated that he made nearly 40% of the cost of his flight back from activities he did whilst up there, proving that it need not be a loss-making exercise).

I seem to recall that Garriot was about the ONLY participant who recouped anything and more specifically that is NOT going to be 'draw' factor. Motivation-wise it's NEVER a "loss-making" exercise in that the person is either working, (and getting paid) or 'experiencing' something they felt the could afford to spend the money to get. Significantly, the former tend to far outnumber the latter as a motivation, but also significantly the latter end up paying for the former.

Quote
We know that one end of the curve has had 8 takers for orbital flights at ~$50 million (some paid less). A price tag of $1.8 million is a lot less than that though, and I still think your proposed occasional Dragon2 wouldn't satisfy even a fraction of the demand at that price.

The problem is the "assumptions" of the 'other' end of that curve are tenuous at best. If the other end, even at $1.8 million a pop is only 16 that's spread between three Dragon-2s a year. So much depends on the assumptions from which the suppositions are based that, (as we already see) "conservative" assessments vary greatly. And most importantly your "price-tag" is only for the transportation to and from a supposed destination in LEO and that's only going to be a small part of the overall "price-tag" at any point in time.

Quote
Quote
In December, 2014, Monmouth University asked 1,006 U.S. adults "If you won a free trip on a private company’s rocket ship into space, would you take the trip, or not?" Only 28% said yes, and only 3% were undecided. The other 69% were certain they would turn down the trip.

A quick google reveals that as of 2014, there are ~15 million, millionaires in the world, and let's assume that the number of people interested in an orbital space flight goes up to 28%, once cost becomes comparable to any other adventure holiday.  So perhaps the "130 million people interested in a $50k orbital flight" I used in my example above, is way too high... but surely 28% of the 15 million; 4.2 million millionaires would still be willing to spend up to 1% (~$12.5k) of their net worth on such a trip - and use that to estimate a curve (heck, I spent that much on my adventure holiday some years back).

If you want to get anywhere CLOSE to a 'conservative' number why would you base it on an unsupported INCREASE of almost double the base number? 20% would be significantly pushing credibility if only because the same criteria would apply for someone who can 'afford' the price as someone who gets it for free. In other words assume that of the number you listed (and I have issues with those, see below) per ticket price that no MORE than 15% (being conservative) will actually SAY they would partake at the given price.

Having had a similar conversation about 15+ years ago with someone who actually worked in the high-end tourism industry let me pass on, (paraphrasing) what he told me;

Of those that CAN afford what is offered, about 15% (his was less than 10%) will SAY they would do something.

Of those about 15% will actually be able to do so for various reasons

Of those about 15% WILL actually put money toward (deposits) doing so.

Of those about 15% will actually pay and follow through.

Tourism, specifically non-niche, open tourism such as cruises, vacations, and resorts depend on large numbers of through-put of customers per day-cycle to allow affordable prices. That trickles down to everything from food to travel prices as well. Getting there is only one aspect of the total cost and even assuming your 'ticket' price of $1.8 million per passenger is accurate, (I don't think it is) then you have to take into account all the additional costs that come along with "just" getting to the destination and back. Something to remember in the 'scenario' you posit is that unlike current models that "ticket-price" will be one-way and the passenger will have to pay a similar amount for a 'return' flight so your flight is almost $4 million as a basic start.

Further you using your "holiday adventure" as an example but I very much doubt that the TRAVEL cost you a full $12.5K! "Package" and ancillary costs are going to ramp up the basic $4 million very quickly. Two weeks of supplies/support and you'll be pushing $10+ million per person easily.

You need to keep in mind that unlike any form of Earth travel, space travel does not have an 'inherent' demand at all because there is no where to go. Having to build and support your 'destination' greatly increases the basic costs immensely.

Quote
Assuming the derivative of the slope is constant (reduction in cost proportional to increase in interest), #participants drops to ~32% for every doubling in price.
>snip<
So yes, even now using relatively conservative estimates when looking at trips in the $1-2 million ticket price range, we are still looking at demand from 1000-3000 people ($2-3Billion dollar industry).  Trying to satisfy that sort of demand with a few Dragon2s/BA330s ain't going to cut it :)

That's not how it works at all as there are non-obvious "breaks" along the money curve even for high-end tourism on Earth so the number isn't linear or constant. And your end-product "demand" is far to high as you have no time element added. Your current baseline is 8 over about a 10 year period which is a 'demand' of less than one per year. "Doubling" demand would be ONE (1) per year, doubling that TWO (2) per year and so on. :)

Demand is based on just that, demand and frankly there isn't a lot about "visiting" orbit to generate demand. Travel price is not actually going to be a significant factor in generating demand other than how it effects construction, maintenance, and support costs. It's a factor but since you need to build and support your 'destination' before you can even begin to generate any type of 'demand' in the first place your basic "demand" market is going to be very small for a long time. As noted you have to have the "real-estate" in place before you can offer it at a price that people can make plans from.

And what do people DO in space? People tend to get in the way and cost more to support than automated facilities for manufacturing and research. People are needed only rarely if at all.

People need 'service' support and that is where the majority of people are involved in Earth tourism, but due to the expense and support needed you will find quite rapidly that the fewer 'support' people per tourist the better. Still you'll need at least two people for every tourist, (one direct support such as waiter/steward/guide, and one in-direct support such as maintenance/service person) which with proper automation you can probably get away with something like two to ten but that's probably pushing it. More like three to five assuming the direct support person can keep a similar shift to the tourists themselves which is possible but unlikely. So four for five or simply one-for-one would seem likely, though to handle shift changes, crew rotations and such you really end up getting back to two-for-one rapidly.
And those people have to be supported and paid by the money paid by the tourists, along with all the support, maintenance and construction, (because you'll be building and replacing habitats, modules, and equipment steadily) that goes along with them.

So even assuming that a "ticket" costs $1.8 million dollars to LEO your other costs will push the total price towards $10 million easily for even a short stay. And don't forget the apply the whole "15%" formula above to your price point calculations.
From The Amazing Catstronaut on the Black Arrow LV:
British physics, old chap. It's undignified to belch flames and effluvia all over the pad, what. A true gentlemen's orbital conveyance lifts itself into the air unostentatiously, with the minimum of spectacle and a modicum of grace. Not like our American cousins' launch vehicles, eh?

Offline mikelepage

Re: Plausibility/Economics of "big" LEO settlement
« Reply #27 on: 09/13/2016 01:03 PM »
Thanks for your considered reply Randy, but you may have missed my earlier posts in the thread (and I didn't repeat some of my assumptions in the post you replied to).

I just lost my long reply, (so summarising quickly), but I did mention in my earlier posts that I was talking 2050 time frame (I'll be 67 then so I'll hope to have been part of this group :) ).  I was using 2015 numbers for tourism just because that's what we have.

ULA has their cis-lunar 1000 plan for 2045, so I don't think my original post's projection of 22k per year in 2050, or even my "more conservative" estimate of 1000-3000 people (in the post you replied to) is especially radical in that light.  Obviously, assuming some periods of exponential growth in flight rates between now and then, but not much more so than ULA.

"Big LEO" to me is the logical conclusion of a course of action where the "moon-shot" goal for this century isn't a case of where, but of whom.  Not how far, but how many.

LEO is half-way to Mars, deltaV wise.  It has the best view, the best radiation protection (ELEO particularly), is the easiest to abort from, and since most human missions this century will be largely Earth-supported anyway, the easiest to resupply.  It's the logical "location" for a beach head, and I would argue that any future where there are tens or hundreds of people living/working on Mars, has thousands or tens of thousands of people living/working in LEO.

As for what to do there, maybe I'm immature, but the idea of microgravity and partial gravity sport excite me quite a lot, and that's just one possibility.
« Last Edit: 09/13/2016 01:05 PM by mikelepage »

Re: Plausibility/Economics of "big" LEO settlement
« Reply #28 on: 09/14/2016 07:47 PM »
Ok ok so we've beat up the original poster pretty bad during the course of this thread.  The terrestrial tourist model is not likely to bootstrap development of large space stations or space settlements any time soon, barring major technological advancements.

So what will kickstart large space stations and, subsequently, space settlement? My thoughts:

1. Government. Investors build a rotating 1/3g "Mars practice" space station and convince/persuade Congress to give NASA a bunch of money to pay the investors to practice living in 1/3g before spending hundreds of billions and several years (and probably the lives of some brave astronauts) to do it on Mars.

2. Philanthropy. Convince/persuade some bazillionaire to build you your station without the need for turning a profit.  Maybe it can be a seed bank or genetic library outside of the biosphere in case of apocalypse.

I'm writing tongue in cheek but the bottom line is until cost to orbit is drastically, drastically cheaper developing space will be really really hard. 

Does anyone know anything about selling real estate options - perhaps a plucky space station developer could fund the development of a station by pre-selling condos in orbit?! I know that's nuts but I want this just as bad as the original poster. Willing to entertain all ideas.


Offline KristianAndresen

  • Member
  • Posts: 33
  • Liked: 10
  • Likes Given: 12
Re: Plausibility/Economics of "big" LEO settlement
« Reply #29 on: 09/14/2016 08:56 PM »
Here are some order of magnitude budget calculations for the city sized real estate. My big picture reasoning is that the best financial prospect is achieved by maximising the size, because that's where you get the greatest economies of scale. I'll look at a volume here of 50 cubic km, a bit smaller than in my last post.

The concept is to sell to the super rich, which means you are selling to 200000 residents each with the ability to put 50 million dollars into real estate, for a total budget on the order of 10 trillion dollars. It may seem optimistic to count them all as buyers, but then again, on earth the penguins can't fly, the lakes aren't spherical, and the willows just sort of droop in a depressing manner, so perhaps you'd have to be a fool to not invest.

Filling the city with nitrogen

Price of nitrogen: 10 cents per kg. And 1 kg becomes about 1 cubic meter. That gets you to 5 billion dollars to fill the volume. The price for oxygen is similar.

What about the tanks, if we assume we won't be reusing them? A 200 L nitrogen tank costs 2000 dollars, so that's 20 dollars per kg nitrogen. That's 1 trillion dollars to fill the volume, which is a bit steep. Each tank needs to be reused about 200 times to get the tank price per shipment down to 5 billion dollars, the same as the tank content.

And the number of shipments? Assuming 5 tonnes per launch, that's 10 million launches, which for a 20 year construction schedule gives you a launch every minute. That may sound insane, but in fact it just so happens to be the design capacity of Keith Lofstroms launch loop, the limitation being imposed by the heating. So the tool matches the application here.

Of course, the tank also needs solar cells, a small amount of propulsion assuming the launch loop can place it close to the right orbit, navigation computer, and wings for automated flyback and landing (no heat shielding if the first part of the city you build is a linear accelerator to drop things from orbit at low speeds). So it'll be more expensive than 5 billion dollars for those, but still within budget if economies of scale keep us not too far from the material costs of components.

The turn around time for one tank becomes about a month.

Price of electricity: About 10 cents per kWh, which is 3.6 million Joules. Quite cheap!
Kinetic energy of launched gas: The launch speed is 8 km/s, so it's 32 million Joules per kg. That's about 1 dollar per kg launched, or a total cost of 50 billion dollars.

5 tonnes every minute is an energy consumption of about 2 GW, which is a typical nuclear powerplant output.

The energy cost is a price point of 5000 dollars per launch. So it is reasonable to allocate a similar budget for shipping the landed tanks to the launch loop. And notably, it is 1000 dollars for shipping one container when you look up shipping costs.

Infrastructure

Before the villas are built, there is a need for infrastructure. Cables under tension providing structural integrity, water supply and waste drainage, electrical supply, climate control, fiber optic cabling, and a moving ski lift rope for transportation (in other words, a lattice of multi purpose pipes as envisaged by Japanese architect Tsutomu Nihei for a variable gravity city). I'll assume the pricing for this is similar to filling the available space with large suspension bridges. The numbers for the Oeresund bridge are: 8000 m length, 50 m width, 200 m height, 4 billion dollar cost. That's 50 dollars per cubic meter, or 2.5 trillion dollars in total. That's a significant chunk of the budget.

Mass budget for villas

Assuming a similar mass budget as for the air, you get for 200000 villas a budget of 250 tonnes per villa, which is a normal weight for a large house, although under lower gravity you may be able to build lighter.

Offline mikelepage

Re: Plausibility/Economics of "big" LEO settlement
« Reply #30 on: 09/15/2016 03:05 AM »
Hi KristianAndresen, thanks for your input.  Some big numbers there ;)

To expand on the "plausibility" part of this thread, I'd ask you to concentrate on how it is you imagine we get from where we are now, to what you imagine?

Part of my answer to that is to remember that cities don't just appear fully formed, like in Civilisation or whatever game, they build up organically around resource bases, or around elements of "geography" that concentrate the flow of resources.

LEO is not a resource base, but it is a place where we can expect resources to concentrate, once resources start flowing.  I think that will take a century or more.

In the meanwhile, in order to get to those resources, we need a "staging" area where space craft designed to do that are finalised. Aside from tourism, and whatever industries benefit from working in microgravity, that's what the people in LEO will be doing: getting craft ready to go to Mars/Asteroids.  Launches to the Moon will probably go direct, and although EML1/EML2 will be important routes, I tend to think the radiation protection of LEO will concentrate "settlement" there.

Based on current and near-future technology, rockets, the maximum payloads being launched to LEO are in the order of 100 to maybe 200 tons (depends on what MCT looks like).  So the trick is figuring out what sort of facilities can be launched within that payload to maximise value.

Ok ok so we've beat up the original poster pretty bad during the course of this thread. 

Meh, this is the internet ;) and people have actually been quite nice I thought.

Quote
I'm writing tongue in cheek but the bottom line is until cost to orbit is drastically, drastically cheaper developing space will be really really hard. 

Agreed in principle, but a lot depends on where the tipping point is.  If you consider any other object that you're willing to spend money on, a 50% discount is a "drastic" price drop.  If something falls to 1/10th of it's value, that's a paradigm shift that changes world markets.  Yet in our cost to orbit calculations, we keep assuming the ticket price to orbit needs to fall to 1/50th or greater (under $1 million) before we think the shift will happen.  Why is that?  It's a flawed assumption.

RanulfC correctly pointed out that I have no evidence that the price curve scales linearly (it could be that the cost needs to get well under $100k ticket price before we get mass buy-in), but I would point out that we have no evidence it doesn't, either.

Quote
Does anyone know anything about selling real estate options - perhaps a plucky space station developer could fund the development of a station by pre-selling condos in orbit?! I know that's nuts but I want this just as bad as the original poster. Willing to entertain all ideas.


I don't think it is nuts.  Neither for that matter does Robert Bigelow - he made his money in real estate, after all, so I wouldn't be the slightest bit surprised if private ownership of BA330's is on the cards.  Add to that he's just one businessman (no philanthropy required), who is putting his money where his mouth is: welcome to the orbital party Blue Origin!  If SpaceX and others like them can just work out their current problems and get the cost down to 1/5th, 1/10th, "big" private LEO operations become a logistics problem, not a technology problem.  And that is worth getting excited about.

Offline high road

  • Full Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 690
  • Europe
  • Liked: 176
  • Likes Given: 43
Re: Plausibility/Economics of "big" LEO settlement
« Reply #31 on: 09/15/2016 10:42 AM »
It is important to remember that the cost of access to space is only one of the problems holding back private investment in space. The other main problem is access to space itself: having to wait for years between ordering a launch and the actual launch means nobody is going to launch anything that might still need some tinkering before working good enough to be profitable. Waiting around for years costs a lot of money.

Commercial launchers are already aware of this, so assuming they address this issue,  the next issue is regulation. Miles of red tape that has to be waded through before you can get your product launched. Assuming ITAR gets hollowed out by lawyers in touch  with reality, ISS eventually gets sold to a private company, or a private company builds a new one, this hurdle will eventually be overcome,  but considerably later than cheaper access to space.

The next problem is vision: most of the industries that would benefit from new space applications are unlikely to invest until somebody has done it before.

Technical hurdles only come fifth in line.

Offline mikelepage

Re: Plausibility/Economics of "big" LEO settlement
« Reply #32 on: 09/18/2016 08:06 AM »
Fair enough, but I think you might be overblowing the legal concerns somewhat.  I've always been impressed at the ability of lawyers to get things changed when a client with money and vision decides things need to change.

The money will come when people with the money decide there's more money to be made in LEO.  That leaves the need for a vision, validated by attention to detail, which results in money being made in LEO.


Online RDoc

  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 369
  • Liked: 42
  • Likes Given: 2
Re: Plausibility/Economics of "big" LEO settlement
« Reply #33 on: 09/18/2016 09:47 PM »
While I like the LEO habitat notion, IMHO the biggest issue is what's the economic plan. Sure, tourism is a possibility, but that doesn't populate a habitat. If it's going to be anything more than a hotel or possibly cruise ship, there has to be some kind of economic basis.

Unfortunately, thus far, there's been nothing that it makes sense to produce in space, manufactured goods or services, that require human presence or even provide a plausibility argument.

Offline scienceguy

  • Regular
  • Full Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 735
  • Lethbridge, Alberta
  • Liked: 62
  • Likes Given: 106
Re: Plausibility/Economics of "big" LEO settlement
« Reply #34 on: 09/18/2016 10:00 PM »
While I like the LEO habitat notion, IMHO the biggest issue is what's the economic plan. Sure, tourism is a possibility, but that doesn't populate a habitat. If it's going to be anything more than a hotel or possibly cruise ship, there has to be some kind of economic basis.

Unfortunately, thus far, there's been nothing that it makes sense to produce in space, manufactured goods or services, that require human presence or even provide a plausibility argument.


What about a base for processing precious metals mined from near-earth asteroids?
e^(pi)i = -1

Offline gbaikie

  • Full Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 1628
  • Liked: 48
  • Likes Given: 5
Re: Plausibility/Economics of "big" LEO settlement
« Reply #35 on: 09/18/2016 11:26 PM »
Ok ok so we've beat up the original poster pretty bad during the course of this thread.  The terrestrial tourist model is not likely to bootstrap development of large space stations or space settlements any time soon, barring major technological advancements.

So what will kickstart large space stations and, subsequently, space settlement? My thoughts:

1. Government. Investors build a rotating 1/3g "Mars practice" space station and convince/persuade Congress to give NASA a bunch of money to pay the investors to practice living in 1/3g before spending hundreds of billions and several years (and probably the lives of some brave astronauts) to do it on Mars.

2. Philanthropy. Convince/persuade some bazillionaire to build you your station without the need for turning a profit.  Maybe it can be a seed bank or genetic library outside of the biosphere in case of apocalypse.

I'm writing tongue in cheek but the bottom line is until cost to orbit is drastically, drastically cheaper developing space will be really really hard. 

Does anyone know anything about selling real estate options - perhaps a plucky space station developer could fund the development of a station by pre-selling condos in orbit?! I know that's nuts but I want this just as bad as the original poster. Willing to entertain all ideas.

The solution has to involve new markets in space. Or the satellite market is not enough.
All that is needed is commercially minable water in space.
The best location to start mining water in space, could be and probably is, the Moon.
What is needed is exploration of the Moon to determine if the moon could be mined.
The quantities needed to mine are about 1000 tons of water per year.
And one can start with first year mining 50 tons of water, if one is roughly doubling production
every year until one is around 1000 tons per year.
As far as comparing the moon to elsewhere, the least amount that one needs to mined in the beginning- first
10 years, is the measuring stick. Or if need to mine 10,000 tons per years to be viable, than that is less viable than 1000 tons per year. Or if all you need was to mine 100 tons per year to get into the black [be profitable] then that is more viable than the Moon.
Or one might be able to just mine 100 tons per year on the Moon to be viable- it depends on how low the cost are to mine the the water.
Or were launch cost to lower OR the Moon is actually explored to determine where to mine [or such exploration basically is factor in lower one costs] the moon might only need 100 tons per year get a return on the investment.
NASA of course is not obviously governed by return on investment [it actually is, but politicians are quite capable of funding something which is uneconomical to do- because they are fools] so NASA could play lunar miner, and try to mine water on the Moon. As could any space agency.
But I think this would be a bad thing to waste public money and more importantly public time, doing.
Or NASA mining water on the Moon- is unrelated to starting a market is space.
NASA could start a market in space, by developing an operational depot in LEO. And that does lower costs of any mining water in space. It also would lower the cost of Mars exploration.

NASA should build and operate a depot, and thereby start a market for rocket fuel in space.
NASA should use that depot to explore the Moon. Then NASA can continue using depots to explore Mars.
IF the Moon doesn't have minable water [the results of lunar exploration have negative results] another
way to begin markets in space [other then the rocket fuel market which NASA helped begin] is to explore Mars
to determine if and where there could be settlements on Mars.
If there was a lake on Mars [or underground lake] this would do a lot to make Mars viable in terms of human settlement. They are of course other things that need to be explored on Mars which are related to whether
Mars could viable- another example is finding somewhat large caves on Mars.
NASA should explore the moon first and get this done quickly [from start to finish- less than a decade]. Mars exploration can't be done quickly and one need allow at least 2 decades for Mars exploration.
Another aspect is that if one has commercial lunar water mining- or the Chinese mine the lunar water and if sell rocket fuel at competitive prices [and they could lose money doing it [I care not or I think it doesn't matter] -then this lunar water mining will make future Mars settlement more viable.

« Last Edit: 09/18/2016 11:39 PM by gbaikie »

Offline mikelepage

Re: Plausibility/Economics of "big" LEO settlement
« Reply #36 on: 09/19/2016 07:28 AM »
So what will kickstart large space stations and, subsequently, space settlement? My thoughts:

1. Government. Investors build a rotating 1/3g "Mars practice" space station and convince/persuade Congress to give NASA a bunch of money to pay the investors to practice living in 1/3g before spending hundreds of billions and several years (and probably the lives of some brave astronauts) to do it on Mars.

2. Philanthropy. Convince/persuade some bazillionaire to build you your station without the need for turning a profit.  Maybe it can be a seed bank or genetic library outside of the biosphere in case of apocalypse.
os in orbit?! I know that's nuts but I want this just as bad as the original poster. Willing to entertain all ideas.

I think 1. is close to the sweet spot. 2. is one possible application among many.

The US government and private industry combined is spending an awful lot of money on the prospect of Mars settlement without any guarantee that humans can survive at Mars gravity for extended periods of time.  There's a pretty good medical argument to be made that after some threshold amount of time in microgravity (>2 years), a return to 1xg will be technically survivable, but in practical terms will require rehabilitation measures equivalent to spinal injuries.  Essentially it is a one way trip.

Maybe, Mars gravity (0.38xg) is sufficient to stave off that kind of deterioration.  It would be nice to know that in a large dataset of people without having to send that entire dataset to Mars.  My argument has always been that spin gravity research should take place in parallel to Mars exploration.

Hence my working on DESGA (DEployable Spin Gravity Array) which is how to flat-pack a torus into a tall, narrow rocket stage, in a way that can be deployed and retracted at will:

Presenting... the DEployable Spin Gravity Array.  :)  Folded form is tall and narrow, deployed form is a wide torus.

Still a work in progress (doesn't deploy and fold up cleanly yet), but since I showed the models above, I thought you guys might be interested to see the 3D print.



A Mars gravity "practice" station built to this configuration of somewhat reasonable dimensions (12x12m length modules, resulting 22m radius x 4rpm = ~0.38g, 2.2m module height) can be folded into a 12m wide fairing.  Not sure yet if that would fit onto the MCT/SLS as planned.  But mass wise it ought to be possible within the capabilities of those vehicles.

Bear in mind that the torus configuration as a concept is not only useful for spin gravity research.  It can also be used to test "double torus" radiation shielding techniques which can potentially deflect enough ionising radiation to mitigate cancer concerns.
http://engineering.dartmouth.edu/~d76205x/research/Shielding/docs/ToMaSS.pdf
Again, would be nice to test those techniques in LEO before going interplanetary.

Lastly, this human-sized configuration is not the initial configuration I have in mind.  The reason for the many small chambers in the model has to do with a technique I have in mind to reduce space debris without orbital rendezvous.  My initial plan is a single satellite, launchable on a single F9, which I believe should be profitable through charging for the maintenance of "clean altitudes" which are regularly cleared of space debris.

The idea would be that every toroidal space station would also become a space debris collector/deorbiter, which is absolutely necessary if we want these space stations to to occupy the 800-1000km altitude range where space debris is currently most dense, and where we want to put LEO space stations if we don't want to have to reboost them every few months.   

Offline high road

  • Full Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 690
  • Europe
  • Liked: 176
  • Likes Given: 43
Re: Plausibility/Economics of "big" LEO settlement
« Reply #37 on: 09/19/2016 12:59 PM »
Unfortunately, thus far, there's been nothing that it makes sense to produce in space, manufactured goods or services, that require human presence or even provide a plausibility argument.

Is there any concept for production in space that is at a high enough TRL to determine how much maintenance it requires? That's the only base to determine what level of production would be required for human presence to be cost effective. A human presence that doesn't have to be sustained at first. You could just get a maintenance crew up there only once a year, until production levels and downtime require more work.

Last time I checked, high-grade materials/supersized chrystal structures production methods remain at low TRL, amongs other things because of the enormous amount of red tape and organisation that makes it extremely difficult for research programmes to show results in an acceptable, or even predictable amount of time.

What about a base for processing precious metals mined from near-earth asteroids?

As in 'purifying ore' of 'earthbound' precious metals? You would need quite a lot of ore coming in to make in-space processing cheaper than just getting all of the ore down to earth. If the concentration of precious metals is low, you would try to purify at the source to avoid hauling waste dirt across the solar system. However, the idea is that asteroids would have purer ore seams.

But if you had the 'high purity materials' industries up and running at the time when the first batch of NEO ore comes in (the two best known companies are a few years behind on starting to scout for interesting ones, so there's still quite enough time), there would be an actual in-space demand for these materials. That would make it much more interesting to get all the steps of the production chain in orbit.

All that is needed is commercially minable water in space.
The quantities needed to mine are about 1000 tons of water per year.

Same questions as always: How does commercially minable water in space result in a LEO settlement? Do you mean the gas station requires a human crew for maintenance? And where does the demand for thousand tons of water per year come from? Supplying Mars? So that's tens of thousands of people living on Mars (doing what to make money?), to require a small maintenance workforce.

In order for 1000 tons of water to be commercially mineable in space, there needs to be a demand for 1000 tons of water in space. Once there is a demand for 1000 tons of water in space, whether that water comes from space or from Earth, (or hydrogen from earth and carbon/oxygen from elsewhere, as in Mars Direct), will make less of a difference than getting people to spend a ridiculous amount of money on things that require 1000 tons of fuel per year to be schlepped across the solar system.

Offline ThereIWas3

  • Full Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 613
  • Liked: 262
  • Likes Given: 212
Re: Plausibility/Economics of "big" LEO settlement
« Reply #38 on: 09/19/2016 03:04 PM »
These hypothetical very rich people wanting to have a vacation spot in LEO are not going to expect to microwave their own meals and maintain their own toilet.  There has to be a support staff.  Cruise Ships operate with between 1 and 2 crew for every 3 passengers.  And the passengers are not going to be travelling alone.

But space-going support staff are going to have be be much more highly trained and paid than the people working on ships.
"If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea" - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Online RDoc

  • Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 369
  • Liked: 42
  • Likes Given: 2
Re: Plausibility/Economics of "big" LEO settlement
« Reply #39 on: 09/19/2016 05:32 PM »
These hypothetical very rich people wanting to have a vacation spot in LEO are not going to expect to microwave their own meals and maintain their own toilet.  There has to be a support staff.  Cruise Ships operate with between 1 and 2 crew for every 3 passengers.  And the passengers are not going to be travelling alone.

But space-going support staff are going to have be be much more highly trained and paid than the people working on ships.
Sure, but that means there might be one or two "space liners" in orbit with what, 100 crew and 100 passengers? How many space tourists are going to be up at one time?

As for metals, or anything else mined in space. What materials could possibly justify the cost of retrieving them? I'm also very doubtful that there would be any need or use for human space miners or refiners, plus the cost to maintain them to do the work would be gigantic.

Tags: