Author Topic: Increasing the size of the launch market  (Read 44175 times)

Offline Blackjax

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Increasing the size of the launch market
« on: 02/13/2012 04:31 PM »
For myself and I am sure many of you, there is the belief that in order to open up space the industry needs to shift from an expensive low launch rate model to a low cost high volume model.  Historically the problem has been twofold, first is that the launchers themselves were not optimized for high volume and low cost.  Second is the issue of where you'd come up with the high volume of payloads since historical patterns seem to show that the market is limited and relatively inelastic.

Assuming they get their production and launch tempo dialled in, SpaceX might well offer a route to solving the launcher problem.  Beyond SpaceX it is possible that the increased utilization of the Atlas V (from ISS Commercial Crew) might enable the prices to drop enough that it can compete in the traditional satellite launch market and further increase its flight rate and contribute to a positive feedback loop on prices.  The baseline business provided by ISS cargo for Antares might have a similar effect.  In the longer term Stratolaunch might also be able to bring down costs and boost flight rates. 

So the question becomes, what would be getting launched?  Usually the speculation focuses around the potential for a large market for human space flight (tourists, sovereign clients, researchers).  Not only would the people be payloads but the construction and resupply of the destinations (most likely Bigelow habitats) would require a significant number of launches as well.  However nobody really knows how large this market would actually be at the launch costs we are likely to see in the next 10-15 years, it could be quite modest.  Other schemes revolving around major government exploration programs using EELVs or space solar power projects seem pretty unlikely for both political and funding reasons.

What I wonder is whether there is a way for launch companies (or others) to significantly grow the payload market without requiring any grand schemes or the raising of massive amounts of money by a single entity?  A grass roots bottom up growth focused on small low cost payloads. 

Presently small payloads are launched as hosted or piggyback payloads along with flights of a primary payload, but are treated as so inconsequential that they aren't even really tracked in studies.  What if it were possible to cater to this market and try to aggressively grow it?  Perhaps this market could grow to the point where dedicated launches might cater to large numbers of small payloads rather than requiring a main payload to ride along with.  Obviously this would require some development work for technologies to facilitate this because the existing model for launches has never emphasized doing it, but are designs/technologies which could enable it?

So how to foster the low end of the market?  Here are some ideas:

The development of standards & common interfaces for small payloads.  Presently this seems to be happening for the very smallest payloads in the form of cubesats, but I have to wonder if it might also be worthwhile to target the next few steps up from a cubesat class as well Nanosatellites -> Microsatellites -> Minisatellites. Basically looking for ways of making the whole range of smallsats cheaper, easier to develop, and easier to integrate by developing cubesat style standards.

Developing a large common bus designed to provide common services like power, stationkeeping, and communications to a very large number of small payloads.  This would cater to payloads that are fairly insensitive to a specific orbit and really just need to be somewhere in microgravity for extended periods.

Donating small amounts of payload capacity to companies & universities who presently don't have space oriented research programs in return for them developing some.  Try to draw in people who presently aren't part of the market.

Founding an online crowd based learning community centered around how to develop/fly small payloads.  There are tons of different models for getting information transferred from experts or even just people who have figured out how to do a specific thing to people who want to get started learning how to do something.  Some examples: Makezine, Instructables, Idea Connection, Wonderhowto, Tutorvista, Scitable, Connexions, Howdini, Khan Academy, Wikiversity, YouTube EDU   This strategy might be particularly useful if the above idea of standards for payloads happened first because it would allow common strategies for creating payloads to be developed and shared.  Basically, provide an easy onramp for new entrants to the market.

With the launch of a large vehicle (FH for example) that is delivering many small satellites which do require positioning in specific orbits, you could include a tether system that would handle getting them to their respective orbits.  You might even be able to get it subsidized by the government if, after it has finished positioning the payloads, it becomes dedicated to orbital debris removal.

I don't know how far this market could grow or whether it could ever do anything more than generate a modest supplement to the rest of the launch market, but the nature of disruptive innovation is that you try a lot of different things and a few pay off.  Seems to me that attacking the payload market from this direction might be worth trying.  Anyone have any ideas on the subject?

Offline go4mars

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Re: Increasing the size of the launch market
« Reply #1 on: 02/13/2012 04:51 PM »
Anyone have any ideas on the subject?
http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=23010.0

Zubrin's transorbital railroad idea might tie in nicely.
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Online Robotbeat

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Re: Increasing the size of the launch market
« Reply #2 on: 02/13/2012 04:55 PM »
SpaceX isn't the only one.

Blue Origin are developing a hydrolox, reusable VTVL TSTO launch vehicle.
Skylon (really expensive development, might work though).
Lockheed Martin (with Air Force funding) with their flyback booster.
XCor with their Lynx Mk III which will be capable of launching nanosats (expendable upper stage(s)). They also have a fully reusable orbital HTHL TSTO concept being worked on, probably hydrolox.

Plus the smaller folk like Armadillo Aerospace and Masten Space Systems. They are obviously small and don't now have the resources for a fully reusable TSTO vehicle. But they are doing exactly the sort of work that needs to be done for rapidly reusable VTVL rockets. It has to be done routinely (i.e. every day) in order to get the price down. If we find or develop some magical non-chemical approach to get a much higher performance rocket, it won't matter one lick if we don't learn how to operate rockets in general routinely and rapidly first.

Some people claim that supply creates its own demand. I don't think that's always true, but I hope it is for launch vehicles.
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Offline Blackjax

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Re: Increasing the size of the launch market
« Reply #3 on: 02/13/2012 05:33 PM »
As an addendum to my original post.  The ideas I put forward, and hopefully additional ones supplied by others on this forum, still require money in order to happen.  So where does the funding come from?  Well the benefit of a grassroots effort targeted at the extreme low end is that it does not require a single group to sell a single vision in order to achieve a huge do or die funding level.  It is about generating a huge number of small efforts requiring small amounts of funding but overall generating an aggregate demand for goods and services.  So where do lots of small amounts of funding come from?  Well, there are the traditional sources like SBIRs, grants, and research budgets from schools & companies, but I doubt that would be enough.  Fortunately there are a host of new ways to get funding for small projects:

https://www.crowdtilt.com/
https://www.profounder.com/
http://www.prosper.com/
http://www.kickstarter.com/
http://rockethub.com/
http://cofundos.org/
http://www.indiegogo.com/
http://peerbackers.com/
http://fundry.com/project
http://beex.org/

I'd be willing to bet that these platforms combined with publicity from major space news sites, blogs, and advocacy organizations such as NSS, The Planetary Society, and the SFF would enable many projects to obtain funding.  One of the most crucial uses of this wouldn't necessarily be the funding of projects that would fly, but rather the funding of tools, components, and platforms that low cost missions could be built with (again, assuming the development of Cubesat type standards for hardware).  This kind of enabling hardware development through Crowd Funding is already happening in areas that don't necessarily apply to space.  A few examples:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/147564168/bilibot-an-affordable-robotics-platform?ref=category
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/93832939/makerslide-open-source-linear-bearing-system?ref=category
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/701662757/makerbeam-an-open-source-building-kit?ref=category
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/upgradeindustries/boardx-the-open-source-miniature-motherboard-redem?ref=category
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/988159748/extracore-arduino-compatible?ref=category
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/251588730/kicksat-your-personal-spacecraft-in-space?ref=category
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/csshop/arduino-powered-stepper-motor-board?ref=category

In addition to directly funding a specific team to develop something, an alternate route might be to go with a crowd funded prize.  Carmack demonstrated this in an Ad Hoc sort of way for a full system:

http://www.armadilloaerospace.com/n.x/Armadillo/Home/News?news_id=376

But there is nothing to say that it couldn't be used to foster the development of more targeted open hardware solutions that might be used by the community in creating low cost payloads.

As an aside, I cited orbital payloads but the truth is that this sort of grassroots development would also benefit the suborbital market as well.  I see the suborbital market as a potential 'gateway drug' leading to the growth of the low cost orbital market.




« Last Edit: 02/13/2012 05:53 PM by Blackjax »

Offline Moe Grills

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Re: Increasing the size of the launch market
« Reply #4 on: 02/13/2012 05:49 PM »
Anyone have any ideas on the subject?
http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=23010.0

Zubrin's transorbital railroad idea might tie in nicely.

Has Zubrin sent anything into space in the last 30 years?

Offline go4mars

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Re: Increasing the size of the launch market
« Reply #5 on: 02/13/2012 05:51 PM »
Has Zubrin sent anything into space in the last 30 years?
Relevance?
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Offline Blackjax

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Re: Increasing the size of the launch market
« Reply #6 on: 02/13/2012 05:55 PM »
Has Zubrin sent anything into space in the last 30 years?
Relevance?

I do think that Zubrins plans are offtopic for this thread since the whole thesis here is about how we grow the launch market without relying on large top down projects.

Offline DarkenedOne

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Re: Increasing the size of the launch market
« Reply #7 on: 02/13/2012 05:55 PM »
Some people claim that supply creates its own demand. I don't think that's always true, but I hope it is for launch vehicles.

No supply does not create demand, but supply enables consumption.  There are many applications for spaceflight that remain currently unfeasible due to the costs of launch vehicles and other associated expenses. 

Offline Blackjax

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Re: Increasing the size of the launch market
« Reply #8 on: 02/13/2012 06:08 PM »
There are many applications for spaceflight that remain currently unfeasible due to the costs of launch vehicles and other associated expenses. 

Exactly.  Because the launch is expensive, the payloads are engineered for very high reliability and long life.  This makes the payload expensive.  If the payload is expensive, then the insurance will be expensive.  If the total package (launch/payload/insurance) is expensive, then the number of players in the market is extremely limited, the barriers to entry to new players are extremely high, and the market is inelastic.
« Last Edit: 02/13/2012 07:37 PM by Blackjax »

Offline gbaikie

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Re: Increasing the size of the launch market
« Reply #9 on: 02/13/2012 06:20 PM »
"What I wonder is whether there is a way for launch companies (or others) to significantly grow the payload market without requiring any grand schemes or the raising of massive amounts of money by a single entity?  A grass roots bottom up growth focused on small low cost payloads. "

I would think the best way is getting prices for various launches available for everyone. People need to know what is available: when and how much.
And knowing whatever requirements are needed related to potential payload and what is nature of services- what is gee loading, how reliable is launch, and whatever.
Even free launch, isn't necessarily the best price, due to other factors- uncertainty of time of launch, chance of successful launch, whatever restrains of the payload, and other things.

Offline Blackjax

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Re: Increasing the size of the launch market
« Reply #10 on: 02/13/2012 06:33 PM »
"What I wonder is whether there is a way for launch companies (or others) to significantly grow the payload market without requiring any grand schemes or the raising of massive amounts of money by a single entity?  A grass roots bottom up growth focused on small low cost payloads. "

I would think the best way is getting prices for various launches available for everyone. People need to know what is available: when and how much.
And knowing whatever requirements are needed related to potential payload and what is nature of services- what is gee loading, how reliable is launch, and whatever.
Even free launch, isn't necessarily the best price, due to other factors- uncertainty of time of launch, chance of successful launch, whatever restrains of the payload, and other things.

That is a good idea, a one stop shopping location for people seeking to launch a payload.  Launch companies could list their available upcoming payload slots along with the characteristics of the flight and specific capabilities they have to offer.  You could shop based on the timeframe of the launch and the specific needs of your payload (as well as perhaps the cost as well).  Since I'd anticipate launch companies might be leery of directly posting prices, you might also use more of a blind bidding model that works in reverse to be used where a launch is not being offered for free.  Projects searching for a launch provider could post their payload description and launch needs and launch companies could contact them to bid.

Offline Jim

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Re: Increasing the size of the launch market
« Reply #11 on: 02/13/2012 06:47 PM »
Secondary payloads take more effort to integrate than prime payloads.

Also, there isnt that much availability for Nanosatellites -> Microsatellites -> Minisatellites as secondaries.

The only way they are going to get rides is like THEMIS or ST-5.  Dedicated launches.

Offline gbaikie

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Re: Increasing the size of the launch market
« Reply #12 on: 02/13/2012 07:11 PM »
"What I wonder is whether there is a way for launch companies (or others) to significantly grow the payload market without requiring any grand schemes or the raising of massive amounts of money by a single entity?  A grass roots bottom up growth focused on small low cost payloads. "

I would think the best way is getting prices for various launches available for everyone. People need to know what is available: when and how much.
And knowing whatever requirements are needed related to potential payload and what is nature of services- what is gee loading, how reliable is launch, and whatever.
Even free launch, isn't necessarily the best price, due to other factors- uncertainty of time of launch, chance of successful launch, whatever restrains of the payload, and other things.

That is a good idea, a one stop shopping location for people seeking to launch a payload.  Launch companies could list their available upcoming payload slots along with the characteristics of the flight and specific capabilities they have to offer.  You could shop based on the timeframe of the launch and the specific needs of your payload (as well as perhaps the cost as well).  Since I'd anticipate launch companies might be leery of directly posting prices, you might also use more of a blind bidding model that works in reverse to be used where a launch is not being offered for free.  Projects searching for a launch provider could post their payload description and launch needs and launch companies could contact them to bid.

The business would provides service to launch providers. To provide such service, that business, must be trustworthy and have access to customers for launch providers.
This requires lots work and is not easy. In other words, free enterprise.
You have the chicken and egg problem of how to get it started. One way is start small and build up, other way is associate with existing name.
You already have companies sort of similar doing this, such as Space Adventure:
http://www.spaceadventures.com/
One could work with them, or somehow be connected in some way, or be a competitor.

Offline Blackjax

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Re: Increasing the size of the launch market
« Reply #13 on: 02/13/2012 07:36 PM »
Secondary payloads take more effort to integrate than prime payloads.

Also, there isnt that much availability for Nanosatellites -> Microsatellites -> Minisatellites as secondaries.

The only way they are going to get rides is like THEMIS or ST-5.  Dedicated launches.

Glad to see you weighing in on this.  What do you think of the idea I mentioned earlier:

Quote
Developing a large common bus designed to provide common services like power, stationkeeping, and communications to a very large number of small payloads.  This would cater to payloads that are fairly insensitive to a specific orbit and really just need to be somewhere in microgravity for extended periods.

Payload integration by the launch vendor would only need to be done for one larger craft that all the smaller payloads were designed to socket into based on a common standard interface design.  Kinda like Nanoracks.

It could be sized to be a primary payload itself for a specific vehicle or be a modular design that allowed it to smoothly grow along a curve so the same basic idea could be scaled to fit whatever payload space was available.

Offline Jim

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Re: Increasing the size of the launch market
« Reply #14 on: 02/13/2012 07:44 PM »

1.  Developing a large common bus designed to provide common services like power, stationkeeping, and communications to a very large number of small payloads.  This would cater to payloads that are fairly insensitive to a specific orbit and really just need to be somewhere in microgravity for extended periods.

2.  Donating small amounts of payload capacity to companies & universities who presently don't have space oriented research programs in return for them developing some.  Try to draw in people who presently aren't part of the market.


Been done many times over.

Current effort at this
http://rsdo.gsfc.nasa.gov/catalog.html

2.  NASA already did and does this.

Offline edkyle99

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Re: Increasing the size of the launch market
« Reply #15 on: 02/13/2012 07:50 PM »
Historically the problem has been twofold, first is that the launchers themselves were not optimized for high volume and low cost.  Second is the issue of where you'd come up with the high volume of payloads ...

For starters I will point out that launch vehicle production capacity ("high volume") has never been a problem.  Just look back to the 1960s, when Thor, Atlas, and Titan combined to perform almost one orbital launch every week.  During its peak year, Thor nearly pulled off that feat all by itself!  (The USSR nearly doubled the U.S. numbers during the early 1980s.)  This could happen again if needed.

The "high volume" payload back then was Agena with a wide variety of "spysat" payloads.  Agena still retains the mark as the "most flown" upper stage in U.S. history.  But the film return payloads went away with the development of CCDs, and they're not coming back.

So, what "high volume" payload can I imagine?  Space junk mitigation!  Space junk is increasing, even if no more satellite launches were to take place.  Removing that junk is going to be a long, hard job.  It could involve thousands of launches.

 - Ed Kyle

« Last Edit: 02/13/2012 07:58 PM by edkyle99 »

Offline Jim

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Re: Increasing the size of the launch market
« Reply #16 on: 02/13/2012 07:51 PM »

That is a good idea, a one stop shopping location for people seeking to launch a payload.  Launch companies could list their available upcoming payload slots along with the characteristics of the flight and specific capabilities they have to offer.  You could shop based on the timeframe of the launch and the specific needs of your payload (as well as perhaps the cost as well).  Since I'd anticipate launch companies might be leery of directly posting prices, you might also use more of a blind bidding model that works in reverse to be used where a launch is not being offered for free.  Projects searching for a launch provider could post their payload description and launch needs and launch companies could contact them to bid.

a commercial broker isn't going to since it would need have access to data from each competing launch service provider.

NASA has a pseudo broker for itself in LSP

Offline go4mars

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Re: Increasing the size of the launch market
« Reply #17 on: 02/13/2012 07:53 PM »
I do think that Zubrins plans are offtopic for this thread since the whole thesis here is about how we grow the launch market without relying on large top down projects.
Then how about this one?  http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=25981.0  Or does that qualify as well? 
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Online Robotbeat

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Re: Increasing the size of the launch market
« Reply #18 on: 02/13/2012 07:57 PM »
...

The "high volume" payload back then was Agena with a wide variety of "spysat" payloads.  Agena still retains the mark as the "most flown" upper stage in U.S. history.  The film return payloads went away with the development of CCDs, and they're not coming back.
Yup. High launch rates are a casualty of technological progress.

Quote
So, what "high volume" payload can I imagine?  Space junk mitigation!  Space junk is increasing, even if no more satellite launches were to take place.  Removing that junk is going to be a long, hard job.  It could involve thousands of launches.

 - Ed Kyle
Everyone is always looking for a "killer app" that needs lots of launches. I don't think you've found it, yet. Unless, of course, there's a war which destroys a good portion of the satellites already in orbit. Not exactly a rosy scenario, though.

Still looking for that killer app.
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Offline edkyle99

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Re: Increasing the size of the launch market
« Reply #19 on: 02/13/2012 08:03 PM »
So, what "high volume" payload can I imagine?  Space junk mitigation!  Space junk is increasing, even if no more satellite launches were to take place.  Removing that junk is going to be a long, hard job.  It could involve thousands of launches.

 - Ed Kyle
Everyone is always looking for a "killer app" that needs lots of launches. I don't think you've found it, yet. Unless, of course, there's a war which destroys a good portion of the satellites already in orbit. Not exactly a rosy scenario, though.

Still looking for that killer app.
A couple of years ago, NASA's reported the following.

"Approximately 19,000 objects larger than 10 cm are known to exist. The estimated population of particles between 1 and 10 cm in diameter is approximately 500,000. The number of particles smaller than 1 cm probably exceeds tens of millions."

It might take more cleanup launches than it took original launches to remove this stuff.  That's more than 5,000 launches!  That's more than two per week for 50 years!  Sounds killer to me.

 - Ed Kyle
« Last Edit: 02/13/2012 08:05 PM by edkyle99 »

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