Could a ballistic missile be used to deliver cargo?

  • #1
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Are firing ballistic rockets to the other side of the planet carrying plenty of cargo economical? If so, would it even be plausible. Please contribute.
 

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  • #2
NTW
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I believe that a system of 'rocket mail' was used in Austria or in Switzerland, in the 1920s or so, to send letters to villages that were difficult to reach by land. And, in 1810, Heinrich von Kleist proposed (I suspect that tongue in cheek...) a 'Bombenpost' service, with hollow shells and suitable howitzers...

http://gutenberg.spiegel.de/buch/kritiken-und-berichterstattungen-5886/1
 
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  • #3
boneh3ad
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This would be extraordinarily expensive, though certainly rapid. Consider that a Minuteman missile reportedly has a unit cost of $26,000,000 adjusted for inflation. The exact payload of those missiles is obviously classified, though it is likely only in the low hundreds of kilograms. So you are talking roughly $100,000/kg to send parcels via ballistic missile. I can ship the same thing via UPS from here in the States to India, on the other side of the globe, for about $86.76/kg and it will be there in about 4 days if I need it to be fast.

I mean, just how fast of a shipment do you really need?
 
  • #4
phyzguy
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Also, I don't think they have any capability to decelerate and land, so your shipment would need to be really well packed!
 
  • #5
boneh3ad
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Also, I don't think they have any capability to decelerate and land

Oh, they most certainly do not. In fact, they are designed assuming they will literally be vaporized before touching the ground.

If there was a misfire and it did manage to hit the ground, it would be advantageous for them to retain as much of their ballistic velocity as possible so as to thoroughly break apart the pieces and make them useless from an intelligence perspective.
 
  • #6
russ_watters
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Given that we send material into orbit now for about $10,000 a pound, I would think we could do better for ballistic missiles ($5,000? $1,000?). We're basically talking Mercury/Redstone type technology.

You would also need to combine this with drone-based delivery, since I'm sure as heck not going to spend $1,000 / kg and still have to track and retrieve my package myself as it floats down under a parachute!

...then someone else will need to retrieve and discard the delivery vehicle/capsule. All and all, except perhaps for an extraordinary humanitarian need, not very practical.
 
  • #7
boneh3ad
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Yeah, I wonder what percentage of the price of an ICBM you could save by loosening up requirements on the circular error probability.
 
  • #8
Baluncore
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The ballistic missile has always been the ultimate delivery system where minimum transit time and maximum speed on arrival were important, but only when expense was not an issue.

To be economic, a ballistic delivery system would need to recover the launch energy on arrival, call it regenerative braking. The descent speed would need to be minimised to reduce drag losses while the energy was somehow banked. Unfortunately that would increase transit time.

Yeah, I wonder what percentage of the price of an ICBM you could save by loosening up requirements on the circular error probability.
None.

In WW2 the German V2 could not pick an individual target with it's 500 kg conventional warhead. Many were targeted at a city, in the hope that one would have an effect by hitting something important. After WW2, the atomic bomb removed any need for precision navigation over the short 500 km range to a city. The intercontinental ballistic missile with multiple hydrogen bomb warheads solved the problem for regions.

But things have changed. GPS style navigation means a ballistic missile no longer needs to carry a nuclear weapon to ensure destruction of a specific target.
 
  • #9
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Also, I don't think they have any capability to decelerate and land, so your shipment would need to be really well packed!
I mean like using a ballistic, reusable rocket to get a really heavy cargo into a ballistic trajectory before reentering the atmosphere and slowing it down by a parachute.

Furthermore, could we carry people like that too? Like a ballistic humans carrier.
 
  • #10
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Also, would it be possible for your cargo to drift down on a parachute onto a delivery centre in your town? It would be nice. (Very romantic for a wedding too, you know.)
 
  • #11
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It is remotely feasible, in that the idea doesn't violate laws of physics.
In practical terms it's only feasible for someone who has a few hunded millions to spare on a fast delivery system that is not guaranteed to be reliable.
 
  • #12
Baluncore
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Furthermore, could we carry people like that too? Like a ballistic humans carrier.
Moving a few people very quickly is not rational. The people moved would have to be extremely valuable individuals to justify the expense. The high risks involved would keep valuable people away.

Concorde flights ended for exactly that reason. The Tupolev Tu-144 was likewise unsuccessful.
If SST airplanes are not commercially viable, then ballistic missiles certainly cannot be viable.
 
  • #13
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No, I mean like 700+ passengers moving across the planet at REALLY high speeds. Would that make the cost lower? Would that make it more popular and more economically viable?

Never mind about global warming issues caused by that system.
 
  • #14
Baluncore
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Would that make the cost lower?
No.
Never mind about global warming issues caused by that system.
But intelligent people are deeply concerned with global warming issues.

Just imagine the insurance costs and the terrorism possibilities.
 
  • #15
russ_watters
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No, I mean like 700+ passengers moving across the planet at REALLY high speeds. Would that make the cost lower? Would that make it more popular and more economically viable?
The answer to both questions has to be yes, but more viable than what? Slightly more viable than extraordinarily non-viable is still extremely non-viable.

You just aren't going to get 500 people at a time to want to spend a million dollars each and risk a 1% chance of death in order to save 8 hours of travel time.
 
  • #17
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How about like delivering humanitarian cargos to disaster-striken area.
That may be verging on feasible, but still the cost of the delivery system would be many times the value of the cargo delivered.
 
  • #18
boneh3ad
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That may be verging on feasible, but still the cost of the delivery system would be many times the value of the cargo delivered.

Well, maybe not if that disaster-stricken area just really needed a 200 kg delivery of diamonds.
 
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  • #20
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No, like earth to earth, not earth to mars and wasting like 1 million tons of fuel.
 
  • #21
It would be better to use a phone to ask someone already there to deliver one of whatever the heck is so damn important.

Trying to think what it might be. FAIL.
 
  • #22
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I believe that a system of 'rocket mail' was used in Austria or in Switzerland, in the 1920s or so, to send letters to villages that were difficult to reach by land. And, in 1810, Heinrich von Kleist proposed (I suspect that tongue in cheek...) a 'Bombenpost' service, with hollow shells and suitable howitzers...

http://gutenberg.spiegel.de/buch/kritiken-und-berichterstattungen-5886/1
Well, the US sure had launched mail via cruise missiles:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rocket_mail
Does that count as rocket mail?
 
  • #23
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Moving a few people very quickly is not rational. The people moved would have to be extremely valuable individuals to justify the expense. The high risks involved would keep valuable people away.

Concorde flights ended for exactly that reason. The Tupolev Tu-144 was likewise unsuccessful.
If SST airplanes are not commercially viable, then ballistic missiles certainly cannot be viable.

Well if you say so, space transport will probably have no future whatsoever.
 
  • #24
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No, like earth to earth, not earth to mars and wasting like 1 million tons of fuel.
Musk is talking about Earth-to-Earth transport at that point.
Something like $4 millions (plus having to store 2000 tons of fuel at the destination - the rocket has to fly back) for 100-300 tons of cargo is certainly too expensive for your average shipping requirements, but I can certainly see military applications of global sub-hour delivery.
 
  • #25
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The Goons had this idea some time ago:

http://www.thegoonshow.net/scripts_show.asp?title=s06e19_the_jet_propelled_guided_naafi

"Let me see. (mumbles nonsense) Good heavens, sir. It's a plan of a new Guided NAAFI! A self-contained missile capable of carrying eighty-two staff, ten NAAFI pianos, sixty thousand gallons of tea and twelve tons of buttered crumpets, being shot six thousand miles up and set fully operative at the point of impact in sixteen seconds. It sounds quite impossible. "
 

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