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Private sector in Space

  1. May 28, 2013 #1
    There has been a lot of discussions of private sector companies planning a trip to Mars and the Moon ,how realistic is it ? is it really going to happen? Do they have what it takes to send people to Mars and make them live there without getting killed?
     
    Last edited: May 28, 2013
  2. jcsd
  3. May 28, 2013 #2
  4. May 28, 2013 #3
    Thanks but that thread only covers part of the question ,i also asked about the feasibility of private manned space mission not one way trip to mars in particular ,is the private sector capable of getting people to the moon/low earth orbits and back safely ?
     
  5. May 28, 2013 #4

    Ryan_m_b

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    Where is the profit in a private Mars mission? I could see the potential for private companies to conduct the R&D and construction of the technology and craft and sell it to government space agencies but they'd have to have a hell of a lot of money and confidence that said agencies would buy their expensive products (not likely given the number of cancelled space projects of smaller size). I could also see the potential of a private company doing it if the owner/shareholders decided that rather than profit they would like to do it for other reasons (like Elon Musk stating he wants to retire on Mars; aesthetic rather than profitable decision). But overall I can't see that it's ever likely a private company will do this.

    Whilst there are groups discussing it there have been so many proposed Mars missions by agencies with far more funding and experience that I'm highly sceptical.
     
  6. May 28, 2013 #5

    D H

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    Mod note: Thread moved to "Aerospace Engineering"

    Monsterboy, you've asked a number of different questions in your two posts in this thread:
    • There has been a lot of discussions of private sector companies planning a trip to Mars and the Moon, how realistic is it?
    • Is it really going to happen?
    • Do they have what it takes to send people to Mars and make them live there without getting killed?
    • Is the private sector capable of getting people to the moon/low earth orbits and back safely?


    The first two questions are ones of economics. Essentially you are asking whether the private space sector can realize a profit based on a very expensive form of entertainment? Note that there are also private space sector discussions on making a profit in space in other ways such as space mining. Whether that is economically feasible is a different question. Note the commonality of economic feasibility in these two questions. The private sector doesn't undertake big expensive efforts for charitable purposes. It does things because there's a profit to be made.

    The third question is a bit vague. Suppose a company sends out ten vehicles, nine of them resulting in loss of life. One succeeds. Does that one success count as a "yes" answer?

    The final question is also a bit vague. What do you mean by "safely"? Keep in mind that there is no such thing as "perfectly safe". Cars, planes, and trains crash occasionally with tragic outcomes. There is some inherent risk that is deemed tolerable, but perhaps in need of improvement.

    What level of failure would you deem acceptable? One out of ten missions resulting in loss of life, out of a hundred, out of a thousand, or even rarer? One out of ten is Russian roulette odds, not very good. One out of one hundred is (charitably) the current standard, still not very good.

    For comparison, your odds of being killed on a flight with one of the 39 least safe airline companies are one in two million. That's a safety record that the private space sector won't realize for a long, long time.
     
  7. May 29, 2013 #6
    I think the cost of launching something out of the earth has to reduce considerably in order to make any profits out of space mining or tourism. space mining has not been attempted even by government owned Organizations so how can private companies make it?technology required for mining in micro gravity and vacuum is not fully developed , such things are usually started by government owned organization before privatization right?

    During the apollo missions a lot of things went wrong during the missions(after take off) and since the astronauts were trained to handle such situations ,they were able to make it but space tourism means we are sending "tourists" into space ,in this case they will have either train the tourists to fix things or they need an additional trained crew,which will add to the costs.

    I read this some time ago ,so many things are unclear about landing people on mars have the private sector found solutions to these problems?
    No!
    I think only when the odds of failure of private sector space flights become comparable to that of airliners only then can the number of space tourists can rise and enough profits can be made in order to continue with the industry if not, a single disaster can put the space tourism industry out work for many years,considering the costs of running such companies and few people on earth who can afford it(compared to airliners)companies can perish.
     
  8. May 29, 2013 #7

    Ryan_m_b

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    Quick note: the only space tourism product that has been demonstrated and is expected to begin operating within the next few years is short suborbital flight. Last year I attended a talk by Richard Branson where he spoke about how Virgin Galactic were planning on putting more people into space in their first few years of flights than have been in the last few decades. The general impression of this part of the talk was that this is just the beginning and that mass space travel was just round the corner.

    The audience cheered wildly but I couldn't help but be annoyed by the lack of recognition that orbit is a world away from having a rocket-plane capable of skimming above 100km before falling back down. In that respect private companies are only just attempting to monetize what NASA achieved with the X-15 fifty years ago.

    It's things like this that make me wary of space tourism/mining hype.
     
    Last edited: May 29, 2013
  9. May 29, 2013 #8

    D H

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    Space mining has not been attempted by national / international space agencies for the simple reason that it hasn't been a goal. It is a goal now. See http://www.space.com/20610-nasa-asteroid-capture-mission-infographic.html.


    I have one thing to say about the Mars One project: Watch the movie The Producers. (Aside: the 1968 version is better.)


    That's demanding a bit much. The space tourism industry is only a decade old, and that's with a government-owned space agency. There is no operational private space tourism company yet. In comparison, the airline industry is almost 100 years old. A better comparison would be commercial aviation in the 1920s. Airplanes back then crashed with alarming frequency and yet people were still willing to pay to fly on one.

    The model for space tourism isn't getting Average Joe into space. It's about getting the nouveau riche into space, people who have lots of money to spend and are very comfortable with risk. The nouveau riche became rich by gambling their entire life savings, sometimes multiple times. A 99% chance of success looks like a sure thing to such people.
     
  10. May 29, 2013 #9

    D H

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    Not true. Seven people have paid for eight trips to the International Space Station (Charles Simonyi flew twice). The cost ranged from 20 million to 40 million US dollars per flight. Russia suspended their space tourism operations because the Space Shuttle ended its operations. Russia has plans to resume it in the future.
     
  11. May 29, 2013 #10

    Ryan_m_b

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    It's probably worth remembering though that comparisons between aviation and aerospace have their limits. Planes are far less complicated and energy intensive than rockets or spaceplanes and they have far greater practical uses. There is no guarentee that space travel will resemble the technological and economic progression of aviation (it hasn't so far) and get to the point where trips to space are as easy and convenient than trips abroad.

    I forgot about those examples, although to be fair they weren't private companies.
     
  12. May 29, 2013 #11

    D H

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    Agreed. Monsterboy's expectation that space travel should be as reliable and safe as is commercial aviation is unrealistic. Commercial aviation makes millions of flights every year. That kind of volume demands an incredibly low failure rate. Achieving that kind of volume and the concomitant safety record with space travel is a problem for some (far) future generation to solve.
     
  13. May 29, 2013 #12
    Very Interesting yes, i had read about NASA's plans to capture an asteroid some time ago but the thing is some asteroid hopefully will be put in orbit around the moon by 2025 and then some people will be put on it to study it but when is it actually going to be mined ? Mining will be much more difficult than pulling the asteroid into an orbit around the moon because of cost involved in sending all the mining equipment into space (there are different types of asteroids and different methods of extraction for each of them )and transporting the minerals back to earth may outweigh their market value so let us assume the 10 more years will be needed to find ways extract minerals from the asteroid profitably,It might take more time because how often can NASA be allowed to send missions to the asteroid circling the moon ,if current economic crisis persists,so the time when private companies do it can go still far of in to the future.


    Yes i felt that too but people in 1920's were willing to pay for flying in airplanes because they had some where to go and airplanes were faster than any other means but space tourism is not about going anywhere at all but if the nouveau riche are really the kind of people you say they are then i agree space tourism will thrive.
     
  14. May 30, 2013 #13


    plus ,right now they are aiming for a small asteroid and it is primarily for study then new mining technologies have to be developed and tested and (with larger and more massive asteroids) a few more such missions such as this one maybe needed in order to perfect it after proving the whole process to be profitable only then can commercial space mining can take off with private agencies this can take a lot more than 10 years!
     
  15. May 30, 2013 #14

    Ryan_m_b

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    Perhaps D H could shed some light on this but I was given to understand that the current thinking is that space mining will probably only make sense if the resources were used to build things in/for space. Otherwise it doesn't make sense spending so much effort bringing resources back from space when for the same investment there would be better return for terrestrial mining (even in difficult places like the sea bed), recycling (perhaps even from landfill), refining the technologies that need the substance (to use less of it) and redesigning (e.g. using plastics rather than metal to reduce need for metals).

    Doesn't necessarily have to be new money, just people with a hell of a lot of expendable cash. I guess we'll have to wait and see if there are enough of them doing it regularly to make it a sustainable business. It's also not a given that that profit will be enough to fund technologies to make access to space cheaper in order to grow the market. There really are no precedents to space so it's difficult to know in advance.
     
  16. Jun 1, 2013 #15
    i tried to search the movie in Wikipedia ,i am only getting comedy movies ,were you saying that Mars one is a joke or a fraud? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Producers_(1968_film)
     
  17. Jun 4, 2013 #16

    D H

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    Well, sure, it's going to take time. Those who promise something quick are selling snake oil.


    That is exactly correct given the current technologies. The fact that asteroids contain vast sums of wealth in commodity metals is completely irrelevant, even given a game changing technology such as a space elevator. A space elevator might make space mining of precious metals and rare earths economically viable, but even that's dubious.

    There is no such thing as a space elevator now, and there most likely won't be for the next 25 years. What to do in space when we do have a space elevator is a problem for future generations to solve. We are stuck with rocket-based technology for now and for the foreseeable future, and that in turn means mining asteroids for materials to be brought down to Earth is not economically viable.

    What can be mined in space now, or close to now, are common materials such as water and methane. Mining those common materials for use in space will be the first step in space mining. Methane is fuel. All that's needed is an oxidizer and you're good to go. By weight, water is 89% oxygen. There's your oxidizer! Plus, water is essential for life (and it's also a source for the oxygen people need to breath).


    That's the movie I was talking about.

    Is Mars One a fraud? As a PF mentor, it's best if I don't answer that question.
     
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