Replacing the Space Shuttle with Cheaper Alternatives

February 4th, 2003 | Posted by paul in Uncategorized

Just read this article in time, The Space Shuttle Must Be Stopped.

That core problem is the space shuttle itself. For 20 years, the American space program has been wedded to a space-shuttle system that is too expensive, too risky, too big for most of the ways it is used, with budgets that suck up funds that could be invested in a modern system that would make space flight cheaper and safer. The space shuttle is impressive in technical terms, but in financial terms and safety terms no project has done more harm to space exploration.Capitalism, of course, is supposed to weed out such inefficiencies. But in the American system, the shuttle’s expense made the program politically attractive. Originally projected to cost $5 million per flight in today’s dollars, each shuttle launch instead runs to around $500 million. Aerospace contractors love this fact that the shuttle launches cost so much.

There are have been lots of cheaper and safer atlernatives each of which has been cancelled by NASA or government contractors. The problem goes back to laws put in place during the Nixon Administration that capped contractor profits to less than 10%. Therefore, logically, contractors want space access to be as expensive as possible, so their profit margins are greater. This may explain $10,000 screws, and $30,000 hammers. Since the space program is based on government subsidies, free-market principels do not apply, otherwise we’d have costs less than $100/lb orbit by now. With costs below $100/lb, the price of going into space for an the average individual would be the same price as an extended European Vacation.

Nevertheless, it’s only a matter of time before private enterprise takes up the challenge, especially with the X-Prize competition now in full-swing. Mass-produced nano-materials are just around the corner, which means amazing applications like space elevators and spaceships the size of RV’s and that weigh only 200 pounds. Either one of these would reduce the cost to orbit to less than $10/lb. Thats only $2000 for a trip into space!

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