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Archive for May 30th, 2003

A Modest Proposal

This article covers Richard Branson’s rebuffed attempts to buy at least one of BA’s soon-to-be-retired Concordes, the idea being to continue operating it in passenger service on long-distance routes. Branson argues that he can do so profitably, but the airline (and the heritage manufacturer, Airbus) argue that the Concordes are too old to continue flying as passenger aircraft.

But what about an alternative?

The market for overnight and second-day delivery is large and healthy. But what about going one better, by exploiting the same-day delivery niche via refurbished cargo Concordes? Purchase the entire BA fleet, set aside two or three planes for cannibalization, and strip the interiors from the remaining planes and fit them out to carry mail and small parcels. Granted, it would be difficult to work out a profitable business plan within the limitations imposed by the number of planes available, the cost per flight, and the ability (or lack thereof) to fly over or near land at supersonic speeds.

However, if it could be done — even on an experimental basis — it could have a profound effect on space commercialization. Whether or not the Concorde-based venture turns a profit, it would likely whet the appetites of those who could use such a service, and thereby open a market the various suborbital startups could exploit.

Another McKnight Slapfest

Mark Whittington at Curmudgeons Corner (sorry, no permalink, scroll to the posts for 5/29) tackles John Carter McKnight’s latest Spacefaring Web essay.

Funny, I don’t seem to be getting the Spacefaring Web mailings anymore. (And John still hasn’t fixed his website.)

Speaking of TransHab

Clark Lindsey of HobbySpace has an interview with Constance Adams, top architect on the TransHab project.

It’s both disappointing and inspiring. Disappointing, in that this promising new technology was shelved so NASA could feed the ISS white elephant, and inspiring, in that it is clearly something that will make exploration and settlement of space that much easier, when the time comes.

The Failure of NASA has a very interesting three part op-ed by Phillip K. Chapman, concerning the abject failure of NASA as a space agency.

It’s very much worth reading for the historical analysis, and his recommendations are thought provoking and touch on something that has been occupying my attention lately: property rights. This issue seems to be a hot topic in various quarters lately — perhaps the right climate is developing to finally junk the proto-tranzi treaties barring private ownership, and work on something more conducive to human settlement of space. Cleaving the agency into a NACA-like R&D body and a human spaceflight promotion office has a certain appeal to it, especially given what NACA was able to do for aeronautics and the aircraft industry.

On the other hand, I disagree that the Shuttle needs to be grounded permanently and the ISS mothballed. I can sympathize with his arguments in favor of this, and with his preferred use of the Shuttle/ISS budget money, don’t get me wrong. But lousy though it is, I think it’s better to stick with what we have a little bit longer, until we can segue gracefully to an alternative. It makes no sense to throw away the only manned spacecraft we have, when at best we are maybe 3-5 years from flying a new one — to do so (especially without reform of the anti-market sentiment at NASA, to which Chapman refers) runs the risk of a “temporary” spaceflight hiatus becoming a permanent retreat.

2012 Prometheus Award Finalist

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A young girl sets out to prove herself by resolving a long-forgotten mystery. But when she gets close to the truth, what she thought was a harmless adventure becomes a threat to the future of the independent commercial settlements on Mars.

May 2003
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