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posted by cmn32480 on Sunday January 24 2016, @12:24PM   Printer-friendly
from the time-to-invent-the-Botany-Bay dept.

The recent demonstrations of successful rocket recovery by Blue Origin and SpaceX herald a new era of space exploration and development. We can expect, as rocket stages routinely return for reuse from the fringes of space, that the cost of space travel will fall dramatically.

Some in the astronautics community would like to settle the Moon; others have their eyes set on Mars. Many would rather commit to the construction of solar power satellites, efforts to mine and/or divert Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs), or construct enormous cities in space such as the O'Neill Lagrange Point colonies.

But before we can begin any or all of these endeavors, we need to answer some fundamental questions regarding human life beyond the confines of our home planet. Will humans thrive under lunar or martian gravity? Can children be conceived in extraterrestrial environments? What is the safe threshold for human exposure to high-Z galactic cosmic rays (GCRs)?

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  • (Score: 2) by novak on Monday January 25 2016, @06:32AM

    by novak (4683) on Monday January 25 2016, @06:32AM (#294221) Homepage

    No, not really. When the space shuttle landed, it was entirely gutted, and the engines were overhauled in a process that was ultimately more expensive (in terms of dollars per pounds to orbit) than just building a new vehicle. The reason for this was two fold:

    First, the shuttle as a vehicle was never really that efficient. The insane weight of something the size and shape of the shuttle made it handy for really heavy payloads but poor for just taking up a few crew and some supplies for experiments.
    Second, the engine actually flew to space and back. That's a lot of stress, on reentry. The amount of parts that have to be replaced as a result really hurt the cost because a lot of stuff actually has failed.

    The SRBs were recovered too but what does that really save? A solid fuel booster is very inefficient anyhow in terms of ISP (thrust per weight flow rate of propellant).

    As far as "falling dramatically," you may be right that falling dramatically is an overstatement. I don't think the fall in price will be "dramatic" (at least for those not in the industry) until we either:
    1) focus on much cheaper fuels like in some hybrid rockets (which will need to be developed to get sufficient mass flux to matter for real launch vehicles)
    2) we develop a moderately high speed SCRAM first stage which saves a massive amount of oxidizer and fuel.

    Simpler engine systems such as pressure fed systems do make a difference though.

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