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WE CAN’T GET THERE FROM HERE EITHER

October 7, 2016

I am a semi-retired designer with some notions about improved methods of space launch.  We may need to provide a better path for younger idea men to build our future though.

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I published a blog and shared on LinkedIn about limitations of current paths to LEO; “You Can’t Get There From Here”.  I may have oversimplified, but we may be able to do more.

Actually, we do get there, but with high costs and low flight rates.  I have been contributing drafting services to many space ventures and these provoked some patents for horizontal launch solutions.  Over time smarter people have contributed to improvements and we may see a viable answer taking shape.

I am concerned about the landscape littered with broken new space companies.  There is evidence that the business boosters (funding sources) may be as volatile as vehicle boosters.  In some cases, investors and management are capable of throwing the baby out with the bath water.  Others are destructive in other ways that hinder innovation.

Government (SBIRs) only shops for ideas that they know about, and may miss unique solutions that are unknown to them.  Some private investors may not understand how to survive in this tough market.  Competition may be unfair if a less effective concept has government or billionaire funding.  In some cases, big aerospace companies may devour small ventures and run away with IP while killing the creative work.  Sadly a partner may cause damage by stealing IP, harming everyone.  Many threats make it hard to get innovation moving.

Before aerospace companies began merging we had more parties capable of competing for design contracts.  In our current political environment, a lobby may be more important than engineering or bidding.  We witness more cost overruns and uncertain technical value.  Do we have an environment that can still produce good technologies for future needs?

Having a small venture with big ideas we see a huge challenge  to present new ideas for serious funding.  We are cautioned by the demise of so many small ventures, but motivated by apparent needs.  I am nearly 70 years old so this is a venture for those who will live to see it through.  I am learning a lot from other partners about possible solutions though.

I proposed a typical path of small prototypes that would struggle to find funding but be feasible for small build groups.  The SBIR path never hits the right needs at the right time, and private funding seeks fast results.  Aerospace is not a low-cost fast return venture like software though.  There is interest but it requires an experienced team and heavy investment.  That at least might present as being scalable to bigger markets.

A good solution should target the needs of customers in the real markets.  So we are looking ahead to a future vehicle that would be built around customer needs.  I have a meeting with a satellite customer this month to learn more about satellite customer needs.  Our “paper airplane” study already has our patented in-line staging and seven pages of new technology topics.  The potential is to deliver smooth safe reusable launchers with redundant recovery options to reduce insurance costs.  The Greater value may apply with later manned applications.  I know better than to present this to investors now, but someday space access may need new ideas.  Some features may be invalid, while others may merit new patents.  This looks for a path to validate a wide range of ideas and that takes more money than most national budgets can give.

Surprisingly private ventures are delivering new rockets with millions instead of billions today.  It’s too bad that business incubators rarely know how to connect aerospace innovation with that class of investment.  Additionally, they are often fighting for only one state instead of united states.  No one state has enough resources to gather every asset for a vehicle program.  Big space might have a lock on big ideas for now, but there may be a way for the future.

There is interest in space growing all over America, but incubators can only launch small ventures that cannot do a whole vehicle program.  But the interest even manifests in business, medicine, engineering, and other fields that are all needed.  As a draftsman, I cannot deliver nearly enough to make one giant venture like SpaceX or Virgin Galactic.  But a draftsman is in a unique position.

We do deliver drawings to the shop when there is a company with paychecks.  But early on we also deliver the feasibility study, an illustration of the future.  That has drawn a number of people who do have some credentials, but little free time.  Their help is presenting a preliminary design.  There are other good ideas in America, but little hope of delivering a big change in aerospace markets.  Still, if the concepts were presented to others who have skills and interest, subgroups may contribute elements that illustrate and validate potential solutions.  That can be done at small local incubators.

A design challenge might identify several competing vehicle concepts.  Perhaps we cannot launch a mega corporation with local incubators, but we may launch technical and business elements that can add up to one.  A paper airplane may deliver real investment.  Could this be a valuable target for an “X Prize” type competition?  Local state incubators could mentor the business, marketing, technical, legal, and maker spaces to better flesh out subtopics at a manageable level.  Individual states could gather those new industries while getting the advantages from other states ventures at the same time.  I like United States, and we should work together.

This might discover new ideas that leave our own proposal in the dust, but that is not all bad.  We need better answers going ahead.  But without all those assets let’s look at our own modest proposal.  The future should be even better!

Suppose a lifting body orbiter had a horizontal launch booster that would deliver it to space without the massive payload fairing of the Atlas or Arianne boosters.  What if it could rescue payloads or crews and deliver smooth missions and return inoperative satellites?

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If a booster has advanced air breathing and aerospike technologies, it could be near SSTO in performance.  A mid-stage fairing connection blends a lifting body orbiter to operate as one vehicle at launch.  The potential to launch and service satellites could begin with a small prototype.  Every payload can be tested before release and returned if inoperative.  Returning minerals from space mining would be safer with winged orbiters.  And we have heard that wings are a comfort to returning astronauts.  The ability to escape booster malfunctions and land the orbiter payload safely is also an asset.

This is one notion with many details that need engineers and paychecks to analyze and revise.  But there should be a lot more in the future if the road is paved instead of blocked.  Biplanes were great but we have learned a little since the beginning.  Wings to space, the Wright stuff.

If there are dozens of potential technical solutions, we need as many political and business solutions.  We need to pave the way for future innovation; we have the technology.  I am working with Wyoming business initiatives now, and have proposed student design projects at the University of Colorado in the past.  Wyoming and Colorado have shared assets already so I am traveling in this area for meetings this month.  I hope to see this “space corner” as a starting point to lubricate innovation.  I am writing this in a fevered late night brainstorm that may need a better guidance system.  I am not an engineer, but I may be an Imagineer.  I don’t have all the answers, but I might have some of the questions.  Are we ready to boldly go?

mld136

 VISION

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