Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Early Days - economics of private space services

 Today we are in a period of rapidly expanding private space services. There has been a long tradition of private satellite manufacture and related services, but given the roster of launch vehicles that sector saw limited growth and a limited customer base. Now, with more affordable launch options and the ability to launch very small satellites the potential customer base has expanded dramatically. Moving forward, space services must diversify by first focusing on services that provide a concrete benefit Earthside.
 I see several areas with profit potential, in various stages of readiness: in-space refueling, satellite maintenance, orbital transportation, beamed power, adventure tourism / private spaceflight and resource harvesting. Let's take a look at each of these after the jump. Note that launch services are not included here; I see that as a current and successful market and as a necessary step before any of these areas could become profitable.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Home - first sprouts

It took a few days to get motivated enough to plant, but it's done. I planted five lettuce seeds and five spinach seeds (from no-name grocery store seed packets), each in their own 1" rockwool plug. The seeds are about half an inch above water level, though the rockwool does an excellent job of wicking moisture up. I am using the lettuce nutrient pack from five-gallon-bucket hydro.

The spinach has not sprouted yet, but I had lettuce sprouts by day 3 (fully a week before the package indicated). Pics after the jump.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Home - Experimenting with soilless growing

I've been accumulating parts and now I finally have enough to start growing food indoors.
My goals are to learn more about hydroponics and growing plants without soil, to validate some assumptions that support my designs and of course to grow some food that I can eat.

I will post updates periodically. I may even bother to take pictures, but no promises. As of right now I am just under $200 into the project and hoping to get a variety of crops for no more than another $100. I could have bought a lot of vegetables at the store for that much cash, so hopefully this works out.

Read on for details.

My first attempt (strawberries) failed due to operator error. (Fungus caused by poor drainage.)

Friday, January 8, 2016

Chemical accident near Boston

Multiple sources are reporting an explosion at a Dow Chemical facility in North Andover. Four or five people have been injured (reports are unclear).
(Thanks to Derek Lowe / In The Pipeline for the link.)

The involved chemical was trimethylaluminum or TMA. This is related to triethylaluminum (TEA) and methylaluminoxane (MAO), chemicals I've suggested for use in preparing catalysts for making plastic. They find uses in semiconductor processing (LED manufacturing for example) and as pyrophoric igniters for rocket engines.

These chemicals are extremely dangerous.

In order to use compounds like this in space, particularly in manufacturing, we must ensure that adequate safeguards are in place to protect lives and structures in case of accidents. That means following reasonable handling processes and designing spaces for activities like this that will fail independently.

I hope those affected recover. For the rest of us, take a minute to think about what we handle in our daily life, whether at home or at work. That might be as simple as a car. Recognize that our actions affect others and resolve to use due caution. If you know of a dangerous situation outside your control, tell someone.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Back (from outer space)

I'm back from holiday laziness and failure to post. Also have a certain song stuck in my head now...

The big news lately is the successful return of a Falcon rocket first stage to Earth. Congratulations to the team at SpaceX and all those who were involved.

The question is, who wants to be the first to risk their precious payload on that rocket?

I have a suggestion: SpaceX should absorb the cost up front and launch their own payload. The launch itself should in theory only cost them a few million dollars. As for what to launch, I'd say a big tank of water. It would have been nice if they had a payload like this waiting in the wings so they could turn the vehicle around and launch again quickly, but that is still an option for a future flight.