[extropy-chat] Re: SPACE: where are we?

Adrian Tymes wingcat at pacbell.net
Sat Feb 7 20:11:43 UTC 2004

--- Mike Lorrey <mlorrey at yahoo.com> wrote:
> Russell has a point here. I've always wondered why
> there are not freely
> available government specs on "How to build an
> orbital rocket" or "How
> to build a space capsule", laying out a lot of
> design requirements:
> what capsule wall thickness is required for a given
> atmospheric
> pressure, how much shielding against radiation
> and/or micrometeorites,
> how much reentry shielding, etc. If that information
> were freely
> available, then you'd have backyard tinkerers
> putting together
> rocketships all over the country.

There are, and there are.  In both cases, though, you
have to hunt for them.  Plan on spending weeks, if not
months, to get all the data (assuming you can only
spare an hour or so per day; serious professional
digging would be faster, but of course this only
applies to those who are getting paid to do it).

> This result is something the PTB definitely do NOT
> want. Aside from the
> monopoly of NASA and the oligopoly of the big
> aerospace companies,
> you'd have to worry about rocketships falling out of
> the sky all over
> the country, gawd knows what lives where they intend
> to impact rather
> loudly. 

Not a problem.  Although the information is out there,
a lot of the would-be rocketeers are finding that
getting regulatory approval to launch is the true
obstacle...and while the regulators would like people
to launch, they do take seriously their duty to the
people on the ground.  (For example, the maximum
expected casualties per launch before they'll grant a
launch license is, I think, somewhere around
1/1,000,000 - and the duty is on the launcher to prove
the rocket is that safe.  This usually requires a lot
of low-altitude, low-power testing, which itself
requires regulatory permission, usually from a number
of state and local officials including the local fire

And there's also the fact that rocket science has a
reputation as difficult for a reason - although it's
mostly the rocket *engineering* that's the hard part.
Choose your fuels, choose your nozzle configuration,
make sure it's ultimately powerful enough, bang it
together, get it to fire on the ground (in some remote
area), add an aeroshell and a recovery system, find a
place that allows rocket launches (again, the local
fire marshal can be a good indication of whether there
are any such places in the county; highly urbanized
counties often won't have any such place, so talk to
the next county over), truck it over there,

By this point, you've probably found a number of areas
where things didn't act like you thought they would.
Not to mention, you've already spent months or years
getting everything together - even if you *are* doing
this full-time by now.  And the launch licenses for
full-altitude tests, not to mention commercial
operations, require many many tests.  (Remember the
arguments for decreasing per-launch costs by designing
for many launches with rapid turnaround?  That doesn't
just apply to for-pay flights after you've got the
license; it's also a viable way of drastically
reducing development costs.  After all, before you can
fly commercially, someone - usually you, if you're the
would-be rocketeer - has to pay for all those test
flights, not to mention usually-salaried ground crew
time between flights: 40 flights at 8 flights a day is
a lot less wages than 40 flights at 1 flight every 2

> You'd also have lots of ballistic launches. What
> would the neighbors
> think? Especially the neighbors who are career
> paranoiacs with their
> fingers on the trigger of a fleet of ICBMs and who
> do not comprehend
> our individualistic culture. They'd be looking at
> their radar screens
> every day, having a nervous breakdown over whether
> Bubba's Backyard
> Rocket is the Running Dog Amerikans launching the
> Big One at them...

At least in the US, by law, you have to register
launches with the US Space Command, in part so they
can warn the neighbors what's up.  (A 1/25/95 launch
from Norway almost did start nuclear war.  Yeltsin had
his nuclear briefcase activated and ready as his
officials monitored the rocket, especially after it
seemed to go MIRV - actually just shedding components.
Even if he had then been disabled, the Russians still
had launch-on-warning protocols; the rocket was deemed
not a threat, and the protocols disarmed, with less
than 4 minutes to go.  As it turned out, the Russians
had been informed, but the message did not make it
through their bureaucracy.  This internal
communications error has presumably since been fixed
with prejudice.)

In practice, this is a minor hurdle.  Everyone's going
to see you launching anyway (there are no stealth
rockets yet), so why not warn 'em?

More information about the extropy-chat mailing list