Tuesday, June 01, 2004

A Private Space Transportation System (Geocities Rescue)

In the wake of the Columbia disaster, it is time to create a new strategy for the exploration of space. This essay advocates formation of a consortium to study, market, design and build an integrated Space Transportation System (STS), including a permanently manned and privately owned Space Station.

Why is this a Christian Left topic, you may ask? Because providing for a privately funded international Space Transportation Systems diverts resources that are otherwise be used to perpetuate the war machine. Additionally, creating a new consortium to construct the system provides another setting where 21st Century Economics is applicable.

Department of Defense budget cuts at the end of the cold war have eroded the American aerospace business base. While the war on terrorism has revived the Defense Budget for a time, it is obvious that we soon run out of enemies. If union-owned firms and Employee Stock Ownership Plans adopt the 21st century management style I have described above, and this management style leads to the adoption of democracy in American multi-nationals, the need for a large military-industrial complex diminishes further. As this need shrinks, something must go into the void in order to prevent the creation of some conflict or enemy as a way to keep the military-industrial establishment alive. The natural answer is the exploration of space.

On the space science front, both the Administration and Congress seem reluctant to expand the space program to pick up the slack. Like other public programs, the space program is limited in its creativity to programmed activity, status quo assumptions and budget ceilings. An illustration of the state of space technology is the failure to take greater advantage of the Shoemaker-Levy 9 collision with Jupiter. An STS could have provided a special mission to the far side of Jupiter to observe the actual impacts, and to make closer observations of the phenomenon. Recently, International Space Station Alpha downsized due to contracting, funding and safety problems. The size of the crew has been cut to two for the foreseeable future, making accomplishment of the station’s scientific mission all but impossible. The slow pace at which ISS Alpha is built under-uses contract capacity and is wasteful. Fixed costs and overhead are charged to smaller and smaller pieces of variable effort over a longer, more expensive time period. This increases the total cost of the system over one procured more quickly. A more efficiently procured system is also a better system, as optional features not otherwise affordable are added. Part of the blame rests with the decision to rely on the Space Shuttle. A privately managed system would have long ago gone with a more efficient alternative rather than succumbing to bureaucratic inertia.

Funding the Space Transportation System with appropriated dollars at any speed raises serious questions of generational equity. Generational equity matches program funding to program use. Using this criterion, it is unfair for the current generation to fully fund a project with a useful life as long as an integrated STS, especially if doing so directly worsens a national operating deficit crisis.

If government is incapable of taking space exploration to the next level, perhaps it is time for the private sector to step in. Aerospace firms must radically refocus their efforts away from contracted science, with its cost reimbursement inefficiencies and evolve, leaving the government behind.

A more robust Space Transportation System is financed by consortia of defense firms through bond issues, possibly with government guarantees. Fees for transport, research, manufacturing and satellite maintenance from NASA, DoD, the Department of Commerce, universities, corporations, other nations and excursion passengers finance operations and the repayment of debt.

Consortium Creation
Actually building a Space Transportation System is a multi-step process. The first phase is consortium creation. An Industrial Space Consortium of aerospace firms is established under the control of a consolidated Board of Governors, with an Operations Committee made up of Component project managers and an Executive Director to oversee the entire effort. Consortium creation includes all activities from reception of Investment Proposals to the final agreement forming the consortium. Beyond that, I spare you further plan details, although I will share them with interested aerospace firms for a nominal fee.

Preliminary Analysis
The second phase is Preliminary Analysis. Each member company contributes to the analyses of the STS as a whole, and for any components or sub-components the Consortium member wishes to design, develop, build and/or operate. Members companies prepare white papers for group discussion to assess the current state of space transportation and research, both public and private. They identify potential public and private sector clients for assigned segments of the STS, both in terms of available resources and willingness-to-pay, and draft preliminary schedules and system engineering studies. Member companies explore debt financing options, as well as the possibility of seeking loan guarantees from various governments for certain research, development and construction operations. Here are some of the possible parts of an integrated Space Transportation System:

1. Space Station
The central component of and advanced Space Transportation System is a manned space station complex, including manned and unmanned weigh stations and depots at various altitudes. Manned stations provide bases for all other operations. The main station component is large enough for the generation of an artificial gravity field, food production, personnel and material transfer, energy processing, permanent habitat areas, administration and hospitality for occupants of facilities without artificial gravity. Major systems in such a station include superstructure, cooling, food production, energy, gravity, emergency propulsion, astronomy, research, radar, docking, habitat, vehicle and satellite maintenance and electronics.

2. Satellite construction, repair and maintenance
Satellite construction, repair and maintenance facilities are included on a manned space station, or be based there for accomplishment in satellite orbit. Given raw materials and components from the surface and placement of manufacturing personnel on the manned station, satellite assembly and maintenance is accomplished in orbit. The key question to be considered is whether the personnel involved in building satellites on earth are willing to live in space.

3. Depot and provisioning
Raw material provisioning can be accomplished using unmanned launches to a set of coordinates designated as an orbiting depot. This depot contains a manned habitat and a maneuvering vehicle for the management of material containers in orbit. Separate vehicles ferry material from the depot staging area to the permanent manned station.

4. Manned space flight, passenger carriage
A regimen for cheaper manned space flight, and the carriage of paying tourists is sure to evolve, given demand. Integration with Space Shuttle and National Aerospace Plane vehicles, as well as newly designed systems, is part of this task. This system includes routes to and from various Space Transportation System components, including eventual trips to the Moon and points beyond.

5. Lunar colony
It is also time to undertake advanced studies of a lunar colony, if only to test nearby technology that is necessary for a mission to Mars. Such a colony potentially provides a permanent staging area for space exploration, a permanent human habitat, and an alternate source for raw materials for orbital facilities.

6. Space exploration
The Space Transportation System is an essential part of an integrated space exploration program, both to provide raw materials for orbital facilities and to provide facilities for governmental and academic clients. The foci of such a program are science and exploitation of sources of raw materials. This activity is also a rich source of clients.

7. Ceilonautic Institute
A not-for-profit research and teaching institute is established for research and education in the space science and transport training, including mission, manufacturing and research personnel. Candidates for employment in the Space Transportation System are trained, as well as paying students from governmental space agencies.

8. Inner-space Exploration - Ocean Habitats
Companion studies are accomplished on modular undersea habitats to further study the possibility of self-contained environments with air cycling, food production, and water purification systems.

9. Nuclear Research
Nuclear research that is no longer safely accomplished on earth is accomplished in orbital and lunar facilities, including development of more efficient reactors, waste management and storage systems, inter-planetary nuclear propulsion systems and deep space energy generation systems.

Initial Design
The actual Space Transportation procurement occurs in three phases: Initial Design, Development and Construction, and Operations. A long-term payment strategy over the life of the system is suggested to guarantee generational equity. The Initial Design involves heavy up front design and testing efforts, which eventually save on construction and support costs. It is accomplished by the issuing of cost based research contracts and in house research projects that put a premium on creativity. A special capital fund is set up, with the government loan guarantees, to fund these costs.

Development and Construction
The Development and Construction phase includes all activities from Full Scale Development to Initial Support. The Consortium and its member companies undertake this phase and assume the costs of all the preliminary efforts. Once the design and funding plan are complete a funding package is put together. This package takes the form of a multi-year bond issue, and is assembled in the same way state and local governments fund capital projects. A financial and responsibility audit occurs at this point to assure program financial integrity. Part of the funding plan includes contingencies for program cancellation. When the package is structured and approved, loan guarantee requests are submitted to the relevant government agencies for approval of loan guarantees, which are enacted by Congressional Authorization and Appropriations Committees. Revenue from STS operations fund the redemption of the bonds over the useful life of the STS. After funding is approved construction occurs as fast as Consortium member performance and delivery system capacity allows. The Consortium continues to execute this phase until the second year of full operation, with its central audit facility performing inspection, acceptance and audit functions, as well as any technical support required.

Operation
The last phase is Operation. It is performed by the Consortium, funded by revenue from clients in the public and private sectors. This continues from completion of construction to component obsolescence. A venture such as this offers a new way for aerospace firms to do business. After more discussion on a mission to Mars, we return to a description of how aerospace firms utilize 21st Century Management.

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