06/09/2004

Marché libre = possibilités infinies

Nouvelle page 1

 

Le simple fait de briser le monopole des voyages
dans l'espace permet enfin d'infinies possibilités
que dans le passé, seuls les auteurs de science
fiction pouvaient imaginer.

Un exemple de plus de l'apport négatif de
l'interventionnisme étatique.

Holidays in space are on the horizon

19:00 01 September 04

Technology Trends report from New Scientist Print Edition.
Subscribe and get 4 free issues.

When SpaceShipOne blazed a contrail into the
clear blue sky above the Mojave desert on 21 June 2004,
it became the first privately built crewed craft
to reach space.

With that one flight, Burt Rutan's budget
rocket plane broke the government monopoly
on spaceflight
– leaving pundits excitedly predicting
an era of private sub-orbital space travel,
with orbital travel and space hotels beckoning.
But is there enough consumer demand to
support commercial space flight?

Maybe, according to a 2002 study by the management
consultancy Futron, of Bethesda, Maryland, which boldly
predicts that no less than 12,000 people a year will
be taking sub-orbital tourist flights by 2020.

Although SpaceShipOne's flight came well after the
study was completed, it does not change any of its basic
assumptions, Futron analyst Janice Starzyk says.
"We made some pretty good assumptions, so we are
sticking to these numbers."


Wealthy and weightless
 

Futron polled only wealthy Americans who were
itching to experience weightlessness and see the
curvature of Earth from space. It assumed that competition
would drive down ticket prices from an initial $100,000
to $50,000 by 2021.

Already, scores of would-be space tourists have
put down substantial deposits on those first flights.
The money is going to companies like Rutan's Scaled Composites
that are competing for the $10 million Ansari X prize,
which will be awarded to the first viable, reusable
sub-orbital spacecraft.

One of those hoping for a ride on an early commercial
flight is the London-based Danish investment banker
Per Wimmer, to whom space is a logical extension
of his interest in adventure travel.

When one of his fellow adventurers told him he could
make a reservation for a sub-orbital flight, he jumped at
the chance, even though no commercial sub-orbital
craft then existed.

"It was really exciting to know this might be
possible," Wimmer says. And when he has made his sub-orbital
ride, he would like to take a holiday in orbit.

Some think he will not have to wait too long.
Jim Benson, head of SpaceDev, which built Rutan's
rocket engine, says far more powerful orbital spacecraft
will undoubtedly follow the sub-orbital vehicles,
and orbit could be reached by 2008.


Mach 25 capability
 

Challenges abound: SpaceShipOne got to sub-orbit at a
speed of Mach 3. Getting to orbit will require engines
capable of Mach 25. But Benson sees no show-stoppers.

Of course, tourists need accommodation, and Las Vegas
hotelier Robert Bigelow is aiming to supply it. Bigelow
made his fortune as the owner of the Budget Suites of
America hotel chain, and he is now launching a
$500 million effort to expand his business off-planet.

Adapted from TransHab, a never-used NASA design for an
inflatable space station, Bigelow's Nautilus space station
module will provide 330 cubic metres of living space for
space tourists or industrial researchers.

The inflatable multilayered polymer hull of the
"hab" will be around 30 centimetres thick and will contain
layers of Kevlar - as used in bullet-proof vests - to provide
some protection against micrometeorites and space debris.

Bigelow's engineers are testing the strength of the
sandwich of high-tech fabrics and radiation shielding
that will make up Nautilus's hull by firing high-speed
projectiles at it. They are also testing the hab to
destruction by over-inflating the modules, with the resulting
explosions contained in rigid test cages.


Economies of scale
 

Nautiluses could be flown as independent space stations
or connected with a docking mechanism to make bigger hotels.
Bigelow sees economies of scale as one of the keys to
profitability, and plans to sell space hotels to rivals
for $100 million each.

It all sounds far-fetched, but like Rutan, Bigelow is
approaching his space ideas methodically, treating
the space hotel like any other real-estate project.
"We act as a general contractor," he says.

He sources materials, tests them to ensure quality, and
tries to match the best materials with the best prices,
just as he would on a terrestrial construction project.
"Good is good," Bigelow says, whether it's on Earth or in orbit.

If all goes well with orbital tests of one-third-scale
test modules to be launched late next year, Bigelow plans
to launch the first habitable Nautilus in 2008, around the
time SpaceDev expects the first private orbital
flights to be happening.

While Starzyk, for one, does not think commercial
orbital vehicles will happen that soon, space flight has
always been fuelled by dreamers daring to expect the impossible.
Time will tell if they are right.

 

 

 

 

 

06:21 Écrit par Kathy Schmurtz et Had | Lien permanent | Commentaires (0) |  Facebook |

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