Friday, March 28, 2008

Space Access 2008 - Space Propellant Depots Panel with Jon Goff, Dallas Bienhoff, Frank Zegler, and Rand Simberg

Jon Goff

Jon kicked off the panel discussion with a short presentation. A hundred years ago sea going nations had coal stations around the world. Jon asserts that we'll need similar propellant depots as we become a space faring civilization.

Building a propellant depots have a number of technical and economic issues. Jon explored some of the technical issues. One of them is how to control the fuel so it goes where you want and doesn't go where it doesn't belong. Also helpful to make it simple so the gas station attendant can service the next rocket ship.

How do you build the business case? Can't depend on NASA. Only after there are fuel depots will NASA start to use them, NASA won't fund them.

Rand Simberg

Rand talked about the problems of the government building build fuel depots. The government would use way too much money. Can send the fuel with low cost thrusters. Because lives will depend on the fuel being there the depot systems have to be fail safe, there can't be a single point of failure. To have a robust, reasonable cost depot system there has to be a large demand, a good size market.

Where do you put the fuel depots? One good place is the equator. Unfortunately NASA would want the fuel depot above 28 degrees, since NASA launches from Florida. Other good places are the Lagraunge points.

It probably would be worth building a tanker. It could even process the fuel as it transports the fuel.

Rand says there are three business models:

1) Over specify what you want.
2) Use a ComSat model

(I missed the rest of Rand's talk, Janine called me.)

Dallas Bienhoff

Dallas talked about some of the technical issues of transferring the fuel.

It would be nice to have a couple fuel depots in Low Earth Orbit. A regular mission to the moon would start with 300 tons of fuel and land on the moon with only 17 tons, much of that would be fuel. A fuel depot allows a rocket to land on the moon with about 50 tons, much of that would be payload.

Dallas showed a picture of a fuel depot might look like.

Frank Zegler

One of the problems with handling fuel is we can't predict the boil off rate. Two ships flying the exact same mission can have a difference of boil off rate of a factor two. The fuel depot will need a solar shield. He explained a solar shield that did a good job of protecting the fuel.

Frank said that a rocket pack on the moon could take you into lunar orbit!

The full agenda

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