Showing posts with label Grasshopper. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Grasshopper. Show all posts

27 April 2013

We need a new approach

SpaceX is solving a fundamental blocking problem in spaceflight. This is a great example for the church where a similar blocking problem needs to be addressed. As with all such problems we need a new approach, a new way to see the problem and find a solution.

Grasshopper landing, 5th test flight
Sometimes good examples help us to see our situation in a new light, and great examples can even encourage us to do something about it.

Here is a truly great example from SpaceX, the Californian commercial spaceflight company owned and run by Elon Musk.

First the example, then we'll take a look at how we might apply it to the church.

Spaceflight? Church? There seems to be a disconnect, perhaps. Well no, actually. But more on that later.

Spaceflight is expensive - Here's the situation as Elon found it. Spaceflight is extremely expensive; launch costs for placing a large communications satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO) are typically £150 million or so.

This is what I call a blocking problem. It blocks further progress. Spaceflight cannot become routine on a large scale with launch costs of this order. For decades these high costs have been regarded as unavoidable. What might be done to reduce them?

By carefully designing the company's Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 rockets to be as efficient as possible, both in terms of manufacture and deployment, Elon Musk has been able to trim the launch cost considerably. But it's still too high, much too high.

Not being one to give up easily, he realised that the fuel costs are less than 1% of the cost of the rocket, so if a rocket could be reused over and over again (like an aircraft) the cost per launch could fall very dramatically.

Grasshopper - So this is what SpaceX has been attempting with its 'Grasshopper' project. Grasshopper is a test version of the company's standard Falcon 9. It has flown five times so far, higher each time. The recent flight to 250 m is amazing to watch. It goes up, it hovers for a while, and then it returns to the launch pad and lands!

Watch Grasshopper do it's stuff in this SpaceX video. Don't miss it. It's truly astonishing!

On the next cargo flight of Dragon to the International Space Station (ISS), SpaceX intends to 'land' the first stage on the sea as a trial run. They don't expect to succeed on the first attempt (though I suspect they may do better than most people think). But they will persevere and when they are comfortable with the process they will eventually return an intact first stage to the launch pad.

And then they'll work on minimising the refurbishment and refuelling so that the same rocket can be flown several times a week, perhaps even several times a day. And they plan to work on returning the second stage as well.

I'm sure you can see how this will change everything. Space launches will become far cheaper and new markets for launch services will develop as a direct result.

And the church? - Ah, the church! You see the church has a similar problem, something that has been taken for granted like high launch costs in the rocket business. Church in the West has seen falling numbers, falling influence, falling relevance to ordinary people.

All sorts of programmes have been organised involving better music, excellent teaching, novel forms of meeting, cafe church, simple church, exciting children's programmes, house church and more. None of these things in themselves has made a fundamental difference.

Like Elon Musk and SpaceX we need a new way of thinking.

And we already have one! Alan Hirsch has put his able mind to work and has identified six key elements that are essential but sufficient for explosive and continuing growth. Taken together (and he makes it clear that they must be taken together to be effective) these six elements can make a dramatic difference.

The first key element is 'Jesus is Lord' and that should surprise none of us. But what are the other five?

You'll have to wait for a later post to find out. But if you can't wait, get a copy of Alan's book, 'The Forgotten Ways' and start reading. It's excellent stuff, illuminating, exciting, and carrying a real hope for the future of the church in the West.

Questions:

  • Does it seem to you that church in the western world is advancing or retreating?
  • Why is the western church not growing explosively like the church in China or India?
  • Have you heard Alan Hirsch speak, or read any of his books?
  • Is Jesus truly at the very centre of all you do and say and think?

See also:

24 April 2013

Space, a new era

A new age is beginning in space commerce. After a little history this article considers where things may go next in timescales of ten, twenty and a hundred years. This is no longer purely science fiction, it is becoming technological fact. It's possible to foresee voyages to the stars a hundred years from now.

Apollo 4 on the pad
Yes, we really are at the beginning of a new era in spaceflight. Until recently almost all efforts in space were the preserve of governments or multinational bodies like the European Space Agency (ESA).

In a few areas private companies were able to play a role, but the funding was mostly government based.

The only real exception has been for communications satellites, and even these had to be flown on rockets designed and built for governments.

In this article we'll look at how the situation has been changing, especially over the last five years.

Early history - I was nine-years-old when Sputnik 1 was launched by the Soviet Union in October 1957. I remember hearing its bleeping tone on the radio and noticing how anxious Mum and Dad seemed that the Russians rather than the Americans had achieved this feat of engineering.

Of course, America wasn't far behind; though early European cooperation in rocketry failed.

In April 1961 Yuri Gagarin flew on Vostok 1 and before long orbital trips seemed almost routine. The Americans landed Apollo 11 on the Moon in July 1969. Today we can add many more nations, an international organisation (ESA), and even a private company (SpaceX) to the list.

Commercial satellites - Commercial space businesses began with government contracts to construct rockets and build satellites. But the first businesses to make a profit from space were broadcasting and telecommunications companies.

Since then direct broadcast TV, weather satellites, earth resources, mapping, messaging, delivery tracking and global positioning (GPS) have become mainstream commercial applications. And military satellites, although not commercial in nature, are widely deployed and used by many national governments.

The space launch industry - With so many commercial satellite operators, it was clear that there was a  market for a commercial space launch industry.

Until recently those launchers have been funded and specified by governments, but now SpaceX, a number of other companies and some cooperative ventures such as the United Launch Alliance (ULA) are looking to make a profit by selling launch services. This includes provision of the launch vehicles, payload integration, fuelling, pad infrastructure, and managing the launch itself.

Virgin Galactic - Virgin is close to providing sub-orbital short hops into space. They plan to cater for space tourism as well as offering research flights. For the first time scientists and engineers will be able to fly with their experiments regularly and return them reliably. This service may replace throw-away sounding rockets.

Other companies are working on sub-orbital flight too, but Virgin are very close. Their spacecraft (SpaceShipTwo) is about to begin powered test flights.

SpaceX - Elon Musk's company already offers two sizes of commercial launcher (Falcon 1e and Falcon 9) and is close to testing Falcon Heavy for even larger payloads. They are also using their Dragon cargo ship to fly regularly to the International Space Station (ISS), are working hard on a crewed version of Dragon.

DragonLab is a free-flying commercial venture to provide a weightless platform for science and technology. Any organisation can book space on DragonLab knowing that their payload can be recovered and flown again as often as required.

A further project (Grasshopper) is developing the technology to safely land and re-use Falcon 9 rocket stages. And in the more distant future SpaceX has ambitions to see a viable human colony established on Mars.

Bigelow - Bigelow Aerospace has two prototype inflatable space habitat modules in orbit, is planning to attach one to the ISS for testing by NASA, and plans to offer orbital accommodation for science as well as for tourism.

Mars OneMars One is a non-profit foundation based in the Netherlands. They hope to colonise Mars and pay for it by a combination of donations, sponsorship and TV contracts. The plan is to send four people to Mars in 2023 with four more arriving every two years after that. These are one way trips. Mars One is now open for applicants and is signing contracts for initial design studies.

Asteroid mining - At least two companies have been created recently with a view to the commercial exploitation of asteroidal materials. Asteroids are rich in rare and precious metals as well as volatiles in the form of ices.

Where is it all leading? - This really is a special time in spaceflight. We are progressing from state funded and controlled projects at relatively small scale and high cost, towards commercial operations taking humankind and our machines further and doing so profitably.

The immediate future offers the prospect of short hops into space for anyone with £20 000 to £30 000 to spare, a reusable Falcon 9 first stage substantially reducing the cost to orbit, and commercial access to low Earth orbit (LEO) for both crewed and uncrewed spacecraft. This is likely to include small capsules like SpaceX's Dragon and much larger volumes such as the Bigelow inflatable modules. Much of this will happen in the next ten years.

In the longer term we can expect commercial operations to develop raw material supplies from Asteroids, as well as small colonies on Mars and perhaps the Moon too. For this we may be looking at a twenty year timescale.

But make no mistake, once this process has begun there will be no stopping it. We are probably heading for a Solar System wide civilisation within the next century. Children born today will find it quite normal to watch and read material created on a different planet or in orbit elsewhere around our local star.

And once the outer planets have been reached it will be only a matter of time before our descendants start to consider how best to reach other stars. Perhaps they will send out self-sufficient colonies based on and inside modified asteroids.

Questions:

  • If humans colonise space, how will that affect society, faith, and the future?
  • Are you going to sign up for Mars One's one way trip to Mars? (I'm not!)
  • How would you feel if your children or grandchildren were living on Mars?
  • If the cost comes down enough, would you fancy a sub-orbital hop into space?

See also:




20 March 2013

Elon Musk at TED

Elon Musk is an extraordinary entrepreneur. He is behind SpaceX and several other ground-breaking companies. Interviewed here for TED he explains how he has achieved such success. It seems that it essentially depends on beginning with sound principles, aiming high and taking risks.

This rocket is landing, not taking off!
Sometimes a truly extraordinary event or person comes along and changes everything. Elon Musk is one of those people.

He was a co-founder of PayPal and sold his share in the company for a considerable fortune.

Wanting to devote his life to things that would solve major issues for the human race, he went on to develop a company building electric cars to reduce our need for fossil fuels (Tesla), a company to dramatically reduce the cost of spaceflight (SpaceX) and a solar power company  (SolarCity) to eliminate the fossil fuel industry.

Elon Musk hopes to make humanity a multi-planet species by making it possible to colonise Mars.

How does he do it? - Chris Anderson, the curator of the TED Talks, interviewed Elon to find out what makes him tick and exactly what it is that has enabled him to succeed repeatedly. Chris would also like to know whether the essential factors can be identified and encouraged in others. Can Elon Musk become a sort of 'template' or guide for success with extreme projects?

The answer is, quite possibly, 'Yes'. The keys seem to be to aim high, take risks, base new ventures on the underlying principles and work up from there. It's also useful to pay close attention to negative feedback from friends.

Watch the interview for yourself. It is short, fascinating, and informative.



Questions:

  • What most astonishes you about Elon Musk's achievements?
  • What is the most interesting part of his thinking? What is fundamental?
  • How might you use the underlying principles in business, church, politics, education... ?
  • What are you waiting for?

See also:

Copyright

Creative Commons Licence

© 2002-2017, Chris J Jefferies

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. A link to the relevant article on this site is sufficient attribution. If you print the material please include the URL. Thanks! Click through photos for larger versions. Images from Wikimedia Commons will then display the original copyright information.
Real Time Web Analytics