Thursday, October 4, 2007

Boeing's Orbiting Gas Station

One of my concerns is the survival of the human race. This is combined with the fact that the universe is indifferent to our survival and will destroy us without a second thought. This means that it is up to us to take those steps that will reduce the possibility of our own destruction.

(This is in contrast to certain rapturephiles who are gleefully awaiting the end of civilizaiton.)

In this area, Boeing has proposed the idea of an orbiting refueling station.

One thing about a refueling station is that it can take deposits in any number of sizes. If somebody shows up with 100 gallons of fuel, and another person shows up with 10,000 gallons, they can be combined. The missions are simple, meaning that they are cheep.

The advantage of a fuel depot is that missions going further out into space (the moon, asteroids, Mars, Titan) can pick up the fuel from the station.

Also, a station can collect fuel from a number of different sources. We can expect that the first deposits of fuel will come from Earth. However, there is a possibility that somebody can figure out how to manufacture fuel on the moon or from an asteroid, and ship that to the refueling station.

I would like to combine this with another idea that I think is interesting - the idea of the government offering 'prizes' to organizations that can accomplish certain tasks, rather than making all space missions government projects (with government mismanagement, government cost overruns, and government need to spread the money across everybody's congressional district). With this type of fueling station in orbit, the government can simply announce a 'prize' to any company that delivers fuel to the orbiting station, and let the private entrepreneurs figure out how they can do this for a profit.

Those entrepreneurs will likely figure out ways to reduce the cost of getting things into space, or of using the resources that are already in space, in ways that NASA would never imagine, and could never get funded.

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