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Charles Miller, Friday, 8-14-15 August 15, 2015

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Charles Miller, Friday, 8-14-15

http://archived.thespaceshow.com/shows/2528-BWB-2015-08-14.mp3

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Guest: Charles Miller. Topic: The “Evolvable Lunar Architecture that Leverages Commercial Space Capabilities and Public Private Partnerships” study. Please direct all comments and questions regarding Space Show programs/guest(s) to the Space Show blog, https://thespaceshow.wordpress.com. Comments and questions should be relevant to the specific Space Show program. Written Transcripts of Space Show programs are a violation of our copyright and are not permitted without prior written consent, even if for your own use. We do not permit the commercial use of Space Show programs or any part thereof, nor do we permit editing, YouTube clips, or clips placed on other private channels & websites. Space Show programs can be quoted, but the quote must be cited or referenced using the proper citation format. Contact The Space Show for further information. In addition, please remember that your Amazon purchases can help support The Space Show/OGLF. See www.onegiantleapfoundation.org/amazon.htm. For those listening to archives using live365.com and rating the programs, please email me as to why you assign a specific rating to the show. This will help me bring better programming to the audience.

We welcomed back Charles Miller to discuss in detail the recently released NASA Study, “Evolvable Lunar Architecture that Leverages Commercial Space Capabilities and Public Private Partnerships.” You can read and download the report, “Evolvable Lunar Architecture that Leverages Commercial Space Capabilities and Public Private Partnerships” at http://titan04.ksc.nasa.gov/shuttle/nexgen/Nexgen_Downloads/NexGen_ELA_Report_FINAL.pdf. During the first segment of our 1 hour 39 minute show, Charles introduced us to the study, the background as to why the need for the study, plus he said that to find an affordable way to move humans out into the cosmos there needed to be an affordable way to do it. He briefly summarized the history of efforts to return to the Moon since Apollo, then explained why this new approach, modeled after the COTS program, was so much better. Through the creative use of the public-private partnership program, returning to the Moon can be easier and more affordable. Charles was asked lots of listener questions including questions that addressed the TRL level of both NASA and the private companies to go to the moon, public and private risk taking, commercial competition, and the strategic use of fuel depots to further reduce mission costs. He explained their program step by step through three phases. Listener Dan asked a series of question about robots being serviced on the Moon, asking if the humans would be better placed elsewhere to control the lunar robots using low latency telepresence rather than humans on the Moon. Don’t miss how Charles responded to this series of questions that Dan emailed us. BJohn was also active with questions ranging from asking about the Lunar Mission One program to questions about the costs and assumptions used in the NASA study, even the use of GEO. Other listeners wanted to know about lunar settlement as part of this study, lunar habitats, and using L2 rather than the lunar surface. Listeners also asked Charles about lunar microgravity issues and radiation. Charles had the most to say about radiation issues. Later in the segment he said the plan called for a migration of the initial program to something like an international lunar authority modeled after CERN and modern airport authorities. Dan asked another question about getting astronauts off the moon in an emergency wondering if there would be greater safety margins if humans were not required on the lunar surface. Charles indicated that there would be a lunar escape system on the Moon. When questioned about the economics, it was clear that the study had in mind to facilitate human expansion BLEO so options not expanding the human presence BLEO were not options considered for the study. Todd asked if SLS was considered in their analysis. The answer was no as they only looked at commercial launch options, not government launchers. More questions came up about how the project would be financed relative to the NASA budget. Don’t miss this analysis and explanation.

In the second segment, BJohn asked about the Falcon Heavy regarding fuel depots. Charles said it was a LEO only launcher so not considered in their study. More listener questions came in regarding depots. BJohn also asked about the use of GEO. Charles explained why this was not an option. Eric and Charles had quite the email exchange about needing humans on the lunar surface. Charles said they were primarily there to repair and maintain the robots and equipment. Eric kept asking about using robots for the repair and maintenance but Charles said that technology was not available at this time. Their give and take was a good discussion of the subject. As Charles pointed out, since a commercial company would be on the moon with the robots, they would have every reason to advance their technology to be more cost effective so moving toward robotic servicing of the lunar surface robots would be something a company would be motivated to do to save on operating costs. However, that technology was not available today. Listener Josh wanted to know about other potential lunar businesses including lunar tourism. Charles was asked about lunar cubesats, then near the end he was asked about property rights and lunar resource exploitation. As the program was about to end, we talked about the political process and progress the study needed to make as it worked its way through the policy makers, Congress, and others. Please post your comments/questions on TSS blog above.

You can reach Charles Miller through his company, NextGen Space LLC or me.

 

Comments»

1. ericmachmer - August 17, 2015

How is it possible taxpayers wasted $100,000 on a study advocating lunar polar ice mining which did not compare alternative sources of propellant?

If the purpose of the study was to rationalize spending tens of billions of dollars to stick a few humans beneath lunar regolith in Bigelow tents, why not have enough courage to advocate that explicitly? Why disguise an effort to return humans to the moon with an incomplete financially illiterate business plan?

Furthermore why insist humans are required anywhere in Earth-telespace? Why repeatedly claim – contrary to everyday experience and common sense – that for some reason humans are required in person to repair telerobots?

This report is dated and disingenuous. It follows an intellectually dishonest trend in recent space policy analysis which is desperate to rekindle interest in returning humans to the moon (see Paul Spudis’ proposal to send humans to Mars for “only 1.5 trillion dollars” lol http://spacenews.com/op-ed-misdirection-on-mars/ ).

To claim “humans are required to repair robots” threatens the credibility of our space development community at large. No matter how often such wishful archaic fantasies may be reiterated, they’re still nonsense. As cars become automated, as technology continues to benefit from Moore’s Law, as robots and AI permeate our lives, the public will become accustomed to telepresence, VR, rudimentary AI, drones, and telerobotics. Politicians and investors will realize – obviously – humans are not required in telespace. Outdated lunar advocates – along with their ancient L5 colleagues – can insist humans are necessary in Earth-telespace, but that only makes lunar advocates appear more dated and out of touch – at risk of tainting the rest of our community.

Charles asked, “if you were a customer of propellant, and if you knew if one robot broke down – and you knew robots broke down all the time – would you really sign a contract, would you depend on that?” The obvious response is, “would you prefer to sign a contract costing tens of billions more, dependent on fragile humans?”

The reason robots do not repair robots on Earth – obviously – is not because there is some mysterious technological barrier which prevents magic repair robots from switching a dysfunctional part of a modular robot with a new part, but, because it is easier to haul a robot up to the ocean’s surface, or to a uranium mine’s repair garage, or out of a nuclear reactor, than it is to design a telerobot to repair a telerobot on Earth. The Air Force now trains more drone operators than pilots – JPL will surely figure out how a tele-operator on Earth can manipulate a tele-repair robot in space. Obviously. That we are even discussing this seems odd. It is not a capability “ten to fifty years in the future”. ‘Robots able to repair robots’ should be intuitive, taken for granted, especially by space policy analysts. Repairs do not require advanced AI or independent autonomous robotic intelligence – we are not discussing autonomous robots fixing autonomous robots, or the Omega Point or reaching the Singularity. At most we simply need an operator on Earth at a telepresence console to manipulate a telerobot two seconds away by clicking on an icon labeled ‘attach’, after clicking on a replacement wheel and a rover (as listeners to Phil Metzger’s Space Show will recall). Does anyone really think a Robonaut mirrored in a telepresence facility at Pasadena will be unable to change a tire or swap out a worn drill bit? Why not? The wistful assertion that telerobotically controlled repair robots are unable to repair telerobots is the claim that requires explanation. Of course it will be easy for telerobots to repair telerobots – they’re supposedly building the entire lunar base before humans arrive, why wouldn’t they fix each other?

It is not easy, though, or inexpensive yet to send humans to the moon. It is much easier and much less expensive to send tele-repair telerobots than to send humans (with their food, water, life-support, psychological issues, habs, rovers, limited work schedules, etc). In fact, it may be easier to send swarms of additional robots than to send repair robots. Who cares if robots break. Send better improved versions of disposable robots – it’ll still be cheaper than humans. A well documented, catalogued, organized tele-junkyard of modular robot pieces on the lunar surface would be invaluable. Not a “litter field”. To insist humans repair robots just doesn’t fly with younger generations – we think “there goes another old lunar advocate trying to justify sending humans to near-Earth destinations like some kind of 1950s scifi sitcom – at the expense of Mars settlement”. It’s nuts. The choir isn’t listening. The more quickly we develop near-Earth telespresence, the faster we send humans out of near-Earth telespace. Sending humans to the moon is ridiculous.

This chronically disingenuous study claims “the ELA strategic objective is commercial mining of propellant from lunar poles where it will be transported to lunar orbit to be used by NASA to send humans to Mars” and “a permanent commercial lunar base might substantially pay for its operations by exporting propellant to lunar orbit for sale to NASA and others to send humans to Mars”.

However, if reusable rockets are used to restock fuel depots in LEO it may be more profitable simply to launch water from faucets in Brownsville, than to establish and maintain multi-billion dollar off-Earth mining facilities.

Caller Bijorn pointed out the absurdity of refueling LEO depots with propellant derived from the moon:

“Your report estimates an initial investment of forty billion to start launching 200 tons of a year from the moon, your report also assumes a Falcon Heavy will launch 50 tons to LEO for 0.1 billion […] but if so, then the Falcon Heavy could launch 200 tons of fuel to LEO from Earth for only 0.4 billon, right? How could a 40 billion dollar risky investment on the moon compete commercially with instead simply launching .4 billion worth of fuel from Earth?”

Charles dodged this question by claiming, “First of all, Falcon Heavy can only launch fuel to low Earth orbit”. [A Falcon Heavy can in fact launch fuel anywhere in the universe once it reaches Earth escape velocity – which the FH will be able to do with more tonnage than any rocket since the Saturn. SpaceX intends their MCT to land 100 tons on Mars without lunar interference. That is the vision we should support.]

On The Space Show – although not in the study – Charles did mention competition: “you’re going to be able to deliver that propellant from the Earth, you’re going to be able to deliver it from the moon, and eventually you’re going to be able to get that propellant from say an asteroid. That’s what some of the asteroid resource companies want to do – is bring that propellant into low Earth orbit. And Planetary Resources probably could talk about that. They think that’s one of the first markets for asteroid resources, so, you’re going to get a market economy. You’re gonna have multiple suppliers trying to supply that to the market demand, and you’ll probably get a lot of innovation – and the truth is, what may be the best way to do it in one year, five years later, ten years later, may be completely different, because, they develop a breakthrough in some aspects of the moon or asteroids or from the Earth that totally changes the answer.”

The point Bjorn and many other want to emphasize is that investors will survey such competition – and quickly realize spending 40 billion for a lunar propellant facility which might be bankrupt and useless in five years is ludicrous.

Two thirds of the fuel harvested from the moon – if hydrogen actually exists as water-ice at its poles – must be expended to transport the remaining third to EML2 (and return the tanker). It may be more profitable for Mars cyclers to use water extracted from clays, ices, and regolith bagged at Deimos and processed en route to and from Mars (with slag used for shielding, sintered into cycler construction, cracked for fuel and life-support during transit, etc.). A mining operation on Deimos would not only refuel Mars cyclers with negligible loss due to delta v, Deimos mining operations could also fuel propulsive landers for transit to the Martian surface. Deimos resource harvesting could use long-duration trajectories on the Interplanetary Highway and plasma magnetoshell aerobraking in LMO (with hundreds of passes through Mars’ upper atmosphere over many months for non-perishable cargo). This study though did not address any such opportunities. It did meander through multi-page reviews of risk assessment theory and a historical survey of public-private mega-projects, most of which seemed like tacked on filler for $100,000. It devoted two pages to telerobotics with mention of a single obscure conference in Texas, but somehow, it did not mention alternative sources for off-Earth fuel. At all. Yet during the Space Show, Charles suggested lunar mining facilities “might be shut down after five years” and that alternative resources “would be something for Planetary Resources to prove”? Why didn’t they get the hundred thousand dollars??

Fortunately the following articles propose a propellant economy based on Deimos, rather than the moon (and did not cost taxpayers $100,000):

http://www.spacefuture.com/archive/the_deimos_water_company.shtml
http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2631/1
http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2733/1

LEO is easier to reach energetically from Deimos than from the lunar surface. Dedicated Deimos landers are not required and a crude telerobotic base there could provide emergency abort options for humans in Martian transit. Although a market for lifting mass from LEO using fuel depots does exist, there will not be a significant market for sending large amounts of mass from LEO to EML2. Most material in transit to Mars will travel directly from LEO to LMO or the Martian surface. Launching to Mars from EML2 only reduces change in velocity by a few hundred meters, which would not justify the cost, complexity, and time-delay of establishing a multi-billion dollar lunar ice harvesting facility (which may be shut down anyway as other options become viable). When we begin to send hundreds, thousands, and hundreds of thousands of pioneers to Mars we will develop Deimos and Phobos to fuel and shield their cyclers. Mature Mars missions will be less reliant upon near-Earth resources – and certainly not use facilities down the moon’s gravity well. As a matter of fact, since delta v from Deimos to LEO is less than the delta v from the lunar surface to LEO, it would be more profitable for Martians to restock fuel depots in LEO with propellants they telerobotically mine from Deimos – than it would be to restock LEO depots with propellants derived from lunar ice. It may actually be more profitable for near-Earth asteroid mining companies and even Martians mining Deimos to supply lunar tourist facilities, than for lunar mining facilities on the moon’s poles to supply facilities elsewhere on the lunar surface.

Our concern should be that misleading business plans such as Charles’ result in yet another multi-decade hundred billion dollar delay of Martian exploration and settlement – leaving astronauts with little to do but station keeping, and the rest of humanity with useless bankrupt lunar ghost towns. This is alarming. As Gerard O’Neill wrote nearly a half century ago, prior to the discovery of near-Earth asteroids: “By the time construction of Island Two begins […] we may be exploiting the vast reserves of the [asteroid belt], and not long afterward, if the economics is favorable, we may shut down the lunar mines, and leave the facilities there as ghost towns.” (“The High Frontier”, page 198.) Note: Gerard wrote this before telerobots, telepresence, the internet, and thirteen thousand near-Earth asteroids…heh heh

Lunar “settlements” which are basically a couple of astronauts wasting time, or billionaire tourists and their servants bouncing around, can be be shut down by a populist scientifically-illiterate president, an economic depression, or a generic lack of public interest “in space” – unlike robust Martian research stations, which, if humans can thrive in .38 g, will foster a new branch of civilization with nurseries and high schools and catalyze development of space resources for human expansion into the universe. Advocates of lunar ice mining speak of harvesting water for propulsion to hasten human expansion
“into the cosmos”, but obviously the only near-term “destination” is: Mars…which already has two massive sources of water-ice and regolith-shielding in zero g. Why didn’t the study analyze that?? Because its authors want to return humans to the moon? Why would anyone want to do that before we ensure permanent settlement of Mars?

Also, why is it taken for granted sending a few folks to putz around alongside telerobots will rekindle STEM education?? With three billion new humans expected to live on Africa this next century, sending a few fake astronauts to live beneath the lunar surface might seem such an egregious waste of resources that all space endeavors will be called into question – especially Mars settlement. The public might confuse vain shallow extraordinarily privileged lunar tourists and their irrelevant “astronaut” servants (reliving some kind of odd cosmic cosplay) with actually important, vital space-centric mega-projects able to improve the lives of every single human being in existence. At best as far as STEM education is concerned sending humans to destinations in Earth-telespace is a wash.

(By the way, for what it matters the day before this interview I listened to Charles’ last appearance on The Space Show a second time, an interview of him on SpaceTalks, on hour long introduction to his Heatspring course, read his 2012 Space Review article, read reviews of this study in Popular Science, Wired, and Space News, and of course read the study itself – I must have been one of the few, given its abundant grammar and spelling errors. (Heck, as a taxpayer I’d at least pay for proof-readers.) I guess Charles did not expect many listeners to have read such a poorly written convoluted academic – in the worst possible sense – publication, but, I did. It’s disappointing he suggested I hadn’t. What amazes me in comparison though is the ability of Mars enthusiasts to self-publish at no cost to taxpayers in-depth studies at a similar technical level, which are well written and easy to read, such as: “Mining the Sky”, “Leaving Earth”, “The International Mars Research Station”, “One Way Missions to Mars” – and of course Zubrin’s “The Case for Mars”.)

[The above was written ‘in character’ for use as dialogue within a forthcoming work of fiction…I hope it is not too strident or personal. I am always heartened to hear the genuine interest Drs. Charles Miller and Paul Spudis have in expanding humankind “into the cosmos”. Great show!]

J Fincannon - August 17, 2015

Ack! I winced to see you TRANSCRIBING THE SPACE SHOW! I hope you got permission from the good Doctor.

I agree with you on the telepresence argument, as long as you have lots of spare parts and make your robots completely modular, or simply disposable. Although a bit of an engineering challenge, it seems like a good investment to make.

Since you are enthusiastic on “Humans to Mars”, can you address the concern I have about colonizing Mars’ surface when it has not been established if there is no Mars life? Zubrin seems content to squashing such life forms as we on Earth would squash a bacteria on the sidewalk. What does your “in character” persona have to say about it?

B John - August 18, 2015

Like David, I know more about finance than about engineering, and the bottom line of that report is lunatic already at the first glance. What really worries me are the many prominent spacemen participated in the “independent review team” according to appendix B. They should have advised about the problem with the fuel economy part of the report. It would have been much better if that stuff was simply left out. Charles Miller obviously asked them and they all said it was okay. They fooled him.

I’m disappointed that Dr. Spudis devalues his name by talking about that trillion dollar Mars disinformation. He actually has the best plan for how to explore the Moon within today’s budget, that I know of, available at his website. If I had the task of writing a report about how to do it, I would start there. That’s the reference plan in my mind. The Moon haters and the Mars haters destroy the spaceflight community. Probably because they are greedily fighting over some tiny government grants. At a place like the Spaceshow hard hitting criticism should be allowed. Lunatic ideas can be inspiring for school children and for the generally uninterested public. But here they should be scrutinized for why they can never happen. When I’ve posted some stupid ideas at nasaspaceflight I’ve been rammed hard, and I’ve learned from it.

Sending humans to the moons of Mars seems to be a surprisingly good idea. It’s not immediately obvious, but I don’t find any fault with it. It could be done in different ways which remain to be investigated, but the key point is that it could be done, without even asking any politicians about it, at the 2033 conjunction. And to me it seems that this is what the doers at NASA and the space industry in general are working towards and what will actually happen, even if it is not apparent in the “debate” here. Going to a moon at Mars seems like nice compromise for both the Moon and the Mars camps, right?🙂

Humans or other Earthly life will go to space. Not to run a gas station, but for reasons we cannot comprehend. It is not as if a microbe half a billion years ago made up a plan in order to become human. It just spread to everywhere it could get to and here we are. Why? Good question. I think we need to be honest about this mystery and explore space for no apparent reason. We don’t know enough about reasons to use them all out.

(My name is Björn, “B John” is for ease of pronunciation in radio, and many guests and callers are called John anyway, so I just try to mix in discretely “from Sweden”😀 I’m not the only Swede who’s interested in spaceflight. I knew another guy, but he doesn’t live here anymore. Just telling, in case you in the US thought that the public is uninterested where you live.)

2. rocketscirick - August 16, 2015

I just finished listening to the podcast. Charles talked about a former scientist at NASA Marshall who got an SBIR Phase I award with an innovative way of using microwave to extract water from within the Moon. The name he gave was almost correct. The correct name is: Dr. Edwin Ethridge. (I’m pretty we’re talking about the same guy.)

David, this is the gentleman that I introduced you to at NewSpace. The three of us talked for a couple of minutes. I’ll send you some follow-up notes.🙂

3. Joe from Houston - August 16, 2015

I applaud Charles’ efforts, however, politics remain the primary barrier between dreamers and scientists like us and the end game.

I wish The Space Show would bring any politician on the show who is willing to address these barriers that seem to be constantly staring us in the face. Leaving them out of the picture keeps us frolicking in La La Land.

These types of shows seem to be dancing around what really needs to happen to make us a space faring nation which is simply to get the money spenders to spend more money on unearthly things. The biggest return on investment in unearthly things is rocks from space. Apparently, beautiful pictures and heroic stores from space just is not enough to justify going out there, otherwise, we would be there already. I tell you if you bring back rocks from space, you will thrive.

Interestingly, SpaceX has their own money to spend and they are the most likely ones who can do it before their prices inflate to government controlled space exploration prices that only produce beautiful pictures and heroic stories.


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