12 November 1999
- Tourism (Good)
Maxwell Hunter Boosts Space Tourism
Giant of Rocketry Explains the Necessity to Focus on Passenger-Carrying
by Patrick Collins
In an article entitled "The Engineering of Dreams: The Future of Commercial Space" published in the National Space Society's magazine " Ad Astra" (September/October issue), Maxwell Hunter, one of the greats of rocket engineering, makes the case conclusively for launch vehicle development to focus on carrying passengers:

"Airplanes deal in massive mission models while the space models are trivial by comparison. It is easy to make a tentative engineering assessment of this but very difficult to get anyone to pay attention. Space deals in hundreds of flights per year worldwide. Airplanes deal in millions. If one looks at transport airplane cost analyses, the general massiveness and high vehicle utilization result in the RDT&E and vehicle production cost being a very small portion of the ticket cost. In space cost analyses, RDT&E reigns supreme. Airplanes operate at 2 to 3 times their fuel cost. If space did the same, the cost would fall by 2 to 3 orders of magnitude!

We dream of a vast future in space. But we don't try to encompass it. To do so would involve using vast mission models which are not credible to your boss. Yet they would almost certainly yield different design optimums than the "reasonable" models. If you dream of massive uses long before they are credible and then optimize the vehicle design for those dreams, you are engineering the dreams - not the current missions. The burgeoning interest in space tourism is the first glimmer of hope for airplane-like massive missions. It is really quite easy to create such vehicle designs - but extremely difficult to generate any credibility for the results in polite engineering society and impossible in science and academia. But it is among those dreams that the space analogy of the Douglas DC-3* resides. If one knew it, the programs could be vectored in that direction. This is what should be done. We've had enough of trivial mission models."

The article continues over 3 pages with many insights, and ends:
"Pursuing the real space dream of massive mission models will eventually reveal the holy grail. We should never forget to point in that direction."

*: the most successful civil aircraft ever built - reaching more than 10,000 units.

These comments are in 100% agreement with Space Future's views. They also strongly support the work of the wonderful engineers who are making major contributions to the realisation of space travel for the general public, such as Dietrich Koelle of Transcost Systems, Gary Hudson of Rotary Rocket, David Ashford of Bristol Spaceplanes, Jay Penn at the Aerospace Corporation and others pioneering piloted, passenger-carrying, reusable space vehicles - look them, and Maxwell Hunter, up in the Space Future Who's Who.

In the above passage Max describes particularly clearly the fault-lines that are growing more and more noticeable in the rocket engineering world - the increasingly bizarre gap between what is "officially acceptable" and what is, er, true. This is typical of what happens before a "paradigm change" occurs and a new consensus develops. For example, it is striking that - in sharp contrast to his final sentences - government civilian space spending in the advanced countries devotes almost nothing (out of $25 Billion/year) to pursuing "massive mission models" - that is passenger carrying - although a small fraction of that would be enough to set a space tourism industry soaring - as readers of Space Future Journal will be well aware!
Source: Ad Astra, Vol 11, No 5, pp 23-25

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Patrick Collins 12 November 1999
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