Spacefaring America Initiative: Background information
Starting America on a path to becoming a true spacefaring nation requires a different approach to thinking about, planning, and implementing American spacefaring enterprises. These short essays provide important context for understanding the Spacefaring Institute’s approach to achieve this goal over the next quarter century.
Starting America on a new course to become a true spacefaring nation requires near-term useful solutions that can be brought into safe operation without unacceptable cost or delay. Sir Robert Watson-Watt gave these solutions the name of the “third best” solution. Watson-Watt’s “Law of the Third Best” simply states that “first best” never comes and “second best” takes too long; select the third best solution that can be undertaken without unacceptable cost or delay. This essay provides the context necessary to understand the systems engineering rationale for selecting the solutions to incorporate into the initial phase of the Spacefaring America Initiative.
A proposed design of a new system will likely include technologies, vital to the success of the design, that are not yet in operational service. When this is necessary, it is important to understand just how mature a technology is before it is included in the design. The Technology Readiness Level (TRL) scale provides one commonly-used aerospace industry approach for assessing a technology’s maturity. This essay describes this TRL scale and why understanding the maturity of the needed technologies is important in order to wisely select the systems engineering solutions to be undertaken.
Especially for important new product development programs, research scientists and system development engineers can have different success criteria related to the selection of the technologies to use in a possible new design. This often creates competition in the selection of the enabling technologies. The system development engineer wishes to minimize cost, schedule, and performance risk while the research scientist doesn’t want to have his/her work ignored. This essay discusses the important need to understand and successfully resolve this competition to avoid unproductive program risk and schedule delays in building the integrated spacefaring logistics infrastructure. It is very easy for a new product development to experience schedule delays and cost increases trying to bring an immature new technology into operation.
The term “progress” has many connotations. The essence of the Spacefaring America Initiative is that it is time for America to become a true commercial human spacefaring nation. Here, “progress refers to improvements in the standard of living brought about by the widespread use of a new product. Graphically, this is portrayed using the “S-curve of Progress.” This essay elaborates on the nature of these S-curves with special emphasis on what this means in terms of opportunities for new business, job, wealth creation.
Infrastructure is an unexciting word that describes one of the most important aspects of human civilization. In much of the world, humans are encased in an extensive network of infrastructures. Quite literally, these infrastructures define our civilization. And, quite plainly speaking, the extent of these infrastructures is often what separates the “haves” from the “have-nots”. Engineering and building successful new infrastructure is a great accomplishment in its own right. This essay reinforces the understanding of the value of building enabling infrastructure as these open the physical and virtual information worlds to humanity’s use. Infrastructure is what will open outer space to permanent human civilization. (Note that the term “outer space” comes from the fact that the original American reference to “space” was to the vast open territories of the west being settled in the 1800s. “Conquering space” originally referred to the settlement of these territories. This was done by the building of infrastructure.)
The S-Curve of Progress can also be used to describe the process and benefits of building new infrastructure. This essay casts the S-Curve of Progress in this light with the important added discussion of how this enables substantial new business, job, and wealth creation and leads to the creation of a new “industrial mastery” to safely and effectively operate in the new frontier being opened by the new infrastructure.
Opening a new frontier is an unscripted undertaking. Variability in nature and human failures introduce unforeseen circumstances that lead to undesirable results and unexpected failures. Murphy’s Law is a common way of expressing the fact that such variability can lead to unexpected failures. Success requires that good planning anticipate this variability and proactively prepare for responding to problems caused by this variability. Human creativity, problem solving skills, and physical dexterity remain the primary means to successfully resolve such problems. For this reason, humans will necessarily be fundamentally involved with almost all aspects of the opening of the space frontier. This essay describes why the spacefaring logistics infrastructure will be fundamentally organized and equipped to enable humans to safely and routinely access and work in space so that human creativity, problem solving skills, and physical dexterity are readily available to counteract Murphy’s Law.
Implementing the Spacefaring America Initiative requires taking a different road forward. Wishful thinking is not enough to bring this initiative into reality. Likewise, more of the same will not see this exciting future come into being. This outcome will only flow from different thinking, starting now. To become a true commercial human spacefaring nation, America’s first step is to realize that thinking as commercial spacefarers is the starting point. This essay elaborates on what spacefaring thinking is and why this is now needed.
The American pro-space community has developed substantial inertia to change. Discussions of change, such as from the Spacefaring America Initiative, bring forth both useful and unproductive criticism. No significant American progress in becoming a true spacefaring nation will be achieved if such criticism remains unchallenged. This essay discusses the nature of the criticism that will be raised and describes how this criticism can best be responded to positively.
Space, like the Earth, contains many different environmental conditions that impact human safety. As with most of human civilization on the Earth, good engineering enables humans to live and work comfortably and safely in these non-ideal environments. The same will be true as human civilization moves into space. We will not live in “space,” but within engineered habitats existing safely and routinely within space. This essay discusses the primary space environment challenges of vacuum, radiation, zero-g, and space debris and micro-meteoroids.
The professional environment for implementing the Spacefaring America Initiative must be comparable to commercial aviation. This is not the mindset now prevalent in the human spaceflight industry. This essay discusses why a new focus on aerospace professionalism is now needed for the Spacefaring America Initiative to be a success.