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   The "Marano's Law" of Private Space Industry   

The empirical law described in this article is only a curiosity but it can be useful to forecast the possible future of private space industries (like SpaceX, Virgin, Bigelow, etc. that develop and build their vehicles and rockets with "their own money" and at "their own risks") instead of believe to some current amazing claims (published on some website or released to the press) of very fast development-to-flight timelines.

The enunciation of my empirical law of private space industry is "private space industry needs 50 years to accomplish the same missions of space agencies". Of course, the "50 years" figure must have a ±10% error margin, since this is an "empirical" law. Then, lets try to see if the "law" can/will match the reality.

First sub-orbital flight: so far, this is the only "space agencies' mission" that a private space industry has really accomplished with several sub-orbital flights of the SpaceShipOne at 100+ km. of altitude, like the X-15 planes have already accomplished 44 years (50 years -12%) before the first SpaceShipOne flight.

First orbital satellite launch: this is the "space agencies' mission" that privates may be able to accomplish in time to perfectly match the "law". Last year, SpaceX has already done an attempt to launch a satellite with its Falcon-1 but the mission failed a few minutes after lift-off. However, SpaceX has the technology and the funds to try again soon. If the first private's satellite launch with a private's rocket will happen in 2007 (especially in october 4 - 2007) it will perfectly match the Sputnik-1 launch and the "1957+50 law".

First manned capsule launch: to perfectly match the "law", the first private manned capsule launch must happen in 2011 (50 years after the Gagarin flight) or (max) in 2012 (50 years after the Glenn flight) but, despite some privates claim they will be ready to fly a manned capsule around this date, I think that will be not so "easy" to accomplish a private orbital mission with private astronauts. However, since develop, build and launch a capsule needs an amount of time very close to the "law" timeline, one or more private companies (maybe, again, SpaceX, with its "Dragon") may have some real chances to fly within 2011-12.

First Space Shuttle launch: if we believe to start-up space companies' claims and their full-scale mockups of "new Shuttles" (to be developed and launched with astronauts and passengers in "a few years"!!!!) the "law" can't match the reality about this point. Since I'm a supporter of a (safer and cheaper) new Shuttle (as explained in my visual article) I can only be happy to see "my law" fails the 1981+50 forecast, thanks to many new privates' Shuttles, but unfortunately, also the best designed Shuttles are economical only in the long term (since they will be 100+ times reusable) and only if their maintenance costs will be in the range of a military aircraft, while, in the short term, develop, build and launch a new Shuttle needs giant amounts of time and money (in the order of 10-15 billion$$$) and years of real experience (that, so far, only NASA can have) army of engineers and scientists, big (and expensive) infrastructures, a very heavy lift, reliable and man-rated (very expensive) rocket (or "mother plane") to launch the small Shuttle and very complex (and experienced) Earth support to follow all flight's steps (assembly, launch, emergencies, flight control, reentry, landing, servicing, refurbishing, etc.) that, again, needs giant amounts of time and money! Also, with so high R&D and hardware costs the new Shuttle can't compete with the future (space agencies and privates) cheaper capsules, so, the company that builds it may go bankrupt! That problems and (FIRST) the incredible amount of money a private company must have or raise to develop a Shuttle seem impossible to solve in the next 15-20 years for privates (since only the big space agencies of the big countries can afford a similar effort, if they want to do it) then, all claims from small and start-up private space companies about "new Shuttles" ready to fly in "a few years" sound exaggerated and not credible. And, after all, if privates will succeed in launching tourists in orbit, at (e.g.) $2 million per seat, with their own (low cost) capsules (and make big profits) they will have NO reasons to spend 3-10 times to build a new Shuttle, then sell the space-tickets at a 3-10 times higher price, losing lots of customers and profits!

First unmanned lunar soft landing: from the technological and economical points of view, a private lunar landing with a small probe may be ways simpler to accomplish than an orbital manned launch, so, it may happen before (or around) the latter (5-8 years from now), but, lunar landers, have a different problem for privates: they can't give any profit in the short-term! The only reason for private space companies to develop, build and launch some experimental lunar landers, is to gather as much as experience possible about these vehicles to be ready the day (around 2020) that landers will become a profitable business as cargo vehicles to send on the Moon tons of "everything necessary" at very cheap prices for NASA and/or other world's space agencies, countries, privates, labs, universities, etc. The logical choice for all privates space companies, in the next 8-10 years, is to concentrate their full efforts only on profitable "Earth orbit business" (military, commercial and scientific satellites, low cost rockets, COTS, ISS and LEO cargo/crew vehicles and services, etc.) and invest part of their profits to develop and launch their first lunar landers, so, the "first private unmanned lunar landing" may happen (around) 2016, that will be 50 years after the first "soft" landing on the Moon of an unmanned probe (the Soviet Union's Luna-9 aka Lunik-9) in 1966.

First unmanned Moonrover: despite I think and hope that privates and universities may send soon their scientific and commercial remote-controlled rovers on the Moon (as explained and suggested in my two articles Vision for Moonrovers Exploration and Moonrovers Prize Competition) it's clear that, in the next 8-10 years, all private space companies will have no time nor million$ to spend to develop and launch on the Moon vehicles that can't give any profit nor have any customer until the end of the next decade. But, after many successfull landing of private's unmanned probes on the Moon (around 2016), I'm sure their "next (logical) step" will be develop and launch many, different, unmanned lunar rovers, to be ready for the (a few years later) upcoming NASA (manned) Moon missions and every related (possible) business, like moving (life-support and lunar hardware) cargo between lunar outposts, send movable instruments (for NASA, space agencies and private mining companies) in search of lunar resources (for ISRU and/or commercial purposes), search (for space agencies and privates) the best landing/outpost/research sites for future manned missions and (maybe) some "funny commercial applications" (for the movies industry and newspapers, TV networks, advertising agencies, etc.) also, the technologies developed for unmanned lunar rovers will be very useful to build better and cheaper (pressurized and "open") lunar-SUVs for the astronauts. I think we will see the first (experimental) private's Moonrovers land and run on the Moon in 2020 (or a few years earlier) then, about 50 years after the first unmanned Moonrover (the Lunokhod-1 landed on the Moon in 1970 with the Luna-17 probe).

First unmanned Mars landing: if privates will succeed in the "lunar landing business" they will surely try to develop and launch some experimental Mars landings vehicles (to be ready for future Mars business), then, the first private Mars lander may arrive on the Red Planet around 2021 (about 50 years after the first successful soft landing on Mars in 1971 with the Mars-3 orbiter/lander/rover probe) thanks to their experience with lunar landers and (most important) new (and bigger) rockets that (if everything goes as we think and hope) many private space companies will be able to build and launch successfully within the end of the next decade. Despite the first private Mars landers can't serve any "human" Mars mission nor outpost (since we can't expect that kind of very very complex, very very expensive and very very risky missions may happen before 2035-2040) their (low cost) Mars landers may result a very good business since (like the upcoming orbital COTS vehicles) privates may (simply) offer a (ready available) service to space agencies, labs, universities, industries, etc. that need to send "something" to the Mars surface. Just imagine a sort of (low cost and ready to fly) "Multipurpose Mars Landing Platform", where privates acts like an "Interplanetary FedEx" that dispatches your "boxes" (scientific instruments, new rovers, tons of cargo for future manned missions, infrastructures for ISRU, etc.) from Earth to the right places of Mars.

First Earth orbit habitable module: develop, build and launch a big, safe, comfortable and "human-rated" habitable module for 3+ astronauts, is a very complex and expensive job! Each ISS module costs around $1B and needs a ($600M) Shuttle launch to send and assemble it in orbit. Then, if privates will be able to build big (20+ mT payload) rockets within the end of the next decade (and, of course, if they will succeed soon in the manned capsules business) the first private (solid) orbital habitable module may be launched around 2021 (about 50 years after the first orbital habitable module Salyut-1 launched in 1971 and used for 24 days) but, "privates' orbital habitable modules" is one of the few points of this "forecasts' list" that may not "perfectly match" the "law" in the reality, not even within the ±10% tolerance, since, in the next 5-10 years, many full-size Bigelow inflatable modules may fly in orbit (breaking off my "+50 years" law). The first (33% scale) prototype of inflatable module (Genesis-I) was successfully launched on July 2006, while, the second module (Genesis-II) launch is scheduled this year and full-scale habitable space station modules are planned for launch in 2011-2012, so, if the Bigelow inflatable modules will be really launched within the planned timeline, if their "in-space" tests will demonstrate (against every doubt) that they are safe and reliable enough for humans and, if some astronauts (and, maybe, tourists) will live aboard them, the Bigelow modules will (surely) break "my (empirical) law", anticipating the (foreseen) "first (manned) private habitable orbital module" (Salyut-1 +50 years) date of (about) 7-10 years. However, if we talk of a much more complex, heavy and very expensive "solid" (ISS/Mir/Salyut-like) habitable orbital module, the "law's forecast", of +50 years (or more) from Salyut-1 to have a private's version, may remain valid.

First manned mission around the Moon: in my opinion, this is the "space agencies' mission" that privates will be much able to perform in time to perfectly match the "+50 years" figure from the first circumlunar flight of the Apollo-8 in 1968. The "steps" to approach this historical NASA mission will be: 2007-2010 to develop, build and launch many safe, reliable and man-rated private EELV, 2010-2014 to develop, build and launch many safe and reliable private orbital capsules, then, 2014-2018 to develop, build and launch (for unmanned test flights) the "lunar version" of their capsules, with an improved thermal shield, longer life support, an "interplanetary navigation system" and the Earth Departure System (EDS) booster their capsules need to perform the Trans Lunar Injection (TLI) so, in 2018 (or max one-two years later) they will be ready to launch the first private circumlunar mission with private astronauts! That flights may be of two different kind: a full "Apollo-like" lunar mission that performs a Lunar Orbit Insertion (LOI) burn, several orbits around the Moon and the Trans Earth Injection (TEI) burn (to come back to Earth) OR a (much simpler and safer) "Moon circling scheme" with the capsule that (simply) accomplish half an orbit around the Moon and come back to Earth, without any LOI and TEI engine's burn. The latter is a kind of spaceflights that Russia plans to start in 2011 to send tourists around the Moon at $100M per seat, then, it may become a profitable business also for privates (if that flights will be safe enough for tourists).

First manned mission on the Moon: the number 1 question is "can privates accomplish the same mission of Apollo-11 landing on the Moon two (or more) astronauts, then bring back them to Earth safely???"
(maybe, landing on the Moon in the
luckiest day of July 20, 2019 then, 50 years after the 1969 mission). I've two different answers for that question: if a private space company plans "from sketch" the manned landing mission, developing all the required hardware (lunar landers, lunar-jeep, etc.) and procedures "in parallel" with the lunar orbit mission (like the Apollo and ESAS programs) my answer is "Yes, they CAN" while, if privates can't spend so much money to develop and build the full lunar hardware, but need, first, to earn profits (and experience) from the orbital manned lunar vehicles and unmanned landers business, my answer is: "No, they can't land on the Moon in 2019 but only a few (or many) years later". After all, if privates will succeed soon in the "big-rockets/manned-capsules/unmanned-lunar-lander" business, they will have 90% of the technology, knowledge and experience to accomplish this manned Moon mission!

As explained early in this article, my "empirical law of private space industry" is only a curiosity, but, if you think that this ("privates' missions = space agencies' missions + 50 years ± 10%") empirical law may coincide in some points with the present and future reality of privates' spaceflights (within the ± 10% tolerance, of course) please call it the "Marano's Law of Private Space Industry", like the famous ("chip's transistors doubles every 24 months") Moore's Law (that is an empirical law) and (of course) I hope that "my law" will result wrong on every point in the reality and that everything will happen sooner!

January 18 - 2007

>>>>>>  If you talk/discuss about this argument on space forums/blogs/websites/magazines/articles please refer to the source of the idea and/or put a link to this article. Thank You. <<<<<<<<<<

Copyright © 2007 Gaetano Marano - All rights reserved

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