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Wanted: 'Space Depot' For The Rocket Builders

A production line for GPS birds at Lockheed Martin shows that commoditized approach to space has its benefits
by Joe Latrell
Colorado Springs - Dec 30, 2003
I am a builder. My family, have for generations built things. Homes, Offices, Retail Stores - you name it and we have built it. A straight laced blue collar family until I came along. Growing up, I worked along side my father and brothers doing what we did best, our finest work to build places for people to carry out their lives. Then I found computers and the rest is a strange tale that lead me down a different path than the one planned for me.

But while I left the building trade, it did not leave me. To this day I still compare the work I do in the computer and engineering fields to the work I have done building a home. Do I have a solid plan? Is the work progressing correctly? Are there any changes that we need to make due to some unforeseen issue? Does everything work the way it should?

The process is simple - start with an idea, create a plan and then build. Modify as needed. Test and check systems often, but not to the point where all you do is check. Before too long, you have a finished product. It works for houses, it works for computers and it should work for space companies. Not too hard of jump right?

Well, that isn't quite how it works. Several things are missing. The biggest being infrastructure and I am not talking about launch complexes either. Getting good parts is not only difficult; it is downright impossible some days. Most of your time is spent running around finding things that will work that are not priced so high as to be outside your budget (namely for liability issues). What is a rocket enthusiast supposed to do?

For the time being, there isn't a lot that can be done. But there is an opportunity for an individual (or individuals) to change this state of affairs. It is not glamorous but it is needed and could probably reap some nice profits. Someone needs to create a one-stop shop for parts and services for the rocket engineer. Someone needs to build the Home Depot of the space industry.

A builder today has the advantage of a large number of suppliers for his design choices. If you need a faucet, just hop down to Home Depot. They have several designs that will fit your needs (and your plans).

Want shingles for the roof? You can get a dozen different sizes and colors delivered to you. The system works great. The prices are reasonable and you can get what you need. There are plenty of materials for a builder to choose from so they don't have to create a sink from scratch.

For the rocket guy or gal, these types of resources are hard to come by. Why isn't there a 'Space Depot' of sorts? A place where a company could buy whatever components they needed for their rocket projects, pay reasonable rates for the materials and get good quality for their money? A space superstore for the engineer to use?

If you think this idea strange then consider the following: A large quantity of policy and position papers are written about what space flight should look like in the future. How we should be working on land use rights for the moon, flight regimes for tourists, etc.

There are entire conferences on what we should do with the abundance of space resources. Lots of it seems to be just paper shuffling and rhetoric on what we should be doing instead of actually working on the issues.

Why?

Because the basic terrestrial resources needed to do the job just don't exist. I have attended the ISDC and the Space Access conferences and have seen a lot of wonderful concepts. Most of them revolve around needing hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars before they can start to produce results simply because you have to build everything from scratch. There is no 'Space Depot' to get parts from.

For the record, I want to go to space. I created a company to start the ball rolling in that direction but I have found, like many others who have started aerospace firms that the resources needed aren't quite there yet. It is a sad state of affairs. If you want off the shelf parts, they are practically non-existent.

For those parts that do exist, the companies that produce them fear selling them because of liability issues. If someone were to create a 'Space Depot' then many infrastructure problems would have easier solutions and we can get to space that much faster.

So, how much for those 2,500 pound engines on isle 3?

Joe Latrell is President and CEO of Beyond-Earth Enterprises, a space launch company based in Colorado Springs, CO. He is an avid space enthusiast and participates in a wide range of space related activities from discussion groups to systems development. He can be contacted via Joe Latrell Joe_latrell@NOSPAM@beyond-earth.com - replace @NOSPAM@ with single @

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There are certain holy icons that we Space Cadets worship uncritically. People get really upset when they are attacked -- especially by someone who is inside the tent, writes Jeffrey F. Bell.


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