Paul Spudis, a lunar geologist who writes frequently about Space policy, has published a piece in Air and Space Magazine about the vexing problem of cheap access to space. Currently space flight is expensive because we tend to throw away most or all of the rocket that launches things and people, and we have to take everything we need to sustain people into space. Most efforts to lower the cost of space travel has involved making rockets reusable, dating back to the space shuttle and now being pursued by companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin.

But Spudis suggests that is only one part of a solution.

The one problem that has to be solved with reusable rockets is that of turning them around quickly and cheaply enough to make the approach economic. NASA never solved that problem with the space shuttle, which took months and many man hours to refurbish for flight after it landed. Spudis is not convinced that SpaceX, which has landed numerous first stages of its Falcon 9, has solved that problem either.

Nevertheless, reusable rockets are part of a three-pronged approach.

The second prong, which may prove to be controversial, is heavy lift. Super rockets such as NASA’s Space Launch System, SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, and Blue Origin’s New Glenn and New Armstrong can boost lots of equipment and supplies into space all at once that would be used to facilitate the third prong.

The third prong is using space resources instead of taking everything from Earth.

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Water from the moon and asteroids can be refined into rocket fuel, which ordinarily takes up at least 80 percent of the mass of any rocket leaving the Earth. Water can also be used for drinking and other functions such as agriculture.

The piece should be required reading for anyone, either in government or the commercial sector, with an interest in space policy. As a new president will be sworn into office next year, a review of the current space effort is inevitable.

Spudis’ article takes together the various disparate parts of current space activities and melds them into one, coherent policy.  

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