Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Commercial Launch Demand to Private Microgravity Habitats at Low Earth Orbit

Notional 7 meter in diameter Blue Origin space habitat (Credit: NASA & Blue Origin)

By Marcel F. Williams 

A 2018 Pew Research poll suggest that 42% of Americans would be interested in traveling into space. But, so far, only seven super wealthy individuals have been able to do so with their own private funds. Multimillionaire Dennis Tito was the first tourist to travel into space to the ISS. Billionaire Charles Simonyi was the first space tourist to pay for  two trips to the ISS.

The Russian space agency has charged these super wealthy individuals between $20 million to $40 million to travel to the ISS. And because of the extraordinarily high cost of space travel,  space tourism has been exclusively for the super wealthy.

Multimillionaire Dennis Tito (far left) became the first space tourist in April of 2001
Bigelow Aerospace is currently offering tickets to the ISS for $52 million each for a one to two month stay at the International Space Station. 

There are over 2100 billionaires on Earth. 52,000 people in the world who are worth over $100 million with 15,000 of those individuals living in the US alone. So there are at least 52,000 people on Earth who could afford to travel to a space and to a space station at current prices.

Companies like Bigelow Aerospace have also been developing their own private space habitats that they hope to deploy some time during the next decade. And  NASA has recently presented space habitat concepts from several private space companies including Blue Origin and Lockheed Martin. 

$50 million seems close to the current rate for training, transporting, housing, and feeding a space tourist.  Optimally, you want to protect your customers health, so ten days in space should prevent any noticeable anatomical or physiological health effects. The ten days would include the launch days to the private space station and the return to the Earth's surface. That should give a tourist 8 full days inside of a private space station.  The pre-launch experience should also include astronaut training with maybe a few hyperbolic flights aboard a jumbo jet to test the individuals reaction to brief periods of microgravity and dynamic flight situations.
Notional 8.4 meter in diameter SLS derived microgravity habitat (Credit NASA)
Once inside of the orbiting space habitat, a paying tourist should be given spacious-- private quarters-- for sleeping, bathing, communicating with friends and family back on Earth and watching network and cable television programs or videos and movies on a private wide screen monitor. 

A large microgravity recreational area should also be available for guest. And the recreational area should be at least as spacious as the accommodations  experienced by astronauts aboard the old 6.6 meter in diameter Skylab facility. Notional habitats derived from the New Glenn upper stage (7 meters in diameter), Bigelow's Olympus: BA-2100 (12.6 meters in diameter), and SLS propellant tank technology derived habitats (8.4 meters in diameter) should provide spacious environments for microgravity recreational activities. 

A Cupola window viewing area of the Earth should be continuously available for guest.

Samantha Cristoforetti taking photos within the ISS Cupola (Credit: NASA)

At least three FlexCraft EVA tours should be available so that guest can experience moving about in space while experiencing spectacular view of the Earth and external views of the  space habitat where they have been residing. FlexCraft would give tourist the advantage of quick and convenient access to space without the need for several hours of pre-breathing oxygen in order to prevent decompression sickness (the bends).  Flexcraft can be flown in space by the tourist or tele-operated by personal on the ground or authorized personal inside of the space habitat. Manipulation arms could also be removed from FlexCraft vehicles that are utilized for tourist.

Notional FlexCraft single person vehicle (Credit: NASA)
The commercial spacecraft pilots could serve as the onsite guest service agents for the tourist they've taken up to the space habitat. Robots operated by personal on Earth could be used by the space habitat owners to assist the pilots and their guest-- even on FlexCraft EVAs. 

If the polls are correct then their should be at least  6300 super wealthy Americans who desire to travel to a space station-- and can afford to do so. And if there is a similar statistical desire  world wide, then there should be  at least  22,000 super wealthy people who want to travel into space-- and can afford to do so.

Annually, if just 10% of the super wealthy who desired to travel into space (2200 people)-- did so-- that would require 440 to 550 private commercial launches every year. In 2018, there were only 111 successful space launches with only four them being crew launches. So space tourism should create dramatic increase in the launch rate accompanied by substantial reductions in launch cost. But even if it were only 1%, that would require 44 to 55 private commercial launches every year.

But what if there was a national or even an international lotto system that could allow private individuals to risk an American dollar for a chance to travel into space? What if  42% of adult Americans risked $5 a year, on average, for a chance to travel into space through a Space Lotto system?  That would generate approximately $1.2 billion a year for crew launches. And that would be enough money to send 24 average Jane's and Joe's into space every year (5 to 6 additional crew launches).

But you could add even more incentive for Americans to purchase Space Lotto tickets if winners were given a monetary prize of $250,000 (less than 1% of the cost for the round trip ticket to space). Winners could be given $125,000 initially for their time off from work for astronaut training and traveling into space. An additional $125,000 would be given to them once they returned from space.

 If 42% of the world's adult population were willing to participate in Space Lotto system with a similar financial reward but only risked $2 per year, that would still generate $5 billion a year. That could purchase enough tickets for 100 winners per year (20 to 25 additional crew launches).

Optimally, a single private space habitat might be able to accommodate 36 tourist flights per year for a 10 day stay. Ten habitats would be required to accommodate 360 flights per year. So, obviously, there would also be a significant launch demand just to deploy the private habitats needed to accommodate potential tourist. 

Recreational activity within the interior of the 6.6 meter in diameter Skylab space station. 

References and Links

Space tourism? Majority of Americans say they wouldn’t be interested

NASA LEO Commercialization Study Results 

Space Tourism

Space Adventures 


Bigelow aims to sell rides to space station on SpaceX Dragon ships for $52M a seat

The World's Billionaires

You're not rich until you have $100 million, says rich people

Ultra high-net-worth individual

Here's where the world's richest 0.00168% live

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Uranium from Seawater as an Unlimited Source of Renewable Energy

Ocean view under golden skies (Credit Simeon Muller)
Approximately 4% of the energy currently consumed by human civilization is provided by commercial nuclear power.  Less than 28 tonnes of slightly enriched uranium is required to fuel a one gigawatt (1000 MWe) nuclear reactor  per annum. But only 0.72% of natural uranium is comprised of the fissile uranium 235 needed to initiate nuclear fission. So fertile uranium 238 has to be enriched with uranium 235, up to 3 to 5%,  in order to be utilized for power production in light water reactors.  Up to 226 tonnes of uranium oxide would have to be mined in order to be processed into  196 tonnes of metallic uranium that would later be enriched into just 28 tonnes of useful nuclear fuel. So approximately 75,000 tonnes of uranium oxide is mined annually to provide just 4% of the world's total energy needs.
The amount of recoverable-- terrestrial uranium-- on the Earth's surface depends on the price. At $40 per kilogram ($US),  646,900 tonnes are deemed to be recoverable. At $260, more than  7,641,600 tonnes is estimated to be recoverable.  So at the current rate of use, terrestrial uranium supplies would only last about a century.

The reprocessing of spent fuel (fissile uranium and plutonium) from commercial nuclear reactors could slash uranium demand in half, providing more than two centuries of uranium supply at current levels of use. However, using terrestrial uranium and spent fuel recycling  to provide all of the world's energy needs with current light water reactor. So the current generation of nuclear reactors could not utilize-- terrestrial uranium-- to completely supplant the environmentally harmful fossil fuel economy that is causing global warming and global sea rise.

Countries with the largest terrestrial uranium reserves

Countries with the largest uranium reserves by metric ton (tonnes)

 South Africa-------------------449,300    
 United States------------------138,200      
 Czech Republic----------------119,300    

Source: Wikepedia

However, the next generation of  Fast Neutron Reactors could produce 30 to 60 times as much energy as current commercial nuclear reactors. And at current rates of global energy use, that could allow terrestrial uranium to power human civilization on Earth for more than 600 years. Fast Neutron Reactors could also use thorium in combination with uranium to power human civilization for more than a thousand years.  

But while affordable terrestrial sources of  uranium are less than ten million tonnes, the world's oceans contain more than 4 billion tonnes of uranium-- naturally dissolved within seawater. Utilized in  Fast Neutron Reactors, that would be enough nuclear fuel to power human civilization for more than 300,000 years. And marine uranium would still be able to power the current generation of nuclear reactors, with spent fuel recycling, for about 10,000 years.

However, uranium from seawater is also an intrinsically renewable source of energy. The world's oceans naturally contain uranium dissolved at a concentration of about 3 parts per billion. But the amount of uranium content within marine waters is controlled by a  steady state chemical interaction  between water and rocks on land and in the ocean. So no mater how much uranium is extracted from the ocean, the uranium concentration in seawater remains the same because of its continuous  interaction with the Earth's crust that contain approximately 100 trillion tonnes of uranium. That's a 7.5 billion year energy supply if   Fast Neutron Reactors are utilized or a mere 250 million year supply of fuel to power all of human civilization  using current commercial nuclear power technology and reprocessing.

Of course, in about a billion years, the ever increasing temperature of the sun will cause the oceans to boil. This will make the Earth-- uninhabitable-- long before the sun turns into a red giant.  So, basically,  there's  more than enough renewable marine uranium to power all of human civilization on Earth until the end of life on Earth!

Acrylic fiber test material for uranium extraction from seawater (Credit: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and LCW Supercritical Technologies)

US marine territorial exclusive economic zones (Credit: NOAA)

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and LCW Supercritical Technologies have recently had a major breakthrough in their uranium extraction from seawater research. They've managed to extract five grams of yellowcake from seawater by using acrylic fibers. The inexpensive yarn they've developed is both durable and reusable with an innate ability to selectively absorb uranium from seawater. And the material also appears to perform much better in warmer water where the extraction rate could be three to five times higher than in cold water. This could make the extraction of uranium from warm marine waters compatible with Ocean Nuclear Power production in remote tropical waters. Researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory believe that the acrylic material that they've developed could be ready to be a manufactured on a commercial scale in about 10 years. 

Links and References

Seawater yields first grams of yellowcake

Uranium from the sea: Sequim lab links yarn and seawater to expand energy options

Uranium Seawater Extraction Makes Nuclear Power Completely Renewable

Uranium Markets

Nuclear Energy Factsheet

How Much Fuel Does It Take To Power The World?

Processing of Used Nuclear Fuel

Rapid Advancements for Fast Nuclear Reactors

Deploying Ocean Nuclear Energy Flotillas into International Waters for the Carbon Neutral Production of Synthetic Fuels, Industrial Chemicals, and Fertilizers

Siting Ocean Nuclear Power Plants in Remote US Territorial Waters for the Carbon Neutral Production of Synfuels and Industrial Chemicals

The Case for Remotely Sited Underwater Nuclear Reactors

Will Russia and China Dominate Ocean Nuclear Technology?

The Future of Ocean Nuclear Synfuel Production

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