Saturday, January 2, 2016

News 2016: the economics of spaceflight & renewable energy

News: Troy Record January 2, 2015

On Dec. 21, Elon Musk’s SpaceX, after launching 11 satellites into orbit, returned its 15-story booster rocket, upright and intact, to a landing pad at Cape Canaveral. That’s a $60 million mountain of machinery – recovered. (The traditional booster rocket either burns up or disappears into some ocean.)
The reusable rocket has arrived. Arguably, it arrived a month earlier when Blue Origin, a privately owned outfit created by Jeff Bezos (Amazon CEO and owner of The Washington Post) launched and landed its own booster rocket, albeit for a suborbital flight. But whether you attribute priority to Musk or Bezos, the two events together mark the inauguration of a new era in spaceflight.
Musk predicts that the reusable rocket will reduce the cost of accessing space a hundredfold. This depends, of course, on whether the wear and tear and stresses of the launch make the refurbishing prohibitively expensive. Assuming it’s not, and assuming Musk is even 10 percent right, reusability revolutionizes the economics of spaceflight.
  • democratizes & commercializes
  • competing in the marketplace
  • seeing into the future is increased privatization

Today future directions are being set by private companies with growing technical experience and competing visions. Musk is fixated on colonizing Mars, Bezos on seeing “millions of people living and working in space,” and Richard Branson on space tourism by way of Virgin Galactic (he has already sold 700 tickets to ride at $250,000 each). And Moon Express, another private enterprise, is not even interested in hurling about clumsy, air-breathing humans. It is bent on robotic mining expeditions to the moon. My personal preference is a permanent manned moon base, which would likely already exist had our politicians not decided to abandon the moon in the early 1970s.

News January 2, 2015
SolarCity — the leading installer of residential solar panels in the US — announced today in Times Square that the company has built the industry's most efficient solar panel, Reuters reports. The panel converts sunlight into electricity with a 22.04 percent efficiency, according to third-party testing from the Renewable Energy Test Center. That's slightly higher than the 21.5 percent efficiency boasted by rival SunPower's X-Series solar panels.

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