Re: a to-do list for the next century

From: Doug Jones (
Date: Thu Mar 23 2000 - 09:56:06 MST

"d.brin" wrote:
> ABSTRACT: What daring 21st century concepts or projects would you most like to see pursued, if money were no object?

I forwarded this to my boss, Jeff Greason, who wears the "corporate
visionary" hat among others. This is Jeff's rough draft:


1) Of course, Mars exploration. A $10B prize for the first
   humans to land on Mars and safely return would probably
   produce results within ten years. Better to fund as a
   prize -- only pick the winner.

2) (off-the-wall, but critical!)
   Orbiting luxury hotel w/artificial gravity
   * Think was the Las Vegas strip did for settling the desert West
   * Drives a market for cheap passenger transport
   * Pays for key infrastructure for large LEO construction
   * Creates key market for cheap access to space
   * All this, and probably profitable, too (though time
      horizon to payback is long)
   * $10B project (I know some have looked at it seriously)
   * Appeals more to the "investment" crowd than the
     "philanthropy" crowd -- but needs a touch of
     vision to invest.

3) BIG prizes for cheap access to space
   * By dropping the cost for any space endeavor,
      opens up huge new horizons for economic
      exploitation of space resources
   * If private capital, best form probably takes
      the role of a guaranteed market: pay to
      launch 20,000 tons of payload (water, if
      nothing else), at $100 per pound -- no more
      than 100 tons per trip, no less than 400 pounds
      per trip. The resulting $2B market (but profitable
      only at low price!) would do ten times as much for
      space access as the $40B the government
      has spent in the last decade or so.
    * The restrictions on max or min payload per
      trip ensure that usefully large vehicles are
      used, and keep someone from winning it with a
      "one shot" mega-expendable. Even the largest
      size allowed takes 200 flights, and is about
      the right size for a vehicle for orbital
      construction -- but if someone wants to make
      it with 20,000 flights of a one-ton low cost
      reusable, great!
    * Many new entrants could raise financing for
       cheap launch vehicles because of the assured
    * The prize only funds the winner(s) -- and the
       "first come, first served" nature of the market
       encourages speed
    * This isn't exactly a "prize" -- anybody can carry
       it, as fast as they can, until the full load is
    * Spend a small amount ($50M) making a
       payload container which can dock with
       other payload containers and keep orbital
       station -- carry the water (or dirt, or aluminum)
       up in those cans -- the resulting resource can
       be sold off for fuel or radiation shielding for
       space stations or hotels. That adds an
       "investment" spin and ensures the prize
       is itself useful, in addition to it's
       prime purpose in stimulating cheap launch

4) Fully fund the X-prize -- and bump it $5M every 2
     years until somebody wins it. Kick-starts
     orbital tourism for a bargain price.

5) Establish a prize for the first orbital tourist
      vehicle -- analogous to the X-prize, but
      up the ante to orbital velocity and to
      carrying at least a dozen tourist loads.

      $50M ought to be enough to attract serious
      interest, -- bump it $10M every 2 years until
      somebody wins it.

     Another nice aspect of "prizes" is that the
     ego of the donors can be stroked; everyone
     can be competing for the "Hilton cup", or
     the "Harold B. Crittenden prize"

6) There are GOOD fusion energy approaches
     languishing for lack of funds. Again, I'd
     recommend a "prize" approach. $100M for
     engineering breakeven ought to result in
     a win within ten years (I'm betting on
     electrostatic or electrodynamic confinement,
     but we could all be surprised). Or, if
     environmental concerns rule, make it
     $200M but specify "no tritium" (D-D,
     D-He3, or H-B11 would all still be options)

7) Jump-start the third world with non-polluting
    power. Really helps the environment by
    encouraging a less-damaging energy
    economy in the developing countries. One

     * Cheap PV technologies suffer from
        difficult barriers to entry, as the
        market is a bit small for good ROI.
        Buy $100M in PV power units at a
        price of $2/watt. (No more
        than 50 kW per unit). Divvy them up
        among poor countries to be raffled off
        to the highest bidder (don't *give* them
        away -- sell them, that way they go to
        people who have some idea how to use
        them. Just sell them for less than you
        paid for them! Poor people and villages
        in the third world get power (for water
        pumping & purification, light, refrigeration),
        and the developed world use of PV
        technology also increases, as price of
        PV is now competitive with other
        forms of energy production.
     * Once that works, similar ideas abound,
        for using that power -- a cheap electric
        freezer, suitable for "one per village"
        use, with integrated batteries, powered
        by your local PV grid. A small electric
        water pump/water tank combination with
        an integrated UV disinfection unit, to
        bring clean water to poor communities.
        (Then another philanthropist can offer
         a similar deal with solar water heaters)
        As long as you *sell* it to locals for
        something, it will go to people who will
        *figure out for themselves* details like
        plumbing, how to charge to recover their
        costs, etc.

     (This was inspired by the recent success
      of the cell-phone loan program in
      Bangladesh, showing that if you can
      give local entrepreneurs the chance to
      buy something useful, they find ways
      to sell their excess capacity to others
      and jump-start a local economy -- lots
      of nice side-effects, and it lets
      economic activity grow from the bottom
      up, rather than the unsuccessful "top down"
      approaches of foreign aid).


This is why I'm a plumber and he's the CEO :)

Doug Jones
Rocket Plumber, XCOR Aerospace

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Thu Jul 27 2000 - 14:06:11 MDT