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Guest: Robert (Bob) Zimmerman; Topics: Multiple topics for tis program. See the tags and key words repeated below for a good summary of what Bob and I discussed with our callers for this program.
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We welcomed Bob back to the program for the last time in 2020. This was a two segment 1 hour 40 minute discussion on many topics, some of which were a bit off the space topic as you will hear. Before summarizing some parts of our discussion in detail, I first want to repeat the tags and key words below as they accurately summarize most of our topics and commentary in the order discussed.
Tags-key words: Bob Zimmerman, U.S. 2020 launch rate record since 1968, government launches, commercial launches, China launch rate, early space tourism history, early commercial launcher history, SpaceX, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Peter Beck of Rocket Labs, ride share competition, smallsats, Starlink, Blue Origin suborbital project, SpaceX Dragon, Virgin Galactic, competition without government interference, risk taking, Indonesia wanting SpaceX help for launch site, Planetary Protection, NASA Administrator choices, Green launch industry, Green space industry, Delta 4 with green fuel of hydrogen and O2, electric cars, electricity for electric cars, electric rockets, space settlement in 2021, Starship in orbit in 2021, environmental concerns and conflicts with space industry, 2021 commercial space regulations, SLS-Orion for 2021, James Webb Space Telescope for 2021.
Bob started by discussing the US 2020 launch rate with which 39 completed launches which was the most U.S. launches in a single year since 1968. Bob talked about the state of the "commercial" launch industry in 1968 compared to today, especially with SpaceX leading the pack. I compared his early history remarks to the early remarks that were made about space tourism as tourism had commonality with commercial launches other than space tourism was said to have a giggle factor back then while there was just lots of opposition and disbelief regarding a future commercial launch industry. Bob talked about Chinese launches but he did not mention the number of launches from other nations. He also said he was going to do another of his launch industry reports which we will discuss with him the next time he appears as a guest on The space Show.
Commercial payloads for SpaceX were mentioned with Bob highlighting smallsats, Starlink, and having a profitable cash flow business with the commercial launches. This prompted an email from Ben in Denver wanting to know about the Blue Origin suborbital effort as he said it appears to have gone dark. Bob concurred but did not have much info on it but he did speculate. This brought our attention to the recent Virgin Galactic (VG) aborted flight. Bob was not favorable about VG, including their rise in their common stock price. I expressed differences with Bob on VG but confessed I was pretty much out of the loop not having had a VG guest on the show in a few years despite sending invitations to my contacts at the company. As for the VG stock price, about all I could offer was a comparison to the recent show where I made a comment about not understanding the per share price of Tesla which brought in some listener notes as to why Tesla was properly valued. I assume a similar case can be made for VG. I concluded this part of the show confessing that today stock values are determined in the market place very differently than in earlier years when for the most part company fundamentals ruled. Investing today is a different story, especially with risky investments and new companies. As for VG, I look forward to their finally being able to start commercial business in 2021 with suborbital tourism flights. When this happens, The Space Show will be there to cover the story and events as best as possible. Good luck and safe flights to VG as they get ready to launch their commercial business.
Marshall called to ask Bob about business competition, wanting to know how to as Marshall said, get people or government out of the way of the business. Marshall handed Bob a question made to order for Bob so those of you familiar with these programs, well, you already know Bob's response to Marshall. Bob suggested ways of getting people to be accountable for their government through informed voting. I suggested that as Musk and SpaceX continue to be successful, especially with Starship and while there are still delays with SLS and Orion, the case for commercial launchers will be automatic. Before the segment ended, I mentioned that a challenge for 2021 for commercial space will be the increased business regulation risk. I then suggested that in the coming year or when Musk was getting ready to send people to Mars, he would come face to face with the Planetary Protection folks seeking to enforce Article 9 of the OST. Planetary protection might prevent or seriously restrict SpaceX humans to Mars flights. We talked for a few minutes about this, suggesting that Mr. Musk was probably already developing his strategy for the day he has to face off with Planetary Protection enforcers.
The second segment started off by asking Bob for his thoughts on the new NASA Administrator for the Biden Administration. He said it was way too early for that mentioning that in many administration changes the NASA leader is not named for a year or more. I took a few minutes to ask Bob his thoughts on some news articles I had been reading suggesting the space industry, including commercial space, needed to adopt a type of green new deal. I also have read articles about launchers becoming electric launchers. I confessed to Bob and the audience that I did not really understand how the launch industry could go green short of using nuclear propulsion even from Earth, nor did I understand how an electric rocket could work as a launch vehicle. About that time, I took a call from Ft. Worth John who quickly said the Delta IV which is being retired was a green launch vehicle because the fuel was hydrogen and O2. Bob and John address the green fuel but talked about its shortcomings which were a driving factor leading to retiring the vehicle due to costs and related matters.
In the context of having mentioned electric launchers, I asked both Bob and John to explain how electric cars get electricity because from my perspective, it still comes from the grid which uses fossil fuel, nuclear, hydro, or whatever the mix is in the grid, including some renewables. It looked to me like fossil fuels were still being used and one was just trading one form of fossil fuel usage for another. Also, should large numbers of people go to electric cars as governments seem to want, I pointed out that the grid would likely crash without some huge improvements which have not happened. I confessed that I did not know the breaking point for the grid versus electric car ownership and charging. This opened the door for Bob and John to add comment to the discussion. Bob brought up the petition which he said was a joke, to use an example of what he had been saying, to Ban DHMO (Dihydrogen Monoxide). I had never heard of this position but Bob and John were having a good laugh, especially when Bob read some of it on air. DHMO is the technical term for water, H2O, which is why Bob said this was a joke. There is a website for banning DHMO which looks like a real site to me. Check it out at http://bandhmo.org/ I am not quite sure how you ban water but maybe some listeners can post clarifications about this petition on the blog.
After our green space industry and launcher industry commentary, Bob was asked about space settlement in 2021. Listen to his comments. In addition, Bob talked about his view that Starship would not be an interplanetary vehicle. Don't miss this part of the discussion.
Tim from Huntsville called to talk about what in his view were crazy environmentalists. He mentioned the classic book "The Population Bomb", cold fusion and a few other things. He also mentioned engineering projects around the use of sea water and solar farms being hurt by the government wanting to protect turtles. Bob said there was always a balancing act with the environmental costs to the efficient project costs for any given project.
Still looking ahead to 2021, Bob thought that Starship would actually make orbit later in 2021, thus giving us orbital Starship flight. He mentioned ongoing problems with SLS and Orion causing delays and said that the James Webb Space Telescope was now scheduled to launch Oct. 31, 2021. Before saying goodnight, once again he strongly suggested that Starship would make orbital flights by November 2021.
Please post your comments/questions for this program on our blog. Bob can be reached by me or through his excellent site, www.behindtheblack.com.