But still, when it comes to launching something into orbit, I reckon 75 smackers represents good value for money. Granted, success would result in launching things that weighed 20 grams or so (although my calculations show I could launch up to 200 grams, so that’s a medium size glass of wine without the glass, or, better still, I’ll drink the wine and send the glass). I won’t be setting up a GPS system or building a space station that way, but one can do an amazing amount with 200 grams. An HD camera, for example, mini gyroscope stabilisation, small solar panel, mini battery and transmitter. Now, anyone, anywhere can access a web site and see the earth live. Watch moon rises. See the stars like never before.
Extend the launch system a small amount and that payload goes up to a kilogram. Once you can launch a kilogram for a grand or two, you can go to the moon. You can go to Venus. You can go to Mars (although to be fair, that’ll be a long, long haul as you won’t be able to go direct). You can fly into the sun. Hundreds of millions of kilometres of space – yours for the viewing, exploration and touching. It is just possible that you could actually land on the moon, but ironically, despite being further way, Venus’s atmosphere makes a death plunge far more attractive and there might be some substantial science to be gained from the exercise as a bonus.
Do it small, do it compact, do it cheap and do it in quantity. If I were landing on Mars, I would drop a metric stack-load of low-cost mini-landers. The very thought of spending enough money to eat diamonds for the rest of my life and GET ONE SHOT at it is alien to me. I would figure out a small wheeled vehicle, mass produce the buggers and get a swarm of them onto the surface doing their thing. We know enough about Mars now to know that little things with nice comforting airbags are highly likely to make it in one piece. Add rockets, wires to lower things, floating platforms, landing pads and a heap more complex stuff and you create a whole host of things that can go wrong and raise the risk substantially. Given that so much of the cost is in the launch, why send just one?
I am sure there is a good reason for all the decisions that are made, and making space about as interesting as watching grass grow probably doesn’t help. I wrote an article on European Space Agency’s recent PR successes that would have fitted three times in one tweet. Still, none of that takes away anything from my awesome N-Prize plan. Space Snakes in Space! Rattle-rattle-rattle!
I’ll just leave the donation tin right here.
1Caution: estimate may go up as well as up a lot. This estimate provided by “wild stabs in the dark” estimation services.