Category Archives: Economics

3-D Printed Metal Parts

They’re getting better:

The new device reflects a wave of rapid progress in metal 3-D printing, suggesting that the technology is moving toward becoming a more realistic manufacturing tool. Last month, researchers from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory announced they had developed a new method that created stainless-steel parts three times as strong as any previous 3-D-printed steel parts. That means mission-critical parts can be created using 3-D printing without worries about compromising structural integrity. Startup Desktop Metal, meanwhile, is helping to overcome the speed barrier. Its production machine, available for purchase next year, makes metal parts 100 times faster than a laser-based 3-D printer.



I tweeted from the meeting in Seattle last Thursday that this was probably the biggest news from the event:

The Russian billionaire venture capitalist and amateur physicist is the man behind the Breakthrough Starshot mission to send a nano-spacecraft to the closest star, Proxima Centauri, and an initiative called Breakthrough Listen to use powerful radio telescopes to search for signals from intelligent extraterrestrial civilizations. Now Milner’s Breakthrough Initiatives has set its sights on Enceladus.

“We formed a sort of little workshop around this idea: Can we design a low-cost, privately funded mission to Enceladus which can be launched relatively soon?” Milner said at an inaugural international space summit called “A New Space Age” put on by the Economist magazine in Seattle, as reported by If Milner is serious about launching a spacecraft to Enceladus, it would be a historic feat as the first privately funded mission to the outer solar system. (If it launched today, it would be the very first private interplanetary mission at all.)

I haven’t talked about it on the blog, but I may be at least partially responsible for this. About a year ago, in the context of developing my Ending Apolloism rant, I started working out the possibilities of a private Enceladus mission, partly just to show that we don’t need no stinkin’ SLS to do fast outer-planet missions. All of the Congressional focus had been on Europa, due to enthusiasm for the mission by Chairman Culberson.

When I went to the New Worlds conference in Austin last year (previous version of the one I attended last week), I talked to Pete Worden about it, as well as John Mankins and John Carrico (who was Google’s astrogator at the time, before they sold off Terra Bella). They all thought it was feasible. However, Pete said that he didn’t think that Yuri would be interested in a private mission to Enceladus, because he wouldn’t want to be distracted from his starship. (Imagine someone typing that sentence a decade ago.)

I talked to some planetary scientists, including Carolyn Porco (PI on Cassini, who is very enthusiastic about prospects for life there, and who was at the Seattle event as well, giving a whoop of joy from the back of the room when Milner made the announcement) and Morgan Cable at JPL. Mike Loucks provided me with some porkchop plots, and we saw some interesting opportunities for fast trips to Saturn in March of every year, starting in 2020, for affordable C3s. It wouldn’t orbit, but be a fast flyby when the moon was outside the limb of the planet, at about 10 km/s, which Morgan told me would be a reasonable velocity to gather dust to search for organics and particularly amino acids. I also talked to ULA, who worked out some numbers of what could be done with Vulcan/ACES and a Star-48.

The idea would be to have a mother ship with a flock or flocks of cubesats that could scatter themselves around the limb of the moon, maybe in several waves to get time variation as well, to taste the flumes of the geysers. It would charge the batteries on the birds, send them off, and store and relay the data back to earth (it would require cooperation from NASA to use the Deep Space Network). I also talked to Professors Jordi Puig-Suari (inventer of the cubesat standard at Cal Poly SLO) and Dave Barnhart at USC about the feasibility, and they thought it would be a good cubesat app. My idea was to put together a basic mission concept and cost estimate, and look for money and a PI. I would be the inital project manager, until we could raise the money and hire someone else who knew WTF they were doing.

Anyway, when I saw Pete in Pasadena at the Space Tech Expo in May, he told me that Yuri had in fact developed an interest in ocean moons. I don’t know whether it was because of my suggestion to Pete or not, and I don’t know whether the workshop came up with something similar to my concept, but based on what Yuri said at that meeting, it sounds like it. In any event, I’m very happy to see this happening.

Corporate Taxes

I’ve been saying this for years as well:

corporations don’t pay taxes — they collect them. Any taxes are actually paid by customers (higher prices), employees (lower wages), shareholders (smaller returns), etc. The ideal corporate tax rate is therefore zero, but politically that would never fly. Instead we have a tangled mess of corporate tax law, which benefits large corporations with their armies of lawyers and lobbyists. Small corporations which can’t afford all that are put at a competitive disadvantage, not to mention sole proprietorships which pay through the nose on everything.

But since we can’t get an ideal corporate tax rate, a flat and transparent corporate tax would be the next best thing. Our current system is the worst of all possible worlds: It diverts resources and manpower away from investment and innovation, and stifles entrepreneurs to the benefit of established interests.

On the other hand, our system creates endless possibilities for corruption and graft. So it has that going for it. Which is nice for Washington.

One other point: People are saying that most of the benefits of the tax bill go to the upper percentage. Ignoring the fact that you can’t cut taxes without cutting them on the people who pay the most taxes, cutting corporate taxes in fact effectively reduces indirect tax costs for all the people above, who are in all income brackets (particularly the employees and customers). As I wrote years ago, we can’t cut taxes, we can only cut (or increase) tax rates.

Military In Space

Nothing really new here for people who follow this sort of thing, but here’s as good an overview of Pentagon plans as you can get without a clearance. I think that if BFR and Blue Origin’s vehicles come to be, they’ll dramatically open new capablities and change a lot of doctrine and strategy.

[Update a few minutes later]

This seems related. A new report, titled Escalation and Deterrence in the Second Space Age. Looks interesting.

[Via Leonard David]

About That Federal Climate Report

It’s “the usual mix of half truths, exaggerations, omissions and outright lies.”

In other words, what we’ve come to expect from government climate reports.

[Tuesday-morning update]

Oops, Naomi Oreske caught with biased numbers on “Exxon knew.”

Gee, it’s almost as thought they have a political agenda.

Scott Pace

Lee Billings has an interview with him. This is Scott’s (whom I’ve know well for 35 years) standard response when asked about SLS:

Heavy-lift rockets are strategic national assets, like aircraft carriers. There are some people who have talked about buying heavy-lift as a service as opposed to owning and operating, in which case the government would, of course, have to continue to own the intellectual properties so it wasn’t hostage to any one contractor. One could imagine this but, in general, building a heavy-lift rocket is no more “commercial” than building an aircraft carrier with private contractors would be.

He never explains how a rocket that almost never flies, and costs billions per flight, if and when it does, is a “strategic national asset.” It seems more like a liability to me, in the modern age of commercial spaceflight.

[Update Tuesday morning]

More thoughts from Eric Berger.

[Late-morning update]

NASA’s safety Kobayashi Maru.

This is insanity.

[Update mid-afternoon]

Bob Zimmerman righteously rants. I really find it hard to believe that this thing will ever fly with crew.