Adventures In Deep Space

A blog about turning our "crazy" big idea to transform deep space exploration into a real company (click on header above to view this blog's home page)

Introduction and Welcome (aka "pinned post")

October 14, 2021 — Thomas Leavitt

I've chosen this "open" approach to pursuing the ideas discussed here in the form of a startup, because the "moat" (startup speak) this company will erect lies not in some secret insight, but in the actual execution of the idea: Apply modular design and production line techniques to dramatically reduce the cost to manufacture satellites and satellite components, thus empowering public sector, commercial and academic researchers worldwide to cost-effectively explore the solar system. In combination with anticipated radical decreases in the “cost to launch” beyond Earth orbit, the Ultra Low Cost Satellite Bus (ULCSB) will make deep space research a routine and ongoing process, instead of being a once in a generation / once in a lifetime event.

Neptune and Uranus were visited, for the first and last time, in 1979 by Voyager 2. That means, for a lot of you reading this, that this doesn't even qualify as a "once in a lifetime" event! Our "moat", if anything, exists in the form of skepticism that this is technically doable, financially feasible, or even worth doing: "Who would ever want data about Neptune?" as one commenter put it.

If this vision excites you, read on, and if you're really motivated to make this real, join me! I'm looking for a technical co-founder (or two) to help make this real. This blog, more than anything else, is meant for the engineer looking to do something "great", and seeking a partner who can help on the non-engineering side of things. I've multiple startups under my belt (successful, and otherwise) and a lifetime of professional and personal contacts I intend to leverage on behalf of this project. I can be reached at tvleavitt@space.org and my business (consulting) phone is: 831-469-3382. For more about me, professionally, see my LinkedIn profile.

Highlighted entries ← click here for my "elevator pitch", among other things.

Tags: welcome, vision, recruiting

Why Space.Org? Why Thomas Leavitt?

August 24, 2021 — Thomas Leavitt

This is a very basic question that I expect to answer many times over the next few years.

There's an easy enough series of conventional answers: I've been through the start up rodeo before, both bootstrapping, and obtaining venture capital; I have a wealth of first and second hand experience from working with startups and other companies as an IT consultant over the last two decades; I have contacts, both business and technical, that I can leverage and bring to the table. I also have the ability to understand both business and technical people when they talk to me in their own language. I can handle pretty much everything short of designing and building the actual devices themselves (and I'm busy educating myself on that process, so that I can at least speak somewhat intelligently about it). I own space.org, and have done so since 1995, which is at least a modestly valueable piece of IP to contribute.

Less conventionally, I'm driven by a vision that I've had since I was a kid: of humanity exploring the stars. It's time, way past time, for us to return to space and stay there. To do so, we need to put "feet on the ground", at least virtually, in the form of satellites and other robotic explorers. Visiting other planets (and objects of interest) needs to be more than a once in a generation, once in a lifetime, event.

The last (and only time) that we visited Neptune and Uranus, two of the biggest planets in the solar system, I was 7 years old (Voyager 2, 1979)! I wasn't even a year old, the last time a human being walked on the face of the Moon (Apollo 17, 5:40:56 a.m., Dec. 14, 1972). For many of you reading this, that means these aren't even once in a lifetime events! Only four out of twelve Moonwalkers remain alive as of the time I write this, and there's more than a fair chance that they'll all have passed on before humanity returns to the Moon, perhaps even before we venture beyond Earth orbit again. That would've shocked my teenaged, science fiction obssessed self to the core.

Space.Org's part in this grand adventure will be to build the fundamental infrastructure necessary for humanity to explore and occupy every part of the solar system, to access and exploit the vast, vast, vast wealth of species transforming resources lying on our galactic doorstep, to make humanity, ultimately, not just a multi-planetary, but multi-stellar species. I firmly believe that the future of humanity lies in space. As a teenager in Jr. High School, I told my beamused parents that I would "lead humanity to the stars". Well, maybe I won't get there myself, but if I can help lay the groundwork for doing so, I'll be satisfied. There's no point in being anything less than utterly audacious. Let a thousand flowers (or satellites) bloom, let every object of interest in the solar system be documented and analyzed from top to bottom.

There are companies building production lines for flying cars. There are companies building production lines for spaceships, ones designed to land and take off from other planets, with humans inside them! What is a humble satellite probe, even a thousand such, beside these things? We can do it. The journey of a thousand miles, or a thousand light years, begins with a first step--come take it with me. I'm looking for a few good people who share this vision, who are equally obsessed with the idea that we belong among the stars, not trapped in the mud.

Tags: thepitch, background, whoami, vision

My Crazy 'Big Idea'

August 18, 2021 — Thomas Leavitt

Excerpted from Inside Elon Musk’s plan to build one Starship a week—and settle Mars

“If you’re just trying to make one of something, it can all basically just be made by the engineering team,” he said. “But if you want to actually make something at reasonable volume, you have to build the machine that makes the machine, which mathematically is going to be vastly more complicated than the machine itself. The thing that makes the machine is not going to be simpler than the machine. It’s going to be much more complicated by a lot. Things need to be translated into instructions that the average person can understand. You can’t have somebody with an engineering master’s degree from MIT hand-making every single part. It’s not possible. There just aren’t enough. MIT’s not graduating enough people.”

Musk is talking about building Starship here (the near term goal being to build 1-2 a week, and lower the cost of manufacturing each to $5 million), but this article inspired me to ask... why not apply the same logic to satellites--far smaller, far less complex machines that don't need to be human rated, and can tolerate the occassional failure (ala Starlink and 60,000 satellites)? Right now, the current paradigm for deep space exploration is hand built, single purpose machines, built for one mission. This results in most planets of the solar system (if they're lucky) being visited once in a generation, if not once in a lifetime.

I was born in 1972. In my lifetime, Mercury has been visited twice: by the Mariner 10 (1973) and MESSENGER missions (2011). Uranus and Neptune have been visted once: by Voyager 2 (in 1986 and 1989, respectively). New Horizons visited Pluto in 2015. There's a new mission in the works for Mercury, but none for any of the others. Mighty Saturn with its magnificent rings has only been visited once since the days of Pioneer and Voyager, by Cassini (from 2004 to 2017) and nothing concrete has been approved as a follow up. Even nearby Venus has only been visted twice by dedicated purpose missions since Magellan in 1990 (Venus Express, 2006 and Akatsuki, 2010).

Acknowledging that "deep space" is HARD, and the requirements for a mission to Mercury vary vastly from one to Jupiter, or Pluto... This is nuts. We should have multiple probes around every object of interest in the solar system, with more on the way. This is well within our technical capacity, and soon, one of the biggest obstacles to exploration beyond Earth's orbit, launch costs, are going to fall dramatically, as SpaceX (and other companies) build heavy lift vehicles designed to get humans and other equipment to the Moon and Mars. I'm convinced that, this will have an equally revolutionary impact on the exploration of deep space as the dramatically lowered cost of launch to Low Earth Orbit has had on commercial and non-commercial satellite deployment, and that being "ready to launch", in volume, when this becomes a tangible reality will create a huge competitive advantage.

Tags: idea, vision, market