The Space Reviewin association with SpaceNews

K-1 illustration
Reusability isn’t the only difference between the Kistler K-1 and the Dreamer. (credit: Rocketplane Kistler courtesy of Free Space Shot)

Space program co-ops and Astronaut Farmer

Spaceflight started out in the realm of the hobbyist. Then it entered the realm of the government. In 2004, SpaceShipOne proved by example that a person could have a space program. In 2007, Space Shot pointed the way for a person of Charles Farmer’s means to take a spaceflight with the launch of Let’s review the space age from the personal perspective, then see where it’s headed.

Emergence to emergency

Science in the 19th century was not yet a scientific military industrial complex. Rocketry for human spaceflight started out as a club activity on the fringe. During the early years, the space hobbyist could do the following:

  • Further research and experimentation in rocketry
  • Join a rocketry club

Rockets had been used as weapons for hundreds of years, but in World War 2 rockets became fashionable. With the advent of nuclear weapons, rockets became important strategic weapons. Human spaceflight was not yet big business.

When Sputnik circled the Earth, the United States populace awoke to the feasibility of artificial satellites and the fear of foreign domination of space. This fear fueled the Space Race culminating in a series of Lunar flights.

There may not be a good way to sell going back to the Moon and on to Mars in a quick, neat, honest sound bite. That’s bad in today’s television-driven politics.

During these heady years, individuals could apply to be astronauts and the engineers to build the rockets. But spaceflight was beyond even the wealthiest individuals. No one could buy V-2 missiles at the scrap yard the way they could a DC-3. Rocketry was a national obsession and the government marshaled all national resources to force the pace of rocket development.

During these years, the space hobbyist could do the following:

  • Build a small rocket
  • Join a space advocacy group
  • Read or write science fiction
  • Join the national effort to explore and conquer space

The space hobbyists were largely nationalized to become the new cadre of military and civilian government space programs.

Even after the national emergency ended with the end of the Space Race, there was still little new that the individual could do even as the national effort to explore and conquer space wound down.

This is how Charles Farmer in The Astronaut Farmer got involved. He was going to be an astronaut for the government.

The personal space program and the startup space program

With the Ansari X Prize, Peter Diamandis gave Paul Allen the impetus to go out and build his own personal space program. For tens of millions of dollars, a person could achieve what the government did with its X-15 program that cost hundreds of millions of dollars nearly fifty years ago or about $1.5 billion in current dollars. This opened up the possibility of having a space program to Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson. Others similarly situated, such as Bob Bigelow and Elon Musk, were making progress on their personal space programs.

But spaceflight was beyond even the wealthiest individuals. No one could buy V-2 missiles at the scrap yard the way they could a DC-3.

With the award of hundreds of millions of dollars in government money to Musk’s SpaceX for his rocket and for Branson’s spaceport, the validation of the age of the personal space program is underway. It won’t be for lack of government support that these space programs fail, but it might be due to too much support; they may get co-opted and lose their personal flavor.

Even as rich people with tens or hundreds of millions of dollars to burn started hiring engineers by the score, the garage startup personal space program is gaining ground. XCOR Aerospace is making steady progress toward its first spacecraft.

These new opportunities became available to the space enthusiast:

  • Go to work for a company that expects to fly all of its employees into space
  • Earn sweat equity by working for a space startup
  • Invest in a company if you are a qualified investor (roughly $250,000/year family income or $1 million in assets)

This is where I joined. But even if there are two million families with $250,000/year income, that still leaves 98 percent of the United States without a way to invest without becoming an employee of a space firm.

Could an atypical farmer take a lifetime of effort and farm wages and spend them on an orbital rocket ride? It may be fiction today, but it is only a few years away from being fact. Forty years working full time earning about the average wage of $12.50 an hour earns $1 million. It is only a matter of time before private industry finds a way to provide an orbital flight for $1 million now that orbital flights for over $10 million on the Russian Soyuz are sold out. Kistler K-1 may be able to fly 4,500 kg to low Earth orbit, which is enough for a pair of two-person Gemini re-entry modules, for $17 million. That would be about $4.25 million per person in launch costs if a charter can be had for four people for $17 million. That might be half of the total costs because one still has to build the crew compartment; the launch vehicle is only part of the costs.

Call it next decade, December 31, 2019, when someone saving a lifetime’s earnings at the average wage will be enough to afford an orbital spaceflight. That amount of money will probably be up to $1.5 million by then, or $3 million if you are working two jobs like Charles Farmer did in the movie.

Cooperative space program

Now for the first time, anyone can be like Charles Farmer and invest a little time, and in return earn a small opportunity to get into orbit. You don’t need to dedicate your life or a big chunk of riches to directly seek space flight. Instead of spending millions of dollars of time to earn a spaceflight, spend a few minutes at a time and earn an opportunity to win a multi-million dollar spaceflight worth a few dollars.

Could an atypical farmer take a lifetime of effort and farm wages and spend them on an orbital rocket ride? It may be fiction today, but it is only a few years away from being fact. has a tournament to win an orbital spaceflight on the Kistler K-1 with billions of entries. Playing takes a couple of minutes and builds a few cents of advertising revenue toward a spaceflight. Less than one thousand people playing at night for forty years could together produce a winner of one seat at today’s $20 million Soyuz flight price tag (plus tax). We already have 2,000 players and rising and spaceflight prices are falling. I expect the players will not have to wait as long to see an orbital flight winner as the twenty years Barbara Morgan has been waiting for her government flight.

In a generation as spaceflight prices go down and income goes up, we might see an orbital flight raffled for a fund raiser the way that trips to Hawaii were raffled a generation ago: tens of thousand tickets at $100 each, with the bulk of the money going to the sponsoring organization.

Thus, we return to the club roots of space programs after a seventy-year long hiatus. This time, the prize is a trip to orbit or beyond. Strive to be an astronaut like Charles Farmer whenever you want.