Harvesting LOX in LEO: Toward a Hunter-Gather Space Economy
John Wilkes, Paul Klinkman
AIAA SPACE 2007 Conference & Exposition
One of the great impediments to using traditional chemical rocket technology to support space activity over the long run is the need to boost oxidizer (and other parts of the rocket fuel package) to Low Earth Orbit. The key to operating in space over the long run will depend on the ability to refuel in space, especially if one wants to move to SSTO technology. Thus, the proposed Oxygen Harvesting System promises to kick open the door to space well before the next generation of space drives is
... ailable and massively reduce the cost of reaching destinations in the inner solar system. It will also probably also be the first profitable product oriented space industry that is not based on an information product. Certainly it paves the way to the first interplanetary trade system as gases in short supply or completely lacking on the Moon and abundant on or near the Earth are delivered to the Moon at low cost. This invention, for which he has submitted a patent application, promises to remove several constraints on space activity and may well accelerate the process of space exploration about as much as the Wright Bros.' invention of he wind tunnel. That has been estimated to be about 50 years worth of trial and error avoided. In this case, the implication may be even greater as it makes the existing generation of space technology much more capable and reduces the need for new ways to reach LEO to bring down the cost of access to space. Who says the day of the lone inventor is behind us? On the other hand, part of the story of this invention is tied to Klinkman's continuing relationship with his Alma Mater. He graduated from WPI in 1976 and developed this idea with the help of 3 current junior year undergraduates and a space buff sociologist interested in creative cognitive mixes and small group dynamics on innovation teams. Wilkes is also interested in Aerospace R and D organizations and in the system of project based education at WPI could get participating undergraduates academic credit worth 3 courses each for their contributions.