Tencent technology in recent years, space tourism has attracted people’s attention, and the commercialization of space flight seems to be close at hand. In July, two billionaires scrambled to go to space, which became a hot topic. Virgin Galactic conducted a flight test on July 11, and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos also announced that the “new Shepard” rocket of “blue origin” will also carry out a manned space tour on July 20.
In the face of the “cake” of commercial space tourism, many aerospace enterprises are actively developing space vehicles, hoping to seize the market. On the evening of July 11, the tenth issue of “star dialogue” launched by Tencent News aerospace program focused on space tourism, and invited Liu Hongjun, the managing director of “Silicon Valley 101”, Ms. Zhang Lu, the founding partner of fusion fund and SpaceX investor, and Dr. Chen Liang, the overall designer of Star glory rocket.
Zhang Lu said that the business model of virgin galaxy and blue origin is sub orbital travel, which is mainly oriented to the to C market. This is why the two founders make more people pay attention to their technology and Spaceship Launch events through their own topic degree, so as to further promote their business model. This is also the future development direction of sub orbital travel.
Chen Liang said that Virgin Galactic spaceship 2 has no escape system at present, and the safety problem is completely solved by the safety of the spacecraft itself. Therefore, the safety of the spacecraft is also worthy of attention. As for whether space tourism will become the normalization of people’s daily travel, Chen Liang said that in the short run, the price of space tourism will not be cheap. To reduce the price, it is necessary to change all kinds of related modes technically, including power system, carrying capacity, etc.
The following is a record of the live conversation:
Host: Hello everyone, welcome to the live room of Tencent News “star dialogue” column. I’m Liu Hongjun, the host of today’s dialogue. It’s 9:35 p.m. Beijing time and 9:35 a.m. California time. An hour later, Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic, will take off with the spaceship unity 2. The spaceship’s launch site is New Mexico. There are six people on this space trip, and it’s their first full flight. Recently, there is another good news about Virgin Galactic. The FAA of the United States has approved that they can take tourists into space, which means that the era of commercial space travel has officially arrived. Commercial space tourism is a “big cake”. Many companies are also developing space vehicles to seize the market. What is the technology progress now? When will the human space dream come true? Today we invite two guests to discuss this issue. They are Ms. Zhang Lu, managing partner of fusion fund and investor of space X.
Zhang Lu: Hello everyone. It’s a pleasure to pay attention to the launch of Virgin Galactic with you today.
Host: the other is Dr. Chen Liang, the overall designer of star glory rocket. Hello, Mr. Chen.
Chen Liang: Hello, I’m very glad to be here to exchange space tourism with you.
Host: welcome to the live room and warm up the launch one hour in advance. Originally, the launch time was supposed to be half an hour ago, that is, 9:00 p.m. Beijing time and 6:00 a.m. California time. Why is the delay one and a half hours today? Do you think it has anything to do with the weather, Mr. Chen?
Chen Liang: in terms of launch mode, it’s similar to an aircraft. It’s like taking an aircraft and delaying flight due to weather. Whether it’s rocket launch or spaceship launch, it will be affected by weather. For example, rain and lightning are the influencing factors. In addition, the larger ground wind may also have an impact, and the rocket will be affected by more factors. For Virgin Galactic spaceship 2, the take-off conditions are close to those of ordinary aircraft. Visibility, rainfall and wind will affect its normal take-off. According to the official news, the delay of take-off is affected by the weather.
Host: OK, we can observe the weather conditions when it takes off later. Recently, people are very concerned that Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic, will go into space, which is also the first billionaire to go into space. But in fact, the first billionaire to announce that he would go into space was Amazon founder Bezos. Bezos said he would go into space on July 20, and then Richard Branson said he would catch up with Bezos. July 4 was the time he first announced, and then the time was changed to July 11. Why do you rush to go into space at this time?
Zhang Lu: first of all, this may be because after you saw the successful manned launch of space X in May last year, the market reaction was very strong, which set off an upsurge of space technology, which is also an important driving force. Secondly, it is related to blue origin and Virgin Galactic business model. They are different from space X. one of their main concerns is the sub rail travel and future tourism market. The publicity and brand awareness in this market are very important. It is TOC’s market, not tob’s, Application for enterprise or industry and enterprise. Therefore, its momentum is very important. That’s why the two founders both focused on their technology and Spaceship Launch events through their own topics, so as to further promote their business model. This is also the future development direction of suborbital travel.
Host: you just mentioned that virgin galaxy is a TOC business model, space X is a tob business model, and the blue origin created by Bezos. What kind of positioning is its business model?
Zhang Lu: both tob and TOC are engaged in space X and blue origin, and they are still in the initial stage. NASA is responsible for a lot of work in space X, and their focus on technology is more industrial and government oriented.
The origin of blue is similar. The origin of blue is equivalent to having tob military contracts, including other contracts. It also wants to enter into the potential space tourism market for civilian use in the future. We have also discussed Virgin Galactic before. It is both an aviation enterprise and an aerospace enterprise. In addition to manned flight, there is another point to promote the market, that is, supersonic flight. The company’s own factors determine the business model they choose in the space market and their advantages. We will talk about more technical details later, Among the three companies, Virgin Galactic has relatively low technology accumulation, but Richard Branson is also the best one in terms of media topics, including hype. He is a very powerful marketing master.
Moderator: just now we discussed the difference between aviation and aerospace. Dr. Chen will explain the difference between aviation and aerospace?
Chen Liang: the difference between aviation and aerospace is simply that aviation solves problems within the atmosphere, while Aerospace solves problems outside the atmosphere. The concept of atmosphere is not very strict. The flight altitude of an aircraft is generally 9 km to 10 km, while that of a U2 aircraft is 20 km. Virgin Galactic’s spaceship 2 is flying at an altitude of more than 80 kilometers, and the blue origin rocket is flying at an altitude of more than 100 kilometers. You will have a common understanding of more than 100 kilometers, that is, the Carmen line. You will think that exceeding the Carmen line is a recognized standard in aerospace. NASA, the US Air Force and the US regulatory agency FAA have different limits on aviation or Carmen line. They set the standard at 80km, which is also the difference in aerospace cognition.
Host: referring to the Carmen line, this is also the focus of attention in the space of Virgin Galactic. Whether they can cross the Carmen line seems to have not been recorded before. Today we are going to see if it can reach 80 km, or even 100 km as defined internationally?
Chen Liang: Yes, in terms of design ideas and early experiments, they are all over 80 kilometers. According to the design principle, it is very difficult to reach the height of 100 km, limited by its engine. This flight is unlikely to see a significant change, because considering its previous flight experiments, the maximum is 89 km. If more powerful engines are needed to exceed 100 km, it will not rush to fly over the Carmen line. However, if it is not more than 80 km, it is difficult for us to define this flight as a space flight, and its significance will be greatly reduced. Therefore, I think this flight will exceed 80 km but not reach 100 km. This is the preliminary expectation of this flight at present.
Host: if the Carmen line is less than 80 km, can you still experience the feeling of weightlessness?
Chen Liang: the cause of Carmen line height is related to gravity and lift. In short, why is such an altitude defined? If it is beyond this altitude, the resistance of the atmosphere will become very thin. In such a state, it is unpowered flight and will not feel the resistance brought by the atmosphere. If the air density in the atmosphere is high, it will produce resistance and corresponding acceleration, which will affect the experience of microgravity. If it is less than 80 km, the feeling of weightlessness caused by gravitational acceleration is greatly reduced. If it does not reach such a height, the experience of microgravity will be relatively poor.
On the other hand, height is also one of the influencing factors. The image we see, the background behind us, is from Virgin Galactic’s first flight into space. From its porthole, we can see that the earth has a certain curve. If the height is lower, we can see that the horizon is flat and the height is lower when we sit on the plane. We can not understand the concept of the earth, but more the state of the skyline. It should reach an altitude of 80 kilometers to meet the goal of space travel.
Host: This is also a highlight of Virgin Galactic launch. Let’s see if it can break through 80 kilometers, so that we can experience a different sense of weightlessness, rather than a slight sense of weightlessness. You just mentioned the reason why Virgin Galactic is limited by technology, so there will be an uncertain factor whether it can meet the standards of space. Can you compare the differences in technology between Virgin Galactic and blue origin, and their technological paths?
Chen Liang: from the concept of aerospace virgin galaxy that we just mentioned, we know that Richard Branson also has virgin Galaxy airlines. He started his career in aviation. The origin of spaceship 2 comes from an aircraft designer I admire very much. What he designed is a winged and winged spacecraft. Its principle is to take the spacecraft to the air of 15000 meters through a large aircraft. In fact, it is similar to the state of an aircraft launching a missile. It launches the spaceship and climbs at a high speed from 15000 meters, When the rocket power reaches a certain speed, it will shut down the engine and rush to an altitude of more than 80 kilometers by inertia.
If the engine is not further improved, its speed and altitude are limited, and its current performance is unable to reach the height of 100 km. When it reaches the highest point during the flight, it will fall without power. In this process, when the engine is turned off at an altitude of 80 km, people can see the earth outside the window and experience microgravity. Then it will continue to fall. In the process of falling, there is a very interesting design called “feather device”, which is to achieve stability through the change of aircraft shape. In this process, it will continue to fall until it is ten or twenty kilometers above the ground. It will return to the aircraft shape for taxiing and return to the airport. The whole state is like this.
At an altitude of 15 km, the aircraft is completely in the state below 15 km, and beyond 15 km, it is similar to the shape of a rocket. It is such a concept that Virgin Galactic has come to invest in further development, resulting in the current spacecraft 2.
As an astronaut, it’s easy to understand the route of blue origin. It’s very similar to China’s Shenzhou spaceship, Russian alliance spaceship, and space X’s Dragon spaceship. It’s to send the spaceship to a certain height vertically by rocket, but space X is to send the spaceship to low earth orbit, which is more than 300 kilometers long. The spaceship can enter an orbit and fly at a very high speed, It’s more than 7.9 kilometers per second, spinning around the earth. Blue origin can reach a certain height, more than 100 km, but its lateral speed can not reach 100 km. It can not fly forward after it is separated. It is a device without power. It will fall after experiencing microgravity, similar to dragon spaceship and Shenzhou spaceship.
In the process of returning from space, the spacecraft falls at a very high speed from an altitude of three or four hundred kilometers. For example, the blue origin reentry vehicle or the space tourism vehicle is a relatively low speed falling process without power. The acceleration, vibration environment and other environments that people bear inside are much more friendly. For example, the model of a dragon spaceship is imagined as a rocket. In terms of shape, it is similar to the shape of Bezos blue origin. Most of the returners are like this, that is, after the rocket is pushed to a certain height, the rocket and it have a separation device to separate and then fall freely.
It’s easy for us rocket makers to understand and choose such a path. For example, Richard Branson, as an airline or a company whose main business is aviation, will think that the aircraft scheme is more appropriate. On the one hand, it is the choice of technical route, on the other hand, it is the boss’s personal thinking and path or way of thinking that causes such differences in technical routes.
Host: does Mr. Zhang Lu have anything to add to this question? What are the differences in the technological paths of space X, blue origin and Virgin Galactic?
Zhang Lu: actually, Dr. Chen Liang has said it in great detail. In fact, on the level of technological path, the origin of blue is similar to Virgin Galactic, both of which are vertical ups and downs. Space X is likely to be more technically complex. At the same time, in terms of load, space X, whether it is a dragon spaceship or a falcon rocket, has stronger load-bearing capacity.
Just now Dr. Chen mentioned two data. The origin of blue is about 106KM, and virgin galaxy is more than 80km. In fact, virgin galaxy is very unstable, because although Richard Branson registered the brand of virgin Galaxy in 1999, in fact, in the process of various acquisitions and mergers, a lot of capital from the Middle East are constantly participating in investment, At first, most of the money owners were from the Middle East.
Richard Branson disclosed in 2019 that the whole company invested more than US $1 billion from the perspective of Virgin Galactic, and a lot of money was raised in the process of external financing. In the middle, a joint venture was formed and a variety of M & A operations were carried out. It was not listed until this year, which was driven by a lot of capital speculation.
The reason why I provide you with this background information is to let you see that, as Dr. Chen Liang mentioned, the founder CEO’s own personality determines the technical route he chooses and how he does the company. This company is not a pure aerospace exploration enterprise. It also has a lot of capital operation and marketing perspectives. From this point of view, we can understand why he chose this technology route, whether it can produce lower cost for him, and why he wants to push this concept faster, including considering whether there is some pressure on the stock price recently and wants to be the first billionaire to enter space.
There is a simple comparison between space X and blue origin. Some people said that blue origin can be recycled. After the launch of space X, it can be recycled at a fixed place, which is equivalent to letting a pencil fly over the Empire State Building and then landing at a place that may be the size of a matchbox. The origin of blue is to let the pencil take off vertically and then fall vertically at a distance of about 30 floors. Everyone can see the result that it can be recycled, which is fixed point launch and fixed point recycling. You can see the difference in technical level through this metaphor. The launch process of space X rocket is not always vertical. It needs to change and flip all kinds of positions, and finally land on a very small point very accurately. This is why only half of the star falls after the launch, and the other half of the star is waiting for its successful recovery.
Host: we mentioned the background of Richard Branson’s entrepreneurship, including whether he is under the pressure of some stock prices. Virgin galaxy has been a stock with high attention on the stock market since its listing, but the stock price is very unstable. At the same time, virgin galaxy is also a stock with the most short positions on Wall Street. Mr. Zhang Lu, what do you think of it? Why does it become the stock that shortens the most? Does it have anything to do with Virgin Galactic’s technology and strength?
Zhang Lu: it must have something to do with it. On the one hand, it’s technology, on the other hand, it’s business model. From the perspective of Wall Street, it depends on whether the enterprise has a sustainable and profitable business model, rather than just hyping the concept that it is a cutting-edge space technology company. From its own way of listing, it is also a process of rapid promotion and a little acceleration. Before its listing, the company’s internal financial situation was not very good. It also obtained more funds to support internal R & D through the channel of rapid listing.
In terms of business model, although it is indeed a very exciting era, the rapid opening of commercial aerospace, especially in the field of commercial aerospace, did not expect that a private enterprise could complete the manned spaceflight into the space station so soon 10 years ago. Now there are a number of private enterprises. We also see that the star chain project made by space X has brought good business models and application scenarios, including a variety of small satellites, Leo and other applications at two different levels. The development of this direction is very fast. In addition, in the short run, it can really generate sustainable income, which may be applied at the industrial, commercial and government levels.
We think that most of the orders for space X are from the government. For example, NASA has a market share of nearly 80% in the field of commercial space rocket launch. The number of orders in this field is increasing rapidly, and the payment ability is also very strong. Let’s look at Virgin Galactic. It’s still TOC. The first space tourism is aimed at this part of the target. These billionaires hope to experience it. They can buy this ticket to experience it. Let’s think about how big this market can be. These billionaires are willing to spend money to buy a ticket to space every year. Maybe they can only experience the feeling of weightlessness for 4-5 minutes and then land down. Whether it’s worth it or not, these are some worries about the future that Wall Street sees when assessing the value.
One of the stories Virgin Galactic has been telling is supersonic point-to-point flight. This is a huge market, about 800 billion US dollars. There are very strong competitors in this field, such as the old competitor Boeing, such as the emerging blue origin. Although he is telling this story, he is not as good as the other two very strong competitors in terms of technology accumulation. From this perspective, he will be like the wall street level mentioned just now. His concept marketing and theme marketing are very successful, so there may be many individual investors, including cooperative capital, pushing up the stock price, From the institutional point of view, it is also a large-scale short of this enterprise.
Host: I would like to ask Dr. Chen Liang what is the safety of our launch, whether it’s rocket launch or spaceship launch, it’s actually a very high failure, and there are many such examples in history, whether it’s explosion or unsuccessful launch. What’s the danger point of this launch? What’s the overall safety?
Chen Liang: in fact, you may not think that the Virgin Galactic spaceship 2 has no escape system, and the safety problem is completely solved by the safety of the aircraft itself. Let’s compare all manned spaceflight, such as Shenzhou spaceship and dragon spaceship, which are familiar to us. They all have escape systems, which can escape in different flight stages. Take this model for example, the gray part is the engine that can escape. If the rocket has problems, it will ignite in a short time to separate the manned return capsule, and recover it by parachute to ensure the safety of personnel. Space X did a flight experiment, consuming a falcon rocket to verify its escape system. Shenzhou spaceship of our country also has such a complete set of escape ways, which can ensure the flight safety of astronauts or astronauts in the whole flight phase.
But for Virgin Galactic, it did not take escape measures. From this point of view, it is also a “very aviation” approach. We know that there is no parachute when we fly. Under our seats are life jackets, not parachutes. Airlines will think that it is impossible for us ordinary people to jump off the plane, open the umbrella and land safely. They think that we can’t do it. They ensure the safety of personnel by improving the safety of the aircraft, regardless of the chance of survival after the aircraft crash or failure.
Spaceship 2 once had an accident in 2014. This accident was due to the pilot’s misoperation. In this accident, the pilot did not have the ejection seat ejected like a fighter. The reason why a pilot survived was that he was lucky. After the disintegration of the plane, he found that he was still tied to the seat. He consciously waited for the plane to descend to a certain height, untied the seat and opened the parachute. He was carrying a parachute at that time, but the probability of survival was very low.
In the future, whether Virgin Galactic can solve this problem or persuade you to take an aircraft without escape system also needs some work. I think Richard Branson can also use his own experience to convince you that their aircraft is reliable and safe. Let’s also talk about the flight safety of space. Another thing you can’t think of is that the space shuttle doesn’t have a real escape system. It doesn’t have ejection seats or flight experiments for ejection seats. In fact, its ejection power is very limited. We know that there have been two major flight accidents, and the astronauts have not successfully escaped. They do not have this ability. Once there is a problem, what they can do is very limited. They later designed a parachute device, which is a very strange escape device. It is impossible to realize such an escape device.
Their design idea is the same, because it is the design idea of the aircraft to design the space shuttle. He hopes to ensure the safety of the astronauts with the reliability and safety of the space shuttle itself. We can draw a question mark on whether this idea is correct and whether it can really ensure safety.
Host: is escape system related to thinking and cost?
Chen Liang: you can get the solution by changing the cost, but you will pay a high price. I can give an example. For example, a mode like aircraft can escape from the whole member cabin. If there is a problem, it is likely that there is a problem with the engine or the body structure. On the one hand, the structure is designed to be very strong, and the structure is not damaged when there is a problem, or the structure of the seat in the member cabin is very strong. Once there is a problem, the crew cabin can still be intact. The whole crew cabin is separated and everyone returns to the ground by automatic parachute. This can be realized in theory, but it will cost a lot, security and so on. At present, it is difficult to do such a concept on such a very small aircraft.
In contrast, the origin of blue is a very Aerospace concept. Its escape mode is the same as that of dragon spaceship and Shenzhou spaceship. He added a solid escape engine at the bottom of the re-entry module. Once there is a problem with the rocket and the engine ignites, the re-entry module will quickly separate from the rocket, open the parachute and return to the ground. Virgin Galactic adopts the method of extraordinary aviation, which also reflects the huge difference between the two companies in technical routes in terms of escape. This is the current situation. I think we can wait and see whether Virgin Galactic will take measures in the future.
Host: how does Zhang Lu look at safety?
Zhang Lu: safety is actually a very important point. Just now Dr. Chen Liang mentioned that space X has paid a great price to verify the escape technology in this aspect, so as to ensure the safety of astronauts and future passengers. The origin of blue is that many people in the team and space X also have overlapping thinking.
I also noticed very early that Virgin Galactic does not have an escape system. First, it is the practice in the aerospace field. Second, it does have technical limitations, cost ideas and heavy load. Due to various restrictions, he finally chose this plan without escape system. Richard Branson himself participated in the first launch. I still admire his courage.
Host: when astronauts go into space, what do they need to do when they are in the process of spaceship? Will he have requirements for the physical fitness of astronauts?
Chen Liang: let’s see how we define the concept of astronaut. For example, when we enter space, we can be called an astronaut, or we need to operate something to be called an astronaut. According to the current situation, as long as you can enter space, the United States can issue an astronaut’s small badge, and passengers who travel in space can be called astronauts. Taking the Virgin Galactic aircraft is very similar to our flight. We are just passengers, and the same is true for the origin of blue. The difference is that Virgin Galactic has two pilots. The safety of the whole aircraft, or the normal flight, depends largely on the pilots. The origin of blue is an automated process. As long as you sit well, you don’t need to take care of it. The whole flight process is automated.
For the passengers inside, the requirements are similar. The most important point for passengers is the acceleration of gravity. There will be an overload in the process of rocket take-off or flight. You can simply think that we have a acceleration of gravity on the ground, normal weight, if five of our own acceleration of weight is equal to five times of our own weight. This is a great challenge. It requires one’s own muscle strength or core muscle strength. In commercial flight, some methods will be adopted to make people lie flat for high acceleration. This is the most important requirement, that is, the body strength can bear a larger acceleration.
For example, when the elevator goes up at a very fast speed and only has an overload of a few tenths of a gram, we will feel our body sink. We can imagine what it will feel like to have a gravity acceleration of five grams. Lie flat and bear such an overload. I compared the overload of the two companies, and I found that you are similar. The origin of blue is the load of 4.7 g, which is 4.7 times of the acceleration of gravity. The maximum size of Virgin Galactic is 5 g. the difference is that Virgin Galactic is very smooth when it returns, because it glides and does not open its parachute. Blue origin needs to open its parachute when it returns, and the parachute opening process will be very overloaded.
Virgin Galactic will be a little more comfortable. It’s more like an airplane. The difference won’t be too big. There’s also the problem of vibration environment. The engine will vibrate violently. It may need some adjustments or engine optimization to reduce such vibration. A better example is that space X is really powerful, The acceleration of gravity borne by his astronauts during the flight is lower than this. The acceleration of the whole flight is adjusted by the engine with variable thrust to reduce the acceleration to a relatively low level. After the first flight, there will be some discomfort. During the second manned flight, the astronauts’ feedback is that the comfort is better than that of the first flight. This problem can be solved through technology. For ordinary people, the normal body is relatively strong, no obvious defects, through certain training, should be able to meet the needs of space flight. There are a lot of requirements for the passengers entering space. The speed of reaction and the ability of calmness are all within the consideration of ordinary passengers.
Compere: you just mentioned that the driver’s requirements are relatively high, and what passengers need to adapt to is the sense of acceleration. Before we saw that many astronauts in our country had to do a lot of physical training before going to space, and they had to do a lot of flipping running. I don’t know if the passenger would have to do physical training before going to space to see if he could adapt to the acceleration and flipping body condition?
Chen Liang: it should be necessary. Richard Branson has been expressing that he has been carrying out some systematic training to prepare for space flight. Of course, Richard Branson himself is also a very adventurous person. Although he is 70 years old, he is also a person who crosses the Atlantic Ocean. The physical fitness problem of a person who crosses the Atlantic Ocean in an overheated balloon is not too big. He can travel in space by his own aircraft, which is another attempt in other people’s adventure experience. It’s very interesting.
Host: what does Zhang Lu think?
Zhang Lu: as for the requirements of passengers, you can imagine that in 2030 and 2040, when more people will have the opportunity to travel in space, they don’t need to do so many screening of physical fitness conditions like astronauts mentioned now. Although we are talking about the origin of blue and Virgin Galactic, the two billionaires, the richest are competing to enter space. The first TOC to sell tickets to civilian is space X. before space X, we have heard that a very young Japanese billionaire also bought a round the moon trip with space X, and he will take seven people to space. For them, they will also do some initial physical training, and will not ask him to do it according to the standards of an astronaut. When space exploration is carried out in a few years’ time, the comfort level will also be greatly improved. For them, what they do is to cooperate with the real astronauts, and they don’t need to do the flipping action, which is what the astronauts need to do in the process of operation.
Compere: we can see that the ticket of space ship on Virgin Galactic is 250000 US dollars. The auction price of blue origin going to space with Bezos and taking a spaceship with Bezos is 28 million US dollars. There was an auction in June, and the bidders were very fierce. The price of 28 million US dollars is also very high. If you have such an opportunity, would you be willing to pay 250000 dollars for a ticket to travel in space by Virgin Galactic?
Zhang Lu: if I have the chance to go to space, I will be the first to raise my hand. But whether I will choose Virgin Galactic or not may be a big question mark. I may not choose Virgin Galactic. In the future, space X, for example, can explore this kind of folk application. Even the more expensive ticket price is worth trying.
Host: do you pay more attention to the experience of tourism and reach a higher altitude in space?
Zhang Lu: Yes, in addition to the sense of experience, I would like to have an escape system.
Compere: still value safety very much?
Zhang Lu: Yes.
Host: what about Dr. Chen Liang?
Chen Liang: if I don’t consider the price, of course I will choose orbital travel. The cost of astronauts launched by space X is about US $50 million. Space X will soon launch a real space trip with four civilian astronauts, many of whom are very ordinary people. It can’t be said that very ordinary people are not very strong physically. Space X Dragon spacecraft has fully realized such automation, including the fact that its astronauts can, in fact, complete such a task without any operation. Theoretically, they can enter space in an unmanned way. The requirements for astronauts will also be reduced. This is a space tourism project that space X will soon launch.
For example, this kind of space X space travel is similar to the concept that you drive to the seaside, you play at the seaside for a day, and then drive back. If the spaceship we took entered the international space station, it was equivalent to living in a villa by the sea for a few days, and then I went home. For Virgin Galactic or blue origin, it’s similar to driving to the coastal highway for a turn. I saw the sea and experienced it, but we can’t open the cabin door. We smell the sea and see the scene of the sea. We didn’t really enter the seaside or the sea. This experience is different. Regardless of the price, everyone will be willing to go to the seaside for a real experience, stay for a while, feel the experience of the universe or the sea, it gives you, short-term experience. Take a picture and send a circle of friends. There is still a long way to go to real space tourism. Choose between blue origin and Virgin Galactic travel. I may choose Virgin Galactic because it feels more exciting. I also hope to enter space to experience the unique feeling.
Host: we still hope to really feel the gravity of space. The launch of Virgin Galactic and its space tourism in the future are equivalent to a “dessert” or “appetizer” for the real space tourism era.
Zhang Lu: in fact, maybe we have to thank Virgin Galactic very much. Richard Branson’s personality has made the public understand very quickly that whether it is space tourism or space exploration, for a long time, from the perspective of the whole human society, we are paying attention to our space and aviation affairs. Now, the successful launch of space X has begun to attract the attention of space science and technology, and then to the large-scale operation and speculation of Virgin Galactic, which has generated great enthusiasm for space tourism. From the perspective of technology investors, I believe that this enthusiasm will also promote more talents to enter this field and more capital to enter this field. It is likely that in the next few years, we will see that Virgin Galactic’s technology can be improved faster, whether it is Virgin Galactic itself or other companies.
Compere: so do you think space tourism will be normalized in the future, and what level can the cost be reduced to? Let’s look at the next decade.
Chen Liang: let me talk about the cost from a technical point of view. I think 250000 US dollars is relatively low in terms of cost. In terms of mode, it has something to do with it, because it is similar to the concept of aviation, with $250000 for six people and a full load of six people, that is more than $1 million. For such a space flight, the price is very low. The cost of blue origin is higher, because it uses thrusters and so on, and the later maintenance costs may be correspondingly higher, but the specific business operation is not clear. Space tourism is never a very cheap thing. How to reduce the price requires us to change such a mode technically, including the power system and the carrying capacity. The price scale of a single trip will not be greatly reduced. If we can improve its manned capacity, we can also share the price equally, but it will be more difficult in the short term.
On the other hand, think about space travel in the long run. Space X has put forward such a concept: the earth point-to-point flight from New York to Shanghai takes about 30 minutes, less than an hour. It uses satellite ships to achieve such a goal. To satisfy such a space travel, we only use space as a travel medium or a means of transportation. It will inevitably require the whole price to be reduced, through a large number of manned flights, and by reducing the cost of a single person. This is also its idea of going to Mars. Only with this idea that the cost of bringing more people down can we really solve the problem of the threshold of space travel. Whether it is space tourism, space transportation or the mode of space transportation, there will be real changes.
Now I’m also doing related work, because I brought a project in the US Space University, which is related to the sub orbital intercontinental commercial flights. We will also discuss how to use space to realize a journey by establishing a business model or technical solution. Using a space concept to realize our function of taking a flight to the United States, Europe or Australia, and shortening the time to one to two hours, is also the work Virgin Galactic is doing, which is also the work space X has considered to do. This is my imagination of the future. On the one hand, it is the cost. On the other hand, there may be more possibilities to do this work in the future.
Compere: Zhang Lu how to see the price that the cost will fall to in the future?
Zhang Lu: in the foreseeable future, five or seven years, there is little room for cost reduction. Just now, Dr. Chen Liang mentioned that it is mainly about the number of people we can carry. We often say that the cost of a technology is relatively high at the beginning, but it will be reduced after mass production. This principle is not applied to manned space. This is also why space X will do starship, because it will have stronger manned capability and higher requirements for all aspects of technical driving force. In this case, even if the market demand is very strong in the future, many people want to travel in space. From the perspective of space X, the number of people to be launched each time is certain, and the cost is fixed, so there is no way to reduce the price of tickets. Now we are talking about US $20 million. We are trying to earn a ticket. In the next five to seven years, it will be in the scale of US $10 million. After that, we have better engine technology. After the improvement of manned capacity, if a spaceship can carry more people, the ticket price will be lower. For Virgin Galactic, 250000 is really very low now. The internal plan is that if it can really arouse great interest in this market, there is a model that can make a reservation like Tesla’s and pay a deposit in advance, which can be returned to you in the future. After it really occupied the market, according to the internal evaluation, the normal price of the ticket may be $400000. Now $250000 is lower than its cost.
Host: for most of the middle class, it’s still a little far away to go to space, but now it’s still the game of the rich.
Zhang Lu: it’s true that when you go into space to experience what Dr. Chen Liang just mentioned, smelling the sea and seeing the sea are rich people’s experiences. Now we have more and more digital tools, including space X, which I mentioned earlier. The project I am very excited about is the star chain project. The ultimate concept is to build AWS in the universe. As individuals, ordinary people, middle class and private enterprises, we can obtain more information in the universe through such space network technology in the future, It may not be that you can smell the sea directly, but the other party can show you pictures of the sea, get direct information through other people’s descriptions, and know what the sea tastes like. In fact, it opens a huge window of opportunity for ordinary people, including for some small start-ups, many start-ups need this kind of cosmic information, Including very simple climate change, including the whole issue of global warming, this information is unlikely for start-ups to launch their own satellite, because the cost is too high. After the laying of the future star chain project, space information can be continuously collected, monitored, analyzed, and then shared in a directional way. In the future, not only real-time connection will be made on the earth, but also digital transformation will connect you and me. Maybe in the future, low satellite space will go to the universe, and we can build different and multi-layer network information bases.
Host: because Zhang Lu is also an investor of space X, can you tell us about the general business model of space X? We know that rocket launch is a very expensive and costly thing. How can we make a profit?
Zhang Lu: you may have a wrong impression of space X all the time. You think it’s a money burning project. In addition, when we first started investing, we also experienced failures. You think it’s a money burning project. It needs a lot of investment in the early stage. Now we can see why it has to invest so much time and energy to study recyclable, including reusable rocket launch, in order to consider cost saving. The cost of its single launch is much lower than that of traditional NASA launch, including the cost of sending a single astronaut to the space station and buying the seat and space X from Russia from the perspective of NASA.
From this perspective, we can see why the government and NASA choose space X as their operator and service provider to help send astronauts to the space station. In addition, he also has a lot of businesses whose main source of income is satellite launching. Every time the Falcon rocket is launched, he will take many satellites with him. Some of these satellites belong to the military and some belong to the government. This is what we often hear about. How many contracts has he obtained from the military and so on. At the same time, it has occupied 80% of the commercial and commercial space satellite launch market. Most of the large enterprises and private enterprises that need to launch satellites into space are actually space X. If more satellites are launched each time, the cost of sharing will be lower and his own income will be higher.
Now there is a new model. Not every company has to send a satellite. This satellite can be equipped with a variety of different sensors. What it needs may be specific information. Another company needs other information. Just like crowdfunding, we put different sensors on one satellite to launch. For the company, the cost is lower. For space X, It has also expanded a group of its commercial customers. Not only large enterprises, but also medium-sized enterprises may be able to launch their own satellites, and the market scale is also increasing.
Space X has been a star chain project since 2019, and the star chain project has become a very large hematopoietic machine. In 2020, it will get more than US $2 billion in orders. By this year, we all know that North America, especially many parts of the United States, will be basically covered by September. From the perspective of people’s enthusiasm, we are going to book and trying out this service. Space X is mainly holding contracts between the U.S. military and commercial, and the expansion speed is very fast.
Recently, we also have some discussions. For the orbit of the satellite launched now, the damage rate of the satellite may be slightly higher than expected. However, from the perspective of satellite design, the production efficiency of the satellite factory of space X is the first in the world. Although it will still produce a relatively high damage rate due to space waste, But it can still be replaced in time, gradually completing the last 12000 satellite launch targets. Star chain project is also a project that will be more profitable and profitable in the future.
Compere: you can pay attention to the space X star chain project, which is really a field worthy of attention. You mentioned that a large part of them are government contracts. I think there is another news. NASA has signed a contract with space X for their lunar exploration and lunar probe. The price of this contract is 2.9 billion US dollars, a very large sum of money. The financing of many listed companies may only be billions of dollars, which is a very large sum of money.
Bezos jumped out and was accused of giving the NASA contract to musk space X. he thought that space X had revised the price in the contract invitation and quotation. Recently, Bezos resigned as CEO of Amazon, and he put all his energy on blue origin. We can see that musk and Bezos have been fighting openly and secretly in the field of space for so many years. After Bezos issued a protest, musk was also very interesting. He sent a tweet. Because Bezos’ lunar probe is called blue moon, musk turned the blue moon into a blue balloon, mocking that their technology is not good enough, The two of them often engage in very subtle interactions on social media. This also shows a problem. It shows that private space companies in the United States are on the rise and the competition is becoming more and more fierce. They will actively take government orders and invest in development. My next question is, I think the relationship between time is tight. Our last question is, why do private space companies have made so many achievements and progress in recent years?
Zhang Lu: from space X, you can see its development over the past ten years. One of the boosters is the government. In the past decade, especially in the Obama era, there has been a massive reduction in investment in space. For example, there is a NASA R & D center in Silicon Valley, which used to be one of the origins of Silicon Valley, gathering a large number of talents. But when a large number of budgets were cut, there were a lot of talents there. These people had no place to go. At this time, musk carried a big flag and made it. Some people often ask me if musk has a strong technical background? He is not a technical expert. He really has a very strong appeal. He can bring the strongest technical personnel to all companies, from Tesla to space X, to do it. It is also this group of talents who were first trained by the government or NASA that entered the private sector and accelerated its growth.
On the other hand, we still have the need to explore outer space. If NASA itself has budget problems and success rate problems, it is a smart way for them to transfer the potential risks to private enterprises, and they are just a service purchaser, including the Bezos protest, There is also a reason for his protest. When purchasing service providers, you should have an alternative, not just one solution. For NASA, its huge problem has always been that as a government agency, it has no fault tolerance ability. Every time it launches, it can’t say that the test fails. Learn from the failure. Next time it succeeds, it won’t be allowed. Its requirement is to succeed this time. We have been working in the field of scientific and technological innovation for a long time. We know that if we want to make a thing successful quickly, we must allow it to make mistakes, correct mistakes quickly, and then we can rise rapidly. At the beginning, you will see that SpaceX failed several times. Instead of dismissing any key engineers because of this, you will learn from this process and quickly complete a better solution with lower cost. This ability of rapid innovation and fault tolerance may be difficult for non-private organizations to possess. Even if they have the best talents, when people are afraid of making mistakes, it is difficult for them to promote rapid innovation.
Since private companies are a commercial demand, they will be very sensitive to costs. He will also be willing to invest in technology to explore how to launch rockets and manned space at a lower cost. The application of low-cost technology is also a basis for the sustainable development of a business. For government agencies, what they may consider at the beginning is not the cost, but the best choice. We often talk about technology. From the perspective of government and scientific research, we should make the best technology. From the perspective of business, we should make better, faster and cheaper technology, and at the same time, the cost should be controlled.
All of these factors have driven us to the present. We have found that the ecology of our private commercial aerospace industry is developing rapidly. In this process, NASA has seen such a development. In fact, it is a win-win situation. For them, the overall investment budget in this area is reduced on a large scale, the success rate is increased, and its responsibility is even smaller. Failure is the responsibility of space X, not their own. It has a wider range of choices, not just their own team. As you mentioned, several companies can bid together to choose the most suitable solution and the most suitable price for them.
Compere: does Dr. Chen Liang have anything to add?
Chen Liang: President Lu has a profound insight into the development of American aerospace. I have nothing more to add. What I want to say is that there is a demand for the development of commercial aerospace in many countries. China’s commercial aerospace enterprises are also trying to develop their own technology. On the one hand, they want to achieve orbit entry. This is also the concept that musk and Bezos often quarrel about. Musk will laugh at Bezos who has been working for more than 20 years and has not yet entered orbit, and take this as the point of ridicule. Going into orbit is a very important milestone. On the other hand, it is reusable. Why can space X achieve a relatively low cost? Reusability is its core strategy to reduce cost. We just press the production line, but in fact, we can’t fundamentally subvert this concept of cost. Only by reusing, recycling and reusing can we really reduce the cost effectively. We have also carried out a lot of cost analysis and calculation, and found that the impact of reusing the first stage rocket on the whole launch price is a subversive concept, and it is possible to reduce the launch price by 60% or 70%. We have also carried out a lot of solid research in this field in China. I hope you can pay attention to the development of China’s commercial aerospace. We have made a series of steady and little progress.
Compere: To sum up what you just said, before musk, there was a private rocket launch company in the United States, a real estate company named bill. At that time, he failed himself. When he failed, he said that as long as the U.S. government was still funding these launch projects, the private company could not succeed. NASA allows the free market to play a leading role. If it really wants to be a rocket launch company, it should not only meet the technical standards, but also have the ability to persuade Washington, have the ability to sue in court, and set off a public opinion war. It has very high requirements for the whole market. We also see a new generation of private space companies rising, I also hope that our journey in the future is really a sea of stars. Thank you for your time. That’s all for today’s dialogue. Thank you for watching.