Bulk Hauler

We were discussing the advantages of small payload to LEO rockets on the Lifeboat Foundation’s Facebook page. It doesn’t look like anyone has ever attempted to build a rocket specifically for launching tiny (i.e. 1kg) payloads to orbit. With new off-the-shelf nanosat platforms reaching the market, a cheap launch platform could have a real market among universities – or even wealthy space enthusiasts. I wrote the following short story as a way of illustrating the potential for tiny payloads to go a long way.

Another dump truck backed up to the pit and offloaded a reeking pile of partially rotten vegetables. The yard took up several acres of prime farmland. Two ancient quonset huts stood by half a dozen miniature gantries, where partially completed rockets stood. The place was surrounded by a rather bucolic-looking log fence.

“Okay, run that by me again,” said the reporter. “You’re lifting two pounds at a time, and you’re building a deep space mission? From here?”

The old guy in jeans put his hand over his hat. “You may want to cover your ears, son. That rocket is just about done printing, and it will be launching in a moment.”

The printer built into the gantry sprayed some final touches of plastic before folding away and then seconds later the rocket launched, sending piles of red leaves flying in every direction.

Once the noise had quietened down a bit, he continued.

“Yep. We make plastic from the refuse over there. We’re sending up such small payloads that the pressure and temperature are low enough that we can make the rockets out of plastic. And then we print the rockets right in the gantries so that we just launch them in place.”

The reporter looked puzzled. “Its only two pounds of payload though. How are you doing anything useful with that?”

“Didn’t you read the package we sent? These are single stage to orbit. The payload contains an enzyme that breaks the plastic in the rocket back down into toner. We’re launching every five minutes. That’s tons of plastic every day. Gets the job done.” He paused for a second. “People and heavy items go on up with the city slickers down in Florida.”

The guy in jeans smiled and stuck out his hand. “Got to run. Sick calf out back. Tell your readers this is the future though.”

5 thoughts on “Bulk Hauler

  1. pritchie

    Interesting…

    I wonder how the math works out on a plastic SSTO? Can you even make a combustion chamber out of plastic? Do you have to use a solid or hybrid rocket?

    If it’s liquid I’m assuming the fuel is going to be LOX/RP-1 or maybe LOX/Methane, so your theoretical mass ratio is something like 20 to 1… that makes for a pretty huge rocket to get 2lbs to orbit.

    But given the whole rocket can be turned back into toner in many ways the whole rocket is your payload… definitely thought provoking!

    1. Jeremy Post author

      If the geometry is done right, the hot gas could be kept away from the walls. Or maybe some kind of electrostatic force could be used. Or high temperature plastic.

      This is SF, after all!

      1. pritchie

        Agreed, re: SF.

        But my favourite SF extrapolates the future from existing knowledge. Was curious if you had read any research on orbital plastic rockets.

        1. Jeremy Post author

          The idea might be novel. I don’t recall reading about anything like that.

          I just liked the idea of orbital technology being so cheap and accessible that it becomes bottom up in the same sense that 3D printers are.

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