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.”