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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Fast Forward: The Case Builds for P2P

The thought-provoking White Paper: GETTING FASTER: A Case for High Speed Point-to-Point Flight as a Logical Transition Between Suborbital Space Tourism and Low-Cost, Reusable Space Access was released at the 2009 International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight being held October 21st in Las Cruces, New Mexico. It is worthy of the read.

The FastForward study group is an ad-hoc study group consisting of major aerospace contractors, emerging new space companies, spaceports, key federal government agencies, and academic representatives. It is an all-volunteer effort formed in August 2008 currently consisting of more than 20 invited organizations and hosted by SpaceWorks Commercial (Atlanta, GA). Derek Webber is among the participants. He conducted a recent GoogleTalks about the progress and referencing a now-defunct but ahead-of-the-curve effort in Virginia.

The focus of the group is on pre-competitive analysis and assessment of future global high speed point-to-point (PTP) passenger and cargo services. The study group produces technical papers and white papers on topics of PTP transportation for use by our members and the community at-large Members meet regularly by telecon, support a range of conference and panels, and use virtual collaboration tools to conduct business and exchange ideas.

1 comment:

Michael Turner said...

An interesting effort, and I hope it bears fruit. However, in this group's very style of operation (that is, significantly *virtual*), you can see the potential seeds of destruction of any such "P2P" market.

Electronic signatures can do away with the need for documents signed in ink. JIT *local* delivery of field-programmable chips, plus secure internet transmission of their programming to protect on-chip IP, could mean that the overnight niche for electronic parts delivery goes away pretty soon. Rapid transport of donated organs? Quite a small market, I think.

That leaves transporting human beings rapidly: the high-end dealmakers, sales reps, legal eagles and diplomats. Well, the SST (dead) was a negative bellwether, I think, for any such trend. The trend in civil aviation hasn't been toward "faster", but rather toward "wider": more passengers at roughly the same speed. And a substitute even for "wider" looms: optical fiber.

Teleconferencing has gone from high-end frill to mainstream via the Internet. How much true need remains to press the flesh, in business and government? Think of what another generation could bring. Another generation not just of technological improvement, but also 20 years of old habits dying -- dying hard but eventually dying. Young entrepreneurs, executives and government officials who never had such expensive habits will increasingly take a time- and cost-saving digital detour around their dinosaur elders. Maybe face-to-face inter- and trans-continental business travel will soon be old hat.

Which leaves -- yes -- the potential military uses. That's a market, perhaps, but not one that bodes well for dramatic cost reductions from economies of scale or scope, or technology transfer for commercial use. The Osprey was once pushed for its potential for "P2P" civilian transportation. I'm still waiting for my VTOL jumpjet from urban-core office-tower rooftop in once city to a similar LZ in the next. If they can't make *that* work safely and cheaply enough, what are the chances for suborbital P2P -- an undoubtedly smaller market with undoubtedly greater technological challenges that must be met?