Media Mail… in Spaaaaaaaaaaace

A cool paradigm idea:

Tiered priority launches.

Think about it – you wouldn’t ship a unique technology prototype the same way you would ship potatoes. There is a spectrum from courier mail (very expensive) to media mail, where they sometimes just lose the package or smash two together and mix up the contents (this has happened to me.) This makes sense because not everything needs the same amount of care – think how expensive things would get if we were as careful when transporting Styrofoam as when we were transporting fissile material.

Space shipping (and what are launches besides shipping stuff upwards?) has only two tiers – human launches and everything else. No expense is spared on the human launches (that is another topic) but the same priority is put on each unmanned launch, regardless of whether the cargo is freeze dried potatoes for astronauts or a billion dollar space probe.

 Instead, why not have different tiers of: frequent launches for bulk materials like fuel that carry slightly higher risk, but cut costs dramatically (media mail) and launches where every bolt and nut is 99.9999% certified(courier services). This structure would allow higher priority launches to actually carry more high priority items rather than maneuvering fuel and coolant: the low priority launches could cheaply have these lower priority materials waiting in orbit for the higher priority launches to use once they got there

 I think this idea also ties in well with 3D printing in space – we can launch space tankers of printer material. If we lose one or two out of a hundred, it wouldn’t be great, but it wouldn’t be the tragedy of losing a unique piece of equipment.

 Of course, implementation would be tricky – it would require infrastructure changes and more on-orbit interactions (which can themselves introduce risk.) Regardless, it seems like a not-completely-over-the-line idea that’s worth thinking about.

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