The excitement of 'new space'

Like all would-be space entrepreneurs, David Thompson needed a big idea to get his business going.

Having worked on the development of the shuttle, he thought there might be something interesting one could usefully do with the vehicles' giant external fuel tanks.

These behemoths are dumped once the orbiters have made it into space and fall back into the atmosphere to be destroyed.

Thompson's brainwave was to push them into orbit, also.

His vision was for them to be filled with water. Over time, the tanks would then use electrolysis to split the liquid into hydrogen and oxygen - to produce yet more rocket fuel. A "gas station in the sky".

"There were a number of problems with this idea," Thompson recalls with a grin - "the number one being that there weren't that many rockets coming along this road where our gas station would be."

Undeterred, he simply moved on to his next concept.

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