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RLV News
Space Transport Developments & Commentary

April 2005
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Scaled Composites photos
SpaceShipOne on first rocket powered flight Dec.17th, 2003.

Space Access'05 Conference

RLV (Reusable Launch Vehicles) News offers brief articles and comments concerning developments in the area of space transport, which includes vehicles for earth launch to orbit, suborbital spaceflight, and in-space vehicles. It also provides lots of links to news articles, announcements by commercial rocket developers, NASA events, etc.

The RLV Countdown: Part 1 and Part 2 sections provide information and
links for various reusable space transportation systems around the world.

RLV Table compares a selection of space transport vehicles.

RLV History looks at earlier vehicles and designs.

See the Advanced Rocketry Section for entries on
advanced amateur & student rocketry, experimental rocketry,
& innovations by small rocket companies.

The Space Log contains news about
amateur space activities, space businesses, etc.

RLV News Archive Directory

April 29, 2005

11:55 pm: Conference News ... Another intense day of space access presentations. I'll again give brief reviews of each. As I mentioned earlier, Rand Simberg is blogging many of the sessions. Also, Michael Mealling at Rocketforge is photo-blogging the meeting. For example, he has documented that a Flometrics pistonless pump works extremely well at supplying Margarita rocket fuel ...

... One interesting news item of the day came up during Mitchell Burnside Clapp's talk. He said that he has left Rocketplane Ltd. due to "creative differences." He has now re-awakened Pioneer Rocketplane in Colorado and is consulting and developing new technologies.

Here are short summaries of the talks. ... continue to the Space Access 2005 Conference page.

5:15 pm: Conference briefs ... Rand Simberg has real-time blogged most of the presentations today. See Transterrestrial Musings.

I will post some comments about the presentations later tonight.

8:25 am: News briefs ... The shuttle is delayed due to concerns over the ET debris problem: Its Official: STS-114 Slipped to July - NASA Watch - Apr.28.05 * Shuttle launch delayed until July: Safety concerns force rescheduling - MSNBC/AP - Apr.29.05 ...

... NASA could offer weekly suborbital flights for student experiments if it would contract out for low cost rides on commercial manned RLVs that will be available in a couple of years: NASA Selects Student Experiments to Fly on Sounding Rocket - NASA - Apr.28.05.

April 28, 2005

11:55 pm: Conference News ... Well, blogging will be a lot less frequent than I hoped. It just isn't feasible to do it from the conference room and the breaks are too short with so many interesting people to talk to. I'll try to do a summary each evening instead. Here are some highlights of today's meeting....

... London to Australia in a flash... Before I start on the talk reviews, I'd like to report on one interesting rumor I heard from a reliable source. It appears that Reaction Engines, the company led by Alan Bond of Hotol and Skylon fame, will receive a multi-year, multi-million euro contract from the EU, along with some matching funds from private sources, to support propulsion R&D. In particular, they will investigate whether the SABRE engine technology could allow a passenger vehicle to fly between London and Australia in just four hours.

In the past few years, Bond's company Reaction Engines used private funds to do prototype development of the key precooler heat exchanger technology. The precooloer lowers the temperature of air going into a turbojet so that such an engine can push the Skylon up to Mach 6. (See the precooloer bench test setup.) The engine would then switch to rocket mode to go to orbit.

The LAPCAT project will focus on using this technology to power a suborbital vehicle for hypersonic long distance travel.

[Update: I previously wrote the money will come from ESA but it is actually an EU grant.] ...

... The conference began with ... continue to the Space Access 2005 Conference page.

11:20 am: News briefs ... I will collect the RLV News updates related to the SA'05 meeting, along with photos and additional material, and post them together on the Space Access 2005 Conference page. ...

... Rand Simberg will be blogging from SA'05 via Transterrestrial Musings. I assume Sam Dinkin will also be posting his impressions of the meeting there as well. ...

... The May 22nd shuttle launch date is still uncertain: NASA Discusses Chances of May Shuttle Launch - Space.com - Apr.28.05.

9:15 pm (Pacific Time): News briefs ... Robert Zimmerman reports on signs that NASA management may be opening up to outside input: Space Watch: New openness at NASA? - UPI - Apr.28.05. (The roadmapping process, which Mr. Zimmerman discusses, may be in trouble.)

Note that this week's interview with Mr. Zimmerman on the Spaceshow is nowt available online.

[Update: Jeff Foust reports that the roadmapping is perhaps being accelerated rather than terminated: Roadmaps folded, or not - Space Politics - Apr.28.05]

April 27, 2005

11:35 pm: News briefs ... More changes in direction at NASA: Roadmapping Hits a Dead End - NASA Watch - Apr.27.05 ...

... And here are comments on the other surprise move this week: Griffin Halts ESMD Systems Engineering and Integration RFP - NASA Watch - Apr.27.05 * Thanks, But No Thanks - Traansterrestrial Musings - Apr.27.05 ...

... Maybe it's time to give up sounding rockets altogether and move to RLVs: Skylark Gets Set for Final Launch - Royal Astronomical Society - Apr.26.05 ...

... DARPA pushes micro-propulsion: DARPA demonstrates micro-thruster breakthrough - DARPA - Apr.22.05 ...

... Seth Putterman (famous sonoluminescence researcher) proposes a deuterium micro-thruster: Desktop nuclear fusion demonstrated - New Scientist - Apr.27.05.

8:40 pm: Testing, testing ... Made it to Phoenix and it appears that I can upload files OK via a free wireless connection available from the conference hotel. (Kudos to Four Points Sheraton and to Henry for selecting it). So I will be posting reports during the meeting. However, I want to do plenty of shmoozing to find out what's happening in the mad, mad world of alt.space rocketeering. So expect updates to be random and intermittent.

The first session starts at 2pm tomorrow.

1:15 pm: News briefs... Off to Phoenix to attend Space Access '05 so this may be my last update for awhile. ...

... Sam Dinkin gives his preview of the SA'05 meeting...

... Irene Mona Klotz reports on the regulatory issues raised at the recent commercial space transportation hearing in Congress: Space Race 2: Red tape for SpaceShipTwo - UPI - Apr.26.05 ...

... More about research into carbon nanotube manufacturing for very, very small applications and for a really, really big application: NASA Funds 'Miracle Polymer' - Wired News - Apr.27.05.

1:50 am: Space Access ' 05 ... Check out the final pre-conference agenda for the Space Access ' 05 Conference that begins on Thursday and lasts through Saturday. I'm leaving for Phoenix today and I hope to log in from there to provide regular updates. If that doesn't prove practical, I will do a review next week. Hope to see many of you there.

1:50 am: News briefs ... Despite indications from Mike Griffin that he wants to "rethink" the CEV program, the May 2nd date for companies to submit their proposals has not been postponed: CEV Proposal Due Date Holds - NASA Watch - Apr.26.05 ...

... However, NASA has canceled a plan "to outsource the systems engineering and integration work for Project Constellation" according to Space News: NASA Cancels Systems Engineering Contract for New Exploration Program, CEV Untouched for Now - Space News/Space.com - Apr.26.05 (subscription required) ...

... Leonard David reviews recent developments on the space tourism front: Space Tourism: Next Steps Taking Shape by Leonard David - Space.com - Apr.26.05 ...

... Note also the following count:

  • 100 people have contracted with Virgin Galactic to pay the full $200k price for a SS2 ticket. (Ref.)
  • 150 people have each paid a $10k deposit to Space Adventures for a $100k ticket on a future suborbital ride.(Ref.)
  • 1000 people have paid around $3750 for ZERO-G flights. (Ref.)

Guess I'm just a true believer, but real people paying out real money for expensive space fun seems like a real good sign to me. ...

... Speaking of Space Adventures , the company has arranged to use Ecliptic rocketcams on their space tourism flights: Space Adventures Offers Ecliptic's RocketCam for Private Spaceflights: Orbital and suborbital spaceflight clients have option to record journey with same video system used during historic flights of SpaceShipOne - Space Adventures - Apr.26.05 ...

... LiftPort, a space elevator development firm, is opening a carbon nanotube company:LiftPort Group, the Space Elevator Companies, to Open Its First Carbon Nanotube Manufacturing Facility - Liftport/Business Wire - Apr.25.05 . More about it from Alan Boyle: Going up, with nanotubes - Cosmic Log - Apr.25.05 ...

... Rand Simberg comments on the "human-rated" term and the proposal to launch the CEV on a shuttle solid rocket booster: "Human-Rated" SRBs? - Transterrestrial Musings - Apr.26.05

April 26, 2005

1:20 am: Falcon I shipped to Vandenberg:

Falcon I  loading on to trailer
Falcon I on trailer

Click on the pictures for larger versions.
My thanks to SpaceX for these images

SpaceX shipped the Falcon I to Vandenberg this past Sunday morning for the hold down hotfire test, which will take place in ten days.

1:20 am: AF half-RLV... This week's Space News (print version) reports on a program started by the Air Force to develop a satellite launcher with a reusable, fly-back first stage and an expendable second stage. The goal for the ARES (Affordable Responsive Spacelift) is to launch satellites in the 2300kg-6800kg range to LEO for one-third to one-sixth the price of current launchers. The vehicle could launch with just two days notice.

The program, however, does not exactly rocket along. Study contracts will be awarded this summer and then detailed design contracts would go out in 2006. These would lead to development of a demonstrator by 2010 for a total outlay of about $250M. They want an operational system by 2018.

Jeff Foust, wearing his Futron cap, was interviewed and expressed skepticism that $250M was sufficient for a demonstrator by 2010 that could prove both first stage reusability and two day launch notice capability. Some very pessimistic Congressional staffers questioned whether launch rates will be high enough by 2018 to warrant development of a new rocket.

I wonder what will happen to this and other launcher programs if the Falcon I and V vehicles succeed? They may not offer two day launch response but they would certainly set a completely different standard for development time scale and cost.

Anyway, here are some ARES related links I found by googling around:

1:20 am: News briefs ... Rand Simberg offers his counterpoint to Sam Dinkin's space transportation subsidy proposal and Sam responds. ...

... I certainly think a large scale subsidy program for private launch services would be a fine way to encourage large scale space settlement. But I doubt it will happen before the private developers first prove with their own money that more and more people will go into space if the costs drop lower and lower. ...

... Of course, true mass transportation to space will require new approaches like laser launch or space elevators. Here's a long article about space elevators and NASA's prize motivators: NASA offers prize for 'space elevator' / Beams of light could propel cargo, humans - SFGate - Apr.25.05. ...

... Keith Cowing wonders about the need for missile defense expertise on NASA's exploration systems advisory committee. (I see there is at least a little bit of intellectual diversity and rebellion in the arts community: Jeff Skunk Baxter Profile * Jeff "Skunk" Baxter: Balancing Music and Military Technology)

April 25, 2005

2:00 pm: News brief ... Recent SpaceShow interviews include those with Professor Allan Paull, program leader for thje HyShot scramjet test program at the University of Queensland, Australia, and Alfred Zaehringer rocket engineer since the 1940s and a author of several books on rocketry. Both dispute the possibility of significantly lower launch costs via chemical rockets.

11:15 am: ZERO-G flying high... The parabolic flight business seems to be doing well so far according to this article: Space Tourism: Other states ready to challenge Florida in new frontier - South Florida Business Journal/MSNBC.com - Apr.24.05.

Since opening for commercial operations in September, Zero-G has done 40 flights carrying more than 1,000 tourists for $3,750 each. It has flown reality show contestants during episodes of NBC's "The Apprentice" and Fox's "The Rebel Billionaire," and also helped film stunt scenes for movies in the "Matrix" trilogy.

1:50 am: The latest Space Review has three space transport related articles: Sam Dinkin proposes a government space transport subsidy program on the scale of the interstate highway system: Don’t wait for cheap orbital access by Sam Dinkin.

[Update 11:15 am: Sam has posted follow up remarks at Transterrestrial where you can also comment on the article.] ...

... Jeff Foust analyzes last week's House hearing on commercial spaceflight: Two scenarios and two concerns for personal spaceflight ...

... John Jurist looks at Human factors in commercial suborbital flight: The limits of supplemental oxygen.

CEV on a SRB
CEV launcher with a shuttle rocket booster first stage.
(Image from ATK Thiokol.)

1:05 am: Boosting CEV development ... The latest issue of Aviation Week contains an article (subscription only) about Mike Griffin wanting to close the "shuttle replacement gap". AvWeek says that although the CEV proposals from industry are due next week, CEV procurement will be slowed down for now so as "to speed it up later." Griffin said in his press conference last week that NASA would rethink the entire program.

Much of the article deals with the study - Extending Human Presence Into The Solar System - sponsored by the Planetary Society and co-authored by a team of space notables led by Griffin and Owen Garriott. Griffin referred to the report in his press conference.

A key proposal in the report is to do the CEV development incrementally. An initial "Block 1" version would only be intended for LEO operations. In one proposal, a 13-15 ton Block 1 capsule would ride a shuttle rocket booster (see above figure) and "a new cryogenic upper stage based on existing rocket engine technology." The reasoning is that this system could be developed more quickly than a CEV on a Delta IV or Atlas V since the SRBs are already "human-rated". A "Block 2" CEV would provide deep space transportation capabilities.

AvWeek points to the following recommendation from the Planetary Society study:

Orbiter retirement would be made as soon as the ISS U.S. Core is completed (perhaps only 6 or 7 flights) and the smallest number of additional flights necessary to satisfy our international partners’ ISS requirements. Money saved by early Orbiter retirement would be used to accelerate the CEV development schedule to minimize or eliminate any hiatus in U.S. capability to reach and return from LEO.

The study also recommended that the CEV be compatible with "as many launch vehicles as possible."

These ideas for the CEV, and also the question of a heavy-lift launch vehicle (HLLV), will be studied further by "a program evaluation and analysis 'shop' in [Griffin's] office headed by Scott Pace, a veteran space policy analyst."

1:05 am: News briefs ... Florida Today thinks the state should get back into the commercial space race: Space Innovators go eleswhere: Loss of X Prize Cup and red tape are making Cape irrelevant to cosmic barnstormers - Florida Today - Apr.24.05 ...

... Rutan continues to spread the good word on space tourism: On the edge of space tourism - The Register-Guard (Eugene, Oregon) - Apr.24.05. (via spacetoday.net)

April 23, 2005

2:45 am: News briefs ... The Space Access Society 2005 conference semi-final agenda is included in the latest update. It's a great lineup from start to finish ...

... The daVinci Project is testing engines but no flights this year: Rocket developer pledges space travel by next year - The StarPhoenix/Space Race News! - Apr.22.05 ...

... Is NASA still in its old pre-Columbia, non-transparent culture mode? Report: NASA changing shuttle risk standards - spacetoday.net - Apr.22.05. NASA management doesn't think so: NASA Disputes Claims of Lowered Risk Standards for Shuttle - space.com - Apr.22.05.

April 22, 2005

2:35 am: News briefs ... Michael Huang has spotted a photo showing Burt Rutan meeting with Mike Griffin. Go to the NASA home page and click on Gallery: On the Job in the Administrator's Corner. In the popup window click on image number 8. Michael has one suggestion for what they are looking at but I think it is a passenger contract for a ride on the SpaceShipTwo.   ; - )   ...

... Here is some background info regarding Burt Rutan's complaints about AST spending too much time processing a license for another company that he didn't name. (Hint: his brother has been one of their test pilots.) ...

... I had missed this article about Readdy's Senate Committee testimony in which he said NASA would accelerate development of an ISS-capable CEV: NASA to Accelerate Plans for Shuttle's Replacement - Space.com - Apr.20.05 (via Transterrestrial) ...

... And the White House science advisor trusts Griffin to solve the "gap": Bush Science Chief: Griffin Is Solution to NASA Human Space Flight "Gap" - Frank Sietzen / SpaceRef -Apr.21.05

April 21, 2005

8:45 pm: Kistler updates... Kistler Aerospace has updated their website. They've added several recent press releases dealing with the Chapter 11 situation. There is also this AIAA conference paper: Commercial Acquisition Strategies for Space Exploration - Kistler - February 2005 (pdf).

10:55 am: News briefs ... Robert Zimmerman notes the real possibility that there will be no visible light/UV space telescope after Hubble and that ground based telescopes can't replace its capabilities: Space Watch: Is there life after Hubble? - UPI/WashTimes - Apr.21.05 ...

... MSFC is rewarded for all those successful launch vehicle development projects it carried out in the past couple of decades: Marshall's launch role is secure, chief says: New NASA administrator eased concerns, King says - Huntsville Times - Apr.21.05. Guess this puts NASA on a Fastrac to the CEV ...

... The CEV will make work in Louisiana too: Michoud facility to craft prototype: Spaceship will replace shuttle - Times-Picayune - Apr.21.05 ...

... Jeff Foust reviews Burt Rutan's testimony to Congress yesterday: Mr. Rutan goes to Washington - Space Politics - Apr.21.05 ...

... More about the hearing: Private-space vision shared with Congress: Burt Rutan says flights won' be just for billionaires - MSBN - Apr.20.05 * Rutan: Space Tourism Will Thrive, But Regulations Already Interfering - Space.com - Apr.20.05 ...

... Check out these excellent pictures of the Shuttle Discovery: D2X at NASA KSC - Digital Photography Review - Apr.15.05 (via Boing Boing). Up close it sure looks like it has been through some rough rides.

April 20, 2005

2:25 pm: News briefs ... NASA Watch has posted the written statements submitted for both the Commercial Space hearing and the Space Station hearing held today on Capitol Hill ...

... Here's Reuters on the Commercial Space hearing ...

... Irene Mona Klotz reports on the X PRIZE Cup event: Space Race 2: The X Prize revisited - UPI/WashTimes - Apr.20.05. ...

.... The April edition of the Rockets Away! newsletter focuses on Spacedev and includes an interview with Jim Benson. (Item via spacetoday.net)

12:15 pm: Commercial space hearing ... If you didn't see it live, I recommend watching the hearing from the archive (the video is not posted yet but I expect it will be soon).

The second panel discussed possible future applications for space. Wolfgang Demish gave the skeptics viewpoint and said only space communications businesses will be viable since he doesn't expect launch prices to fall below current levels. He believes only radical technology such as the space elevator will lower them.

Mr. Musk disputed that, saying that Falcon I will provide a factor of five reduction below current US small launcher prices and another reduction by five or so will come with the Falcon V. He noted that with the Falcon I, SpaceX won a Malaysian satellite launch contract over a Russian competitor. Even further cost reductions will come with the SpaceX heavy lifter, the design of which will be presented later this year. He said SpaceX was not a hobby and it will be cash flow positive by 2006.

11:15 pm: Commercial space hearing - update ... Elon Musk also urges reform of ITAR ... He said that super heavy lift and manned operations are the ultimate aims of SpaceX. Falcon I provides a testbed to develop technologies for these goals. ... NASA won't be able to achieve its long term exploration goals without a significant decrease in launch costs. ... NASA has given little or no support to SpaceX but Musk expects increased interest now that Mike Griffin is in charge.

10:45 pm: Commercial space hearing - update ... ITAR export controls are interfering with the technical exchanges between Scaled and Virgin Galactic in Britain. Rutan says that on the short term they are getting around the problem, if I understand it correctly, by getting design funding from US sources.

In the longer term, Rutan believes that once vehicles are flying routinely in the US, they will be able to convince regulators that the vehicles can be exported just like airliners are exported without fears of giving away technology of potential military interest.

10:20 pm: Commercial space hearing - update ... Will Whitehorn, president of Virgin Galactic, says 100 people have agreed to pay the full $200k for the SS2 flights. ... Burt Rutan is not happy with AST; prefers a FAA certification process. He wants passenger safety to get a high priority in the regulatory framework. ... He wants to franchise SS2 to operators rather than sell the vehicles. ... He says he has gotten lots of requests to fly the SS1 for science missions but he wants to focus on the SS2 work.

10:20 pm: News briefs ... Mike Griffin talks about CEV development and other topics in his press conference yesterday: Transcript of Press Conference - Spaceref - Apr.19.05 * NASA Administrator Mike Griffin Hits the Ground Running - SpaceRef - Apr.19.05...

... With regard to the topic of heavy lift mentioned yesterday, Dan Schrimpsher says that we should avoid "paralysis by analysis" and decide the issue one way or the other and not waste a lot of time.: Heavy Lift vs Multiple Lift : Why I write this blog - Space Pragmatism - Apr.19.05 ...

... RtF looks to slip a bit: Delays Predicted for NASA's Next Shuttle Launch - Space.com - Apr.20.05

9:40 pm: Commercial space hearing ... The webcast of the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics Hearing: Future Market for Commercial Space is now underway.

April 19, 2005

6:45 pm: Insuring launches ... Following up the discussions on April 14th and April 15th about launch costs, I wanted to clarify some aspects of insurance.

I'm obviously no expert on this but from talking with a couple of vehicle builders, here is how I understand the three broad categories of insurance involved in the launch business:

  • First party insurance covers the loss of a vehicle. This obviously isn't very relevant to expendables but reusable vehicles will need such coverage.

  • Second party insurance covers the loss of a payload. It is typically obtained by the payload owner and not included in the launch price. The big comsat operators, for example, pay 10%-20% of the value of their spacecraft to obtain coverage both for the launch and for the estimated operating lifetime of the spacecraft.

    If you were launching bulk cargo to the ISS or fuel to an orbiting depot, you probably would not get payload insurance.

    Coverage for passengers comes under the second party insurance category.

  • Third party insurance covers damages if the rocket crashes onto property or people outside of the launch site. E.g. Mr. Musk says third party insurance will cost Falcon I customers about $200k.

It turns out that the price of third party insurance doesn't increase very much with the size of the vehicle. Essentially, insurers are saying that the probability of maxing out the insurance claim if a rocket falls on or near a bus or cruise ship isn't sensitive to vehicle size.

This means that small vehicles are penalized by third party insurance costs. Combining several small payloads onto a larger vehicle would substantially reduce the cost of the individual third party insurance payments.

Suborbital RLVs will encounter this third party insurance penalty on small vehicles. The RLVs will also need vehicle insurance and, if they are launching people, there will be the requirement for liability insurance.

The Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act attempts to reduce the liability risk of vehicle builders/operators for passenger injury or death. Passengers will be fully informed of the dangers of rocket flight and will sign waivers. However, with the US tort system there is always the threat of a large award to a family claiming there was some sort of negligence by the vehicle builder or operator. We can hope, though, that insurance companies can be convinced to provide coverage at a reasonable price.

6:45 pm: Virgin Galactic deposits ... Sam Dinkin reports that Virgin Galactic will soon be taking deposits for SS2 flights. You can reserve a seat with a $20k deposit for the $200k tickets. Here's the latest newsletter....

... Will Whitehorn, president of Virgin Galactic, along with Burt Rutan, Elon Musk and others will testify at tomorrow's House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics Hearing: Future Market for Commercial Space. It will be available via webcast.

6:45 pm: News briefs ... Rand Simberg points to an interesting article on heavy lift vehicles - Heavy Lift: Big Lever or Large Diameter Pipe Dream by Jon Berndt - AIAA Horizon - March/April 2005 (3MB pdf) - and he also briefly discusses Zubrin's New Atlantic article mentioned earlier: It Ain't Heavy, It's My Lifter - Transterrestrial Musings - Apr.19.05....

... From the AAIA article I followed a link to the AIAA Space Logistics Technical Committee (SLTC) website. This section provides several interesting papers presented at a recent conference...

... The FAA/AST COMSTAC meeting is scheduled for May 25-26 ...

... Here's more about the HyShot scramjet test program at the Univ. of Queensland, Australia: UQ puts the wind up US in rocket race - The Courier-Mail - Apr.20.05 (via spacetoday.net) . Don't forget that Allan Paull will be on the SpaceShow this Thursday. ...

... Starchaser does some outreach: Rocket on flying visit to school - BBC - Apr.19.05.

10:50 am: News briefs ... John Carmack reports on X PRIZE Cup plans and development of bi-propllent engines: X-Prize Cup, LOX Engine Work - Armadillo Aerospace - Apr.18.05....

... Here's your chance to participate in space advocacy in Washington DC with the National Space Society: Space Blitz 2005 - NSS Washington legislative conference, May 17-18, 2005 ...

... The shuttle may leave the station before Stafford and Covey get there: Griffin: NASA leaders to make shuttle launch decision - spacetoday.net - Apr.19.05 ...

... The mud is splashing out from the Walter Anderson mess: $200,000,000 - Telecom Tycoon Used International Financial Labyrinth, Washington Post - Washington Post - Apr.18.05. Note that FINDS (Foundation for the International Non-governmental Development of Space) gave money to a number of worthwhile leading edge projects such as laser launch and IEC fusion (e.g. see acknowledgments in this peer reviewed paper) that couldn't easily get funding elsewhere. FINDS stopped giving out money after 2001. Here's an archived FINDS site (via NASA Watch).

2:40 am: Spaceshows... There are two interviews this week on the SpaceShow that deal with space transport topics:

Thursday, April 21, 2005, 7:00-8:30 pm (Pacific Time) - Professor Allan Paull, international program leader for HyShot scramjet test program from Univ. of Queensland, Australia. .

Sunday, April 24, 2005, 12:00-1:30 pm (Pacific Time) - Jim Benson, CEO and Chairman of SpaceDev.

Discussions of the shows can be found on the Spaceshow Forum at Space Investor.

2:40 am: News briefs ... Congrats to Andews Space on their NASA contract: Wins $18.7M Contract to Build and Fly Technology Demonstration Spacecraft - Andrews Space - Apr.18.05....

... I missed this earlier announcement of a CEV contract: Andrews Space, Inc. Wins $2M Contract Extension To Assist Nasa In Refining Its Space Exploration Vision - Andrews Space - Apr.1.05 (pdf)...

... Robert Zubrin gives his advice on the CEV: Getting Space Exploration Right - The New Atlantis -Spring 2005 ...

... Space travel for leisure: The Outer Limits: Once the stuff of science fiction, recreational space travel is now a burgeoning industry. M. G. Lord straps in for a spiritual, if stomach-churning, Zero-G ride - Travel + Leisure - Jan.05 (via Transterrestrial.)

April 18, 2005

12:15 pm: News briefs... The new NASA administrator should check out the list of space policy options ranked by Sam Dinkin according to their benefit/cost ratios: Ranking space policy alternatives - The Space Review - Apr.18.05 ...

... Eric Hedman wonders if the VSE came too late to tip the US space program in the right direction: Is the Vision for Space Exploration ten years too late? by Eric Hedman - The Space Review - Apr.18.05 ...

... If the damage to a shuttle's thermal protection system meant that it was too risky for a crew to fly back to earth, it could still be worth a trying to bring the vehicle back while the crew remained on the ISS: Could shuttle land without crew aboard? NASA looks at how to get the orbiter back if astronauts took refuge on the space station - OrlandoSentinel - Apr.18.05

1:35 am: News briefs ... This article reports on space tourism and Burt Rutan: A vision in flight: Burt Rutan, the genius behind SpaceShipOne, believes space tourism is destined to become a huge industry in the next decade or so - OCRegister.com - Apr.17.05 (via spacetoday.net) ...

... And this article reports on space tourism along with a general overview of commercial entrepreneurial projects: Rocket race - US News - Apr.25.05 (via spacetoday.net) ...

... I had not heard of this Shuttle-ISS disaster scenario: Shuttle thrusters potential hazard: 'Must fix' could destroy station - Florida Today - Apr.17.05 ...

... I believe this headline is an understatement: ESA In No Hurry To Fund Russia's Project Kliper - RIA Novosti - Apr.17.05 ...

1:35 am: Practice DARTs ... It's part of the space business, or any tech business, that tests of new systems often fail. You just keep working at it till you get it right. However, DART costs so much - $110M - that multiple repetition is not an option: DART mission ends prematurely - spacetoday.net - Apr.17.05.

So I suggest that it would be more cost effective to fund student nanosats instead. Projects like Bandit at the Univ. of Washington and Fastrac at the Univ. of Texas will achieve fairly sophisticated autonomous operation. (See also this paper on Bandit). With budgets in the $100k range, they could try 1100 times to work up to full autonomy for the price of one DART.

OK, I'm joking since I'm leaving out the price of the launches. But don't forget that many student nanosats get free, or low priced, piggyback rides.

April 17, 2005

2:10 am: A positive sign... Space tourism market studies are fine but there is nothing like seeing customers putting real money on the table. According to this article - Space available, for a price - DenverPost.com - Apr.17.05 (via spacetoday.net), Eric Anderson of Space Adventures says:

Space Adventures has taken $10,000 deposits from 150 people who hope to ride on the first commercial suborbital space planes. Anderson predicts these flights will become available in 2008.

I've previously heard that the number of people who had place significant deposits at SA was less than 100. Great to see a specific number posted and that the deposit is as high as $10k.

Note that these people have placed deposits before a commercial suborbital space tourist vehicle of any kind has appeared. It doesn't take a huge leap of faith to assume a lot more customers will step up as soon one or more such vehicles begins to operate.

2:10 am: Armadillo XP Cup demo ... The recent announcement of an X PRIZE Cup event this October stated there would be "[d]emonstration flights of reusable space vehicles by future X PRIZE CUP contenders at the Las Cruces International Airport".

Well, we now know that one of these will be Armadillo Aerospace. John Carmack posted at the Official Armadillo Q&A - Space Race News that they will fly the "new biprop vehicle" at the event. They plan "to perform several 15 second boosted hops to demonstrate rapid turnaround. They won't go high, but on a biprop they will be very exciting!"

(See also his comments on the death of the "Black Armadillo" .)

2:10 am: News briefs ... Jeff Foust reports that next Wednesday, April 20th there will be a House Science Committee hearing on the "Future Market for Commercial Space": House hearing on commercial spaceflight - Space Politics - Apr.15.05. It will sure be interesting to hear what Burt Rutan tells the assembled Congresspersons. ...

... Alan Boyle comments on the recent news releases from XCOR and Beyond-Earth Enterprises: Space marketplace expands - COSMIC LOG /MSNBC.com - Apr.12.05

April 15, 2005

2:00 pm: More about orbital access costs ... With regard to the discussion yesterday about cost estimates for orbital flights, I've been informed by Elon Musk that Falcon I flights from Vandenberg will include the following charges:

  • $5.9M base price
  • + $600k range fee
  • + $200k 3rd party insurance fee for commercial payloads (government customers self-insure.)

There was an initial range qualification process on which SpaceX spent several million dollars but the recurring range price is the $600k number.

Range prices from the Marshall Island site may be lower but logistic costs are higher so it isn't clear there will be a net savings. (It is still a good site for equatorial launches.)

One additional item with respect to the fixed costs discussed by the Kuennen et al. paper. The "launch agency" fee they mention is what RSLP (Rocket Systems Launch Program at Kirkland AFB) or other group charges for overseeing a launch. That's not a charge that a commercial payload on a Falcon I launched from a commercial spaceport would see. It's the extra charge that, say, DARPA would pay to RSLP for overseeing a launch.

Range and insurance costs will increase somewhat for the Falcon V but not dramatically. ...

... So for the SpaceX vehicles, the costs look more optmistic that what Jurist et al. estimated. If the Falcon V development goals are achieved, launch costs will be quite close to $1000/pound.

Of course, the authors can argue that they made reasonable assumptions as to how a rocket business would be run that don't apply to SpaceX. Mr. Musk wants to help expand the market and encourage space development so SpaceX is charging less than a conventional aerospace company would.

2:00 pm: News briefs ... The AIAA issues a press release about The Rocket Company: New Book Inspired by the X-Prize Competition - FindLaw/AIAA PR - Apr.14.05. I think it is a great idea to promote the book to students. The presentation of the technical and business details within a novel should make it quite appealing to them. ...

... And here is another rocket education related item: X-Prize education events coming - Alamogordo - Apr.14.05 ...

... Robert Zimmerman profiles the new NASA administrator: Space Watch: The right man for the job? - UPI - Apr.14.05

April 14, 2005

2:20 pm: Orbital access challenge ... I found the paper When Physics, Economics, and Reality Collide: The Challenge of Cheap Orbital Access by Jurist, Livingston, and Dinkin to be quite interesting and informative. (The abstract and TOC were posted here earlier and the text is available in full at Transterrestrial Musings).

It will be the subject of a session at the the Space Access '05 Conference and will no doubt inspire a spirited discussion. A number of the regular attendees have for many years been studying and dealing directly with the topics covered in the paper and will certainly offer some alternative views.

Here are some miscellaneous comments of my own:

  • The paper does a good job of making the point that overhead costs, particularly range fees and insurance, will come to dominate no matter what assumptions one makes about hardware development.

  • They reference a paper by Kuennen et al. presented at last year's Utah Smallsat meeting and described by Jeff Foust in Reducing launch costs: a lower limit? - TSR - Sept.27.05. Those authors found that even if the cost of the rocket for their payloads went to zero, there would still be a charge of around $7M for using the launch facilities and the range system. And they were only discussing unmanned government payloads and so didn't include insurance.

  • Note that SpaceX does not include range fees in its price quotes. I believe lower launch facility and range costs are the main reasons they are looking to launch from the Marshall Islands. Reducing such costs is also one of the reasons why some companies are going with air launched systems.

  • Obtaining "reasonably" priced insurance for commercial RLV flights, especially those with passengers, will certainly be a major challenge. (Pat Bahn of TGV likes to say that amateur rocketeers discuss ISPs while pros discuss insurance.)

  • I think the paper takes too seriously the thesis by G. Henry, who concluded that only a two-stage waverider system would bring significantly lower launch costs. If Falcon I flies this summer, a number of the major assumptions in that thesis are immediately invalidated. He assumes, in particular, that there are no fundamental flaws with the way NASA and mainstream aerospace industry carry out hardware projects.

    For example, he reviews the history of launch vehicle development but ignores the DC-X. So he doesn't address the question of why that project achieved its goals with a factor of ten less money than if it had been carried out in a standard NASA / Aerospace industry manner. Factors of ten should not be ignored.

    He instead uses the Shuttle, X-33, X-34, etc as the standard benchmarks and ignores the deeper problems with the way these projects were handled.

    It's as if in the 1970s, you ruled out the possibility of a low cost, reliable, well performing small automobile because Detroit had failed so badly with vehicles like the Corvair, Vega, and Pinto. As we found out from the Japanese, there were, in fact, profound flaws in the way the Detroit companies did things.

  • I believe one should avoid the "if it could be done, it would have been done by now" sorts of arguments. The "space age" may be several decades old but the actual number of serious attempts at developing low cost launch vehicles (i.e. they got as far as bending some metal) is minuscule when compared to, say, the number of different types of airplanes that appeared before the DC-3 came along with just the right specs to make passenger flights practical.

    We need many more candidates to enter the evolutionary battle before we will know the optimum set of features that wins the struggle to provide the lowest launch costs.

2:20 pm: Alt.space advocacy suggestions.... Last year the alt.space community pushed successfully for the passage of the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act. Rather than now sit back and watch how things go, I suggest the following new campaign goals.

  • Convince Congress to upgrade and subsidize the range and launch facilities for use by commercial flights. As indicated by the paper discussed above, this could have a major impact on launch costs.

  • Lobby Congress to allocate $100M for suborbital science at NASA. The National Academy of Sciences recommended that this area be revitalized but NASA has instead steadily reduced funding for sounding rocket flights. We should push for a renewal of this area with the understanding that payloads would shift over to suborbital RLVs or, in the case of experiments that need to reach very high altitudes, to expendable 2nd stages launched by the RLVs.

    This would be a win-win for everybody:

    • Great science could be done at a much lower cost than with sounding rockets. Plus there would be the new capabilities and benefits of frequent flights and a person there to monitor and adjust the experiment.

    • The suborbital companies would have a second market of significant size to supplement space tourism.

    • It will be a boon for education since it's much easier for students to carry out suborbital projects within the time span of their programs.

9:20 am: News briefs ... More about the X PRIZE Cup announcement: X Prize Cup will come in October - Alamogordo News - Apr.13.05 ...

... Congrats to Dr. Griffin: Senate unanimously confirms Griffin - spacetoday.net - Apr.14.05. I hope that he makes a speech soon outlining his major goals and policies, especially with respect to space transport and commercialization.

April 13, 2005

8:10 pm: News briefs ... Orbital Recovery is making progress towards its first flight in 2008: Successful Design Review Validates the Technical Feasibility Of Orbital Recovery Ltd.'s CX-OLEVTM Space Tug - Orbital Recovery Corp. - Apr.13.05. (Why not use one of their tugs to boost the Hubble to a long term storage orbit?) ...

... Mark Whittington says that under Griffin's management, NASA might arrange the CEV program in such a way that "smaller, entrepreneurial companies like t/Space would be included in a separate program to develop piloted space craft.": The Return of Michael Griffin - The Washington Dispatch - Apr.13.05 ...

... Irene Mona Klotz this time examines the DART robotic orbital rendezvous mission: Space Race 2: Hooking up in space - UPI/WashTimes - Apr.13.05

6:05 pm: X Prize Cup debut ... The XP Cup is on for this year: X Prize Cup Ready For October Liftoff - Space.com - Apr.13.05.* Governor Bill Richardson Announces X PRIZE CUP Events - X Prize Foundation - Apr.13.05.

This part is particularly interesting:

"... demonstration flights from at least eight of X Prize Cup team competitors. Also to be previewed will be the Tier-1 X Prize Rocket Racer ..."

So I wonder who these eight competitors are and what Rutan's Rocket Racer will look like?

6:05 pm: Constellation rising ... Iridium does the phoenix trick: Iridium Talking With Satellite Makers About Constellation Replenishment - Aviation Week - Apr.13.05. Looks like a potential customer for a low cost launcher:

Iridium Satellite LLC is profitable and is experiencing 20-25% annual growth, with more than 114,000 subscribers as of the end of last year. Lloyd expects subscribers to double by the end of this decade, with revenues sufficient at that point for the company to self-finance its satellite replacement effort.

12:05 pm: News briefs ... Henry Vanderbilt has posted the Latest Info on Our Upcoming Conference, Space Access '05, April 28-30, Phoenix Arizona. Note that the availability of reduced rates for the hotel rooms has been extended...

... I forgot to mention that Griffin wants to speed up development of the CEV to reduce or eliminate the gap in US human spaceflight capability. Also, he may reverse O'Keefe's decision to cancel the Hubble repair mission. Here's more info on his testimony: Griffin promises to revisit Hubble decision - spacetoday.net - Apr.13.05 ...

... XCOR announced this week a NASA contract to develop a composite LOX tank. In the coming years I expect we will see many advances in the use of light and super-strong materials for use in spaceship structures: 'Extreme Textiles' Come of Age - NY Times - Apr.12.05. ...

... Dan Schrimpsher likes the "firm fixed-price contract" aspect of the XCOR contract. It think it is perhaps an approach the old aerospace giants will fail to appreciate.

2:10 am: News briefs ... Jeff Foust describes the confirmation hearing for Mike Griffin as not exactly hard-hitting: A lovefest - Space Politics - Apr.12.05. More at Senate Seeks to Expedite Vote to Confirm Griffin as NASA Administrator - SpaceRef - Apr.12.05 ...

... Keith Cowing doesn't recommend Alan Binder's big book, but you can get a free abbreviated version of Binder's views on NASA, and his surprisingly critical take on Mike Griffin, in this interview at the SpaceShow. I listened to it yesterday while jogging (with the warm weather I'm catching up on the broadcasts) and Binder certainly expresses a level of anger towards various NASA managers that sometimes goes a bit overboard. On the other hand, he did succeed in getting the Lunar Prospector from a concept to an actual spacecraft orbiting the Moon, and for a modest price as well. So it seems to me he is someone who deserves a hearing. ...

... More Kliper news: Russian Kliper Could Fly into Space in 5 Years - RIA Novosti - Apr.12.05 ...

... Because of some technical advice given to China by two American comsat companies, Congress applied onerous export regulations to the entire US space industry. And what did this accomplish? A bonanza for the European space industry: China launches commercial communications satellite - spacetoday.net - Apr.12.05 ...

... Aviation Week begins a series on the RtF: Shuttle To Debut Repair Technologies - Aviation Week - Apr.10.05

April 12, 2005

11:45 am: News briefs ... John Jurist offers a list of warning signs when dealing with new space ventures: Jurist’s 16 Commandments of Space Investing - Space Race News! - Apr.11.05 ...

... Starchaser has a new business structure - Starchaser PLC - and a new website. Here are some pictures of their Starchaser 4 under construction.

12:40 am: News storm ... Gee, I take Monday off and sure enough, a whole bunch of great stuff comes out. Firstly, in addition to the Beyond-Earth agreement, there is more good news for XCOR:

12:40 am: XCOR lands NASA contract:

XCOR Aerospace Wins $7 Million NASA Contract
Company to Develop Cryogenic Composite Tank

Mojave, CA, Monday, April 11, 2005: - Today, XCOR Aerospace announced it has signed a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to develop a composite cryogenic tank to hold liquid oxygen (LOX). This contract is part of NASA's Exploration Systems Research and Technology (ESR&T) program to develop key technologies for manned exploration of the Moon, Mars and beyond. The value of this firm fixed-price contract is $7 million with all options included, and will pay $1 million in the first year.

"This is a wonderful opportunity for NASA and for XCOR," said XCOR's president, Jeff Greason. "NASA is reaching out to small businesses and this contract is an excellent example. Both private industry and the government will benefit from this project, as well as future users of space vehicles."

During the past two years, XCOR has researched cryogenic composite materials and processes that will have immediate application to this contract. XCOR will use its patented technology to build a demonstration LOX tank for NASA. The LOX tank will be designed to show dramatic weight savings by demonstrating the ability to serve as both an insulated tank and vehicle structure. The materials used in this tank retain their flexibility and toughness at cryogenic temperatures and are inherently non-flammable, an important safety feature for LOX tanks on future human spaceflight vehicles.

XCOR Aerospace, Inc. is a California corporation located in Mojave, California. The company is in the business of developing and producing safe, reliable and reusable rocket engines and rocket powered vehicles. Additional information about XCOR Aerospace can be found at www.xcor.com.

12:40 am: More storming... And then Livingston, Jurist, and Dinkin release what looks to be a significant paper on space access that is getting a good buzz ( (I'm still working through it myself):

When Physics, Economics, and Reality Collide
The Challenge of Cheap Orbital Access

Engineering problems are only part of the problem of achieving a price per pound of less than $1,000 to low earth orbit (LEO). Insurance and range costs alone prevent breaking that barrier without substantial investment in demonstration flights and lobbying. Achieving low cost to LEO also requires solving problems associated with limitations of chemical rockets, lack of business planning, and failure to identify a workable path that will take us from an immature to a mature launch industry. A mature launch industry would exhibit low cost to LEO and significant flight rates by reusable vehicles with long lifetimes. When today's factors, limitations, and reality denials are combined, we believe that they prolong the difficulties of achieving low cost, routine flights to LEO. In other words, we end up inadvertently supporting the status quo.

I. Abstract
II. Introduction
III. Basic Concepts
IV. Methodology
V. Expendable Launch Vehicles
VI. Reusable Launch Vehicles
VII. Discussion

A. Merging the rocket and the payload
B. Market decision-making and economic factors

1. Interest
2. Insurance
3. Research and Development
4. Lobbying to reduce range costs and obtain regulatory relief
5. Potential threats

D. The due diligence process

1. Subjective factors
2. Objective factors
3. Venture capitalists
4. Reality versus speculation
5. Polluting the pond

VIII. Conclusions
IX. References
X. The Authors
XI. Appendix 1: Baseline Models
XII. Appendix 2: Propellant Costs

Paper (MS Word Doc file) available via Transterrestrial Musings.

12:40 am: More news... Plus there were the usual set of great articles on the latest issue of the Space Review:

  • Michael Huang has written one of the most cogent articles in support of human spaceflight that I've seen for a long time: The top three reasons for humans in space. Individually the three reasons are well know to space advocates, but he has packed them into a short, articulate format here that really gets the message across. In fact, space advocates should repeat his "To work, To live, To survive" mantra in all human spaceflight discussions from now on. (I see the article has aroused a vigorous response on Slashdot.).

  • In the "To Work" category, Sam Dinkin has an article on solar power from the Moon: Rectifying the case for beaming Lunar solar power and an interview with the concept's main proponent: Reaping powerful ideas from a luminary.

    (Note: Instead of pushing now for full deployment for $300B-500B. I would emphasize incremental steps, e.g. demo systems that prove the concept and offer benefits such as providing abundant lunar power for lunar bases and for other space based users.)

    Check out also the interview with Criswell on the SpaceShow from Dec. 7, 2004.

  • Taylor Dinerman meanwhile reports on the trustworthiness of the price quotes for the European Galileo GPS system: What will Galileo cost?.

12:40 am: More news briefs ... The SpaceShow interview with Henry Vanderbilt of the Space Access Society is now available online...

... Check out the Space Pragmatism blog from Dan Schrimpsher who tells me he wants to try to convince regular folks to get "on board with our journey into the solar system".

April 11, 2005

1:25 am: Beyond-Earth and XCOR collaboration:

Beyond-Earth Enterprises and XCOR Aerospace Announce Agreement to Produce Small Payload Launch Vehicles for Sub-Orbital Travel

Colorado Springs, Colorado, April 11 Studies show that 70 percent of Americans would buy a flight into space if they had the chance and the cost was reasonable. Now a cooperative agreement between Beyond-Earth Enterprises and XCOR Aerospace will develop greater accessibility to space for everyone in a safe, reliable, and affordable manner. The agreement will allow Beyond-Earth to purchase manufactured components from XCOR for standardized production of small payload launch vehicles. Beyond-Earth Enterprises is a commercial firm dedicated to providing small payload launch capabilities at affordable rates. XCOR Aerospace, Inc., is a small, private company with proven expertise in the production of high quality rocket engines and rocket powered vehicles.

Joe Latrell, CEO of Beyond-Earth Enterprises, says, "This is the first step toward making space accessible for commercial ventures. We want to be instrumental in creating standardized production components. When an airline company or package delivery service needs a new vehicle, they don't build it, they buy it from a company who specializes in airplane or truck production." Latrell says Beyond-Earth is highly motivated to encourage the average American to reach for space again. "We want the public to realize that they could go to space someday very soon."

"Now is a great time for cooperative arrangements like this," says Jeff Greason, CEO of XCOR. "The commercial applications from scientific research to space tourism are within reach. Cooperation such as this is essential to making that happen. Beyond-Earth and XCOR will each focus on their areas of expertise while expanding the overall market for space related products."

The agreement lets XCOR focus on rocket engine development, one of its core strengths, while allowing Beyond-Earth to concentrate on developing inexpensive alternatives to existing space launch systems and help revitalize the American public's interest in space. Beyond-Earth and XCOR expect this unique alliance to prove the reliability, safety, and affordability of complete rocket systems. The goal is profitable, low-cost transportation vehicles to Earth orbit.

About XCOR Aerospace, Inc.:
XCOR Aerospace develops and produces safe, reliable and reusable rocket engines and rocket powered vehicles. Test pilot Dick Rutan has flown its operations demonstrator, the rocket-powered test vehicle "EZ-Rocket" in recent demonstration flights at the EAA AirVenture convention at Oshkosh, WS. XCOR holds the second FAA issued Reusable Launch Vehicle License and continues to be engaged in private and government research projects for rocket engines and rocket engine components. XCOR Aerospace is a California corporation located in Mojave, California. For more information, visit www.xcor.com.

About Beyond-Earth Enterprises:
Beyond-Earth is leading the way to the commercialization of space by providing small payload launch capabilities at affordable rates. The Beyond-Earth officers are committed to revitalizing the American public's interest in space. They encourage space development by conducting educational demonstrations and lectures at area schools. The company's headquarters are in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Additional information can be found at www.beyond-earth.com.

1:25 am: Orbital Access Workshop announcement:

Orbital Access to Space Workshop
7:30-9:30 pm Central Daylight Time, Monday, April 11, 2005

A special University of North Dakota School of Space Studies webcast will take place at: www.asn.und.edu:7070/ramgen/encoder/live.rm.

Questions during the actual workshop can be emailed to Professor Eligar Sadeh at esadeh@gmail.com.

Space Studies Workshop: When Physics, Economics and Reality Collide: The Challenges of Cheap Orbital Access to Space Interactive workshop:

Workshop presenters and leaders: Dr. David Livingston (The Space Show), Dr. John Jurist (Space Consultant, Human Factors), and Dr. Sam Dinkin (The Space Review).

The workshop is open to all faculty and students, and it will be highly interactive. The workshop leaders have worked out various launch industry segments for the participants to role play with - that is to view cheap orbital access to space from the perspective of a government regulator, the large aerospace industry, the parent of a space flight participant, the participant, etc...

The leaders will invite the questions largely from the perspective that each participant is assigned. The intent is to get some good thought behind the issues from a broad view perspective across many segments of the traditional plus the alternative space industry and developing industry.

The workshop will also involve a series of short presentations and it will be 2 hours in duration, including questions and the role playing activities.

1:25 am: Space elevator news ... Blaise Gassend reports on the 2005 Space Exploration meeting last week in Albuquerque, New Mexico that included a number of space elevator presentations: Notes from Space Exploration 2005 - Blaise Gassend - Apr.05 ...

... Los Alamos will assist Carbon Designs, a Brad Edwards company (see also this site - www.nanotubecomposites.com), with research on carbon nanotubes: Los Alamos National Laboratory Signs CRADA and License Agreement with Carbon Designs, Inc. - SpaceRef - Apr.8.05 ...

... Here is a space elevator bulletin board: The Space Elevator Reference - SpaceRef.

1:25 am: News briefs... Leonard David reports on the changes in exploration policies driven by the VSE and affecting every part of NASA: Space Exploration Overhaul: Next Five Years 'Critical' - Space.com - Apr.8.05 ...

... Blue Origin as seen by the Guardian: Billionaire picks one-horse town to start space empire - Guardian - Apr.10.05 ...

... New Scientist offers a page with lots of resources on the RfF: Special Report on Return of the Space Shuttle.

April 8, 2005

12:05 pm: News briefs ... Russia keeps talking up the prospects for the Kliper ship: Russia to pursue new space shuttle -UPI/WashTimes - Apr.8.05. Perhaps it can become a joint Russia/Europe project. ...

... Check out the impressive list of alt.space speakers at the upcoming 24th International Space Development Conference, ISDC 2005, “Your Ticket to Space”, Washington, DC on May 19-22, 2005. ...

... The airships in this video update from JP Aerospace are impressively gi-normous ...

... Gee, I wish when I was a student I got to work on nuclear powered spaceship systems and fly on a zero-g plane: OSU students work on plasma rocket - Corvallis Gazette [Oregon] - Apr.8.05 (via spacetoday.net) ...

... People in the Eugene, Oregon area might want to mark this on their calendar: SpaceShipOne Designer to Speak at UO [April 25th] - Univ. Oregon - Apr.8.05 (via spacetoday.net). Great that Burt Rutan is making all of these talks to student groups around the country.

2:15am News briefs ... NASA is apparently getting serious about contracting for cargo delivery to the ISS: NASA Special Notice: International Space Station Commercial Cargo Services - SpaceRef - Apr.7.05. ...

... Of course, if the agency had taken the Alternate Access to Station program seriously when it was forced on it by Congress back in 2000, it would already have a cargo service in operation. Kistler, for example, is getting out of bankruptcy because it is considered to have a viable chance to go after the ISS cargo contract. They will pursue it with the same K-1 that was 75% built in 2000. ...

... The Space At The Crossroads one day meeting on May 18, 2005 has an interesting lineup of speakers. ...

... Alan Boyle reports on some well deserved recognition given to the Discovery Channel's Black Sky program about the SS1: Bravo for 'Black Sky' - Cosmic Log/MSNBC - Apr.7.05.

2:15am Calvert praises commercial manned spaceflight ... Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA), a featured speaker at the Space Foundation meeting, had a lot to say about space policy and some of it was very positive towards private ventures: Rep. Ken Calvert Calls for New Rules and Tools for the Second Space Age - SpaceRef - Apr.6.05.

For example,

The commercial space program has been reinvigorated by the recent success of Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne. It is amazing what a small group of people could accomplish for a mere $20 million. But just as important as the accomplishment of putting a man into suborbital space is that the X-Prize competition validated the incentive concept for commercial space. Congress strongly supports a prize program and we are developing a program to be included in the NASA authorization bill. I'm very pleased that NASA is starting now with a small prize program based on its current authority.

As we saw with the success of SpaceShipOne, there is even a chance of having commercial human space flight sooner than was thought even 20 years ago. There are companies like Constellation Services International, who have innovative ideas for taking cargo to the International Space Station; Kistler, who is developing a fully reusable two-stage unmanned space launch vehicle; and Elon Musk's company SpaceX, which is developing a simple, reliable, low cost launch vehicle. We need to take advantage of these great minds and to help NASA to take advantage of these commercially developed ideas as it plans for the future of exploration. By leveraging the power and freedom of the market Commercial sector has the potential to revolutionize space access, making it reliable and efficient.

As Chairman of the House Space & Aeronautics Subcommittee, his views carry some weight.

April 7, 2005

5:10 News briefs ... Robert Zimmerman argues that NASA's management culture needs to change but the way Congress manages (or mis-manages) the agency also needs to change: Space Watch: How politics drives NASA - UPI - Apr.7.05 ...

... Meanwhile, James Oberg reports that the Return to Flight Task Group is split over whether and NASA and Discovery are in shape to fly in May: NASA's Shuttle panel divided over NASA compliance: A case of late paperwork or something more serious? - MSNBC.com - Apr.6.05.

2:00 pm: News briefs ... Leonard David reviews the entrepreneurial space discussion panel held yesterday at the Space Foundation conference: Entrepreneurial Muscle Ready For Flexing - Space.com - Apr.7.05. ...

... Leonard also reports on a session dealing with NASA's exploration program: Experts Grapple With Exploration Agenda - Space.com - Apr.7.05 ...

... NASA will test two 20 meter solar sails in vacuum chambers at Glenn Research Center: NASA's Marshall Center to Begin Test of 20-Meter Solar Sail Technology That Could Use Sun's Energy for Future Space Missions - NASA - Apr.7.05 ...

... Robert Goehlich of Keio University in Japan reports that he will soon begin a new space tourism course plus a second course on "cost engineering":

Space Tourism II is a master’s course but also part of the “Open College” Program in the course of “Germany in Japan 2005/2006” events. Link: www.doitsu-nen.jp and www.robert-goehlich.de (this class is also live broadcast via internet for free by using yahoo messenger, login also at my homepage)

Cost Engineering II (Economics of Satellites, Rockets and Space Organizations) is a new Ph.D. course in this semester and part of Keio’s COE Program. Link: www.robert-goehlich.de

Copies of his lectures and papers are available online.

1:55 am: News briefs... Alan Boyle points out the sponsorship opportunities that NASA is offering to companies that support its web bandwidth needs during the upcoming shuttle flights: This space for rent - Cosmic Log/MSNBC - Apr.6.05. (Here's the NASA bulletin: NASA Presolicitation Notice: Sponsorship Opportunity for Bandwidth Support to Return to Flight Missions (STS-114, STS-121) - Commercial Space News - Apr.5.05.) I hope the commercialization bug spreads to the rest of the organization. ...

... Alan points also to Richard Branson's commercializing of the SS2 around the world and even in the movies: It's a bird! It's a space plane! - Cosmic Log/MSNBC - Apr.6.05 ...

... The shuttle shuffles to the launchpad: Shuttle nears pad, backs up after problem - Florida Today - Apr.6.05. A crack discovered in the ET insulation doesn't appear to be serious ...

... But the insulation is still a big worry: Tank foam remains threat to shuttle in worst-case - Spaceflight Now - Apr.5.05 ...

... JAXA's wish list gets another round of publicity: Japan unveils plan to send humans to moon - MSNBC/AP - Apr.6.05 ...

... An item on top of my wish list is that NASA will contract out for LEO/lunar transport and concentrate its energy on developing long term technologies like this: NASA's Prometheus: Fire, Smoke And Mirrors - Space.com - Apr.6.05

April 6, 2005

2:15 am: News briefs... Irene Mona Klotz reports on the Pentagon's Falcon program and on the companies competing to win its contracts: Space Race 2: Falcon taking wing - ScienceDaily/UPI - Apr.5.05 (link via Ken Schweitzer) ...

... Northrop/Boeing announces their CEV A team: Northrop Grumman, Boeing Announce Companies Supporting Crew Exploration Vehicle Team - Northrop Grumman Corporation - Apr.5.05 ...

... Alan Boyle gives an update on the Space Transport team: Return of the ‘rocket boys’ - Cosmic Log/MSNBC - Apr.5.05.

April 5, 2005

3:50 pm: Korean suborbital project ... The C&Space company that Henry mentions below is new to me. Their website includes a video and a powerpoint presentation about their Proteus single-stage vehicle, which will fly a crew of three to 100Km using a LOX/LNG engine. It takes off vertically and then lands on a runway. Note that the wing tilts out slightly during descent in a manner somewhat like the feathering for the SS1.

Very encouraging to see an entry from Asia into the private space launcher arena.

3:45 pm: News briefs... The latest update from Henry Vanderbilt of the Space Access Society is a big one with lots of info, especially on happenings in the entrepreneural space community.

Space Access Update #111 04/05/05
Copyright 2005 by Space Access Society


Contents this issue:

- SA'05 Notes

- Low-Cost Launch: The Concept Is Spreading

- What We Want From NASA:
    - Low Cost Hardware/Flight Demos
    - Pay for Results, Not Process

- Industry News Roundup


SA'05 Notes

First a few quick notes about our upcoming Space Access '05 conference, April 28-30 in Phoenix Arizona: - The latest SA'05 info will be posted from now till the conference at http://www.space-access.org/updates/sa05info.html

- Our $79 hotel room rate is guaranteed available through April 6th - we'll very likely be able to negotiate extensions as the conference approaches, but book by the 6th to be sure.

- If you have trouble getting our rate or booking the type of room that you want, try calling our hotel (Four Points by Sheraton Phoenix Metrocenter, 602 997-5900, mention "space access") between 8 am and 4 pm weekdays Mountain Standard Time (EDT-3) since outside those hours calls automatically get switched to the Sheraton national reservations center, which seems to have occasional problems with local hotel details.

- If you still have any difficulty booking a room at our rate for SA'05, drop us a note at sa05@space-access.org ASAP. Thanks! And now back to our irregularly scheduled Update...


Low-Cost Launch: The Concept Is Spreading

It's a good thing this is America, where "may you live in interesting times" is still more blessing than curse. Kudos to the X-Prize, Scaled Composites and their subs, and Paul Allen - a lot of people are now aware that there are alternatives to the Government-Space Industrial Complex, paths off the planet that don't cost major slices of a national budget. The consequences have started arriving one after another.

One we should get out of the way immediately: Watch your wallet, the quick-buck artists are here. The email we saw about the Nigerian astronaut stranded on the Space Station until we take our 15% cut of an international funds transfer to pay for his return trip (please provide our account info) was actually pretty funny, but we suspect that the SEC wouldn't be at all amused by some of the outfits that have popped up peddling stock lately. Caveat investor... Not that every outfit around before the field got hot was a good place to put money either, but at least most actually meant well. Thomas Olson, Paul Contursi, and David Livingston have a short article in The Space Review with eight things to watch for when you're thinking of investing in a space startup, at http://www.thespacereview.com/article/329/1. Strongly recommended.

Another thing we've seen is multiple announcements of brand-new conferences and/or newsletters. Our rule of thumb is, if all the promoters seem to know is "X-Prize", "Scaled", and "SpaceDev", they probably have a way to go before they're worth much attention.

One new entrant in the conference field we are paying attention to is Esther Dyson, of computer journalism fame, with her "Flight School" one- day new-aviation/new-space event, debuting last month tagged onto the end of her long-time influential "PC Forum" IT industry conference. At $1492 "Flight School" was a bit steep for our budget (though one way to look at that is that the price succeeded - it kept the riff-raff out!) but response we've heard has been positive - introducing her field to our field is generally seen as a good thing. Given Dyson's reputation as one of the sharper tools in the shed, her extensive information industry contacts, and her considerable resources, we expect we'll be hearing more from her.
One of the bigger space conferences around, the Space Foundation's National Space Symposium annual gettogether of everybody who's anybody in Big Aerospace (in Colorado Springs this week) this year features an "Entrepreneurial Spirit" panel with Courtney Stadd, Eric Anderson of Space Adventures, Jim Benson of SpaceDev, David Gump of T/Space, and George Nield of FAA AST, plus an appearance by SpaceX's Elon Musk on a New Directions In Launch panel. It's a good start. Also of interest on their schedule, a live broadcast on NASA TV of "The Vision For Space Exploration: Getting There From Here" (we wonder where that phrase percolated up from...) set for 11 am to 12:15 pm mountain time on Wednesday April 6th. (As conference organizers ourselves, we'd advise allowing for a bit of schedule slop if you're setting up to tape it.)

Another major player that is starting to pay attention: NASA. We don't have much detail yet, but Explorations Systems Mission Directorate, ESMD, the large slice of NASA HQ tasked with making the Vision For Space Exploration happen, seems to be at least thinking about some sort of "non-traditional" Earth-To-Orbit development path in parallel with their main effort, the multi-billion dollar Crewed Exploration Vehicle (CEV) that is planned as the mainstay of post-Shuttle NASA manned spaceflight.

No further detail of what ESMD has in mind available yet, but we speculate this may have something to do with the schedule gap between Shuttle shutdown in 2010 and CEV operations start in 2014 - both SpaceX and Kistler (whose reorganization plan was just approved by the bankruptcy court) plan on having suitably-sized "non-traditional" boosters flying well before 2010, and there are a number of "non- traditional" parties who are more than willing (and quite possibly able) to put basic crewed ships on top. Add in Bigelow's "America's Space Prize" ($50 million for just such a basic crewed ship) as extra development leverage, and a plausible picture begins to emerge. However speculative it is at the moment, of course.

One thing we do know for sure: Rick Tumlinson of the Space Frontier Foundation arranged for David Gump of T/Space, Tom Taylor of Lunar Transportation Systems, and Jim Muncy of PoliSpace to brief NASA's Lunar Exploration Roadmap Committee last Thursday, and by Friday the committee had a new Commercial Subcommittee, consisting of those four gentlemen plus Jeff Taylor of the University of Hawaii. Our congratulations to all concerned - we expect they'll bring in some fresh ideas.


What We Want From NASA:
      Low Cost Hardware/Flight Demos - Pay For Results, Not Process

On a related subject, something we'd like to see happening at NASA (but don't really expect out of Exploration Systems) would be a whole series of low-cost (a few hundred thousand to a couple tens of millions max) hardware and/or flight demonstration projects, from non-traditional vendors, done under a reduced-paperwork pay-for-results-not-process regime. We think this could usefully expand the repertoire of known-to- work engineering solutions available and on the shelf, and usefully expand the space industrial base of experienced vendors ready to apply those solutions for NASA and for the US space industry in general.

Why don't we expect it out of Exploration Systems? To be frank, because ESMD already have their hands full developing CEV. Admiral Steidle, before he became ESMD's boss, did succeed in getting a flyable Joint Strike Fighter out of the established major aerospace contractors via the established defense procurement process, but we expect he's very aware that he's at NASA now, where the procurement process and contractors makes DOD's equivalents look simple efficient and reliable.

Anything that doesn't contribute directly and immediately to meeting the transportation needs of NASA's new space exploration program is likely to be seen as a distraction and a drain on scarce funds - funds quite likely to get scarcer in future years, while future year costs all too likely climb. The natural inclination is going to be for ESMD to focus primarily on its major objectives at the expense of lesser projects.

We may already be seeing a symptom of this (necessary) focus: Cries of pain, public and private, over how thoroughly HQ is applying traditional NASA paperwork requirements to the smaller bidders. Whether ESMD actively wants the small outfits to just go away or merely lacks the time and attention to cut them the appreciable amount of slack available within the rules is moot - the effect is the same either way. Small companies end up taking NASA money to produce reports and viewgraphs, not testable hardware.

As for the viewpoint that if this level of paperwork is OK for the established majors, the startups should just suck it up and deal with it too, do we really want to foster new companies whose core expertise is dealing with NASA process, not delivering functional product quickly and affordably? Haven't we already got enough of those?

We suspect moving such minor industrial-base/engineering repertoire expansion efforts out of ESMD could be a good thing for all - less distraction for Exploration Systems, and steadier support for the small vendors involved. Looking around for a suitable home for such, we note that significant parts of NASA have considerable in-house design- support and engineering-test capabilities sitting around begging for customers - indeed, in danger of being shut down - and might well be suitable hosts for such work. We speak, of course, of the various NASA aeronautical centers - aeronautics is in fact a major element of the transit between ground and orbit we at SAS are primarily concerned with.

This arrangement could have a number of benefits, among them leveraging of existing underused NASA resources and a built-in Congressional constituency separate from the major NASA space operations centers. We think the greatest advantage of all would be the competitive aspects, however. Nothing gets the creative juices flowing like a little healthy competition, whether between companies or between NASA field centers.

But our bottom line is: NASA should be doing low-cost hardware and flight demonstration projects from non-traditional vendors under a reduced-paperwork pay-for-results-not-process regime, *somewhere*, if the agency is ever to break out of the high-overhead low-flight-rate high-cost cul de sac it's in now.


Industry News Roundup

Enough editorializing - on to a quick sampling of some things going on recently in the industry.

Armadillo has decided to pursue bipropellant liquid oxygen engines. They haven't been able to obtain commercially the high-concentration hydrogen peroxide they'd need for acceptable monopropellant performance, and their pursuit of "mixed monopropellant" - lower-concentration peroxide premixed with fuel just before flight - ran into problems with limited engine catalyst-pack life. They could make the engines perform reliably, but only by rebuilding them far more often than practical for the sort of routine operations they're pursuing. Armadillo has been developing liquid oxygen preburner technology in parallel with their peroxide work for a while, and now they've announced they're making their main propulsion development path engines based on that technology.

X-Prize has announced their planned X-Prize Cup rocket races and Personal Spaceflight Expo, to take place annually in early October at the Southwest Regional Spaceport in New Mexico. The first Personal Spaceflight Expo will take place over four days this year, with exhibition rocket flights added in 2006 and the first X-Prize Cup rocket races in 2007.

TGV Rockets remains reticent about announcing much publicly, but they have seen some government funding these last few years, and they will admit they'll be hitting some development milestones in the coming months.

Not directly related to our industry but an old friend of the family, Bill Stine, G. Harry Stine's son, is reviving Quest Aerospace, his educational model rocket company, shut down after a motor manufacturing accident several years ago. Kit manufacture will now be in China, motors in eastern Germany. The Stine family project to set up a scholarship program and a library to house Harry's extensive collection of space books and papers is still in the works.

Len Cormier's PanAero is bidding on an NRO BAA for an Operationally Responsive Launch Vehicle, and is proposing the Space Van '09 concept for it; he'll be telling us more at SA'05.

XCOR should have an interesting announcement sometime Tuesday - look for the press release at http://www.xcor.com.

There's a company in South Korea call C&Space working on an LNG-LOX engine for their Proteus suborbital ship - details are scant; we've had limited correspondence with them and their website (www.candspace.com) is in Korean. They tell us they've conducted ground firings of a water- cooled test chamber, and are working toward a ten-ton thrust LNG-cooled operational version. This does bear out something we've been saying for a long time - rocketry may involve high-performance engineering but it's no longer ultra high-tech; the rest of the world is catching up, and may well leave us in the dust if we don't start doing the things we need to do to move ahead again.

Dr. Jordin Kare has spoken at our conference several times in recent years about his relatively low-tech approach to laser launch, using commercially available semiconductor lasers and heat-exchanger liquid propulsion. He tells us that the technology needed to do this is essentially available off-the-shelf now, and he'll be telling us about his plans at this year's conference. (We really are into the 21st century - we just typed the words "a relatively low-tech approach to laser launch" in complete seriousness!)

The Space Launch Amendments Act passed last winter with numerous mandates for how FAA AST should regulate commercial passenger-carrying space transports. That was the easy part - now the FAA needs to translate those broad mandates into detailed regulations. We're working with FAA AST to have someone at SA'05 to talk about how that process works, where it's gotten to so far, and what to expect down the line, plus we'll have feedback from various of the regulated parties about what they hope to see, and a talk from Tim Hughes, majority counsel to the House Science Committee and heavily involved in the drafting of the Amendments Act, on what the intentions behind various provisions are.

Rocketplane Ltd got full funding for their Rocketplane XP development last year and are currently moving ahead building a practical suborbital transport around various existing aircraft components - to oversimplfy considerably, a Learjet fuselage, engines, and landing gear with new wings, thermal protection, and an Orbitec "Vortex" rocket engine in the tail. They're aiming at completing the flight test program in '07, and currently seeking funding for the passenger-carrying commercial operations phase to follow.

We spoke with David Gump, President of the T/Space consortium (Scaled Composites, Airlaunch LLC, CSI, USL, Delta Velocity, and Spaceport Associates among others) about the report in New Scientist the other week that due to the massive paperwork burden, T/Space would not bid on the next phase of NASA CEV. David told us that he had discussed the merits of a low-overhead rapid-prototyping approach versus the traditional NASA paperwork-intensive development process with New Scientist, but that T/Space has not yet made any final decision on whether they'll bid the next phase of CEV.

Scaled Composites is of course busy developing the suborbital passenger- carrying SpaceShip 2 for Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, with passenger service schedule to commence in '07. Burt Rutan punctuates this routine by travelling to receive various (well-deserved) awards. Latest we hear is he'll be in DC to accept the prestigious Collier Trophy at the National Air & Space Museum April 19th. Rumor has it, by the way, that SpaceShip 2 may well use an all-EAC engine rather than the mix of SpaceDev fuel casting and EAC plumbing SpaceShip 1 flew with.

Airlaunch LLC, Microcosm, SpaceX, and Lockheed-Martin are competing in the DARPA/Air Force FALCON small launch vehicle program and are not currently talking much. The next phase of the program, one or more contractors building flight prototypes, will be decided this summer.

Meanwhile the Air Force ARES program, to build a reusable rocket spacelift first-stage demonstrator, is getting underway. We'll have a briefing on FALCON and ARES at SA'05.

SpaceX meanwhile is still working toward first flight of their Falcon 1 launcher - they've completed all structural testing, but are still working on main engine qualification. The latest delay now is a matter of site scheduling at Vandenberg AFB - the final Titan 4 launch has pushed them back to Q3 '05 at earliest, longer if the Titan launch (as has happened before) is delayed. SpaceX says they may consider doing their first flight out of a site being developed on Kwajalein Atoll, if the VAFB delay goes on long enough.

Blue Horizon meanwhile continues to reveal their plans very slowly - the latest new info is from a Jeff Bezos interview with the local paper in west Texas where he owns close to 200,000 acres of ranchland. He plans eventually to fly from that land, and what he'll be flying will be vertical-takeoff, vertical landing rockets - first a suborbital ship, then eventually orbital.

And that's only a fraction of what's been going on lately. The best single site for day-to-day coverage of this fast-moving field is still Clark Lindsey's www.hobbyspace.com "RLV News" section, but even Clark can't get it all. We also recommend Jeff Foust's www.spacetoday.net and www.thespacereview.com, Keith Cowing's www.nasawatch.com, and of course the Space News, Space.com, and Aviation Week sites all come up with good stuff. Over the last year Alan Boyle at www.msnbc.com has written a lot of good space pieces - Alan was responsible for MSNBC cable's coverage of the SpaceShip 1 flights being far more technically informed than the other networks there. Space coverage is showing up in the most unlikely places these days, though; it's impossible to keep with it all.

Interesting times!

Space Access Society's sole purpose is to promote radical reductions in the cost of reaching space. You may redistribute this Update in any medium you choose, as long as you do it unedited in its entirety. You may reproduce sections of this Update beyond obvious "fair use" quotes if you credit the source and include a pointer to our website.

Space Access Society

"Reach low orbit and you're halfway to anywhere in the Solar System"
- Robert A. Heinlein

12:40 pm: News briefs ... This page at the Poker Flat Research Range website describes the various sounding rockets used for their suborbital science missions. Perhaps someday a manned suborbital vehicle will be added to the list. ...

... The SpotBeam California for April 1, 2005 gives a whole bunch of California related space articles.

11:40 am: News briefs ... Mark Shuttleworth answers questions at Slashdot mostly about his software projects but some about his flight to the ISS. I especially liked this response:

"The actual flight itself is such a gift I can well imagine that people will be queuing for sub-orbital flights when they really come onto the market. The sight of the earth from space is breathtaking, and life changing. 3 minutes in space will change your perspective, I guarantee, on the way we treat one another and the world..".

(item via P. Smeddle) ...

... Sessions today and tomorrow at the National Space Symposium will be broadcast by NASA TV starting at 1:00 pm EST....

... Virgin Galactic will run space tourism services worldwide (assuming that it can get permission to move the SS2 out of the US): Branson's Aussie space plan - The Australian - Apr.04.05 ...

... Possible delays in RtF: Task force delay could affect shuttle launch - spacetoday.net - Apr.4.05. ...

... Meanwhile, NASA tries to transform itself: NASA Transformation White Paper - SpaceRef - Apr.4.05 ...

... Not sure if it's world launch prices at risk or those of other Russian launch companies that compete with Kosmotras: Russian Space Agency to Prevent Cut-Price Launch Services - MOSNEWS.COM - May.4.05 ...

... Check out the cool satellite mapping imagery now available at maps.google.com. Select the satellite option in the top right and then enter an address of interest in the top box. I was able to zoom in on our condo in Maryland and on my Mom's place in Tennessee. The DigitalGlobe images are very sharp. (I think this is currently only available for US and Canada.)

2:30 am: News briefs ... SpaceDev announced that it has begun development of its "low-cost expendable small launch vehicle called SpaceDev Streaker", which uses the company's hybrid propulsion technology SpaceDev Begins Development of its Small Launch Vehicle SpaceDev Streaker - USATODAY.com - Apr.4.05 (link via R. Boozer).

The company expects to derive the manned Dream Chaser launcher from the technologies developed from the Streaker. ...

... Wyle Laboratories joins the LockMart CEV team: Wyle Laboratories Joins 'All-Star' Team to Propose New Crew Exploration Vehicle - Wyle PR/Yahoo - Apr.4.05 ...

... According to the ISS Panel Report, Integrated Space Operations Summit - SpaceRef - Apr.4.05, current requirements mean that "the cargo vehicle flight rate after Shuttle retirement does not meet the projected re-supply and return needs of ISS" and that the "ISS Program should continue to pursue alternate means to deliver cargo to and from the ISS". (Via NASA Watch).

So maybe circumstances and oncoming deadlines will force NASA to contract out cargo delivery to new commercial launch services. ...

... I've not had a chance to run a translator on this article in Russian but I'm told that it describes an agreement between Khrunichev and the Kazakhstan government to build a new space facility at Baikonur for the Angara launchers. (Link via F. Novozhilov.)

April 4, 2005

2:45 am: The latest Space Review includes the final installment of Sam Dinkin's interview with David Urie of Rocketplane Ltd.: Rocket plane venture star (Part 3) - The Space Review - Apr.4.05. ...

... Taylor Dinerman looks at possible disaster scenarios from the conflict between the US and Russia over the Soyuz taxi flights to the ISS: Thinking the unthinkable about the ISS - The Space Review - Apr.4.05. While Dwayne Day looks at the enormous challenges ahead for NASA in flying 28 shuttle missions to the ISS by 2010: Some simple, yet not-so-simple math - The Space Review - Apr.4.05 ...

... And Jeff Foust reviews Tom Hill's new book: Space: What Now? - The Space Review - Apr.4.05.

1:05 am: News briefs ... SpaceX says it has completed "qualification and acceptance testing of all primary structures for the Falcon I launch vehicle" : SpaceX Completes Falcon I Structural Qualification For Flight - SpaceDaily - Apr.4.05 ...

... Keith Cowing reports on a recent NASA meeting that looked "at current human space flight capabilities and how they would need to be changed or 'transformed' in the coming years to implement the President's new space policy." : Apollo Times Three: NASA Integrated Space Operations Summit - SpaceRef - Apr.3.05.

April 3, 2005

2:50 pm: News briefs ... Also according to AvWeek, SpaceX will have to delay the launch of the Falcon 1 till this summer due to conflicts with the upcoming launch campaign for a Titan IV at Vandenberg. A hot-fire pad test, though, should occur this spring ...

... The Florida Today editors propose some ways that Florida can do more to attract and nurture the new commercial space industry: Florida is losing new space race: Florida squandering future by not moving to meet changing reality - Florida Today - Apr.3.05.

2:50pm: More on Kistler in the latest Aviation Week. As reported earlier, Kistler Aerospace will emerge from bankruptcy proceedings. The company has a number of goals and challenges ahead of it according to AvWeeK:

  • Currently the company has $15M in cash but needs to to raise $450M-$500M to finish and fly the fully reusable two-stage K-1. (The K-1 is reported to be about 75% completed.)
  • If Kistler finds the money soon enough, the K-1 will fly by the the first quarter of 2007.
  • Demo launches will take place from Kistler's Woomera facilities but the company is also looking at Cape Canaveral and a couple of sites in Nevada as alternatives.
  • The K-1 needs a one mile (1.6Km) diameter area for its recovery operations.
  • The K-1 can deliver 7000lbs (3180Kg) to the ISS and return 2000lbs (910Kg) to the ground.
  • The company will have to compete with other companies for the ISS business since a previous sole-source award from NASA was successfully challenged by SpaceX.
  • The company expects ISS transport to provide around 25% of its business. Other markets include small comsat launches to GEO (using the Active Dispenser expendable module), military, science, and CEV payloads.
  • They expect to achieve 9 day turnaround and to be a capable of launching with 3 days warning.

2:50 pm: More on Alan Binder... The leader of the Lunar Prospector project was a guest on the Space Show last week (March 30th). There is also a show from March 21, 2004 ...

... Keith Cowing thinks Binder overdoes the rhetoric: Alan Binder Seeks Revenge and/or Vindication - NASA Watch - Apr.3.05. (Note that Spaceref offers a permanent link to the press release: New Book Reveals That Private Lunar Mission Succeeded Despite NASA Roadblocks - SpaceRef - Apr.2.05)

4:05 am: News briefs ... John Carmack returns to the Armadillo Aerospace forum: I'm back - Space Race News - Apr.2.05 ...

... NASA struggles to overcome legislative restrictions that will soon block access to Russian transport to the ISS: Time running out for space station deal: Russians stage ‘strike’ to send NASA a message - MSNBC - Apr.1.05. I have a suggestion. NASA should contract with Space Adventures, a US company, for ISS transport. Space Adventures will then hire a subcontractor that just might happen to use a Russian Soyuz.

4:05 am: Lowering aerospace costs is for real ... Via Transterrestrial comes this description of the book Lunar Prospector: Against All Odds by Alan Binder: New Book Reveals That Private Lunar Mission Succeeded Despite NASA Roadblocks - KenPress.com/Yahoo - Apr.2.05.

As I discuss in the Space Activism section, Lunar Prospector began as a private project in the 1980s and very nearly got to space without government backing. Unfortunately, it efforts to raise a few million dollars fell short. Dr. Binder describes how the project eventually received funding from NASA's Discovery Program and says the spacecraft achieved all its goals at "a fraction of the cost of normal NASA missions."

Using innovative management and procurement methods, government space projects like the Lunar Prospector, Clementine, and the DC-X succeeded with budgets that were as much as a factor of 10 less than what they would have been needed if run in a conventional NASA / aerospace industry manner.

Innovative private sector aerospace projects are also proving that extremely high costs don't have to be the norm. For example, who can argue with Burt Rutan when he says that SpaceShipOne, which cost around $30M, would have needed a budget of at least several hundred million dollars if it had been run by NASA or even by Boeing or LockMart?

In aviation, the Eclipse light jet project is providing yet another example of aerospace hardware that will cost much less than what it would have if developed and built with standard industry practices.

When the alt.space community says that space development could be accomplished with much less money than what is given to NASA (or that much more development could be achieved with the NASA budget), there is real data to back up those claims.

April 1, 2005

5:35 pm: NASA - alt.space meeting ... Space activist Charles Lurio reports that the Robotic & Human Lunar Exploration Meeting (which I mentioned yesterday after hearing about it from Michael Mealling) apparently went well. Rick Tumlinson, chief of the Space Frontier Foundation told Charles, “We didn’t know what a big deal it was going to be [in NASA’s eyes].”

The meeting included a group of people involved in the "new private space sector" (see the list at Rocketforge) and top NASA officials with the NASA Exploration Office, including Gen. Craig Steidle who heads the office.

Tumlinson participated along with Jim Muncy of ‘PoliSpace,’ who played a central role in getting legislation passed last year to allow private commercial human space flight. Also included in the meeting were persons representing companies and groups working in the new private commercial sector.

Participants focused on what NASA program management and contracting changes and political actions would be necessary to work with the new private sector to radically improve the results per dollar from the Exploration program.

As a result of the meeting, the participants were asked to create a special committee to address these issues further and report directly to the top Roadmap and Exploration program officials.

Charles sent out the news last night and he gives "'his apologies for any errors caused by the late (early!) hour at which [he] composed" the note.

4:40 pm: Kistler K-1 still lives ... According to a story at Space News (subscription required), Kistler Aerospace will emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy after the court approved its reorganization plan on Tuesday. Several of its creditors, including K-1 component builders such as Aerojet Corp., Northrop Grumman, Honeywell and Lockheed Martin, will become shareholders in the company.

Kistler's main backer, Bay Harbour Management LLC, will lead an effort to find several hundred million dollars to finish the K-1. The primary goal is to win ISS resupply contracts from NASA. Since the creditors (other than Bay Harbour) don't appear to be putting any money into the pot, they won't lose any more if Kistler fails to find the financing. So they have little to lose in letting the company continue and potentially a lot to win if the K-1 does fly.

(Space News link via spacetoday.net.)

1:30 pm: An April 1st milestone... The company Tuberat Aerospace, which not only has a cool name but a really snazzy headquarters facility, has managed to land a probe on the Moon. The first group to retreive a token on the probe will win $100M! See the dramatic video of the landing.

1:30 pm:    ; - )

12:50 pm: Rutan on space regs ... Burt Rutan gives his views on the regulatory framework for commercial space vehicles and space tourism: "It's Mainly Just for Fun": Space entrepreneur Burt Rutan on how private space flight policy should emphasize innovation, safety—and having a helluva good time - Reason - Mar.31.05.

As Jeff Foust points out, Burt surprisingly would like the FAA to expand regulations to focus on the passengers rather than the non-involved public: Rutan on regulatory issues - Space Politics - Apr.1.05. He believes that proving to the public that suborbital spaceflight is very safe is key to the success of the industry and that such regulation would encourage that.

12:50 pm: JP Aerospace near space ... Here's the latest press release from JP Aerospace on its high altitude projects:

Star Wars toys to fly to the edge of space.

On April 9th, the droid R4-G9, a Wookiee Warrior and General Grievous will travel where no Star Wars toy has gone before: to the edge of space.

For this mission, these Star Wars action figures will trade in their spaceships for a balloon. This flight, called “Away 26”, is a high altitude balloon research mission flown by JP Aerospace. It will be launched from the Black Rock desert in Nevada. The vehicle is a carbon fiber and foam diamond carried aloft by a single large helium -filled balloon. The balloon will reach a height of over 100,000 feet, nearly twenty miles high. Away 26 will test telemetry systems for high altitude airships and platforms.

R4-G9, Wookiee Warrior and General Grievous are from the “Sneak Preview” action figures for the upcoming "Star Wars: Episode III” movie.

Videos clips from previous JP Aerospace missions to the edge of space can be found online at www.jpaerospace.com.

Upon landing, the figures, ‘droids and Wookiees alike, will be sold on eBay?. The proceeds will go toward the PongSat(c) student education program. The figures will experience temperatures of -90F, vacuum and speeds of over 600 mph on descent.

“It’s a chance for the characters to stretch their legs before their debut in ‘Star Wars: Episode III, Revenge of the Sith,’” said John Powell, President of JP Aerospace.

In addition to the celebrities, this flight will carry 140 student experiments.
Away 26 is the eighty-sixth mission flown by JP Aerospace. JP Aerospace is a volunteer-based space program which builds and flies low-cost space systems.

Photos and videos are available at www.jpaerospace.com.

Away 26 Mission Details:
• Mission Type: Unmanned High Altitude Balloon
• Maximum altitude: 110,000 feet
• Vehicle weight 25 pounds
• Total Flight Time: Four hours
• Additional payload: 140 student experiments
• Flight systems include: Command control telemetry system, Dual GPS tracking, Live video downlink, digital still camera and environment measuring sensors.

2:35 am: Space Access '05 update arrives from Henry Vanderbilt, chief of the Space Access Society:

Space Access Update #110 03/31/05
Copyright 2005 by Space Access Society

Latest Info on Our Upcoming Conference,
Space Access '05, April 28-30, Phoenix Arizona

Space Access '05 gets underway four weeks from today - if you haven't already made your travel arrangements, do it soon! Cheap airfares won't get easier to find if you wait, and our $79-rate hotel room block is only reserved for us through April 6th, a week from today - after that it'll be opened up for general sale.


Our program for this year's conference is shaping up - the list of
confirmed speakers now includes:

David Anderman, Constellation Services
Eric Anderson, Space Adventures
John Carmack, Armadillo Aerospace
Len Cormier, PanAero LLC
George Herbert, Retro Aerospace
David Hoerr, author of "The Rocket Company"
Tim Hughes, majority counsel to the House Science Committee
Jordin Kare, on "Laser Launch: It's Steamship Time"
Chuck Lauer, Rocketplane LLC
Jim Muncy, PoliSpace
Gerry Nordley, Tethers Unlimited
Charles Pooley, Microlaunchers
Dr. Jerry Pournelle
John Powell, JP Aerospace
Bill Stine, Quest Aerospace
Henry Spencer, on "Sustainable Spaceflight Beyond LEO"
Andrew Case, The Suborbital Institute
Pat Bahn, TGV Rockets
Dennis Wingo, Orbital Recovery
XCOR Aerospace
X-Prize/X-Prize Cup

We expect that by the time the conference starts we'll have lined up well over two dozen presentations and panels with a wide variety of progress reports, technical backgrounders, viewpoints, and new ideas from a cross-section of players in this burgeoning field.


Conference sessions run 2 pm - 10:30 pm Thursday, and 9 am - 10:30 pm Friday and Saturday, with half-hour breaks midmorning and midafternoon, hour-and-a-half lunch breaks, and two hour dinner breaks - an intensive twenty-four hours of programming over our two-and-a-half days. (We run a single program track throughout, so you don't have to miss a thing.) Intensive, but also relaxed and informal - dress is casual, speeches are kept to a minimum, and we don't do formal banquets. All meals are on- your-own, so you can get together with the people you want to be talking to at one of the many good places to eat and drink, in the hotel or within a few minutes walk. Plus of course, there's our world-reknowned Space Access Hospitality suite, serving fine finger-food and a variety of beverages (non-adult per agreement with the hotel, but you can always bring something up from the hotel bar) open from 8 am till the small hours of the morning for your relaxation and conversation. (Registration and Hospitality open noonish on Thursday.)

[Continue to the Space Access Update #110 for more info about the hotel, conference registration, etc.]

2:35 am: News briefs ... The California government honors the SpaceShipOne team in a ceremony at the State Capitol: SpaceShipOne Honored by California Legislature and Governor - CSA Joins in Applause - CSA - Mar.31.05. Hope this means more recognition and support there for entrepreneurial space projects in general. ...

... Branson says the plan is now in place for passenger flights two and half years from now: Virgin says space flight plan complete, airline expansion planned - SpaceDaily/AFP - Mar.31.05 ...

... Here's one more good reason to have some additional residences for the human race: Planet Earth Is Overdue For The 62 Million Year Extinction Cycle - FuturePundit - Mar.30.05

Continue to March 2005

Archives Index for 1999 - present


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