Climbing a Commercial Stairway to Space:
A Plausible Timeline?
by Clark S. Lindsey
March 22, 2005
Prototype of a Bigelow
Aerospace inflatable space habitat module.
Commercial Stairway to Space: Timeline
- Version 1.0
I attempted to lay out a credible set of milestones leading to a robust
private space development scenario that included orbital space tourism
by the middle of the next decade. Some elements of that timeline up till
now have not been fulfilled. There is, for
no commercial spacecraft currently
orbiting the Moon. However, a number of other events did occur that strongly
support the plausibility of a non-governmental stairway to space.
As before, my intention
is not to predict what will actually happen but just to illustrate the
remarkable fact that
private space development is no longer a fantasy. The powerful combination
of 21st century technology with
the 21st century wealth of space
angel investors can now create both low cost transport to take
people from earth to space and the habitats to live in upon arrival there.
Furthermore, we have clear signs that a space tourism market will arise
that is large enough to sustain and expand private space enterprise beyond
a dependence on angel investors.
The availability of an alternative route to space is of crucial importance
to those of us who consider the settlement
of space a profoundly important step for human civilization. The vast
of our solar system provide tremendous opportunities for economic growth,
cultural diversification, and for ensuring the long term survival of humanity.
We cannot let access to such opportunities depend on a single approach
that is so easily stymied.
In the US, for
example, it is quite possible that NASA's new exploration
initiative will fail to produce new systems that significantly
lower the cost of access to space. Furthermore, it is possible that a
future administration will decide not only to withdraw support from the
long term Moon-Mars program but to eliminate support for human spaceflight
entirely. Outside of the US, all countries with significant space investments
are following the same conventional government model, which produces high
costs, low participation, and very slow progress.
Clearly, a "backup"
approach to space development is needed and I believe one is now at hand.
Others believe this as well:
there is one point that needs to be made early in this discussion that
clearly is not understood by the traditional space establishment. I
believe the new space frontier movement can survive and even begin the
opening of space completely on its own, even if NASA vanished tomorrow."
- Rick Tumlinson, Space.com
/ Space News - March, 2005
- Old and New
table reviews progress since the first timeline was created. The second
table lays out an updated, revised timeline. (Since lowering
the cost of transport
to orbit is crucial to all important goals in space, that category is
given the greatest emphasis here.) See the earlier
discussion of what could delay or accelerate the scenario laid
Private Space Development Timeline - Review 2003-2004
March 2005 Status
- X Prize
vehicles begin suborbital flights leading to a winner before
the Jan.2005 deadline.
suborbital vehicle development starts
- X Prize
money and glory
of vehicles for space tourism
sends a commercial spacecraft into Lunar orbit.
- 2 tourists
per year go to the ISS aboard Soyuz transports
- Burt Rutan's
won the X PRIZE on Oct. 4th. Three flights into space were made
in total by the SpaceShipOne vehicle.
- In Sept.
2004, Richard Branson contracted
with Mojave Aerospace Ventures to build a second generation
SS1 (informally called SpaceShipTwo) that can carry 5-8 passengers.
The goal is for Virgin
Galactic to provide safe and routine space tourism flights
by 2008. Total investment is in the $120M range.
- As of the
fall of 2004, several other X PRIZE teams were on track to launch
vehicles within a year. A number of these teams are continuing
with suborbital vehicle development and at least three have
- The X PRIZE
received enormous publicity and made private spaceflight a topic
taken seriously by the general public and press.
studies and the high level of general interest in space tourism
don't necessarily guarantee that there will be sufficient ticket
buyers in the $100K-$200K ticket price range to sustain a business
but they are encouraging enough to attract large investments
such as the support by Richard Branson for the SS2.
is still developing its spacecraft and raising funds but has
not announced a firm launch date.
tourism - Greg Olsen was scheduled to go to the ISS in 2004
but his flight was canceled due to a medical problem.
- A Russian
mogul attempted to take his place but the Russian space agency
would not agree to his demand for a cut-rate ticket price.
Adventures has indicated that there are several other serious
candidates for future flights.
- The X
PRIZE Cup will build on and extend the progress achieved
with the X PRIZE. The annual rocket competition and exhibition
event us patterned after the air show model. The goal is to
encourage further development of rocket vehicles by private
organizations. The first
event with rocket flights will take place in 2006 in New
Space Prize, was announced by Bigelow
Aerospace. It is a $50M prize to be awarded to the private
team that develops a manned orbital vehicle by 2010.
won several payload contracts for its Falcon
1. It did not achieve the goal of a first flight in 2004
but it expects to fly the Falcon 1 by mid-2005.
began development of the Falcon
V launcher, which will be capable of placing over 6,000
kg into LEO.
Aerospace announced that it was ahead of schedule in development
of inflatable space habitats. (See articles in Spaceflight
Now and Popular
Space (or t/Space) won a design study grant for NASA's CEV
system with a proposal
that relied heavily on a commercial approach to hardware development
and cost reduction.
successfully introduced a commercial parabolic flight service
for the general public.
a volunteer amateur experimental rocketry team, launched a sounding
rocket into space.
- Jeff Bezos
that Blue Origin
will carry out development and flight tests of a suborbital
vehicle at a huge estate in West Texas.
the following table where I list particular firms, my intention is only
to show that there exists one or more real companies that could accomplish
a given milestone. There will very likely be other companies that accomplish
the same thing, perhaps even sooner.
It's also certain
that some companies listed here will not achieve their goals and will
perhaps even disappear from the scene. That is the nature of the commercial
environment. The point here is only to indicate that the private sector
is capable in principle of attaining a particular goal and that eventually
some company will do it.
Private Space Development Timeline - Vers. 2.0
Private Space Developments
Two to three
private organizations begin test flights of full scale suborbital
carries out the first launch of the Falcon 1 in 2005. The first
launch of the Falcon V occurs in 2006.
announce their participation in the America's
Space Prize contest. These competitors could include:
with a crew capsule on a Falcon V.
- Burt Rutan
and Mojave Aerospace Ventures with an "SS3".
with a variant of the Dream
with a system derived from their CEV proposal.
is still alive and looking for funding to emerge
from bankruptcy. If it does, it will compete with SpaceX
and other companies for $160M in funding from NASA for commercial
cargo supply services to the ISS.
Aerospace in early 2006 launches its first Genesis 1/3 scale
inflatable habitat module on a Russian Dnepr rocket. A second module
later flies on a SpaceX Falcon V.
suborbital market is tourism but additional markets develop in the
- High altitude
imaging & reconnaissance
in microgravity, astronomy, atmospheric studies, magnetospheric
research, & other scientific areas
- Release of
missile defense targets
- Air show
Adventures flies two space tourists to the ISS.
becomes the second firm to offer commercial parabolic flights to
1 becomes the first solar sail spacecraft to sail successfully.
launches its lunar orbiter.
Aerospace Ventures begins test flights of the SS2 in 2007 and
Virgin Galactic begins passenger flights in 2008.
at least two or three other private organizations begin crewed flights
of full scale suborbital vehicles. The following companies, for
example, indicate they have significant funding as of 2005 and will
be building and flying vehicles in this time frame:
For sure, some
of the other suborbital projects listed here
will also obtain funding and fly vehicles by 2008.
a few of the suborbital vehicles start launching small expendable
second stages to take small payloads to orbit.
SpaceX and perhaps
one or two other companies launch cargo payloads to the ISS.
Aerospace carries out "two '"Guardian' 45% scale inflatable
module flights in 2007 carrying critical life-support system demonstration
Aerospace launches the unmanned full scale Nautilus module in
Recovery launches the first
comsat rescue mission in 2008.
By the end of
2007, several hundred people place deposits down for tickets to
fly on the SS2 and other suborbital tourist vehicles that begin
regular service in 2008.
During the week
long event, a couple of hundred thousand people attend the annual
X PRIZE Cup to observe the suborbital
rocket competitions and exhibitions.
among the America's
Space Prize contestants intensifies in 2009 and comes down to
two teams. In 2010, one of them wins the prize just before the deadline.
In 2010 Blue
launches a fully reusable two-stage vertical-take-off-and landing
system capable of taking a crew of two and a small payload to orbit.
the CEV under development by one of the large aerospace consortiums
and contracts with the America's Space Prize winner for its launch
consortium forms to develop the Kliper.
Aerospace launches a crew to the full scale Nautilus module
in 2010. (Spaceflight
grows into ~$100M to $200M industry by flying 1000-2000 space tourists
per year and by serving the other suborbital markets listed above.
Launch services in several countries become available.
A private firm
lands a rover on one of the lunar poles and begins exploration for
The German led
P5A mission succeeds in sending in placing a spacecraft in orbit
around Mars in 2009. (See also Go-Mars.de)
on the winning America's Space Prize design begin regular crew and
cargo service to the ISS and to a Bigelow habitat in equatorial
an earth orbit to lunar transport vehicle - the Nautilus Moon
Cruiser - based on its inflatable structures technology.
sends a spacecraft to an asteroid to prospect for possible mining
the success of the commercial space companies and the dropping price
for LEO access, several wealthy societies and private organizations
of diverse ideologies and philosophies form, each with the goal
of building a large scale habitat in orbit or on the Moon with hundreds
of residents by 2025.
becomes practical when trips to the Bigelow
Aerospace space hotel become available.
Plans for the
first civilian mission to orbit the Moon begin serious development.
A private company
establishes an orbiting fuel depot. Cargo flights from earth bring
fuel to the depot, which in turn supplies fuel to various orbiting
spacecraft and Earth-to-Moon transports.
customers sign up at 1 million dollars per seat for a trip to the
made on the private space stations, such as exotic glass and metallic
artworks, begin selling on earth.
- Added feedback
section - Mar.25.05