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HobbySpace.com Special Report

NewSpace in 2008
Ups and Downs in entrepreneurial spaceflight
December 31, 2008

Falcon I launch - Sept. 28, 2008
SpaceX launched the first successful Falcon I flight on September 28th, 2008.
This was also the first time that a private company put a liquid fueled
rocket into orbit. (Video)


A good year

The bottom line at the top: 2008 was a very good year for NewSpace.

I present here a compilation of major events and accomplishments for NewSpace during 2008. The list comes primarily from a scan of postings on my Space Transport News blog, which had a very busy 12 months. It's a subjective list, of course. I surely left out some items that others believe should be included. (Contact me if you find something missing.) However, I think it provides a good overview of progress made in the past year.

2008 saw several major milestones reached and many significant accomplishments. Furthermore, there were no outright catastrophes like the fatal accident at the Scaled Composites engine testing facility in July 2007. You can compare this 2008 review with NewSpace in 2007 review.

Here are a couple of other reviews of NewSpace in 2008:

What is NewSpace anyway?

While I have this long definition of NewSpace, a shorthand distinction between conventional space and NewSpace can be summarized as Wholesale vs Retail.

The wholesale paradigm: space markets will never expand beyond a very limited range of government and industrial customers. The public will interact with space only indirectly via services such as GPS systems and satellite TV. The number of rocket launches to orbit per year worldwide will not grow significantly beyond the hundred or so that we see today and getting a payload to space will always cost several thousand dollars per kilogram.

The retail paradigm: the space industry will become much larger by offering new spaceflight applications, such as space tourism, directly to the public. Highly reusable, robust and reliable space transports will bring down the cost of spaceflight significantly as economies of scale are generated with higher flight rates. (This doesn't mean everyone will be going to space anytime soon. A couple of thousand people taking suborbital spaceflights each year and a hundred or so paying to go to orbit per year would revolutionize the industry.) On the long term, large scale human settlement in space will take place.

With this distinction, it should be clear from their business plans which companies fall into the NewSpace category and which do not. Also note that this distinction makes it quite possible for an innovative entrepreneurial company not to be in NewSpace and for a big mainstream aerospace company, or at least a subsidiary or subgroup within it, to have full membership in the NewSpace movement.

Defining progress

In 2008 we did not see the opening of space settlements on the Moon or the launching of a low cost single-stage-to-orbit spaceship. It will be many years before NewSpace accomplishes such things. It is important to understand that the NewSpace approach involves a process of step-by-step, incremental development rather than giant leaps. The model follows that of most commercial technologies.

For the next few years, I believe the major goals for NewSpace include the following:

  1. Continue to demonstrate that rocket and space hardware can be developed with much less funding than what the mainstream aerospace industry typically requires. (See this list of previous examples of low cost NewSpace style hardware projects.)

  2. Attain aircraft-like operations for rocket vehicles:
    • Rocket engines and other components must become highly reliable, robust, and reusable over many flights, i.e. perform as reliably and safely as turbojets.

    • Turnaround and flight operations must be simplified and need only small crews.

    • Robustness against problems is designed in from the start. Only the most extreme component failures should lead to catastrophes.

    • Move towards vehicle designs that allow for gradual envelope expansion during testing.

    • Use high flight rates to improve continually the hardware and achieve greater and greater reliability.

    • Rocket missions will become known as "flights" rather than "launches".

  3. Demonstrate viable human spaceflight business models
    • Seek profitability at an early stage.

    • Use profits at each step to fund the next step

    • Attract markets large enough to sustain high flight rates, which in turn will lead to lower costs and steady improvements in reliability and safety.

Top Ten

Below I give a detailed accounting of NewSpace progress in 2008. However, the list is so long, I will first give a list here of the top ten NewSpace successes in 2008. I think all of these indicate significant steps towards the above goals.

  1. Falcon 1 reaches orbit
    Not only was this a major achievement for SpaceX but it helps bring credibility to the NewSpace industry as a whole. It was the first privately developed liquid fueled vehicle to reach orbit. Virtually all of the components were developed and manufactured in-house. The F1 acts as testbed for components for Falcon 9. The first three launches, each of which failed for a particular design problem, involved essentially 3 different rockets due to extensive hardware modifications.

  2. ISS cargo resupply services contract
    Awarded by NASA to SpaceX and Orbital Sciences, this was the culmination of a decades long effort by space advocacy organizations to push NASA to take a services approach to space transportation. Rather than develop rockets in house, NASA should simply offer contracts to whichever companies that offer the best price for delivery of payloads to orbit. The next step is for NASA to do this also with crew transportation to orbit.

  3. Armadillo wins the Lunar Lander Challenge, Level 1
    Third time is charm for Armadillo. They win $350k with their Mod vehicle. Armadillo also signed contracts with the Rocket Racking League for the rocket racer propulsion system and for a suborbital spaceflight vehicle program, both of which share technology from the LLC vehicles.

  4. XCOR flies the X-Racer at Oshkosh
    XCOR successfully carried out three exhibition flights of its rocket racer at the Oshkosh air show. Later at Mojave, XCOR flew its rocketplane seven times in one day. The engine has been fired around 500 times with little sign of wear.

  5. WhiteKnightTwo flies for the first time
    The WK2 design was unveiled in January, the plane rolled out in July and flew on December 21st.

  6. XCOR begins hardware development of the Lynx
    Lynx rocketplane design was unveiled in March, hardware construction began in the fall, the first passenger and the company that will market the vehicle were introduced in December, and the Lynx engine was fired for first time in December.

  7. Spaceport America gets off the ground
    Sierra county votes to provide funding (Otero county did not but its contribution was small and can be replaced), road construction starts, in December the spaceport obtains its FAA license, signs up a construction management firm, and also signs a 20 year lease with Virgin Galactic.

  8. ZERO-G gets NASA contract for parabolic flight services
    In January ZERO-G received a contract from NASA for some parabolic research flights. In December, Mike Griffin announced that all NASA parabolic research activities would move to ZERO-G. Another example of a commercial services approach by NASA.

  9. ISS tourism shows strength
    Richard Garriott carries out an extensive educational and public outreach program on his ISS visit and he also is paid for commercial microgravity experiments. Sergey Brin signs up for a flight. Charles Simony signs up again. Esther Dyson signs up as a backup. Space Adventure announces that it has contracted with the Russian space agency for Soyuz flights to carry 2 passengers starting in 2011.

  10. Science/Engineering research on suborbital spaceflight vehicles gains support
    Alan Stern initiates a study program at NASA, which continues after he leaves. A successful workshop was held in San Francisco in December. Apps include astronomy, space science, solar, microgravity, and other types of science as well as engineering tests of components intended for spacecraft are the sort of applications that could supplement space tourism markets for the vehicle operators.

NewSpace Pioneers Pass Away

Two sad events occurred in 2008 with the deaths of these pioneers in entrepreneurial space:

Len Cormier began working in the space industry in the 1950s and he devoted much of his life to developing lower cost access to space. See his Tour2Space website for info on some of his projects.

Jim Benson was a successful computer industry entrepreneur before he founded SpaceDev with the goal of developing low cost spacecraft. SpaceDev also built the hybrid propulsion system for the SS1. He later started BensonSpace to develop a suborbital space tourism vehicle.

NewSpace Ups and Downs in 2008

Below I give a detailed accounting of significant NewSpace accomplishments in 2008. In a manner similar to last year's review, I've partitioned the list into the following categories.

For each category, I split the entries into Ups and Downs according to whether the events represented positive or negative steps towards NewSpace goals.

NewSpace in Orbit

Falcon 9 first stage 9 engine full duration test
The second stage of the SpaceX Falcon I achieves
orbit on September 28, 2008. (Video)



Access to Space

Mod in Lunar Lander Challenge 2008
Armadillo Aerospace's Mod vehicle wins the Level I competition in the
Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge prize held in
Las Cruces, New Mexico over Oct. 24-25, 2008. See NG-LLC 2008 review.



Space Tourism

Richard Gariott making art on the ISS
Richard Garriott making artwork on the ISS




Other Entrepreneurial Spaceflight/Rocket Related Businesses

Genesis II

XCOR flies its X-Racer rocketplane three times during the week
of the Oshkosh air show.




XCOR Lynx vehicle
XCOR began development of its Lynx rocketplane in 2008.
The program development cost is in the $10M range.




Spaceport America
Construction began in 2008 on a road to the site
for Spaceport America near Las Cruces, New Mexico



Space Prizes

Google Lunar Prize



  • The X PRIZE Cup did not happen in 2008. The Lunar Lander Challenge, which previously had been the main event at the XP Cup, took place but was closed to the public.
  • Congress continued to refuse to allocate additional money for Centennial Challenge so that competitions for additional technologies can be opened.

  • The power beaming and tether strength challenges competition was postponed till 2009.



Testing of advanced rocket vehicles like this one from TrueZer0
will involve a lot less paperwork due to new amateur rocketry rules.



  • A ruling within the FAA during the summer held that tethered flights of vehicles like the Armadillo Pixel vehicle should require a permit just as for free flights. This caused lots of headaches for the Lunar Lander Challenge teams and others developing Vertical Takeoff/Vertical Landing vehicles.


Falcon 9 first stage 9 engine full duration test
SpaceX carried out the first full duration Falcon 9 9-engine firing tests
on November 22, 2008 at its test facility in Texas. (Video)



The Art of C. Sergent Lindsey
NewSpace Watch at NSG



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