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Space Transport News Special Edition:
Space Access'09 Conference
April 2-4, 2009, Phoenix, Arizona

View from 100km above Mojave
(Photo credit: Michael Mealling)
Unreasonable Rocket's Blue Ball vehicle for the Northrop Grumman
Lunar Lander Challenge
was displayed in the exhibition room for SA'09.

Space Access '09, the latest of the annual meetings of the Space Access Society, took place this year during April 2-4 in Phoenix, Arizona. This page provides various resources related to the meeting including links to the entries posted at Space Transport News. Several other blogs are also linked.

Henry Vanderbilt organized the meeting and did a great job as always. Henry discussed the Space Access Society, the annual meeting, and progress in private space vehicle development in an interview on The Space Show in February.



Previous Space Access Conference Reviews

Review of SA'09

The primary focus of this conference series has been on development of low cost space access systems by small entrepreneurial organizations. While there were no dramatic announcements at the 2009 meeting, there were many encouraging signs of steady progress. Not only commercial firms, but private individuals, student and amateur groups continue to participate vigorously and to make significant contributions to the cause.

Here are some of the highlights of the meeting as I see them:

* The NASA Ames presentation seemed particularly significant. NASA's support for science experiments and engineering applications (e.g. testing instruments intended for spacecraft) on commercial reusable suborbital space vehicles appears to be gaining momentum. The first workshop in December was very well attended and another workshop is already scheduled for May. Science and engineering payloads and attending operators could provide a significant additional market to space tourism for companies developing such vehicles and thus bolster their business plans and help to draw in new investment.

* One downnote was the revelation by John Carmack that the deal with the Rocket Racing League to develop suborbital space tourism vehicles announced at the NG-LLC event last October had fallen through. He indicated that new projects along the same lines are in development, however, and may be unveiled soon. (Alan Boyle has an update on the RRL: Rocket racers take it slower - Cosmic Log/msnbc.com - Apr.8.09.)

* There has been no official announcement of new rules but from hints dropped by several of the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge teams, the competition this year will not happen at one location on one particular date. Instead, a team will arrange for a prize attempt at a place and time of its choosing. The competition window willl open in July and last till the end of October. The team that completes the requirements to win a given level and has the best precision on landing by the end of the window will win the purse. The second place purse for Level 1 (two 90 second flights, back and forth between 2 pads) and both first and second place purses for Level II (180 second flights each direction) remain available through 2010.

* There were several presentations at the conference that brought up the subject of the new rules governing amateur rockets. (Remember: amateur rockets are defined by the FAA not according to who flies them but according to the specifications for the rocket and its intended flight.) While generally they are considered by the participants at this conference to be a big improvement over the old rules, there are still complications in their implementation. Armadillo and Masten, for example, both experienced lengthy delays in flight tests under such rules due to problems in obtaining clearance with FAA air traffic control authorities because they want to test near the airports where they have their facilities.

* Many groups represented at the meeting are now flying rocket powered reusable vehicles. Just a few years ago, only a couple of groups had begun flying such things. As Henry Vanderbilt indicated, the conference has moved in stages over the years. Early on the presentations that got the big applause dealt with plans to build and fly innovative rocket designs. Then came a period where a test of a new rocket engine got the audience excited. Today the audience wants to see the latest videos of low altitude flights of reusable rocket vehicles. In upcoming conferences, the presentations that will get the big applause will most likely be those showing medium and high altitude flights.

* XCOR's Lynx project, which was announced just prior to the 2008 meeting, is moving along just fine (see notes on Jeff Greason's presentation). The propulsion system is well in hand and work is proceding on vehicle structures, aerodynamics, etc. Though no official schedule has been given out, they look on track to begin test flights in the second half of 2010.

* Armadillo, as described in John Carmack's presentation, has become a full-fledged company with permanent employees. The company actually made money in the past year and John did not have to put any of his own money into the organization. He remains ready to do that in the future if necessary but believes that with additional contracts and with a successful NG-LLC attempt this year, they will be self-sustaining without his funding.

* Other projects like Masten Space and Unreasonable Rocket (Paul Breed) also have definite plans for (unmanned) medium and high altitude flights. They could begin such flights this year or next.

* Joint student/commercial firm teams like that with CSULB/Garvey Spacecraft and SDSU/Flometrics are initiating lots of innovative rocket technology projects such as aerospike engines, composite cryogenic fuel tanks, biodiesel fuels, pistonless pumps, etc. A big problem comes from mainstream aerospace companies who steal away their best students but don't support the programs financially.

* N Prize teams seem to be making serious efforts to win the competition to launch a tiny payload (19.99 grams) into orbit. Will be interesting to follow their progress in the coming years.

* Despite the economic downturn, the number of people attending the meeting was about the same if not a bit higher than recent SAS meetings. I noticed a number of "regulars" were missing while a number of new faces showed up.

April 2 , 2009 - Thursday

Henry Spencer
Henry Spencer, who traditionally leads off the Space Access annual conference, talked
about possible development paths from suborbital space vehicles to orbital vehicles.

Unreasonable Rocket video.

April 3 , 2009 - Friday

Michelle Murray
Michelle Murray of the FAA Commercial Space Transportation Office
reviewed the recent modifications to the rules governing amateur rockets.


Project Enterprise
Project Enterprise

April 4 , 2009 - Saturday

NG-LLC panel discussion
A panel discussion with members of teams who have participated or plan
to participate in the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge competition.

View from 100km above Mojave
A view from 100km above Mojave Spaceport as might be
seen from a space tourist rocket vehicle.


The Art of C. Sergent Lindsey
NewSpace Watch at NSG


Space Access 2009 Conference
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