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NewSpace Glossary
(Under construction)

SpaceShipOne heads for space
A graphic for the Lunar Lander Challenge competition funded by NASA and
managed by the X PRIZE Foundation. The first LLC event was held at the
X PRIZE Cup 2006 in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

NASA is famous for its use of arcane acronyms and buzzwords. The NewSpace movement has its own jargon and buzzwords. This page provides a glossary for many of these terms.

NewSpace Glossary
  • Alt-space - see NewSpace

  • Cost-Plus Contracts - A common contracting approach in NASA and military aerospace programs in which the contractor is guaranteed a profit as a percentage of the total contract value. This came about due to frequent overruns when developing systems based on new technology that turned out to be more difficult than expected. In addition, the government agencies often ask for modifications midway during the development process, which can drive up costs tremendously.

    To insure no cheating, the government requires extensive auditing of the companies, which in turn must hire lots of people to maintain detailed records and respond to the government audits. The agencies in turn must hire lots of auditors to oversee the companies.

    Since their profits depend on the total value of the contract, the companies are biased towards selecting the most expensive technologies to fulfill the goals of the contract.

    The cost-plus contract has pushed aerospace programs to become extremely expensive. Most NewSpace companies offer a fixed-price and milestone payment approach.

  • Data Purchase - An example of this would be a company building, launching, and operating an asteroid probe based on a contract from NASA to buy the data that the spacecraft returns about the asteroid. If the spacecraft fails, NASA would pay nothing. This has been proposed as an alternative, services style approach for NASA and other agencies to obtain space science data. The advantage for the company is that it would be able to build the spacecraft as it saw fit rather than according to the standard NASA procurement environment. See Fee-for-services.

  • ELV (Expendable Launch Vehicles) - See RLV.

  • Fee-for-Services - In an example of this approach, NASA would simply pay for delivery of cargo and crew to orbit instead of designing, building and operating its own launch systems. This would incentivise the development of new launch vehicles while freeing the companies to use the designs they believed were best rather than what NASA engineers selected. It would also set in motion a survival of the fittest process in which the vehicles that provided the best performance would win out in the end over less capable ones. The COTS program for commercial ISS resupply services is NASA first use of the fee-for-services approach.

  • Fixed Price Contracts - A contractor agrees to a fixed price ahead of time for development of the hardware. This contrasts with the Cost-Plus approach.

  • Milestone contracting - A project payment approach in which the contract gets partial payments as progress milestones are accomplished within a given time frame.

  • NewSpace - A term to describe a new approach to space development based on private, commercial entrepreneurial companies that make lowering the cost of space technology their top priority. See the top page of this section for a full description. Similar terms:
  • Prizes - (also space prizes, competitions, contests, etc.) - A commonly suggested method for motivating private development of space hardware and services. Aviation prizes helped to advanced the field in the 1920s and 1930s. Teams often spend more than the value of the prize. See, for example, the X Prize.

  • RLV (Reusable Launch Vehicle) - Most rocket powered vehicles in use today to reach orbit are Expendable Launch Vehicles (ELV), meaning they are used just once and the booster stages are discarded, usually into the ocean. This is the main contributor to the high cost of reaching orbit. A vehicle that can be reused for many flights and with low operational cost (i.e. minimal maintenance between flights) is neccessary to drive down the cost of reaching orbit significantly, especially for human access to space. (Extremely cheap, throwaway ELVs for bulk cargo such as water and fuel supplies may be the cheapest approach in some cases.)

    Early ELVs derived from missiles, which are basically artillery. Every ELV is on both its first and last test flight and first and last operational flight. Everything must work perfectly and often it does not. A RLV should allow for incremental testing and fixing of problems just as is done with airplanes.

    The Space Shuttle is often referred to as an RLV but in fact it is only partially reusable. The huge external tanks are thrown away and while the solid rocket boosters are recovered they need extensive refurbishment to fly again. The orbiter is reused but it also needs lots of refurbishing between flights (e.g. thousands of thermal protection tiles must be examined after every flight). Several thousand people are involved in preparing a Shuttle for a flight.

    A practical RLV will refly within days if not hours. Major maintenance should only be needed after a large number of flights. The support staff needs to be small.

    A RLV will need a high flight rate to pay back its investment (unless it was funded by the government). A bootstrapping problems to obtaining funding for RLV development has been the lack of a big enough market to provide for such a payback. However, big markets won't develop until there is cheap access to space.

    It is hoped that the many RLVs planned for suborbital spaceflight, most aimed at space tourism, will push rocket technology towards high reusability and low operational costs, which can then be applied to orbital RLVs. Also, these vehicles will help develop and build markets such as tourism.

    The RLV term will become obsolete once such vehicles become common. We don't call airplanes reusable air vehicles. Instead, terms like space transport or spaceships will be used.

    See RLV Resources section.

  • Rocket Racing - First proposed by Edward Wright and others as a way to attract public interest in rockets and also to push the development of reusable rocket technology the way car racing pushed development of automobile technology. A racing program based on EZ-Rocket built by XCOR's was announced in 2005. See Rocket Racing League. John Carmack of Armadillo Aerospace has proposed a design for Vertical Drag Racing.

  • Spacediving - One "ultimate extreme sport" that has been proposed involves individual free fall from high altitude balloons, suborbital and even orbital vehicles. The latter would require a personal thermal protection system such as the MOOSE manned orbital escape system proposed back in the 1960s by GE.

  • Suborbital Spaceflight - This refers to trajectories that take a vehicle above the commonly ascribed border to space around 100km but not into orbit around the earth. Such trajectories require far less energy than orbital ones.

  • X Prize - (Also called Ansari X Prize after its main sponsor, Anousheh Ansari.) $10M competition to demonstrate that a privately funded manned reusable rocket vehicle could make a suborbital space flight two times within two weeks. Won by SpaceShipOne built by Burt Rutan and his team at Scaled Composites. More info at www.xprize.org.

  • X Prize Cup - Annual rocket and space festival. The initial motivation was to continue the momentum begun by the success of the X Prize. The long term goal is to have teams compete in various rocket related performance categories. The 2006 event included the Lunar Lander Challenge contest, though only one team managed to qualify and compete for the prize. There were also demonstrations of rocket engine firings, high power rocketry flights, and also two space elevator related challenge events, which had multiple competitors. The 2007 event should see the Rocket Racing League competition for the first time. See www.xprizecup.com.

NASA/Military Terms of Interest to NewSpacers


  • Centennial Challenges - The program inspired by the X PRIZE in which NASA funds purses for competitions to develop various technologies that support the agency's long term space exploration plans. See NASA Centennial Challenges.
    • Lunar Lander Challenge - A competition to demonstrate some of the rocket vehicle capabilities needed for transportation getting on and off the Moon. A vertical takeoff and landing vehicle must carry a specific payload between two landing pads and the return to the starting pad, all within a set time period. See Lunar Lander Challenge at X Prize Foundation, which manages the program for NASA.

  • Constellation: NASA's name for the all of the vehicles and hardware involved in the Moon and Mars program.
    • Ares 1 -
    • Ares 5 -
    • CLV - Crew Launch Vehicle - see Ares 1
    • CaLV - Cargo Launch Vehicle - see Ares 5
    • Orion - capsule and
    • The Stick - a nickname for the Ares 1 due to the long thin shape of the vehicle design

  • COTS - Commercial Orbital Transportation Services demonstration - A NASA program to fund private companies to provide cargo, and eventually crew, delivery services to the International Space station. Space activists have for decades urged NASA to use this sort of fee-for-servcices approach rather than insisting on developing and running its launch vehicles itself. See the COTS links for further resources about COTS.

  • DC-X - A groundbreaking project that proved that a LOX/LH2 rocket could be flown repeatedly and with a short turnaround time. Also, it proved that by using X-vehicle style management, an advanced rocket vehicle project could be accomplished for a factor of ten less in cost than with standard NASA/Military procurement. See DC-X resources.

  • EELV - Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles - an Air Force funded program that includes the Boeing's Delta IV and Lockheed-Martins Atlas V families of expendable launch vehicles. The goal was to build new ELVs that used modern manufacturing techniques and less complicated lanch operations to obtain lower cost access to space for the military. It was also expected that the vehicles would be used for launching commercial satelllites and thus lower costs via economies of scale. However, due to a downturn in the satellite industry instead of an expected expansion, the commercial use of the EELVs materialized and the EELVs are actually very expensive.

    In hopes of achieving lower costs by reducing duplication, the two programs were merged in 2006 into the United Launch Alliance (ULA). This was quite controversial since it gave ULA a monopoly for several years on the launching of large military payloads. SpaceX fought the merger but failed at least partly because it could not show that it had a competitive system. The Air Force managed to get Federal Trade Commission (FTC) approval of the ULA on the basis of national security needs. There were also various safeguards that should let SpaceX and other companies bid for some military payloads once they have vehicles ready.

    Unfortunately, there are top space program managers within the military who expect to use these extrememly expensive launch vehicles for many decades: EELV forever? - The Space Review - Sept.11.06

  • Exploration Architecture - A broad term for the various launchers, spacecraft, and other hardware designed to fulfill the VSE. See also Constellation
    • ESAS - (Exploration Systems Architecture Study) - NASA sponsored study into the types of hardware it wanted to fulfill the VSE

  • VSE - Vision for Space Exploration - Name for the policy announced by President Bush on January 14, 2004 that set NASA's long term goals as a return of humans to the Moon and a mission to Mars. He also said that the Space Shuttle should be retired by 2010. Text and other resources for the VSE.


The Art of C. Sergent Lindsey












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