Change is Coming to NASA Space Launch

by Space Frontier Foundation on March 19, 2010

Change is coming to the US space program. At last! Real, dramatic and tangible change in both its effect and the course it will create in this nation’s future in space.

It is long past time for us to try something different, as what we have been doing in our human space program since Apollo has been a failure of epic proportions. And yet, some defend the status quo and are actually angry about the coming changes proposed by the Obama Administration. I find this amazing given the space agency’s track record over the last few decades. But then, if nothing else, our past experience with the government building and operating space launches has shown that to many, simply flying some stuff around in circles and creating jobs that do nothing to advance us in any direction is more important than succeeding in getting anywhere – so long as everyone agrees in the myth that they are going somewhere.

It is heretical to say it in many quarters, but unlike its astronomy and robotic exploration programs, the current NASA operated human spaceflight program has failed by any rational measure in almost every respect to achieve Any of the milestones put forth by those who sold them to the American people so long ago. The most glaring example of this failure to deliver in the area of transportation is totally unknown to the taxpaying public and often overlooked by the defenders of the old ways: The space shuttle system, glorious and impressive symbol of the space agency for so long is a complete failure when measured against its promised performance. Sold in the 1970s as being able to fly once a week and bring costs down to tens of dollars a pound, they have averaged around 5 flights a year…on good years. In the meantime NASA has tried and failed time after time to develop new space transportation systems, including the much heralded and disastrous X-33, which after a billion dollars of taxpayer funding was canceled, never to have even rolled out of the hangar.

The background of repeated failures by the government to build and operate its own Earth to LEO launch systems is what we must keep in mind when we judge the new commercial Earth to LEO space transportation plans being put forth by the White House and NASA. Frankly, as a long time skeptic regarding anything the NASA press office puts out when it comes to human spaceflight, I am not only impressed by the plan to hand over this role to commercial space firms, but am willing to allow myself just a hint of hope that if it can be successfully implemented (freeing the agency to pursue real space exploration) We may at last break out of the circular self gratification of our current space program and go somewhere – and more importantly be able to go there again and again and even stay if we want to (the key word being “we” as in not just NASA employees, but eventually the rest of us too!).

And yes, to do this NASA will have to make changes. Rather than seeing itself as the emperor of all things space, it will have to change how it views the zone from the Earth’s surface to LEO. The agency simply cannot get it right when it comes to trying to build its own launch systems in any economic sense, and it is time it stopped trying. The agency will have to step aside in this area that it long ago pioneered. It will no longer be its own trucking service for small package delivery to space. It will have to relinquish its role as its own taxi service to LEO and leave the driving to someone else. Instead this job will be given to privately funded New Space firms across the nation that are working on a variety of rocketships that could catapult us into the space frontier and global space leadership at a fraction of the cost of any new NASA system.

For example, California’s SPACEX from its creation through its first successful orbital flights and all the industrial tooling and facilities to support them spent far less than the $445 million NASA did on its recent smoke and mirrors alleged test flight of an Ares 1-X mock up to only 50k feet higher altitude than that achieved by parachutist Joe Kittinger in 1960. To get all the way to being able to carry humans in its Dragon capsule on its Falcon 9 will cost only a fraction of the projected cost of the Ares and Orion system – and almost more importantly, when not in use by NASA it will be used by commercial companies to carry their own payloads and customers into space. Orbital Sciences using its Taurus vehicle is in a similar position and projects similar cost savings over the as yet paper lion of Ares Orion.

Even if one isn’t willing to bet on NewSpace firms some of our largest traditional firms are moving ahead with plans to adapt their tried and true systems to carry payloads and people into orbit to serve commercial customers and even the ISS. For example, the Atlas V has flown some 20 times and Delta IV more than 10 which is about 20 times and 10 times more than Ares and the Boeing/Bigelow Crew Capsule now in development will cost a fraction of that needed for Orion and be usable by both the government and commercial customers. From now on, in a very real sense, NASA’s exploration job will no longer start at the launch pad, but begin in space itself.

But none of this will happen if NASA tries to manage these new players in its old way. NASA must change not just what it does and where it does it, but how it does what it does, and how it works with others that are doing the jobs it needs done. Agency managers will have to learn new ways of contracting that are based not on how much work is done on a project, but how much that work produces. Like the rest of us, as a customer it can no longer rationalize spending huge amounts of money paying for a failed effort to deliver a package to a destination, but only for success. Yes, the agency will need to set standards for the transportation of its employees to and from space, but these should not and cannot be any more stringent than those they set for let’s say their astronauts who fly in F-16s. And it will have to actually relinquish control over some other areas of space operations that have become somewhat mundane in return for being able to focus on what many used to see as its main mission – exploration, science and technology development.

Unfortunately, no matter how good (normal) all of this sounds to normal people who live in a free enterprise society, in the visionless and ironic land of old school government aerospace the pork must keep flowing and tradition will  fight innovation. The forces of darkness are already moving to crush the revolution right now, as those who do not understand the enormity of the promise in this change in Congress ally with those who do and want it stopped regardless, all well armed by those who have fed off the system for so long they forgot NASA’s job is exploring space and not the national wallet for their own ends.

And so the battle is joined. And in yet another dose of irony, many of us who for so long have been seen as the foes of the agency as we have fought for common sense will now be standing shoulder to shoulder with its new leaders. About time I say, as I have never enjoyed having to take on my childhood icon time after time as it has meandered far from the dream of exploring and opening space. And although I know this may be a brief moment in time, I take my hat (space helmet?) off to those who are working on the inside to make this happen, and pledge my keyboard to their defence in the coming months. I only hope they are willing to stand their ground as well, as the stakes are greater than simply who gets what contract for how much. What is at stake is the future of this nation in space and just how soon and how well that future is realized.

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NewSpace News #112, October 2014

by Joshua Jenkins on October 19, 2014



Boeing And SpaceX Survive To Last Round

The highly anticipated winners for NASA’s Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts have been announced. SFF congratulates the Boeing Company and SpaceX for winning their fixed-priced contracts with maximum potential values of $4.2 billion and $2.6 billion, respectively. This contract includes a crewed test flight to the International Space Station (ISS) to validate the safety and performance of the vehicles.
- Press Releases by NASA, SFF, Boeing, and SpaceX

The Heroes of Hawthorne

SpaceX has had a very busy month. Beginning with the successful launch and deployment of AsiaSat 6, the company continues to showcase their rapid turnaround capability. Only after a few weeks from the commercial launch, CRS-4 has launched for the ISS with over 2 tons of experiments and supplies, including the first 3D printer inspace. On the following day, CEO Elon Musk and other officials havebroke ground in Brownsville, TX, which will be the site of the company’snew commercial spaceport. These steps forward are only the beginning. Following SpaceX’s recent selection as a potential NASA crew-taxi, Gen. John Hyten of Air Force Space Command has indicated that SpaceX could be certified to compete for military satellite launches as early as Dec. 1.
- Press Releases by SpaceX, NASA

Blue Skies Ahead

Blue Origin and United Launch Alliance (ULA) have recently announced a partnership to address the lack of a modern domestic rocket engine to replace the Russian RD-180. The agreement includes a 4-year development process, full-scale testing by 2016, and a flight demonstration by 2019. Following development, the BE-4 engine will be available for use by either company on future launch systems. However, following this announcement, ATK has expressed concerns and has recommended to the United States Air Force (USAF) to consider the use of a solid rocket engine instead. While the USAF expects Blue Origin to develop a long-term replacement, they have expressed that the government would be open to solid engine solutions as well.
- Press Release by Blue Origin and Article by Space News

Carrier Has Arrived

Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) has revealed plans for a scaled down version of their flagship vehicle, Dream Chaser. The new version is about 75% the size of the original and is intended to be air-launched from a massive ‘carrier’ plane being built by Stratolaunch. They have also announced the Global Project spaceflight program, which will offer access to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) to domestic and international clients. SNC has challenged NASA’s commercial crew taxi decision but also has stated that they will continue to pursue their Dream Chaser program regardless of the outcome. We at SFF wish them the best of luck and hope to see Dream Chaser in space as soon as possible.

- Press Releases by SNC

PR War

The NewSpace industry is getting a lot of media attention lately thanks to recent successes and creative marketing. Virgin Galactic’s (VG) partnership with Land Rover is still fresh in our memory, and VG has now also partnered with another iconic brand — the Grey Goose Vodka. XCOR on the other hand has just given out a ride on its Lynx spacecraft to pro golfer Andy Sullivan for winning the hole-in-one prize at the KLM Open in Netherlands.

- Press Release by VG, Article by ESPN

This ACME Is No Joke

Finding new commercial applications for space has always been a challenge, but ACME Advanced Materials has overcome the odds and developed a new viable use for space‘s unique microgravity environment. ACME has announced the successful commercialization of its process to manufacture extremely high quality silicon carbide (SiC) wafers, which can be used to create high performance electronics components. ACME is already backed by Cottonwood Technology Fund and Pangaea Ventures, and in the coming months, they will be building and testing devices made from their SiC wafers.

- Press Release by ACME

Texas Lures Another Rocket Company

Firefly Space Systems has been awarded a $1.2 million in incentives and grants from The City of Cedar Park Economic Development Corporation. They recently have moved the company to Cedar Park, Texas, which is near Austin, and have joined the Autodesk Cleantech Partner Program for their liquid oxygen and liquified natural gas (LNG) propulsion engine.

- Press Releases by Firefly

Zero Engine Corp

Zero Gravity Corporation’s vomit comet, the G-FORCE ONE aircraft, has been grounded since spring due to a legal dispute with Amerjiet, who manages and operates the vehicle. Zero G has been one of the early trailblazers for the NewSpace industry, and we at SFF hope that they can resume operations soon.

- Article by ParabolicArc

Commercial Spaceport is Official

XCOR, Orbital Outfitters (OO), Midland International Airport (MAF), and Midland Development Corp (MDC) have jointly announced the FAA approval of MAF as the first commercial airport to obtain a spacelaunch license. XCOR continues the process of moving to Midland, Texas, where their new R&D headquarters is being established alongside the new spaceport.
- Press Releases by XCOR, OO, MAF, MDC

Mind Of Its Own

NanoRacks, which provides commercial access to the InternationalSpace Station, has been experiencing technical difficulties with its CubeSat deployment system and is working with NASA, The Aerospace Corporation, and ISS partners to resolve the anomaly. NanoRacks is a key space-access provider for companies like Planet Labs, and SFF is looking forward to a timely resolution of the issues so that we can continue advancing the frontier.

- Article by Space News, Update by NanoRacks

Planetary Resources Expands Science Team

Dr. Dante Lauretta, who is the principle investigator for NASA’s OSIRIS REx mission, has announced that he will be joining the Planetary Resources (PR) team. Dr. Lauretta has served as a professor at the University of Arizona, teaching planetary science and cosmochemistry. PR President Chris Lewicki has stated, “[Dr. Lauretta's] insight from studying the carbonaceous asteroid Bennu will be extremely useful as we develop technologies on collecting data for our own asteroid rendezvous missions.”

- Press Release by Planetary Resources

Suborbital A La Carte

NASA has selected 4 companies to provide suborbital access to spacefor its Flight Opportunities Program (FOP). The four companies, which represent a diverse array of capabilities, are Masten Aerospace, Paragon Space Development Corporation, UP Aerospace, and Virgin Galactic.

- Press Release by NASA

No Time To Stall

The Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) recently announced the selection of Eric Stallmer as their new president. Stallmer previously served as Vice President of Government Relations at Analytical Graphics Inc (AGI), President of the Space Transportation Association (STA), and has long been an advocate of commercial spaceflight.

- Article by Washington Post

Space Services has announced its acquisition of Odyssey Moon, formerly a Google Lunar XPRIZE contender. Many experienced industry veterans are joining Space Services from Odyssey Moon’s board of directors, including Jay Honeycutt from NASA and Lockheed, Christian Sallaberger from Canadensys Aerospace, and Carol Goldstein from Morgan Stanley. Both the Odyssey Moon and Space Services teams expressed delight over the acquisition.

- Press Release by Space Services

Made In Space‘s Director of R&D Mike Annis and author Andy Weir share their respective newspace initiatives with Dr. David Livingston on The Space Show.

Carribean Space Summit

Caribbean Space Summit (CSS2014) is about commercial spacetravel, its scientific and social challenges, and its potential. Invited speakers play key roles in the industry, and the interactive discussions during panel sessions will allow you to ask the right questions. CSS2014 will also host a small Job Fair, Poster Session, and the first ever SpaceUp Caribbean.

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Leadership Training for Commercial Space Executives

October 9, 2014

Leadership Training for Commercial Space Executives A Unique Opportunity to Support the Space Frontier Foundation While Furthering Your Career and Education Silicon Valley, CA - The Space Frontier Foundation (SFF) is pleased to announce its partnership with the upcoming Commercial Space Executive Leadership Training Course, scheduled to begin on October 20th 2014. This innovate online course will […]

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Capitol Hill Policy Update for September 15th through September 28th, 2014

October 8, 2014

NASA Awards $6.8 Billion to Boeing and SpaceX As part of their Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) program, NASA has awarded Boeing and SpaceX $4.2 billion and $2.6 billion, respectively, to finish developing vehicles to taxi astronauts to and from the International SpaceStation. Boeing plans on using the funds to complete development of the CST-100 while SpaceX will […]

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Space Frontier Foundation Endorses Next Giant Leap Conference

October 7, 2014

Space Frontier Foundation Endorses Next Giant Leap Conference South Kohala, HI  - The Space Frontier Foundation encourages its members and constituents to attend the multinational “Next Giant Leap” Conference in South Kohala Hawaii, November 9 -13th.  Sponsored by the state of Hawaii, this conference is designed to explore options for developing sustainable pathways to space, with an […]

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Capitol Hill Policy Update for September 1st through September 14th, 2014

September 18, 2014

House Hearing Discusses ASTEROIDS Act     The House subcommittee on space held a hearing to discuss issues with the ASTEROIDS ACT. Joanne Gabrynowicz, the former Editor-in-chief for the Journal of Space Law, warned the subcommittee that the bill needs to clarify some terms, and suggested that an interagency mechanism should be set up to handle policy development. SpacePolicyOnline Vote […]

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NASA Selects Commercial Crew Winners – Foundation Dreams are Becoming America’s Space Vehicles!

September 17, 2014

NASA Selects Commercial Crew Winners – Foundation Dreams are Becoming America’s Space Vehicles! 20 Year Battle to Secure Commercial Transport to ISS Results in Boeing and SpaceX Contracts   (Kennedy Space Center, FL)  The Space Frontier Foundation (SFF) congratulated Boeing and SpaceX on their selection as the next U.S. human spaceflight providers, and declared victory […]

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Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) Commercialization Workshop

September 2, 2014

Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) Commercialization Workshop Co-hosted by Space Frontier Foundation and FAA/AST 15 September, 2014 (Conveniently timed the day before COMSTAC meetings) WORKSHOP OBJECTIVE The Space Frontier Foundation (SFF), in partnership with the FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation, is hosting a workshop to collect data and conduct analysis on issues related to the transition strategy […]

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Capitol Hill Policy Update for August 18th through September 1st, 2014

September 1, 2014

August 18th through September 1st, 2014   NASA to Choose CCiCap Award Winners in Late August or Early September    Out of the four companies competing for the multibillion-dollar Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) program, Boeing Co. is the only one to have completed key reviews of their design. The other competitors Space Exploration Technologies and […]

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Capitol Hill Policy Update for August 4th through August 17th, 2014

August 24, 2014

August 4th through August 17th, 2014   Greetings!   This newsletter marks the policy newsletter switching to once every two weeks, instead of the previous weekly schedule. We will occasionally send out a newsletter during the off week if we believe there is a surge of noteworthy policy updates. Many of these newsletters have not been […]

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Capitol Hill Policy Update for July 7th through July 13th, 2014

August 24, 2014

July 7th through July 13th, 2014    ULA joins the Air Force’s call to dismiss SpaceX lawsuit Last week the Air Force called for the Federal Claims Court to dismiss the SpaceX lawsuit involving the block buy contract. This week, United Launch Alliance joined the Air Force in calling for the dismissal of the lawsuit. The […]

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