Jeff Foust, Doug Messier and Clark Lindsey are on a panel discussing the Gagarin (fifty years on Tuesday), Dennis Tito (ten years) and Shuttle (thirty years on Tuesday) anniversaries, and where we’re going from here.

Doug Messier noting that Roscosmos will have a new director next week. The current one was fired about a week before the Gagarin anniversary.

Clark talking about Ice Age, Thaw, and New Spring. Need to get evolutionary process going, using example of early automotive age with lots of companies fighting with most efficient designs, but happens in an evolutionary manner. Plants need heat, technologies need funding. By Apollo 17, things had gotten frozen in space, including attitudes (space is expensive and always will be, and only government can do it).

Started to see attitudes thaw in the nineties, little projects started popping up to address the new markets of LEO comsats, then transitioned into tourism with the new century. Starting to see thriving diversity. Expects to see multiple competing designs that will prove out which is the best for which applications and who has the lowest operating cost. Will start to get feedback and change the public mindset about space, that will in turn help bring in investment. Sees hopeful next decade.

Institutions were frozen as well — had gotten locked into Big Project mode by Apollo. For military ELVs were good enough, same thing for comsats. Slow evolution, very little money going into vehicle developments, other than incremental improvements. Shuttle was worst of all worlds, because reduced budget, but increase requirements, so got a hybrid of a system that was horrifically expensive to operate.

Jeff Foust more pessimistic about the future of government human spaceflight. Current policy situation more discombobulated than at any time in the past fifty years. Always knew what next project was going to be, but don’t have that clear of a future right now, because don’t know what the Space Launch System is. Several factors — lost the impetus that drove it initially (Cold War), which ended two decades ago but had so much momentum that it has continued to shape policy since, but ISS is complete, Shuttle is retiring, and the momentum has dissipated. Attempts to turn China into the new nemesis haven’t worked out very well, because they’re not in any particular hurry. It’s been two and a half years since their most recent manned launch. Trying to come up with rationale for why do human spaceflight, and are some compelling reasons (Augustine panel tried to describe them) but hard to communicate to the public. Thinks that there is still a possibility of business as usual, except for the fiscal situation. We are going to see significant changes in space spending, recalling talk that Charles Miller gave a couple years ago about OMB cuts, even before TARP and bailouts. Federal spending across the board will be scrutinized, and non-defense discretionary will be a major target. All these factors lead to a closing window for any kind of recognizable government human spaceflight program, of not more than ten years. Will keep ISS operating until 2020, but if a lot will happen between now and then to cause us to reconsider any activities beyond that.

What does this mean for commercial?

It means it might be the only game in town. Suborbital ventures making steady but slow progress, but will see them develop and perhaps evolve into orbital. Moon and points beyond LEO out of reach of current commercial, but CCDev, COTS may be the shock needed for government encouragement of commercial LEO human spaceflight. Time to rethink how to get the government and commercial sectors to work together for affordable and sustainable infrastructure that can support both government and commercial users. Infrastructure not a sexy term, but a very necessary one, so if we can get it into place, we can get people to see sufficient value in human spaceflight to continue to fund it. Opportunity, but it won’t last long, but it will require innovative thinking and breaking old paradigms.

Messier more upbeat, thinks that these infrastructural items will come to pass. Looking back to the fifties, there were high entry costs into the field, with big investments in tech development and infrastructure. NASA has enormous infrastructure that’s costly to build, maintain, and we’re discovering now to repair. There is a model for doing this in the Middle East, in the United Arab Emirates. Branson has shown the way in Dubai, with a government investment house buying access to suborbital space. XCOR has similar deals going in other countries. Bigelow has similar ideas, including working with the emirates. Future will see commercial provision of training from NASTAR, launch on commercial vehicles, using commercial orbital facilities — will go where the money is. China is rising, India and Brazil could be launching next year in cooperation with the Ukraine, and will transition from billionaires with dreams to institutional investors. With reusable vehicles, we’ll be able to launch from almost anywhere, for suborbital first and eventually orbital. Sees a future with mix of traditional and new spaceports, at least during transition. We get there by starting to fly. A lot of projects and talk, but not a lot of flights. It’s been seven years since Scaled Composites first flew SS1 suborbital, and six and a half since the last time, and it’s taken longer than we hoped. Orbital projects are feasible, once we get the transportation. Have to get commercial orbital transportation to and from facilities, and then they’ll proceed accordingly.

Challenge: hubris — don’t over promise, and don’t try to go too far too fast. Leap from SpaceShipOne to SpaceShipTwo may have been too big. Same may apply from Falcon 9 to Falcon Heavy. Don’t know much about reliability of vehicle with only two flights under their belt. Potential for next ten to fifteen years is a complete change from the way we’ve done space since the Cold War and if so it will be very exciting.

28 thoughts on “Anniversaries”

  1. I’m still leaning towards space tourism as the big growth market over the next 10 – 20 years, while the proportion of people with 10 million dollars to spend on a trip might be small, there are still many thousands of them worldwide. Sub-orbital I don’t see as a strong market though when compared to the real thing.

    Which leads to the question of whether or not Spacex has put more thought into that market than they’re letting on, With Dragon I think they’re developing the right hardware for that market, though something with wings might have more customer appeal.

  2. I think people poo poo the Shuttle perhaps more than they should, sure it is a camel with an insufficient flight rate, however for its time it was an amazing technology demonstrator. Even now, thirty years later, it is more evolved down the path to reusability than any modern launch vehicle. If only it had flown 2-3 times as often and been retired 10-20 years earlier. I still think a two stage VTHL vehicle, considered at the time, would have been much better – and superior to anything now.

    A well directed billion dollar investment now could I think be enough to kick start space settlement. A billion dollars might be enough to create a base camp or general store in LEO, a space station able to support say a hundred people with room and overhead enough to start doing serious work. I think it would be able to pay for itself commercially with tourism, propellant depot services, mission orbital assembly, satellite checking out and repair, science, etc. With such an ongoing market small servicing RLVs would I think quickly arise.

    Perhaps there is a certain critical mass or tipping point of people and capability in LEO beyond which commercial space starts to exponentially grow, so to speak. Hanger space in LEO that people can comfortably work in might be the critical enabling infrastructure, from there we might start a construction boom and continuous growth.

  3. I’ve been thinking that sending an unmanned Dragon on a circumlunar flight might be a good idea for Falcon Heavy’s first launch, if they can’t line up a customer for a satellite.

  4. Launch Triana. It still needs a ride. Hell, trajectory permitting, it could proabally do Triana and circumlunar Dragon both.

    It could at least do both launching Triana and sending dragon on a highly-elipitical orbit and back.

  5. Using F9H to place Triana in a EM L2 or orbit would be a quick way to jump start public interest in the lunar far side and a good demonstration flight.

  6. I think Triana is supposed to go to ESL2 but what is the delta V from EMl2 to ESL2. Pretty small if I remember correctly.

    Drop Dragon off at EML2 for a visit while Triana goes on to ESL2.

  7. What’s Triana? This is the first I’ve heard of it.

    I Binged it, but couldn’t find anything that resembled a spacecraft.

  8. Moon and points beyond LEO out of reach of current commercial

    Yes, but not for long and we already know the price. These are very exciting times. It will be a very short step from sending tourists around the moon to landing them near the old Apollo sites.

    hard to communicate to the public [a rationale.]

    Only because we don’t know ourselves yet. We don’t know how to live in space or on some rock without life support from earth. It’s time we learn because we do know how to live with support from earth (it’s just a matter of funding.)

    There is no place on earth free from government tyranny. We have a second chance if we commit to an inalienable individual right to liberty and property. A commitment now to these principles could establish a de facto legal standard everywhere BEO. It is within the financial capability of private investment for the first time in history. A billion a year for about twenty years should do it giving a ROI thousands of times greater.

  9. Rick,

    It’s also called Goresat since it came to Al Gore in a dream to have NASA build a satellite that streamed an image of the Earth’s dayside over the Internet to show kids how fragile the Earth is. Of course since it was his idea Dan Goldin fast tracked it but the Bush Administration wouldn’t launch it. It’s been in storage at GSFC for about a decade. It’s intended for the ES L1 which is I think the EM L2 would be good compromise location to build interest in the Moon and our future there:-)

  10. There’s no need for a compromise, transport from EML1/2 to SEL1/2 is nearly free, as was pointed out above by M Puckett.

  11. MPM,

    The compromise is not technical, it political. Instead of using Goresat to promote climate change among kids it would be used to promote our lunar future instead 🙂

  12. It appears that Triana is no more. NASA is now calling it the Deep Space Climate Observatory to sanitize it origin…

  13. Whatever they call it, there should be enough margin to dual manifest it and a Dragon. Park the Dragon for a while at EML-2 with some micro gravity experiments and if you can put a Dummy in a seat in it. Hell, put the dummy in a suit too so when they open the hatch, it looks like they are recovering an Astronaut.

    Yeah, it is a publicity stunt but it is still publicity. Let it show it has the capability to send humans that far. Let him(Elon Musk) show he is throwing his hat over the wall as Kennedy once said.

    I wish he had put a couple of seats and a couple of Dummies in the first Dragon test just to makie the point visually that this thing can carry Humans!

  14. Mike,

    I am sure if NASA pays Elon he will put Goresate where ever NASA wants.

    Yes a lunar dragon would be good. Even better would donating rides to all the Google X prize teams since launch costs are the key barrier to winning. Launching half a dozen teams at once would a send a strong message that NASA is no longer needed as part of a sustained lunar return.

  15. Nobody said free. Mabey he can make NASA an offer so good it can’t refuse to go on the first flight.

  16. The Dragon is already on path to be accepted/used.

    Put an empty ‘Earth Departure Stage’ (O2/kerosene tanks, pumps, sunshield + Merlins, nothing else. Weight-max devoted to “empty” depot. Leave it some maneuvering fuel).

    Then invite all comers to attempt to fuel it. And offer both the fuel and the ship ‘as is’ for sale.

    Then, any launch with spare payload = carry kerosene. Figuring out the LOX is an issue, but the kerosene should just be a matter of weight.

    If the technical difficulty for the cryo is excessive for this stage, make it “just” a giant kerosene/water depot.

  17. I have thought that it would be a perfect opportunity for SpaceX to put a robot in the cockpit on some of these test flights that are unmanned. The publicity potential is huge. You might even be able to get some $$$ for the publicity. I would approach Sony or Honda for one of those cute little dancing robots.

    A bit more sinister, but also potentially fun…

    Just send something that people on the ground will be able to form some sort of anthropomorphic connection with. Let the things push a few buttons and have the adventure streamed in HD video to Earth. Bonus points if you can pull off a spacewalk, or have an external camera capture the bots doing something inside the Dragon capsule with the moon in the background. SpaceX has shown itself to be more competent than NASA in creating engaging media. Give the things there own Facebook page and I bet they would have more traffic than all the NASA pages.

  18. On the evidence, the Top Gear presenters ought to be offered a job by some space launch organisation. After all, they did (in less than a week) manage to launch a second-hand Reliant Robin and almost land it! (Explosive bolt failure crashed it.)

  19. “Challenge: hubris — don’t over promise, and don’t try to go too far too fast. Leap from SpaceShipOne to SpaceShipTwo may have been too big. Same may apply from Falcon 9 to Falcon Heavy. Don’t know much about reliability of vehicle with only two flights under their belt.”

    Be interested in knowing which of the panelist said this.

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