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.

Jim Muncy On Space Politics

He’ll be starting in a couple minutes.

Two topics today, second one a short rant.

Eight years ago companies in the industry and Dennis Tito started to get Congress to create a clear regulatory regime for personal human spaceflight. Some vehicles looked like airplanes and some looked like spaceships, and some like using experimental aircraft certificate route, but set one up for regulation as a common carrier in aviation, which is more burdensome than launch licensing. Culminated in Space Launch Amendments Act in 2004. Industry now lobbying for changes in the act and additional congressional direction/authority that will enable industry growth. Had been avoiding touching act until necessary, but there is a provision that expires next year that they want extended (moratorium of FAA regulation on spaceflight participant safety).

Head of FAA-AST has authority to not only regulate but also to promote the industry (rest of FAA lost this second charter after Valuejet crash in the nineties). Must don’t understand that the moratorium doesn’t stop FAA from writing regs today. Regs can be based on actual observed data (fatalities, casualties, series of incidents, that indicate a problem that could lead to fatalities or casualties). FAA is not mandated to regulate participant safety, but can in the event of events.

In the early twenties, the industry actually asked Dept of Commerce for regulations, to weed out bad actors. This is a similar situation, but regulations have to be based on observed data. In 2012, FAA could write regs based on hypotheses, guesses, analysis, etc,. if they think it will promote the health of the industry, and bureaucracies tend to push the limits of their authority.

Idea in 2005 was that we’d have raised money and flown vehicles for revenue, and getting data about what works and doesn’t, and would have a basis for regulation. Things happened more slowly than desired, and the Commercial Spaceflight Federation is going to Congress and requesting a restoration of the original eight-year learning period, in which FAA learns, industry learns, and we gather data before FAA starts regulating based on no data. Working to reset it to eight years from first flight of commercial provider, to ensure actual period of time of learning, to follow aviation precedent.

House Science, Space and Technology committee will be holding one or more hearings in April/May and mark up legislation that may include this, and that the majority substantively agrees with this provision. If people have other ideas of things that should be included in this legislation, based on challenges or problems they’ve encountered, contact him ASAP.

Also liability issues. Can Congress stipulate that laws of state from which you launch will be the ones that guide any litigation, or will litigants be able to venue shop (e.g., launch from Virginia or Florida, sue in Mississippi?).

Begin rant:

Last year was a blur because he was living in Never-never Land, apologizing for any weirdness last conference. He is former Republican White House and Congressional staffer. Barack Obama proposed to create a broader role for the commercial sector in space, and Republicans in Congress said “No, we don’t trust the private sector — we want a public option.” And his head exploded. Spent a lot of time trying to improve the policy, saving technology budgets, helping commercial crew, did what he could to keep Senate bill from being as disastrous as it was. But supported it, as imperfect as it was in the fall, because it established commercial crew and other things.

For NASA having things to do on the edge of the frontier, just opposed to them operating a trucking service on the near frontier. Orion is a new spacecraft, not in competition with commercial crew. It will have to be tested, and SLS will not be available in time, and Lockheed took risk by spending their own money as a down payment for a Delta IV (they’ve also put on their web site ideas for exploration in 2016/2017 that don’t need heavy lifters). Not competition because NASA doesn’t have enough money to launch Orions on Delta IVs to ISS. Using Orion with Delta or Atlas or Falcon Heavy could allow exploration in this decade, but people in NASA won’t tell Bolden this because they want to build a heavy lifter. Bill doesn’t require that NASA build one — only if “practicable.” Goal is to buy time until it becomes clear that it isn’t, and it won’t take long. It is possible and necessary for commercial space and NASA coexist. It is essential that we engage and show them how commercial helps them and that they know what their opportunities are. Beyond insane that the senators representing KSC where launches are happening and JSC where they are planned and operated, are willing to wait for another center in Alabama that has not successfully developed a launch system in decades. Commercial isn’t just about commercial crew — it’s about commercial approaches for supporting exploration, propellant depots, and getting NASA exploring sooner rather than later. Coalescing around Shuttle derived is short-term way of supporting exploration, and the administration failed last year in failing to connect the dots. They actually read the Augustine report and actually followed recommendations.

In response to a question, a certain senator had a staffer who tried to get commercial crew cut in the final budget, and we won’t know what is in the bill until this week. He thinks that everyone agrees that Senator Shelby’s language will be released in the CR.

Ann Arbor Follies

Should students have to pay to get a newspaper they don’t want to read? I know Pinch is in trouble, but this reeks of desperation. But then, it’s been a long time, if ever, that the paper had any interest in letting the market work. And now would be a very bad time for it to advocate it, given that “letting the market work” would mean a reorganization, in which one likely outcome might be a paper that people actually want to pay to read.

Successful Commercial Crew Procurement

Max Vozoff is giving another talk after lunch on the business issues with commercial crew.

His first job at SpaceX was writing the COTS proposal, and he then ran it for three and a half years. Very concerned that “commercial crew” will be much less commercial than it is crew.

NASA needs transportation to and from ISS. Also needs safety. Shuttle has set a low bar in this regard, and there is a desire to set a much higher one for future systems. Needs to be dependable, reliable (technical and programmatic). Hard to beat Soyuz in this regard. But we also need domestic US spaceflight capability and industrial base. Also want some sort of commercial investment to sustain it, maintain ground infrastructure, incorporate innovation (traditionally very difficult in space activities), increasing safety and improving efficiency, and expanding scope and capability so not stuck decades from now with what we have today. Finally, want to make spaceflight available for other users.

Religious battle over last year is whether the market is NASA or others. If Bigelow and Space Adventures meet their goals, they have a bigger market than NASA. When a non-NASA employee flies, what has been called “human rating” becomes marginalized. Expect to see a lot more people in the astronaut office quitting and joining the private sector in the next few years.

Any program that lasts more than eight years is likely to be canceled, so question is: what can you do in eight years? NASA has a lot of expertise in analyzing and flying human spaceflight systems, and should take advantage of it. There is a model that works, that’s easily adaptable to the problem. Why not use COTS, and why are we doing it differently, with different people. Just talked to people at NASA who were unfamiliar with a Space Act Agreement and how it works. SAA’s provide much more flexibility with much less overhead for both government and industry, allows industry to operate by its own best practices, and allows the procurement of government employees by industry where needed. Establishes milestones and success criteria, and payments are met when milestones are achieved. Low cost risk for government, with industry eating cost difference in overruns. If milestone is unmet, government can terminate and take possession of IP, or renegotiate. SpaceX ended up spending more than they anticipated, but it came out of their profit, not the taxpayer.

Broad performance goals, not detailed specifications — what, not how. Contractor retains IP, as long as they don’t default, which is crucial for a small company. Investors need to know what IP a company has, and if government is involved, generally queers the deal.

COTS was about delivering cargo (CRS is the service contract for this). Commercial partner much provide sufficient insight to allow government to assess whether milestones have been met. One exception in COTS was ISS safety. Benefits — lower non-recurring costs, recurring also lower. Government acts as early customer, but doesn’t retain ownership. Expands industrial base. COTS was a high-risk pilot project, originally designed to play lip service to commercial, but has been surprisingly successful.

Essential ingredients: clear government need, cost efficiency should trump any design solution, multiple viable commercial competitors, reasonable likelihood of commercial applications beyond government need. No significant technical risk, or industry won’t invest. Solution must be plausible and well bounded in time and cost. All these are present in commercial crew.

Mining the moon good model for cost-plus contract. Commercial crew, not so much.

Need to state goals and requirements, and make human-rating requirements draft only, not final. Can’t set requirements with such a disparate range of systems (example of how to stitch a parachute). COTS learned how to do this, but there is no discernable knowledge being fed forward from C3PO to CCDev.

Thinks a phase A could be done for $20M, with a result of knowledge of requirements, as a funded Space Act Agreements. Over time, neck down to a couple favorites, based on Phase A plans. End point is a certified transportation services. Then compete for basic requirements of X number of people to ISS per year. IDIQ of ay least one award. Big wild card is when other customers come along, which will drive cost, reliability, operations, etc. Goal is to have people investing, competing, marketing, creating real commercial enterprises.

Thinks that we’re on the cusp of this happening. Knows we’ve been talking about it for decades, but really thinks it can come soon, but we have to change the procurement environment, and we have to adapt to it ourselves. COTS is a good model, and reiterates concern tht C3PO is not involved.

Hydrazine Sucks

That’s the title of the first chart in Max Vozoff’s talk, which is describing a new monopropellant that Firestar Technologies has been developing up in Mojave. Almost every vehicle, launch and in-space, uses it in some form, despite its toxicity and cost, because up to now there hadn’t been much alternative.

NOFBX is non-toxic and environmentally friendly, and outperforms hydrazine in every respect, particularly for monoprop hydrazine applications. It can literally be poured out on the ground. Will also reduce insurance costs, due to toxicity of crash site if a launch vehicle comes down in an unplanned location.

Firestar has 24 different patents filed, both domestically and internationally (Australia, Europe, Japan and China). Tested in thrusters from 0.1 pounds to a hundred pounds or so.

Showing a comparison matrix that’s too far away for me to read, but comparing Isp, storability (wide temperature range, etc.), throttleability (hundred to one), full thrust in under ten milliseconds, no catalyst bed or heaters, can be mixed up on site with standard chemicals. Acoustic environment much lower due to no need to mix in the chamber — very quiet engines. Self pressurizing, so no need for pressurant (single-fluid system). Less than 5% of the cost of monomethyl hydrazine. Think they can get T/W ratio of a hundred to one on a hundred pound thruster.

“Unfit For Office”

I agree with Mark Steyn, about Lindsey Graham.

[Mid-afternoon update]

Iowahawk has gotten Senator Graham on the record, with his thoughts on war-time etiquette:

My experience has only served to underscore Miss Buelah’s perspicacity, for I have seen that convivial manners always provide a welcome lubricant to social intercourse; whether it takes place in a fraternity bunkroom, the JAG officers barracks, or the late-night well of the Senate.

Unfortunately, that could apply to a lot of the Republican party.

Jeff Greason Speaks

I’m set up in the room at the Space Access conference, waiting to hear what XCOR Aerospace is up to. Live blogging will commence directly.

Henry Vanderbilt is introducing Jeff, but noting a change in schedule for later — Tomas Svitek won’t be able to make it, because his Zeppelin is late. True story.


Has been building up a really good space policy rant for the past couple months, but will mostly talk about XCOR.

Been around eleven years now, one of the few companies that weren’t founded by someone with deep pockets, but are still here, and right now, the times are really good. So he has a cautionary note to sound.

On track to be tied for best year ever, and if a couple potential contracts come in, will be the best. But floodgates haven’t yet opened up with money pouring on him out of the sky.

Can say more this year about XCOR/ULA alliance than he could last year. Costs of critical elements in building EELVs has been rising lately. Nice to work with ULA because they don’t act like canonical “Big Aerospace” companies. Have been occasions when small companies try to do new things and the response of big companies is to come up with non-market means to prevent them. In this case, ULA has decided to try to innovate and get a better product at a lower price. If you rounded up all the people at Boeing and Lockheed Martin who think that space should be done more commercially and shoved them into a ghetto, it would look like ULA.

It is a good thing for the industrial base that we have multiple companies competing to do launches, and that they are trying to rebuild the contractor base that they need. He is concerned that there is insufficient market to support multiple providers, but hopes things will continue.

Happy to be paid to work with hydrogen. Hadn’t been doing it before because it hadn’t made sense for his business, but it just beats everything else for in-space transportation. Now that the moon has been discovered to have significant amounts of water, hydrogen wins. So glad to have ULA work with them on hydrogen pumps so he could be “where the puck was going.” Things going well so far.

Starting to see that the conventional wisdom of how hard it is to work with hydrogen and handing rocket propellants in general share a lot of mythologies. Some propellants, the more you work with them the more you like them and some the more you hate them — not sure where hydrogen is yet.

Happy with development of Lynx engine, but propulsion has not been long pole on that development for a long time. Showing video of engine test. Dan DeLong (chief engineer) not at conference because at supplier doing acceptance test on lox tank. Nice thing about piston pumps is that they work with auto industry instead of aerospace industry.

Lynx serves three markets — people, research payloads, and nanosats. A lot of people seem to focus on one or the other, but XCOR is continuing all markets despite recent media emphasis on payload market.

Seeing a lot of interest in payloads in the external pod, for volume reasons and because it’s more readily accessible to the space environment. Have some researchers who want to do repeat flights, which makes it more worth their while than a one-time experiment.

Shuttle/ISS locker is “structurally baroque” single-point solution that has become a standard. Nineteen-inch rack will eventually replace, but not immediately.

Don’t want to be retailers, and hoping that payload integrator industry and standard payload interfaces will emerge. Want to work with a few people who will hold hands of thousands of customers. Will continue to work with custom payloads, as long as they are paid for it. Want to be able to offer “menu” of integrators to payload customers. Two “real” customers for wet leases (real in the sense that they have paid XCOR money), Curacao and South Korea, but are in discussion with others.

Discussing moratorium on FAA regulation that expires next year. Wants to extend it because things haven’t been moving as fast as hoped when regulation passed in 2004. Wants an event-based extension rather than a time-based one. FAA plans to set up a technical center in Florida and hire ex-NASA types. Has no opinion on that because it’s about commercial crew, which isn’t his current business.

Continues to think that export control policies are disastrous for the country, but have to work with them, and advice remains same with State Department as with FAA — don’t surprise the bureaucracy. Take your time to let them think about it and ask questions. So far, people at State are just trying to do their job in terms of making Curacao and South Korea happen.

Couldn’t be happier about Lynx progress. Working it very actively, pieces become better and better defined, but pace continues to be driven by profits from other customers, subject to getting jobs done for them. As they get more money, they’ll be able to focus more on it. Hasn’t been able to state a schedule, but if contract revenue stream continues to grow, will develop vehicle whether they get more investment or not. Investment climate is now “different” if not better. At some point, money has to come out of mattresses. Not much institutional investment yet, still dribbles and drabs. Could be less happy, could also be more happy.

The more he works with wind tunnels, the more he likes them. May build their own. Will be going back to Huntsville tunnel after presumed government hiatus. Air Force considering providing more tunnel time for exploration of other parameters of interest to them. Showing tunnel runs, and noting how much faster runs can be done compared to CFD. Can machine model for reruns much faster than building a new grid for the CFD. “Support your local wind tunnel.” “We should have an agency that owns facilities to do things like that…”

Finalizing details of vehicle, and simulators. Doing ergonomic tests in suits to make sure that controls are controllable. Reaction-control system still in work, still wants to get all toxic propellants out of vehicle, and if any are left, it is still operationally hard. Hard to do non-toxic RCS, but think they have it figured out. May get government support for it, but can’t count on it.

Question: Is dorsal pod a permanent part of the vehicle? Answer: No, too much drag, so only carried when required.

Question: When is payload users guide coming out? Still need to review payload interfaces for ITAR purposes. Can talk about things if you are US citizen. Problem with ITAR is the “guilty-until-proven-innocent” nature of it — you don’t know a priori if discussing the location of a hole is verboten.

In response to a question I didn’t hear, Jeff says, flatly, “XCOR does not accept cost-plus contracts. I can’t speak for anyone else.”

In response to a question about orbit, says that as they get more comfortable with hydrogen, they may get more interested. Question is reusability. Like toxic propellants, no such thing as “99% reusable.” Still don’t know if it will be in the technology roadmap for future XCOR use.

Non-toxic RCS propellant is a highly oxygenated fuel that is “not quite monopropellant, but wants to be.” Oxygenated fuel is “fluffy” (not as dense as desired) but you don’t need very much of it. Doesn’t like monopropellants from a safety standpoint, and doesn’t find argument for getting rid of a tank and valve compelling.

A Launch Industry Earthquake

I’ve started blogging over at the Washington Examiner. My first post over there is about Elon’s announcement this week.

Hitting the road in a few minutes for Phoenix, so no more posts until this afternoon or evening.

[Late afternoon update]

Just got to the conference. Gwynne Shotwell, president of SpaceX, is scheduled to speak in a few minutes. It will be interesting to see what she has to say about Tuesday’s announcement.

[Friday afternoon update]

For those wondering about Gwynne’s talk, Clark Lindsey has some notes, as does Doug Messier.

Biting Commentary about Infinity…and Beyond!

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