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.

Jeff:

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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