Category Archives: Business

COTS Panel

Here are the notes I took an hour or so again, when I had power and could see the show, but no Internet.

Alan Lindenmoyer of NASA speaks first. Established program three years ago: Invest to get safe reliable access to LEO and to create a market environment in which the providers were available for both government and commercial customers. SpaceX has achieved 14 of 22 objectives and NASA has paid out $234M, next milestone is to demonstrate rendezvous with a system to be launched on a Shuttle mission. Looking to first Falcon 9 demo launch later this year (Elon said at lunch that the launch had been delayed from August to late 2009).

Orbital is valued up to $170, they’ve completed eight milestones to date, and a hundred million has been paid out. Next milestone is CDR for pressurized cargo module in July. Important transition year for administration (White House) and NASA. Showing video of progress on COTS program. NASA not dictating design solutions, just program objectives. “Have need, seed money, technical expertise, and put together with capable providers, have the basis for a successful program.” Includes a PR segment from Orbital (“98% success rate in space missions over the last seven years” — I wonder what happened before that…?). Using components from existing vehicles to build COTS system. Now another one from SpaceX.

Do not confuse current COTS and additional funding from stimulus with COTS D. That will require much more money. Initial goals are just to ensure safety of ISS and of crew members. Working to best communicate crew safety requirements from NASA to new players.

OSC speaker: Head of COTS demonstration and follow-on phase for cargo resupply, and working both in parallel. Orbiter not stranger to development of commercial space systems, build satellites but also uses data buying approaches. Developing Taurus II with their own funds and leveraging money from COTS to provide end-to-end system, from ground through ISS delivery. Giving an overview of Taurus launch vehicle, and now discussing the Cygnus “visiting vehicle.” Has to have high reliability avionics, and essentially as reliable as an airliner to come into proximity of the station. It berths using the ISS arm. Describing standardized cargo bags that NASA has developed for ISS logistics. They have hired Carl Walz, ISS veteran, to help them with the program. Need for cargo supplies expanding with crew of six. They hope to help to support that need.

Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX: Praising NASA program office for ease of working with them. Proposed three demo flight: Dragon into orbit and back, Dragon approach ISS, Dragon dock with ISS. Showing pictures of new Hawthorne CA facility, current manifest. Describing Falcon 9, with its propulsion redundancy. First vehicle with this capability since Saturn, and it was used on Saturn to save crew. Think that it’s a valuable feature. They expect to be building more engines than any other entity in history shortly. Showing “tic tack toe” back end of the Falcon 9. NASA saw these multiple engines as the biggest risk. They have snuck up on engine testing incrementally, and did a full nine-engine test in November 2008. Using Launch Complex 40, former Titan IV pad at the Cape. They have tested ground support by erecting and taking down the vehicle on the pad. Still working range integration issues. Dragon undergoing structural qualification (pushed and pulled on it). Hadn’t anticipated building their own heat shield but that’s how it ended up. Developed material with NASA Ames. Propulsion uses “Draco” thrusters, using MMH/N204. Designed, built and qualified thrusters in less than two years.

They’re designing Dragon to be reusable and recoverable, but NASA wants new ones each time, so they’re looking for customers for used ones, called “Dragonlab.” Useful for orbital research.

Question: Why does NASA not turn on COTS D. Lindenmoyer: no funding appropriated. Option negotiated with SpaceX for $380M, but don’t have the money.

Question: Once COTS D is operational, is there a need for Orion and Ares 1 to support ISS? Lindenmoyer: They are complementary capabilities, and Ares and Orion are designed for lunar missions. It is designed for ISS capability, but they’d prefer to divert resources needed for LEO system to the moon.

Kosmas And ITAR

“Bob-1” asked in comments whether I talked to Congresswoman Kosmas yesterday about ITAR. In fact I did. She seemed aware of the issue, or at least the word. I pointed out (in light of her praise of entrepreneurship) that it was actually a much bigger problem for the smaller companies and startups, because the big ones have staff dedicated to deal with it, and can factor it into their costs for government reimbursement, but for those small companies without such in-house expertise and not on the government cost-plus dole, it represents a formidable barrier to entry, and one that the big players don’t necessarily mind. I don’t think that she had heard this argument before, and seemed interested. She told me to talk to her staffer (who was with her) next time I was in DC. Of course, I don’t know when that will be, but if anyone else out there wants to talk to the staffer, the Congresswoman seemed supportive.


There’s no wireless in the meeting rooms, so I can’t do anything real time. I’m typing this from the patio, eating a ten-dollar pastrami sandwich (didn’t pay for the luncheon where Elon Musk is speaking, and getting a von Braun award).

What was interesting about the morning plenary session was the emphasis. In past meetings, they might have led with the wonderful things that NASA has in store for us. This year, the lead speaker was George Nield, head of the FAA-AST office, followed by Jeff Greason, CEO of XCOR Aerospace, and then Will Whitehorn, head of Virgin Galactic, so clearly, the conference programming committee considered suborbital tourism to be the headliner at this event. NASA’s plans (soon to likely be dramatically altered) will be presented tomorrow morning.

Both the Greason and Whitehorn talks were good. Jeff made his usual points, but he started to show a little gam on orbital, saying that he has started thinking about it, and dropping a couple hints. They have seriously depleted their bin of technology problems in suborbital, and are moving forward with the Lynx, but orbital promises to replenish it, so they’re thinking about how to get someone to pay them to solve the new issues, as they did with suborbital. He is clearly aiming toward a two-stage reusable system, with a flyback first stage, horizontal takeoff and land. This implies a very large first stage, or a very expensive first stage, or some combination, and he didn’t want to show us any pictures, because he wasn’t sure what direction it would go. Also no discussion of whether or not it would be an airbreather or rocket.

He also made some comments about flight test, and not to panic when something goes wrong, which is why it’s called flight test. In the days of blogs and texting, it’s easy to gin up a lot of speculation and doomsday warnings that are unwarranted, compared to the old days when no one paid any attention to what was going on at Edwards until the results were released. This was undoubtedly in reference to the recent kerfuffle over White Knight Two tail dragging. He said a lot more good stuff, but I suspect that others will have posts up. Jeff Foust has probably been twittering.

Will Whitehorn, refreshingly, didn’t bash Lynx (perhaps because he was grateful to Jeff for his flight test comments? Or perhaps he’s just realized that it’s not good marketing). He actually praised parts of Jeff’s speech. He says that there will be a flyover of Spaceport America with WK2 at the dedication this June, and captive carry of SS2 by the end of the year, perhaps with a drop and glide test. Engine integration will occur next year. He also showed video of hybrid engine tests at Capistrano. More later.

Financial Issues In Space And Hospitality/Tourism/Entertainment

First panel is to discuss the synergy between financing for space and entertainment. “Space is not a destination.” “Space is an enabler for a variety of business verticals.” “Space accelerates and expands business verticals by providing new, disruptive ways of doing business.” Using Internmet analogy with book sales. Space-related viability may exist in areas we haven’t heard of.

Four categories: launch infrastructure, R&D and manufacturing, system operations, end-user applications. latter includes entertainment. They build on each other. “Infrastructure” is categories of large-scale hardware systems, similar to railroad lines back in 1800s. Necessary for applications: healthcare, materials, science, media/entertainment, communications, governance, energy and mining, defense, transport operations. “Governance” is things like disaster relief and planetary monitoring.

Entertainment needs infrastructure beyond mere launch — more like real estate, with facilities in space. Near-term opportunities include media and entertainment, comm and governance. Other apps are longer term. Defining media and entertainment as space tourism, ground-based training and simulations, and documentaries and GPS-related games, live video feeds from orbit, real-time earth imagery, etc.

See suborbital space tourism as important near-term app which fits cleanly within hospitality/entertainment business that requires precursor infrastructure. Virgin Galactic embodies transition — selling one-week experience with suit and simulations, not just a flight. Shouldn’t forget orbital space tourism, which is further down the road, but Bob Bigelow’s modules are an early stage of the hospitality industry in orbit.

Providing an overview of structure of hotel investment business. Major hotel chains are no longer significant investors in real estate — they manage the properties for investor groups. So don’t look to them for financing of space hotels. Look for private equity funds, insurance companies, private investment trusts, investment banks both domestic and international, which are the current industry financiers. Current markets are impacted by the financial crisis, but expects people to come back in the water in the future, because it’s a good traditional model. Hotels will be interested in participating via franchise names (e.g., Hilton) but no as investors.

What drives terrestrial hotels? Business traveler, groups and meetings, leisure. What services are required for space travel? Have to consider similarities and differences with: cruise ships, all-inclusive hotels, suborbital/orbital travel. Consider advance deposits for space hotels. Consider scuba industry as a model. Preparation somewhat similar to suborbital training in length/time, understanding of technical issues/risks. Has been very successful, and training could become significant industry in itself, even for people who don’t fly, at destination resorts.

[Late morning update]

I got pulled off into some discussions, but Jeff Foust is twittering the panels (not a permalink).

[Afternoon update]

Doug Messier blogged this panel as well.

The Contest For The Stupidest Congressman

Is the winner Alan Grayson? Would that it were true — it would be nice to think that he establishes a floor, but I think that he’s unfortunately typical, particularly among Democrats.

[Afternoon update]

Considering all of the trollery in comments, in which people desperately want to change the subject from economic ignorance to BUSH! and TORTURE! of INNOCENT TERRORISTS!, I wonder if any of them even bothered to follow the link, or just decided to pathetically play pin the tail on the Republican?

Why Government Can’t Run A Business


This isn’t really news, of course, but apparently, the lesson has to be relearned over and over.

I heard an interview a couple days ago with the Democrat who’s planning to challenge Chris Dodd in the primary, and he pointed out that he had started and managed several successful businesses, whereas Dodd had done nothing but be a politician his entire life. I wonder what he thinks of the Democrat president and vice president…, neither of whom has run so much as a lemonade stand? Or maybe Obama did when he was a kid, and his communist mother subsidized it?