Category Archives: Space

More Thoughts On The Aldridge Report

I’ve had a chance to read through the Aldridge Commission report, and I’ve made some notes along the way. I have no doubt that much of this is duplicated by other blogging spacehounds, but I haven’t yet surveyed the blogosphere. After the usual suspects take a shot at it perhaps we can compare notes and put together a canonical list of kvetches, comments and compliments.

Continue reading More Thoughts On The Aldridge Report

Aldridge Commission Report is out

Available here. There will be more detailed discussion later, either by me or Rand.

One point that stands out is the picture of Mars on the cover. I for one am sick of Mars. It’s “Moon, Mars, and Beyond”. Mars is a middle step, and it’s one that provides enemies of the President and opponents of manned spaceflight with a convenient straw man to knock down. Frankly, I’d much rather see flights to NEAs before Mars, but the sex appeal of Mars for some outweighs other considerations. It’s just a cover, and you can’t judge a book, blah, blah,blah, but really, folks: we have a perfectly good planetessimal only a couple of days travel time from Earth, and a bunch of others equally accessible passing through the neighborhood all the time. Is it too much to ask that we focus our attention on the next step instead of the step after the step after the step after…?

On the plus side, a quick read through suggests the commission does have their collective head screwed on fairly straight. But the person who picked the cover picture should be slapped around a little.

Update a few minutes later: Yes, I saw the little chunk of moon at the bottom of the cover. It’s a nice image, standing on the moon looking at Mars (ignoring the scale issues). Still, the cover to me says Mars is the objective, which it shouldn’t be. There’s a better image a few pages into the report, showing not just Mars, but also earth and some of the gas giants. I particularly like the Gas giant pictures, because nobody has a serious plan for making them part of the program. It’s a straightforward acknowledgement that we really don’t know what the later steps of the process will be.

[Update in the evening]

Here’s a link to a follow-up discussion post, for those who’ve been linked to this post from elsewhere.


Alan Boyle points to Sam Dinkin’s article at this week’s The Space Review that contends that there will be three players in the suborbital market (not because he has identified three favorites, but because that’s the way markets of this kind tend to work). Alan then predicts that Space Adventures will be one of them.

Well, maybe, but not necessarily.

This isn’t to imply that Space Adventures won’t survive, or continue to be successful, but I question its categorization of a spaceline. To date, it hasn’t acted in that role, or rather, it hasn’t acted fully in that role.

We have to define terms here. I consider a spaceline to be an entity that operates spaceliners. It can perform other functions (such as marketing, which is what Space Adventures primarily does), but if it doesn’t do that, it’s not a spaceline, any more than a company that doesn’t lease/own, and operate airliners can be considered an airline.

In the aviation industry, we have large commercial aircraft manufacturers, like Boeing and Airbus (the only two surviving after the consolidation of the past few decades), and we have airlines, which purchase or lease those aircraft and actually operate them, providing air transportation services to the public. The airlines market their services to the general public, and Boeing doesn’t have to worry about that–they only have to market their airplanes to the airlines.

In the early days, it wasn’t as cleanly delineated. In fact, in the thirties, the aircraft manufacturers also operated the airplanes, and established their own airline services. For instance, in the late twenties, Boeing had an airline called Boeing Air Transport. This company later purchased and merged with three other airlines to become United Airlines.

As a result of the Air Mail Scandal, in which charges were made of improper awarding of routes to politically powerful conglomerates, the airlines were forced to divest themselves of association with aircraft manufacturers, and we ended up with the system that we have today.

However, it’s not clear what the model will be for spacelines. Certainly initially, the people who build space transports will operate them, because no one else will know how, but it remains to be seen how the business models will work. The traditional wisdom is that with such a small market, the money is to be made in operations, rather than manufacturing, because there’s no need for that many vehicles.

In any event, I in fact founded Interglobal Space Lines years ago because I recognized a hole in the space industry. For aviation, there’s an interface between the flying public and the aircraft manufacturers–it’s called an airline. But there were no spacelines, and if someone wanted a ride into space, they had to deal directly with a launch vehicle manufacturer, who didn’t know how to deal with the general public–their customer base was government agencies and comsat manufacturers. My hope was that in founding a spaceline, I could start to address this disconnect.

I still hope to do that, as some of the vehicle designs and operations mature to the point that they can be purchased and operated by a separate entity. In fact, one of the things that I’ve been talking to FAA-AST about as the new regs have evolved is ensuring that launch licenses can cover providers who aren’t the vehicle manufacturer (analogous to having a Part 121 Operaters certificate). There’s no current precedent in the space industry for this–all licenses issued to date have been to the vehicle manufacturer, but I’ve been assured that there’s nothing in the current regulations that would prohibit it.

Anyway, as I said, in this formulation, Space Adventures is not an operator–they are a marketer of other entities’ services. This is an important role, but they’re not (yet) a spaceline. Only time will tell whether or not they choose to become one, and are successful at it.

Perfect Flight For Armadillo

Armadillo Aerospace had a perfect flight of their testbed vehicle yesterday. There’s video (7 MB MPEG) and some notes on the Armadillo website.

It’s a really impressive flight, reminiscent of DC-X, if a bit shorter (and a heck of a lot cheaper). Congratulations to the Armadillo crew.