Category Archives: Space

Another Regulatory Milestone

According to Aleta Jackson of XCOR (see comments), Mojave Airport is now an FAA-licensed spaceport, the first inland one in history (note: probably not a permalink), as of yesterday, with Launch Site Operator License # LSO 04 009. I’m sure that it’s just by coincidence, but it’s just in time for Burt’s flight on Monday.

[Update at 6 PM PDT]

There seems to be a lot of confusion in the comments section. When I say spaceport, I mean a place that the FAA has specifically licensed for commercial launches under American jurisdiction. As far as I know, that doesn’t include, for example White Sands (which is one reason that Armadillo probably won’t be able to make an X-Prize attempt this year). And it has nothing to do with Shuttle launches or landings.

A Mainstream Columnist Gets It

Jeff Jacoby says that space should be given over to the private sector.

…if human beings are truly meant to slip the surly bonds of Earth, as the poem “High Flight” says — if we are destined to live on the moon, walk on Mars, explore the solar system — we will need to draw on greater reserves of imagination and creativity than government bureaucracies can manage. Solid rocket boosters can get human beings off a launch pad, but getting them permanently into space will require something even mightier: the unmatched power of competition, incentive, and free enterprise.

Even More Aldridge Thoughts

I’ve skimmed the report. It’s got a lot of good things in it, and it’s probably the best report of its kind to ever come out in terms of policy recommendations (which is to damn it with faint praise). I agree with Andrew that absolutely the most damaging recommendation in it is to initiate a heavy lift program as soon as possible, and to imply (with that photo of a Shuttle-derived vehicle on page 29) that the Shuttle would be a good basis for such a program. It provides absolutely zero support for its contention that (from page 30) “…Heavy-lift capability is a critical enabling technology for mission accomplishment and a plan for achieving this capability needs to be developed now.”

A major omission in the section on engaging the public was any mention about public space travel. This was disappointing–I had hoped that they would have paid attention to Tony Tether’s testimony. Apparently they didn’t. Instead, they fall back on the same time-worn calls for better propaganda:

The Commission recommends that industry, professional organizations, and the media engage the public in understanding why space exploration is vital to our scientific, economic, and security interests.

The poor proles just don’t seem to be able to understand why we should take money from their wallets to send government employees off to other planets so they can watch on teevee. Apparently we haven’t been explaining it well enough. This time for sure!

It was particularly disappointing that in support of a repeat of this flawed approach, they chose this comment from an audience member, rather than Tony Tether’s:

And so my One Urgent Request

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.

Spacelines

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.