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« A New Truther | Main | Just As Well »

Interview with Charles Miller

My Lunar vendor CSI just got a Space Act Agreement with NASA for their LEO Express system.

Sam Dinkin, Transterrestrial Musings:
Any reason other than testing that this system can't be used for human passengers?

Charles Miller, CEO, Constellation Services, Inc.:
Yes. Unless the passengers plan to take up permanent residence in orbit, we would need to provide a way to return the passengers to Earth. In addition to a safe re-entry system, we would need to add some other systems that people tend to like, such as air and water and seats. There is a significant hit in terms of mass and financial cost to add all the systems are necessary to carry passengers. Nothing that has not been done before, but the canister that carries passengers will be much less cost effective for delivering cargo.

CSI studied concepts for recoverable canisters for NASA under in Phase 1A of our Alternate Access to Station contract in 2003-04. We have also looked at placing our canister inside RLVs, such as the Kistler K-1, for return to Earth. We received high marks from NASA's AAS program for our ability to adapt our system to include a recoverable cargo capability.

If you had two progresses at the Space Station, would that make an appreciable difference?

Any extra Progress would not add any appreciable new capability, nor are their enough docking ports at ISS for two Progresses. Of more utility would be an upgraded space tug, such as the Russian Parom, or converting the Lockheed Orion, SpaceX Dragon, or tSpace CXV to tug operations.

It is pretty straight-forward to acquire an all-U.S. version of our cargo system based on using the Orion, Dragon, CXV, or some other U.S. spacecraft at ISS, as a tug. The hard part is getting a U.S. spacecraft certified for ISS operations. That, and it needs to utilize "docking", instead of "berthing".

Could an abort system be tacked on?

If by "abort system" you mean "a recovery system to bring people back from orbit to a safe landing on Earth", the answer is Yes. That would require development.

What do you expect the rack rate to be once this system is developed?

We don't talk about specific prices in public.

Is the main advantage the ability to use RpK, SpaceX, Raytheon, Boeing, Lockheed, Sea Launch, Chinese, Ukrainian or Russian launchers that have not been qualified to dock with the ISS?

That is one significant advantage. There are other significant advantages, including:

1) More Efficient for Any Given LV: Even if they are qualified to dock with the ISS, our intermodal tug-based approach can deliver 30-100% more cargo to the ISS on the exact same launch vehicle compared to a direct ascent approach.

2) Economical Upgrades: Just like intermodal cargo systems on Earth that use standardized containers, the CSI system is much easier to upgrade and improve over time. We can improve and upgrade the canister, or the launch vehicle, without changing the reusable tug, just like you can build a bigger cargo container ship without changing the trucks on the highway. The technical term that describes this ability in the logistics industry is called "disaggregating the supply chain".

3) Flexibility: The adaptability of the system provides much more flexibility. If you want "more unpressurized cargo" and less "pressurized cargo", you can use a canister that is optimum for your purpose. If you need propellant, it is quite easy to launch a propellant canister.

4) Robustness: If one of your launch vehicles goes down with a problem, you can quickly plug-in another launch vehicle. We have seen how dependent the ISS was on the Shuttle. The ISS is just as dependent on the Soyuz launch vehicle, and NASA is aware of this.

5) Smaller/cheaper LVs: Beyond the Dnepr, which we all know is very low-cost, CSI has also figured out how to incorporate much smaller U.S. launchers into our system, including the Falcon 1 and the AirLaunch QuickReach. For some applications, use of very small and inexpensive launch vehicles might make sense.

Which advantage is the "main" advantage depends on your perspective.

The first one is the main one from my perspective. Thanks!

Posted by Sam Dinkin at June 19, 2007 01:07 PM
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Lots of good space news recently and CSI getting a bit more attention from Nasa is certainly among them. Things seem to be slowly shaping up.

Thanks for doing the interview Sam, interesting to see that CSI still considers t/Space viable enough to include them (I'm still hoping for t/Space). Also nice to see the focus on CSI's solution as a win-win situation for everyone. Progress launches might be the exception but even they get a piece of the pie. A pie which is growing both in relation to the ISS as well as possible future uses of the system to BA modules.

Posted by Habitat Hermit at June 19, 2007 03:21 PM

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