Space Access Update #111  04/05/05 
                 Copyright 2005 by Space Access Society 

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Contents this issue:

 - SA'05 Notes

 - Low-Cost Launch: The Concept Is Spreading

 - What We Want From NASA: Low Cost Hardware/Flight Demos
      - Pay For Results, Not Process

 - Industry News Roundup


                               SA'05 Notes

First a few quick notes about our upcoming Space Access '05 conference, 
April 28-30 in Phoenix Arizona:  
 - The latest SA'05 info will be posted from now till the conference at
 - Our $79 hotel room rate is guaranteed available through April 6th - 
we'll very likely be able to negotiate extensions as the conference 
approaches, but book by the 6th to be sure.  
 - If you have trouble getting our rate or booking the type of room that 
you want, try calling our hotel (Four Points by Sheraton Phoenix 
Metrocenter, 602 997-5900, mention "space access") between 8 am and 4 pm 
weekdays Mountain Standard Time (EDT-3) since outside those hours calls 
automatically get switched to the Sheraton national reservations center, 
which seems to have occasional problems with local hotel details.
 - If you still have any difficulty booking a room at our rate for SA'05, 
drop us a note at ASAP.  Thanks!  And now back to 
our irregularly scheduled Update... 


                Low-Cost Launch: The Concept Is Spreading

It's a good thing this is America, where "may you live in interesting 
times" is still more blessing than curse.  Kudos to the X-Prize, Scaled 
Composites and their subs, and Paul Allen - a lot of people are now 
aware that there are alternatives to the Government-Space Industrial 
Complex, paths off the planet that don't cost major slices of a national 
budget.  The consequences have started arriving one after another. 

One we should get out of the way immediately: Watch your wallet, the 
quick-buck artists are here.  The email we saw about the Nigerian 
astronaut stranded on the Space Station until we take our 15% cut of an 
international funds transfer to pay for his return trip (please provide 
our account info) was actually pretty funny, but we suspect that the SEC 
wouldn't be at all amused by some of the outfits that have popped up 
peddling stock lately.  Caveat investor...  Not that every outfit around 
before the field got hot was a good place to put money either, but at 
least most actually meant well.  Thomas Olson, Paul Contursi, and David 
Livingston have a short article in The Space Review with eight things to 
watch for when you're thinking of investing in a space startup, at  Strongly recommended.

Another thing we've seen is multiple announcements of brand-new 
conferences and/or newsletters.  Our rule of thumb is, if all the 
promoters seem to know is "X-Prize", "Scaled", and "SpaceDev", they 
probably have a way to go before they're worth much attention. 

One new entrant in the conference field we are paying attention to is 
Esther Dyson, of computer journalism fame, with her "Flight School" one-
day new-aviation/new-space event, debuting last month tagged onto the 
end of her long-time influential "PC Forum" IT industry conference.  At 
$1492 "Flight School" was a bit steep for our budget (though one way to 
look at that is that the price succeeded - it kept the riff-raff out!) 
but response we've heard has been positive - introducing her field to 
our field is generally seen as a good thing.  Given Dyson's reputation 
as one of the sharper tools in the shed, her extensive information 
industry contacts, and her considerable resources, we expect we'll be 
hearing more from her. 

One of the bigger space conferences around, the Space Foundation's 
National Space Symposium annual gettogether of everybody who's anybody 
in Big Aerospace (in Colorado Springs this week) this year features an 
"Entrepreneurial Spirit" panel with Courtney Stadd, Eric Anderson of 
Space Adventures, Jim Benson of SpaceDev, David Gump of T/Space, and 
George Nield of FAA AST, plus an appearance by SpaceX's Elon Musk on a 
New Directions In Launch panel.  It's a good start.  Also of interest on 
their schedule, a live broadcast on NASA TV of "The Vision For Space 
Exploration: Getting There From Here" (we wonder where that phrase 
percolated up from...) set for 11 am to 12:15 pm mountain time on 
Wednesday April 6th.  (As conference organizers ourselves, we'd advise 
allowing for a bit of schedule slop if you're setting up to tape it.) 

Another major player that is starting to pay attention:  NASA.  We don't 
have much detail yet, but Explorations Systems Mission Directorate, 
ESMD, the large slice of NASA HQ tasked with making the Vision For Space 
Exploration happen, seems to be at least thinking about some sort of 
"non-traditional" Earth-To-Orbit development path in parallel with their 
main effort, the multi-billion dollar Crewed Exploration Vehicle (CEV) 
that is planned as the mainstay of post-Shuttle NASA manned spaceflight.  

No further detail of what ESMD has in mind available yet, but we 
speculate this may have something to do with the schedule gap between 
Shuttle shutdown in 2010 and CEV operations start in 2014 - both SpaceX 
and Kistler (whose reorganization plan was just approved by the 
bankruptcy court) plan on having suitably-sized "non-traditional" 
boosters flying well before 2010, and there are a number of "non-
traditional" parties who are more than willing (and quite possibly able) 
to put basic crewed ships on top.  Add in Bigelow's "America's Space 
Prize" ($50 million for just such a basic crewed ship) as extra 
development leverage, and a plausible picture begins to emerge.  However 
speculative it is at the moment, of course. 

One thing we do know for sure: Rick Tumlinson of the Space Frontier 
Foundation arranged for David Gump of T/Space, Tom Taylor of Lunar 
Transportation Systems, and Jim Muncy of PoliSpace to brief NASA's Lunar 
Exploration Roadmap Committee last Thursday, and by Friday the committee 
had a new Commercial Subcommittee, consisting of those four gentlemen 
plus Jeff Taylor of the University of Hawaii.  Our congratulations to 
all concerned - we expect they'll bring in some fresh ideas.


                         What We Want From NASA:
      Low Cost Hardware/Flight Demos - Pay For Results, Not Process 

On a related subject, something we'd like to see happening at NASA (but 
don't really expect out of Exploration Systems) would be a whole series 
of low-cost (a few hundred thousand to a couple tens of millions max) 
hardware and/or flight demonstration projects, from non-traditional 
vendors, done under a reduced-paperwork pay-for-results-not-process 
regime.  We think this could usefully expand the repertoire of known-to-
work engineering solutions available and on the shelf, and usefully 
expand the space industrial base of experienced vendors ready to apply 
those solutions for NASA and for the US space industry in general. 

Why don't we expect it out of Exploration Systems?  To be frank, because 
ESMD already have their hands full developing CEV.  Admiral Steidle, 
before he became ESMD's boss, did succeed in getting a flyable Joint 
Strike Fighter out of the established major aerospace contractors via 
the established defense procurement process, but we expect he's very 
aware that he's at NASA now, where the procurement process and 
contractors makes DOD's equivalents look simple efficient and reliable.  

Anything that doesn't contribute directly and immediately to meeting the 
transportation needs of NASA's new space exploration program is likely 
to be seen as a distraction and a drain on scarce funds - funds quite 
likely to get scarcer in future years, while future year costs all too 
likely climb.  The natural inclination is going to be for ESMD to focus 
primarily on its major objectives at the expense of lesser projects. 

We may already be seeing a symptom of this (necessary) focus: Cries of 
pain, public and private, over how thoroughly HQ is applying traditional 
NASA paperwork requirements to the smaller bidders.  Whether ESMD 
actively wants the small outfits to just go away or merely lacks the 
time and attention to cut them the appreciable amount of slack available 
within the rules is moot - the effect is the same either way.  Small 
companies end up taking NASA money to produce reports and viewgraphs, 
not testable hardware. 

As for the viewpoint that if this level of paperwork is OK for the 
established majors, the startups should just suck it up and deal with it 
too, do we really want to foster new companies whose core expertise is 
dealing with NASA process, not delivering functional product quickly and 
affordably?  Haven't we already got enough of those? 

We suspect moving such minor industrial-base/engineering repertoire 
expansion efforts out of ESMD could be a good thing for all - less 
distraction for Exploration Systems, and steadier support for the small 
vendors involved.  Looking around for a suitable home for such, we 
note that significant parts of NASA have considerable in-house design-
support and engineering-test capabilities sitting around begging for 
customers - indeed, in danger of being shut down - and might well be 
suitable hosts for such work.  We speak, of course, of the various NASA 
aeronautical centers - aeronautics is in fact a major element of the 
transit between ground and orbit we at SAS are primarily concerned with. 

This arrangement could have a number of benefits, among them leveraging 
of existing underused NASA resources and a built-in Congressional 
constituency separate from the major NASA space operations centers.  We 
think the greatest advantage of all would be the competitive aspects, 
however.  Nothing gets the creative juices flowing like a little healthy 
competition, whether between companies or between NASA field centers.

But our bottom line is: NASA should be doing low-cost hardware and 
flight demonstration projects from non-traditional vendors under a 
reduced-paperwork pay-for-results-not-process regime, *somewhere*, if 
the agency is ever to break out of the high-overhead low-flight-rate 
high-cost cul de sac it's in now. 


                          Industry News Roundup

Enough editorializing - on to a quick sampling of some things going 
on recently in the industry. 

Armadillo has decided to pursue bipropellant liquid oxygen engines.  
They haven't been able to obtain commercially the high-concentration 
hydrogen peroxide they'd need for acceptable monopropellant performance, 
and their pursuit of "mixed monopropellant" - lower-concentration 
peroxide premixed with fuel just before flight - ran into problems with 
limited engine catalyst-pack life.  They could make the engines perform 
reliably, but only by rebuilding them far more often than practical for 
the sort of routine operations they're pursuing.  Armadillo has been 
developing liquid oxygen preburner technology in parallel with their 
peroxide work for a while, and now they've announced they're making 
their main propulsion development path engines based on that technology. 

X-Prize has announced their planned X-Prize Cup rocket races and 
Personal Spaceflight Expo, to take place annually in early October at 
the Southwest Regional Spaceport in New Mexico.  The first Personal 
Spaceflight Expo will take place over four days this year, with 
exhibition rocket flights added in 2006 and the first X-Prize Cup rocket 
races in 2007. 

TGV Rockets remains reticent about announcing much publicly, but they 
have seen some government funding these last few years, and they will 
admit they'll be hitting some development milestones in the coming 

Not directly related to our industry but an old friend of the family, 
Bill Stine, G. Harry Stine's son, is reviving Quest Aerospace, his 
educational model rocket company, shut down after a motor manufacturing 
accident several years ago.  Kit manufacture will now be in China, 
motors in eastern Germany.  The Stine family project to set up a 
scholarship program and a library to house Harry's extensive collection 
of space books and papers is still in the works. 

Len Cormier's PanAero is bidding on an NRO BAA for an Operationally 
Responsive Launch Vehicle, and is proposing the Space Van '09 concept 
for it; he'll be telling us more at SA'05.

XCOR should have an interesting announcement sometime Tuesday - look for 
the press release at  

There's a company in South Korea call C&Space working on an LNG-LOX 
engine for their Proteus suborbital ship - details are scant; we've had 
limited correspondence with them and their website ( 
is in Korean.  They tell us they've conducted ground firings of a water-
cooled test chamber, and are working toward a ten-ton thrust LNG-cooled 
operational version.  This does bear out something we've been saying for 
a long time - rocketry may involve high-performance engineering but it's 
no longer ultra high-tech; the rest of the world is catching up, and may 
well leave us in the dust if we don't start doing the things we need to 
do to move ahead again. 

Dr. Jordin Kare has spoken at our conference several times in recent 
years about his relatively low-tech approach to laser launch, using 
commercially available semiconductor lasers and heat-exchanger liquid 
propulsion.  He tells us that the technology needed to do this is 
essentially available off-the-shelf now, and he'll be telling us about 
his plans at this year's conference.  (We really are into the 21st 
century - we just typed the words "a relatively low-tech approach to 
laser launch" in complete seriousness!) 

The Space Launch Amendments Act passed last winter with numerous 
mandates for how FAA AST should regulate commercial passenger-carrying 
space transports.  That was the easy part - now the FAA needs to 
translate those broad mandates into detailed regulations.  We're working 
with FAA AST to have someone at SA'05 to talk about how that process 
works, where it's gotten to so far, and what to expect down the line, 
plus we'll have feedback from various of the regulated parties about 
what they hope to see, and a talk from Tim Hughes, majority counsel to 
the House Science Committee and heavily involved in the drafting of the 
Amendments Act, on what the intentions behind various provisions are. 

Rocketplane Ltd got full funding for their Rocketplane XP development 
last year and are currently moving ahead building a practical suborbital 
transport around various existing aircraft components - to oversimplfy 
considerably, a Learjet fuselage, engines, and landing gear with new 
wings, thermal protection, and an Orbitec "Vortex" rocket engine in the 
tail.  They're aiming at completing the flight test program in '07, and 
currently seeking funding for the passenger-carrying commercial 
operations phase to follow. 

We spoke with David Gump, President of the T/Space consortium (Scaled 
Composites, Airlaunch LLC, CSI, USL, Delta Velocity, and Spaceport 
Associates among others) about the report in New Scientist the other 
week that due to the massive paperwork burden, T/Space would not bid on 
the next phase of NASA CEV.  David told us that he had discussed the 
merits of a low-overhead rapid-prototyping approach versus the 
traditional NASA paperwork-intensive development process with New 
Scientist, but that T/Space has not yet made any final decision on 
whether they'll bid the next phase of CEV. 

Scaled Composites is of course busy developing the suborbital passenger-
carrying SpaceShip 2 for Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, with 
passenger service schedule to commence in '07.  Burt Rutan punctuates 
this routine by travelling to receive various (well-deserved) awards.  
Latest we hear is he'll be in DC to accept the prestigious Collier 
Trophy at the National Air & Space Museum April 19th.  Rumor has it, by 
the way, that SpaceShip 2 may well use an all-EAC engine rather than the 
mix of SpaceDev fuel casting and EAC plumbing SpaceShip 1 flew with. 

Airlaunch LLC, Microcosm, SpaceX, and Lockheed-Martin are competing in 
the DARPA/Air Force FALCON small launch vehicle program and are not 
currently talking much.  The next phase of the program, one or more 
contractors building flight prototypes, will be decided this summer.

Meanwhile the Air Force ARES program, to build a reusable rocket 
spacelift first-stage demonstrator, is getting underway.  We'll have a 
briefing on FALCON and ARES at SA'05. 

SpaceX meanwhile is still working toward first flight of their Falcon 1 
launcher - they've completed all structural testing, but are still 
working on main engine qualification.  The latest delay now is a matter 
of site scheduling at Vandenberg AFB - the final Titan 4 launch has 
pushed them back to Q3 '05 at earliest, longer if the Titan launch (as 
has happened before) is delayed.  SpaceX says they may consider doing 
their first flight out of a site being developed on Kwajalein Atoll, if 
the VAFB delay goes on long enough. 

Blue Origin meanwhile continues to reveal their plans very slowly - the 
latest new info is from a Jeff Bezos interview with the local paper in 
west Texas where he owns close to 200,000 acres of ranchland.  He plans 
eventually to fly from that land, and what he'll be flying will be 
vertical-takeoff, vertical landing rockets - first a suborbital ship, 
then eventually orbital.

And that's only a fraction of what's been going on lately.  The best 
single site for day-to-day coverage of this fast-moving field is still 
Clark Lindsey's "RLV News" section, but even Clark 
can't get it all.  We also recommend Jeff Foust's and, Keith Cowing's, and of course 
the Space News,, and Aviation Week sites all come up with 
good stuff.  Over the last year Alan Boyle at has written 
a lot of good space pieces - Alan was responsible for MSNBC cable's 
coverage of the SpaceShip 1 flights being far more technically informed 
than the other networks there.  Space coverage is showing up in the most 
unlikely places these days, though; it's impossible to keep with it all.

Interesting times!

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 "Reach low orbit and you're halfway to anywhere in the Solar System" 
                                        - Robert A. Heinlein