Space Access Update #99  12/13/02 
                Copyright 2002 by Space Access Society 

Reports of our demise have been greatly exaggerated. 

We are still around, watching developments and thinking about what 
comes next.  We did spend much of the last six months otherwise 
engaged - we prefer to avoid sleeping on park benches.  (Our apologies 
to everyone whose mail we haven't answered over that stretch.  We'll 
be working through the backlog RSN.) 

But then, not coming close to making a living off this space stuff can 
be a blessing as well as a curse, in that we are not obliged to 
constantly make a public fuss whether we have something to say or not.  
We do, now, have a number of things to say.  

For starters, this: One of the more useful things we do is putting on 
our annual conference, bringing players in the cheap access game 
together in one place to focus intensively on access issues.  (For 
those of you who like what we do but worry whether we'll keep doing 
it, we'll stop either when cheap access is an accomplished fact, or 
when they pry our cold dead fingers off our last hotel contract.) 

Last spring's Space Access '02 conference went well, with attendance 
up and considerable useful work done.  Our take on the theme of the 
event: "Building a Place to Stand" - what a number of startup low-cost 
launch companies have spent the recent investment downturn doing.  
Here are a couple of reports from the conference: 

Meanwhile, preparations for next spring's Space Access '03 conference 
are underway.  We have a hotel contract for our traditional last-
weekend-in-April date at an old favorite site - SA'03 is set for 
Thursday evening April 24th through Saturday night April 26th, 2003, 
at the Old Town Hotel and Conference Center, in downtown Scottsdale 
Arizona.  This is the same hotel we were at two years ago, the former 
Holiday Inn Old Town, with new owners and name but otherwise largely 
unchanged, in the heart of Scottsdale's restaurant and shopping 
district, a fifteen minute cab ride from the Phoenix airport.  For 
SA'03 room reservations, call 800 695-6995 or 480 994-9203 and ask for 
our "space access" rate of $74 a night.  (Our rate is available for 
three days before and after the conference dates.) 

As for our current view of things, here, briefly, it is: 

 - Radically cheaper space access (ten to a hundred times less than 
current costs) would be a massive public good, enhancing existing 
space markets and opening up potentially huge new ones, creating new 
opportunities for research, exploration, commerce, and defense. 

 - Such access is possible in the near term with current technology, 
at sufficiently high flight rates.  Rocketry has become more medium-
tech than high, as witness among other things growing third-world 
missile proliferation.  At the same time, modern lightweight materials 
and electronics greatly ease combining high performance with intact 
reusability, allowing breakout from the traditional expendable-missile 
ammunition design mindset, with potential huge benefits to low-cost 

What's been lacking to date has been the proper combination of 
reasonable goals (it's DC-3 time, not 747), sensible focussed 
management, good engineering (KISS), and funding.  Much depends on a 
leap of faith that large new markets will emerge to support the 
necessary higher flight rates - "if you build it, they will come".  At 
least one such new market, tourism, is growing steadily less 

As for who might produce such access anytime soon... 

 - Certainly Not NASA 

In the best of all possible worlds, we'd have long ago dismantled the 
NASA "human spaceflight" empire for being a massively inflexible 
bureaucracy neither capable of making nor willing to make any 
significant changes in what they do: Flying a half-dozen people on a 
half-dozen missions a year at over a billion dollars a mission.  We'd 
have put money into low-cost access X-projects and investment 
incentives, and once the results started flying we'd have rebuilt NASA 
as a genuine leading-edge research and exploration agency flying 
hundreds of times a year on other people's rockets at less cost than 
it now flies a half-dozen times a year on its own. 

Alas, in this imperfect world NASA JSC/KSC/MSFC represents a volume of 
Federal funding impossible to radically redirect with the available 
political capital.  The current White House still has only thin 
Congressional majorities, and obviously has higher priorities than 
radical reform of NASA - for now at least.  Administrator O'Keefe's 
immediate brief at NASA seems to be to stop the bleeding - to impose 
actual accounting of where the money goes, and to steer the agency 
back toward meeting existing obligations without busting future 

In this context, we see the new "Orbital Space Plane" (OSP) project as 
being the best ("least bad", if you will) use of the existing SLI 
funding wedge practical under current political constraints.  It is a 
huge improvement on SLI's previous direction, a budget-busting all-up 
Shuttle replacement designed primarily to drop painlessly into the 
current Shuttle operations bureaucracy, yet also touted as meeting US 
commercial launch needs - seriously muddying the waters for genuine 
commercial space transportation investment. 

OSP has the virtue of assuring NASA's minimum manned launch needs 
(whatever one may think of the current agency, we do now have 
international obligations to meet) without the slightest chance of 
anyone plausibly pretending it addresses commercial markets too. 

We still would like to see NASA formally declare itself out of the 
business of developing commercial space transportation.  Further, we 
would like NASA to make explicit that launch cost reductions 
impractical in the context of their large and inflexible organization, 
complex requirements, and miniscule flight rate may be eminently 
practical elsewhere.  

 - Probably Not DOD 

The Defense Department is starting to get interested - discussing the 
military implications of near-term radically cheaper on-demand launch 
is no longer career suicide for officers, and DARPA is funding some 
useful work as part of their RASCAL project - but DOD's latest 
reorganization consolidated space under USAF, whose space people are 
currently wrapped up in bringing EELV online, and which over the 
medium term isn't interested in anything which might interfere with 
F-22 funding.  DOD in general has other more pressing budget 
priorities for the forseeable future.  We don't expect DOD to produce 
radically cheaper access anytime soon. 

 - Almost Certainly Not BoeMacLockMart 

The existing major aerospace companies may or may not still be 
organizationally capable of developing radically cheaper space 
transportion - recent signs are not good - but this is a moot 
question, since absent a deep-pockets government customer, none of 
them will try.  They've had that sort of risk-taking thoroughly 
squeezed out of them over the last generation.  It ain't gonna happen.

 - The Startups 
This leaves the entrepreneurial startups as our main hope for a cheap 
space transportation revolution.  None of them yet look like much - a 
few of them have test-flown hardware, but on average they tend to be a 
handful of engineers with shoestring funding, an ambitious business 
plan, and a partially refined design - but historically, every time 
there's been a revolution in transportation technology, new companies 
have taken over from the old established leaders.  The massively 
complex organizational structures that evolved to squeeze marginally 
acceptable reliability out of modified artillery rockets are more 
hindrance than help in dealing with the new high-flight-rate reusable 
paradigm.  The startups should be supported and encouraged - 
individually they're long shots, but collectively they're by far our 
best bet for a spacefaring future. 


Space Access Society's sole purpose is to promote radical reductions 
in the cost of reaching space.  You may redistribute this Update in 
any medium you choose, as long as you do it unedited in its entirety. 

 Space Access Society 

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