Constructing Cislunar Infrastructure – ISDC 2011

ISDC conference report by Dave Fischer

If those who think Mars is sufficiently hard to get to and remain to settle are correct, or those who think that it would be a terrible mistake to go to Mars and return leaving only flags and footprints are correct, then we are, in fact, not going to Mars anytime soon.  So where are we going?  And why are we going?

The current Flexible Path suggests that the manned exploration of an asteroid is a reasonable goal.  It avoids the problems of deep gravity wells, and does create launch vehicles and spacecraft.  However, as critics point out, this merely repeats the standard process of throwing away everything except the manned return capsule.  What might be done to create a permanent space faring infrastructure?

Why we are going is settlement.  That is the conclusion from reading policy statements, both formal and informal, from the past 10 years.  Beginning with the Vision for Space Exploration statement in 2004, up through the 2010 statement by the Obama administration, these policy statements all point toward the unspoken word, “settlement”.  Permanent occupation of space that exploits the economic resources available is the goal.  Now, what are the initial strategic steps, and what are the tactics to implement them.

At the International Space Development Conference (ISDC 2011), two proposals were made that result in permanent cislunar infrastructure: one by Dr. Paul Spudis and one by Stephen D. Covey.

Dr. Spudis advocated the conservative approach.  During Friday’s luncheon, Dr. Spudis presented “Can We Afford to Return to the Moon” (see the paper in the NSS Lunar Library by Spudis and Lavoie Mission and Implementation of an Affordable Lunar Return – pdf)

Spudis and Lavoie argue that over a period of roughly 16 years, employing a series of 31 missions, that a robotically built water mining operation at the South Pole of the moon, later employing humans living at the base to repair and maintain the equipment, would yield the following:

1.  Commercially valuable water for use as Lox/H2 fuel on the Moon and within cislunar space, sufficient to sustain the operation, with excess available for sale.

2.  Reusable Landers and Rovers.

3.  Permanent human occupation of the Moon.

4.  Routine access to all space assets within Cislunar space, including communications, GPS, weather, remote sensing and strategic monitoring satellites.

In essence, we create a “transcontinental railroad” with permanent settlements at various points between the Earth and the Moon.  The critical element is that this can be accomplished with the $7 Billion annual budget likely to be given NASA for the foreseeable future.  The projected cost of a Flexible Path mission to an asteroid has been estimated at $80 Billion, while the Cislunar project would cost $77 Billion.

The second proposal is far more radical: “Asteroid Capture for Space Solar Power”.  Here, Stephen D. Covey argued for a purely commercial venture to capture the asteroid 99942 Apophis, mine it for metals, silicon and oxygen, build Solar Power Satellites (SPS) and sell the power to utility companies on Earth.  An initial capital base of $30 Billion would be required.  But by the end of the sixth or seventh year of operation the enterprise would be at break even, and eventually generate $20 Billion per year in revenue.

At the end of eight years, 15 Solar Power Satellites would be in operation generating $20 Billion per year in revenue.  And only 10% of the asteroid would have been processed.  A total of 150 SPSs could be manufactured before another asteroid was needed.

The end result of this initial eight-year plan would be:

1.  A fully shielded (3 meters of slag from the mining operation) habitat for 8,000 people.

2.  Space based factory capable of producing 8 SPSs per year.

3.  Space infrastructure created by commercial space companies to support the operations.

4.  3-4% of Earth’s electrical needs supplied by Space based Solar Power

At the end of production, with 150 Satellites in operation, more than a third of Earth’s electrical needs would be supplied by Space Based Solar Power.

And who is to suggest that we cannot do both of these ventures at the same time?

ISDC Silent Auction to Benefit Alabama Tornado Relief Efforts

The theme of the International Space Development Conference (ISDC), taking place this week in Huntsville, Alabama, is exploring how we grow a spacefaring civilization “From the Ground Up!” This years silent auction, an annual ISDC tradition, will raise money not just for the National Space Society, but also for tornado relief efforts in Alabama.  Fifty percent of auction proceeds will be donated to the Red Cross in Madison County, where Huntsville is located.

Perhaps the most intriguing of the space-related items to appear in the silent auction is a zero-gravity flight that will be provided by Aurora Aerospace of Oldsmar, Florida.  The company will have the Rockwell Commander 700 aircraft in Huntsville on Sunday, May 22, and the winner of this auction item can either schedule their flight for that day, or they can make arrangements with Aurora Aerospace to take the flight in Florida at a later date.

Bart Leahy, ISDC 2011 Conference Chair, believes the auction captures the true spirit of the event: “Space advocacy has always been a challenging mix of idealism and practicality. We want to see human beings living in thriving communities beyond Earth, but we realize there are difficult things to do here on Earth to make it happen. Likewise, while we realize we are here to promote space activities, we can’t ignore the devastation many families have faced from last month’s tornadoes. I look at this as a way we can be good citizens of our solar system and our community.”

The auction will be conducted in the Von Braun Center as part of ISDC’s exhibit hall Thursday May 19 and Friday May 20. General Admission to the exhibit hall will be $5 per person at the door.  Individuals can find an online registration form for the conference at The winning bids will be announced at 4 p.m. on Friday in the exhibit hall, and payment will be accepted at that time.

The auction and exhibit area are only one part of a very diverse and extensive conference. Participants include space professionals and advocates from around the world who will explore all aspects of human space endeavors, including the International Space Station, heavy-lift launch vehicles, commercial space activities, space-based solar power, technology development, and politics, education, and outreach.

New International Law Textbook Discusses Lunar Real Estate

A new international law textbook contains an article on “Space Settlements, Property Rights, and International Law: Could a Lunar Settlement Claim the Lunar Real Estate it Needs to Survive?” by Alan Wasser and Douglas Jobes. Wasser, a former CEO of the National Space Society, argues in favor of “Land Claims Recognition” to help fund lunar settlements.

If and when the Moon and Mars are settled in the future through other incentives, the nations of Earth will eventually have to recognize these settlements’ authority over their own land. But to create an incentive now, governments would need to commit to recognizing that ownership in advance, rather than long after the fact.

Land claims recognition legislation would commit the Earth’s nations, in advance, to allowing a true private Lunar settlement to claim and sell (to people back on Earth) a reasonable amount of Lunar real estate in the area around the base, thus giving the founders of the Moon settlement a way to earn back the investment they made to establish the settlement.

The 42-page article was originally published in the Journal of Air Law and Commerce, Vol. 73, No. 1, 2008. The full article in PDF format is available on the NSS website as part of the NSS Lunar Bases and Settlement Library (“Additional Papers” section).

The textbook, International Law: Contemporary Issues and Future Developments, edited by Sanford R. Silverburg, was published in March 2011 by Westview Press.

SpaceShip Two – First Feathered Flight

SpaceShip Two “Feathered”
Image Credit: Clay Center Observatory

Om 4 May 2011, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip Two completed its third test flight in twelve days, and this one was special. For the first time, Virgin Galactic’s rocket plane deployed its twin tail sections in the position designed to allow it to softly return to the Earth’s atmosphere from the vacuum of space. Virgin Galactic noted:

After a 45 minute climb to the desired altitude of 51,500 feet, SS2 was released cleanly from VMS Eve and established a stable glide profile before deploying, for the first time, its re-entry or “feathered” configuration by rotating the tail section of the vehicle upwards to a 65 degree angle to the fuselage. It remained in this configuration with the vehicle’s body at a level pitch for approximately 1 minute and 15 seconds whilst descending, almost vertically, at around 15,500 feet per minute, slowed by the powerful shuttlecock-like drag created by the raised tail section. At around 33,500 feet the pilots reconfigured the spaceship to its normal glide mode and executed a smooth runway touch down, approximately 11 minutes and 5 seconds after its release from VMS Eve.

The feathered configuration is used during re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere from the 100 km height obtained by the sub-orbital spaceship. The configuration is very stable during the free fall, which means the pilot has a hands-free re-entry. High drag combined with the light weight of the spacecraft means the skin temperature remains low.

NASA's Gravity Probe B Confirms Einstein's Theory

NASA’s Gravity Probe B (GP-B) mission has confirmed two key predictions derived from Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, which the spacecraft was designed to test.

The experiment, launched in 2004, used four ultra-precise gyroscopes to measure the hypothesized geodetic effect, the warping of space and time around a gravitational body, and frame-dragging, the amount a spinning object pulls space and time with it as it rotates.

GP-B determined both effects with unprecedented precision by pointing at a single star, IM Pegasi, while in a polar orbit around Earth. If gravity did not affect space and time, GP-B’s gyroscopes would point in the same direction forever while in orbit. But in confirmation of Einstein’s theories, the gyroscopes experienced measurable, minute changes in the direction of their spin, while Earth’s gravity pulled at them.

“Imagine the Earth as if it were immersed in honey. As the planet rotates, the honey around it would swirl, and it’s the same with space and time,” said Francis Everitt, GP-B principal investigator at Stanford University. “GP-B confirmed two of the most profound predictions of Einstein’s universe, having far-reaching implications across astrophysics research. Likewise, the decades of technological innovation behind the mission will have a lasting legacy on Earth and in space.”

GP-B is one of the longest running projects in NASA history, with agency involvement starting in the fall of 1963 with initial funding to develop a relativity gyroscope experiment. Subsequent decades of development led to groundbreaking technologies to control environmental disturbances on spacecraft, such as aerodynamic drag, magnetic fields and thermal variations. The mission’s star tracker and gyroscopes were the most precise ever designed and produced.

“The mission results will have a long-term impact on the work of theoretical physicists,” said Bill Danchi, senior astrophysicist and program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Every future challenge to Einstein’s theories of general relativity will have to seek more precise measurements than the remarkable work GP-B accomplished.”

GP-B completed its data collection operations and was decommissioned in December 2010.

More information:

NASA – Gravity Probe B: The Relativity Mission
Stanford – Gravity Probe B: Testing Einstein’s Universe
NASA Press Conference on YouTube (50 minutes)

Statement on Launch Costs from SpaceX CEO Elon Musk

The following is quoted in full from the SpaceX website, dated May 4, 2011.  Note that SpaceX is participating in the NSS International Space Development Conference (ISDC 2011) later this month.


Whenever someone proposes to do something that has never been done before, there will always be skeptics.

So when I started SpaceX, it was not surprising when people said we wouldn’t succeed. But now that we’ve successfully proven Falcon 1, Falcon 9 and Dragon, there’s been a steady stream of misinformation and doubt expressed about SpaceX’s actual launch costs and prices.

As noted last month by a Chinese government official, SpaceX currently has the best launch prices in the world and they don’t believe they can beat them. This is a clear case of American innovation trumping lower overseas labor rates.

I recognize that our prices shatter the historical cost models of government-led developments, but these prices are not arbitrary, premised on capturing a dominant share of the market, or “teaser” rates meant to lure in an eager market only to be increased later. These prices are based on known costs and a demonstrated track record, and they exemplify the potential of America’s commercial space industry.

Here are the facts:

The price of a standard flight on a Falcon 9 rocket is $54 million. We are the only launch company that publicly posts this information on our website ( We have signed many legally binding contracts with both government and commercial customers for this price (or less). Because SpaceX is so vertically integrated, we know and can control the overwhelming majority of our costs. This is why I am so confident that our performance will increase and our prices will decline over time, as is the case with every other technology.

The average price of a full-up NASA Dragon cargo mission to the International Space Station is $133 million including inflation, or roughly $115m in today’s dollars, and we have a firm, fixed price contract with NASA for 12 missions. This price includes the costs of the Falcon 9 launch, the Dragon spacecraft, all operations, maintenance and overhead, and all of the work required to integrate with the Space Station. If there are cost overruns, SpaceX will cover the difference. (This concept may be foreign to some traditional government space contractors that seem to believe that cost overruns should be the responsibility of the taxpayer.)

The total company expenditures since being founded in 2002 through the 2010 fiscal year were less than $800 million, which includes all the development costs for the Falcon 1, Falcon 9 and Dragon. Included in this $800 million are the costs of building launch sites at Vandenberg, Cape Canaveral and Kwajalein, as well as the corporate manufacturing facility that can support up to 12 Falcon 9 and Dragon missions per year. This total also includes the cost of five flights of Falcon 1, two flights of Falcon 9, and one up and back flight of Dragon.

The Falcon 9 launch vehicle was developed from a blank sheet to first launch in four and half years for just over $300 million. The Falcon 9 is an EELV class vehicle that generates roughly one million pounds of thrust (four times the maximum thrust of a Boeing 747) and carries more payload to orbit than a Delta IV Medium.

The Dragon spacecraft was developed from a blank sheet to the first demonstration flight in just over four years for about $300 million. Last year, SpaceX became the first private company, in partnership with NASA, to successfully orbit and recover a spacecraft. The spacecraft and the Falcon 9 rocket that carried it were designed, manufactured and launched by American workers for an American company. The Falcon 9/Dragon system, with the addition of a launch escape system, seats and upgraded life support, can carry seven astronauts to orbit, more than double the capacity of the Russian Soyuz, but at less than a third of the price per seat.

SpaceX has been profitable every year since 2007, despite dramatic employee growth and major infrastructure and operations investments. We have over 40 flights on manifest representing over $3 billion in revenues.

These are the objective facts, confirmed by external auditors. Moreover, SpaceX intends to make far more dramatic reductions in price in the long term when full launch vehicle reusability is achieved. We will not be satisfied with our progress until we have achieved this long sought goal of the space industry.

For the first time in more than three decades, America last year began taking back international market-share in commercial satellite launch. This remarkable turn-around was sparked by a small investment NASA made in SpaceX in 2006 as part of the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. A unique public-private partnership, COTS has proven that under the right conditions, a properly incentivized contractor — even an all-American one — can develop extremely complex systems on rapid timelines and a fixed-price basis, significantly beating historical industry-standard costs.

China has the fastest growing economy in the world. But the American free enterprise system, which allows anyone with a better mouse-trap to compete, is what will ensure that the United States remains the world’s greatest superpower of innovation.


Robert Bigelow of Bigelow Aerospace to Be Keynote Speaker at NSS International Space Development Conference

Robert Bigelow, Founder and President of Bigelow Aerospace, will be the Honored Keynote Speaker at the 2011 International Space Development Conference (ISDC) Governors’ Dinner and Gala to be held in the Davidson Center at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama on May 20. Mr. Bigelow founded Bigelow Aerospace, which is noted for developing and launching the first inflatable space habitats. At the Gala, Mr. Bigelow will also receive the National Space Society’s Space Pioneer Award for Space Development for his efforts to advance the technology of space habitats and for the significance they may play in the development of space tourism, industry and exploration.

Bigelow Aerospace took over the Transhab space habitat development program after NASA scrapped it, and effectively reinvented it — developing and successfully launching its prototypes, Genesis I and II, in 2006 and 2007. Limitations on payload volume during launch are one of the major constraints of the NewSpace industry, and the Company’s inflatable concept solves that problem for most in-space habitat applications. The lower launch volume and mass per volume of the inflatables, combined with now imminent launch cost reductions, should soon allow delivery of paying passengers to safe and functional orbiting destinations, such as the Bigelow station planned for operation by 2015.

The intended expansion of the space station market to private and international customers by Bigelow Aerospace has already had a transformative effect on how the future of space development is likely to unfold. In addition, inflatable modules will also serve their originally-intended purpose, as crew habitats for human operations beyond Low Earth Orbit.

ISDC Conference Chairman and Vice President of HAL5 Bart Leahy said, “Mr. Bigelow’s selection as Keynote Speaker for the Gala ties in perfectly with this year’s ISDC theme, ‘From the Ground Up.’ Efficient, low-cost space habitation is crucial to almost all future human space travel and Bigelow Aerospace is currently the industry leader for that technology.”

Prior to founding Bigelow Aerospace, Robert T. Bigelow was well-known for being a general contractor and developer in the Southwestern U.S. and for owning the Best Suites of America hotel chain. He has made a significant personal investment in the founding and on-going funding of the Company and is dedicated to “revolutionizing space commerce via the development of affordable, reliable, and robust expandable space habitats.”

The International Space Development Conference is the annual conference of the National Space Society. ISDC 2011, hosted by the Huntsville, Alabama L5 Society (HAL5), will take place at the Von Braun Center in Huntsville, Alabama, May 18-23, 2011. HAL5, a local chapter of the National Space Society (NSS), has made significant contributions toward developing cheap access to space technology, space education, and public outreach since it was formed in 1983. NSS and HAL5 believe that by educating and working with the public, the government, and private industry, we can speed up the date when routine, safe, and affordable space travel is available to anyone who wants to go.

CCDev2 – SpaceX

Cady Coleman and Scott Kelley in the Dragon
Image Credit: SpaceX

This is the final entry concerning the second round of funding in the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program.

NASA awarded $75 million to spaceX to develop a revolutionary launch escape system that will enable the company’s Dragon spacecraft to carry astronauts.

“This award will accelerate our efforts to develop the next-generation rockets and spacecraft for human transportation,” said Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO and Chief Designer. “With NASA’s support, SpaceX will be ready to fly its first manned mission in 2014.”

Dragon is designed to carry seven astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) along with cargo. It will launch aboard a Falcon 9 rocket built by SpaceX. The cargo version of Dragon is expected to make a second trip into space in 2011.

SpaceX and NASA are negotiating whether this second flight will be allowed to approach the ISS, or a third flight will be required to prove the system.