Celebrating the Year at the National Space Society

The National Space Society wishes you and your loved ones a safe and happy holiday season.  As we look forward to another successful year, we reflect on the accomplishments made possible by your generous support.  With your continued support, we hope to make next year’s accomplishments even greater. Here are just a few highlights from 2011:

* Our advocacy for energy sustainability through space solar power that included sending an NSS delegation to a major Chinese energy conference and holding a successful press conference on the release of the ground-breaking first international assessment of space solar power.

* Coordination with NSS chapters worldwide in conjunction with a new membership drive, the Campaign for the Future.

* Outreach to the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) and holding our Board meeting at their annual conference in Boulder, Colorado.

* Bringing over 180 foreign and US students to ISDC 2011 as part of the NASA/NSS Space Settlement Design Contest and providing a $5,000 scholarship to the international winning team from the Bruce M. Clark, Jr. memorial award fund.

* Completion of a major revamping of a new NSS Roadmap to Space Settlement, to be published in 2012.

* Publication of the first papers in the new peer-reviewed NSS Space Settlement Journal.

* New initiatives to advance the mission of the NSS, including the Call to Action for American Leadership in Civil Space developed by the NSS Policy Committee.

* A grassroots visit to Congress, where, as the leader of the Space Exploration Alliance’s Legislative Blitz, the NSS promoted the commercial space sector, the commitment for next generation vehicle development that will enable exploration beyond Low Earth Orbit, and for a sustained commitment to space exploration, development, and settlement.

* The wonderful experiences we all had last May at the 2011 International Space Development Conference held in Huntsville, Alabama and our hope to see you all at the ISDC in Washington, DC in May 2012.

* The expansion of our social media outreach and upgrades to our website.  Be sure to visit NSS on Twitter, Facebook, Second Life, and at www.nss.org.

We are proud to share these highlights from 2011.  Thank you for standing by NSS and believing in our mission.  On behalf of the volunteers and staff at the National Space Society, have a wonderful holiday season and a happy New Year.

National Space Society Announces the 2012 Legislative Blitz

From Sunday, February 26 through Tuesday, February 28, 2012, the National Space Society and the Space Exploration Alliance will be holding the annual grassroots visit to Congress, known as the “Legislative Blitz.”

With unprecedented budgetary pressures facing the legislative and executive branches of government, the debate continues about the future direction and funding of our nation’s space programs. More than ever before, it is absolutely critical that the voices of the space advocacy community be heard in this debate.

Come join space advocates from around the country to let Congress know that there is strong constituent support for an ambitious and sustainable path forward. 

Please REGISTER HERE for the Legislative Blitz. For more information, please contact Rick Zucker at Rick.Zucker@nss.org or 508-651-9936.

Every February, as the U.S. Congress begins its deliberations on the federal budget, NSS members visit Representatives and Senators in their offices in Washington, DC, in support of the Society’s most important space-related agenda items for the year. This event, held over a three-day period, typically involves meetings with over one hundred congressional offices. This activity is open to all NSS members — no experience necessary, and, the more the better! — and allows members of Congress to hear directly from their constituents about the importance of expanding civilization into space. 

Moon Mines: Visionary or Senseless?

Editorial by Al Globus, December 2011

Do lunar mines make sense? The answer depends on what you want to do in space. If what you want is something close to what we have now: a booming commercial communication satellite business and government programs for science and exploration, then no. Lunar mines built entirely with tax dollars are expensive and unnecessary. On the other hand, if you see further than a few years ahead, if you see civilization, humanity, and Life itself expanding into space, if you see large scale industrialization, commercialization and settlement of space, then lunar mines are of enormous importance. The interesting thing is, the second vision will probably cost the taxpayer a lot less and deliver much greater value to the people of Earth.

First, let us consider what lunar mines can supply a growing civilization in space:

1) Shielding mass. Our atmosphere protects us from the intense radiation in space. For those who seek to spend long periods in space, particularly beyond Earth’s protective magnetic field, radiation shielding is a must. To mimic the atmosphere, roughly 10 tons/square-meter is necessary. The Moon is ideally situated to supply these bulk materials.

2) Rocket propellant. Today’s rockets are propelled by chemical reactions. The highest performance propellant is hydrogen and oxygen, which combine to produce water and the energy and thrust necessary to travel in space. Most of the weight, roughly 90%, of this propellant is oxygen. The Moon has very large quantities of oxygen tied up in surface materials.

3) Water. A great deal of money is spent today bringing water to the International Space Station (ISS). The same oxygen that supplies most of the mass for rocket propellant can be used to make water. There are also large quantities of water in the craters at the lunar poles where the Sun never shines.

4) Metals. Lunar materials returned by the Apollo astronauts contain large quantities of titanium, aluminum, iron and other metals. These metals can supply materials for large space structures, including habitats.

5) Silicon. Silicon and metals from the Moon could be used to build the space segment of Space Solar Power (SSP) systems. These satellites would gather energy in space and transmit it wirelessly to the ground. If successfully developed, SSP could supply massive quantities of clean energy to Earth for literally billions of years. A recent paper published in the NSS Space Settlement Journal [A Contemporary Analysis of the O’Neill – Glaser Model for Space-based Solar Power and Habitat Construction. Peter A. Curreri and Michael K. Detweiler. December 2011.] suggests that using lunar materials for the SSP satellites requires more up-front capital than ground launch but begins generating profits much sooner.

6) He-3. Over billions of years the solar wind has implanted He-3, an isotope that is particularly well suited to fusion power, into lunar surface materials. This could be mined, brought to Earth, and used in future fusion power plants.

Thus, a vigorous lunar mining system could be part of a system to deliver energy to Earth, build large structures in space, and even provide radiation protection, water and oxygen to those who want to spend significant time in orbit. Developing lunar mines will be an enormous effort and would cost huge amounts of taxpayer money if it were done the same way Apollo, the Space Shuttle, and the ISS were developed. Fortunately, there is another way.

In the 1960s the U.S. government provided modest subsidies to start up the communication satellite business. Today, communication satellites are a $250 billion/year global business producing yearly tax revenue far greater than the subsidies.

The U.S. government is currently providing subsidies to help develop private, commercial launch vehicles. The cargo versions are almost complete. Two launchers, one of which has flown, were developed at a small fraction of the usual cost for government launcher programs. The human launch versions are being developed by the commercial crew program, which was budgeted for $6 billion and scheduled to develop two or three vehicles that could deliver astronauts to the ISS by 2015. [The budget for the first year was cut from $850 million to $406 million. This is expected to delay the first flight by a year or two.] By contrast, the all-government Space Launch System (SLS) is not scheduled to fly astronauts until 2021 and is estimated cost $40 billion to develop. Although the SLS is much larger, variants of the commercial vehicles may approach or even exceed SLS performance sooner and at much less cost. [The first SLS version is expected to place up to 70 tons into Low Earth Orbit (LEO); a later version may lift up to 130 tons. The Falcon Heavy, due to launch in late 2012, is expected to place up to 50 tons in LEO. SpaceX has also proposed a larger version of the Falcon that could lift 150 tons to LEO; it is projected to take five years to develop at a total cost of $2.5 billion.]

Thus, the evidence suggests that reorienting our space program to support commercialization and industrialization of space, as opposed to 100% government missions, may produce far greater results at much less cost. Lunar mining could be a major component of such space industrialization. There is already at least one commercial company that intends to mine the Moon. Perhaps we should support it.

Lockheed Martin Reusable Booster System

Lockheed Reusable Booster System
Lockheed Martin Reusable Booster System

Lockheed Martin has been selected by the U.S. Air Force for a contract award to support the Reusable Booster System (RBS) Flight and Ground Experiments program. The value of the first task order is $2 million, with a contract ordering value of up to $250 million over the five-year indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract period. The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center are developing the RBS as the next generation launch vehicle that will significantly improve the affordability, operability, and responsiveness of future spacelift capabilities over current expendable launchers.

Initial RBS Flight and Ground Experiments task orders will provide for an RBS flight demonstration vehicle called RBS Pathfinder scheduled to launch in 2015. The RBS Pathfinder is an innovative reusable, winged, rocket-powered flight test vehicle that will demonstrate the Reusable Booster Systems’ “rocketback” maneuver capabilities and validate the system requirements that will drive refinements in the design of the operational RBS.

For the RBS Pathfinder program, Lockheed Martin has also entered into an agreement with the New Mexico Spaceport Authority to conduct flight test operations from Spaceport America, the nation’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport, located in southern New Mexico.

The vehicle would be launched vertically and landed horizontally. Further details, such as booster lift capability, are unavailable.

NSS Space Settlement Journal

The NSS Space Settlement Journal has commenced publication this month, beginning with two new papers:

A Contemporary Analysis of the O’Neill – Glaser Model for Space-based Solar Power and Habitat Construction by Peter A. Curreri, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, and Michael K. Detweiler, Amadeus Consulting

Abstract: Solar Power Satellites, SPS, is a technology that promises unlimited energy free from chemical pollution and green house gas emissions. First expounded by Peter Glaser in 1969, the economic viability was in doubt primarily due to Earth launch costs. Concurrently Gerard O’Neill demonstrated that using 1970’s technologies, SPS could be economically viable if space based materials and labor were utilized, but only after large investments in in-space infrastructure. More recently the O’Neill – Glaser model was reevaluated finding that optimization of space worker habitat size results in substantially improved economics. This paper compares the optimized O’Neill – Glaser economic model with that of Earth launched SPS for the classical electrical power scenario and for the more ambitious scenario to arrest global climate change. The conclusion is that for the energy levels necessary to mitigate global increases in CO2, Earth launched SPS are not economically viable (even with more advanced technologies and more optimistic decreases in launch costs), however with this increase in energy demand the space derived SPS become even more economically compelling and in addition enhance human survival probabilities by enabling a substantial human population to live in space.

The Space Grid: Sun-synchronous orbiting SBSP Satellites with Equatorial orbiting Reflector Satellites for Earth and Space Energy by Royce Jones

Abstract: The development of an economically viable space-based solar power (SBSP) system is critical to the Earth’s future and for future space development. PowerSat technology is also critical to supporting sustainable private and government space ventures, including space lift, space exploration and space infrastructure development. Such a system would greatly expand the need for space lift capability from small reusable launch vehicles for SBSP satellite maintenance to large expendable launch vehicles for deploying GW class SBSP satellites into orbit. The technology needed for SBSP is also needed for in-space solar electric transportation systems needed for space colonization as the technology is the same. The hope has been that gradual improvement in photovoltaic or other technologies such as thermal systems would solve the mass to orbit problem for SBSP systems. However, this in itself does not appear sufficient to make SBSP economically viable. This paper presents a new architectural option for SBSP using a Sun -synchronous orbit (SS-O), wireless power transmission (WPT) and a space power relay (SPR). This new concept is called The Space Grid. The Space Grid relies on the use of two separate satellite constellations. The power satellite (PowerSat) constellation is placed in SS-O dusk to dawn orbit at 800km and has access to constant sunlight and is used to produce the power. The Equatorial reflector satellite (ReflectorSat) constellation is in a 4,000km equatorial orbit and is used to distribute the power to the rectenna on the Earth’s surface. The power is produced by the PowerSats in SS-O and beamed to the ReflectorSats in equatorial orbit and then bounced to the rectenna on the ground. This combination allows for the production and distribution of power to the Earth’s surface without the problems normally associated with non-Geostationary (GEO) PowerSat concepts and without having to place the PowerSats in GEO. The Space Grid reduces the mass of a PowerSat transmitter by approximately 67% by moving it closer then past GEO concepts and allows for higher power levels and therefore much smaller (60%) and less costly rectenna on the ground and reduces the minimum size from 5GW to only 2GW allowing quicker deployment of space energy to solve the Earth’s energy problems. WPT transmission could be microwave or laser but for this paper microwave will be used for easier comparison with past concepts.

The NSS Space Settlement Journal is an online, high-quality, peer-reviewed journal. NASA Liaison for the Journal is Simon “Pete” Worden, NASA Ames Research Center. Editors of the Journal are:

Al Globus, San Jose State University, Editor in Chief
Fred Becker, National Space Society
Anita Gale, International Space Settlement Design Competition
Peter Garretson, National Space Society
Mark Hopkins, National Space Society
John Lewis, University of Arizona
Scott Pace, George Washington University
Joseph Palaia, 4Frontiers Corporation

See Call for Papers if you are interested in contributing to the Journal.

NSS Hails Stratolaunch Initiative – A Pioneering Investment in Space

The National Space Society (NSS) hails the announcement of Stratolaunch Systems, a Paul G. Allen Project, as a pioneering investment in space transportation. The company has been formed to build a mobile air-launch-to-orbit system that will include three primary components:

• A carrier aircraft, developed by Scaled Composites, the aircraft manufacturer and assembler founded by Burt Rutan. It will be the largest aircraft ever flown.
• A multi-stage booster, manufactured by Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies;
• A state-of-the-art mating and integration system allowing the carrier aircraft to safely carry a booster weighing up to 490,000 pounds. It will be built by Dynetics, a leader in the field of aerospace engineering.

“The Stratolaunch Initiative is another bold step towards the key goal of reducing the cost of space travel” said Gary Barnhard, Executive Director of the National Space Society. “By providing a less costly, more flexible, and timely launch capability than existing ground-based systems, the Stratolaunch team intends to achieve routine airport-like space transportation services to orbital destinations. NSS wishes clear skies ahead for their efforts,” he concluded.

With an envisioned payload capability of 13,500 pounds cargo and/or crewed spacecraft delivered to Low Earth Orbit, a fully reusable first stage air-launch carrier, and the potential for evolution to a winged returnable second stage, the initiative holds great promise. More background information on the Stratolaunch concept can be found in their presskit.

In their announcement yesterday, Stratolaunch said, “… space has long been on Allen’s mind. In the close of his memoir, Idea Man, published earlier this year, he hinted at his plans, writing that he was ‘considering a new initiative with that magical contraption I never wearied of sketching as a boy: the rocket ship.” NSS thanks Paul for endeavoring to bring his boyhood dreams into reality in this historic way.

Since 1974, NSS has been working to bring forward the day when humans will be living and working in thriving communities beyond the Earth, and the vast resources of space are brought to bear for the dramatic betterment of humanity. Commercial space initiatives are bringing that day ever closer.

Stratolaunch Systems: New Space Launch System Announced by Paul Allen

SEATTLE, WA, Dec 13, 2011 – Entrepreneur and philanthropist Paul G. Allen announced today that he and aerospace pioneer Burt Rutan have reunited to develop the next generation of space travel. Allen and Rutan, whose SpaceShipOne was the first privately-funded, manned rocket ship to fly beyond earth’s atmosphere, are developing a revolutionary approach to space transportation: an air-launch system to provide orbital access to space with greater safety, cost-effectiveness and flexibility.

The space flight revolution Allen and Rutan pioneered in 2004 with SpaceShipOne now enters a new era. Only months after the last shuttle flight closed an important chapter in spaceflight, Allen is stepping in with an ambitious effort to continue America’s drive for space.

“I have long dreamed about taking the next big step in private space flight after the success of SpaceShipOne – to offer a flexible, orbital space delivery system,” Allen said. “We are at the dawn of radical change in the space launch industry. Stratolaunch Systems is pioneering an innovative solution that will revolutionize space travel.”

Allen’s new company, Stratolaunch Systems, will build a mobile launch system with three primary components:

  • A carrier aircraft, developed by Scaled Composites, the aircraft manufacturer and assembler founded by Rutan. It will be the largest aircraft ever flown.
  • A multi-stage booster, manufactured by Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies;
  • A state-of-the-art mating and integration system allowing the carrier aircraft to safely carry a booster weighing up to 490,000 pounds. It will be built by Dynetics, a leader in the field of aerospace engineering.

Stratolaunch Systems will bring airport-like operations to the launch of commercial and government payloads and, eventually, human missions. Plans call for a first flight within five years. The air-launch-to-orbit system will mean lower costs, greater safety, and more flexibility and responsiveness than is possible today with ground-based systems. Stratolaunch’s quick turnaround between launches will enable new orbital missions as well as break the logjam of missions queued up for launch facilities and a chance at space. Rutan, who has joined Stratolaunch Systems as a board member, said he was thrilled to be back working with Allen. “Paul and I pioneered private space travel with SpaceShipOne, which led to Virgin Galactic’s commercial suborbital SpaceShipTwo Program. Now, we will have the opportunity to extend that capability to orbit and beyond. Paul has proven himself a visionary with the will, commitment and courage to continue pushing the boundaries of space technology. We are well aware of the challenges ahead, but we have put together an incredible research team that will draw inspiration from Paul’s vision.”

To lead the Stratolaunch Systems team, Allen picked a veteran NASA official with years of experience in engineering, management and human spaceflight. Stratolaunch Systems CEO and President Gary Wentz, a former chief engineer at NASA, said the system’s design will revolutionize space travel.

Former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin, also a Stratolaunch board member, joined Allen and Rutan at a press conference in Seattle to announce the project. “We believe this technology has the potential to someday make spaceflight routine by removing many of the constraints associated with ground launched rockets,” Griffin said. “Our system will also provide the flexibility to launch from a large variety of locations.”

The Stratolaunch system will eventually have the capability of launching people into low earth orbit. But the company is taking a building block approach in development of the launch aircraft and booster, with initial efforts focused on unmanned payloads. Human flights will follow, after safety, reliability and operability are demonstrated.

The carrier aircraft will operate from a large airport/spaceport, such as Kennedy Space Center, and will be able to fly up to 1,300 nautical miles to the payload’s launch point.

It will use six 747 engines, have a gross weight of more than 1.2 million pounds and a wingspan of more than 380 feet. For takeoff and landing, it will require a runway 12,000 feet long. Systems onboard the launch aircraft will conduct the countdown and firing of the booster and will monitor the health of the orbital payload.

The plane will be built in a Stratolaunch hangar which will soon be under construction at the Mojave Air and Space Port. It will be near where Scaled Composites built SpaceShipOne which won Allen and Scaled Composites the $10-million Ansari X Prize in 2004 after three successful sub-orbital flights. Scaled Composites is a wholly owned subsidiary of Northrop Grumman.

“Scaled is all about achieving milestones and pursuing breakthroughs, and this project offers both – building the largest airplane in the world, and achieving the manufacturing breakthroughs that will enable Scaled to accomplish it. We are thrilled to be a part of this development program,” said Scaled Composites President Doug Shane. “We anticipate significant hiring of engineering, manufacturing, and support staff in the near and medium term.”

The multi-stage booster will be manufactured by California-based Space Exploration Technologies, one of the world’s pre-eminent space transportation companies. “Paul Allen and Burt Rutan helped generate enormous interest in space with White Knight and SpaceShipOne,” said SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell. “There was no way we weren’t going to be involved in their next great endeavor. We are very excited.”

Dynetics will provide the mating and integration system and the systems engineering, integration, test and operations support for the entire air-launch system. The mating and integration system will be manufactured in Huntsville, Alabama in Dynetics’ new 226,500 square foot prototyping facility. Dynetics has been a leader in aerospace engineering since 1974. “We are excited to play such a major role on this system. This is an ambitious project unlike any that has been undertaken and I am confident the Stratolaunch team has the experience and capabilities to accomplish the mission,” said Dynetics Executive Vice President and Stratolaunch Board Member David King.

Stratolaunch Systems’ corporate headquarters is located in Huntsville, Alabama. Today’s announcement was the first public word that Allen and Rutan were back in the space business. But space has long been on Allen’s mind. In the close of his memoir, Idea Man, published earlier this year, he hinted at his plans, writing that he was “considering a new initiative with that magical contraption I never wearied of sketching as a boy: the rocket ship.”