National Space Society Hails Two June Milestones in Space Development

The National Space Society (NSS) congratulates SpaceX on the successful June 3 launch of a re-used Dragon capsule from historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center as part of the Commercial Resupply Services 11 (CRS-11) mission to resupply the International Space Station (ISS). This was the 100th launch from LC 39A. The SpaceX Falcon 9 made history on June 3, 2017 at 5:07 p.m. EDT by lofting a “flight proven” Dragon capsule toward the ISS. SpaceX successfully returned the Falcon 9 first stage to the launch site for later re-use.

This was the first time a private company has flown a re-used orbital craft. The most significant re-used orbital spacecraft prior to the Dragon were the now retired Space Shuttle and the currently operating Air Force/Boeing X-37B space plane, but both were government owned. The Dragon capsule that rocketed through the Florida skies today previously flew as part of the CRS-4 mission in September 2014.

NSS also congratulates ViaSat on another milestone, which occurred on June 1: the successful Ariane 5 launch of communication satellite ViaSat-2 (manufactured by Boeing), launched with Eutelsat 172B from Kourou spaceport in French Guiana. “ViaSat-2 is going to be the highest-capacity satellite ever launched, with about 300 gigabits (per second) of total capacity, which is more than double what we had on ViaSat-1, which was launched less than six years ago, and more than 40 times the capacity of WildBlue 1, which was launched by Arianespace about 10 years ago,” said David Abrahamian, director of space systems at ViaSat. “So that shows you just how fast the technology is moving.”

“Both SpaceX and ViaSat are taking significant steps forward in the developing space economy,” said Dale Skran, NSS Executive Vice President. “SpaceX has previously demonstrated re-use of a flight proven first stage and attempted to recover fairings. NSS thanks NASA for its on-going support of SpaceX’s technology development program with Space Act Agreements and service contracts.”

The re-use of the Falcon 9 first stage and the Dragon capsule supports Milestone 2: Higher Commercial Launch Rates and Lower Cost to Orbit of the NSS Roadmap to Space Settlement which can be found at: http://www.nss.org/settlement/roadmap/RoadmapPart2.html. The launch of ViaSat 2 supports Milestone 7: Applications of Space Technology on and for Earth.

The Dragon capsule carried over 2,708 kgs (5,970 lbs) of cargo to the ISS. Included in the cargo manifest is the Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) that will study the physics of neutron stars. NICER will also demonstrate the use of pulsars as natural beacons to enable spacecraft navigation into deep space. Upon completion of its mission the Dragon will return to Earth loaded with the results of scientific experiments done on the ISS.

“The re-use of a Dragon capsule is yet another example of how SpaceX uses cargo flights to prove out new technologies that can be later used on crewed flights, and is a key step toward a commercial return to the Moon,” said NSS Senior Vice President Bruce Pittman.

National Space Society Hails a New Age of Reusable Rockets

The National Space Society (NSS) declares that in consideration of the achievements by SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Boeing over the past few years, it is now obvious that a revolution in spacecraft technology, operations, and economics is occurring. There is every prospect that privately owned re-usable spacecraft operating under service contracts will greatly lower the cost of reaching space.

NSS calls on Congress, the Administration, and NASA to immediately begin a review of all current NASA and other spaceflight related programs to consider how the usage of commercially available launch vehicles and spacecraft that are largely reusable can lower costs and/or increase operational capability. Suggestions to guide this review can be found in the NSS position paper “Now is the Time: A Paradigm Shift in Access to Space” (also available via: tinyurl.com/AccessToSpace).

Falcon-SES launchThe SpaceX Falcon 9 made history on March 30, 2017, at 6:27 EST by lofting the SES 10 communications satellite to geosynchronous transfer orbit using a “flight-proven” first stage. The first stage flown was initially used to launch a Dragon capsule to the International Space Station on April 8, 2016, as part of the Commercial Resupply Services program. After returning safely from space and landing on the drone ship Of Course I Still Love You (OCISLY), the flight proven first stage was returned to dry land, refurbished, tested, and sent back to Florida to support the re-launch on March 30th, after which it again landed successfully on OCISLY. In another historic first SpaceX attempted F9 fairing recovery using parachutes. The fairing is the enclosure for the rocket’s payload.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said, “This is ultimately going to be a huge revolution in spaceflight. It’s sort of the difference between (throwing away airplanes) after every flight vs. where you could reuse them multiple times. It’s been 15 years. It’s a long time…a lot of difficult steps along the way…incredibly proud of the SpaceX team for being able to achieve this incredible milestone in the history of space. (It’s) a great day not just for SpaceX but the space industry as a whole and proving that something can be done that many people said was impossible.”

“It is difficult to overstate the importance of SpaceX’s achievement,” said Dale Skran, NSS Executive Vice President. “SpaceX today, for the first time, demonstrated the successful re-use of an orbital first stage. Companies can only take risks on new technology with the support of customers like SES that have the courage to do new things in space. NSS congratulates SpaceX and SES on a resounding success that heralds the dawn of a new age in space, and thanks NASA for its on-going support of SpaceX’s technology development program with Space Act Agreements and service contracts.”

“Once first stage re-use is firmly established,” added Chair of the NSS Executive Committee, Mark Hopkins, “the economics of access to space will enter a new era. The re-use of first stages is a step towards Milestone 2 of the NSS Roadmap to Space Settlement which is Higher Commercial Launch Rates and Lower Cost to Orbit.”

The roadmap can be found at: www.nss.org/settlement/roadmap/RoadmapPart2.html. A great way to learn more about the connection between launch technology and the NSS Space Settlement Roadmap is to attend the NSS International Space Development Conference® (ISDC®) (isdc2017.nss.org) in St. Louis, Missouri, May 25-29, 2017.

ISDC

The ISDC’s Space Transportation track will examine all facets of space transportation from the new generation of commercial launch vehicles that through technical innovation and reusability are lowering the cost of space access to in-space transfer vehicles and deep space interplanetary propulsion systems. Many examples of reusable first stages (flyback and vertical descent boosters), reusable capsules, air launch systems, laser launch, suborbital tourism vehicles, and heavy lift boosters will be included in this track as will cis-lunar transportation elements necessary to enable cis-lunar operations and lunar exploration, and architectures that enable Mars exploration.

“The re-use of a Falcon 9 first stage paves the way for the initial flight of the Falcon Heavy later this year, and is a key step toward a commercial return to the Moon,” said NSS Senior Vice President Bruce Pittman.

SpaceX to Send Privately Crewed Dragon Spacecraft Around the Moon Next Year

SpaceX released the following statement February 27:

We are excited to announce that SpaceX has been approached to fly two private citizens on a trip around the Moon late next year. They have already paid a significant deposit to do a Moon mission. Like the Apollo astronauts before them, these individuals will travel into space carrying the hopes and dreams of all humankind, driven by the universal human spirit of exploration. We expect to conduct health and fitness tests, as well as begin initial training later this year. Other flight teams have also expressed strong interest and we expect more to follow. Additional information will be released about the flight teams, contingent upon their approval and confirmation of the health and fitness test results.

Most importantly, we would like to thank NASA, without whom this would not be possible. NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which provided most of the funding for Dragon 2 development, is a key enabler for this mission. In addition, this will make use of the Falcon Heavy rocket, which was developed with internal SpaceX funding. Falcon Heavy is due to launch its first test flight this summer and, once successful, will be the most powerful vehicle to reach orbit after the Saturn V Moon rocket. At 5 million pounds of liftoff thrust, Falcon Heavy is two-thirds the thrust of Saturn V and more than double the thrust of the next largest launch vehicle currently flying.

Later this year, as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, we will launch our Crew Dragon (Dragon Version 2) spacecraft to the International Space Station. This first demonstration mission will be in automatic mode, without people on board. A subsequent mission with crew is expected to fly in the second quarter of 2018. SpaceX is currently contracted to perform an average of four Dragon 2 missions to the ISS per year, three carrying cargo and one carrying crew. By also flying privately crewed missions, which NASA has encouraged, long-term costs to the government decline and more flight reliability history is gained, benefiting both government and private missions.

Once operational Crew Dragon missions are underway for NASA, SpaceX will launch the private mission on a journey to circumnavigate the Moon and return to Earth. Lift-off will be from Kennedy Space Center’s historic Pad 39A near Cape Canaveral – the same launch pad used by the Apollo program for its lunar missions. This presents an opportunity for humans to return to deep space for the first time in 45 years and they will travel faster and further into the Solar System than any before them.

Designed from the beginning to carry humans, the Dragon spacecraft already has a long flight heritage. These missions will build upon that heritage, extending it to deep space mission operations, an important milestone as we work towards our ultimate goal of transporting humans to Mars.

National Space Society Congratulates SpaceX on the Falcon 9’s Return to Flight

The National Space Society congratulates SpaceX on the return to flight of the Falcon 9 on January 14, 2017, at 12:54 pm EST, successfully lofting ten Iridium NEXT communications satellites manufactured by Thales Alenia into polar orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

Falcon 9 Iridium liftoff“NSS members are excited to see the F9 return to flight,” said Dale Skran, NSS Executive Vice President. “SpaceX has been pushing the envelope to perfect the use of technologies like sub-cooled rocket fuel and first stage recovery. Companies can only take risks on new technology with the support of customers like Iridium that have the courage to do new things in space. NSS congratulates SpaceX, Iridium, and Thales Alenia Space on a job well done.”

“The use of sub-cooled rocket fuel enables more fuel to fit into the rocket, providing extra thrust to allow for re-use of first stages which should result in lower costs to reach space,” added NSS Chair of the Executive Committee, Mark Hopkins. The re-use of first stages supports Milestone 2: Higher Commercial Launch Rates and Lower Cost to Orbit of the NSS Roadmap to Space Settlement which can be found at: www.nss.org/settlement/roadmap/RoadmapPart2.html. A great way to learn more about the NSS Space Settlement Roadmap is to attend the NSS International Space Development Conference (isdc2017.nss.org) in St. Louis, Missouri, May 25-29, 2017.

“NSS strongly supports the usage of space to provide benefits to people living on the Earth. The Iridium satellites enable first responders to communicate rapidly during an emergency anywhere in the world,” said NSS Senior Vice President Bruce Pittman. The launch of the Iridium NEXT satellites support Milestone 7: Applications of Space Technology on and for Earth of the NSS Roadmap which can be found at:  www.nss.org/settlement/roadmap/RoadmapPart3.html .

This was the first flight for SpaceX since a Falcon 9 exploded on the pad at Cape Canaveral, Florida, on September 1, 2016, destroying an Amos-6 communications satellite. For the first time, SpaceX successfully landed a first stage on the drone ship “Just Read The Instructions” in the Pacific Ocean. This is the 7th time SpaceX has landed a first stage safely after a launch, and the third time SpaceX has launched from Vandenberg.

Falcon 9 Iridium landing

Iridium has a contract with SpaceX for seven Falcon 9 flights to launch a total of 70 Iridium NEXT satellites, including the 10 launched January 14th. When signed in 2010, the SpaceX/Iridium deal was the largest commercial launch contract in history. Since then, this record has been exceeded by a 21-launch order with Arianespace from OneWeb in 2015. The next launch by SpaceX for Iridium is expected in April 2017.

John Glenn and the New Glenn Rocket

Shortly before his death, John Glenn wrote the following letter to Jeff Bezos:

****************

UNITED STATES SENATOR (Ret.)
JOHN GLENN
OHIO
November 28, 2016

Mr. Jeff Bezos
Founder and Manufacturer
Blue Origin

Dear Jeff,

I’m really thrilled to congratulate you on winning the Smithsonian American Ingenuity Award for your historic achievement in rocketry with Blue Origin.

When I first orbited the Earth, in 1962, you were still two years from being born. And when I returned to space, in 1998, Blue Origin was still two years in the future. But you were already driven by a vision of space travel accessible not only to highly trained pilots and engineers and scientists, but to all of us. And you understood that to realize that vision, we would have to be able to get to space more often and more inexpensively. So you and your Blue Origin team began designing rockets that can be reused over and over again.

I’m deeply touched that you’ve named the second generation of those rockets—the first reusable rocket to orbit the Earth—the New Glenn. As the original Glenn, I can tell you I see the day coming when people will board spacecraft the same way millions of us now board jetliners. When that happens, it will be largely because of your epic achievements this year.

Again, my congratulations and best regards.

Sincerely,
John Glenn

****************

Here is a current photo of the 750,000 square-foot New Glenn rocket factory under construction in Florida:

New Glenn factory construction

Here is a rendition of what it will look like by the end of 2017:

New Glenn factory rendition

Here is a comparison of the size of the New Glenn compared to other large rockets:

New Glenn comparison

NSS working to influence the next Administration

On Saturday October 8th, 2016, NSS organized a workshop directed at recommending a space policy to the new Administration. Steve Jurvetson, a partner at the well-known Sand Hill Road venture capital firm DFJ hosted the meeting at the DFJ offices. Eleven thought leaders from government, industry, and academia gathered in a fruitful collaboration to produce a set of five recommendations. NSS Senior VP Bruce Pittman organized the meeting, which included a tour of Steve Jurvetson’s private museum of space artifacts.

The resulting paper, which has been submitted to the Transition Team, is reproduced below (also available is a PDF version).

RECOMMENDATIONS TO THE NEXT ADMINISTRATION REGARDING COMMERCIAL SPACE

Tremendous progress has been made in the commercial space arena since the last presidential transition in 2008. To ensure that the impact of these changes is adequately reflected in U.S. space policy the National Space Society (NSS) assembled a hand-picked group of experts to prepare recommendations for the incoming administration. This group met at the venture capital firm DFJ in Menlo Park California on Saturday Oct. 8th 2016.  After a full day of discussion and deliberation, five major recommendations – focused on commercial space – were agreed upon.

Recommendation #1 – Reestablish the National Space Council

In 2008 the Obama campaign stated “There is currently no organization in the Federal government with a sufficiently broad mandate to oversee a comprehensive and integrated strategy and policy dealing with all aspects of the government’s space-related programs, including those being managed by NASA, the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, the National Reconnaissance Office, the Commerce Department, the Transportation Department and the other federal agencies.” We recommend that the U.S. Government re-establish a National Space Council (NSC). The chair of the National Space Council should be appointed by and report to the President, and advise the President on space policy topics including NASA Administrator candidates.

There are a number of space related challenges that the next Administration will have to address, including orbital debris, the militarization of space, space situational awareness and traffic management, international cooperation, and competition to name just a few.  The goal of the re-established National Space Council will be to oversee and coordinate civilian, military, commercial, and national security space activities. The NSC should solicit public participation, work with commercial entities, engage the international community, and develop a 21st century vision of space that will continuously push the envelope on new technologies and new applications, as well as promote American space leadership and security.

Recommendation #2 – Enable and Support a Thriving Space Economy

For the exploration, development and eventual settlement of space to be truly sustainable, there must be a viable space economy to support it. We recommend that the U.S. Government establish that one of NASA’s goals should be to facilitate and promote a thriving space economy. A recent (9/15) report by the Tauri Group for the Satellite Industries Association showed the worldwide market for all satellite services in 2014 to be $203 billion, of which the U.S. portion was 43% ($87.2 billion); however, the U.S. growth rate (2%) was significantly below the international growth rate (6%).[i]  There are a number of other emerging space markets in Earth observation, low Earth orbit (LEO) communications, and microgravity processing that have the potential to grow to be as large if not larger than the geostationary Earth orbit (GEO) communication satellite economy, with proper support from the federal government.

In 2015 United Launch Alliance (ULA) presented their “Cis-Lunar 1000” view of the potential for space development growth over the next 30 years. Their estimate was that the space economy could expand from its current $330 billion to $2.7 trillion by 2045.[ii] To make this projection a reality, the U.S. Government will need to play a vital but different role than it has traditionally fulfilled. The use of public/private partnerships as exemplified by the NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program and its use of funded Space Act Agreements (SAA) must become the norm instead of the exception. By aligning public and private strategic goals, dramatic financial leverage can be developed. A 2011 analysis of the development cost of the Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) Falcon 9 launch vehicle that was developed for the NASA COTS program was conducted by the office of the NASA Deputy Associate Administrator for Policy using the NASA/Air Force Costing Methodology (NAFCOM) computer modeling tool. This analysis showed an almost 10X cost reduction using the funded SAAs that were utilized by COTS as compared to the normal NASA cost plus contracts that are typically signed ($400 million for actual SpaceX Falcon 9 development vs $3.977 billion cost predicted by NAFCOM under a cost plus contract scenario).[iii]

Another key government initiative supporting commercialization of space was the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) program. While COTS and the SAAs were utilized to demonstrate the capability to delivery cargo to the ISS, the CRS was a fixed price procurement contract for the actual delivery of payloads to the ISS over multiple years. The CRS contracts that were awarded to both COTS winners in an open competition allowed the two companies (SpaceX and Orbital/ATK) to raise the money required to pay for their significant share of the COTS development costs. This example of NASA acting as an anchor customer to help establish new commercial capabilities and new markets demonstrates the key role that the government can and must play to ensure U.S. space leadership.

There are three ways that SAAs and public-private partnerships can be used to advance the commercialization of space:

  • NASA should produce a plan to transition the ISS National Laboratory from the ISS to leased space in commercial LEO stations, and to assist new space businesses that use the ISS in a similar transition. As part of this transition plan, a goal should be to increase the quality, quantity, and variability of gravity levels available in which to conduct research and manufacturing activities. This policy will support the emerging LEO commercial sector.
  • NASA should purchase rocket fuel and oxygen/water to use at any location in space (LEO, GEO, BEO) from commercial entities if such commodities are commercially available. This policy will encourage the nascent asteroid and lunar mining industries, as well as lower the cost of an eventual journey to Mars.
  • NASA bases/gateways/stations in any location in space, including the lunar surface, lunar orbit, and others, should contract with commercial services to provide cargo and crew to such stations. This policy will enable the development of economic and reusable cislunar transportation, and will support goals such as #3 below and an ultimate journey to Mars.

Recommendation #3 – Establish a Public/Private Lunar Base

There are a number of scientific and commercial reasons for returning to the Moon. Scientifically the Moon offers a treasure trove of information about the early formation of the solar system and its evolution. We now know that there are huge quantities of water ice in the permanently shadowed craters at the lunar poles, and this water has great interest not only to the scientific community who want to understand how it got there, but also to the space resources companies who want to explore the feasibility of harvesting water as a resource and offering it for sale to help facilitate the exploration, development and eventual settlement of the solar system. This water can be used for growing crops as well as drinking and for a number of industrial purposes. The water can also be separated into hydrogen and oxygen for use as rocket propellant and the oxygen can be used for life support.

The International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISECG) is a collaboration of 14 space agencies working cooperatively to coordinate the activities of the member countries to facilitate the exploration of the solar system. Almost all of the members of the ISECG except for the U.S. have set their sights on human and robotic exploration of the Moon first and then expanding outwards to Mars. Earlier this year ESA Director General Johann-Dietrich proposed that the world should collaborate to create a permanent lunar base that he is calling the “Moon Village” which could support science, business, tourism and even mining.[iv]

We recommend that the U.S. Government take a leadership role in establishing a lunar base focused on the extraction of lunar resources. This should be undertaken as a public/private partnership with commercial companies who have already set their sights on the Moon such as Astrobotic, Moon Express and Masten Space Systems, all of which are currently participating in the NASA Lunar Catalyst program. ULA’s previously mentioned CisLunar 1000 concept lays out their plan for developing their ACES/XEUS space tug and lunar lander such that both vehicles can be refueled from resources mined from Lunar ice deposits. By partnering with these companies (and others) that already want to develop the Moon, as well as our international partners, the cost of a lunar base could be dramatically reduced. Key components of such a base might be owned and operated by NASA or international partners, but other elements would be owned and operated by commercial enterprises. [v]

Recommendation #4 – Create a Space Commodities Futures Trading Exchange

In order to create and sustain a thriving space economy it will be necessary to be able to buy and sell commodities that are assembled, produced or mined in space. To facilitate this process, we recommend that the U.S. Government establish a Space Commodities Futures Trading Commission (SCFTC) for the space industry. The Commission, with input from industry, academia and government, would establish the guidelines to enable a board of trade or designated market-maker to establish and operate an exchange or alternative exchange mechanism (collectively, the Exchange). The Exchange would design, standardize and trade in the future commitments to deliver goods, services or other units constituting the various commodities necessary to get to, operate within, and return from space (e.g. launch, water, energy, insurance and currency). The Exchange would be a private or public-private entity with primary responsibility for operating all aspects of the market operations. The SCFTC would be responsible for oversight, space commodities forecasting, futures contract enforcement, clearing and risk, and mediation.

  • The Exchange would create a standardized set of agreements for the exchange of commodities, such that the tenure of ownership of the commodities could be readily ascertained.
  • The federal government would refer to the Exchange for the acquisition of commodities it regulates through the SCFTC, and would prototype futures contracts for acquisition of commodities it would like to stimulate supply of, and that could be offered through the Exchange.
  • The federal government shall recognize the commercial viability of any commodity listed on the Exchange as prima facie evidence in satisfying federal acquisition requirements for the proof of commercial viability in order to develop the science, technology and production that would supply the commodity.

In order to benefit from and coordinate with terrestrial experience, history and financial practices in trading commodities futures, consideration would be given to having the SCFTC operate as part of, or via strategic partnership with, the Commodities Futures Trading Commission codified at 7 U.S.C. Chapter 1, as amended.

Recommendation #5 – Establish a Major Breakthrough Space R&D Program Throughout its history NASA has always been associated with major technological advancements, from the Saturn 5 that took American astronauts to the Moon, to the remarkably versatile, reusable but complex space shuttle, to the International Space Station that has been permanently occupied for 16 years. No technological challenge seemed to be too great during this period. But recently, NASA’s technological reach has been significantly reduced, and very few breakthrough technologies and/or capabilities now emerge from the agency’s far more conservative and fiscally constrained endeavors

We recommend that the U.S. Government enable NASA to return to its cutting edge technology roots by establishing a significant ($1 billion/year) Breakthrough Technology R&D program focused on providing the new capabilities and dramatic cost reductions to the aerospace industry that have been achieved in almost all other industries. Commercial companies, often backed by significant venture capital investments, are increasingly leading in the development of the cutting edge technologies required by our 21st century space program. NASA needs to team with these companies to encourage and mature selected technologies that can best enable ambitious future NASA missions. The establishment of an innovative and long term Breakthrough Technology R&D program, one that focuses on high risk but high payoff technology development and demonstration, would help not only NASA, but commercial space suppliers and users as well. This is similar to the role that the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) played in the last century to ensure U.S. leadership in aviation.

This program should be “DARPA-like” in that it takes on true game-changing challenges with specific objectives and a requirement for measurable progress to receive phased funding. Examples of the types of breakthrough capabilities that might be targeted include self-sustaining habitats in space, propellant production and storage (at the Moon, at small bodies, and at Mars), in situ manufacturing (Moon, small bodies, Mars), reusable large-scale solar electric or nuclear propulsion systems, space solar power (SSP), and others. These technologies must be matured to the point where system and/or flight proven technology (TRL 6/7 or higher) can be incorporated into future NASA and/or U.S. commercial ventures.

Bruce Cahan, CEO Urban Logic and Adjunct Professor Stanford University School of Engineering

Sarah Cooper, former research fellow National Space Grant Association at NASA AMES

John Cumbers, Founder, SynBioBeta

Jason Dunn

Daniel Faber, CEO Deep Space Industries

Mark Hopkins, Chairman of the Executive Committee, National Space Society

Jim Keravala, CEO OffWorld Consortium

John Mankins, CEO Artemis Innovation

Bruce Pittman, Senior Vice President and Senior Operating Officer, National Space Society and Chairman, Commercial Space Group, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics

Rod Pyle, Author

Dale Skran, Executive Vice President, National Space Society

[i] 2015 State of the Satellite Industry Report prepared by The Tauri Group, Sept. 2015

[ii] http://www.ulalaunch.com/uploads/docs/Published_Papers/Commercial_Space/2016_Cislunar.pdf

[iii] https://www.nasa.gov/pdf/586023main_8-3-11_NAFCOM.pdf

[iv] http://www.esa.int/About_Us/DG_s_news_and_views/Moon_Village_humans_and_robots_together_on_the_Moon

[v] http://science.ksc.nasa.gov/shuttle/nexgen/Nexgen_Downloads/NexGen_ELA_Report_FINAL.pdf

National Space Society Congratulates Orbital ATK on a Successful Return to Flight for the Antares

On October 17, 2016, the upgraded Orbital ATK Antares rocket returned to flight following an October 14th, 2014 launch accident. The Antares is boosting a Cygnus cargo capsule to the International Space Station loaded with supplies and scientific equipment.

Dale Skran, NSS Executive Vice President said, “NSS applauds NASA’s support of multiple providers in the Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) program. The successful return to flight of the Antares/Cygnus at a time when the SpaceX Falcon 9 is grounded underscores the value of launch services provided by technologically independent sources.”

Antares

“Reliable access to space is critical to an expansive human future in space,” said Bruce Pittman, NSS Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer. “NASA’s initiative in requiring multiple competitive cargo providers to the ISS is a key step laying the groundwork for the NSS Roadmap to Space Settlement. Today that vision made another step forward.”

National Space Society Congratulates Blue Origin for Its Successful In-flight Escape Test of New Shepard

On October 5, 2016, for the fifth time, Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket successfully flew to the edge of space and returned to its West Texas launch site intact. National Space Society Executive Vice President Dale Skran said, “Blue Origin is to be congratulated for putting together a systematic test program to demonstrate all the features of the New Shepard sub-orbital system. NSS members look forward to the first crewed flight of the New Shepard, and to sub-orbital tourist flights once New Shepard is operational. Additionally, New Shepard will provide expanded low-cost access to micro-gravity for researchers.”

Fifth Landing of New Shepard (Credit: Blue Origin)
Fifth Landing of New Shepard (Credit: Blue Origin)

Blue Origin again made history by successfully demonstrating the operation of the capsule’s in-flight escape system. About 45 seconds into the flight, the 70,000 pounds of thrust New Shepard solid fuel escape motor pushed the capsule away from the booster and toward a parachute assisted landing in Texas.

New Shepard Crew Capsule Landing (Credit: Blue Origin)
New Shepard Crew Capsule Landing (Credit: Blue Origin)

“Blue Origin’s successful capsule escape demonstration represents a material step toward a fully re-usable sub-orbital vehicle,” said Bruce Pittman, NSS Senior Vice President and Senior Operating Officer. “We endorse Blue Origin and Jeff Bezos’ vision of ‘millions of people living and working in space’ – this is the heart and soul of the NSS Roadmap to Space Settlement. Today that vision made another significant step forward.” (See www.nss.org/settlement/roadmap).

In a remarkable achievement, the New Shepard booster was not destroyed by the firing of the escape motor, and continued a nominal flight first to the edge of space and then back to the launch site. Blue Origin has announced that following this fifth test flight, both the capsule and the booster will be retired and put on public display. (See a replay of the 1.25-hour flight webcast.)

Jeff Bezos, Blue Origin CEO said, “Like Mercury, Apollo, and Soyuz, New Shepard has an escape system that can quickly propel the crew capsule to safety if a problem is detected with the booster. Our escape system, however, is configured differently from those earlier designs.” The New Shepard is a “pusher” rather than the old tower “pull” system used by Apollo, allowing the escape system to be re-used. Bezos continued, stating that “Expending an escape motor on every flight drives up costs significantly. Further, the jettison operation is itself safety critical. Failure to jettison the tower is catastrophic.”

National Space Society Space Settlement Campaign Supports Elon Musk’s Mars Settlement Plans

At today’s meeting of the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Guadalajara, Mexico, Elon Musk, CEO of Space X, announced his bold plan to build a city on Mars. For over 40 years the National Space Society has led advocacy for space settlement. According to Mark Hopkins, economist and Chair of the Executive Committee of the National Space Society, “The vast majority of the resources of our solar system lie in space rather than on the Earth. By settling Mars and other locations in space we can overcome the resource limits of Earth leading to a hopeful, prosperous future for all of humanity.”

During the talk Musk detailed the Interplanetary Transport System (ITS) for the first time. The first stage of the ITS towers 77.5 meters with a diameter of 12 meters and uses 42 Raptor engines to provide a total of 28 million lbs of thrust. The second stage is 49.5 meters long, 17 m in diameter, uses 9 Raptor engines, and comes in both a crew/cargo model and a tanker model. Musk’s plans are based on four key approaches: full reusability of all components, refueling in orbit around Earth, refueling on Mars with locally produced propellant, and using a rocket fuel (methane/oxygen) that can be easily manufactured on Mars. Musk envisions that the eventual cost of a ticket to Mars will be in the $100K-$200K U.S. dollars range, allowing ordinary people to eventually travel to Mars.

SpacX ITS launch
SpacX ITS launch
SpaceX ITS reusable first stage return
SpaceX ITS reusable first stage return
SpaceX ITS refueling in orbit (image: SpaceX)
SpaceX ITS refueling in orbit
SpaceX ITS approaching Mars
SpaceX ITS approaching Mars
SpaceX ITS nearing Mars
SpaceX ITS final approach to Mars
SpaceX ITS Mars entry
SpaceX ITS Mars entry
SpaceX Raptor engine test
SpaceX Raptor engine test
SpaceX has already built an ITS prototype composite fuel tank
SpaceX has already built a prototype ITS composite fuel tank

What has been a bold vision of the future for humanity is now becoming reality. Humanity has begun the first concrete steps towards space settlement. The next decade will be one of the most pivotal in human history. Today we are beginning the journey to becoming a multiplanetary species.

In recognition of these momentous developments taking place the National Space Society is convening the first “Space Settlement Summit” in January to bring together leading people, companies and organizations that are making space settlement a reality. Participation in this event will be by invitation only and limited to entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers, venture capitalists, and thought leaders deeply involved in making space settlement a reality. The objective of the event will be to show the synergistic in-space ecosystem that is emerging; to facilitate a convergence of interests and opportunities among the key players; and to identify critical issues along the path to space settlement. We are at the dawn of a new era for humanity and the National Space Society is continuing its role as the leading voice for space settlement.

Musk’s reveal of his Mars colonization plan follows the announcement September 12th of the Blue Origin “New Glenn” heavy-lift vehicle by Jeff Bezos. The New Glenn is 7 meters in diameter and comes in both a two stage and a three stage version. The reusable first stage is powered by seven BE-4 engines fueled by liquid natural gas and liquid oxygen, providing 3.85 million pounds of thrust. The second stage uses a single BE-4 engine, and the optional third stage a single liquid hydrogen-oxygen BE-3 engine, the same engine used in the flight proven reusable New Shepard sub-orbital vehicle.

“The New Glenn is a major step forward for commercial space,” said Dale Skran, NSS Executive Vice President. “With the SpaceX ITS and Falcon Heavy, the United Launch Alliance Vulcan, and the Blue Origin New Glenn operational, the U.S. will have four domestic options for commercial medium to heavy lift. This will allow NASA to make use of commercial heavy lift services with greater confidence than if only a single operator existed.”

The U.S National Space Policy of 2010 states “To promote a robust domestic commercial space industry, departments and agencies shall: Purchase and use commercial space capabilities and services to the maximum practical extent when such capabilities and services are available in the marketplace and meet United States Government requirements.”

“NASA ought to welcome the usage of the ITS, Vulcan, the New Glenn and the Falcon Heavy in future NASA planning,” said Skran. “NASA can only benefit from the existence of multiple commercial medium to heavy lift providers with re-usable first stages that offer the possibility of significant cost reductions.”

Milestone 2 on the NSS Space Settlement Roadmap is titled “Higher Commercial Launch Rates and Lower Cost to Orbit” (http://www.nss.org/settlement/roadmap/RoadmapPart2.html). Future NASA usage of commercially available partially or fully re-usable medium to heavy lift vehicles will be critical to achieving this milestone.

“Competition like that seen between Blue Origin and SpaceX is key to rapid progress in space,” said Bruce Pittman, NSS Senior Vice President. “Elon just presented a plan for settling the solar system in this century that is realistic and affordable. In my paper, ‘A Pathway to a Thriving Commercial Space Economy’ at IAC, I also laid out a path forward to a thriving new economy in space that produces new opportunities for all.”

Musk’s plan’s address MILESTONES 15 (“Logistics System”), 16 (“Base”), and 17 (“A True Martian Settlement”) in the evolving NSS Space Settlement Roadmap (see http://www.nss.org/settlement/roadmap). NSS supports the exploration, development, and settlement of space, including free space, the Moon, asteroids, and other locations in addition to Mars.

NSS has been pushing hard via legislative outreach in cooperation with the Alliance for Space Development to make space development and settlement part of the objectives that guide NASA. In March 2016 Rep. Dana Rohrabacher introduced H.R.4752 the “Space Exploration, Development, and Settlement Act (see https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/4752/text) to make development and settlement of space part of the fundamental law governing NASA.

More recently, on September 21, 2016, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee marked up S.3346, the NASA Transition Act of 2016. This bi-partisan Bill, co-sponsored by Senators Cruz, Nelson, Rubio, Peters, Wicker, and Udall, contains the following ground-breaking statement:

Section 202(a) of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2010 (42 U.S.C. 18312(a)) is amended to read as follows:
“(a) LONG-TERM GOALS—The long-term goals of the human space flight and exploration efforts of NASA shall be—
“(1) to expand permanent human presence beyond low-Earth orbit and to do so, where practical, in a manner involving international, academic, and industry partners; and
“(2) the peaceful settlement of a location in space or on another celestial body and a thriving space economy in the 21st century.”

The entire S.3346 “NASA Transition Act of 2016” can be found at: https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/senate-bill/3346/text. NSS applauds the Senate for taking this forward-looking position in favor of space development and settlement, but much remains to be done to make space development and settlement a reality. Join us in the fight for a better future at www.nss.org.