National Space Society Urges NASA and SpaceX to Continue Developing Innovative Rocket Reuse Technology

The loss of NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services 7 (CRS-7) mission on June 28th demonstrates, in the view of the National Space Society (NSS), the wisdom of NASA’s policy of maintaining technologically different competitive CRS providers. This was the seventh of 12 contracted flights to the International Space Station (ISS) by SpaceX. All 18 previous flights of the Falcon 9 (including five v1.0 flights and thirteen v1.1 flights) have been successful in meeting their primary objectives. CRS-7 was to have launched a new docking ring to the ISS for future use by NASA Commercial Crew flights and would have made another first stage recovery attempt.

NSS would like to express continued support for SpaceX and NASA as they analyze and test to understand and recover from Sunday’s launch failure.  “Spacecraft engineering is a very challenging profession and failure is always one possible outcome but we learn, implement and move forward,” said Bruce Pittman, NSS Senior Operating Officer. “NASA and the US government should continue to support the ISS, including the commercial cargo and crew programs.”

Paul Werbos, member of the NSS Board of Directors, said, “In a free market world, the government is supposed to be taking on the burden of the most advanced, highest risk challenges, in an open competitive way. NASA has been doing this by supporting SpaceX via the Commercial Resupply Services program as SpaceX develops the technology to reuse launch vehicles.”

NSS fully supports Space X’s efforts to upgrade its Falcon 9 rocket, especially its efforts to make it reusable.   As SpaceX said recently, “A jumbo jet costs about the same as one of our Falcon 9 rockets, but airlines don’t junk a plane after a one-way trip from LA to New York. Yet when it comes to space travel, rockets fly only once-even though the rocket itself represents the majority of launch cost (www.spacex.com/news/2015/06/24/why-and-how-landing-rockets).” NSS believes reusable rockets, once perfected, will be inherently more reliable than expendable vehicles, as well as less costly.

NSS Executive Vice President Dale Skran said: “After a failure like this, voices will be heard calling into question NASA’s use of commercial launch service providers. We need to recall that in spite of the best efforts of NASA and the expenditure of many billions of dollars, NASA lost two space shuttles with their entire crews. Eventual success is built on lessons learned from failures. We are confident that SpaceX will learn from the loss and rapidly return to service.”

National Space Society Opposes Senate Gutting of Commercial Crew Program

The National Space Society (NSS) strongly opposes the Senate Appropriations Committee’s $344 million (27%) cut of the 2015 Commercial Crew budget requested by the Administration. The Senate cuts were $100 million more than those recently passed by the House.

NSS stands with NASA administrator Charles Bolden when he said “By gutting this program and turning our backs on U.S. industry, NASA will be forced to continue to rely on Russia to get its astronauts into space – and to continue to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into the Russian economy rather than our own.”  The two winners of the Commercial Crew competition, Boeing and SpaceX, have been making excellent progress, exemplified by the May 6th successful pad abort test of the SpaceX Dragon 2 crew escape system. Both are on track to fly astronauts in 2017 assuming funding is provided.

Until Commercial Crew vehicles are flying, the only way for anyone to get to the ISS is the Russian Soyuz. Unfortunately, the Russian space program has recently displayed a worrisome lack of reliability. On May 16th the failure of the third stage of the Russian Proton resulted in the loss of the MexSat-1 communications satellite. During April, a Russian Progress M-27M carrying cargo to the ISS went out of control and was lost with all its contents. More recently, the unexpected firing of the engine of a Soyuz spacecraft attached to the ISS shifted its orbital position. Congress, which has underfunded and thus delayed Commercial Crew consistently, will bear a significant share of the responsibility if the next Russian accident results in injuries to astronauts or the abandonment of the ISS.

Some have advocated reducing the Commercial Crew program to a single vehicle, reducing current costs and eliminating competition. NSS has long supported competition in the Commercial Crew program (see the 2014 NSS position paper on the NASA Commercial Crew Program). The failure of the Orbital ATK Antares cargo rocket during a launch attempt to the ISS last year demonstrated the value of redundant systems, underscoring the vital importance of having multiple Commercial Crew providers.

It is imperative that Congress provide full funding to Commercial Crew so that both Boeing and SpaceX reach operational status. The Commercial Crew program has been one of NASA’s biggest success stories, generating large amounts of real product innovation while reducing costs to the government. Any expansive future in space, such as that envisioned in the NSS Roadmap to Space Settlement (www.nss.org/settlement/roadmap) requires lower cost specialized systems such as those being created by Commercial Crew and Commercial Resupply Services (CRS).

“NSS urges the Senate to pass a clean amendment restoring full funding of $1.244 billion to Commercial Crew when this Bill comes to the Senate floor for final passage,” said NSS Executive VP Dale Skran. “We are extremely concerned with the increasing difficulties in the Russian space program and suggest NASA immediately develop a contingency plan for Russian withdrawal other than evacuating the ISS.”

NASA Administrator Statement on Senate Appropriations Subcommittee Vote on Commercial Crew Budget

The following is a statement from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee vote Wednesday on NASA’s Fiscal Year 2016 commercial crew budget:

Charles F. Bolden
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden

“I am deeply disappointed that the Senate Appropriations subcommittee does not fully support NASA’s plan to once again launch American astronauts from U.S. soil as soon as possible, and instead favors continuing to write checks to Russia.

“Remarkably, the Senate reduces funding for our Commercial Crew Program further than the House already does compared to the President’s Budget.

“By gutting this program and turning our backs on U.S. industry, NASA will be forced to continue to rely on Russia to get its astronauts to space – and continue to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into the Russian economy rather than our own.

“I support investing in America so that we can once again launch our astronauts on American vehicles.”

National Space Society Applauds Milestone on the Road to Space Settlement: First Precision Return of a Falcon 9 First Stage to an Ocean Platform

The recent launch of NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services 5 (CRS-5) on January 10th represents a major step towards space settlement, according to the National Space Society (NSS). The Dragon capsule berthed with the International Space Station (ISS) at 5:54 am EST Monday, January 12th. This is the seventh flight of the Dragon, and the fifth of 12 contracted flights to the ISS by SpaceX.

CRS-5 marked a major step forward for SpaceX’s efforts to develop reusable rocket technology. Such technology is called for in Milestone 2 of the NSS Space Settlement Roadmap, titled “Higher Commercial Launch Rates and Lower Cost to Orbit” based on, among other things, “re-usable vehicles.” For the first time ever, SpaceX attempted to land a returning first stage on an ocean-going platform. The stage impacted the platform “hard” according to Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO. The ocean platform measures 300-ft by 170-ft, and achieving this level of precision on first stage return represents a significant milestone toward a reusable launcher. CRS-5 also utilized for the first time hydraulic grid fins to control the descent. Musk stated that the “grid fins worked extremely well…but ran out of hydraulic fluid right before landing.” The next Falcon 9 flight will increase the amount of hydraulic fluid by 50%, raising the chance of a successful landing that will lead to ultimate re-use of the first stage and a significant drop in the cost of flying to space.

NSS Senior Vice President Bruce Pittman said: “We congratulate SpaceX on this significant step toward a fully re-usable first stage, and look forward to even greater success as SpaceX continues to test its re-usable vehicle technology during 2015.”

The Dragon cargo includes the Cloud-Aerosol Transport System (CATS) experiment in the unpressurized Trunk section of the Dragon. CATS, a laser based imaging system, will be connected to the Japanese section of the ISS, Kibo, and will be used to study atmospheric particulates. The ability of the Dragon (and the Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus, once it returns to flight) to routinely take new experiments to the ISS, and for the Dragon to return experimental results, is critical to enabling the ISS to be used for scientific and commercial research. Over 1,662 kg (3,664 lb) of cargo is targeted for return to Earth via this Dragon capsule.

New scientific breakthroughs often result when science is done in unexplored extreme environments such as the microgravity found in space. Among the scientific experiments on CRS-5 are a study of cell regeneration in flatworms in microgravity and a study of fruit fly immune systems in space. Other CRS-5 payloads include a pair of Planet Labs commercial Earth imaging Flock -1d’ satellites that will replace some of the satellites lost when the Orbital Sciences Antares failed in October 2014.

NASA Commercial LEO Workshop

On December 10-11, 2014, NASA held a workshop on the commercialization of low Earth orbit.  The goal of the workshop was to start a dialog about creating a thriving commercial marketplace in LEO over the next decade, enabled by human spaceflight.  Historically, NASA has been both the primary supplier and consumer of human spaceflight capabilities and services in LEO.  However, NASA has begun to change this historical model by purchasing cargo transportation services commercially and is facilitating the development of commercial crew transportation and rescue capabilities.  By the end of 2017, NASA plans to purchase both crew and cargo delivery services to the ISS from commercial suppliers.  By the 2020’s, near the planned end of the life of the ISS, NASA’s intention is to transition LEO from being government-led to significantly more private sector involvement (both supply and demand side).  In this scenario, both research requirements and investigations are private sector need driven, and the supply-side transportation and microgravity capabilities are private sector provided.

To date, NASA has worked on establishing a private sector transportation capability for both cargo and crew.  Also, NASA, through CASIS and other efforts, has offered the ISS as venue for the private sector to explore the benefits of space-based research for terrestrial companies.  In the future, it will be critical for a commercial market for microgravity capabilities be developed by the private sector.  Creating this marketplace will require the efforts of both government and industry.  Through the information and ideas gathered and developed during this workshop, NASA intends to formulate a new strategy – including new initiatives and projects – designed to encourage the emergence of this commercial marketplace to the maximum extent possible.

Topics covered included enabling policy statements and incentives; enabling mission goals; promising commercial markets in LEO; commercial operation of ISS systems; promising microgravity R&D investment areas of high probable return to the nation; barriers to commercialization of LEO.

Some key questions that were discussed included:

  • What regulation changes and investment incentives would encourage commercial research and application activities in LEO?
  • What kind of intellectual property rights protections are required to engage private capital for research on ISS?
  • What are the most promising near-term market opportunities in LEO and how can they better be enabled using the ISS?  What are the most promising long-term applications of LEO that the ISS program can enable?
  • Is there a business case outside the government for multiple LEO platforms that are specialized for individual markets  (tourism, micro-gravity research/production, free-flying human tended Earth observing platform, etc.)?
  • What can the government do to encourage LEO supply providers to seek non-NASA customers for their services or capabilities?
  • Is there an overlap between LEO commercial platform capabilities and NASA’s exploration goals?

A summary of the workshop will be posted by NASA in January along with possible future activities.

Presentations:

NASA – Sam Scimemi, Director, International Space Station

FAA – Dr. George Nield, Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation

CASIS – Greg Johnson, Executive Director

Industry Perspectives:

Carlos Grodsinsky, ZIN Technologies

James Muncy, PoliSpace

National Space Society Encourages Virgin Galactic To Press On

The National Space Society (NSS) extends its support to Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites over the tragic loss of SpaceShipTwo and offers its heartfelt sympathy to the families involved and to everyone who worked on that program.

“We are extremely honored that Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides served on the NSS team as our Executive Director and we all stand by him in this time of difficulty,” said Mark Hopkins, Chairman of the NSS Executive Committee. “We expect that the cause of the accident will be found and fixed so that the Virgin Galactic dream of ‘opening space to tens of thousands of people’ can become a reality.”

NSS encourages Virgin Galactic to continue moving forward. NSS has been a consistent supporter of private efforts to develop space commercially, including both orbital and sub-orbital tourism. Economic returns from spaceflight are necessary for humanity’s long-term future in space.

NSS notes that fatal accidents during both the testing of aircraft and their operation were relatively common during the early days of commercial aviation, and now it has happened in commercial space flight. America was always built on the courage of those who dared to explore new frontiers. From Lewis and Clark to the Apollo astronauts, great men and women have tested themselves against the frontiers of their age.

The frontier of space is far from tamed. The men and women of Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites are engaged in one of the great efforts of our time: opening space for all humanity. That is a noble pursuit and we are all thankful for their work and for their sacrifice.

NSS Executive Vice President Paul Werbos sums up: “This is a sad moment for the space tourism industry and the families of the pilots. The Scaled Composites pilots are true heroes who risked their lives to blaze a trail to a better future for everyone.”

Sierra Nevada Corporation Developing Dream Chaser Version for Stratolaunch

Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) has announced a design for an integrated system for human spaceflight that can be launched to low Earth orbit (LEO) using Stratolaunch System’s air launch architecture and a scale version of SNC’s Dream Chaser spacecraft.

The Dream Chaser is a reusable, lifting-body spacecraft capable of crewed or autonomous flight. Dream Chaser is the only lifting-body spacecraft capable of a runway landing, anywhere in the world. Stratolaunch Systems is a Paul G. Allen project dedicated to developing an air-launch system that will revolutionize space transportation by providing orbital access to space at lower costs, with greater safety and more flexibility.

As designed, the Dream Chaser-Stratolauncher human spaceflight system can carry a crew of three astronauts to LEO destinations. This versatile system can also be tailored for un-crewed space missions, including science missions, light cargo transportation or suborbital point-to-point transportation. The scaled crewed spacecraft design is based on SNC’s full-scale Dream Chaser vehicle which, for the past four years, has undergone development and flight tests as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Chuck Beames, president, Vulcan Aerospace Corp and executive director for Stratolaunch Systems said, “Combining a scaled version of SNC’s Dream Chaser with the Stratolaunch air launch system could provide a highly responsive capability with the potential to reach a variety of LEO destinations and return astronauts or payloads to a U.S. runway within 24 hours.”

“This relationship would expand our portfolio to include the highly flexible Stratolaunch system for launching reusable crewed or uncrewed spacecraft, or for rapid satellite constellation deployment,” said Mark Sirangelo, corporate vice president of SNC’s Space Systems.

In addition to supporting development of human spaceflight capability, SNC studied satellite launch options and mechanisms, as well as point-to-point transportation options using the Stratolaunch launch system with a Dream Chaser spacecraft derivative. The Stratolaunch system is uniquely designed to allow for maximum operational flexibility and payload delivery from several possible operational sites, while minimizing mission constraints such as range availability and weather.

New NASA report on “Emerging Space” emphasizes private-public cooperation

When NASA was founded, only a government program could undertake a voyage from the Earth to the Moon. This may not be true in the future.

Thus begins a new NASA report, “Emerging Space” that emphasizes private-public cooperation in creating a “new economic ecosystem in space”. The 42-page, 44-megabyte report is available for free download in PDF format.

Emerging Space

Below are paragraphs from the first and last pages:

The next era of space exploration will see governments pushing technological development and the American private sector using these technologies as they expand their economic activities to new worlds. NASA’s next objectives for exploration—visits to asteroids and Mars—are more complex than any previous space mission attempted. They will happen in the context of relatively smaller NASA budgets and an expanding commercial space economy. Teaming with private sector partners to develop keystone markets like low Earth orbit (LEO) transportation and technological capabilities like asteroid mining will help NASA achieve its mission goals, help the space economy evolve to embrace new ambitions, and provide large economic returns to the taxpayer through the stimulation and growth of new businesses and 21st century American jobs.

Fifty years after the creation of NASA, our goal is no longer just to reach a destination. Our goal is to develop the capabilities that will allow the American people to explore, pioneer, and expand our economic sphere into the solar system. To do this we will build on our long-standing relationships with American industry by embracing new and diverse forms of partnerships. Private-sector leadership in space exploration was the normal state of affairs in America before the foundation of NASA. Today, we have recognized the advantages of that earlier model in terms of private-sector energy and initiative, combined it with NASA’s legacy of technical expertise and programmatic accomplishment, and have helped give rise to the birth of a ‘Second Space Age’. The space economy of the future will come about through the combined efforts of government, private industry, scientists, students and citizens, each playing their own unique and essential role. Together, we will create a new economic ecosystem in space that will hasten our journey into the cosmos.

National Space Society Praises Inclusion of Competition in NASA’s Commercial Crew Decision

The Washington DC-based National Space Society (NSS) has been a consistent supporter of competition in NASA’s Commercial Crew program to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). NSS today congratulates the winners of the Commercial Crew competition, Boeing and SpaceX. NSS also thanks NASA for its diligent efforts to maintain real competition in the Commercial Crew program.

The selection of Boeing and SpaceX represents a major milestone toward ending US dependence on the Russian Soyuz to put American Astronauts into space. NSS urges that Congress fully fund this program with full competition at the amounts requested by NASA so that both companies can move forward with dispatch. Further, the continued operation of the International Space Station needs to be funded by Congress to 2024 as requested by the Administration and as far beyond that as practical to enable the full exploitation of the opportunities for commercial research offered by the ISS. A key element of any effort to create more return from the ISS will be the ability of both the Boeing and SpaceX craft to carry up to seven astronauts, potentially allowing the ISS to support a permanent crew of up to 14.

Commercial Crew
Image courtesy NASA

NSS believes that the selection of two Commercial Crew providers is also an essential first step toward the non-governmental development of the resources of Low Earth Orbit (LEO). We look forward to both Boeing and SpaceX supporting Bigelow private space stations in the near future. It is also the hope of NSS that Sierra Nevada will find non-NASA funds to continue the development of its Dream Chaser lifting body.

NSS Executive Vice President Paul Werbos summed up the situation: “This is a great moment for Boeing, SpaceX, and NASA. The door to the American future in space is opening wider, and we need to ensure that Commercial Crew is fully funded to keep it that way.”

NSS Home District Legislative Blitz August 2014

NSS is organizing a “home district” blitz during August when Congress is in recess and members of Congress are most probably in their home districts. The themes for the blitz include supporting Commercial Crew, advocating for ISS extension and utilization, supporting commercial space, and protecting the Earth against asteroids and comets (see the NSS Blitz Talking Points). The August Blitz is a self-starting, NSS member centered activity. A slide set of guidelines on how to initiate and organize a visit to your Representative/Senator can be found here. AD ASTRAs for the visits can be ordered from dale.skran@nss.org before August 8th at the latest on a first come, first served basis.

If you are interested in participating in the home district visits please send an email to dale.skran@nss.org. This email should contain your contact information. By doing so, you are giving permission for a state/district coordinator to contact you for purposes of organizing home district visits. We especially encourage multiple volunteer coordinators for larger states such as California and Texas. Thanks in advance for your support.

Dale Skran, Deputy Chair, NSS Policy Committee