H.R. 5063: To promote the development of a commercial asteroid resources industry

U.S. Representatives Bill Posey (R-FL) and Derek Kilmer (D-WA) have introduced bipartisan legislation to expand opportunities and protections for private space companies looking to explore space. The American Space Technology for Exploring Resource Opportunities in Deep Space (ASTEROIDS) Act of 2014 establishes and protects property rights for commercial space exploration and utilization of asteroid resources.

“Asteroids are excellent potential sources of highly valuable resources and minerals,” said Rep. Bill Posey, a Member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. “Our knowledge of asteroids – their number, location, and composition – has been increasing at a tremendous rate and space technology has advanced to the point where the private sector is now able to begin planning such expeditions. Our legislation will help promote private exploration and protect commercial rights as these endeavors move forward and I thank Representative Kilmer for working with me to help advance this industry.”

“We may be many years away from successfully mining an asteroid, but the research to turn this from science fiction into reality is being done today,” said Rep. Derek Kilmer, a member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. “Businesses in Washington state and elsewhere are investing in this opportunity, but in order to grow and create more jobs they need greater certainty. That’s why I’m excited to introduce this bill with Representative Posey so we can help the United States access new supplies of critical rare metals while serving as a launch pad for a growing industry.”

Currently, rare minerals used to manufacture a wide range of products are found in a small number of countries. This has left the United States dependent on foreign nations for these resources. The limited supply and high demand for these materials, alongside major advances in space technology and a deeper understanding of asteroids, has led a number of private sector investors to begin developing plans to identify and secure high-value minerals found on asteroids and transport them for use here on Earth.

Some rare minerals that could be found within asteroids include: platinum group metals such as platinum, osmium, iridium, ruthenium, rhodium, and palladium in addition to nickel, iron and cobalt.

Posey and Kilmer’s bill would:
• Clarify that resources mined from an asteroid are the property of the entity that obtained them.
• Ensure U.S. companies can conduct their operation without harmful interference.
• Direct the President to facilitate commercial development of asteroid resources.

Copy of H.R. 5063.

National Space Society Calls for Less U.S. Dependence on Russian Space Technology

The Washington DC-based National Space Society (NSS) strongly recommends in a position paper issued today that Congress should fully support the Commercial Crew program in order to restore independent access to the International Space Station (ISS), prepare to operate the ISS without Russian support, again make low-cost access to space a primary goal of U.S. space policy, and avoid replacing the RD-180 engine manufactured in Russia with a single new engine funded via cost-plus development.

NSS recommends that Congress should maintain competition among Commercial Crew providers while avoiding the imposition of additional contractual obstacles to this program. The U.S. must be self-sufficient in rocket engines for critical functions, both civilian and military. If Congress and the Administration decide a new rocket engine program is justified to replace the RD-180 (currently used in the Atlas V), it must result in multiple prototype liquid fueled hydrocarbon rocket engine development winners to promote competition and innovation and stimulate the entire U.S. aerospace industrial base. To increase affordability, to promote risk-sharing and to incentivize results instead of effort, the United States Government might use “other transactions authority” methods that were used to successfully develop the RS-68 and Merlin rocket engines.

Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin has threatened to pull out of the ISS in 2020, after which the U.S. portion of the ISS would fall to Earth and be destroyed. Having been warned 6 years in advance, the United States should move systematically but immediately to develop commercial U.S. habitation and re-fuelable propulsion modules or other means of reboosting the ISS before 2020.

Paul Werbos, NSS Executive Vice President, said “The U.S. space program has become far too dependent on Russian technology. It is long past time to change that situation.”

See the NSS Position Paper on U.S. Dependence on Russian Technology.

NASA selects Deep Space Industries for two asteroid contracts

NASA has awarded two contracts to Deep Space Industries Inc. to accelerate the agency’s plans to partner with private industry on asteroid prospecting and harvesting.  One will analyze commercial approaches to NASA’s asteroid goals and how an industry-led asteroid economy can make crewed Mars missions safer, sooner, and less expensive.  The second will examine several small asteroid-prospecting payloads that can be launched as hitchhikers on NASA missions.

Participating with Deep Space on both successful proposals will be Near Earth LLC, which has been raising capital for satellite and space companies since 2002 (and over $15 billion since 1993 at prior investment banks).  It also frequently provides financial and strategic advisory services to major aerospace companies, satellite operators, private equity firms, and hedge funds.

Dr. Mason Peck of Cornell University, a former Chief Technologist for NASA, will collaborate with Deep Space on the small ride-along payloads contract with research into tiny “Sprites” that could be released by the dozens or hundreds during asteroid encounters to gather wide-area data.

“Deep Space brings commercial insight to NASA’s asteroid planning, because our business is based on supplying what commercial customers in Earth orbit need to operate, as well as serving NASA’s needs for its Moon and Mars exploration,” said CEO Daniel Faber. “The fuel, water, and metals that we will harvest and process will be sold into both markets, making available industrial quantities of material for expanding space applications and services.”

“The space industry is transforming with new lower-cost launch options and inexpensive small satellites, trends that Deep Space intends to exploit for its prospecting missions,” said Hoyt Davidson, Managing Member at Near Earth LLC.  “These missions should position Deep Space for the next major growth opportunity in Space — supplying space enterprises and governments with resources found and processed in space.”

The first study will analyze the economic fundamentals of a commercially oriented Asteroid Initiative, and document the expanded exploration resources that industry could supply to NASA if this course were followed.  NASA would receive greatly improved sampling/surveying technologies for the crew inspecting the captured asteroid at no cost to the agency.  NASA also would gain use of potentially crucial resources harvested from the asteroid without needing to pay for the research and development costs required to unlock them.

Deep Space has several spacecraft types under development for its asteroid mineral surveys, all based on the same core subsystems. In the second study, the company will assess each of these spacecraft for compatibility with NASA’s launch vehicle for its asteroid mission plus the initial launch of NASA’s Space Launch System.  The missions will be designed to further commercial and academic goals through innovations like Cornell’s Sprites.

“Each Sprite is a functional spacecraft weighing less than a penny,” said Dr. Mason Peck.  “Sprites on Deep Space missions will be revolutionary new tools for gathering data across wide areas of interest, both on and around asteroids.”

“A profitable asteroid industry is upon us,” said David Gump, Vice Chair and Director of Marketing for Deep Space.  “During the current prospecting phase, Deep Space revenue sources include providing data to scientists and NASA, and enabling corporate marketers to activate their customers through direct  participation in the asteroid adventure.”

The two system concept studies start next month and will be completed in six months in support the agency’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM).  The full NASA announcement of the contract awards is at www.nasa.gov/asteroidinitiative.

NSS Issues Political Action Network Alert in Support of Commercial Crew

On June 5, 2014 NSS issued an alert to the NSS Political Action Network concerning support for Commercial Crew in the current Senate Appropriations Bill.  The alert can be found at:


The alert calls for requesting full funding for Commercial Crew at $848 million as requested by NASA, rather than the $805 million appropriated by the Senate, or the House allocation of $785 million.  In addition the alert calls for the removal of language that would impose FAR (Federal Acquisitions Regulations) accounting on fixed price Commercial Crew and Cargo contracts, with the intent of making these programs more expensive and slowing them down. Additional information on Commercial Crew can be found in the recent NSS position paper at:


SpaceX Completes Qualification Testing of SuperDraco Thruster for Launch Escape System on Dragon Spacecraft

Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) announced that it has completed qualification testing for the SuperDraco thruster, an engine that will power the Dragon spacecraft’s launch escape system and enable the vehicle to land propulsively on Earth or another planet with pinpoint accuracy.

The qualification testing program took place over the last month at SpaceX’s Rocket Development Facility in McGregor, Texas. The program included testing across a variety of conditions including multiple starts, extended firing durations and extreme off-nominal propellant flow and temperatures.

The SuperDraco is an advanced version of the Draco engines currently used by SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft to maneuver in orbit and during re-entry. SuperDracos will be used on the crew version of the Dragon spacecraft as part of the vehicle’s launch escape system; they will also enable propulsive landing on land.  Each SuperDraco produces 16,000 pounds of thrust and can be restarted multiple times if necessary.  In addition, the engines have the ability to deep throttle, providing astronauts with precise control and enormous power.

The SuperDraco engine chamber is manufactured using state-of-the-art direct metal laser sintering (DMLS), otherwise known as 3D printing.  The chamber is regeneratively cooled and printed in Inconel, a high-performance superalloy that offers both high strength and toughness for increased reliability.

“Through 3D printing, robust and high-performing engine parts can be created at a fraction of the cost and time of traditional manufacturing methods,” said Elon Musk, Chief Designer and CEO.  “SpaceX is pushing the boundaries of what additive manufacturing can do in the 21st century, ultimately making our vehicles more efficient, reliable and robust than ever before.”

Unlike previous launch escape systems that were jettisoned after the first few minutes of launch, SpaceX’s launch system is integrated into the Dragon spacecraft.  Eight SuperDraco engines built into the side walls of the Dragon spacecraft will produce up to 120,000 pounds of axial thrust to carry astronauts to safety should an emergency occur during launch.

As a result, Dragon will be able to provide astronauts with the unprecedented ability to escape from danger at any point during the ascent trajectory, not just in the first few minutes.  In addition, the eight SuperDracos provide redundancy, so that even if one engine fails an escape can still be carried out successfully.

The first flight demonstration of the SuperDraco will be part of the upcoming pad abort test under NASA’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capabilities (CCiCap) initiative. The pad abort will be the first test of SpaceX’s new launch escape system and is currently expected to take place later this year.

Commercial Crew Needs Competition

The following Op-Ed article appears in the May 12 issue of SpaceNews.

By Paul Werbos, Dale Skran | May. 12, 2014

The SpaceNews editorial “A Feckless Blame Game on ISS Crew Access” [April 14, page 18] defends NASA’s Commercial Crew Program against disingenuous attacks by its congressional opponents. We support many of the points made in the editorial, especially the assertion that the failure of Congress to fully fund Commercial Crew as requested by the White House is the major reason for delays in the date Americans can start flying on American rockets to the international space station. However, we take issue with the suggestion that a down-select to a single Commercial Crew provider is desirable.

We strongly recommend that the following considerations guide the Commercial Crew Program:

  • A minimum of two complete, technologically independent commercial crew systems should be brought to operational status. Commercial Crew can only be fully successful with real competition between multiple U.S.-based service providers.
  • The value of Commercial Crew lies not just in providing the means of transporting astronauts to the ISS without relying on Russian spacecraft, but also in significantly strengthening the U.S. commercial orbital access industry.

There has long been a strain of criticism in Congress that calls for an immediate down-select in Commercial Crew to a single contractor in the name of saving money and moving forward more rapidly. Traditionally, NASA has run “competitive” procurement processes in which a number of proposals are considered, and then one is chosen to be developed into a flight article. This approach, although a reasonable one for experimental or some operational vehicles, is not the best approach for building a new industry.

The traditional NASA approach has the effect of the system or service ultimately being supplied by a single “monopoly” vehicle from a single vendor, and provides no competition that would work to lower costs over time. Commercial Crew, like the Commercial Resupply Services program, is intended to create a situation in which NASA has multiple, independent methods of transportation to and from the ISS. Two fully independent U.S.-based providers combined with occasional use of the Russian Soyuz would be the minimum system to put real competitive pressures on all vendors.

A highly desirable characteristic of a fully successful Commercial Crew Program is the operational availability of two technologically and financially independent solutions. For example, selecting the Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser/Atlas 5 and the Boeing CST-100/Atlas 5 introduces a single point of failure, the Atlas 5. It would be equally risky to select as the two solutions the Dream Chaser/Falcon 9 and the SpaceX Dragon/Falcon 9 for the same reason.

In the approved 2014 budget, language exists holding back $171 million of the allocated Commercial Crew funding until the NASA administrator certifies an independent cost-benefit analysis of the program. It should be noted that this level of scrutiny — an independent cost-benefit analysis — is not being applied to other NASA programs such as the Space Launch System rocket and Orion capsule.

It is possible to alter the outcome of a cost-benefit analysis via careful selection of underlying assumptions. In the case of a cost-benefit analysis of Commercial Crew, key areas to consider are the operational lifetime of the ISS, the probability that the ISS will be followed by a similar base in low Earth orbit, and the crew size of the ISS.

The Obama administration is proposing an ISS extension for an additional four years, meaning that the anticipated Commercial Crew operations would be extended to 2024. It is very likely, and indeed highly desirable, that the life of the ISS will be extended well beyond this date. NASA has certified that an extension to 2028, an additional four years beyond that just proposed, is possible without major efforts.

The Chinese have announced that their large China Space Station will become operational in the 2020-2024 time frame, and they are currently seeking international partners. It is difficult to imagine that the United States will at just that moment deorbit the ISS, abandoning space research in low Earth orbit to the Chinese.

Thus all analysis of Commercial Crew value should be based on the realistic assumption that: the ISS lifetime is significantly extended beyond 2020; the ISS is replaced with a follow-on U.S./international/commercial station; and/or Commercial Crew vehicles will continue to be used to transport crew to low Earth orbit in support of other future NASA projects, such as assembly of a Mars ship from multiple launches. In all of these scenarios, low-cost, specialized and reliable transport of crew to low Earth orbit will be of continuing value to NASA.

The current size of the ISS crew is limited to six, since only two Soyuz “lifeboats” can dock to the ISS at the same time, and each Soyuz can carry only three astronauts. The introduction of Commercial Crew vehicles that can carry up to seven astronauts allows for expansion of the ISS capabilities to support a crew of up to 14.

Even the use of a single Commercial Crew vehicle would allow for an expansion from six to seven, something that would significantly increase the scientific return from the ISS. The ISS can accommodate one additional long-term crew member with minimal effort.

The ISS also can accommodate multiweek “surges” of additional crew members, as was demonstrated during the shuttle program. Thus, Commercial Crew vehicles could expand the output of the ISS by periodically allowing teams of, for example, five scientists accompanied by two crew members, to live on the ISS for weeks at a time. It is expected that expansion to a permanent crew of 14 might require additional facilities to be added to the ISS. Finally, it should be noted that the number of astronauts on the Commercial Crew vehicles significantly affects the cost per seat. Arbitrary limits of, for example, four astronauts per vehicle artificially increase the cost per seat by a large factor.

The Commercial Crew Program offers the potential to build the foundation for a true private crewed orbital access industry. In the past, the U.S. government has supported the development of new industries in various ways, ranging from federal airmail contracts supporting early aviation to current nanotechnology research centers. The crewed orbital access industry involves not just space tourism but also satellite repair and refueling, industrial research and private commercial space stations. Commercial Crew is a key enabler of this new industry, and can significantly contribute to strengthening the larger U.S. space access industry, which has vast potential for the creation of large numbers of well-paying American jobs.

Strong industries must have competition. A major advantage of the nature of the Commercial Crew Program is that the competitive environment keeps costs low and forces each competitor to seek other markets for its solution. But the development of alternative markets is also related to the timely success of the Commercial Crew

Program. Companies such as Bigelow Aerospace have flown multiple orbital test vehicles to demonstrate some of the technologies that they are planning to deploy to create inflatable private space stations. At one point, delays in the readiness of Commercial Crew vehicles led Bigelow to lay off a substantial portion of its workforce to conserve capital. Although Bigelow has since won a contract to attach an inflatable module to the ISS, its commercial space station plans remain in a holding pattern until the Commercial Crew Program moves to operational status.

We strongly endorse the $848 million 2015 NASA budget request for Commercial Crew, along with the $250 million supplemental request. At a time when the availability of the Russian-supplied Soyuz is being increasingly questioned, we need to move Commercial Crew to the top of NASA’s priority list.

Dr. Paul Werbos is executive vice president and chairman of the National Space Society’s Policy Committee, and Dale Skran is deputy chairman of the committee. For a longer version of this article see the NSS Position Paper: The NASA Commercial Crew Program.

National Space Society Congratulates SpaceX on the Success of CRS-3 and the First Flight of the Falcon 9R

The Washington DC-based National Space Society (NSS) congratulates SpaceX on the successful launch of Commercial Resupply Services 3 (CRS-3) from Cape Canaveral’s Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) to the International Space Station (ISS) on April 18th at 3:25 pm EDT.  NSS Executive Senior Operating Officer Bruce Pittman said, “The successful reusability tests of the Falcon 9 v1.1 during the CRS-3 mission are a vital step on the path to dramatically reducing the cost of access to space.”

The National Space Society will present two special awards to SpaceX at their 2014 International Space Development Conference (ISDC).  Elon Musk, SpaceX Chief Designer and CTO, will accept the Robert A Heinlein Memorial Award.  Gwynne R. Shotwell, SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer, will accept the Space Pioneer Award for the Entrepreneurial Business category.

The Dragon capsule berthed with the ISS at 9:06 AM EDT Sunday April 20th.  This is the first flight of the upgraded Falcon 9 v1.1 to the ISS, and the fourth overall flight of the v1.1 version.  In addition to carrying a record up mass (cargo) to the ISS, the Falcon 9 v1.1 demonstrated for the first time the unfolding of the landing legs on the first stage.   CRS-3 was part of a series of tests of reusable spacecraft technology that are planned to eventually lead to the full re-use of the Falcon 9.   If this occurs, it will drive a revolution in access to space via lowering launch costs.

The Dragon capsule pressurized area carried a record of one GLACIER and two MERLIN freezers for transporting experiment samples, a replacement Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU), or in everyday English, a spacesuit, plus additional supplies of food, water, and personal items.  The unpressurized Dragon trunk contained the Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science (OPALS) and the High Definition Earth Viewing (HDEV) package made up of four commercial HD cameras.  Dragon also brought VEG-01, a plant growth chamber to the ISS, where it will be used for experimental food production.

As expected for this early test flight, SpaceX did not recover the first stage, which “soft landed” in the ocean.  At this time it appears that CRS-3 met SpaceX’s reusability milestones, including first stage re-ignition to slow the first stage on its return.  Reusability tests of the Falcon 9 will continue throughout 2014, with a target of full first stage reuse by the end of 2014 or early 2015.

On Thursday April 17th the SpaceX Falcon 9R flew for the first time from McGregor, Texas, to a height of 250 m [VIDEO BELOW].  The Falcon 9R is a 3-engine successor to the single-engine “Grasshopper” and will continue the development of reusable SpaceX rocket technology.  Later this summer the Falcon 9R will move to Spaceport America in New Mexico for high-altitude test flights.

Orbital’s Antares/Cygnus Team Wins National Space Society’s Space Pioneer Award for Science and Engineering

The National Space Society takes great pleasure in awarding a 2014 Space Pioneer Award for the Science and Engineering category to Orbital Science Corporation’s Antares/Cygnus Team. The National Space Society will present the Space Pioneer Award to Mr. Frank Mauro, Vice President and CRS Program Director, Mr. Mike Pinkston, the Antares Program Manager, and Mr. Frank Culbertson, Jr, Executive Vice President and General Manager of Orbital’s Advanced Programs Group. The award presentation will take place on Friday, May 16, 2014, at NSS’s annual conference, the 2014 International Space Development Conference (ISDC). The conference will be held at the Sheraton Gateway Hotel in Los Angeles, CA., from May 14-18, 2014.

About Orbital Sciences Antares/Cygnus Team:

The achievements of Orbital’s Antares/Cygnus Team at Orbital Science Corporation included the development, construction, launch and successful operation of the Antares booster and Cygnus spacecraft under NASA’s COTS/CRS program. CRS stands for Commercial Resupply Services. Orbital’s Headquarters are in Dulles, VA, and its Launch vehicle Program Offices are located in Chandler, AZ.

About the Antares/Cygnus project:

Orbital Sciences’ Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft.

As a private company Orbital sucessfully designed, integrated, and built both a midsized Antares liquid-fuel launch vehicle (their first) and a Cygnus orbital tug with a cargo canister. This was done using off-the-shelf technology, modified where necessary, from an international network of suppliers. One demonstration and one commercial flight were accomplished in 2013 with rendezvous and docking with and delivery of materials to the Space Station both times. The spacecraft can deliver up to 2 metric tons of cargo to the Space Station. Essentially flawless performance of the Antares booster and the Cygnus cargo vehicle on all flights so far has demonstrated Orbital’s success in getting the design right the first time. Antares will also become available for cost effectively launching mid-sized payloads comparable to the retiring Delta-II. It is designed to place 5 metric tons into orbit, and all 3 flights have been successful. The Cygnus service and propulsion module can also be regarded as a prototype for a flexible design space tug to move large external cargo placed in orbit to the Space Station.

About the Space Pioneer Award:

Space Pioneer AwardThe Space Pioneer Award consists of a silvery pewter Moon globe cast by the Baker Art Foundry in Placerville, California, from a sculpture originally created by Don Davis, the well-known space and astronomical artist. The globe, as shown at right, which represents multiple space mission destinations and goals, sits freely on a brass support with a wooden base and brass plaque, which are created by Michael Hall’s Studio Foundry of Driftwood, TX. There are several different categories under which the award is presented each year, starting in 1988. The NSS Awards Committee has been chaired by John Strickland since 2007 and its members seek prestigious award candidates on a continual basis.

About the ISDC: The International Space Development Conference (ISDC) is the annual conference of the National Space Society bringing together NSS leaders and members with leading managers, engineers, scientists, educators, and businessmen from civilian, military, commercial, entrepreneurial, and grassroots advocacy space sectors.

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell Wins National Space Society’s Space Pioneer Award for Entrepreneurial Business

The National Space Society takes great pleasure in awarding its 2014 Space Pioneer Award for the Entrepreneurial Business category to SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne R. Shotwell. NSS will present the Space Pioneer Award to Mrs. Shotwell on Saturday May 17, at NSS’s annual conference, the 2014 International Space Development Conference (ISDC).  The conference will be held at the Sheraton Gateway Hotel in Los Angeles, CA, and will run from May 14-18, 2014.

About Gwynne Shotwell:

Gwynne ShotwellWith this award we recognize Mrs. Shotwell’s immense service to the space community. We are honoring her specifically for her day to day management of SpaceX business, as an effective spokesperson, and in leading the sales of over $5B in launch services business to a global set of customers. She is also in charge of a wide array of other critical company operations. As the seventh employee of SpaceX in 2002, she has given over 11 years of her life to the fastest growing space company in history, contributing to its excellence in business discipline and restoring the US as a major space launch provider. Her two degrees (BA and MA) in mechanical engineering and applied math from Northwestern University, along with her undergraduate concentration in economics, have served her very well in working with SpaceX engineers and in explaining both the technical and the business details to customers, at conferences, and to the Congress. She previously worked at the Aerospace Corporation and Microcosm, Inc. During her career she has authored dozens of technical papers on spacecraft design, and also participates in STEM scholarship programs.

About SpaceX:

The work currently progressing at SpaceX has a high potential of finally allowing the long awaited economic breakout into space. The core mission of SpaceX is to lower the cost of accessing space by creating a system of reusable rocket boosters and spacecraft, with a policy of continuous improvement. The company was founded in 2002 by Elon Musk and Tom Mueller. It has grown to over 3000 employees and is now the world’s largest producer of rocket engines. The company has a manifest of about 50 launches, has already provided several resupply missions to the Space Station, recovering its Dragon capsule safely each time, and will be testing new hardware in 2014 leading to a reusable rocket first stage within a few years. The company’s long-range goal is to create a fully reusable space transportation system to allow large numbers of people to reach Mars.

About the Space Pioneer Award

Space Pioneer AwardThe Space Pioneer Award consists of a silvery pewter Moon globe cast by the Baker Art Foundry in Placerville, California, from a sculpture originally created by Don Davis, the well-known space and astronomical artist.  The globe, as shown at right, which represents multiple space mission destinations and goals, sits freely on a brass support with a wooden base and brass plaque, which are created by Michael Hall’s Studio Foundry of Driftwood, TX. There are several different categories under which the award is presented each year, starting in 1988.  The NSS Awards Committee has been chaired by John Strickland since 2007 and its members seek prestigious award candidates on a continual basis.

About the ISDC:  The International Space Development Conference (ISDC) is the annual conference of the National Space Society bringing together NSS leaders and members with leading managers, engineers, scientists, educators, and businessmen from civilian, military, commercial, entrepreneurial, and grassroots advocacy space sectors.