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    

SpaceX Announces Progress on Reusable Rocket

SpaceX released the following statement July 23:

Following last week’s successful launch of six ORBCOMM satellites, the Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage reentered Earth’s atmosphere and soft landed in the Atlantic Ocean. This test confirms that the Falcon 9 booster is able to consistently reenter from space at hypersonic velocity, restart main engines twice, deploy landing legs and touch down at near zero velocity.

After landing, the vehicle tipped sideways as planned to its final water safing state in a nearly horizontal position. The water impact caused loss of hull integrity, but we received all the necessary data to achieve a successful landing on a future flight. Going forward, we are taking steps to minimize the build up of ice and spots on the camera housing in order to gather improved video on future launches.

At this point, we are highly confident of being able to land successfully on a floating launch pad or back at the launch site and refly the rocket with no required refurbishment. However, our next couple launches are for very high velocity geostationary satellite missions, which don’t allow enough residual propellant for landing. In the longer term, missions like that will fly on Falcon Heavy, but until then Falcon 9 will need to fly in expendable mode.

We will attempt our next water landing on flight 13 of Falcon 9, but with a low probability of success. Flights 14 and 15 will attempt to land on a solid surface with an improved probability of success.

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:

http://www.nss.org/legislative/alerts/NSS.Legislative.Alert.2014.Jun.5.pdf.

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:

http://www.nss.org/legislative/positions/NSS_Position_Paper_Commercial_Crew_2014.pdf