The International Space Station as a Research Hub

From Dale Skran, Deputy Chair, NSS Policy Committee:

One of the major foci of the NSS Policy Committee has been and continues to be supporting the International Space Station and the associated critical Commercial Crew and Commercial Resupply Service (CRS) programs.  One reason both are so important to the ISS lies in the incredible value of the ability to both move new experiments to the ISS on a regular basis, and to return experimental results when they are ready.  It should be noted that the Russian Soyuz is a very tight fit for the three astronauts, and it has virtually no return-to-Earth cargo capacity.  Thus, without the CRS SpaceX Dragon, there would be no way to return experiments to Earth. NASA has produced the interesting half-hour video below that reviews science and technology efforts on the ISS during 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

Astronaut Lunar Ambassadors 45th Anniversary Splashdowns

The 45th anniversaries of the Apollo lunar missions are now upon us and the National Space Society (NSS) is honoring the heroic accomplishments of these brave lunar astronauts. Monday, November 24, 2014, is the 45th anniversary of the return-to-Earth splashdown of Apollo 12, the second mission to land people on the Moon.

Apollo 12 splashdown
Apollo 12 splashdown, November 24, 1969

NSS hereby announces that it is granting the title of “Lunar Ambassador” to the crew members of the first two Apollo lunar landing missions. NSS, the leading nonprofit organization promoting space development and settlement, has taken this step to remind the world of the significance of humans reaching the Moon.

Apollo 11 and 12 patches

“NSS is proud to extend this honor to our pioneering Apollo astronauts who have led humanity’s advance into space,” said Mark Hopkins, chair of the NSS Executive Committee.

NSS intends to confer the title of “Lunar Ambassador” on the members of the remaining Apollo crews as they reach the 45th anniversaries of their flights. All of these are steps leading to the historic 50th anniversary, July 20, 2019, of mankind’s first human Moon landing.

The Apollo missions were the result of a commitment by President John F. Kennedy to land a man on the Moon and return him safely before the end of the sixties. A similar presidential commitment would be very appropriate on the historic 50th anniversary of the first human landing on the Moon.

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.”

National Space Society Supports 2015 NASA Commercial Crew Budget

The Washington DC-based National Space Society (NSS) has been a consistent supporter of NASA’s Commercial Crew program to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS).  In the NSS position paper on the NASA Commercial Crew Program released today, the Society strongly endorses $848 million in the 2015 NASA budget for Commercial Crew, along with the $250 million supplemental Commercial Crew request.  Furthermore, the $171 million “hold” placed on the program last year should be removed.

At a time when the availability of the Russian supplied Soyuz, our current sole method of getting American astronauts to the ISS (at $70 million per seat), is being increasingly questioned and political relations with Russia are deteriorating, we need to move Commercial Crew to the top of NASA’s priority list.

NSS believes, however, that the nature of the Commercial Crew program is as important as the amount of funding.   Commercial Crew must support a minimum of two independent American providers of crewed access to ISS.   Failure to provide this level of capability will lead to rising costs and hinder the growth of a vigorous private commercial launch industry that will lead to a vibrant, sustainable commercial space industry and the high tech jobs growth that it will create.  In addition, NSS believes the Commercial Crew program will have adequate safety, and should proceed without further funding shortfall-based delays.

NSS also endorses the recent decision by the Obama administration to extend the life of the ISS by four years to 2024.  NASA should take additional steps to further extend both the life and the capabilities of the ISS, including using the Commercial Crew vehicles to support a larger ISS crew, creating greater science, technology and commercial output.

NSS Executive Vice President Paul Werbos summed up the situation.  “We face great uncertainty in our ability to access the ISS.  We can develop a competitive, commercially successful American means to do this.  There is little or no benefit to waiting.  Let’s do it.”

See NSS Position Paper on the NASA Commercial Crew Program.

Commercial Crew Program

National Space Society Salutes Lori Garver's Service at NASA

The National Space Society (NSS) would like to congratulate Lori Garver for the tremendous contributions she has made to NASA and America’s space program during her four years as Deputy NASA Administrator.

“She was a staunch supporter of commercial space and using public/private partnerships to leverage private investment using fewer taxpayer dollars,” stated Mark Hopkins, chairman of the NSS Executive Committee. “Lori’s calm leadership and grace under pressure will be missed by all of us in the space community and we wish her all the best in the next phase of her career.”

Lori was the Executive Director of NSS for nine years until she left for her first tour with NASA in 1998.  She was a key player in the building of the new organization that came into existence after the merger of National Space Institute and the L5 Society in 1987.

Boeing Unveils CST-100 Spacecraft Interior

And Space Adventures plans to sell flights on the CST-100, having recently signed a contract with Boeing to that effect. No word yet on cost and availability.

Article below by Rebecca Regan, NASA Kennedy Space Center

Two NASA astronauts conducted flight suit evaluations inside a fully outfitted test version of The Boeing Company’s CST-100 spacecraft July 22, the first time the world got a glimpse of the crew capsule’s interior.

“The astronauts always enjoy getting out and looking at the vehicles and sharing their experiences with these commercial providers,” said Kathy Lueders, deputy manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP).

Boeing is one of three American companies working with CCP to develop safe, reliable and cost-effective crew transportation systems during NASA’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) initiative, which is intended to make commercial human spaceflight services available for government and commercial customers.

During two, four-hour sessions, astronauts Serena Aunon and Randy Bresnik put on NASA’s iconic orange launch-and-entry suits and then individually tested their maneuverability inside the capsule. Meanwhile, Boeing engineers monitored communications, equipment and ergonomics.

“These are our customers. They’re the ones who will take our spacecraft into flight, and if we’re not building it the way they want it we’re doing something wrong,” said Chris Ferguson, director of Boeing’s Crew and Mission Operations and a former NASA astronaut. “We’ll probably make one more go-around and make sure that everything is just the way they like it.”

The CST-100 test vehicle was optimized to seat five crew members, but the spacecraft could accommodate up to seven or a mix of crew and cargo. While the spacecraft may resemble Boeing’s heritage Apollo-era capsules from an exterior perspective, its interior is a reflection of modern technology. From the ambient sky blue LED lighting and tablet technology, the company ensured the CST-100 is a modern spacecraft.

“What you’re not going to find is 1,100 or 1,600 switches,” said Ferguson. “When these guys go up in this, they’re primary mission is not to fly this spacecraft, they’re primary mission is to go to the space station for six months. So we don’t want to burden them with an inordinate amount of training to fly this vehicle. We want it to be intuitive.”

Other innovative element of the CST-100 is its weld-free design, modern structures and upgraded thermal protection techniques. The company said its spun-formed shell reduces the overall mass of the spacecraft as well as the time it takes to build the crew capsule. “I’m really a looking forward to the day when we will be bringing our Expedition crew members home and I won’t need a passport or a visa to go to the landing site and greet them as they come off the vehicle,” Lueders said.

National Space Society Applauds NASA Asteroid Capture Plan

The National Space Society (NSS) applauds the new NASA budget item that would provide close to $100 million for a mission to rendezvous with a small asteroid and move it into orbit around the Moon where it could later be visited by astronauts.

“An asteroid capture mission is a tremendously important mission, and one that could not be more relevant to the challenges our civilization faces today,” said Mark Hopkins, Chairman of the NSS Executive Committee. “Robotic asteroid capture is the first step to exploiting the vast material resources of the solar system for a hopeful and prosperous future for mankind.”

Notes NSS Executive Vice President Paul Werbos, “Even small asteroids contain tremendous wealth—precious metals, rare strategic metals important for sustainable development, raw materials for in-space construction, and volatiles for life support and propulsion in space.”

This mission is an important precursor to enable private industry to access such resources for the benefit of all mankind and return wealth to our world economy. One medium sized asteroid, 3554 Anum, is estimated to contain $20 trillion of platinum group metals.

Robotic asteroid capture is also a key step toward an effective planetary defense. The mission will mature our ability to capture and deflect a hazardous asteroid—protecting civilization from suffering the same fate as the dinosaurs. The search for suitable targets will find huge numbers of smaller, currently unknown asteroids which pose a very real meteor threat to cities as evidenced by the explosion last month over Chelyabinsk, Russia that injured over 1000 people.

The mission also involves development of cost-effective new technologies of crucial value both to public and private activities in space. Robotic asteroid capture will drive improvements to Solar Electric Propulsion, a critical enabler of cost-effective transportation in Earth-Lunar space and the inner solar system akin to the development of large ocean faring vessels—opening up possibilities for even more ambitious missions in the future.

“The National Space Society has been advocating the capture of asteroid resources for decades (see our Roadmap and Statement of Philosophy), and is most gratified to see this important step toward the NSS Vision of people living and working in thriving communities beyond the Earth, and the use of the vast resources of space for the dramatic betterment of humanity,” said Hopkins.