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.

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.

NSS Executive Committee Chair Quoted on Fox News

In an online article about Deep Space Industries, the newly announced asteroid mining company, Fox News quoted NSS Executive Committee Chair Mark Hopkins as follows:

“They have the potential to make an enormous amount of money,” Mark Hopkins, a founding member of the Space Development Steering Committee and the Chair of the Exec. Committee of the National Space Society, told FoxNews.com.

“It’s a risky venture. But if they don’t make it some other company is likely to do it in the future,” Hopkins said. “[Space mining] has the potential of restoring the American dream in the minds of Americans and the rest of the world.”

Hopkins is a former Rand Corporation economist.

See full Fox News article.

Moon Mines: Visionary or Senseless?

Editorial by Al Globus, December 2011

Do lunar mines make sense? The answer depends on what you want to do in space. If what you want is something close to what we have now: a booming commercial communication satellite business and government programs for science and exploration, then no. Lunar mines built entirely with tax dollars are expensive and unnecessary. On the other hand, if you see further than a few years ahead, if you see civilization, humanity, and Life itself expanding into space, if you see large scale industrialization, commercialization and settlement of space, then lunar mines are of enormous importance. The interesting thing is, the second vision will probably cost the taxpayer a lot less and deliver much greater value to the people of Earth.

First, let us consider what lunar mines can supply a growing civilization in space:

1) Shielding mass. Our atmosphere protects us from the intense radiation in space. For those who seek to spend long periods in space, particularly beyond Earth’s protective magnetic field, radiation shielding is a must. To mimic the atmosphere, roughly 10 tons/square-meter is necessary. The Moon is ideally situated to supply these bulk materials.

2) Rocket propellant. Today’s rockets are propelled by chemical reactions. The highest performance propellant is hydrogen and oxygen, which combine to produce water and the energy and thrust necessary to travel in space. Most of the weight, roughly 90%, of this propellant is oxygen. The Moon has very large quantities of oxygen tied up in surface materials.

3) Water. A great deal of money is spent today bringing water to the International Space Station (ISS). The same oxygen that supplies most of the mass for rocket propellant can be used to make water. There are also large quantities of water in the craters at the lunar poles where the Sun never shines.

4) Metals. Lunar materials returned by the Apollo astronauts contain large quantities of titanium, aluminum, iron and other metals. These metals can supply materials for large space structures, including habitats.

5) Silicon. Silicon and metals from the Moon could be used to build the space segment of Space Solar Power (SSP) systems. These satellites would gather energy in space and transmit it wirelessly to the ground. If successfully developed, SSP could supply massive quantities of clean energy to Earth for literally billions of years. A recent paper published in the NSS Space Settlement Journal [A Contemporary Analysis of the O’Neill – Glaser Model for Space-based Solar Power and Habitat Construction. Peter A. Curreri and Michael K. Detweiler. December 2011.] suggests that using lunar materials for the SSP satellites requires more up-front capital than ground launch but begins generating profits much sooner.

6) He-3. Over billions of years the solar wind has implanted He-3, an isotope that is particularly well suited to fusion power, into lunar surface materials. This could be mined, brought to Earth, and used in future fusion power plants.

Thus, a vigorous lunar mining system could be part of a system to deliver energy to Earth, build large structures in space, and even provide radiation protection, water and oxygen to those who want to spend significant time in orbit. Developing lunar mines will be an enormous effort and would cost huge amounts of taxpayer money if it were done the same way Apollo, the Space Shuttle, and the ISS were developed. Fortunately, there is another way.

In the 1960s the U.S. government provided modest subsidies to start up the communication satellite business. Today, communication satellites are a $250 billion/year global business producing yearly tax revenue far greater than the subsidies.

The U.S. government is currently providing subsidies to help develop private, commercial launch vehicles. The cargo versions are almost complete. Two launchers, one of which has flown, were developed at a small fraction of the usual cost for government launcher programs. The human launch versions are being developed by the commercial crew program, which was budgeted for $6 billion and scheduled to develop two or three vehicles that could deliver astronauts to the ISS by 2015. [The budget for the first year was cut from $850 million to $406 million. This is expected to delay the first flight by a year or two.] By contrast, the all-government Space Launch System (SLS) is not scheduled to fly astronauts until 2021 and is estimated cost $40 billion to develop. Although the SLS is much larger, variants of the commercial vehicles may approach or even exceed SLS performance sooner and at much less cost. [The first SLS version is expected to place up to 70 tons into Low Earth Orbit (LEO); a later version may lift up to 130 tons. The Falcon Heavy, due to launch in late 2012, is expected to place up to 50 tons in LEO. SpaceX has also proposed a larger version of the Falcon that could lift 150 tons to LEO; it is projected to take five years to develop at a total cost of $2.5 billion.]

Thus, the evidence suggests that reorienting our space program to support commercialization and industrialization of space, as opposed to 100% government missions, may produce far greater results at much less cost. Lunar mining could be a major component of such space industrialization. There is already at least one commercial company that intends to mine the Moon. Perhaps we should support it.

SpaceX readies for first private space station docking in December

NASA has agreed in principle to allow the SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule to dock with the International Space Station. Launch of the Dragon on a SpaceX Falcon 9 is scheduled for November 30 with the docking to occur 9 days later. This will be the 3rd launch of Falcon 9.

Original plans called for an additional flight to first demonstrate a rendezvous with the space station with actual docking to occur on a later flight. These two flights have now been combined into one flight, with final approval from NASA expected. This will be the first demonstration that a privately-developed space transportation system can deliver cargo to and from the space station.

Technicians work on the Dragon spacecraft in SpaceX facility in Hawthorne, CA
Technicians work on the Dragon spacecraft in SpaceX facility in Hawthorne, CA

See full SpaceX press release about the November launch.

The Dragon spacecraft heat shield is designed not only for re-entry from Earth orbit (at 17,000 MPH) but also for re-entry from a lunar-return trajectory (at 25,000 MPH).

Work also continues on modifying the Dragon spacecraft to human-rate it by adding a launch escape system. SpaceX received a $75 million NASA contract in April to develop this system. SpaceX plans to further modify the system in the future to make the spacecraft capable of landing on any solid surface in the Solar System. See the short video below.

Is the Moon a Business Opportunity?

Is the Moon a business opportunity?  According to Dr. Barney Pell, “it’s one of the biggest business opportunities in history.”

According to Pell, an angel investor and computer scientist and Vice Chairman and Chief Technology Officer of Moon Express, Inc., platinum metals strewn across the lunar surface from asteroid impacts could be worth many billions more than the cost of retrieving them.

Pell expresses his views in this short interview by Forbes.com:

Moon Express was selected as a participant in NASA’s $30M Innovative Lunar Demonstration Data (ILDD) program and is a candidate for the Google Lunar X-Prize.

Statement on Launch Costs from SpaceX CEO Elon Musk

The following is quoted in full from the SpaceX website, dated May 4, 2011.  Note that SpaceX is participating in the NSS International Space Development Conference (ISDC 2011) later this month.

WHY THE US CAN BEAT CHINA: THE FACTS ABOUT SPACEX COSTS

Whenever someone proposes to do something that has never been done before, there will always be skeptics.

So when I started SpaceX, it was not surprising when people said we wouldn’t succeed. But now that we’ve successfully proven Falcon 1, Falcon 9 and Dragon, there’s been a steady stream of misinformation and doubt expressed about SpaceX’s actual launch costs and prices.

As noted last month by a Chinese government official, SpaceX currently has the best launch prices in the world and they don’t believe they can beat them. This is a clear case of American innovation trumping lower overseas labor rates.

I recognize that our prices shatter the historical cost models of government-led developments, but these prices are not arbitrary, premised on capturing a dominant share of the market, or “teaser” rates meant to lure in an eager market only to be increased later. These prices are based on known costs and a demonstrated track record, and they exemplify the potential of America’s commercial space industry.

Here are the facts:

The price of a standard flight on a Falcon 9 rocket is $54 million. We are the only launch company that publicly posts this information on our website (www.spacex.com). We have signed many legally binding contracts with both government and commercial customers for this price (or less). Because SpaceX is so vertically integrated, we know and can control the overwhelming majority of our costs. This is why I am so confident that our performance will increase and our prices will decline over time, as is the case with every other technology.

The average price of a full-up NASA Dragon cargo mission to the International Space Station is $133 million including inflation, or roughly $115m in today’s dollars, and we have a firm, fixed price contract with NASA for 12 missions. This price includes the costs of the Falcon 9 launch, the Dragon spacecraft, all operations, maintenance and overhead, and all of the work required to integrate with the Space Station. If there are cost overruns, SpaceX will cover the difference. (This concept may be foreign to some traditional government space contractors that seem to believe that cost overruns should be the responsibility of the taxpayer.)

The total company expenditures since being founded in 2002 through the 2010 fiscal year were less than $800 million, which includes all the development costs for the Falcon 1, Falcon 9 and Dragon. Included in this $800 million are the costs of building launch sites at Vandenberg, Cape Canaveral and Kwajalein, as well as the corporate manufacturing facility that can support up to 12 Falcon 9 and Dragon missions per year. This total also includes the cost of five flights of Falcon 1, two flights of Falcon 9, and one up and back flight of Dragon.

The Falcon 9 launch vehicle was developed from a blank sheet to first launch in four and half years for just over $300 million. The Falcon 9 is an EELV class vehicle that generates roughly one million pounds of thrust (four times the maximum thrust of a Boeing 747) and carries more payload to orbit than a Delta IV Medium.

The Dragon spacecraft was developed from a blank sheet to the first demonstration flight in just over four years for about $300 million. Last year, SpaceX became the first private company, in partnership with NASA, to successfully orbit and recover a spacecraft. The spacecraft and the Falcon 9 rocket that carried it were designed, manufactured and launched by American workers for an American company. The Falcon 9/Dragon system, with the addition of a launch escape system, seats and upgraded life support, can carry seven astronauts to orbit, more than double the capacity of the Russian Soyuz, but at less than a third of the price per seat.

SpaceX has been profitable every year since 2007, despite dramatic employee growth and major infrastructure and operations investments. We have over 40 flights on manifest representing over $3 billion in revenues.

These are the objective facts, confirmed by external auditors. Moreover, SpaceX intends to make far more dramatic reductions in price in the long term when full launch vehicle reusability is achieved. We will not be satisfied with our progress until we have achieved this long sought goal of the space industry.

For the first time in more than three decades, America last year began taking back international market-share in commercial satellite launch. This remarkable turn-around was sparked by a small investment NASA made in SpaceX in 2006 as part of the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. A unique public-private partnership, COTS has proven that under the right conditions, a properly incentivized contractor — even an all-American one — can develop extremely complex systems on rapid timelines and a fixed-price basis, significantly beating historical industry-standard costs.

China has the fastest growing economy in the world. But the American free enterprise system, which allows anyone with a better mouse-trap to compete, is what will ensure that the United States remains the world’s greatest superpower of innovation.

–Elon–

Astrobotic Technology Signs SpaceX Contract for Lunar XPrize Mission


Astrobotic
Falcon 9 / Lunar Mission
Image Credit:
Astrobotic Technology

Astrobotic Technology, Inc., a spinoff from Carnegie Mellon University, announced the signing of a contract with SpaceX to launch its Lunar XPrize mission using a Falcon 9 rocket.

Astrobotic intends to launch as early as December 2013. The mission includes a rover designed to operate for three months, and commercial payloads on the lander priced at $700,000 per pound, plus a fee of $250,000-per-payload to cover the cost of integration, communications, power, thermal control and pointing services.

Currently, Astrobotic Technology has a contract with NASA to design a lunar mining robot that can extract frozen volatiles (water, methane) at polar locations. These can be used to create propellants for spacecraft returning to Earth.

SpaceX Applauds Breakthrough Compromise in U.S. Senate on NASA Budget

Press Release from SpaceX:

Legislation Supports Domestic Commercial Crew Initiatives to Reduce Reliance on Russian Soyuz and Bring Critical High-Tech Jobs Back to the U.S.

Hawthorne, CA, July 20, 2010SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies) applauds the efforts of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee for their unanimous, bipartisan approval of the NASA Authorization Act of 2010. This landmark legislation ushers in a new era in human spaceflight by embracing the commercial sector as a full partner and recognizing commercial crew services as the primary means of astronaut transport to the International Space Station (ISS).

“We are pleased that the Senate Commerce Committee has recognized that the best and only near-term option for eliminating America’s reliance on the Russian Soyuz for astronaut transportation is the development and use of commercial systems, such as SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Dragon spacecraft,” said Elon Musk, CEO & CTO, SpaceX. “For about the same amount that is currently being spent on purchasing seats on Russian launch vehicles, we can create thousands of high-tech, high-paying jobs right here at home.”

In 2010, NASA will pay the Russian Space Agency $287.4 million for 6 seats on Russian Soyuz flights, which amounts to $47.9 million per seat. By 2013, the price per seat paid to Russia to carry U.S. astronauts will exceed $55 million.

Though it provides less funding than the President’s request, the new legislation provides $312 million in FY11 funding for the development of American commercial systems to transport crew to the ISS. SpaceX is one of several companies currently developing commercial crew technology funded by NASA, including Nevada-based Sierra Nevada Corporation, Illinois-based Boeing Company, Colorado-based United Launch Alliance, Washington-based Blue Origin, Nevada-based Bigelow Aerospace, and Arizona-based Paragon Space Development Corporation.

SpaceX successfully launched its Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon spacecraft test article in June 2010, meeting 100% of mission objectives on its first attempt. The first demonstration flight with a fully operational Dragon spacecraft is targeted for late summer 2010. This flight will be the first under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program which was established in 2006 to encourage private companies to develop commercial space transport capabilities. SpaceX currently employs over 1,100 people across California, Texas and Florida.