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.

The Demise of Rocketplane

Rocketplane, one of the NewSpace companies that tried to offer suborbital space tourism, quietly filed for liquidation in June, unnoticed until it was reported in an informative article in the Oklahoma Gazette on July 7. An excellent article in today’s Space Review analyses the decline of Rocketplane and its implications for other NewSpace companies.

SpaceX Falcon 9 now vertical on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral

While the Obama commercial space policy is the news, SpaceX continues to move forward toward the initial launch of its Falcon 9 rocket within the next 1 to 3 months. The latest milestone was getting the rocket vertical on the pad.

The full flight-ready Falcon 9 launch vehicle with Dragon qualification spacecraft raised to vertical on the launch pad at SLC-40, Cape Canaveral, Florida. Credit: SpaceX.
The full flight-ready Falcon 9 launch vehicle with Dragon qualification spacecraft raised to vertical on the launch pad February 20 at SLC-40, Cape Canaveral, Florida. Credit: SpaceX.
Falcon 9 flight hardware undergoing final integration earlier this month in the hangar at SpaceXs Cape Canaveral launch site in Florida. Credit: SpaceX.
Falcon 9 flight hardware undergoing final integration earlier this month in the hangar at SpaceX's Cape Canaveral launch site in Florida. Credit: SpaceX.

In December 2008, NASA announced the selection of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon Spacecraft to resupply the International Space Station (ISS) when the Space Shuttle retires in 2010. The Falcon 9 is designed to carry 23,000 pounds to Low Earth Orbit.

The Dragon Spacecraft, initially for cargo only, is later planned to carry astronauts as depicted in this SpaceX video.

The Washington Post on Space Commercialization

Spaced Out NASA’s vision for human exploration needs some hard questions and perhaps an entrepreneurial boost in the Washington Post

Now that the station is nearly complete, this might be an optimal time to open space to entrepreneurs. Many companies claim they possess the capacity to transport humans and payloads into space; the review committee found their reports convincing enough to suggest that these space entrepreneurs could take over the transport of astronauts and supplies to the space station after the shuttle program ends.

Paths to Space Settlement

I’ve recently finished a paper on space settlement called “Paths to Space Settlement.”  Here’s the abstract:

A number of firms are developing commercial sub-orbital launch vehicles to carry tourists into space. Let’s assume they attract many customers and become profitable. The next, much more difficult, step is to develop orbital tourist vehicles and space hotels to go with them. These hotels will require maids, cooks, waiters, concierges and so forth, some of which may decide to stay, becoming the first permanent residents in space. At some point a bright entrepreneur may notice the large numbers of wealthy elderly people in wheel chairs willing to pay well to get out of them. Add good medical facilities to an orbital hotel and those people could be living in the first zero-g retirement home.

In the meantime, we could choose to solve, once and for all, our energy and global warming problems by developing space solar power, i.e., putting up enormous satellites to gather energy in space and beam it to Earth with no atmospheric emissions at all. To supply a substantial fraction of civilization’s 15 tw energy habit would require huge numbers of launches, not to mention developing the ability to build extremely large structures in orbit, and eventually tapping the moon and asteroids for materials to avoid the environmental cost of mining, manufacturing, and launch from Earth.

The best asteroids to mine would be known if Earth’s people realize we are in a cosmic shooting gallery and build telescopes to find the thousands of deadly asteroids crossing Earth’s orbit. Most of these won’t hit us for millions of years, but there could be one heading our way at any time. Exploiting these Near Earth Ob jects (NEOs) could be made even easier if we take the eminently sensible step of changing the path of a few completely non dangerous NEOs, just for practice in case one is found to be heading our way without much time to develop deflection techniques.

If we do all this, each step of which is justified in it’s own right, we’ll have excellent launch, small orbital living facilities, the ability to build large objects in orbit, and access to extra-terrestrial materials – most of what we need to realize Gerard O’Neill’s space settlement vision. At that point, expect some extremely wealthy religious fanatics to build themselves a small orbital habitat so they don’t have to live with any ’unbelievers.’ Since the first space settlement is by far the hardest to build, from there on it’s just a matter of time until we have an orbital civilization with trillions of inhabitants.

These are paths to space settlement.

By  Al Globus

Behind the Scenes at SpaceX

Behind the Scenes With the World’s Most Ambitious Rocket Makers– An improbable partnership between an Internet mogul and an engineer could revolutionize the way NASA conducts missions—and, if these iconoclasts are successful, send paying customers into space.

by early 2002 Mueller had moved his operations to a friend’s rented warehouse and was putting the finishing touches on the world’s largest amateur liquid-fuel rocket engine, an 80-pounder designed to produce 13,000 pounds of thrust.

Mueller’s ambitious moonlighting caught the attention of Internet multimillionaire Elon Musk, who met the engineer at the warehouse in January 2002 as Mueller was trying to attach his homemade engine to an airframe. Fresh from the $1.5 billion sale of PayPal to eBay, Musk was seeking staff for a new space company, soon to be called Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX. He eyed the rocket engine and asked a simple question: “Can you build something bigger?”

Mueller never fired that engine. He took it back to his garage, where it still sits. Instead, he took up Musk’s offer to join the nascent private space venture.

New Space Looks to the Moon

MAKING THE MOON PAY

Ramin Khadem, a veteran of the telecom satellite industry, thinks there’s definitely money to be made on the moon. That’s not surprising: As chairman of Odyssey Moon Limited, he’s in charge of one of the ventures planning to deliver commercial payloads to the moon – not 40 years from now, but sometime in the next five years.

“The moon is almost like an eighth continent,” Khadem told me. “It’s within the planet Earth’s own economic sphere … Our approach has been to explore this eighth continent. Just as explorers went to the new world and found all sorts of great things, we think there are opportunities there.”