National Space Society Congratulates Blue Origin for Its Successful In-flight Escape Test of New Shepard

On October 5, 2016, for the fifth time, Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket successfully flew to the edge of space and returned to its West Texas launch site intact. National Space Society Executive Vice President Dale Skran said, “Blue Origin is to be congratulated for putting together a systematic test program to demonstrate all the features of the New Shepard sub-orbital system. NSS members look forward to the first crewed flight of the New Shepard, and to sub-orbital tourist flights once New Shepard is operational. Additionally, New Shepard will provide expanded low-cost access to micro-gravity for researchers.”

Fifth Landing of New Shepard (Credit: Blue Origin)
Fifth Landing of New Shepard (Credit: Blue Origin)

Blue Origin again made history by successfully demonstrating the operation of the capsule’s in-flight escape system. About 45 seconds into the flight, the 70,000 pounds of thrust New Shepard solid fuel escape motor pushed the capsule away from the booster and toward a parachute assisted landing in Texas.

New Shepard Crew Capsule Landing (Credit: Blue Origin)
New Shepard Crew Capsule Landing (Credit: Blue Origin)

“Blue Origin’s successful capsule escape demonstration represents a material step toward a fully re-usable sub-orbital vehicle,” said Bruce Pittman, NSS Senior Vice President and Senior Operating Officer. “We endorse Blue Origin and Jeff Bezos’ vision of ‘millions of people living and working in space’ – this is the heart and soul of the NSS Roadmap to Space Settlement. Today that vision made another significant step forward.” (See

In a remarkable achievement, the New Shepard booster was not destroyed by the firing of the escape motor, and continued a nominal flight first to the edge of space and then back to the launch site. Blue Origin has announced that following this fifth test flight, both the capsule and the booster will be retired and put on public display. (See a replay of the 1.25-hour flight webcast.)

Jeff Bezos, Blue Origin CEO said, “Like Mercury, Apollo, and Soyuz, New Shepard has an escape system that can quickly propel the crew capsule to safety if a problem is detected with the booster. Our escape system, however, is configured differently from those earlier designs.” The New Shepard is a “pusher” rather than the old tower “pull” system used by Apollo, allowing the escape system to be re-used. Bezos continued, stating that “Expending an escape motor on every flight drives up costs significantly. Further, the jettison operation is itself safety critical. Failure to jettison the tower is catastrophic.”

Peter Garretson: What the New President Needs to Know about Space

NSS Director Peter Garretson has just published a significant article on what the new President likely won’t be hearing about space, but should be. Here are some excerpts:

It is no secret that the last National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends 2030 spectacularly missed space. The question is — will this next Global Trends, due in December 2016, miss it again?
“The Moon could serve as a new and tremendous supplier of energy and resources for human beings,” said Ouyang Ziyuan, chief scientist of China’s Moon-exploration program. “This is crucial to sustainable development of human beings on Earth. … Whoever first conquers the Moon will benefit first.”
Our long-term goal is to explore, land and settle [the Moon],” chimed in Wu Weiren, China’s chief designer for Moon missions. More recently, Lt Gen. Zhang Yulin — deputy chief of the Chinese military’s armament-development department, suggested that “China would next begin to exploit Earth-Moon space for industrial development. The goal would be the construction of space-based solar power satellites that would beam energy back to Earth.”
“Thus, the state has decided that power coming from outside of the Earth, such as solar power and development of other space energy resources, is to be China’s future direction,” wrote Gao Ji, Hou Xinbin and Wang Li from the China Academy of Space Technology.
The lack of cognizance by policymakers constitutes grounds for strategic surprise. “China had built up a solid industrial foundation, acquired sufficient technology and had enough money to carry out the most ambitious space project in history,” wrote Wang Xiji, designer of China’s first carrier rocket. “Once completed, the solar station, with a capacity of 100 megawatts, would span at least one square kilometer, dwarfing the International Space Station and becoming the biggest man-made object in space.”
In the absence of anything resembling a space development or space industrialization policy, U.S. companies are going abroad and interesting new actors are appearing on the scenes. Luxemburg courts U.S.-based space mining companies, Dubai woos U.S.-based space solar power companies.
Specifically, NIC Global Trends scenarios need to specifically address lunar and asteroid mining, space solar power, and space settlement. These are important topics to explore because there is both a range of serious actors working in this space and because these could have vast societal consequences.
In the United States, these underlying societal attitudes are manifesting themselves in the exploits of self-financing industrialists such as Elon Musk (SpaceX, Tesla, Paypal), Jeff Bezos (Blue Origin, Amazon), Paul Allen (Vulcan Aerospace, Microsoft) and Robert Bigelow. Musk is building rockets and a space-based internet not for their own sakes, but to finance taking millions of people to build a city on Mars and become a multi-planet civilization. “In terms of the first [manned] flight to Mars, we are hoping to do that around 2025,” Musk said. Bezos openly talks about a vision of “millions of people living and working in space” and moving heavy industry and energy to space in order to save Earth.
All of this reflects a shift in societal attitude rejecting space exploration for space exploration sake, or for the sake of “showing off” in favor of viewing space exploration as an activity we do toward some larger end — species survival, space settlement, space industrialization, space resources. Changing ends will result in different outcomes.
Small programmatic decisions by this president-elect will or will not position U.S. companies to be at the forefront of a new commercial age of space. These near term decisions may decide the speed at which an end-to-end space transportation and supply chain are built to incorporate the solar system into our economic sphere of influence, including promoting or hindering the development of commercial fully-reusable launch vehicles — a lead the United States should consolidate.

Read the whole article.


National Space Society Space Settlement Campaign Supports Elon Musk’s Mars Settlement Plans

At today’s meeting of the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Guadalajara, Mexico, Elon Musk, CEO of Space X, announced his bold plan to build a city on Mars. For over 40 years the National Space Society has led advocacy for space settlement. According to Mark Hopkins, economist and Chair of the Executive Committee of the National Space Society, “The vast majority of the resources of our solar system lie in space rather than on the Earth. By settling Mars and other locations in space we can overcome the resource limits of Earth leading to a hopeful, prosperous future for all of humanity.”

During the talk Musk detailed the Interplanetary Transport System (ITS) for the first time. The first stage of the ITS towers 77.5 meters with a diameter of 12 meters and uses 42 Raptor engines to provide a total of 28 million lbs of thrust. The second stage is 49.5 meters long, 17 m in diameter, uses 9 Raptor engines, and comes in both a crew/cargo model and a tanker model. Musk’s plans are based on four key approaches: full reusability of all components, refueling in orbit around Earth, refueling on Mars with locally produced propellant, and using a rocket fuel (methane/oxygen) that can be easily manufactured on Mars. Musk envisions that the eventual cost of a ticket to Mars will be in the $100K-$200K U.S. dollars range, allowing ordinary people to eventually travel to Mars.

SpacX ITS launch
SpacX ITS launch
SpaceX ITS reusable first stage return
SpaceX ITS reusable first stage return
SpaceX ITS refueling in orbit (image: SpaceX)
SpaceX ITS refueling in orbit
SpaceX ITS approaching Mars
SpaceX ITS approaching Mars
SpaceX ITS nearing Mars
SpaceX ITS final approach to Mars
SpaceX ITS Mars entry
SpaceX ITS Mars entry
SpaceX Raptor engine test
SpaceX Raptor engine test
SpaceX has already built an ITS prototype composite fuel tank
SpaceX has already built a prototype ITS composite fuel tank

What has been a bold vision of the future for humanity is now becoming reality. Humanity has begun the first concrete steps towards space settlement. The next decade will be one of the most pivotal in human history. Today we are beginning the journey to becoming a multiplanetary species.

In recognition of these momentous developments taking place the National Space Society is convening the first “Space Settlement Summit” in January to bring together leading people, companies and organizations that are making space settlement a reality. Participation in this event will be by invitation only and limited to entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers, venture capitalists, and thought leaders deeply involved in making space settlement a reality. The objective of the event will be to show the synergistic in-space ecosystem that is emerging; to facilitate a convergence of interests and opportunities among the key players; and to identify critical issues along the path to space settlement. We are at the dawn of a new era for humanity and the National Space Society is continuing its role as the leading voice for space settlement.

Musk’s reveal of his Mars colonization plan follows the announcement September 12th of the Blue Origin “New Glenn” heavy-lift vehicle by Jeff Bezos. The New Glenn is 7 meters in diameter and comes in both a two stage and a three stage version. The reusable first stage is powered by seven BE-4 engines fueled by liquid natural gas and liquid oxygen, providing 3.85 million pounds of thrust. The second stage uses a single BE-4 engine, and the optional third stage a single liquid hydrogen-oxygen BE-3 engine, the same engine used in the flight proven reusable New Shepard sub-orbital vehicle.

“The New Glenn is a major step forward for commercial space,” said Dale Skran, NSS Executive Vice President. “With the SpaceX ITS and Falcon Heavy, the United Launch Alliance Vulcan, and the Blue Origin New Glenn operational, the U.S. will have four domestic options for commercial medium to heavy lift. This will allow NASA to make use of commercial heavy lift services with greater confidence than if only a single operator existed.”

The U.S National Space Policy of 2010 states “To promote a robust domestic commercial space industry, departments and agencies shall: Purchase and use commercial space capabilities and services to the maximum practical extent when such capabilities and services are available in the marketplace and meet United States Government requirements.”

“NASA ought to welcome the usage of the ITS, Vulcan, the New Glenn and the Falcon Heavy in future NASA planning,” said Skran. “NASA can only benefit from the existence of multiple commercial medium to heavy lift providers with re-usable first stages that offer the possibility of significant cost reductions.”

Milestone 2 on the NSS Space Settlement Roadmap is titled “Higher Commercial Launch Rates and Lower Cost to Orbit” ( Future NASA usage of commercially available partially or fully re-usable medium to heavy lift vehicles will be critical to achieving this milestone.

“Competition like that seen between Blue Origin and SpaceX is key to rapid progress in space,” said Bruce Pittman, NSS Senior Vice President. “Elon just presented a plan for settling the solar system in this century that is realistic and affordable. In my paper, ‘A Pathway to a Thriving Commercial Space Economy’ at IAC, I also laid out a path forward to a thriving new economy in space that produces new opportunities for all.”

Musk’s plan’s address MILESTONES 15 (“Logistics System”), 16 (“Base”), and 17 (“A True Martian Settlement”) in the evolving NSS Space Settlement Roadmap (see NSS supports the exploration, development, and settlement of space, including free space, the Moon, asteroids, and other locations in addition to Mars.

NSS has been pushing hard via legislative outreach in cooperation with the Alliance for Space Development to make space development and settlement part of the objectives that guide NASA. In March 2016 Rep. Dana Rohrabacher introduced H.R.4752 the “Space Exploration, Development, and Settlement Act (see to make development and settlement of space part of the fundamental law governing NASA.

More recently, on September 21, 2016, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee marked up S.3346, the NASA Transition Act of 2016. This bi-partisan Bill, co-sponsored by Senators Cruz, Nelson, Rubio, Peters, Wicker, and Udall, contains the following ground-breaking statement:

Section 202(a) of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2010 (42 U.S.C. 18312(a)) is amended to read as follows:
“(a) LONG-TERM GOALS—The long-term goals of the human space flight and exploration efforts of NASA shall be—
“(1) to expand permanent human presence beyond low-Earth orbit and to do so, where practical, in a manner involving international, academic, and industry partners; and
“(2) the peaceful settlement of a location in space or on another celestial body and a thriving space economy in the 21st century.”

The entire S.3346 “NASA Transition Act of 2016” can be found at: NSS applauds the Senate for taking this forward-looking position in favor of space development and settlement, but much remains to be done to make space development and settlement a reality. Join us in the fight for a better future at

Enterprise In Space: A Tutor for Every Child, video presentation for the MacArthur Foundation 100&Change Grant.

The President of the National Space Society describes how many children around the world lack access to a basic education and how ValueSpring Technology is developing an artificial intelligence that will be a tutor for each person, thus helping to bring about the world that Gene Roddenberry imagined, where everyone is able to contribute to his or her full potential. This project is being submitted in competition for a $100 million MacArthur Foundation grant to fund a single proposal that promises real and measurable progress in solving a critical problem of our time.

Water-Propelled Spacecraft Prepares for Takeoff: The Cislunar Explorer Kickstarter

The National Space Society is part of the NASA CubeQuest Challenge’s Cislunar Explorers team, whose goal is to demonstrate the first-time use of electrolyzed water as propellant and demonstrate a new optical navigation capability. All designs, software, techniques, even the lessons we learn will be posted on the internet, open-source for anybody to use.

This project not only demonstrates technologies critical to opening space to everybody, it is providing the knowledge to do it too. For more information, see the NSS Cislunar Explorers Project webpage.

If you’d like to be a part of this exciting project by donating, see the Cislunar Explorer Kickstarter page. If our team wins an in-space prize ($1.5 million is slated for the teams attaining lunar orbit), NSS will get a share of the prize equal to the donations that come through NSS. In effect, your donation will get twice the bang for the buck! In order for this to happen, we need one additional step so we can track how much in donations come through NSS (the Kickstarter site won’t track that). Just send an email to stating the amount of your pledge. No other information is required.

Elon Musk talk “Making Humans a Multiplanetary Species” to be webcast September 27

On Tuesday September 27, on the second day of the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Guadalajara, Mexico, Elon Musk will deliver a special keynote presentation on “Making Humans a Multiplanetary Species.”

Musk will discuss the long-term technical challenges that need to be solved to support the creation of a permanent, self-sustaining human presence on Mars. The technical presentation will focus on potential architectures for colonizing the Red Planet that industry, government and the scientific community can collaborate on in the years ahead.

The presentation is scheduled for one hour beginning at 2:30 PM Eastern Daylight Time, 1:30 PM Central Daylight Time (Guadalajara), 12:30 PM Mountain Daylight Time, and 11:30 AM Pacific Daylight Time.

This and other IAC plenary sessions will be webcast on this direct link to IAC webcasts on For a schedule of other sessions see the IAC website plenaries and highlight lectures page.

Olympus Mons

Image courtesy SpaceX

Dropping the Ball in a Rotating Space Settlement

Here’s a virtual space settlement “ball drop” experiment courtesy of Joe Strout. The ball starts out six meters above the deck, initially stationary with respect to the rotating settlement. Then it is dropped, much like Galileo dropping stones from the Leaning Tower of Pisa, but it results in a behavior that Galileo never saw:


The viewpoint is lined up for optimally seeing the slight pull to the left. In reality, of course, there is no pull to the left… the ball is traveling in a straight line, at a constant velocity from the moment it was released, and the settlement is rotating around it. Note that the appearance of moving toward the viewer is an illusion: the ball is not being dropped from the vertical dark pillar but from an invisible platform the same distance toward the viewer as where the ball lands.

Details for the curious: The deck here has a 224-m radius and spins at 2 RPM, simulating 1G. The white ceiling at the top of the view is about 130 m up. Those deck plates are 2 m squares, though unfortunately they don’t line up perfectly with the ball’s starting position — but if you can detect a slight bend in the plating, that does align with where the ball starts.  So the ball’s apparent sideways motion is about a meter or so, over a 6 meter drop.

Note that this simulation assumes there is no air here; the ball is falling as in a vacuum. In a real settlement, of course, air would apply a force in the direction of the settlement’s spin, reducing this Coriolis effect by some amount that depends on the aerodynamics of the object.

Courtesy of Joe Strout of High Frontier Forums.

New in the NSS Space Settlement Journal: Bootstrapping Lunar Industry

Making It on the Moon: Bootstrapping Lunar Industry
, a paper by Dave Dietzler, has just been published in the NSS Space Settlement Journal.

Abstract: The cost of rocketing cargo into space is very high. Great savings can result if local resources like oxygen and materials from lunar regolith are used to build and expand Moon bases and create industrial settlements to supply materials for solar power satellites and space settlements, tourism, planetary defense, asteroid mining and research stations. This paper attempts to illustrate the components of a lunar “industrial seed” consisting of equipment needed to produce materials on the Moon and establish a growing industrial presence there that leads to space settlement. The first section discusses some of the issues surrounding transportation to the Moon and the second section quickly examines materials production, manufacturing and construction. Space settlers and industrialists must get an idea of how much propellant and cargo must be launched from Earth and plan out the actual cargoes to determine the size of capital outlay for a Moon mining project.

Read full paper.

National Space Society Congratulates NASA, ULA, and Lockheed Martin on the Successful Launch of OSIRIS-REx

With the successful launch of a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 411 on September 8 at 7:05 PM EST, 2016 from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, NASA’s mission to travel to a near Earth asteroid and return a sample got underway. NSS congratulates the team who made this happen. OSIRIS-REx stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security-Regolith Explorer.

“OSIRIS-REx has NSS members really excited,” said Bruce Pittman, NSS Senior Vice President. “The craft will provide a complete map of the chemistry and mineralogy of a carbon based asteroid. Such asteroids will be critical for both the economic development and settlement of space. The TAGSAM sample collection device may provide a foundation for the development of future asteroid mining robots. Dante Lauretta, the OSIRIS-REx principal investigator, and his team at the University of Arizona have put together a really impressive mission.”

The probe is the third in NASA’s “New Frontiers” program of medium-sized exploration missions, and cost about $800 million in addition to launch and operations costs. The Lockheed Martin built spacecraft will journey to Bennu, a Near-Earth asteroid, arriving in August 2018. After two years of study, an innovative sample collection device, TAGSAM, will use jets of nitrogen gas to assist in collecting a minimum of 60 grams of samples.

OSIRIS-REx will leave Bennu in March 2021, and arrive back at Earth two and a half years later. The sample return canister is targeted toward a parachute landing at the Utah Test and Training Range on September 24, 2023. Although the primary mission objective is to return to Earth a pristine sample of a carbon rich asteroid for analysis, other objectives focus on resource identification, planetary security, and regolith exploration. Other “New Frontiers” missions include Juno, which is currently orbiting Jupiter, and New Horizons, which flew past Pluto in July 2015 and is now heading toward another object in the Kuiper Belt, with an expected arrival in January 2019.

Additionally, OSIRIS-REx will measure the effect of sunlight on the orbit of the asteroid, allowing the risk of an asteroid hitting the Earth to be better understood. “NSS advocates increased U.S. spending on protecting Earth from passing asteroids and comets,” said Dale Skran, NSS Executive Vice President. “OSIRIS-REx is a major step toward achieving the goals set forward in the NSS position paper on Planetary Defense.

Development of asteroid resources is fundamental to NSS’ vision of our future in space (see our Roadmap to Space Settlement Milestone 18 “Exploration, Utilization, and Settlement of Asteroids”) and yesterday’s events have brought that future materially closer.